Serviceability Report: BMWPosted 12/9/2010
By Craig Van Batenburg, AAM
You, the technician, need a voice of reason. This article completes eight years of reporting on the basic construction of different carmakers, but we have never looked at BMW.
BMW is one of three car companies that make motorcycles; Honda and Suzuki also make motorcycles. Each company has a history of racing. At the track, making the car or motorcycle hard to fix is the wrong way to go. All three of these brands are well respected when reporting on their two-wheeled machines, but how do American technicians view the four-wheeled BMWs?
Incidentally, I will keep asking "Do the automotive designers look at the ease of service when designing a new car?" and "Are they getting better or worse to work on?" until service technicians tell me the engineers understand someone has to fix it later. This series will continue in 2011.
As part of my business, I travel to Europe every September for training, both for myself and to conduct classes.
The old saying is if the Germans design it, it will be overly complicated with way too many parts. Is that still true or has that reality changed? While in Germany and the Netherlands, I was able to interview many technicians. Here is what Frank Bouman, Michel Havekes and Willem van Dijk explained to me last fall.
Bavarian Motor Works (BMW) was founded in 1916. It was not always a successful car company. In the late '50s, the car division was almost closed because of poor sales. Today, BMW sells more than 1 million cars and SUVs worldwide, and the X5 and X6 are made in the United States. BMW also owns Mini and Rolls-Royce.
If you were a sports car fan in the '60s, a BMW was on your list. After the sports car drivers made the brand well known in the U.S. and a good share of motorcycle riders also boasted about shaft drive and their well-built engines, the average driver saw the brand as a status symbol.
Driving a "Beemer" is now popular among the wealthy and those that aspire to high levels of financial success. But is it popular with the techs who fix them? To find out, we will take a look under the hood of the BMW 3 series, the most popular BMW sold and some say the best-selling luxury car in America.
The BMW 3 has been sold in the U.S. since 1977. An M series is also sold and that car, the M3, is the "hot rod" with a V-8 and many racing features. This report does not include the M series.
BMW 3 Series 1998-2005
This was the time when the 3 series was really gaining popularity and more electronics were added as drivers of luxury cars looked for all the bells and whistles. Cars were also asked to be safer and have more airbags, driver controls and the like. Technicians were also asked to sharpen their skills in reprogramming, controller area network (CAN) systems and electronics.
One more big development was also just starting to take shape: information access. As more original equipment manufacturer (OEM) websites came online, BMW was not up to the task. No one really knows why BMW seems so difficult to work with, but my own experience as a journalist and the stories I have heard at national meetings and repair shops in the United States and Europe all have a similar theme: BMW does not make it easy to get and find information. That makes servicing and repairing any BMW more difficult than most other cars.
Is the build quality good? Most would say "yes," and certainly these cars are fast, handle well, stop great and are beautiful to look at. The 1998-2005 BMW 3 series vehicles were usually serviced at a dealership or European specialty shop. Owners knew it would be costly, and it was.
When reviewing the 2005 BMW 325I 2.5L at the Identifix website - as I always do to prepare a story for AutoInc. - I was struck by this fact: There have been no recalls for this car (to be fair to BMW, a master cylinder not made by them but sold for their car was recalled). This indicates this model was trouble-free. But I researched the number of technical service bulletins (TSBs) and found 579. On average (remember, I have written about more than 30 cars, trucks, minivans and SUVs), I see about three recalls and 100 TSBs. You could read a lot into this one paragraph. Not all of the TSBs will relate to the car, as some may be for an engine that is not the one in the car, but it does make you wonder.
BMW 3 Series 2006-2011
There was a slow changeover from the earlier car to the newer one. Newer engines came in, a dual intake manifold in 2007 and all-wheel drive (AWD) was tried in the late '90s but discontinued after a few years. In 2011, expect all 3 series to be fitted with 17-inch wheels. A bulletin for "aluminum bolts" was issued as BMW used more exotic materials for weight reduction. If you want good handling, low vehicle weight is required. The major problem area was still electronics.
In 2010 and currently, the BMW 3 Series is available in a sedan, wagon, coupe and hardtop-convertible body styles. The base model for all styles is the rear-wheel-drive 328i, while the coupe, sedan and wagon also come in all-wheel-drive 328i xDrive guise. All but the wagon are available as the rear-drive 335i, while the sedan and coupe can be had in 335i xDrive form. The range-topping sedan model is the diesel-powered 335d. Some of the new technology that is now available is electronic water pump, magnesium-aluminum construction of the block, stepless variable cam lift (think of this as a continuously variable transmission for valves) called Valvetronic and turbocharging. These are very sophisticated cars.
If BMW is going to sell cars in America, one thing they need is a big jump in average fuel mileage. To do this, they already have two hybrids for sale here. The BMW ActiveHybrid 7 sold in many countries is a Honda-like system with one motor located between the engine and transmission.
In the U.S. only, you can buy a large SUV called the ActiveHybrid X6 with a system jointly designed between General Motors Co. and others, based on the 2 Mode design. The 3 series, being the largest-selling model, can really boost the average for BMW, as it could get 40-plus mpg if it had a powerful hybrid system.
Will BMW really go hybrid? Given the other technologies, what else could boost their fuel economy 25 percent while keeping performance up? If you want to go fast, it is hard to beat an electric motor. Time is running out as the 2016 deadline nears for automakers to meet corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards.
If you need to jump-start this car, open the hood and look for a positive post on the firewall (red cap marked +) as the 12-volt battery is in the rear of the car and hard to get to. A good scan tool is required, as you will be working on the electronics. These small engines can take a lot of oil at oil change time, somewhere between 7 to 8 quarts. Like most cars today, these use special oils, so make sure Castrol synthetic 5/30 goes in the crankcase.
Pros - This is a relatively easy car to service if you have a proper scan tool and learn the ways of BMW. The dealership technicians I spoke to at BMW of Shrewsbury were most helpful and liked their jobs. To them a BMW is "not bad to work on at all."
Cons - If you are not familiar with this car but are a good tech, this car is not going to ruin your day. The car makes sense.
Pros - It is too early to know how this car will fare but one thing we know for sure is it is much harder to work on than the previous model.
Cons - When you cram more things in the same space, it is just more work and more frustration. At least we can get bigger toolboxes when our tools jam up the drawer. Not as easy with a small car.
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