Thursday, July 5, 2012

Tips to keep you from getting stranded on the road

So as I troll the forums these days I see a lot of people buying used BMW's and then ending up stuck on the roadside with failures of all kinds. Not only are roadside failures dangerous, but they are also inconvenient and may force even a guy a like me to pay someone in the area to fix my car (since I don't always travel with my tools). That can be expensive! So here are some ways to make your BMW (and even inferior brands) road worthy.

1. Keep your engine tuned up. This means replacing things like air filters, fuel filters, spark plugs and PCV valves and 02 sensors while keeping your MAF, Throttle body and ICV (idle control valve) clean and working freely. While most of these parts won't leave you stranded, they can lead to larger problems that can. For instance, a clogged fuel filter will cause your fuel pump to work harder and like high blood pressure, it is a silent killer that can leave you stranded on the roadside.

2. Replace your cooling system. It's summer time and your cooling system is working as hard as it will all year long. You would be a fool not to replace your cooling system components. This means at a minimum your upper and lower radiator hoses, thermostat, water pump, fan clutch, expansion tank and cap, auto trans t-stat if you have an auto, and radiator. For other brands of cars, it is pretty much the same list. Case in point, my daughter just drove from Bham to Atlanta to go to Six Flags. She called me on the way home and her car was overheating and billowing steam. She was able to limp home adding water to her car every 100 miles or so. When she got home I found her radiator completely cracked and just spewing water. Could have been a lot worse. My motto for cooling systems is simple, when it doubt throw it out (in other words, replace it). And one last thing, don't throw away an old cooling hose or component. If they were working when you removed them, keep them in your emergency "kit" in your trunk (you do have one don't you?) for those "just in case" moments.

3. Belts, pulleys, and idlers oh my. This is another common area overlooked by the masses. Most cars, your BMW included, have a single belt that drives most of the accessories. Which means all of your proverbial eggs are in the single "serpentine belt" basket. If it breaks, you will be stranded. Additionally, a lot of people who replace the belt still forget to replace the tensioner and idler pulleys. They have bearings that wear out and when they fail, they lock up causing even a brand new belt to break and once again, you are stuck. Belts and pulleys are CHEAP and easy to replace, you are silly if you don't replace them.

4. Your fuel pump. This is more of a BMW issue than anything else. I have documented enough cases and gotten enough feedback from forums to know that if you own a BMW with 100k miles to 150k miles you need to proactively replace your fuel pump (and your fuel filter at the same time) or expect to be stranded sooner or later. No fuel = car won't go, PERIOD. Now you can try the old bang on the gas tank method and sometimes that'll get you home, but most times it won't. I take you back to Easter Sunday just this past year. I went to get milk that morning and didn't even bother to take my cell phone with me. After getting the milk I go to crank up the car and NADA, NOTHING. I knew immediately what had happened. After $3.00 in quarters and 30 minutes on a pay phone,  I finally got a tow truck to show up. Talk about mad! At least I wasn't on the interstate between the middle of nowhere and Scaryville though! Seriously, for the E46 the pump is $140 new, spend the money!

5. Without power, you ain't goin nowhere! Most of you know your car runs on 12 volts and you have a battery that puts out that amount. And we forget about them for the most part until it is too late. Ever get into your car, turn the key and hear "click, click, click". In the words of Homer Simpson "DOUGH!" And just as bad is if your alternator dies. If it can't charge your battery, your battery will die and you will be stuck. Autozone, Advance Auto Parts, Pep Boys, they all perform FREE battery and alternator testing. GO GET IT DONE! Batteries are under $100 in most cases and again, most auto parts stores will even install them for you at no charge. Alternators are also not too bad to replace or buy.

And there you have it. 5 ways to keep your car on the road and in good working order. I realize money doesn't grow on trees, and a lot of people don't replace this stuff because of cost and as a father of 4 with one income, I get that. But if you break it down into small pieces, it can be rather easy. For instance, a water pump on an E46 is only $60 and takes an average DIY'er less than 2 hours to replace. I am a firm believer in replacing parts on YOUR time, not when they fail. It is so much easier and less headache, not to mention safer.

So make a mental list (or better yet, write it down, or even better still, consult your maintenance log, you do have one right?) of what needs immediate attention and get cracking.

And remember, What One Man Can Do Another Can DO!!!!!!!