There are horror stories of unscrupulous car dealerships, mechanics, and their nefarious dealings, but many times this is chalked up to urban myth and legend. That is until it happens to you. There are great dealers, mechanics, and mechanic shops out there that are top notch and do right by their customers, but as with all things there is a Yin and a Yang.
I have now come to the rationalization that these things happen much more than most of us would believe. There are many people in this world that have never changed a tire, their oil, and essentially have no clue as to the working machinations of an automobile. These folks are prime for the picking.
Taking this a bit further and adding a European flavor of automobile into the mix and it further opens the door to tantamount fleecing of the individual. Truth of the matter is that parts are generally more expensive and a top notch mechanic trained to work specifically on these types of automobiles does demand a premium. Rightly so.
A couple months ago I started a new job working in downtown St. Louis and parking in a parking garage. My normal mode of transportation is a RAM 2500 Cummins Turbo Diesel. I live in the country and we require a pickup truck for lots of different things. Some of those things require the hauling capacity of a big truck. The only caveat to this is trying to fit a big truck in confined parking spaces, much less a low ceiling parking garage. This initiated the search for an additional mode of transportation to the family fleet.
There were certain requirements for this new fleet member. It needed to be roomy, so a four door sedan was a requirement, especially for our son who requires a car seat. We also wanted something low mileage that would not nickel and dime us to death and good for trips. My own requirement was that it have some pep in its step when needed, but get decent gas mileage. We arrived at a 5 series BMW being the ultimate candidate, potentially an XI flavor with AWD.
A month ago a very low mileage BMW 550i joined our family fleet. Having done a little research on these cars I knew there were a few weak points that would need to be addressed, and the one we found was virtually flawless with extremely low miles. It did have a couple of outstanding recalls. This is where the story begins.
I took it to a particular BMW dealer in the St. Louis area to have the recall work completed and informed them that I was smelling coolant, so if the rate was reasonable I would just pay them to fix it. This smell I had already tracked down to one of those “weak points”.
The Twin Turbo N63 turbo coolant hoses are attached to aluminum lines with crimp clamps. These clamps suck and are notorious for leaking. Another weak point being a Y-connector on another set of coolant hoses below those same hoses. This Y-connector is made of plastic and being in close proximity to such high temperatures there is a tendency for it to breakdown over time. In fact, when replacing this I had to use a common wood screw to remove portions of the Y-connector that had broken off inside the hose.
I was surprised about 2 hours after dropping the vehicle off for the recalls to electronically receive a very detailed inspection report on the 550i. The fact that the dealership had this level of convenience was kind of cool, however the fact that they sent me a report stating that the vehicle needed over $8k of immediate and dire mechanic work quickly subsided that elation.
According to them the turbos would need to be rebuilt or replaced. The mechanical vacuum pump was leaking oil and needed to be replaced. The final nails in the coffin being that a valve cover gasket required replacing and the car needed two new tires. All to the tune of approximately $8200. WOW!
First, I would like to point out that this car ran exceptionally well prior to dropping it off. There was nothing wrong with the turbos, tires, and it was leaving no tell tale woes of a monumental amount of oil leaking. I immediately did not want this dealership working on my car, however I asked them to please do the recall work and put my car back together. I knew better, I should have went right then and picked up the car.
Leaving this dealership when the recalls were complete, as I accelerated down the on-ramp onto highway 270 off of Olive Blvd the vehicle suffered a drivetrain error. This did not happen previously and I had gotten into it much more on previous occasions. Arriving home I put my OBDII reader on the car which reported cylinder misfires. The next day getting in I stuck my hand on the door pull to close it and got back a sticky mess. The plastic of the door insert was literally melting. I had ownership of the car for over a week and it was not like that prior, this is something one would notice.
I began to go over the car in great detail. It seems that they got some sort of chemical, possibly a cleaner or something on a mechanics rag, on the door handle, which is made of plastic and thus began to deteriorate. Intentional or otherwise, the timing of this was not good. I also found a nice set of scratches on the hood that were not there prior and the auxiliary coolant reservoir was bone dry.
Driving a couple days later to take my son to swim lessons the drivetrain error happened again and the car went into full out “limp mode”. Running horribly to the point it could not be driven, the 550i had to be towed, this time to a different dealership. What are the odds of this?
The car ran perfectly. I turned down over $8k of work that was not needed and then I get the car back with melting interior plastic, scratches on the hood, and running horribly. Looking at part of the recall they were supposed to have done, it does not appear that the auxiliary electric water pump was replaced either. It does not appear clean enough to be bran new, maybe I am being overly analytical, but the return hose was not attached and the secondary reservoir was empty.
I began to research this dealership to find a magnanimous amount of complaints for the exact same things that I had experienced. Some of the complaints matched to the letter, damaged vehicles that ran great prior to this dealers involvement. Normally I would have done this in the opposite fashion and researched first, however the salesman where I purchased the vehicle is who called the dealership and set up the recall appointments, so I went with it. Hindsight.
This story would not be complete without going into detail on what was really wrong with the Beamer. There was nothing wrong with the turbos on the car, the vacuum pump was fine, and the valve cover just needed the bolts re-torqued. The leak, if one calls it that, was minimal and probably coming from a bad CCV.
I replaced all the turbo coolant lines with quality hose clamps and used a brass connector to replace the plastic Y-connector. This ceased the coolant leakage and negated the smell of burnt coolant.
Interestingly enough, the vacuum pump was not leaking at all, however what I surmise is that their quoted “top mechanic” at the dealership saw a bit of oil on the cool air intake side of the turbos and decided that it was the vacuum pump. Was this in fact just a quick guess? Maybe not.
This oil was coming from the CCV’s, which should be replaced at regular maintenance intervals. Both sides were leaking, one side was cracked and leaking much worse. These items were observed when I was looking over the car and had been placed on the short-term list of items to be addressed. This was the clincher for me on just what type of dealership this was.
Where did they stand to make more money. By replacing two CCV’s or by replacing a vacuum pump to the tune of around $2400? A mechanically functional vacuum pump with no leaks at that. Would they have instead replaced the CCV’s, called it done, never touching the vacuum pump, and charged me the $2400? I will leave that to the reader to decide.
Then finally the tires. There was absolutely nothing wrong with the tires. Plenty of tread left and no imperfections. With the tread being obviously great on the tires both inner and outer sidewalls were checked for any visual problems. There were none.
The findings on the drivetrain malfunctions by the other dealer was interesting. Four of eight coils had to be replaced. These are over the plug type coils that are sometimes damaged with the simple act of changing spark plugs. This, along with everything else, gives me ample room to question the activities clearly attributable to the other dealer’s service department.
To cause damage to a vehicle that someone turns down additional work on, that should be a crime. It is property damage, however if law enforcement were approached one would be told that it is a civil matter, nothing they can do. It appears the best avenue is to educate one’s self, research these businesses, and avoid them if at all possible.
Imagine, what if I had been someone with limited or no mechanical aptitude or abilities. I would be $8k lighter, potentially more had I allowed the car to be taken back there after it started running horribly. That is a large sum of money regardless of anyone’s level or lot in life. It pays to learn some basic mechanic skills.
I have two daughters that probably do not think very highly of me, because I was a “jerk” to them growing up. You see, when they obtained their first cars I made them perform horrible acts considering they were girls and should not have to do the things I made them do.
The first time their vehicles needed oil changes, I did it and made them watch. The next time they had to do it, and they did so, but not without plenty of complaints of course. All maintenance and repairs went the same path, gosh I was so horrible to them.
They now know if they need new tires or not. They can change their oil, air filter, tires, and do most routine maintenance. They know enough that a common shyster won’t so readily take advantage of them. One is actually a little gear head, yes that is a term of endearment, and one that I call a win.
As for the Beamer, boy do I like driving that car!