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RideLust Asks: What’s The Most Disappointing Car You’ve Ever Owned?

Posted in BMW, Car Buying, car modifications, Cars, General, New Cars, Reader Rides, Used Cars, Writer's Rides by Kurt Ernst | November 20th, 2010 | 10 Responses |

We’ve all been there before: as a kid, you get a new toy only to realize that it’s nowhere near as cool as it looked in the commercial, or maybe it doesn’t even survive from Christmas to New Years without breaking. Later in life, maybe you realize that the hot blonde exchange student you’ve been trying to close the deal with has personal hygiene issues, or breath that smells like rotting fish and ass. Maybe you work hard to join a country club, only to realize that every other member is a complete tool, and you’ve got nothing in common with any of them. No matter what the details, one thing is for sure: life will disappoint you.

Probably the most disappointing car I ever rented.

If you’re a car guy, sooner or later a car will disappoint you as well. Maybe it’s one you’ve always wanted, or maybe it’s one you bought because it was supposed to be reliable, fun to drive or economical. Whatever the logic behind your purchase, the sad truth is that the car let you down. It wasn’t fun to drive, it sucked down gas like Rosie O’Donnell sucks down bon-bons or it turned into a giant money pit the very second the warranty expired (or the very second you drove it off the dealer’s lot). I’ll kick it off with my own biggest disappointment, but I’d love to hear yours.

In 2004, I bought myself a 3 Series BMW. I really wanted an M3, but it was out of my budget since I was shopping for a new car, not a used one. Leasing wouldn’t work either, since I was driving about 25,000 miles per year. At my local dealership, I drove a 330Ci and 325Ci back to back, and actually preferred the feel of the 325’s motor. It was silky smooth, and pulled nearly all the way to redline. The 330 clearly had more torque, but didn’t like being wound out; it may have been a faster car, but it wasn’t as engaging to drive. I signed the deal on the 325, and loved owning it for about two weeks.

Another 2004 BMW 325Ci, not my own.

In the New York City area, BMW’s are theft magnets. A lot of the reason why is steeped in history, since dealerships used to leave valet keys in the glovebox at delivery. Most buyers left them there, and the legend grew among car thieves. Here’s another reason: even with the factory alarm (which doesn’t have a shock sensor), BMW’s are notoriously easy to break into. Punch the door lock with a slide hammer, insert a screw driver into the hole and twist: the door unlocks and the alarm is deactivated. How do I know this? Because two weeks after I bought the car, it was broken into in short term airport parking. I parked in a well lit, heavily trafficked area and was gone for no more than 10 minutes. It only took fifteen seconds to cause about $800 worth of damage to the car.

Over the next two years, I got to know everyone at my dealership’s service department on a first name basis, which was no minor feat since the staff changed weekly. Several times, I scheduled appointments for clutch take up, which they never diagnosed or fixed. It was horrendous, and felt like the car had a pitted clutch or oil on the pressure plate; try though you might, there was no way to smoothly accelerate from a standing start without clutch chatter. Even the 1967 VW Bug I learned to drive on had smoother clutch action.

Next it was the ignition coils, which began failing at 20,000 mile or so and failed completely by 30,000 miles. You could tell they were on the way out as the motor would break up and lose power at high speeds; my dealer replaced them at 30,000 miles, but they were failing again at 45,000 miles. There was a funky hiccup in the VANOS system by then as well, as the car would develop a random miss about the same engine speed the intake camshaft was supposed to change profile. You’ve probably already guessed this, but the dealership couldn’t find anything wrong with the car.

Since I only used my key and not the spare, the battery in the spare key died, which meant that you couldn’t open the doors with it. Since I’d replaced the theft prone driver’s door lock with a blank cover, this was a problem when my wife drove the car. I don’t recall the details, but a replacement battery either wasn’t available or wouldn’t solve the problem; instead, the dealer wanted to charge me for a new key and programming, since it wasn’t a warranty-covered issue. I opted to pass, since the cost of a replacement key was in the hundreds of dollars.

The ECU for my car had firmware that was written for just one model year, which precluded me from adding any performance software or even increasing top speed. I could look at the Dinan catalog with lust in my heart, but I couldn’t add any parts that would make a noticeable performance improvement. I found out about this single-model year firmware issue after I bought the car, which taught me a valuable lesson: learn all you can bout the details of a car BEFORE you buy it, not after.

In my second year of ownership, I got rear-ended at a stop sign. This took the car out of circulation for about two weeks and cost my insurance company $2,500 to fix. As the warranty counted down to the “expired” mark, I came to a sobering conclusion: there was no way I wanted to pay for the care and feeding of a BMW outside of warranty, especially one that had proven to be problematic in the past. I traded it in on an Acura TSX, which has been utterly flawless in the four years we’ve owned it. Sure, it lacks the soul of the BMW, but it’s also never seen the inside of a dealership for repairs, in or out of warranty. Sometimes, trading personality for reliability is worthwhile and necessary.

I’d like to say that I miss the Bimmer, but I really don’t. In fact, I don’t even have a single picture of the car, which kind of sums up our relationship better than anything else I can imagine. I’d like to think it went to a good home, but I suspect someone else learned the hard way that this particular BMW was cursed.

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10 Responses

  1. ptschett says:

    I love my ’96 Thunderbird, but I didn’t love paying for not just one, but two transmission rebuilds. The first failure was from rocking it out of being stuck in snow, a common occurrence with that car; after that incident, if the transmission was warm it wouldn’t engage reverse till after the engine was wound up past 2000 RPM. Two years of that took out the clutches and then I had it rebuilt. A few years later a sprag clutch failed and took 2nd gear with it.

  2. Mark Smith says:

    Worst car I’ve ever owned? A Mercury Sable. I hated that thing and thank god it didn’t live long. The worst I’ve ever had as a rental car (and, as a government employee, you take what they give you), there have been several I didn’t like, but the one that sticks out the most was a PT Cruiser. I don’t know why because it wasn’t bad inside, I just didn’t like the way it felt.

  3. ASoltes says:

    2001 VW Beetle, as punishment for crashing my riced out, G35 beating Toyota Carolla my mom bought our elderly neighbors 2001 VW Beetle with only 50,000 miles on it (in 2008) for 5 Grand. Great Steal right…Low Mileage, Heated Seats, Windows Tinted, Sport Package, all the extras (this car had been a show room car before 1st owners purchase). The first time i drove it the Coolant Pump malfunctioned = 7 days in the shop, Coolant Pump replaced, along with the radiator. = 1600 dollars. After that, every time i took the car in for service it was easily a 200-800 dollar repair. Plus, everything on the inside broke at one point, the radio went, the windows stopped working, the sunroof opened one rainy day and never closed. Had to take it to the dealership to get fixed (and it could never be opened again) this car ruined my life for nearly 2 years, the only good part was selling it to a porn star and taking her and her “friends” on a test drive.

  4. Kiffie says:

    I had the displeasure of driving a Mazda 3 for three weeks while my own car was in the shop for massive body damage. I hated it.

    I’d heard only good things about Mazdas from friends and family. My uncle owns a Mazda, my friends have owned Mazdas. My dad had a Mazda for years when I was growing up, and he still likes to talk about how awesome it was. When I was given the keys to a new Mazda 3 (with only 50 miles on it, no less!) at the local Enterprise, I was ecstatic. Not only because the car was new, but because everyone had been telling me, for years, about how fun and awesome the cars were to drive.

    It took about a week for me to realize everyone had either been lying, or had been caught up in some mass hallucination. The steering was squirrely, the handling twitchy, and while some people might think a car can never accelerate too fast, the Mazda proved them wrong. It felt like someone took a hammer to my sternum each time I pressed the gas, and it spun its tires at the smallest provocation.

    To add insult to injury, someone sideswiped the thing in the parking lot while I was in class. I came back to find a hand-sized chunk of paint scratched clean away from the rear bumper, while the red Pontiac parked next to me sported a suspiciously fresh-looking milk mustache.

    I was never so relieved to return to my rustbucket of a Volkswagen.

  5. BigRuss says:

    my wifes mustang… the anemic V6 and beyond cramped interior… rest of the vehicles ive had never disappointed me or gave me any crap for beatin on them… except my gmc… shady ass mechanics put Bars Leak in my radiator which ended up in the block and seized the motor… other than that the truck got me to hell and back

  6. I am surprised to hear the Beemer gave you that much trouble, after all it is supposed to the Ultimate Driving Machine?! At least with BMW, new cars come with a 5 year warranty plan w/free service which is great cause with other luxury cars getting serviced is a pain the ass at the dealer and super expensive unless you go to an independent mechanic.

    I am lucky that I never owned a disappointing car; I only had two cars, the first one was a 92 Accord and now I have a 2003 Mercedes CLK 320. The Merc got broken into ONCE but that was my own fault, because I left my expensive Marc Jacobs purse in the passenger seat as I was playing tennis at the park and someone broke in and grabbed it.

    Of course I had to fix stuff on the Accord as it got old and needed to be replaced but nothing out of the ordinary.

  7. Christina says:

    used to drive a 04′ 325ci, never had issues like you… maybe I had a good egg?

    worst car I’ve owned – 2001 Mr2 Spyder -

  8. Kurt Ernst says:

    Huntington Beach, the free service really didn’t do me any good. I did my own oil changes, and the BMW maintenance plan doesn’t cover things like brake pads, wiper blades, etc. It’s really more of a “free oil change” plan, as long as you’re willing to go around 10k miles between oil changes.

    Even the warranty didn’t help me much: my dealership had an appalling lack of experienced technicians, and they wouldn’t turn a wrench under warranty unless they could produce a trouble code.

  9. Kurt Ernst says:

    Christina, any car is the sum of parts from the lowest bidders. It’s entirely possible that I just got a bad batch of parts, coupled with an indifferent dealership service department. Still, the lesson I took away from it was this: never own a BMW or Audi outside of warranty coverage, and never own one as your sole means of transportation.

  10. Anonymous says:

    VW Beetle 1.2 (1973 or so)
    BMW M3 Evo (1998)
    Audi A4 2.5 V6 TDI QUATTRO SPORT (2001)

    All dreadful mistakes, and all where the sum of the nasty parts was significantly less than the expectedly low total.

    The Beetle was thirsty and noisy, with dire handling and poor ergonomics. But you could forgive it that, but not the total lack of practicality with no space inside, no space under the bonnet and no space in the boot. Where were you meant to put your luggage?

    The M3 was powerful when you revved it hard. But it had no low down nor mid-range grunt, it cost £1000 to service every 16 weeks, it lost half its value in 12 months, it handled like a dog, dead steering, clunky gearchange, massive transmission shunt and then it lunched its own engine (valves into pistons) whilst cruising on the motorway after just 6000 miles.

    But the Audi is my winner. It failed in every department. The steering, ride and handling were all appalling. The engine had no power at low revs, and no power at high revs. At all revs it sounded like a John Deere and when cold it had so little power I couldn’t get up my local little road (slight incline) in second gear. It had to be first, every morning. The aircon broke, and then the 4WD system broke. The dealer told me that it was impossible that the 4WD could have broken (when I phoned him up from the side off the road after the centre diff make a horrendous noise then seized) because never had Audi ever experienced a failure. The dealer was vile (more arrogant than even a BMW dealer). Never again. Ever.