Who says BMWs are expensive to own?

IMG_20120805_102807_501f204406e5d-lightboxThe BMW has survived its second winter and the only times I really got stuck anywhere were when I tried to make the 90-degree turn from the narrow alley behind my flat to my parking space, trying to get out of the deep ruts in the ice.

At one point, the traction control warning light came on with some other warning lights, which meant I needed to reset the steering angle sensor. Until this was done, I was driving around with no traction or stability control for a few weeks in winter conditions while I awaited the new rear shock mounts I had ordered. I did not want to pay for two wheel alignments. As a result of this, I believe I improved my rear-wheel-drive driving skills. The car was always driven in Sport Mode, so I could make quick adjustments to the throttle if needed.

When my parts finally arrived by mail, all was put right and I finally eliminated a mystery rear suspension clunk by replacing the rear shock mounts (for a second time) with heavy-duty items. At the same time, I re-installed the original equipment springs, replacing the Eibach Sportline springs that came with the car. Since this is not a track car for me, and because the car is winter-driven, I saw no point in having the car ride lower than the stock ride height. Also, I thought the ride over bumps (and we certainly have enough of those in Montreal) was a bit harsh. I was afraid that the appearance of the car would be slightly less “sporty”, but I can hardly notice the change (about 1 inch). As for the ride, it is much improved and, I am guessing, much closer to the driving experience that most automotive journalists raved about when the car first appeared in 2001. The car actually feels more planted and safer in day-to-day driving conditions, as the more compliant suspension can better deal with the road imperfections one finds in the real world.

After this successful step in making the car into a more pleasant daily driver, I tried to think of what else I could do to improve the driving experience. I just installed some new summer tires, some Falken FK452’s. I decided to use a second set of original equipment 18-inch wheels (found on Ebay) instead of the 19-inch Beyern wheels that came with the car. The Falken’s are affordable and, although not considered a high-performance tire, they allow me to preserve the compliant ride I enjoyed since changing the springs. I hope they last longer than the used tires I bought last summer.

In my quest for comfort, I decided to see what I could do to improve the M3’s interior. I have noticed that, as I grow older, the quality of a car’s interior and the level of comfort on offer have become more important. The interior of the car was in pretty great condition when I bought the car. The only issue was the worn shift knob. I didn’t really feel like spending 200$ to buy a new one (it is illuminated and is a one-piece item with the shift boot), so I decided to buy a new BMW ZHP knob (70$) and cut the old knob from its boot. I then folded over the top of the boot and glued it. The result is pretty nice and looks like original equipment.

My next task was to figure out a way to get some more thigh support from the driver’s seat. I am quite tall and have long legs, and had noticed that I became quite uncomfortable after an hour in the seats. I also noticed that the sliding thigh support cushion did not really touch my thighs at all, even when placed all the way back. I began researching ways to add foam to the thigh cushion, but there seemed to be no easy solution. I ended up finding a much simpler solution on a BMW Z4 internet forum. It turns out that with about 5 $ worth of hardware (two couplers, two bolts), you can tilt the whole seat back by lifting the front of the seat rails by about one inch. The result was that my thighs are now fully supported at all times. There is plenty of downward tilt available for a driver who does not like this, but I am finally able to raise the front high enough to be comfortable on long trips.

To my wife’s dismay, I also peeled off the adhesive tint from the rear taillights, as I thought they were not in good taste. I was very happy to see rear light lenses in new-looking condition under the vinyl. The car looks more and more like it did when it rolled off the assembly line, and that’s the way I like it.

Over all, this really is a fantastic car. When I drive with the windows down and the roof open and hold onto second gear a bit longer than usual, the sound from the Magnaflow exhaust is really, really addictive. When I look at what used cars I would like to own next (Porsche 997, E92 M3, AMG C63), I really wonder how much better they could be in the category of overall driving experience. I think I’ll just try to hold on to this special car as long as I can, hoping that I will not encounter any expensive issues… fingers crossed!

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Vincent Basile