Wednesday, August 31, 2011
Intermittent HVAC Blower Operation
A couple days ago I got into the car for the drive home and realized shortly after pulling out that the interior wasn't cooling down. A glance at the HVAC controller display showed it was commanding a relatively high fan speed but very little airflow was coming out of the vents. My internal diagnostic subroutine dusted itself off and got to work quickly as I nearly immediately concluded that the final stage unit (speed controller for you noobies) had bit the dust. I wasn't exactly surprised, given the fact that these units tend to fail far more frequently than once every 14 years and 210K miles. In fact, I consider myself lucky it lasted this long.
I figured that replacing the unit would be a simple matter of swinging by my dealer the next day, ordering a new part and installing it. Silly me. Hurricane Irene took out power to a lot of people, including me. I was out for 30 hours over the weekend and while I didn't know it at the time, I was one of the lucky ones. People a few streets over from me STILL don't have power as I'm writing this four days after the event, and (here's the relevant part), neither does my dealer. The strange thing is they're located on a multi-lane main road and the traffic lights adjacent to the property are working...but the dealership itself as well as its neighbors are dark. That means no computers, no phones, and most obviously, no ordering of parts.
I work near another dealer called Circle BMW. If you're not from NJ and it sounds familiar that's likely because they do Internet part sales (or at least used to...I'm not sure if they still do). I have bought parts locally from them in the past but nothing major...and it's not hard to see why. Despite informing the parts guy that I was an "enthusiast", write a blog, was in a pinch with no climate control, etc. he seemed genuinely uninterested in giving me anything more than the standard 10% CCA discount. When I told him that I normally get 20% off he interrogated me with "who gives you that?", to which I responded "[my local dealer's name] and Tischer". He responded by saying "Tischer, eh?" and rolling his eyes. When I pleaded one last time for a 20% "courtesy" discount to help me get my A/C working again, he said that he could only give me 20% if I owned a shop, to which I quickly retorted "if you knew how much money I give BMW every year in parts sales alone, you'd probably think I do". That was the end of our conversation and I walked out the door without the needed part.
I made a couple calls this morning to my dealer that both resulted in a busy signal (common when lots of people call a number in a hunt group when the lines aren't picking up because the subscriber's PBX is down). I translated that to mean the dealer was still without power so I decided to order the new FSU from Tischer (Part number 64116929540, $153). I paid a few bucks for shipping -- about equivalent to the tax I'd otherwise pay if the part were purchased locally since Tischer's shipping rates aren't as good as they used to be -- but I still netted $15 relative to the Circle price by buying from Tischer. I'll grant you that $15 isn't a lot of money in the grand scheme, but I was more than willing to use this opportunity to vote with my dollars and send a message to a company that would rather gouge their customers than take the long view and do what's necessary to build mutually beneficial business relationships.
When I turned the key to start the engine for the trip home from the office today I thought for a second I felt a bit of air coming from the center vent but I placed my hand over the vent and felt no airflow. Always the experimenter, I played around with the HVAC controller, alternately pressing the fan speed rocker switch and Auto buttons. Miraculously, this caused the blower to start up, which allowed me to enjoy air conditioning on the way home. This confirmed that the blower itself is fine, and that either the HVAC controller or the FSU is the culrpit...but since intermittent fan operation on cars equipped with automatic climate control is a classic symptom of a failed (or failing) FSU, I'm pretty confident that replacement of the FSU will fix the problem. We'll see in a few days when I get the part and the time to install it.
The Flip Side of Anger
Anger management is all about the way you handle things. So I handled my anger at Circle yesterday in the most productive way I knew: before heading back to the office I drove a couple doors down to the local Porsche dealership to speak with them about a Cayman S.
I walked into a refreshingly unpretentious and "cozy" showroom with space for no more than about four vehicles (but, oh my, what vehicles!) and asked to speak with some of the service people. I explained my background, the privileges afforded me by my BMW dealer and wound up asking some pointed questions about working on the Cayman myself, including having unfettered access to their technicians for technical support when needed.
I found the service manager knowledgeable about the cars as he answered my questions simply and easily with a "quiet enthusiasm". He allayed most of my fears about access to the Cayman's innards for maintenance purposes, though it is clear to me that a "preflight inspection" won't be nearly as easy as it is on the BMW. In the end, I emphasized the kind of business relationship I'll expect if I write the check and my general impression is that they would be more than willing to accommodate me...if not "officially", then certainly "off the record". And that's exactly how I'd characterize the way it's done at my BMW dealer.
While BMW has been a volume manufacturer far longer than I've been a BMW owner, my visit at the Porsche dealer was reminiscent of the earliest days of owning my E36 when the dealer was owned by a family, the ratio of enthusiasts to clueless soccer moms with spoiled brats in tow was decidedly higher and the pace was considerably slower. I needed nothing more than 15 minutes at the Porsche dealership to confirm that BMW and its entire dealer network is moving in the wrong direction (or perhaps more to the point, the wrong direction for ME). I am now convinced there will be a Porsche in my future. I'm not sure what I'll wind up buying or when (no thanks to the crappy economy), only that it will happen before the eco-nazis convince Porsche to eliminate a normally aspirated engine option, much as they have with BMW. My research on the Cayman continues.
Mileage: 211850, Parts $168, Parts Saved: $41