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Monday, June 24, 2024

Doug's Domain

Doug Vetter, ATP/CFI

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Thursday, November 7, 2013

Fluidyne Update

A reader chimed in this week to let me know he had purchased the Fluidyne radiator for the E36...before he saw the comments in my blog. I asked him to fit the OE shroud and let me know whether Fluidyne had kept its promise to fix the manufacturing issues. Though he did not provide pictures he replied with his observation that the shroud fits "without modification", so I think it's safe to say the Fluidyne is once again an option for these cars, particularly if you want to go the conservative route and stick with the OE shroud and expansion tank. But if you do buy the unit I'd strongly recommend you pick up a new OE shroud too and attempt to fit it before you pull your car apart. A single positive review is just that.

Heated Mirror Update

This summer after I had the M3 heated mirrors installed I noticed that even on the hottest days the glass was noticeably warm to the touch. The warmth was concentrated to the surface of the glass so I knew the heating elements were active. I asked myself the obvious question "why the hell are the heaters on when it's 90?" Well, my technician told me today why -- they're designed to be on continuously.

Contrary to what I learned and posted earlier the mirror heating elements are NOT thermostatically controlled because in addition to the obvious purpose of melting snow and ice in the winter, they also serve to raise the surface temperature of the glass above any reasonable dew point and thus prevent condensation that could otherwise form and obscure one's vision throughout the year. So you can probably guess what I'm going to say now -- that mirror switch doesn't have anything to do with the mirror heaters. Naturally, I've updated my last blog entry on this topic so as to stop spreading misinformation.

The other thing I've noticed is that MPG has been consistently lower than average by about 0.5 MPG over the last several months. I initially attributed this to the new Pilot Super Sport tires, but I'm beginning to wonder if a constant load on the alternator could be contributing to that. My technician pointed out that modern BMWs actually increase the charge rate of the alternator on deceleration because they recognize that it acts as an engine brake and, in some small way, helps to slow the vehicle. So the idea isn't too far fetched.

Winter Tires Again

Knowing full well I had no intention of reinstalling my winter wheels clad with those horrible Pirelli Winter Carving Edge I began researching my options for new winter tires. I'm sad to say that the state of the winter tire market still sucks. There remain a grand total of two manufacturers (one of which is Pirelli) making tires in 225/50/16. I called Tire Rack to ask if they had the ability to order tires in specific sizes and the answer was "no". I asked why the tire manufacturers seem to be abandoning 16" wheels. His answer? "It's like fins in the 50's...everybody wants big wheels and low profile tires. That's what sells, so that's what we stock". Can't fault the guy for being honest, of course, but I'm becoming increasingly pissed off that the stupid masses are now effectively dictating what I have to put on my car -- a car, I might add, that was not designed for use with 18"+ wheels and tires. I swear I'm going to punch the next kid I see with a set of 19's on his slammed Civic. And I'm going to punch him again if I learn that he went into debt to buy them.

(Image: Closeup of Dunlop Winter Sport 4D Tread prior to installation)I did find a reasonable assortment of brands in the standard E36 winter size of 205/55/16 including the Dunlop Winter Sport 3D, it's successor the Winter Sport 4D, and Michelin PA2. Best of all, the 3D's were available at an extremely reasonable price -- $350 after rebate for a set of Winter Sport 3D's on clearance. But this was far from a consolation given how abysmal I knew the handling would be with such narrow tires. In fact, I was so incensed at the possibility of duplicating last year's nightmare, in which I literally hated driving my car every day for six months, that I decided to look more closely at 235/40/18's to fit the CSL reps which now sit naked in my garage. Unfortunately, the price was close to $800 for a set of 3D's and over a grand for a set of Michelin.

I briefly considered another route -- buying a set of 17" wheels that I've had my eye on for some time -- the Beyern Spartan 17x8. It's effectively a 17" CSL replica design with thicker spokes, some forging techniques to reduce weight, and better quality overall. The problem? I'd have to buy five @ $250 each, and once I added tires ($600) and mounting ($240), I'd tip the scales near $2K. At this point slapping a set of 18" tires on the CSLs for a couple years of service didn't sound nearly that bad...especially considering that my hope remains to retire the car from winter duty sometime in the next two years. If I assume that happens next year, I'd at least be left with a set of 18's I could put on the E46 in a pinch...though to be completely honest I'd have a real hard time at this point putting that car out in the salt. The ZHP is a borderline cult car, and the last example of what I call an "old school" BMW.

After a week of wrestling with my options I decided to take the conservative, low-cost route and pick up a set of Winter Sport 4D's in 205/55/16. I bought the 4D instead of the 3D because the 3D is on its way out and I wanted to be able to pick up a replacement tire over the next two years if necessary. I made arrangements with my technician to mount the tires early next week, and that's right on schedule since high temperatures are now forecast to be consistently in the low-mid 50's with lows near freezing. Snow or not, summer tires don't perform at all well at those temperatures so it's time they go to bed for the winter.

2 Series Shapes Up

As I've watched BMW release car after car, each fatter and more powerful than its predecessors, it seems sometimes that BMW is content to produce what I call "poseur" vehicles -- cars that are too powerful for the street and yet too heavy for the track, and bought by people interested only in the prestige of ownership -- rather than true sports cars. It should come as no surprise, then, that I've been watching the development of the 2 series with great anticipation...and anxiety. The recent unveiling of the M235i is promising, but it isn't the rightful successor to the 1M I'm looking for, and one of the blurbs on the car grated on my nerves -- it will come standard with two things I don't like: stop-start technology and electric assisted power steering.

Now, I realize this stuff is BMW's answer to the socialist edict that all vehicles meet lower emissions and higher mileage standards. And taken at face value those seem like reasonable goals, but that doesn't mean I want anything to do with the technology needed to meet those goals. I also prefer simplicity over complexity and personal control over government mandates. For this reason I convinced myself that if the new 2 series had stop-start and I could not permanently defeat it, meaning click a button ONCE and turn the crap off for the life of the car -- I simply wouldn't buy the car.

If you're wondering why I care so much about this, you obviously have never had to replace a starter. Truth be told, I haven't needed to either, but I've spent enough time wrenching on my cars to know damn well what's involved and it's easily one of the most annoying jobs on the car. Fortunately starters typically last the life of the older BMW engines, but that's likely because they're used once per drive cycle and allowed to cool down between uses, not used potentially dozens of times per drive cycle. Do you think BMW is now "overbuilding" the starters to match the duty cycle? Unlikely. More likely, BMW is just assuming that any failures will be outside the warranty period when it's the owner's problem. Hello $2000 starter replacement repair bills. This will not end well.

While chatting with my technician this week about my winter tire set he told me that the earlier implementations of stop-start indeed required the driver to disable it with each drive cycle but the latest incarnation supports what they call "last user". This effectively binds the configuration changes made to the vehicle to the key in use, much as the E46 does with seat and mirror settings. So assuming I disable stop-start and "save" that configuration to each key I shouldn't have to think about it again. I asked specifically if there is any programming that can be done via SSS that could otherwise permanently disable the feature but he said "no", because it's part of the car's certification to operate in the US. Thanks EPA. You socialist, libtard jackholes.

I did find it interesting when he noted that the older stop-start also required the engine to be completely shutdown before it was restarted, but the latest version allows the engine to be restarted if it's turning up to 150 RPM. It's not that they're synchronizing the speed of the starter and ring gear (my first guess), but that they've apparently designed the gears to mesh at very low speed without grinding. I asked him how they did that but he couldn't tell me because he said he's never had to pull one apart yet -- either in training or in the real world. Let's hope that this remains the case.

I then asked him about the current state of electric steering. He was well aware that the press had really hammered BMW about the lack of steering feel on vehicles equipped with electric assist. The Z4 was the first car on which they deployed electric power assisted steering and no one complained about it, but here's the likely reason why: electric assist was only active at very low speeds to aid in parking. It was disabled at normal driving speeds. This means that while cruising on the highway the car was effectively equipped with a manual steering rack and all of the steering forces and feedback that implies.

On the 2 series the electric power assist will, as it does on all the latest models, run continuously. My technician believes that the current version of electric assist does not noticeably degrade the driving experience and I could not debate the issue with him since I haven't driven the cars myself, but upon reflection I know that the F30 steering has not won any awards. All I can hope is that the degree of electric assist will be adjustable, and either reduced by the factory on the sportier models like the M235i/M2 or made driver-adjustable like the modern electrically-adjustable suspensions.

In any case the engineer in me had to ask the obvious question. What's the benefit for all of this added complexity? 0.2 gallons (yes, that's right, a mere two tenths of a gallon) per 100 miles. So figure maybe a half gallon per fill up. That and 10 cents wouldn't buy me a Starbucks...assuming I drank coffee. Significant, yes, but not worth the hassle to me. BMW, and indeed all car manufacturers in my opinion, are grasping at straws here as they try to implement the twisted vision of a few hippies in power at the moment and chase diminishing returns on vehicles that are already extremely efficient. Give me back my hydraulic steering, please. You can keep your cup of coffee.

My technician naturally defended BMW, saying they've been continually innovating on their cars and making these advancements in areas that don't take away from the driving experience. He made his point by telling me something about the E36 I'd never known. "You do realize that we turn off the fuel on decel on your car, right?" I think my response was something like "Get the hell out of here. Are you serious?" "Sure", he said. "You can tell if you put the the transmission in manual, start around 3500 RPM and let off the gas. The RPM will drift down slowly until around 1500 RPM, at which point you'll see a blip in the RPM and feel the car shudder a bit. That's when we turn on the injectors again." I told him I had noticed that but always thought that had to do with the torque converter unlocking. Guess not. Stupid hippie E36. I should just get rid of the thing. :)

Mileage: 241500