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Thursday, February 29, 2024

Doug's Domain

Doug Vetter, ATP/CFI

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Thursday, February 18, 2016

No-Start Strikes Again

What is it they say about three strikes? You're screwed. Or something like that.

As I don't drive on a daily basis anymore I have noticed that when I start the car during colder weather the starter is naturally a bit sluggish (yes, like a wet sponge). This is the result of allowing the battery to self-discharge over a period of several days. While I would not characterize it as indicative of a failing battery I have been more paranoid than usual when turning the key since the no-start issue reared its ugly head a couple months ago.

One day this week I set out to run some errands so I hopped in the car and turned the key, only to be greeted by the same click and very brief starter activation I'd experienced a few times earlier. But, unlike the other times I didn't get any response when I recycled the key and engaged the starter again. I tried it several times and the result was consistently the same -- with the key engaged there was no noise from the starter or starter solenoid and most of the indicators in the gauge cluster remained illuminated.

Never one to give up, I got out, opened the trunk, removed the battery cover and then got my Fluke 87 out to test the battery. 11.1V. Ugh. Not good. I had a hard time believing the battery wouldn't turn the starter over at all but I'd seen this movie before so I swapped it with a spare PowerSonic AGM battery I keep on a charger for just such an occasion. While the car came back to life as I attached the battery cables, turning the key to the start position produced the same result -- nothing. This confirmed the battery and no-start condition were unrelated but a quick glance at my maintenance schedule worksheet revealed that I'd last replaced the battery in 2010 so I decided to replace it anyway.

At this point I knew I would need to tow the car, but the real question was to where? I would have considered working on the car myself but unfortunately my brother's garage was unavailable at the moment so that meant a trip to the dealer. I then called a tow service and for the first time used the tow hook in the rear bumper to pull the car out of its parking spot and up onto the carrier.

Arriving at the dealer I walked into my tech's bay to find him about ready to leave for the day. By the luck of the draw business was a bit slow so we pushed the car off the carrier and right into his bay. Talk about door to door service! After briefly discussing the problem he asked how I was getting home and I told him that I spoke to someone earlier who said they didn't have a loaner but I could probably be shuttled home. I'll spare you the details of what happened next, but let's just say I drove home in a 228 coupe, and on the way home my tech texted me to tell me how to tweak some settings so I could experience what the car had to offer. I've said this many times, but it's nice to have cool friends in high places!

(Image: Closeup of 228 gauge cluster showing fasten seatbelt warning)

The next morning my tech called to tell me that the problem was not the starter, but an equally important component in the starting circuit -- the ground cable that bonds the engine to the frame, which is required because the engine mounts are electrical insulators. Interestingly, while under the car last fall during the tire swap I noticed the hardware used to fasten the cable was grungy but nothing appeared amiss at that point. In any case, later that day my tech replaced the cable along with the hardware, swapped in a new battery as requested and even adjusted the doors to wrap up the interior work he did last year.

The damage was reasonable, all things considered. My tech charged me about 2.5 hours of labor all in and while I'm never happy paying almost $150/hr for automotive service, particularly when I know most of that is going to overhead, that is a small price to pay for access to my technician.

A 2 Series Perspective

I spent more time behind the wheel of the 228 loaner than I did the 320xi about a year ago and I came away more impressed with the performance of the 4 cylinder in the 2 series. If I ignore Active Sound masking the wimpy and unsettled clatter of a 4 cylinder engine there was no denying the impressive acceleration and unexpectedly aggressive shifts of the 8 speed transmission with the car in sport mode and the transmission in Manual mode.

At times it felt a bit like a sequential race transmission banging through the gears with a bit of a shutter in the body accompanying each shift. But the pleasant surprise was how this transmission could, when placed into auto or sport mode, manage silky smooth shifts and coordinate throttle blips with the DME to produce absolutely smooth downshifts. I will wholeheartedly admit that the ZF in my E46 is light years ahead of the E36's GM transmission but I must also admit that the transmission in the 2 series is an equal distance ahead of the E46's ZF. In short, it's amazing.

That's the good news. The bad news is I still cannot stand several aspects of these cars. The top three annoyances, in no particular order, are:

  1. The seatbelt nag has got to go. I don't know what jackass in our utterly useless, nannycrat, libtard government thought it was a good idea to mandate non-defeatable seatbelt warnings but as I sat there in my driveway with the car in park and my seatbelt disconnected listening to that stupid BONG, BONG, BONG, BONG, BONG, BONG and seeing the red, boldfaced message in the gauge cluster telling me what to do, I just shook my head. NO. This is not acceptable.

  2. I can now say with utmost certainty that I will not ever buy another BMW with an automatic transmission if that retarded beer tap shifter is not replaced with the equivalent of the E46 shifter which provides essential physical feedback about the state of the transmission. The beer tap is just such a colossal failure of engineering and ergonomics that I am honestly surprised there hasn't been a recall about it.

    I don't think it's a case of being old fashioned -- it's a human factors issue. I'm qualified to fly multi-million dollar aircraft. If I can't figure it out at a glance, it's broken. I later discussed this with my tech and he couldn't help but laugh because he drives an E46 and is forced to drive the beer taps every day...and he hates them too. His admission: "you get used to it". That may be true, but a properly designed human interface wouldn't require adaptation of this sort.

  3. I got to one of my destinations where I did not expect to lock the doors so I stopped the engine, and got out. The stereo continued to play. As I walked around the car to open the other door I noticed the stereo was still playing. I walked away from the car, thinking the proximity sensor in the key would trigger the car to put the remaining systems to sleep, but 10 minutes later I came back to the car and the music was still playing and draining the battery.

    I later spoke to my tech about this issue too and he revealed the secret -- press the button once to turn off the engine and... wait for it...press it again to turn off the remaining electronics systems. Hey BMW -- how about you give me the option to use a good old fashioned ignition key and you can keep your fancy new button technology. Or at least give me two clearly labeled buttons -- one to control the engine and another to serve as a general vehicle power switch. In airplanes we call them Master Switches.

People wonder why I still own my E36 and dump truck loads of cash into it, and to be honest sometimes I do too. But getting back in the car for the trip home reminded me why I do this. Merely grabbing the shifter and putting the car in gear without having to look at anything brought a big smile to my face. Everything in the interior was where it should be. Everything functioned as it should function. And I actually FELT something as I drove down the road. The steering was alive. I could feel every crack in the pavement. When I changed lanes or took turns aggressively I did so with confidence because the car was telling me everything I needed to know to control it. I'm sure there will come a day when I have to sell this car, but they will have to pry the keys from my hands.

Mileage: 262264