(Image: Header Graphic)

Friday, September 19, 2014

Doug's Domain

Doug Vetter, ATP/CFI

dvatp.com has been updated!

Some URLs have changed but you will be automatically redirected to the new locations. Please update your bookmarks! Read more...

Februrary 21, 2006

In the beginning, there was a driver. And the driver said, "let there be a BMW with my name on it", and it was so.

The deed is done. Today I placed an order for a 2006 BMW 330ci, Mystic Blue exterior and gray leather interior. How'd I do that when E46 production was halted some months ago? Simple. BMW recently restarted production. The exact reason for the restart is unknown, but the speculation is that the E90 Coupe development schedule has slipped and BMW needed to satisfy short-term demand for coupes. I wish the powers-that-be had come to this conclusion a bit earlier, as availability of the E46 coupe would have negated the purchase of the RSX, but whatever. I'm just glad I'll be able to drive a new BMW, and an E46 at that.

I wrestled with options for some time, but in the interest of resale value omitted only Navigation and Park Distance Control (PDC). I left out Nav because it would complicate my planned stereo upgrades and skipped PDC because it's one of those "Amercianized BMW" options that I knew I wouldn't use. And truth be told, I heard that while the option was only $300, that's nearly the retail cost of a single sensor. Get a love tap from the rear and you're out several hundred dollars in sensors alone. No thanks.

A few other option-related technical issues came up. I knew there was only one guy to talk to, so I strolled back into the service area and chatted a bit with my mechanic.

The first issue at hand was HID headlights. While I love the efficiency, color temperature and general performance of HIDs, I don't like that they create glare and flicker for other drivers. I also don't like that they're a theft target and that BMW's lights in particular are motorized, adaptive units. The KISS principle applies here and mechanization means a greater potential for failure. It turns out that the shop hadn't seen any significant issues with the HIDs, so that made the decision to go for them a bit easier (though at $800 still hard to swallow). But I suppose the real driver for HID lamps was the fact that I was effectively buying a loaded car, and to NOT buy HIDs when they are practically a signature component of the vehicle would dramatically reduce its appeal in the aftermarket.

The second issue was in regard to the auto-dimming mirror. The mirror is only available as part of of the premium package, but that included some technology (BMW Assist and 4-way lumbar support) I could do without. Unfortunately, he told me that while BMW technical literature apparently suggests it's possible to retrofit the auto-dimming mirror, his personal experience indicated otherwise. I didn't get into specifics, but it was pretty clear that if I wanted the mirror, I had to buy the premium package for an additional $600.

The final issue was regarding the Performance Package. My E36 came with the sport-tuned suspension and 16 inch rims. In spite of being as careful as possible, I bent two rims over the years in a couple of "oh shit" moments, so I was a bit apprehensive about buying the E46 Performance Package and its 18" rims. My mechanic noted that he had seen many an E36 arrive in the shop with bent double-spoke rims, so they were apparently predisposed to that problem. However, in the same breath he noted that they've not had issues with rims bending unless the tires were seriously underinflated (a more common problem than you might think). I tend to run higher pressures for performance reasons and monitor pressures regularly, so I don't expect that to be a problem.

The Acura will be traded next week because it would otherwise suffer the greatest loss in depreciation over the next few months, but frankly I won't be shedding any tears at the loss. The car never did live up to my expectations -- which are now astronomically high thanks to BMW. I mean, really. Thanks. :-) The one thing I WILL miss is XM radio, but I'm planning to install that along with an Ipod interface shortly after delivery. New amplifiers and speakers will follow eventually.

April 21, 2006

Delivery Day

On April 21st, exactly two months to the day I ordered it, I took delivery of my 2006 330ci ZHP. Pictures are in the gallery!

May 15, 2006

Foreign Object Damage

The military calls it Foreign Object Damage or FOD. I call it stupid morons in pickup trucks.

I decided to take the car to work for the first time so I could show a colleague and BMW enthusiast the new wheels. I normally take a stretch of highway called Route 18 to work because everyone hauls ass on it (well, at least this rural section of it) and it shaves about 5 minutes off the commute. Unfortunately, every rock chip I've experienced on the E36 has come from trucks that share the road with us, so taking Route 18 rather than some local roads really means rolling the dice. Get to work fast or contribute to the sandblasting of the paint and windows? Hard call sometimes...even for an anal-retentive BMW owner like me.

This morning I decided I'd avoid Route 18, but for some unworldly reason at the last second I dove toward the entrance ramp. I think it was the sight of the curve and the instant gratification I get from taking turns in this car. Once committed to it I thought "heh, what can happen". Will I EVER learn?

Sure enough, a minute or so down the road a raised pickup driven by someone with limited gray matter (is that being redundant?) flew past me doing about 90 and kicked up a stone. Like everything was in slow motion, I saw the rock launch from this moron's Mickey Thompson's and deal a glancing blow to my windshield...just below my field of vision. My girl was no longer a virgin. Now, I know what you're thinking -- I must have flipped out. But if it's one thing I've learned over the last several years of my life it's how to deal with stress, so I just cursed under my breath, entertained a fantasy of pulling out my 9mm and putting a slug in each of his tires and one or two in his head for good measure, and then just dealt with my elevated blood pressure for the remainder of the morning.

I wound up bringing the car to a local glass house for an evaluation. It turns out that the chip is only in the surface of the window and cannot be repaired. I suppose I should consider myself lucky -- after all, it was bound to happen eventually, and at least it wasn't so large as to require replacement of the window. I've been through the process enough times now that I know the aftermarket installations are as good if not better than the factory installs, but this was a matter of principle. A new window after only 300 miles? I don't think so.

Total Mileage: 355

May 31, 2006

Curbed Wheel

I took a lot of pictures of the car on the lift during delivery day thinking that it would be a while before it found itself 8 feet in the air again. I was wrong.

While I have made a habit of not using this car for commuting or other mundane tasks in order to extend its warranty period, it's so damn fun to drive that it takes a lot of effort not to reach for the keys every day. However, one evening after work I decided to run out and grab a few things at the food store under the guise of testing a MP3 CD I just burned.

Mission complete, I was exiting the parking lot when a couple of mammoth SUVs approached me from both sides and limited my ability to make as wide a turn as I normally would. The result was predictable. I felt the right rear tire contact the abnormally sharp curb and I cursed loudly enough to be heard in the next zip code because I knew I'd just spent $500. I quickly pulled over, got out, walked around the car and confirmed my fears. The damage wasn't as bad as I thought -- indeed the protective lip on the tire took the brunt of the impact with no visible damage, but sure enough -- I had curbed the rim. I'd hit curbs like this a total of three times in the E36 but the characteristics of its 16" rims resulted in no damage. The 330's 18" low profile setup, on the other hand, didn't fare as well. I've been leery of low-profile tires for this and other reasons, but as they say "you wanna play, you gotta pay".

(Image: Curbed Right Rear Rim)Today I had that rim replaced with a new unit I ordered shortly after the incident. I walked into the maintenance shop to find my technican raising the car on the lift in prep for the swap. Glancing at my technician and then back at the car rising on the lift, I shook my head, half-heartedly smiled and said, "she's as bad as her older sister -- she obviously has a thing for you because she's already making excuses to see ya!"

Fortunately my technician made quick work of the rim swap (which is saying a lot if you've ever watched the process of mounting a low-profile tire -- what a royal PITA) and I was on my way in about a half hour. We managed to check the runout of the damaged rim and confirmed that it wasn't bent. That made me feel a bit better because I knew that I could get the rim repaired by a local specialty shop, but I was still irritated that this happened to the rear rim rather than the front. Why? Once repaired, I could have used the damaged front rim as a spare.

You see, the ZHP comes with a spacesaver spare and runflat tires. The car lacks a full size spare due to weight and cost concerns, primarily, but also because the rims are staggered -- 18x8 in the front and 18x8.5 in the rear. If I want to replace the spacesaver with a full size spare I could do it as long as I used the 18x8 rim because that fits on all four corners while the 8.5 only fits on the rear. Unfortunately, the damaged rim came from the rear so if I get it repaired it will only get used if I bend one of the rear rims. Pessimist that I am, however, I fully expect that to happen at some point, so I think this is a case of pay now or pay later.

While a bulk of the cost of owning a BMW is due to high parts and labor prices courtesy of BMW, sometimes it's all because of the driver. My bad.

Total Mileage: 430, Parts: $410, Labor: $90, Total Cost: $525.

Update 06.26.06

First Oil Service

I subscribe to the theory that BMW had a sound approach to routine scheduled maintenance -- before they instituted free scheduled maintenance and tried to market the idea of a low-maintenance BMW.

For example, all cars had a 1200 mile break-in service in which they flushed all the fluids and performed various adjustments. While some of the items are not applicable to my 330ci due to improvements or changes in the technology (the M54 has hydraulic lifters, so there's no need for a valve adjustment, for example) I'm still somewhat disturbed that BMW doesn't suggest so much as an engine oil service on the non-M cars after exiting the break-in period. New engines and other complex machines make metal during their break-in period -- plain and simple.

For this reason, I decided I'd do an oil service at around 1200 miles. I had planned to take a trip last weekend that would have put the total mileage around 1200, but I never wound up going due to weather. In spite of being a bit early, I figured I had nothing to lose and a clean oil filter and sump to gain.

After completing the oil service my technician took a quick look at the car's diagnostics and found no trouble, so the car appears good to go for another 4500 miles or 4 months until the next oil service. Given the propensity for the E46 steptronic transmissions to fail earlier than that in my E36, I am contemplating doing a transmission fluid flush and filter change at that time -- regardless of what BMW says.

Rattling Remedied

This appointment was originally scheduled primarily to address a rattling sound I heard when the exhaust resonated between 1800 and 2000 RPM. It started around the 500 mile mark and was reminescent of the sound I heard when the E36's muffler heat shield was found loose. The sound appeared to come from somewhere underneath the car directly under the shift knob, but at times it seemed to also come from the front of the vehicle or somewhere behind the dash.

I set out one day to duplicate the problem to see if I could better characterize it to my technician. And that's when I figured out what it was. I got the rattle to occur and then I pulled the armrest up. The noise was louder than ever. It was the coin holder! A few weeks earlier I went down to my mother's shore house and got caught on the GSP without change so the first thing I did when I got home was pack it full of nickels, dimes, and quarters. It just so happened that the spring tension and the number of coins made the entire holder resonate with the exhaust. I simply took one coin out of each section, pushed on the remaining coins to actuate the springs a few times and the noise stopped. Problem solved.

When I told the story to my technician, he chuckled a bit and then related a story about a woman who came in with a rattle that appeared to be coming from the front of the vehicle but couldn't be localized. She griped and put up a big stink, complaining about the quality of BMWs, yadda^3, before one of the techs took her out on a test drive and traced it to -- of all things -- her EZ-Pass transponder. It used one of the older suction cup mounts that permitted one edge of the unit to touch the window slightly. When the tech removed the unit from the window, both the car and the woman went silent!

Total Mileage: 1028, Parts: $51, Labor: 41, Total Cost: $107.

July 2, 2006

NOW it's Broken-In!

(Image: Speeding Warning)I live in an area that is patrolled by the State Police since we don't have our own police force. After working around the house all day, I decided to run out to get some ice cream.

As I pulled out of my driveway, I noticed that the odometer had quietly crept over 1200 miles on the trip I took the other day, so I was officially out of the break-in period. For some strange reason, I was overcome with a desire to have some fun.

To make a long story short, as I came over a rise I managed to come nose to nose with a NJ State Police cruiser travelling in the other lane. I hit the 330's phenomenal brakes as I saw the light bar come over the horizon, but that only got me down to a "reasonable" speed. It didn't take long for the officer to catch up with me.

Fortunately, I managed to talk my way out of it the way I always do. I was honest and respectful. The fact that I didn't have a radar detector in the car probably helped my case. In a few minutes the trooper came back to my car and told me that she was letting me off with a warning. As I took my license, registration and insurance card back with a copy of the warning, I smiled and said "thanks...I appreciate it. I was only going out for ice cream...and this could have been an expensive ice cream!" She smirked, shook her head in agreement and acknowleged "Yes, this could have been a VERY expensive ice cream. Have a good afternoon".

The owner's manual for the 2006 BMW may suggest that the car is out of break-in at 1200 miles, but I think you need something else to officiate it. I guess this is it!