Saturday, April 3, 2010
Last Warranty Service
The E46 turns four years old this month and that means the end of warranty coverage, so I scheduled the last free oil service and brake fluid flush this week.
I arrived at the dealer to find a bunch of construction going on and no parking available out back by the maintenance bays so I parked out front by the sales area and walked my key over to the service advisor.
As all E46 owners know by now the key has an RFID chip in it that stores some data about the vehicle, including the seat and mirror positions on premium package cars and current mileage. The service advisor inserted the key into the reader a couple of times and with a mildly perplexed look on his face asked "Is this the key you used to drive here?" I replied in the affirmative. "Do you have the other key?" he queried, to which I responded "No I don't. What's the problem?" "Well, the key seems to be broken...it says the car has 6100 miles". At that point I started smiling and kindly pointed out "The key's not broken...the mileage is correct". So I guess it's official. This is a "low mileage car". Too bad I'm not inclined to sell it in order to take advantage of the mileage credit.
A mere ten years ago, back before BMW decided that it wanted to be the next GM and increase sales volume to unsustainable levels as well as load the vehicles with all sorts of stupidly complex and fault-prone technology, my technician had far more time to work on cars and speak directly with customers like me. The result was a much more relaxed and enjoyable ownership experience. I actually enjoyed taking my car in for service (and good thing too...as readers of my E36 blog will attest, a BMW is not exactly a low-maintenance vehicle).
It's probably just as well that my warranty period is up because the unfortunate reality of the current state of affairs at my dealer is that maintenance volume is through the roof. My technician now spends most of his time managing his staff and dealing with the problems no one else can fix so he really doesn't have a lot of time in his schedule for chatting or doing trivial stuff like an oil service on my car. Nevertheless, he has always been accommodating of my requests for him to work on the car and this morning was no exception.
He agreed to pull the car in shortly and I went off to the showroom to look at a new Z4 and a nice M3 with Fox Red leather. As I strapped on the Z4 and sampled the tactile response of the various dashboard controls I realized that moving the Z4 back to Germany was a wise move. The cheezy-feeling HVAC controls of its Spartanburg-manufactured predecessor were replaced with ones befitting a BMW. You have to feel them to understand. Even the single radio control knob fell nicely to hand, and the entire interior exuded that cozy, purpose-built, "cockpit" feel you'd expect of a roadster. Unfortunately, the sticker price of $60K turned me off immediately, as apparently not only is BMW positioning the car to compete with the Boxster but they're taking lessons from Porsche on how to gouge its potential buyers. The vehicle is simply not worth more than $50K, and that's stretching it.
Approaching the now familiar M3 on the other side of the showroom I found the exterior relatively pleasing if not unsettling in a way only Bangle or van Hooydonk could appreciate, and the vehicle overall a far better deal than the Z4 by the very nature of it being a product of M GmbH, but I still couldn't wrap my head around the poorly designed, ergonomic failure that is its E9x 3 series-inspired interior, in spite of it's masterful seats cladded in wonderfully soft and supple, high quality leather.
By the time I returned to the maintenance bay the car was perched on the lift. As I walked over to the bay my technician told me that the oil service was done and, with a knowing smile on his face, suggested I could get started on the brake fluid flush now. Purely in jest I suggested that I'd start as soon as he showed me where he kept his bleeder. After all, I'm back in the bays so much I might as well work there, right? At this point I wondered if I could get away with charging myself the dealer's labor cost and come out ahead somehow... :)
I hung around as unobtrusively as possible chatting about this and that while I watched my technician use a vacuum bleeder to pull a couple bottles worth of fluid through the lines. Interestingly, I found that the 18" wheels provided clearance sufficient to gain access to the bleed screws from behind without the need to remove the wheels. This affirmed a few things...
- I need a lift. This isn't exactly a new revelation and, fortunately, I may get my wish in the next year or so if my brother gets his building approved.
- What the dealers now charge for a brake fluid flush is highway robbery, particularly given that on some cars like the E46 it's not strictly necessary to remove the wheels. The job took all of about 10 minutes, and I was inadvertantly distracting my technician with various anecdotes. Do the math.
- Lastly, I confirmed what I wrote in my brake fluid flush article -- I really don't like vacuum bleeding. The vacuum pulls the fluid out of the caliper and through the line down to the collection jar in spurts. This makes it impossible to determine if you're pulling any air out of the system and makes it difficult to see if the new fluid has reached the bleed screw, which is the key to determine when the flush is complete on each line. My technician did the job correctly, of course, because after doing it four or five MILLION times he knows how long to bleed the lines by watching the level in the collection jar but I can't imagine this being a good match for a new technician or inexperienced DIYer.
The bottom line? If you have a choice (and you do), I recommend pressure bleeding. You won't get that done at a dealer, but remember that this blog is now strongly slanted toward DIY, so you can always buy yourself a $50 pressure bleeder and do it yourself...even if you have to get your hands dirty and pull the wheels. Heck, you could use that as an opportunity to inspect the brakes and undercarriage and learn more about your vehicle at the same time.
As for what the next year holds....the car will remain garaged and pampered, but will likely come out of hiding and be put into service as I perform work on the E36 that may require a week or more of downtime. I have no plans to bring the E46 into full time service, but I have become less sensitive to the idea of doing so because if the car were totaled in a freak accident I'd simply go to the dealer and order a 135i. It's no E46 by any stretch of the imagination, but it's not exactly one of BMW's latest overpriced luxo-techno-barges either.
Tuesday, October 5, 2010
And so it begins. With a bit over 8000 miles on the odometer the E46 experienced its first maintenance issue.
Last Sunday, just after I finished washing the E36, I decided to take the E46 out for lunch. I disconnected the battery tender, hopped in and turned the key. I waited a few seconds after turning the key to position two just to give the systems and pressures time to stabilize. While in this position the gauge cluster came alive as expected, the second I turned the key to the start position I heard a click from under the hood and the entire vehicle went "cold and dark".
I'd seen this movie before, so I immediately got out of the vehicle and popped the trunk to take a look at the battery. The first thing I noticed were the faintly glowing trunk lights. This and the fact that the battery was almost five years old gave me all the information I needed to diagnose the problem as a failed battery. So, instead of reaching for a VOM, I reached for my ratchet set to remove the battery.
Pulling the cover off of the battery proved to be more annoying than in the E36. The trick is to remove the two plastic screw fasteners holding the inner portion of the cover down, pivot the inner portion upward sufficiently to get a hand under the center portion of the cover facing the exterior of the vehicle. Then a good push straight upward will release the cover from a tab formed into the body. There is no reason to move the trunk liner though I admit I was tempted to do so after a few frustrating moments trying to figure out what was holding the cover to the body.
WIth the cover removed I used a 13mm socket to remove the two bolts holding the battery clamp to the vehicle, and then used a 10 mm socket to remove the positive terminal followed by the negative. Upon removal I noticed that the battery indicator was clear, meaning that no electrolyte was touching it. I shook the battery a bit and saw a green indication appear briefly. This told me that the electrolyte was present but too low for normal operation. I'm not sure if that's what caused the failure, but it did give me pause as to whether it resulted from constant charging by a battery tender. After all, contrary to popular belief, these batteries are not sealed and will off-gas as required during charging. Still, four and a half years is an acceptable (or at least typical) lifespan for this type of battery, so I'm not exactly complaining. I have no plans to discontinue using a battery tender, if that means anything to you.
Given that it was Sunday and the dealer was closed, I simply stuck the old battery in the E36 and figured I'd trade it in first thing Monday morning. I arrived at the dealer that morning to discover the old dealership building being demolished to make way for a new BMW center (yes, that same $15M building the prior owners refused to build). I knew the new owners were planning to do this for some time but I have to admit it was kind of odd to arrive on the property to find the building at which I'd bought two BMWs gone. I had to walk around a bit before I found the parts department in a temporary location, but soon spotted familiar faces. Unfortunately, as it turned out, the battery was not in stock but they promised to put it on order and give me 20% off on delivery.
Today I picked up the battery (a new part number of 61-21-7-586-961) and installed it with little fanfare. As soon as the negative terminal touched the battery the trunk lit up brightly. That and a quick check of the gauge cluster with the key in position two confirmed I'd fixed the problem.
The battery retailed for $196 (!) and I walked out the door with a bill for $153 with tax. Because of the chaos I didn't think to ask one of the service advisors what the dealer now gets for a battery change but some searching revealed a total price in the neighborhood of $350-400, depending on the vehicle. Considering that most dealers charge a diagnostic fee of between $80 and $100 for any electrical faults along with 0.5 hours labor to install the unit, that doesn't seem too far off...hence the $185 in the labor saved column.
Mileage: 8100, Parts: $153, Labor Saved: $185