Saturday, February 2, 2008
Oil Service and Inspection
The car has been running beautifully the last couple of months so I haven't needed to do much to it, but this weekend I realized I was within a hundred miles of a scheduled oil service. I decided to do it early simply because I was presented with a sunny day and temperatures in the 40's. Well...that and the realization that we could be knee deep in snow by next weekend in spite of the fact I hedged against that possibility with the installation of snow tires this season.
This time around the INSPECTION indicator illuminated so since I've assumed responsibility for the inspection process and progressive maintenance schedule I felt the vehicle deserved some additional attention. I normally conduct a weekly inspection of the engine bay just to check for obvious problems (leaks, belt tension, fluids, etc.) but it's not every day I am able to get under the car and look around. These days I'm most concerned about the front end since all the parts have 100K or more on them, but amazingly the car doesn't seem to want anything. It drives almost perfectly and I'm hesitant to just throw money at the car for no good reason, particularly because I'm in no short supply of things that demand the attention of my wallet these days.
On the other hand, suspension parts are kind of tricky as they tend to wear so slowly that it's difficult to recognize how much ride quality has deteriorated unless new parts are installed. Given this and the fact that BMW puts a 100K life limit on the struts I have plans to do some suspension rework this year, but as a result of this inspection I don't think I'm under any time pressure to do it. All other things being equal, I suppose I'll wait until I can do the work in short sleeves.
The oil service went as expected and I took another sample that came back clean (ignore the comment about the engine being 2.5L...it is, in fact, a 2.8L M52). Blackstone doesn't apparently read the data I send in). Although I expect the engine will continue to run smoothly with no major work until at least 200K, at 155K miles I believe I have finally entered the "region of reversed command" as we pilots say. No matter how well I treat the thing, metals wear, seals dry out, and gaskets blow out. Anything is possible at this point. In my opinion 150K is a lot to expect of any engine, BMW or not. This M52 owes me nothing.
Dunlop Winter Sport M3 Review
After 2000 miles and a minor bout with the white stuff recently I figured I'd provide a review of the Winter Sport M3.
- Snow / Sleet: The deepest snow I've hit so far is about 2" with a lot of sleet and freezing rain mixed in. In those conditions the tires won't let you violate the laws of physics more than any other tire, but I can honestly say that the car is more sure-footed clad with the Winter Sport M3. Steering is very "quiet" and doesn't yank the wheel around when changing lanes in snowy conditions, while the rear also feels "planted" or far more predictable -- even when I turn ASC off, give it a bit of throttle and drift around the corners.
- Normal Grip: During normal cold weather, both dry and wet conditions, the tire inspires more than the Pilot Sport A/S. No surprise, really. The benefits of a snow tire are not limited to the deep tread pattern. The rubber is specially designed to remain soft and grippy when it's cold, and the result is a tire that feels almost like a pencil eraser...even when it's below freezing.
- Wet: The deep grooves in the Dunlop's tread no doubt contribute to the tire's hydroplaning resistance. I drove home in a cold, torrential rain the other night with deep puddles everywhere and the tires just went right through them without yanking the wheel out of my hands. This is probably the best rain tire I've found.
- Dry: Dry performance is quite predictable, though precision is somewhat lacking. I can't say whether this lack of precision is due to the tire or the simple fact that I've been spoiled by running 18" high performance low profile tires, but I am amazed that I haven't lost more by going back to the small tire, wheel, and a winter tire to boot. That's a win in my book.
- Noise: As far as noise is concerned, they are very quiet in dry conditions. They are a bit noisier in wet conditions but their superior grip and hydroplaning resistance more than make up for that.
- Quality: While cleaning the wheels this weekend I noticed that the tires were made in Germany. Perhaps that explains why they balanced with such low road force numbers. This may also explain why BMW actually certified the Winter Sport M2 (the M3's predecessor) for use on their cars. In short, the Winter Sport tires seem to do well on BMWs.
- Treadwear: It's too early to tell how good the treadwear is, but the tires still look brand new. I imagine I'll get at least two seasons (about 5 months each) out of them before reaching the first tread wear indicator which indicates "less than optimal snow performance".
Overall rating: 9 out of 10. Definitely recommended.
This month the E36 is ten years old and I must admit that in what little idle time I've had lately I've been playing out "what if" scenarios.
What if the car got blasted in an accident? What if another deer attempted to mate with the car in a hormonally charged stupor of rutting season? Would I repair it? Answer: Probably not given that BMW will bring the 1 series to our shores in a few short months. There is just too much potential in the 135i to ignore it and there is a definite point at which putting money into an old car makes absolutely no sense for a daily driver because it's like driving without insurance. No insurance company will give me 15K of collision coverage on a car worth 5K...even if it takes a "mere" 10K to repair it. That's why they'll total an old car as easily as look at it with even the smallest of damage estimates.
What would I do if the engine blew up or I was forced to do some other major engine work? There is a new kit on the market that makes it almost a no-brainer to drop a LSx V8 crate engine in the car. Sounds like a crazy idea, I know, but the videos of this car are enough to make me giddy. On the other hand, it would be a lot easier (as well as more respectful to the BMW marque) to simply rebuild the M52 with forged internals and slap a twin screw supercharger on it. I guess it would all depend on how adventurous I felt at the time. I don't think I could go for any solution that would take the car off the road permanently courtesy of the frickin' smog nazis, but both options are doable as far as emissions are concerned if one lives anywhere but the Republik of Kalifornia.
A third and far more likely scenario begs to ask "What if I simply could no longer ignore the lure of the little 135i hotrod"? I refuse to own more than two "daily drivers", so in this case I would have to relegate the E36 to track duty or sell it. The problem, of course, with turning it into a track car is that it would at the very least involve swapping out most of the suspension for M3 parts and swapping the auto for a 6 speed. That's 10K easy, and assumes that I'd want to destroy the value inherent in an all-original BMW like this one. The problem with simply trading it for something new is that it would rob me of the fun I have and the knowledge I gain by fixing stuff that breaks on an old car. I mean, anybody can write a check for a car every month. Where the hell is the fun in that?
The day may come sooner than I'd like that I'll have to make a hard decision about my baby. For now, though, I'll celebrate the fact that the car I took a huge chance on ten years ago is still with me, eager to take me anywhere I want to go in style and performance that rivals many of its far younger brethren.
Mileage: 155471, Parts: $64, Parts Saved: $10, Labor Saved: $85