Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Helping others and paying it forward, you never know

It's 6pm on a Saturday, I have made a 3 hour trip to Atlanta to pick up some wheels for my BMW. I get everything and head off to return home to Birmingham. All of a sudden the oil light comes on, the battery light comes on, my power steering dies, and I instantly realize my main accessory belt has snapped. I pull over and inspect the damage. Sure enough, my water pump had failed, the bearing blew out shredding my belt and leaving me stranded 3 hours from home. What a helpless feeling!

Ever been in that position? Maybe not automotively speaking, but what about your life in general. What about others lives around you? I got to thinking today, that amidst all the chaos in this world people all around us are hurting and in desperate situations. Have you ever helped someone in a way that it cost you something? Money, sweat, time, pain, tears, maybe all of these? If you haven't, perhaps you haven't ever truly helped someone. Because real help costs something, if it doesn't, then it means very little. My ultimate example, Jesus, knew this well. He even said "what is greater, to say thy sins be forgiven thee or rise up and walk". Lip service is easy, a prayer for someone is easy, saying you'll keep someone in your thoughts is easy, but moving a friend into a new house, taking a homeless man to lunch (yes, into the restaurant), sitting in a hospital room for hours to hold the hand of a dying person, these are the things that define true help. I read a story once that I want to share with you. It is about a man in just such a situation.

"A nurse escorted a tired, anxious young man to the bed side of an elderly man. "Your son is here," she whispered to the patient. She had to repeat the words several times before the patient's eyes opened. He was heavily sedated because of the pain of his heart attack and he dimly saw the young man standing outside the oxygen tent.
He reached out his hand and the young man tightly wrapped his fingers around it, squeezing a message of encouragement. The nurse brought a chair next to the bedside. All through the night the young man sat holding the old mans hand, and offering gentle words of hope. The dying man said nothing as he held tightly to his son.
As dawn approached, the patient died. The young man placed on the bed the lifeless hand he had been holding, and then he went to notify the nurse.
While the nurse did what was necessary, the young man waited. When she had finished her task, the nurse began to say words of sympathy to the young man.
But he interrupted her. "Who was that man?" He asked.
The startled nurse replied, "I thought he was your father."
"No, he was not my father," he answered. "I never saw him before in my life."
"Then why didn't you say something when I took you to him?" asked the nurse.
He replied, "I also knew he needed his son, and his son just wasn't here. When I realized he was too sick to tell whether or not I was his son, I knew how much he needed me..." (source for this article is found here)

Can you imagine doing that? I can't. But I am not even talking about going to that extreme. Even stopping to change a tire for someone on the side of the road, carrying groceries to an old lady's car, or taking parts off of your car so a guy can just get home.

See the second half of the story I started at the beginning of this blog is that the guy who I bought the wheels from came to where I was, towed me to his house (thank goodness for tow hooks) with his BMW, let me use his tools, drove me to the parts store, and even gave me his waterpump pulley because I broke mine. Great story, but it doesn't end there, it gets even more incredible. That all happened in September of last year. Last month I get a PM from a guy on Bimmerfest that a person from Chatanooga, TN with an E46 is stuck in Birmingham and needs a good shop. I emailed them and offered to help. Turns out it was actually the forum members daughter who was in town for a wedding. She had the EXACT same failure as I had had in Georgia. The parts stores were closed and she needed to get home. I took my waterpump and pulley off of my car and gave them to her to get home! Talk about paying it forward! You can't tell me that God didn't engineer that set of circumstances!

So why am I telling you all this? So that you can be impressed with me? No. So you will think I am great? No. I don't want you to think about me at all! I am telling you this so you will think about those around you that need YOU! When you give, you get. And I am not talking about money. There is so much more you'll get than money it isn't even funny (hey, that rhymed). I charge you to pay it forward. Do more than you have to, do it often, and do it TODAY! You may never know when you will need someone yourself!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Sway Bars: The biggest bang for your buck!

As we continue our look at the suspension components on the BMW, perhaps none are as hotly debated as sway bars. They give you the absolutely largest gain in performance for the least amount of money. A good set of sway bars can literally transform your car from a well handling car into a corner carving beast that makes your wife not want to ride with you (ask me how I know).

So you bought your BMW because it is billed as "The Ultimate Driving Machine". From the factory, BMW had several options on sway bars depending on your model. Sizes for them ranged between 18.5-24mm front diameter bars and 15-21mm rear bars depending on body style and year. Generally the 330's had the largest bars and as a general rule the thicker the bar, the more stable the car during aggressive driving. But it isn't as simple as "bigger bars are better".

What is important to remember is that the front and rear bars work in tandem, and small changes to either can have a drastic difference in the way your car handles. For instance, the Dinan performance sway bars for the E46 are much smaller diameter in comparison to my UUC Swaybarbarians and are set to add a little extra oversteer to the dramatic understeer your BMW has from the factory. It isn't a great deal of difference over factory sport sway bars and I can only figure this is because Dinan is a factory BMW performance division and they want it to be "aggressive" but still keep you from killing yourself. And since this topic is so broad and the range of changes and options is so great I will move on and discuss my personal findings and experience.

I got a used set of UUC swaybarbarians for the E46. It was an INSTANT and DRAMATIC change (intially I set the bars to their stiffest setting front and rear). All of a sudden my car felt like it was going to go where I pointed it and NO body roll whatsoever. It almost felt too "twitchy" and I admit, at first, I was a little scared of it. The tail end noticeably swept around much better. If my venerable little 323 motor had enough oomph, the car could be steered with the gas pedal. After a few weeks of driving it like this I became accustomed to the way it felt and began to push my car harder and harder. I then started playing with the different settings and I began to learn by FEEL how and what the car does. This is probably one of the more exciting things I have leared in my time as a "Bimmerhead" and I am loving it.

Here are a few pointers for those thinking about sway bars:

  • Get adjustable sway bars. Non adjustable sways would be boring and if you are paying upwards of $400, why not get something that allows you to make adjustments to fine tune the car to YOUR style?
  • Buy heavy duty adjustable front sway end links. You will kill your stock one's in short order if you don't and it makes a world of difference in feel and allows for even more fine tuning of your car.
  • Beef up your rear sway bar mount tabs. The BMW stock tabs on the rear are very weak and thin. Running a super fat, stiff bar like the UUC's, it is possible you could tear them. has a set of weld in reinforcements that cost $20 and you can probably get them welded in by a muffler shop for under $50. It is worth it. Keeping them from breaking is so much easier than fixing them when they are broken.
  • Stiffer isn't always better. You'll see what I mean when you get them!
  • Finally, GET SOME NEW SWAY BARS! It is the best mod I have ever done.
So that's it. To be honest I am getting a little bored with the suspension blog. And this entry was increasingly difficult because there are so many things to discuss and I can't possibly cover them all. I am not sure what the next entry will be, but feel free to drop me a line and suggest topics.