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Wednesday, October 4, 2023

Doug's Domain

Doug Vetter, ATP/CFI

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June 2002

I finally got around to getting the car serviced after I was forced to cancel two previous appointments. The following items were serviced:

Brakes: After a bit over 60K miles, it was time to do the brakes (pads and rotors). Brake performance immediately prior to the replacement was still outstanding, but I had noticed they had a tendency to fade a bit when performance driving and the pedal didn't feel as firm under those conditions. I was also motivated to flush the brake fluid (as opposed to just bleed the lines) because BMW recommends fluid changes every two years. Cost $340 front, $375 rear, plus another $95 to flush the fluid.

The mechanic who does all the work on my car (a guy with 20+ years experience with BMWs) said the brakes had worn fairly evenly, and had approximately 3K (front) and 5K (rear) miles left on them. The brake wear indicators had not tripped and as a result were still in original shape...thus they were not replaced (a $30 savings).

Battery: The car still had the original battery, and I had started to notice that it just wasn't up to the task of starting the engine with the same vigor it had a couple of years ago. Rather than wait and have it give up the ghost when I least expected or wanted, I decided to swap it out for a new unit. Cost: $120.

Coolant Flush: BMW recommended interval on coolant flushes is every two years, so I did this as well. The mechanic also put a pressure tester on the coolant system again and found another loose clamp at the radiator. Assuming that solves the problem I encountered last year, this no-charge item should save me at least $400 in additional parts and labor to replace the heater core (the original diagnosis). Cost $100.

Oil Change: Same old process, Cost $50. I only put about 3000 miles on the car since the last oil change, but figured I'd do it anyway while the car was in for service for reasons of convenience. I normally wait until 4500-5000 miles to do that.

OBC lamp replacement: This was an item leftover from the last visit when the dash was removed to troubleshoot the cooling system problem. A no-charge item.

Wheel / Tire Balance: Normally a $90 line item, my mechanic offered to take care of this while he had the wheels off for the brake job free of charge. He noted that the tire shop that mounted the tires didn't balance the wheels correctly and said this is a common occurance. "Joe average driving a GM won't notice this kind of screw up, but BMW owners invariably do". Even after balancing, he noted that two of the tires were a bit out of round (very subtle, but enough to cause what might be construed as a brake shimmy if located in the front). He moved those tires to the rear and recommended that next time I fork over the coin for Michelin or Continental tires since they seem to have better QC.

Front Strut Replacement: Over the course of the last year or so I noticed an occasional thumping noise coming from the left front of the car, so I asked the mechanic to listen for that when he took the car out on the test run after the other work was done. Bottom line is he heard the noise and declared it wasn't normal, but couldn't find any obvious problems like a blown upper strut bushing (a common problem in this vintage BMW), he recommended we replace the strut and, while we had everything apart, do the upper support as well. And, since BMW (as well as common sense) suggests that the struts be replaced in pairs, particularly if they have more than 30K miles on them, I agreed to replace both struts at this time.

The struts & supports aren't a stock item at my dealer, so I had them order the necessary parts. Cost so far (just for parts) is $820. I expect the labor to be another $450, including an alignment to bring everything back into spec. Expensive? Yup.

While discussing the results of the suspension inspection, I learned that the E36 rear suspension camber is adjustable...without using shims, that is. Therefore, if your E36 is wearing the inside of the rear tires, a simple alignment should fix the problem.

Incidentally, I saw one interesting thing in the shop that had *almost* nothing to do with me. A new owner of a E46 M3 had wiped his engine. He apparently missed a shift and put the engine 1400 RPM over redline doing 130MPH. Needless to say, the engine was reduced to a molten mass...the filter was completely filled with metal. The good news is that BMW is apparently supporting the customer by covering the cost of a new engine. The bad news is that everybody else is paying their share of this operator-inflicted damage...and I just don't think that's right. If I ever dared to wonder why a strut for my E36 costs $400, here's why.