A Compendium of articles that I have written for both the Edmonton Classic Sports Car Club and the Northern Alberta BMW Club. Please contact me if you are interested in reprinting any of these in your club newsletter.
|Posted on February 2, 2013 at 1:55 AM|
You have saved, dreamt, planned, optioned, envisioned and created that dream day – the day where you take delivery of your BMW. Your car is meant to be a symbol of perfection and as odometer begins to tally, the next part of car ownership dawns on you – is that a new noise? Did that close as slow yesterday? Does the steering feel funny? Now you are at the next stage of car ownership and sadly, it’s the stage no one likes – maintenance and repair. Your mind fills of horror stories of crooked mechanics, draining your wallet, unnecessary repairs and sky rocketing costs. Honestly, much of the stories you read on the internet are sensationalized and the result of great amounts of miscommunication and fear mongering. So how do you safeguard yourself? What should you know? While I cannot speak for everyone, here are some topics that are best reflected upon prior to choose a repair shop or proceeding with a repair plan. Quotes While a quote allows a customer to budget for a repair or choose a shop, the quote cannot always address all aspects of the repair. Honestly, sometimes you have to remove components to fully understand what is required to fully repair a problem. Disassembly allows for a through and precise quote but can also be interpreted as a “pressure tactic” to force a repair, creating animosity so most shops avoid disassembly as part of the quoting procedure. A quote that is inexpensive but does not address the problem is really useless information so quoted amount are best seen as “go to” amounts and best case scenarios rather than absolutes. Internet Diagnosis Diagnosis by “google” is dangerous and rarely results in any value. Forums are full of arm chair mechanics that are willing to diagnose on a whim as they can advise and seem knowledgeable without any responsibility. Problems can be diagnosed with repair manuals and theory texts but also require context. When you have chosen a repair path share the thought with your Shop/Service Writer or Mechanic. Realize that if you request a certain part to be replaced rather than to have a symptom diagnosed, then you are truly paying for the replacement of the component rather than the diagnosis and repair of a problem. Parts and their origin Most people can now date things by its origin – “Made in Canada, oh that must be old” is an often heard and sad statement about the manufacture of goods. The Automotive Aftermarket is no different than any other business and will offer varying qualities at varying price points. “White Box” has become a term in industry for offshore low quality parts that do fit, but are not built to anything resembling Original Equipment Manufacturer standards. Reboxing has also become a trend in some areas with lower quality parts being represented as higher end parts. Misrepresented parts are easily sold if there is no method of return or guarantee, basically if bought of Kijiji or Mail Order internet companies that can hide behind distance and ambiguity. A mechanic is often the last line of defense in ensuring that you receive a quality part for a fair price and this is one reason that most shops will not install supplied parts. Flat Rate vs Hourly Yes, I am actually going to address this taboo. Flat Rate is often equated to piece meal labour – the idea that a job should take so long and if you do that job repeatedly, you will become more efficient at it but should still be paid the same. In an environment where a technician (yes that is now what we have become – you can thank Computers and sensors) is presented with a constant stream of like cars with similar problems, flat rate can be a fair and just practice. With a BMW 3.0 CS or an E30 M3 you begin to deal with components aging, rust and other unknowns. Some older BMWs have plastic clips and connectors have to be treated like glass and sometimes require heat and patience to remove and be able to reuse. Remember, manufacturers do not have to supply every component of your car beyond six years (last I checked) and to have a car “down” for weeks in the summer is not a viable option to the shop or the customer. In the end, the best way to find a Repair Shop or Automotive Service Technician (Mechanic) is to do research, get quotes (knowing that they are not absolutes), request references and speak to your service writer or technician about all symptoms that the car has presented. Car repair is truly a cooperative thing, even when hiring a professional.
|Posted on April 28, 2012 at 2:25 AM|
There are so many little things to be done on a car at frequent intervals that the motorist cannot be blamed for overlooking them or putting them off. The average driver is a busy person who runs his car as a handy means of conveyance and has little or no mechanical knowledge of a car’s requirements beyond periodic fills of gasoline, oil, grease water and air. With personal and business matters to occupy his mind he is apt to regard his car as a nuisance if the thought of small but necessary duties crop up to annoy his peace of mind” It appears it is time to address the “elephant in the room”, the concepts of maintenance and reliability. The above quote, though pertinent today is actually from repair manual printed in the early 1900’s.We all have the best intentions when it comes to maintenance, but often cosmetics are given preference over preventative mechanical maintenance. BMW has always been at the forefront, being one of the first manufactures to incorporate brake pad wear indicators and service interval reminders. The trend towards maintenance reminders continues with I-Drive, though most of my customers are surprised when first shown the service requirements option. Often it is the dire red hoist or yellow triangle that gets some to pay attention to their cars. Almost all On Board Computers supplied by BMW in the last 20 years take all guesswork out of basic maintenance – provided the pixels are working. The interesting thing about maintenance is how it is related to reliability, though often they are thought to have little bearing on each other. Last week I was talking to someone about a car, when they said that they did not know if they should buy it because they did not know if it would be reliable. It was when he said that he should buy his father’s car because he knew it was reliable, that I disagreed with him. His assumption that his fathers car was reliable because he had encountered few problems, was wrong. Reliability is one of those words that I feel can only be used when talking about your cars past. Simply put, a car is built as a wear item. Bearings, friction surfaces, belts- just about all components on your car are built with a predicted service life. Granted a Cobalt will wear faster than a Rolls-Royce, but that is build quality, not reliability. A vivid example of this is a 1979 Porsche 924 that I had that was completely reliable, until stored for the winter then brought out for the summer only to throw a connecting rod cap through the oil pan at idle. Does this mean that we should live in fear off the next big repair, That we should all park our cars for fear of “using them up”? Rather than fear the next repair, or park cars to “save them”, drive them! Low mileage cars though seen as more desirable, often have many issues once put back into service. The best way to save your car is to enjoy it! Drive your toy regularly, listen to it for any new noises, and pay those service minders the attention they deserve – It is amazing how well a “loved “ car drives regardless of mileage.
|Posted on May 16, 2011 at 9:45 AM|
Programs such as Ferrari Classiche, the Mercedes Classic centers and BMW Mobile Tradition live to support a company’s heritage. They speak to the idea that each car built by a manufacture is a thing of pride, an engineering “moment in time”. Cars such as the original 328 and 507 are cornerstones, which our vision of BMW ownership is laid upon. When built, these cars were only to define one role – the best driving car available. Cars were lithe and sporty because they only had to transport you from one place to another with as many thrills as possible – they were a mechanical replacement for the horse. The same could be said of modern cars, but we would be lying to ourselves. The modern car does not have to replace the horse, it must replace the house. Modern day commuters have high expectations, and expect heated and cooled seats, navigation, the ability to play various forms of media and so on. Now before you feel that I am an automotive troglodyte, allow me to explain myself.
When cell phones first came out, I remember people asking me if I was going to put one in my car (remember car phones ?). My answer was always that I would rather talk to people when I had nothing to do, and that when I was driving I was busy enjoying my car. I now carry two cell phones and have a hands free device in my daily driver – seems I have lost my way. Do all of the supporting systems truly help you enjoy the car? Do they make you more productive, or do they take away from the driving experience. Recently, I had a customer bring in his Porsche 944 for service. I noticed that he had no stereo and I asked him why – he said the car made all the music he wanted. His comment brought me back to my first day of 911 ownership when I gleefully removed my stereo so that I could hear that amazing flat six rev. Maybe the “moment in time” that our vehicles now refer to is that of multitasking and endless media consumption.
So, should we move away from all the comforts and go back to basic sporting transportation? I think we can all agree that it’s a little too late for that. What we can do is see what these things do for us. This season try a drive with the windows down and the stereo off or, if you are truly brave leave the cell phone in the trunk and pull the radio fuse. If you are looking for a toy car try something a little more focused, and less refined maybe a nice E30 M3 or a 2002ti. The classic cars we celebrate and hold in high esteem are not those that were the most comfortable or had the most gadgets, they were the ones that were embodiment of adrenaline and were seen as outrageous. Remember, no teenage boy hangs posters of cupholders on his wall....
|Posted on September 27, 2010 at 12:45 AM|
Each morning starts the same…6:15… snooze button… 6:25… walk downstairs (try not to wake anyone else up)… grind coffee (remember to put the filter in this time), dress, join the others on the freeway- waking up on the Whitemud.
Then you look around to notice all the other drivers around you. Those that hold their wheel like a praying mantis, those that look like they are using a lazy boy as a driver seat, and most entertaining those who seem to have a seat made of plywood mounted a right angles (this is usually accompanied by a terrified look and nervous gestures). Out of nowhere a small beige BMW 2002 appears beside you, instantly you wish you where them. It does not matter that the ’02 may be a bit tired – they are having fun. This exact scenario happened to me last week and made me realize the responsibility that we all share in owning an interesting car.
Be honest – you cannot help but smile while you are driving your car. We all have a mental image of ourselves while we drive; for some it is Mr. Toad trundling through the woods, for others it is Patrick McGoohan in the closing credits of “The Prisoner” speeding down a runway with an almost evil smile on his face. Driving an interesting car is fun, not only for us, but those around us. “Fuddy” little cars contribute to the scenery on the way to work and show others that commuting can be fun rather than mindless. By driving your car on a regular basis you allow people to share stories and to realize that the cars they wanted years ago still exist, only now they are affordable.
In driving my European oddities to work I have had quite a few staff members tell me stories of rides and roadtrips they had in European cars. Imagine this, by driving your car you can make your workplace more interesting. Since I have started showing up in to school in oddities, two TR6s have begun making the commute as well. Watching someone become an enthusiast is really inspiring, and serves to renew the hobby (and your own enthusiasm). In reality, this hobby is not dying nor is it endangered. The hobby lives in garages and shops hidden away from view.
It was interesting to participate in this past years field meet and hear people comment “I did not think that there were this many British cars left!”. In talking to others I was told that the All British Field Meet keeps on growing each event. If we want to be recognized as a hobby and if we want others to covet funny European cars, the easiest way to accomplish this is to allow your cars to be seen. The kids getting out of high school want Japanese cars mostly because that is what they have grown up with .On the rare occasion that they seen a European classic they dismiss it as an oddity and believe it to be unreliable – they must be you rarely see them on the roads.
|Posted on September 27, 2010 at 12:44 AM|
We have all had the discussions in which we wonder where the old executive members have gone… better yet why they have gone. I have some thoughts on this in light of recent events. To be into cars is to be passionate, to love the hobby to such an extent that others find it dumbfounding. Events are practiced and planned without thought to the financial or personal expenses involved. Ten years ago, I started a Porsche club. For three years, I ran the club, planned events, created newsletters and advertised for the club. The problem came in the fact that I had become the de-facto executive and when the time came, no one was willing to step up and run the club. The club had its final meeting in May 1998. In the end I made some great life long friends and had met some incredible car types. There was another result though, soon I found that I no longer felt as passionate about Porsches. By late 1999, both cars were sitting in the garage and I did not want to go to any shows or events - my fondness for Porsche had all but been extinguished.
Eight years later I found myself coming full circle and rejoining the ECSCC, a club I had left 13 years before. Within the last two years I have re-met most of the guys from before, but only tonight (as I am writing this) do I realize how unique this club is. It takes a special person to be able to retain and renew their enthusiasm for as long as some of our members have.
Clubs and events often fall victim to backyard politics, they do not simply fall away. More recently, I have run the Euro End of Summer meet (an independent all club/ forum meet run the second Sunday of September). Within 3 years we went from having 12 cars to 62 cars attending. This year 60 cars started the run, more than 40 were able to navigate the back roads and endure the rain to finish the run. The event provided some amazing views (picture a 3-5 kilometre convoy of European cars) and some fun times. The Club made a strong show with 7 cars and 8 people, the largest group to attend from any car club. Sadly, the complaints, concerns and size of the event have all created a situation in which I feel that the event has lost its character. The Euro End of Summer 3 was in fact the End of the Euro End of Summer run. The event has begun to draw too large and diverse a crowd.
Years ago, a friend of mine organized the first national BMW meet in Canada. Within two years he had sold his cars and was driving a Ford truck, wanting nothing to do with the import car scene, he had simply lost his passion. I now understand how this can happen. Your executive and those who choose to coordinate events make an immeasurable difference in this club – in fact it can be said they are the club. All those who have choose to contribute, thank-you for everything you have done this year to provide our members with memorable times. To those who have guided the club since its inception, thanks for not only the events, but being able to remain enthused. I often tell my students, “car types” are the best people out there and one could not want for a better hobby. As for the Euro-end of summer, it will live on in a new and much more low-key guise. As for me, I have learned that trying to please sixty-odd people is exhausting, especially given their different perspectives. Luckily, I have stopped running the event before I sell it all for a ¾ tonne truck.
|Posted on September 27, 2010 at 12:40 AM|
Today, in a moment of frustration standing if front of a not so aptly named “service counter”, I realized that there is a secret set of items that those who chose this as a hobby should have –items which are very rarely promoted.
1) Thread gages – Standard, Whitworth and Metric.
Why would you need all three? Because most cars have a mixture of whatever falls to hand when the mechanic/ previous owner put that item back on the car. Having a thread gauge will allow you to know what type and pitch the fastener is so that you can be assured that you are getting the right piece and not some ones best guess.
2) Torque Wrenches – Inch pounds and Foot Pounds, 3/8 & 1/2
In an ideal world all hobbyist socket sets would come with these. Students often ask me why we torque fasteners when some shops do not. The answer is always that it is best to tighten to factory torque and assure that the component is adequately tight. Also, proper Torque is better that the German “titenuf” or the Swedish “gudentyt” and much better than the Canadian “broken”.
3) A Pen and a Note Pad
Okay, now you think I have “slipped a cog” but bear with me.
The notepad will allow you to write down any repairs, odd noises, sights smells and make shift repairs that you may have made while out for a drive. I was talking to a fellow in another club recently who had to rebuild a switch on the side of the road with two rocks (honestly), chances are that if he does not replace that switch within the month, he will soon forget and later wonder why his switch is flaky. Writing both the good and the bad down allows you to have a complete picture of what is happen to the car at any given time.
4) An L.E.D. Keychain Light.
You can find them at most dollar store counters and, if I am honest, they are just as good as the $40 pen lights. Not only will you be able to see inside the smallest of components, you will always have a light on you to check any area of you car that may be of concern. Think of it as a “mini trouble light” that you always have on you.
5) A Keychain just for your Sports Car keys.
Often, we have a car come in for service and you can measure the weight if the keychain in pounds. If you think of your key as a lever (which it can be) and think of how you are amplifying the weight of the keys, you begin to realize how heavy keychain affect ignitions. Simply put, you are torqing both the tumbler and the switch. With just one or two keys, your ignition switch should last much longer.
On a separate note, I apologize if I have scared some of you into believing that the sky is falling. The sky is not falling but, it is true that I have bought an American car. One that weighs less than both the Turbo R and the SL (I do not “get it” either!), but is much bigger. So if at any club event you are looking for shade just park beside me.
|Posted on September 27, 2010 at 12:40 AM|
“A single marque enthusiast is not a true car enthusiast”
I cannot remember where I first heard it, but I do remember my first reaction. At the time I was a diehard Porsche guy and did not see the reasoning behind the thought – “they guy does not know what he is talking about” was my response. In retrospect, I can see the wisdom behind this statement. By working on different makes and models, we begin to understand where the engineers and design teams were going, we begin to appreciate cars by differences, not their similarities. The skills and processes required to work on the Lotus are applicable to other cars, though the technique and thought radically differ. Specialist shops rely on building expertise on one make or model. As a hobbyist you do not have to worry about how quickly or efficiently (profitably) something can be done, you can simply relax and enjoy the experience. In having a small collection I try to ensure that each car allows for a different driving and mechanical experience, this is best done by having different makes of cars.
Being the car guy at work, I am always asked “what should I get”? The answer is simple, something different! Why is it that some want to have variety in what they eat, but will line up to buy a 2008 Civic to replace their 1996 Civic? I do understand biases, and realize that people do like to operate within their comfort zones. It is possible for a comfort zone to become stifling. In running a Porsche club for three years I was able to have some great experiences but at the end I had lost any passion for the marque. It took some two to three years for me to renew my interest.
It could be said that people are drawn to cars which have a history or “look” that they feel represent them, I disagree. How can I “look” like a MGB owner? Does that mean I look out of place in my daily driver? If I owned a Ferrari would that suddenly endow me with long black hair, and a Sicilian accent? Would women case me in droves down the street? We all know the answer is no, but childhood fantasies do have a great influence when buying a “toy car”. Perhaps, we have to remember that there was a time we would open a car magazine and be enthralled by anything that had a sporty look. We all have a car that we would like to buy but common sense and the fear of ridicule keep us from that purchase (does anyone know of a FIAT 850 spider for sale?). Perhaps the above statement should be amended to read:
“True car enthusiasts do not allow themselves to be “pigeon holed” or fall into comfort zones, the explore everything available to them”
So go ahead and test drive that car you have always looked at from a far – you may just like it!
|Posted on September 27, 2010 at 12:35 AM|
Looking through recent issues of Practical Classics, it would appear that the classic car has fallen out of favor with the majority of Britain. Cities such as Edinburgh have now passed laws preventing classic cars from operating within the city. In North America, we have “schemes” that trade bus passes or bicycles for what are considered “old polluting cars”. Such ideas are interesting given that they do not address the entire situation.
We have all had this conversation in one form or another, and all usually end with the same phrase – “for the amount I drive the car it should not really matter’. Now lets go beyond that and look at the numbers behind car production (unfortunately, I cannot compile data for only one year in question, so I will have to cover decades for a true picture). It has been estimated that a modern car consumes twenty-seven barrels (42 gallon barrels) of oil in its manufacture and that does not address that materials consumed.
In 1956, domestic car producers used 45 million tons of iron. Some would think that modern cars would require less material, though that must be countered with increase in demand. In 1994 it is estimated that the car industry required 64.8 billion tons of iron for production. This is only to address one component required in manufacture. Once the numbers are realized, it is easy to see how driving and maintaining a European classic (most of which achieve 20+ MPG, or more than an SUV) can actually be seen as an environmentally responsible act. In using your car, you are prolonging the life of your daily driver.
In the latest issue of Sports Car Market, Keith Martin states that he feels that most classics are now well beyond their designed life span and that they live on due to the enthusiasm of car types. Given that the newest Triumph/MG is now twenty seven years old I think that it speaks to both the quality and character of the cars. For all of its promising technology, I do not feel that three decades from Prius’ will be going on ice cream runs – simply put they are a lovely appliance. More over it will be interesting to see how green the recycling and supply of the 500volt battery pack required for the Prius will be.
In driving and restoring these classics, is it possible that we are actually, in some way, “recycling”???
|Posted on September 27, 2010 at 12:30 AM|
Why do we own the cars we do? Is it some sort of vehicle-karma that attracts us? The answer to this question is an indefinite yes and no.
I have spent tonight looking through old copies of Thoroughbred & Classic Cars; most are about twelve years old. I am often questioned as to why I keep them… most people fail to see my wisdom, thinking of me solely as a magazine pack-rat. So why do I do it? Those magazines have a quality I love, nowhere, on any of the pages can you find something build within the last Twenty years. New cars are nice…. But older cars are better. Allow me to explain this. New cars are nice, but it is only their newness that appeals to me. Time has a way of sorting out cars. The older, needy cars that make funny little rattles, and can only be entered from the passenger side may seem sad, but they are more a testament to time, to build quality, to that cars character. Yes, my 924 is waiting to be painted, and though the ’44 is much more refined, I miss the bad synchros, and the powdery carpet of the ’24… it’s all a part of character. Aged cars show a different beauty, a kind of roadmap of ownership (I was putting skis in the hatch there….that’s from when I replaced the struts) - Marks of distinction.
To answer the question poised at the beginning, obviously, the initial purchase is decided by your preference (possibly remnants of a miss-guided youth), but why keep it after that? For the character it has. What’s character? Simply put, it is a mix of impression and history.
So though I may not have the fastest, nor the newest, I definitely have the nicest 1970 TR 6 with fiberglassed floors, chipped paint, worn seats and non-functioning door locks. Doesn’t sound too nice? Well, I can call it the nicest because there is no TR6 that has aged in exactly the same way. So take pride in the age of your car, it may be one of 150,000 produced, but none are quite like yours. Restore if needed…. Otherwise maintain!