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.
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.
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.