No one likes to spend money on their car, I hate it as much as you. However, it’s a fact of life that all cars will at least need gas and oil changes in order that they continue to serve you on a daily basis. BMWs require more than the average car, but less than others. Needless to say, luxury cars usually produce luxury maintenance bills, as they are of a higher performance and have more electronic gagets that can break or fail for no apparant reason. When customers bring their BMW to my shop in San Diego, I feel as though my number one job is to make them understand what they are buying and why. To me, that’s just as important as fixing their BMW properly.
So, lets just say you brought your BMW to get it serviced and it was recommended that you have an Inspection II performed and your control arm bushings needed repair. The service advisor tells you that the total cost will amount to about $1000. Do you know what you are getting? Did you understand what he or she told you? Did you just say ok? Stop. I see a lot of past bills provided by customers, and in many cases I’m a bit shocked as to what they were charged for, and even more shocked about what things were not done to the car that should have been. In addition, these bills are extremely difficult to read and are chock-full of words and sentances that just seem to fill the page and nickle and dime the poor bastard up to a $1000 with not much being done. Call it illegal, call it un-ethical, but that poor bastard was the one that approved it all. No wonder mechanics have a bad name, they’ve earned it.
Having a clean and functioning microfilter in your BMW is extremely important as it promotes clean air circulation throughout the cabin while running your A/C or heater. This filter should be changed during the Inspection II service or major tune-up on your BMW. In San Diego we see many of these filters completely clogged with dust, dirt and debris. With the wildfire season upon us in San Diego and Southern California clean air is of utmost importance.
Once the factory warranty expires on your BMW, it can be a scary thing. If your philosophy toward car care is the old “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” you’ll need to change your views on car maintenance or head down to trade it in for a new one.
Over the past 5 years I’ve noticed an incredible pattern with BMW owners. They have little or no problems while under the warranty, which is not surprising as today’s automobiles are usually symptom free for the first 4 years or 50k miles. They will have one or two little issues pop up from 50-70k miles which they will pay for out of pocket, and it’ll typically be expensive but not painful. Things are honky-dory for the next year or so until 80k rolls around, then the car will basically need about $3,000 in catch-up work and they wind up hating their car. Ouch!
If your warranty expires today, here’s a few starters to keep the car going strong and to keep your wallet out of harm’s way.
There really is no ‘best’ oil to pour in the engine of your BMW, after all, if there was one that shined completely above the rest you’d be buying it. Engine Oil has always been a great debate for those that are a bit serious about their service. I sometimes feel that debating about oil brands is much like squabbling over which Brewery produces the best Lager. I love beer, and I’ve had some really crap beers (especially in college) and I’ve had some really good beers. Same can be said for Oil. Crappy oil is the stuff that is really cheap, has generic packaging and there is usually almost all of it still on the shelf – the ‘Natrual Light’ of oils. Hopefully none of you are using that stuff, or worse yet, drinking that sort of beer.
I find that the most common oils in the great debate are Mobile-1, Castrol, Royal Purple, and Amsoil. I should say that I am not a fluids expert, I’ve done no crazy amount of testing on any of these oils, nor have I read 15 different case studies that have — this is all based on experience (and opinion). Aside from all the great things that oil does for any engine, modern BMWs need oil to feed both the Vanos unit(s) as well as the hydraulic lifters (if your engine has them). Now for my super scientific test results.
If you have a BMW produced after 1992, and your brake lining light appears, you’ll need a brake job that will consist of new brake pads and new brake rotors. I know, it sucks and it’s more expensive; but it’s not all bad. This is the brake warning for newer BMWs equipped with iDrive (I’m starting to like iDrive), and it’s starting to cause some confusion . . .
Working on your own car used to be a big part of Americana, but with the increasing amount of computers, wires, and nifty engine covers, those days are gone. However, there are some things you can do to keep your BMW running and looking good, and they are simple.
One thing that I cannot explain enough to people is that there is no way in hell you’ll feel a significant change in horsepower in your BMW by switching to a different kind of air filter. The most popular of which is K&N filters, which are more of a screen filter with some foam that utilizes a special oil to help it filter. Your local auto parts store will usually have some sort of demonstration with a ping-pong ball that floats higher over one of these filters when compared to its stock counterpart. That’s all fine and dandy, but the last time I checked, there weren’t any ping-pong balls in my engine bay.
I’ve also seen many graphs when one of these filters are installed, and the car is put on a dynometer with the end result being a gain in horsepower and torque. Before getting all giddy, these ‘gains’ are usually about 3-5 horsepower on an engine that produces over 250hp, giving an end result of about a 1-2% gain from that $65 filter you just bought. Remember too that dynometers have a certain margin of error that can produce a different result through many tests. With any modification, I want to feel it in my seat. The only way you’ll feel one of these filters in your seat is if you were to put it underneath your butt.
If you are driving around right now and the words ‘Inspection -3458 miles’ shows up, chances are that you are due for a major tune up or Inspection II. This is another example of what I call the BMW language barrier. I grew up in New Jersey. In New Jersey when you need an ‘Inspection’ that means you’ll be heading to the local DMV testing station where they test your brakes, lights, and run an emissions test. In California, ‘Inspection’ means nothing, so many ignore it. What it should read is ‘Tune-Up.’ Some ‘places’ have an interesting philosophy as to what should be done during the Inspection II, these same ‘places’ also tell you that you only have to change your oil every 15,000 miles. So, what exactly constitutes a proper tune-up on a BMW??
If you are inclined to change your own spark plugs on your BMW there are some things you need to know before heading out to the local auto parts store . . . just cause it’ll fit, doesn’t mean that it’s correct. There are many areas of the auto parts industry where quality and sound advice has taken a back seat to marketing and profit margins. One of these areas is the good old spark plug. I’m going to attempt to keep this simple and not too technical, which basically means you’ll have to trust me. (trust me, now that’s mechanic line if I’ve ever heard one.)
When you go to the auto parts store and order spark plugs for your 1985 535i they will have a neat little diplay that has about 5 different spark plugs ranging from what looks like a normal plug to one that looks like a space probe on the end. The guy behind the counter will tell you your options, all of them with code numbers that make no sense and he’ll eventually tell you how great the platinum ones are with the 4 prongs at the top. STOP! You need to go in there knowing exactly what you need, and getting only that item. Most people will get the platinum spark plugs by the way.
I got a phone call from a guy once in regard to his 2002 3-series. Here’s how it went:
Guy – ‘Hi, yesterday I was driving on the freeway and all of a sudden I lost my power steering, the battery light went on and then I noticed that the temperature gauge was in the red. So I pulled it over and had it towed to my house and I’d like to tow it over to you to see what is wrong’
Me – ‘Well, what most likely happened is that the water pump failed and you lost the belt that operates your power steering and alternator. Unfortunately, with the car over-heating, you are most likely going to need a new engine in the car as those engines cannot survive an overheating without major damage.’
Guy – ‘Well, it runs fine except that in the morning it runs pretty rough for about 30 seconds and then it’s really smooth.’
Me – ‘You are definitely going to need an engine, but feel free to tow it in.’
This is the number one killer of BMWs built after 1999. The Cooling System.