Saturday, April 3, 2010
Last Warranty Service
The E46 turns four years old this month and that means the end of warranty coverage, so I scheduled the last free oil service and brake fluid flush this week.
I arrived at the dealer to find a bunch of construction going on and no parking available out back by the maintenance bays so I parked out front by the sales area and walked my key over to the service advisor.
As all E46 owners know by now the key has an RFID chip in it that stores some data about the vehicle, including the seat and mirror positions on premium package cars and current mileage. The service advisor inserted the key into the reader a couple of times and with a mildly perplexed look on his face asked "Is this the key you used to drive here?" I replied in the affirmative. "Do you have the other key?" he queried, to which I responded "No I don't. What's the problem?" "Well, the key seems to be broken...it says the car has 6100 miles". At that point I started smiling and kindly pointed out "The key's not broken...the mileage is correct". So I guess it's official. This is a "low mileage car". Too bad I'm not inclined to sell it in order to take advantage of the mileage credit.
A mere ten years ago, back before BMW decided that it wanted to be the next GM and increase sales volume to unsustainable levels as well as load the vehicles with all sorts of stupidly complex and fault-prone technology, my technician had far more time to work on cars and speak directly with customers like me. The result was a much more relaxed and enjoyable ownership experience. I actually enjoyed taking my car in for service (and good thing too...as readers of my E36 blog will attest, a BMW is not exactly a low-maintenance vehicle).
It's probably just as well that my warranty period is up because the unfortunate reality of the current state of affairs at my dealer is that maintenance volume is through the roof. My technician now spends most of his time managing his staff and dealing with the problems no one else can fix so he really doesn't have a lot of time in his schedule for chatting or doing trivial stuff like an oil service on my car. Nevertheless, he has always been accommodating of my requests for him to work on the car and this morning was no exception.
He agreed to pull the car in shortly and I went off to the showroom to look at a new Z4 and a nice M3 with Fox Red leather. As I strapped on the Z4 and sampled the tactile response of the various dashboard controls I realized that moving the Z4 back to Germany was a wise move. The cheezy-feeling HVAC controls of its Spartanburg-manufactured predecessor were replaced with ones befitting a BMW. You have to feel them to understand. Even the single radio control knob fell nicely to hand, and the entire interior exuded that cozy, purpose-built, "cockpit" feel you'd expect of a roadster. Unfortunately, the sticker price of $60K turned me off immediately, as apparently not only is BMW positioning the car to compete with the Boxster but they're taking lessons from Porsche on how to gouge its potential buyers. The vehicle is simply not worth more than $50K, and that's stretching it.
Approaching the now familiar M3 on the other side of the showroom I found the exterior relatively pleasing if not unsettling in a way only Bangle or van Hooydonk could appreciate, and the vehicle overall a far better deal than the Z4 by the very nature of it being a product of M GmbH, but I still couldn't wrap my head around the poorly designed, ergonomic failure that is its E9x 3 series-inspired interior, in spite of it's masterful seats cladded in wonderfully soft and supple, high quality leather.
By the time I returned to the maintenance bay the car was perched on the lift. As I walked over to the bay my technician told me that the oil service was done and, with a knowing smile on his face, suggested I could get started on the brake fluid flush now. Purely in jest I suggested that I'd start as soon as he showed me where he kept his bleeder. After all, I'm back in the bays so much I might as well work there, right? At this point I wondered if I could get away with charging myself the dealer's labor cost and come out ahead somehow... :)
I hung around as unobtrusively as possible chatting about this and that while I watched my technician use a vacuum bleeder to pull a couple bottles worth of fluid through the lines. Interestingly, I found that the 18" wheels provided clearance sufficient to gain access to the bleed screws from behind without the need to remove the wheels. This affirmed a few things...
- I need a lift. This isn't exactly a new revelation and, fortunately, I may get my wish in the next year or so if my brother gets his building approved.
- What the dealers now charge for a brake fluid flush is highway robbery, particularly given that on some cars like the E46 it's not strictly necessary to remove the wheels. The job took all of about 10 minutes, and I was inadvertantly distracting my technician with various anecdotes. Do the math.
- Lastly, I confirmed what I wrote in my brake fluid flush article -- I really don't like vacuum bleeding. The vacuum pulls the fluid out of the caliper and through the line down to the collection jar in spurts. This makes it impossible to determine if you're pulling any air out of the system and makes it difficult to see if the new fluid has reached the bleed screw, which is the key to determine when the flush is complete on each line. My technician did the job correctly, of course, because after doing it four or five MILLION times he knows how long to bleed the lines by watching the level in the collection jar but I can't imagine this being a good match for a new technician or inexperienced DIYer.
The bottom line? If you have a choice (and you do), I recommend pressure bleeding. You won't get that done at a dealer, but remember that this blog is now strongly slanted toward DIY, so you can always buy yourself a $50 pressure bleeder and do it yourself...even if you have to get your hands dirty and pull the wheels. Heck, you could use that as an opportunity to inspect the brakes and undercarriage and learn more about your vehicle at the same time.
As for what the next year holds....the car will remain garaged and pampered, but will likely come out of hiding and be put into service as I perform work on the E36 that may require a week or more of downtime. I have no plans to bring the E46 into full time service, but I have become less sensitive to the idea of doing so because if the car were totaled in a freak accident I'd simply go to the dealer and order a 135i. It's no E46 by any stretch of the imagination, but it's not exactly one of BMW's latest overpriced luxo-techno-barges either.