Saturday, March 12, 2011
Purchase of Summer Wheels and Tires
Ever since I saw the benefit of moving to dedicated performance winter tires I've thought about going back to dedicated high performance summer-only rubber. I could never justify the cost of a set of Pilot Sport PS2 in 18" fitment, however, so I just stuck with the Pilot Sport A/S Plus. That got me to thinking (always a dangerous thing, I know). What if I downsized to a set of 17 inch wheels? That would have several benefits including lower weight, improved braking and acceleration performance (due to more of the wheel's mass being closer to the center of rotation), AND lower tire cost.
But the question remained. How much could I really expect to save by buying 17 vs 18 inch tires? Does $300 for a set of four PS2's sound like a lot of money? It certainly does to me. In fact, that was the catalyst for finding a new set of 17 inch wheels. I looked in the aftermarket and found it had largely abandoned the 17 inch wheel market with the exception of expensive lightweight wheels designed more for track duty than encounters with potholes on public roads. I also looked at BMW-centric aftermarket manufacturers including recognized BMW wheel designer BBS, but with their prices exceeding those of BMW's own offerings I quickly abandoned that pursuit.
Given my recent experience with the refinished Style 30 wheel I began to entertain the idea of just buying a set of refinished OE wheels native to either the E36 or E46. I had always admired the stock 17" Style 68 wheels on the E46 and I had found enough pictures to confirm they would not clash with the lines of the E36. The problem? Evidently the people at Wheel Collision took a close look at the BMW price book, because they seemed to consistently charge 90+% of retail for their offerings. For used wheels with a finish that does not, unfortunately, match the consistency and quality of the OE wheels? If that's my choice, the decision is a no-brainer -- I'll buy new.So that brought me full circle -- right back to realoem.com and the list of wheels that were originally offered on the E36. I'd always been partial to the Style 23 wheel, otherwise known as the M Contour II, which was fit to M3's equipped with the premium package from 1996-1999. I checked the price at Tischer and was shocked to discover these wheels were literally half the cost of other M-branded wheels such as the Style 68's. With the 2010 financials still fresh in my mind I must confess I wasn't exactly eager to drop another $1300 on a set of wheels, no matter the perceived "savings". But with warmer weather fast approaching I decided to leverage a tax refund, some petty cash, and funds freed by my friend's recent decision to sell the Skyhawk, and throw down an order for a set of Style 23's.
With the purchase decision out of the way, the only question that remained was: staggered or non-staggered? Staggered wheels get a bum rap from people who say they "increase understeer". As I've argued before, that's not entirely true. What they do is reduce oversteer, which is not the same thing. And while decreasing the width of the tire in the front by 10mm is bound to have a negative effect on grip, I believe this will be easily offset relative to the A/S by the increased performance of the no-compromise PS2 tread compound and configuration. So I decided to order three 17x7.5" (yes, I believe in full-size spares...take that E90 owners!) and two 17x8.5" for the rear and wrap them all with PS2 rubber.
And speaking of rubber, when I called Tire Rack to place the order I realized once again why I deal with them. All I had to do was give them my name, the order specifics, and a credit card. They already had my billing and shipping information and offered to ship the tires to my dealer again. The entire process took less than two minutes. Before giving me the total price, the rep advised me that Michelin was starting a spring promotion the following day involving a $70 mail-in rebate and offered to delay posting the order until the next day so I could take advantage of the rebate. I was in no rush so I agreed, and in doing so reduced the tire cost from $850 to $780.
If you're wondering what will happen to the CSLs, the current plan is to send them to Wheel Collision later this year for refinishing, equip them with another set of Pilot Sport A/S, and mount them on the E46 in November so it may serve its role as a backup vehicle should the E36 decide to give up the ghost in the dead of winter. For accounting purposes, anything I do to those wheels at this point will be considered an E46 expense, and in that context the $825 Wheel Collision quoted me for refinishing really isn't a bad deal for a set of attractive wheels that will look more at home on the E46 by virtue of the fact that they were originally designed for it.
While slightly off the central topic of BMW maintenance, I figured I'd report my findings in my recent search for an automotive service lift for my brother's new garage. The goal was simply to understand the market, select a unit, and get a quote for both the lift and installation. My brother had only two requirements: the ability to lift all the vehicles in his fleet, ranging from an early 80's Chevette nostalgia car to his BMW, all the way up to the small box trucks used in his business, and a maximum ceiling height of 14 feet. So here's what I learned.
- Above or Below Ground: I initially considered both the typical two post above ground and inground lifts. The two post above ground lift is the standard throughout the automotive service industry, primarily due to its availability in a wide range of lifting capacities and cost. The primary downside to a two post lift is that it is typically not possible to fully open the doors on a vehicle when on the lift. This is no issue on an inground lift because the two large lifting cylinders are under the vehicle -- not straddling it in a couple of posts. I quickly dispensed with the inground option because they were twice as expensive as two post lifts and the installation was five times that of a two post lift. If you knew the costs of the building my brother is erecting, you'd know immediately why I eliminated the inground lift from consideration.
- Symmetrical or Asymmetrical: This refers to a characteristic of two post above ground lifts and describes the orientation of the posts relative to one another. The posts of symmetrical lifts face each other, while the asymmetrical posts are typically offset toward the rear of the vehicle by 30 degrees. The primary benefit of an asymmetrical lift is that because the center of gravity of the lift is set back toward the rear of the car, the car itself sits further back from the posts and thus the doors may be opened with greater clearance. There are two downsides to asymmetrical lifts as I see it: their maximum lifting capacity is typically 10K pounds and they have problems lifting long wheelbase vehicles such as trucks. In any case, I decided to look at higher lift capacities than offered in the asymmetrical category so I eliminated that type from consideration.
- Lifting Capacity: Two post lifts typically come in 7K, 10K, 12K, and 15K pound or higher lifting capacities. This capacity refers to the maximum number of pounds the lift can safely raise and as long as the lift is certified by the Automotive Lift Institute (ALI), you can be assured that is the case. If all you're doing is lifting cars, the 7000 pound lift will get the job done, but the standard seems to be the 10000 pound variety. My brother had the additional requirement of lifting larger trucks that are sometimes loaded with a lot of heavy materials and supplies, so that suggested a 12K or 15K lift. I quickly ruled out a 15K and even some 12K lifts because the heights of those products met or exceeded the 14 foot ceiling height. So I decided to focus on 12K lifts.
- Lifting Arm Options: The lifting arms extend from the posts and must meet with the appropriate jack points on the vehicle. If all you're lifting is cars, this decision is somewhat easier, but considering we had to lift everything from low-slung sports cars to box trucks, we had to select the lifting arm options carefully. As it turns out, many vendors supply an optional lifting arm called a "three stage arm", so named because the arms extend in three sections and the outer section is designed to reduce the minimum lifting pad height (i.e. the distance measured from the finished floor to the top of the lifting pad when the lift is fully lowered). The one downside to going to a larger (12K or 15K lift) is that in some cases the minimum pad height is almost six inches. That won't fit under a BMW or a Corvette. On the other hand, a lifting arm with a low minimum height might not allow the pad to reach the recessed frame of a truck, so we needed to consider whether so-called lift adapters were available or, more to the point, provided standard with the lift.
At this point I had narrowed the selection of lifts down to the specific type and capacity. The next order of business was to select a vendor and compare prices. To keep the work to a minimum, I focused on the following three vendors, all of whom are well known in the industry and favored on the various forums I read:
- Mohawk: I first looked at Mohawk because of two features I liked. First, they are built like a tank, or should I say "forklift" because they are actually constructed with 3/4" thick forklift channel and use heavy metal ball bearings. Second, they use hydraulic equalization and that means if you're routing the equalization lines overhead as most do, they can be made in custom lengths to mount them to the ceiling in order to maximize vertical clearance. Third, they're made in the USA and in NY state to boot, so shipping to nearby NJ was bound to be lower. The primary and indisputable downside to Mohawk lifts is their price. They are literally twice as expensive as their nearest competitor so Mohawk was disqualified for the same reason as in-ground lifts. The old mighty dollar.
- Rotary: This company is pretty much the standard in the industry. They have a huge sales and support network, have lifts available in the the full range of lifting capacities, their standard line is made in the US (note: Rotary has a value line which is NOT US made so look out for that), their 12K lift comes with lift adapters and perhaps most importantly, their prices are reasonable. The Rotary 12K quote was half the cost of the 10K Mohawk and the installation charge was also reasonable, at under $750. I could get no installation quote on the Mohawk because I couldn't find a local installer willing to quote the job. So at this point I was pretty confident that we'd go with Rotary, but I wanted to look at one more vendor to round out the quotes.
- Bendpak: I'd read about Bendpak lifts on garagejournal.com. I found a proactive Bendpak salesman on the forum and he was quick to point out that while their lifts were not made in the US, they were ALI certified and reasonably priced to boot. The unfortunate problem is that even their 12K lift came in at just over the ceiling height, and I really didn't feel comfortable downsizing to a 10K lift when we could get the 12K from Rotary with no clearance issues in standard form. For this reason I didn't bother to get a specific quote, but heard from others who did quote the Bendpak units and the general consensus was that they were, in fact, less expensive than Rotary. My opinion, however, is that the numbers did not justify betraying US workers. If it were half as expensive as the Rotary that would be one thing, but that simply wasn't the case.
So at the end of the day I submitted my recommendation for a Rotary 12K two post lift to my brother. Now it's in his hands to pull the trigger or look for alternatives. Groundbreaking is scheduled for sometime this week but it's been delayed for a number of reasons already so anything is possible. Hopefully a lift will be among the first things installed in the completed building sometime this summer. I'm still hoping that I can do my front suspension overhaul on the lift, but logistics (as well as the mess of fluids I'm sure it will generate) may actually favor the old garage, its "well used" floor, and a set of jackstands.
Mileage: 205000, Parts $2130
Friday, March 25, 2011
Picked up Summer Wheels and Tires
Last week I received word from my dealer's parts guys that my new wheels and tires had come in, so I stopped in to see my technician to let him know what I had planned. I found him back in the "new" shop, constructed as part of the expansion of the dealership, helping another technician figure out if the Bosch alternator received from the parts department to replace a failed Valeo unit from an X5 would in fact, be a drop-in replacement. On the E36, you need a different pulley and lower mounting bolt to make the conversion work, so it wasn't hard for me to relate to their quandary.
Rather than interrupt them, I took some time to look around the shop because I had never been back there before. Given my recent investigation into service lifts I naturally gravitated to the rows of symmetrical two post Rotary lifts. The first thing that jumped out at me was that their imposing columns made the shop seem cluttered, but I suppose that's a natural reaction after hanging out in the "old" shop all these years, which was equipped with in-ground lifts by necessity -- as my technician would later confirm, the old shop's bays are not as wide as a "modern" shop. I also took note of the fact that the front doors of the various cars and SAVs perched on the lifts would have clearance issues with the posts, so this drove home the benefits of an in-ground lift.
It also didn't take me long to notice the tile floor consisting of reddish-brown rectangular tiles arranged in a subway pattern. I found it to be far more attractive and "clean" looking than the dyed (and stained) concrete of the old shop. Given how much of a pain in the ass it is to finish concrete floors in an eye-pleasing way that holds up to gas, brake fluid, and other solvents over the long haul, I'm beginning to wonder if tile may be the answer. I still have my doubts as to how well tile will hold up in a garage environment (drop any good tools lately?) and something tells me I wouldn't want to know the cost of doing a large project like my brother's 3200 square foot toybox, but if it's good enough for BMW to spec for their dealerships, it can't be all that bad.
My technician and I quickly discussed my needs and I managed to follow through with his recommendation to speak with the service manager for a reduced mounting rate and to open a service order to complete the work. I managed to negotiate $200 for the set ($40/wheel), and although I told my technician that there was no rush he got the job done the following day. When I heard the weather forecast for sunny skies and near 80 degree temperatures last Friday, I decided to take my first vacation day in months, grab the wheels at my leisure, do some spring cleaning in the garage, exercise the double VANOS on the E46 on some nearby curvy country roads and generally take it easy for a change.
I must admit that once I got the wheels back to the garage it took all the will power I could muster not to install them, but I knew full well that the wonderful weather was only a tease and we'd likely be back in seasonal weather in short order. My decision to wait paid off, of course, as it snowed (lightly, thankfully) again this week and the diurnal temperatures promptly returned to a range well outside that tolerated by the PS2s. Installation of the wheels will have to wait a few more weeks.
Secondary Air Injection Pump Acting Up Again
I got in the car the other day and turned the key as I have thousands of times before. Not long after the engine settled into a nice idle I began to hear a faint high pitched whine coming from the vicinity of the dashboard. I opened the door and realized the sound was louder outside so I walked around the car and found it loudest in front of the vehicle. My first instinct was a pulley of some sort, but popping the hood allowed me to localize the problem to a familiar part -- the secondary air injection pump.
The last time this pump failed (back in 2002 at 67K miles), I learned from my technician that the reason these pumps fail is not because they wear out, but because the check valve fails. This allows exhaust gasses to work their way into the pump while it's not operating and that fries the motor and its bearings. Naturally, therefore, the best way to avoid spending $330+ on a new pump (up from $200 in 2002) is to spend around $95 on a new check valve on a regular basis as part of a preventative maintenance program.
My initial maintenance interval of the check valve was 72K miles. When that interval came and went without a whisper from the pump and valve installed in 2002 and my technician later told me that the original check valves more frequently failed due to a flaw in their design that had since been corrected, I decided to double the interval to 144K miles. Oddly enough, the schedule predicted failure (or at least the need to replace the parts) at 211K miles, a mere 6K miles (or six months) from now. Based on this failure, I've reduced the recommended replacement interval of the valve to 108K miles.
I recall I considered replacing the valve last year, but that plan was promptly thrown out the window when I discovered the failed trailing arm bushing which led me down the path to a very expensive rear end overhaul. So, I'm sure you're begging to ask -- what do I get for kicking the can down the road? A $460 bill for parts to replace the check valve AND the pump. I expect to order the parts for this repair early next month, but that assumes, of course, that the faint whine doesn't degenerate into the typical "vacuum cleaner sucked up a marble" racket sooner than that.
Mileage: 205450, Labor: $200