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Tuesday, March 28, 2017

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Doug's Domain

Doug Vetter, ATP/CFI

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Friday, April 29, 2016

Once more unto the body shop, dear friends

Late in April the spring winds subsided and the temperatures consistently climbed into the 60s so I knew it was time to get the E36 to the body shop for (hopefully) one last time to fix the rust forming on the left rear quarter panel near the wheel arch.

As I dropped the car off I asked the shop manager about his workload. He said that in general he was busy over the winter but the usual peak in January and February due to snow/ice collisions didn't materialize because we only had one big storm and that was on a weekend. In short, fewer people drove in bad weather so fewer vehicles wound up Bang-Ding-Ow'd. This was somewhat of an expected response to better weather than forecast.

What surprised me is when he pointed out that over the last few years he's noticed an overall decrease in work, and his friends in the business have noticed this trend as well. I asked him why and he cited a story related by one of his regular customers. That customer recently sold his older car (a Benz) and replaced it with a newer model. The new car came equipped with an automatic braking system, in addition to other safety features like lane change warning and a backup camera. The owner, who in full disclosure drives in and around NYC, said that the car's braking system has saved him from at least three fender-benders over the last year.

His most recent experience was typical: the car applied the brakes automatically and came to a stop about a foot from a car that cut him off. Being 70 years old he admitted someone younger with better reflexes may have been able to prevent the collision the old fashioned way but he could not deny the safety systems have saved his bacon, not to mention many dollars in body work. The manager's conclusion is that business is off because more cars are equipped with safety systems that were until recently only present in luxury models, and these systems are actively preventing collisions by correcting for human errors, large and small, that occur far more frequently than many would care to admit.

I will, of course, fight the addition of most of these systems until I get to a point my reflexes are no longer up to snuff for reasons of cost and complexity, but by that time I expect all of the systems will be proven, as well as standard in all cars, and the cost reduced to a minimum. To put it another way, I'm old enough to remember when power locks and windows were an optional extra on most cars. Today, like most people, I wouldn't buy a daily driver without those features even if I could. I would, however, buy a Lotus with crank windows, because weight is evil, but that's a different application.

Toybox Update: Floor Coating and Two Post Lift

The last several weeks were spent cleaning up after the sanding and paint (dust was EVERYWHERE), and prepping the floor for a Sherwin-Williams clear floor sealant. My brother ultimately decided to avoid epoxy for a few reasons:

  1. Cost of materials and professional installation. Armorseal Clear Sealant could be purchased locally and installed DIY.

  2. Appearance: epoxy looks great until it cracks or lifts, which it will invariably do in a working garage unless you're obsessive to the point of requiring medication. The clear coating actually darkens the floor upon installation and thus reduces the contrast that will appear if the coating fails.

  3. Epoxy is difficult to repair (well) because epoxies don't bond well to cured epoxy, while the clear coating can easily be rolled or brushed onto the affected areas to correct the problem with a minimum of surface prep.

The material application guidelines suggested that, although the coating could withstand light traffic in a couple days, a full cure required 7 days so my brother chose not to return anything to the surface for a full week. Two coats were applied -- the second within 24 hours per the directions -- and the result, while not perfect, is sufficient to seal the concrete and make subsequent cleaning easier...and that was the whole point. Spill a bit of oil on the floor? We'll now be able to reach for a rag instead of the bag of oil absorber.

As the E36 went off for cosmetic surgery the two post lift was installed. Most of the turn-key quotes were in the 7-8K range for a 12000 pound Rotary and the company that got the job was the first company to respond to the RFQ back in 2009 (when we had foolishly optimistic project completion times in mind). They were also among the first to respond to the most recent set of RFQs as well. The only options I recommended were the unibody adapters (round rubber-coated plates) and the truck body extensions. As it turned out the 12000 pound lift is sold primarily for Truck Applications (hence the SPO12-TA model number) so the extensions came with the unit and the unibody adapters were a $350 extra. $7500 installed. Not bad.

As it turned out the 12000 pound lift could not be installed at full height. The datasheet shows the SP012-TA as having a standard maximum height of 13 feet, 8 inches and we assumed that the ceiling height was 14 feet. As it turned out, due to the addition of sheetrock and floor contouring required for drainage, the ceiling was in fact a couple inches lower. The lifts are adjustable, of course, so the posts were lowered by one increment or 4 inches to make it work.

My first use of the lift will be when the E36 returns and I have to install the summer tires. I also plan to use it to install the ZKW halogen projectors and quarter lights that have been taking up space in my house the last year as I'm sure the lift will serve as an effective back-saver.

State Inspection Changes

Just as I'm making long term plans to get the hell out of New Jersey for a variety of reasons including an excessively high cost of living, laws that fly in the face of self-protection, and just too many people and too much traffic, New Jersey (finally) passed a law that will help car enthusiasts like me. The law will go into effect in May which eliminates inspections for all cars 1995 and older (in other words, pre-ODB). This will effectively allow the inspection stations to remove the tailpipe sniffers. This comes after the state eliminated safety inspections (lights / wipers / tires, etc.), dyno testing and tailpipe sniffing on OBD cars, changed the inspection interval on all vehicles from one to two years, and the initial inspection of new vehicles to four (and then more recently) five years.

You might be thinking that the New Jersey legislature had finally come to their senses and saw emissions testing on vehicles older than 20 years for what it is -- pointless given the small number of vehicles on the road at that age. But you'd be wrong.

It all started when they outsourced inspections to a private company. Although the company got a sweetheart deal they abused the part of the agreement that allowed them to charge for reinspections. The state had a good statistical record on the average failure rate, but saw that rate skyrocket under the privatized system. In short, the company was accused of intentionally failing inspections for trivial matters in order to get the additional revenue allowed under the contract for reinspections. The state was losing tons of money in the process, and yet couldn't break the contract, so they did the only thing they could: they reduced what the stations were required by law to inspect.

They chose 1995 because 96 and later vehicles have OBD and they wanted to allow the removal of all the tailpipe sniffing equipment from the inspection stations. This was confirmed by an inspection station attendant this week when I brought in the E46. I speculate it is highly unlikely they will eliminate inspections for older OBD cars at any time in the future, which means while I remain in New Jersey the E36 will continue to require a biennial trip to the station, even as it remains a low-utilization vehicle that I think should be exempt from inspections.

One other related change that stems from the reinspection abuse -- reinspections will no longer take place at state inspection facilities. If the vehicle fails inspection it will need to be reinspected at a private facility. Hopefully my local dealer will apply for reinspection authority when the time comes -- after all, if inspection at this point amounts to nothing more than a OBD data dump and the dealer can charge for the inspection service it seems like easy money. It would also be convenient for people like me who would prefer to take their cars to people they trust.

Mileage: 263100