By on December 21, 2013

bmw 323

Today’s Ur-Turn comes from TTAC reader Mike Stanizewski, who writes about his experiences with his E46 winter beater. Mike says

“I wanted to write this article after reading some of the recent articles regarding German cars and their long term reliability. Some of the commenters in the Cayenne article were wondering out loud what happens to old German cars when they reach their third uncaring owners. Well here I am, the third uncaring owner, and I want to tell you what it’s like to drive an old, high-mileage German car through the winter months.”

I live in Michigan. In my off hours I buy and sell used cars through my friend’s dealership. This gets me access to used cars at good prices. Every winter I pick out one of these cars to drive during the winter months in order to keep the salt off my nicer car.
My goal is to find a car that’s not too old and not too beat. And very cheap to buy.

I always pick a car that I paid less than $1500 for. This way I keep the cheap one-way insurance on it and feel that my downside risk is pretty low in case of an accident. I try to pick something that’s about 10 years old and around 150,000 miles. Most of the older cars with high mileage are beat, but there are always a few that have been taken care of well. One of these is a great winter beater candidate. In past years I have picked old Focuses as my beater for the winter. If you find a good one, they are reliable rides at least for the four months that I need them to be.

This year, I had already picked out a nice stick shift Focus wagon for myself when I ran across a thing of beauty at the auctions – a nice and shiny BMW 3-series. It has more than 200,000 miles on it but the price was below my $1500 target.

I always had a weak spot for the German cars. I’ve owned several Porsches, BMWs, and Audis over the years. For me, this BMW was a very beautiful car for the price of a Focus. I decided to sell the Focus wagon and keep this BMW. I even joked to my friends that at least if the BMW strands me, I’ll look good standing next to it!

It’s a 1999 BMW 323, the E46 bodystyle. It’s automatic. And it has a few issues. It leaks a little engine oil, power steering oil, and coolant. It has a shake in the center tunnel when starting that is probably the flex coupling to the driveshaft. It has two non-functioning power windows. Sometimes it doesn’t engage reverse gear. The windshield washer pump doesn’t work.
But, it has decent tires. The engine and transmission do not make any unusually noises. The suspension and ball joints feel tight. The brake pads aren’t too old. The heat works great.

Now you have to have a different mindset for your winter beater than you do with your prized cars. On a car like this, when something breaks or isn’t working to begin with (like the windows), you do a cost-benefit analysis in your head that goes something like “can I live without that feature for four months?” Usually the answer is yes. For something essential like the windshield washer pump, you may have to spend the money to replace it. The plan is to add as little money as possible to this car. For example, I don’t plan to buy any oil for this car. Over the winter I will drive it for about 10,000 miles. The oil that came with it isn’t exactly clean, but it isn’t used up either. I plan to put another 5,000 miles on this oil, and then replace it with some used Mobil 1. The used oil is the oil that I drain from my wife’s minivan after 5,000 miles of use. That oil will stay with the car until I sell it in April, and my oil cost for the beater is zero (I will buy a new oil filter for it though).

I have been driving this car for a month and nearly 2,000 miles now. The car drives very nice. You can feel how wonderful this car must have been when it was new. It has started every day and not let me down so far. I can live with the little leaks and the broken power windows, but I will have to climb under the car and replace that driveshaft coupler before I can sell it since it causes so much shake in the center tunnel. I also have to plan how I park the car, since it sometimes will not engage reverse gear. This is a known problem with a solenoid on the valve body for that particular transmission, but I plan to just live with it and park so that I can always push the car out of its spot in case Reverse is a no go.

I have three months left to go. I am hoping that the car makes the ride.

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!

158 Comments on “Ur-Turn: My BMW Winter Beater...”


  • avatar
    Halftruth

    Curious to see how you make out, perhaps things are not what they seem when it comes to German autos. I recently picked up an old K75RT and it never fails to impress. Keep us updated.

    • 0 avatar
      Syke

      If you have the kind of service I got out of my K75C, you’re going to love it. Utterly competent and boring, just piles on mile after mile without a second thought. And the perfect winter bike, because the finish is so industrial there’s nothing to corrode.

      The only problems I had on mine was icy roads. And the engine guards kept the damage to virtually nothing.

      • 0 avatar
        Halftruth

        Hey Syke,

        While not utterly boring to me, I agree it is more than competent and very comfortable on long distance rides. It’s a rider’s bike, not a show stopper, attention getting , look-at-me-my-loud-pipes are louder than yours type of machine.. and ridiculously over-engineered. Center stand has two springs and an adjuster. Overkill, but hey, that is zee Germans for you.

    • 0 avatar
      Manic

      Well, Europe is full of people who have driven only German cars, years and decades and have not have any problems and so will buy German car next time too. I’m one of them.
      TTAC’s readership sometimes seems to be in a kinda panic mode when “German” is discussed. Knee-jerk “it will explode tomorrow” reaction. There’s some turkeys, sure, but I don’t think in Europe any German brand has any bigger problems, perceived quality wise.

    • 0 avatar
      3Deuce27

      Reg; “perhaps things are not what they seem when it comes to German autos.”

      I can pretty much guarantee that they aren’t. I have for the last 20 years or so, been locating and buying for the flip, fun, or for friends/acquaintances every thing from e-21’s to several Merc SLK’s one an AMG, and none have had any major problems. Granted they were bought in great shape, but some had mileage of over 200,000 miles.

      The high mileage models were bought for much the same reason, Mike bought his ‘Winter Beater’. Need to drive from Miami to Seattle with a load from your now vacant apartment, buy a 5-series wagon and head out. This actually happened four years ago and the owner is still happily driving her old, unreliable, throw away German car.

      In 2006, I bought an 83′ SL380 in Ft. Lauderdale, it had 180,+++ miles, but was very nice looking with a full maintenance history. I needed to haul a marine diesel engine and some other sailboat hardware back home. Had a trailer hitch put on and bought a trailer from Harbor Freight, loaded it, and drove it home to Portland, Oregon, and sold it to a friend who still prizes it.

      Now there are a few newer German cars to be cautious of, the early ‘New Bugs’ are one as well as the early ‘C’ series Merc’s. But then every OEM ha a few cars in their past that one should be cautious of.

      Do your due diligence, buy an enjoy until it leaves you by the roadside, then walk away having paid very little in per mileage costs.

  • avatar
    LeeK

    What!? Somebody with a tale of an older German car that isn’t an absolute reliability nightmare that has caused him to get a second and third mortgage just to pay the fearsome repair bills?

    We can’t have this at all. No sir, not allowed.

    • 0 avatar
      jco

      to be fair, the thing has some issues that would result in some non-trivial repair bills. the whole point is that he isn’t fixing them. the leaks, shakes, electrical gremlins are there, though. sometimes you can get lucky and just surf the issues until the car has served it’s purpose and you unload it.

      • 0 avatar
        sfvarholy

        All of the issues he mentions are all known E46 issues. All common and none, other than the leaks, are very expensive fixes in terms of parts cost or labor if you wrench it yourself.

        The windshield washer is either the pump or the grommet that goes between the pump and the reservoir. The pump is between 18-35 bucks depending on whether you insist on OEM or not. It’s a 15 minute one bolt affair.

        The window regulators, like GM cars, are prone to failure and aren’t very time consuming to replace.

        The E46 was designed to be maintained and repaired. That’s why I am the 3rd owner of one: the issues are known and generally the cars do not suffer expensive failures — although some ZF trannys are problematic.

        I will say this: if you find you are possibly losing coolant, that means the overflow tank is getting ready to split and dump all the coolant out of the system. Bad bad news if it happens while driving. Once the gauge shows it overheating, you’ve probably already warped the aluminum head.

    • 0 avatar
      jz78817

      wow. did you just plain ignore the list of things he said were broken?

      • 0 avatar
        Kevin Jaeger

        Yeah, obviously he should just get a Honda or Toyota anything. Nothing has ever broken on them in a mere 14 years or 200,000 miles.

        • 0 avatar
          Power6

          Keep reinforcing your own stereotypes bud. This whole exercise is completely pointless without knowing the vehicle history.

          • 0 avatar
            Kevin Jaeger

            Well, just scan any Toyota or Honda forum and day after day it’s the same thing. Someone posts up a question “anyone have any issues to talk about yet?” and then endless responses of “nope, not yet” and “me either”.

            Pretty boring.

          • 0 avatar
            Power6

            Actually, the es300 forums of club Lexus aren’t far off from this. Most that have 200k to 500k, and there are a number of them, have not had many or any window failures and trans is a crap shoot to go that far. Very few get the sludge or maybe those owners move on.

            I don’t make any conclusions from that other than personal feelings about it but there isn’t much objective there. I only have 107k on my es300 it’s too young ;-)

            Imo BMWs have been built in the past to go for decades, the parts and expertise to keep them running have been expensive, and little failures in non critical systems are common. German cars always seem like this. I’m the car guy in my family and at work, everyone always tells me about their woes, so you tend to build up a feeling about these things. This is not objective evidence of anything. Neither is your forum wisecrack.

            I don’t draw any conclusion here because we have no clue what happened to this car for the first 200k. You’ll find “evidence” wherever you want to.

            So as I said keep enforcing your stereotypes

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            I drove an ’01 ES300 for a week in 2006 which at the time had 21K and was somehow ordered with leather and moonroof deleted (and I believe the trip computer was also deleted). Try as I might to hoon the car around truth be told it had so little power I just shook my head as to why anyone would want one of these (luxury cars should have adequate power, ES300 came with just a 3.0 litre 170hp @ 5200rmp). Sure it was quiet, very nice two tone (black/grey) exterior, but I meh’d the interior and as I said this one was missing key luxury options of the period. Would I buy one now? Honestly yes but only for a few grand and I would only buy one that I thought was clean (and I would still prefer the LS400). In 2006 we had $22,000 in it and I think had 25 or 26 on it, any of those prices were out of touch on this model (esp with the missing options). The car ended up being wholesaled to another dealer when we couldn’t break even at Manheim’s BAA. For similar money at the time you could have had an LS400.

          • 0 avatar
            Power6

            Actually I have the 01 it has 210hp vvti! Obviously not a hooners car in the least but it was good for 7 something 0-60 in its day so not bad. I am a perpetual tinkerer I have swapped in the ultra rare AVS strut system (only one ever to do this ;-)), with an Avalon rear sway bar it drives alright and changes to suit my mood with a roller switch. Ive owned plenty of fast cars so I am not delusional.

            I figure with the growth of cars, this thing is like a new v6 Honda civic with HIDs real leather and wood and great stereo, what’s not to like. it’s quieter too.

            Now I rent a number of cars, had a 300 last week and it is way faster than an old dumb Lexus, but you know I still like getting back in the old camlex

            I share your thoughts about the ES being sorta blah though. I have a soft spot for the first GS400/430 over the LS a bit sportier. If I went back…well at least this ES is stupid cheap to keep running, and a 1500 one of these working out great is pretty easy to do.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            A big +1 Power6, Toyota should have made the VVT standard and done a little tinkering of its own when the cars were new instead of selling a white bread hold the jelly sedan for stupid money.

            Trouble in my area with an ES300 is they’ve been mostly destroyed by the 3rd, 4th, and 5th owners at this point. You have a better chance of finding a GS due to relative love by their owners and the fact the BHPH crowd doesn’t really know what they are so to speak. I’m happy with my current beater, but I would love me a cheap ES300 that I didn’t care much about.

          • 0 avatar
            KalapanaBlack

            I’m gonna have to disagree with you about the GS vs ES debate… Many ESs are used up, yes, but they are stupid reliable. The GS, not nearly so. And rare. And much more attractive to the low brow crowd due to RWD, relative scarcity, bigger size (thus more intimidating?), available V8, and Supra-related base engine, all of which make them harder and more expensive to service, thus less likely to be fixed by fixed incomers.

            In my experience, GSs tend to be far more abused than comparable ESs, often not roadworthy, but with half the miles.

          • 0 avatar
            Power6

            You can find good examples of each. The good thing about Lexus is there are a number of one owner cars over long periods dealer maintained. Mine was owned by first owner from 2001 new through 2012 bought and services at the the same dealer.

            GS is def going to need more maintenance, more complex, but it is a technically superior car at any rate so it is a trade off.

            I understand that tradeoff with a BMW in many cases a better driving car but cost a bit more to keep it running.

      • 0 avatar
        LeeK

        “wow. did you just plain ignore the list of things he said were broken?”

        I did not. It leaks a little fluid. Two window regulators don’t work. The windshield washer is ether clogged or the motor is burned out. It’s 15 years old and has 200,000 miles on it. What do you expect for a car of such age and wear?

        My 15 year old Honda CR-V with 160,000 miles on it has many of the same issues. I’ve owned it since it was new and kept it maintained exactly according to Honda’s maintenance intervals. It leaks a little coolant and oil. I’ve replaced the clutch master cylinder, the radiator, the rear hatch struts, and the central locking controller. Two lug studs broke the last time I rotated the tires. There is a chronic CEL that my mechanic can’t diagnose. I still think of it as a very reliable car, and all the issues I have are expected for a car of such age.

        The point is the constant hammering by posters here, particularly in the past week, of anything made in Germany as an unmitigated reliability disaster. This is what prompted the writer to do the piece in the first place. Of course this 323i has issues. All cars this age do. But it still runs, it still gets him from point A to point B every day in miserable weather conditions, and he probably likes the way it handles. The ominous warnings we’ve been getting in a fairly steady stream here this past week about the dangers of owning a German car strike me as tired old clichés repeated with certainty by people who have no meaningful contribution to the discussion other than to argue.

    • 0 avatar
      APaGttH

      Exactly. Other than leaking all bodily fluids, the drive shaft, a wonky transmission and electrical issues it’s a real gem of a car. A picture of European reliability and German engineering.

      • 0 avatar
        Kyree S. Williams

        That’s true. I’m not on the “Save the Manuals!” bandwagon, but if I had to take a car of questionable lifespan and use it as a beater, I might just opt for a manual.

        Then again, it’s only four months…

      • 0 avatar
        rdchappell

        So what car at 200k miles and 14 years old is a paragon of reliability? Any Toyota or Honda at that age will need work, too.

        • 0 avatar
          Power6

          How can you even say that, there are no conclusions to draw at all, maybe those issues have been deferred for years or maybe they just popped up yesterday. At 200k miles we have no idea what it took to get there and how much it cost.

          Unless of course you already have a conclusion that you are looking to enforce, then by all means keep the BS coming.

          • 0 avatar
            Kinosh

            Entirely anecdotal, but still a valid counterpoint. I have had one repair (repair, not maintenance) item on a 2003 Camry I4 that is currently at 230k.

            All other factors held constant, I would take you’re average I4 Japanese or V6/I6 American model over a German vehicle of similar vintage. There’s exceptions, of course.

        • 0 avatar
          KalapanaBlack

          Well sir, I was in a head-on collision a week ago yesterday, which means that I’m shopping for a vehicle (in fact, right in this price range – I’m cheap).

          The car that I was driving was a 1995 Toyota Avalon XLS. I would consider it a paragon of reliability at 214k miles. I owned it for almost 3 years and put one new battery in it, and when I moved to PA, to pass the more rigorous inspection, I needed two $30 front brake lines replaced (they weren’t bad, just nearly bad). That’s the sum total in 3 years and 20,000 miles of driving.

          The list of things it leaked was short (power steering fluid, about half a cup every month, due to a known defect in ’95-96 Avalon steering racks), and a little bit of coolant from the OEM Delco radiator (I put a gallon of mixed in once a month). I could have fixed the radiator, but it leaked slowly enough that I didn’t take the initiative.

          The list of things that worked was long, however. All four power windows, both power seats, the automatic climate, air conditioning, power sunroof, radio (cassette only!) had one blown rear 6×9, all lights, power locks, keyless entry, automatic headlights, power trunk release… The engine mounts were fine. The body had no rust issues beyond surface rust underneath – it was 19 and had 214k. The clear coat was fading in some places. The power antenna was long gone, replaced with a cheap whip type. It got perfect radio reception – better than the 2014 Cruze I have as a rental now, in fact. The only time it failed to start was when the battery it came with (a Toyota one) went. I bought one from Advance for around $100. The cruise control worked flawlessly. In fact, the only interior system that didn’t work well was the display for the exterior temperature and clock, which would fade out in extremely hot weather. So for 3 months out of the year, I didn’t know what the outside temp was for the 12 hottest hours of the day, and needed to reset the dashboard clock eventually. Between about September and May of every year, I didn’t need to reset it a single time.

          I know it’s an anecdote, and I know there’s probably someone out there with a 328i that they had good luck with. But my Avalon speaks for itself. And despite a book value of $1700 and the insurance company offering me a payout of $2100 (I had no liability in the accident, miss the Avalon terribly, and wish I had it back rather than even a newer $5000 car), I can’t even come close to buying another car of any type for $2500 that’s not completely ratted out due to poor ownership, poor build quality, or both.

          By the way, my Avalon was no garage queen. It was given comprehensive maintenance, parked on the street since at least ’01, and previously driven by a complete non-enthusiast who didn’t care to spend his dollars at the Toyota dealer for overpriced maintenance. It simply was an overbuilt car, which seems to be backed up by Truedelta’s recent posting about auction car longevity.

          • 0 avatar
            Lie2me

            This is the one big thing that sucks about having an old car that runs well. It gets totaled in an accident and now you’ve got to replace it with $2100, not that easy. Hope you’re OK

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            Agreed Lie2Me. I like to think if your posting KalpanaBlack you’re relatively ok but make sure to look after yourself and report any concussion symptoms. I was t-boned in 1997 (on my side, no airbag) and was fortunate to walk away literally unscathed. I cringe when I think about it.

          • 0 avatar
            Lie2me

            I mixed it up with a semi 5 years ago, I didn’t walk away, but I’m OK now. I still can’t look at the pictures…

          • 0 avatar
            Kyree S. Williams

            Ouch! Well, I’m glad you’re okay and that we didn’t lose one of our own. Head-on collisions are no joke…

          • 0 avatar
            KalapanaBlack

            Thanks for the support guys! I’m still a little banged up but nothing serious (thank God). I’ve always wondered how 19 year old airbags would work. Turns out, they worked just fine. The biggest pain is (1) losing my beloved Avalon and (2) jumping through insurance and car purchasing hoops.

          • 0 avatar
            Lie2me

            Glad to hear you’re pretty much OK

      • 0 avatar
        S1L1SC

        I have a 1991 Buick Roadmaster with 225k miles on it.
        Over the last 3 years it has needed new axles, bearing, drive shaft U-joints, new differential, AC control module, heater core, blower fan, brake parts, battery, new oil seals all around, new engine gaskets, various other control sensors, etc…

        There is a bunch of small trim pieces & larger body parts I can even get anymore since GM discontinued production.

        I would say my Buick is as much a picture of American reliability and engineering…

        At least BMW still supplies 90%+ of the parts for every single model they ever sold – wish I could say the same about any American manufacturer.

        These are old cars – they will have issues. Doesn’t matter is it is a American, Japanese, Korean or German car. But it seems like the hate on the German cars really is overblown on this site at times.

        • 0 avatar
          3Deuce27

          Reg; ” hate on the German cars really is overblown”

          You have too consider the source of these uninformed comments. Usually from fourteen year old’s with sandbox mentalities, not from the B&B’s.

          Its to bad that their experience can’t be confirmed, but usually it s pretty apparent they are talking out of paper assholes.

          Same goes for the ‘Oil Change Nazis’. Most have no clue about oil, are wasting a resource, and probably polluting the planet with the waste oils by dumping it behind the garage or burning it.

          Their judgmental attitude indicates other personal issues, like self esteem, control, and anal retentive issues. Add to that a total ignorance of modern lubricants, particularly full synthetics.

          Most have never had their psychosis, oop’s… I mean oil analyzed. And they sure as hell have never rebuilt an engine let alone hundreds of them which would give them a heads up on what causes engine failures, and it is rarely old, abused oil.

          But hell, they sound authoritative, which pumps their chest out and enforces their self proclaimed, and necessary, superiority over mere unworthy mortals.

        • 0 avatar
          Power6

          I would expect you need to replace brake parts, u-joints, and a battery. So I guess you are padding the list to come to whatever conclusion you want to. Again in this history of the BMW is unknown so we can’t compare to your Buick, whether you like your Buick or not and are looking to confirm your feelings by getting agreement on the Internet is rather irrelevant, but you can find agreement or disagreement on the Internet, whichever you need just dial up the right forum and you can have it.

          I am surprised you need a new diff, those Roadbastards have the old GM 10 bolt 8.5″ rear and you have a whopping 185 HP. The stock 10-bolt in my Grand National did countless 12 sec 1/4s with mid-100k miles. Those things take a beating.

          This is intriguing about the parts availability, I have heard the Germans are great for this, at least with the 70s cars, I didn’t know if the 80s and 90s stuff was good s well. I have found Lexus is pretty good but the parts are so expensive you really have to need a part. For example any of the wood trim pieces is $500-2.5k list price. I paid $100 for a piece of plastic sill trim at club lexus discount. I had better experiences with GM and Subaru, much more reasonably price parts. I have heard some OEMs do this, one way to have “10 years of parts” for a model is to price them so high nobody buys.

  • avatar
    jbltg

    Note to self: Continue life-long policy of never buying a used car.

    • 0 avatar
      Kinosh

      I cringed at “replace with some used Mobil 1″. If you’re going to do an oil change, how is that worth your time?

      • 0 avatar
        jbltg

        Scary AND pointless.

        • 0 avatar
          highrpm

          Hi. I’m the winter beater owner. I knew that my oil change theory for this car is controversial.

          Keep in mind that I am only keeping it for 4 months. I’m putting in used oil but it is Mobil 1 with 5k on it only. It made it to 200,000 miles on a factory recommended 15,000 mile oil change interval so my used 5k oil is only 1/3 used up when it goes into the 323i.

          For me it ‘s more about the idea of a free winter ride. I want to sell it for what I paid in the spring, so any additional costs go against this plan.

          Also keep in mind that it’s 14 years old and already made 200,000+ miles. My 4 months of ownership won’t degrade this car’s beater status.

          • 0 avatar
            vvk

            Personally, I would just not change it. If you want to change the oil filter, that’s fine. You don’t need to drain any oil to do that. Use the used Mobil 1 to top up.

            Two reasons:

            a) oil must have BMW LongLife-98 approval, which is extremely unlikely coming from a “minivan.”

            b) the E46 requires 7 quarts for an oil change. Doubt your “minivan” holds more than 5.

            If you do want to do an oil change, get a case of MAG1 5W-40 from Amazon for $30 with free shipping. It has BMW LL-01 approval.

          • 0 avatar
            3Deuce27

            I applaud your reused oil strategy. That oil has plenty of life left in it. Synthetic oil really never wears out, just needs to be cleaned. When it gets quite old 25,000 plus miles, it does lose a lot of the additives that were added when new, but that can be dealt with.

            Most oil is changed to often, and most of it gets dumped into the environment or burned.

            http://www.edmunds.com/car-care/stop-changing-your-oil.html

          • 0 avatar

            One single oil change when you get the car seems like a trivial cost (especially since you’re already committed to spending the time doing it). I mean, you’re putting new gas into it, aren’t you?

        • 0 avatar
          APaGttH

          I don’t get it either. I pay my mechanic $23 to change oil with synthetic blend no less, filter, and all vital fluids topped off.

          The trouble it would take to recycle the partially “used” oil out of the G8 (that sees maybe 5K miles a year) just isn’t worth the $10 I would save on oil.

          I get it’s a beater – I drive a winter beater – but my time is worth more that a few quarts of used oil.

          • 0 avatar
            matador

            I’d personally for new oil, but thr cheap stuff. Our O’Reilly’s has a $14 oil + filter special. Not great stuff, but good enough for a winter beater.

            At 200k, though, I doubt that it would really make a major difference. If it has some life left in it, why not run it in a beater?

            I put Castrol or Mobil 1 in all of my nicer cars, but my 230k mile Impala beater gets whatever is on sale.

  • avatar
    baggins

    I enjoyed reading this,but this type of activity only makes sense if

    1) you enjoy working on cars as a hobby onto itself

    Or

    2) assign a low value on your free time

    Doing an oil change with used oil? that one I really dont get.

  • avatar
    ant

    this is a funny post.

    my beater is a 2000 dodge intrepid. Yes, with a 2.7.

    we inherited the thing from my wife, who I met 10 years ago. We’ve just kept the thing.

    It has some issues: AC don’t work, back seat windows don’t go down, one of the front wheel bearings makes noises, windshield is cracked bad, tires are bald, and um, that’s it I think. Also too, I have not replaced any of the coolant or trany fluid for 10 years now.

    I just hate to spend any money on the thing at this point, cause I’m worried that the water pump would start to leak into the oil, or the timing belt would blow up, or the oil will just sludge.

    I’d have to fix all that crap too b4 I did the rest of the stuff u c.

    The POS has actually grown on me a fair amount over the years, despite its shortcomings: It steers right, it has great heat, it goes straight when im drunk, its easy to drive when im fked up, and it always starts.

    Im pretty anal about keeping the oil fresh and new looking.

    Here is a toast to winter beaters. lol

    • 0 avatar
      jz78817

      by internet car snob standards, your Intrepid would be considered “broke-ass Chrysler junk” but the nearly equally broken BMW owned by the article writer would be “runs great, fantastic car!” followed by a bunch of people who just have to talk about their “E-this” or “N-that.”

      (note that I am not accusing Mike S. of saying this, ‘cos he clearly didn’t.)

      • 0 avatar
        Halftruth

        Such is perception vs reality. I have owned and passed on three LHs to new owners (not junked) and none of them ever lost a tranny or a motor. I am a Chryco guy (if I had to pick) but I am no fan of the 2.7 as they run the water pump off the timing chain and if that pump fails, it’s bye bye motor. But.. my dad’s is well over a 100k and has never had any problems outside of wear and tear items.

        • 0 avatar
          Power6

          Is that 4 months each of ownership…great anecdotes in that case.

          I’ve owned a number of cars where the timing belt runs the water pump. Didn’t seem like a bad design, never overheat from an accessory belt failure, water pump gets replaced when timing belt job is done…Oh wait you said timing chain…I guess if the pump has a shorter lifetime than the chain that is a huge pain…

          • 0 avatar
            Halftruth

            Yes P6, if the pump bearing/seal lets go and the car is driven with water getting into the oil, it will tank the bearings in short order. Not all failures of this type are the same, but if not caught in time, it does not end well. Engine fluids should be separate and not leak into one another.

    • 0 avatar
      cwallace

      I can’t imagine either this Dodge or the BMW passing a state safety inspection- as if winter roads aren’t dangerous enough to begin with! Glad I don’t live in a snow state.

      • 0 avatar
        fincar1

        …and I’m glad I don’t live in a “state inspection” state.

        • 0 avatar
          cwallace

          Which state is that?

          In Texas they stop smogging cars after, what, 20 years, but it still has to pass the safety inspection. Cracked windshield? Sprayers don’t work? Bald tires? No sticker.

          You used to be able to go out to the boonies to Cousin Mirrel, but the state has the process automated enough now that those guys just aren’t around anymore.

      • 0 avatar
        burgersandbeer

        You would be surprised at the crap that can pass a state inspection. The body is rusted through, the tires are bald on the inside, and the brake pads are at 1mm, but Heaven (or maybe the Commonwealth of MA) forbid the parking brake can’t hold the car perfectly still.

        Sharing your desire to be surrounded by other safe cars on the road, I used to support them. I am starting to think they are simply more government extortion though.

      • 0 avatar
        MBella

        I’m with you cwallace. I just did an oil change on a car today where the owner says he is sick of us telling him what’s wrong with the car. Why he brings it in for service I have no idea. These cars need to get off the roads.

    • 0 avatar
      VoGo

      Ant,
      Replace the bald tires or junk the Intrepid. You don’t want your wife’s tombstone to read: “Husband too cheap to buy tires”

  • avatar
    HerrKaLeun

    I don’t understand the idea of a winter beater. If you spend $1K-$2K every winter (inc. repairs, losses, repairs, insurance) or even more over 10 years you spend ~$15K. Is your nice car really $15K worth more when not driven in winter?

    In addition 4 months out of the year you have a car with bad features, while you pay for a nice car with the features you wanted that sits in the garage. If you are willing to sacrifice all the features, why not have cheap used old cars to begin with?

    I think there is no real monetary justification. Besides old cars typically have old batteries or other things going on, especially so cheap ones. And you need additional garage space. And in a snow blizzard, wouldn’t you wnat the most reliable car with the best tires, the latest gadgets? On icy roads you are more likley to be in an accident, wouldn’t you want the car with modern safety features for that?

    • 0 avatar
      jz78817

      if you have a car nice enough that you don’t want to drive it in the winter, I think it’s pretty safe to say that “monetary justification” wasn’t at the top of the list. I don’t drive my Mustang in the winter (summer tires + a desire to minimize exposure to road salt) but when I got my winter vehicle (a Ranger) “saving money” wasn’t even on the table.

      • 0 avatar
        highrpm

        +1 to jz78817. It’s all about keeping salt off your other car.

        But since you know that you only plan to keep a winter beater for 4 months, the sport is to try to spend as little on that car as possible so that you have a free winter ride. If you are used to a nicer car that you take car of well, you will find that it’s actually hard to control the impulse to NOT repair stuff on the beater and to not put in good oil .

      • 0 avatar
        HerrKaLeun

        I see when you have a RWD Mustang you want a winter car… but getting a BMW for that wouldn’t be the best idea since it is RWD as well.

        It is one of the enthusiast things I wouldn’t understand. Same with a convertible for the summer only.

      • 0 avatar
        golden2husky

        jz78817: I agree – Money is not the reason for a winter rat. I chose a different strategy than the OP. Instead of buying a new rat every winter, I got a family hand me down and use that for winter use, Home Depot runs, skiing, train station, etc. 10 years of use by me, it is now on the eve of its 22 year birthday. My fun car sits out use in the winter anytime the corrosive crap is all over the road. The key to making this work is getting a car that is cheap to buy but in tip top shape when you get it. I, for one, could never live with a car that had a list of broken stuff on it.

    • 0 avatar
      N8iveVA

      But i imagine he will sell the car and probably get what he paid for it.

      • 0 avatar
        DeeDub

        Minus transaction costs (tax title registration). I guess there are states out there where this doesn’t add like $500 to the cost of a car? Plus the whole endeavor is a dice roll that the car doesn’t develop a terminal condition during those four months. And on a sub-$1500 car, terminal is a repair costing more than a few hundred dollars. I just don’t see the benefit.

    • 0 avatar
      Toad

      I think the “winter beater” is an old school upper midwest/northeastern US remnant of the days when road salt would destroy a new car in 5 years or less.

      20+ years ago autos were not designed or built to withstand corrosion; that is why every northern US city had multiple Ziebart or similar rustproofing franchises. If you drove your new or newer car in the winter the road salt would start to eat your body panels and undercarriage immediately and in the worst case your body panels would have rust holes in them within 3 years. Within 5 years your new car could almost be junk. Under those circumstances it made sense to park your good car for the months when the roads were salted and drive a piece of junk.

      With better design and materials cars resist rust far longer and the economics of a winter beater don’t necessarily pencil out (the non-econmoic donwside of driving a POS, having to store it and be seen in it, etc also need to be taken into account). But just like the 3000 mile oil change and the regular cab pickup, some habits/mindsets do not change with the times.

      • 0 avatar
        EquipmentJunkie

        I agree with you in some respects. New vehicles are generally better, but buying a winter beater is actually a mentality that is returning. In PA, they are beginning to pre-treat some roads before snows and that stuff wreaks havoc on stuff, especially brake lines. Also, the bodies of some new vehicles are still vulnerable to attack…our ’05 Sprinter was resprayed a year ago due to rust. Unacceptable? Yes, but still very much a reality.

        • 0 avatar
          HerrKaLeun

          Assuming you mean the Sprinter van (by Chrylser or Mercedes depending on MY), those are prone to rust like Mazda 3. Even without salt I bet those are rusty.

          the pre-wetting with salt actually reduces overall salt usage (and improves safety… nothign corrodes as fast as a smashed fender :)

      • 0 avatar
        mikey

        My first cars were from the early 60’s . In 1971 an eight year old car was considered junk. My peers would buy them up, and doctor them a little bit. Not many saw the 10 year mark.

        Yes, without a doubt the modern vehicles are vastly superior,as far as rust issues go. That being said slush,salt, snow, and the freeze, thaw cycle will still kill them. I like having, and driving a nice car. I’ve owned many. If you have the funds,to flip them every two, or three years. You don’t need a winter beater.

        If you live in rust country,and you want your car to stay nice, for five or ten years,
        you got to go with a winter beater.

    • 0 avatar
      TOTitan

      Winter cars make perfect sense in extreme climates. I lived in Anchorage Alaska from 1971-1988. I the mid 70’s I had a pristine 1972 240Z, which was way too low and fragile to use as a winter car. In 1978 I bought a $800 1970 Toronado to use as a winter car. A 455, fwd with studded snowtires, and massive weight made a awesome winter ride. It was nearly unstoppable in the snow, and it was so ugly and menacing looking that people would scramble to get out of my way….lol. Four years later I sold it for $1000. I was the perfect winter car.

      • 0 avatar
        Kenmore

        “A 455, fwd with studded snowtires, and massive weight”

        As a Wisconsite frequently out before the plows on rural roads, I would worship such a beast. And IT would get the garage, not my pansy car. Unstoppable!

    • 0 avatar
      MBella

      I have done the opposite one year. I used my Ranger as my “summer beater” while my Subaru sat in the garage. I had way too many miles on the Impreza and I used the truck so infrequently otherwise I wasn’t going to invest in good winter tires, etc.. What I found the most ironic was that the A/C didn’t work on the truck, and was ice cold on the Subaru.

    • 0 avatar
      Lie2me

      I know this sounds crazy, but I too prefer to drive my “nicer car” in the winter because it has the working features that I enjoy and the very reason I bought the car. I get my car washed daily at a close to home car wash that washes the under carriage as well thus minimizing the effects of salt. Buying, registering and insuring another car seems like an awful lot of trouble and expense for salt that’s easily washed away.

  • avatar
    tedward

    I like the author’s viewpoint. In fact I was browsing online dreaming of a winter beater just last night. I’d do a few things differently, but I also don’t have regular access to a revolving turnstile of sub 1500 dollar autos.

    My perfect winter beater has newish blizzaks, fresh bushings and a set of rally lights however. Also, battle scars should just be sprayed with rattle-can black and a shovel needs to be externally mounted somewhere. I’d prefer to do this to a car that most people would treat extremely well.

  • avatar
    White Shadow

    No self-respecting auto enthusiast (or even your basic “car guy”, for that matter) would drain old oil out of a minivan and use it in a BMW, even if it is just a winter beater. Stupid shit like that is the reason that I never buy used cars….even for a winter beater. If you plan to sell the car after the winter is over, then why not have some respect for the machinery and for the next owner as well? A few bucks spent on fresh oil isn’t going to break the bank, is it? I guess there are just always going to be cheap bastards in this world.

    • 0 avatar
      Quentin

      My big question to the beater bimmer owner is this: Do you disclose your used oil usage to the next buyer? If you do, don’t you think that the money you’ll get on the selling end would be lower than spending the $30 on new oil? If I were buying a car, even a cheap beater, and the owner told me that he put used oil in it, I’d immediately be uninterested or, assuming it was as super cheap beater, be offering $500 less. If you don’t disclose the used oil, well, that just isn’t very ethical.

  • avatar
    indi500fan

    Major fun points for wintertime rwd. Drive it like Steve Kinser at Eldora!

  • avatar
    Power6

    I do like how you didn’t draw any ridiculous conclusions, though some commenters are certainly trying to reinforce their prejudices.

    The only conclusion I can seem to draw is that…if you choose carefully, you can buy any car that will go 4months with zero maintenance for 1500. Of course to me that is a lot. I have bought cars that cost that much and driven them for years. I fixed the broken stuff though.

  • avatar
    wstarvingteacher

    We don’t really have winter beaters in the Houston area but we do have work/second cars. I hope you get your money back. I am confident that with your attitude and what I perceive to be your ability to deal with problems when they come up you will do just fine. If you fix much you may have to keep it longer to break even. It’s a crapshoot. Fish or cut bait.

    My attitude is somewhat different with our second car. I have always bought something old and solid. Then I fix what breaks for about five years. I don’t spend much money either because after a couple fixes things have tended to be fairly reliable. Just go to a good mechanic and be willing to spend some money. Your synthetic oil procedure is fine. Critics must not have noted your comment about not spending much. I’m on a fixed income and I don’t want to either. I put in synthetic and keep it a long time. I have had synthetic put in the transmission of what I buying now. “Pay me now or pay me later” used to be an oil company slogan and I believe it.

    I always have a new car that is under warranty as a primary car. My second car is an old truck. If mileage is not excessive they tend to last the longest IMO. Keep us posted on how things are going.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    Keeping cars for a few months and having the ability to acquire and dump them easily through a dealer connection is not really comparable to the average person, who will own it for years and who can’t easily buy cars at wholesale.

    • 0 avatar
      HerrKaLeun

      This may pan out for the author. But the normal person doesn’t have that privilege and 99.9% of population bring a car to the shop to fix, have to buy it from private or dealer, and get hosed accordingly.

      99.9% of the population also are not able to fix their car, they even pay a shop to replace the battery. and let’s just face it, everyone including myself sell a used car before I know of upcoming expenses (tires, suspension etc.) I don’t think anyone woudl spend a few thousand $ to get new brakes, suspension, fluids, and tires and then sell it. So to keep a car in reliabledriving condition any used car typically requires $500 for at least fluid changes etc. then add the tax you pay every time, and your time. If you have a semi-decent job, spending any hours on fixing a car is a net-loss if you could work during that time.

      I think it is a hobby thing only, if you enjoy fixing cars. and if that is your thing, I’m happy for you .

      • 0 avatar
        Kyree S. Williams

        Right. I think that point was covered sufficiently. Mister Stanizewski—how the hell do you pronounce that?!—was only sharing his method with us; he wasn’t suggesting that we all follow suit.

        • 0 avatar
          The Butler

          Are you serious or are you just making fun of the mans last name? In English it’s pronounced Stan-eh-zoo-ski….Very orthographic, very simple. How the hell do you pronounce Kyree? Is it Kire(as in tire)-ee, as in key? or Ky (as in sky);Ky-ree? Or maybe Kee-Ree? Kyre as in tyre with a silent “e”? 2 or 3 syllables?

          • 0 avatar
            Kyree S. Williams

            No, I was serious, although it may have come off wrong, for which I apologize. Keep in mind that I live in the south-central United States, where names like that (Polish?) aren’t so common. My name is pronounced as it looks, KY(as in sky)-ree(as in me)….two syllables, emphasis on the first one. But “Kyre”, rhyming with tyre, would have been pretty cool.

        • 0 avatar
          jz78817

          spelling aside, pronunciation is closer to “stan-ə-shə-ski.”

          Another tip: a name like “Turkiewicz” is pronounced closer to “tur-kev-ich.”

  • avatar
    The Heisenberg Cartel

    Fellow 1999 323i owner here! The used oil idea makes me cringe a bit. Otherwise good on you. I bought mine with 268,000 miles and a stick shift, had to replace the water pump and two belts one day later. Since then it’s up to 272,000 with zero mech issues, not even leaks or window regs. The electrical issues are the volume knob on the stereo has a mind of its own sometimes (steering wheel buttons do what they’re told though), as do the sunroof button and the interior lights button. None of those bother me really. Runs like a much newer car.

  • avatar
    mor2bz

    I drive my winter beater in the summer.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      Me too! But my “winter beater” is an ’01 Range Rover HSE – which has nothing wrong with it at the moment. It will tow for a living in the summer. I suppose technically my ’11 328i is a winter beater too, since I drive it in the winter more than the summer. The Porsche, Triumph, and Abarth are tucked away for the winter.

      My lawnmower doesn’t even get used motor oil!

  • avatar
    Kenmore

    By definition a winter beater will be parked in the driveway while the nice cars stay in the garage. That means you have to play Russian Front every morning before you can get to work.

    Windows freeze in their tracks; metal linkages snap; hoods, hatches and doors freeze shut and the the engine oil turns into frozen tar. And of course you get to deal with ice frozen onto everything so hard that it reminds old SF fans of Ringworld’s scrith.

    No thanks, never again.

    • 0 avatar
      Mathias

      Ah, pish posh.

      My winter beater is a bicycle with studded tires. And the way it works is this past week, it was bike or take the car out of the garage… so, since it was truly nasty here in mid-Michigan, I mostly drove.

      By the time New Year’s rolls around, I’ll probably have the minivan we’re trying to preserve in the garage… which means my car will be parked outside…. which makes the morning decision “ride in the cold for 15 minutes” vs. “scrape and cuss for 5 minutes, drive for 10.”

      Usually, the bike wins. It’s cheap, and it builds character, and it’s healthy.

      • 0 avatar
        Kinosh

        Yup, down here in Cincinnati my winter beater is the TANK or Metro. I have a Mazda3 that I use when I have to move for short term Co-op work. It’s a 2005 and it’s already rusting to the point of water seal and panel integrity issues.

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    This is a valid point. It’s kind of icy right now where I live, but road salt isn’t used that often and winter is only marginally more harsh on cars than summer (although I’d have told that ZR1 driver I saw yesterday to put his ride back in the garage). So a winter beater isn’t really necessary, unless you have a very, very nice car.

    Still, this is an interesting practice, and a worthy one. My question to you is what you do about perishables that wind up needing replacing from a safety standpoint. If tires or windshield wipers go, do you replace them with new items, or used ones? Or do you find cars that already have these things sorted? And are you able to shift these cars at a profit or close to what you paid for them at the end of the season?

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    Great article, both in premise and prose. I’m not terribly surprised you found a beat but decent E46 and will be able to drive it maybe 3K for four or five months. Try that with a beat E90 in a few years then I’ll be impressed.

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      Even the E90 cars aren’t so bad, especially the naturally-aspirated submodels.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        I’ve known three people with E90s (one was def a turbo) and all three were shop queens.

        • 0 avatar
          Kyree S. Williams

          Honestly, I haven’t seen too many issues with the 328i E90. It’s the 335i that’s a bit of an issue. And the F30 is going to be hell to maintain in the future. But I would hope that as cars get more and more computerized, maintenance-minded consumers get armed with newer and better tools to manage those cars…

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            My one friend’s was a ’06 330xi, one was an ’11 335xi, and the third I honestly can’t remember the model number but it was an ’08 sedan. The 335 had so many issues I can’t remember them all (I do recall the windshield randomly cracked in an open parking lot in the summer, took 4 weeks for the replacement) but the 330 was mostly trivial bs related to poor parts or build quality (numerous power window issues, wiring/electrical issues, numerous A/C issues, wheel sensors, OBD issues). The third unnumbered one was along the lines of the 330. For serious money, I don’t want to be at the dealership six to eight times a year whether its free or not, its incredibly inconvenient. If I go up the spending scale the products should get better, not worse.

          • 0 avatar
            Kyree S. Williams

            “If I go up the spending scale the products should get better, not worse.”

            Very true. Back in the seventies and earlier, buying a more-expensive car really was an investment in solidity. A Mercedes-Benz was less likely to break than a Chevrolet. Now it’s quite the opposite. Pre-baked technology and non-investment-minded consumers mean that an expensive car only needs to last the length of a lease without major issues. What’s more, a lot of plebeian cars are actually adopting the the technology and features of their pricier brethren, with all the defects and hassle that come with. That means those of us who come into money but want something nice that we can keep for a while end up having to go to nicer brands—Bentley, Rolls-Royce, Aston Martin…all of whom probably are just as unreliable if driven regularly—or having to buy an antique luxury car. It would be nice to know that half of the reason you’d pay twice as much for a 6-Series as a Challenger is because it would last twice as long, but alas.

            I think the worst BMW *by far* was the E65 7-Series. It was practically a rolling prototype. A more recent example of that kind of engineering might be the new W222 S-Class…

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            If I were to come into serious money I would literally rebuild/refurbish a much better and older car than purchase what passes for a “true luxury” car these days.

          • 0 avatar
            old5.0

            A guy down the road from me is selling a beautiful 69 Continental coupe. White over white leather. So tempting…

        • 0 avatar
          Ryoku75

          Agreed with older luxury vs new stuff, give me an old Mercedes or Jaguar and some extra cash over a Porsche Mecan or BMWs new FWD CUV.

  • avatar
    areader

    SAE paper 2003-01-3119 deals with wear with various oils. The tests involved surfaces that were new as well as broken in and new oils as well as oils that had come from fleet service of 12k miles. The wear using the used oils were much less than new oils. Also, go to http://oilstudy.spacebears.com for results of a study involving Blackstone oil analyses of oil at 1k mile intervals.

    Good oil used for 5k miles is as good as new provided the engine doesn’t have leaking injectors, leaking intake gaskets, etc.

  • avatar
    GreenWaldo

    I’m curious why you insist on using “used engine oil”, and not just doing a proper oil change. Regardless, interesting article.

  • avatar
    alexndr333

    It’s one thing to consider owning an old car for four months. It’s entirely another to have it as your only car, with no means to afford better. (I’m talking about the huge population of folks earning less than $35,000 / year.) These folks are smart enough to avoid things like this BMW, but will happily – and wisely – buy a early ’80’s GM B-body (Caprice, Delta 88, LeSabre). As someone once noted: A GM car will run badly longer than most cars run at all.

    • 0 avatar
      MBella

      Not all these folks are. I see many where they spend 5-8K on a 12-15 year old Mercedes, and then have absolutely no money to fix it. I don’t get why they don’t buy something normal that they can afford to keep in good shape.

      • 0 avatar
        Kevin Jaeger

        Of course the Chevy dealers see exactly the same thing – lots of people who have just barely enough to make the payments on their used and rusty Aveos or Cavaliers and utterly unable to handle the first repair it needs. It’s a pretty common sight for anyone in the auto service business, actually.

        A 12 year old Mercedes can be a reasonably frugal choice as long as your prepared to be smart about maintaining it. Serviced at dealer it certainly won’t be a cheap car to operate, though.

        • 0 avatar
          MBella

          I can’t speak for a Chevy dealer, but when I worked for independent shops, I found the person who bought a late model compact like a Focus or Cobalt was the most likely to maintain it right. They were usually smart enough to realize what it takes to drive a car, and the bought one they can afford. There are many exceptions though. There was one guy who had an Aveo that was terrible. I think he bought the car so cheap he was just going to drive it until it self destructed.

    • 0 avatar
      SaulTigh

      Lots of GM A-bodies running around my neck of the woods, all beat to hell but still moving under their own power. Mostly Cieras and Centurys. If I were in the market for a used car, I’d take a clean one if I could find it, or a W-body for the right price.

      • 0 avatar
        NoGoYo

        You cannot kill a FWD A-body. Most of the ones I see are 89-96 Centuries and Cieras, but they just don’t die. I guess by ’89 GM had the car so well sorted that even they couldn’t f***k it up.

  • avatar
    Preludacris

    I’m not sure I would want to be the guy who buys it from you in spring.

    • 0 avatar
      highrpm

      @preludacris, in fairness to me this BMW came with every issue that I mentioned. That’s why it was so cheap to buy.

      Springtime buyers with realistic expectations of an old car with high miles will not be disappointed.

      And for many folks, the idea of getting a decent looking German sedan for $1500 has a lot of appeal.

  • avatar
    Trend-Shifter

    I live in Michigan also and have my own beater strategy.
    I drive 110 miles a day round trip for my work commute. It is on the fine Detroit freeway system. Fortunately most of my trip is opposite the heavy traffic.

    Spring through fall my car gets peppered with stones from gravel trucks and from all the debris sucked up from trucks along the side of the fast lane of the freeway. Then in winter the salt spray rooster-tail from trucks attack every part of the car. The stone chipped body, the engine compartment, the electrical system, and the undercarriage.

    So what I do is buy older low mileage cars that are unloved but have proven drivetrains. The body, interior, and drivetrain must all be in excellent condition right at purchase. No rust! The purchased price is typically around $2500 ~ $5000 depending on the mileage.

    Then I invest the elbow grease, time, and money to bring all the maintenance items up to “as new” status. Fluid changes are must for everything. I will then decide if I just paint some key undercarriage components with rust protection or drop it off at Ziebart.

    At this point in the plan I should not ever need to do any major repairs for the remainder of the life of the car. Just fluid changes, tune-ups, brakes, etc. Then rust does it’s evil deed over time until I decide that it either starts looking bad or it is too hard to perform easy maintenance. That is usually around 5~6 years around 170,000 miles.

    I then sell it real cheap even though everything still works perfectly. I provide full disclosure that the impending rust will make it difficult after another year or so.

    So far this formula has worked over the past 25 years. I have never needed to rebuild an engine, transmission, or differential.

    My present car is a 1987 Audi 5000S Quattro.
    This one has been trying at times. But the mechanicals are holding up.

  • avatar
    SilverCoupe

    When I went to school in Ithaca in the late ’70’s, the fellow in the place next to mine restored Hudsons. He was the first (and really only) person that I knew that had a winter beater. He drove the Hudsons in the nice weather after the snow melted (which would probably be late April in Ithaca!) and drove some other forgettable vehicle during the winter. It made perfect sense not to subject the Hudsons to Ithaca’s winter weather. Me, I drove my Scirocco year round. It was a great winter car, and with aggressive snow tires, I never got stuck, but boy did the salt eat away at my car after a few years.

  • avatar
    jacob_coulter

    Sounds like this car is just reinforcing the stereotype, not shattering it.

    It’s sort of a catch-22 to use this as a test case to prove German cars are indeed reliable when it already has so many issues (oil leak, coolant leak, power steering leak) in addition to it not going into reverse, the drivehsaft shaking, windows not working etc. Your plan is to basically not fix it (which makes sense) and just hope it gets through the winter.

    As a comparison, I had a 1999 ES300 a few years ago that I used as a sort of beater, and despite around 160k miles, it was essentially perfect. Was it boring? Yes, but I’ll take that over the basket case of problems this car has any day. The car costs about the same new as the BMW did, yet why does the BMW have so many more issues? I don’t believe the spin that BMWs have so many issues because of owner neglect.

    If you took that BMW to a dealership to fix all those issues, you’d probably be looking at a bill that exceeded the value of the car by about 5-6 times. So a $1,500 car that needs about $8,000 in repairs.

    But it should make for great reading, keep us informed.

    • 0 avatar
      highrpm

      There is no way I could have gotten a Lexus like yours for $1500. And I wasn’t looking to spend any more. The $1500 target is great because you are never out more than that amount even if you junk the car.

      • 0 avatar
        jacob_coulter

        If you have to repair it, you’re out more than $1,500. Any of those issues being addressed would push up the price to put you in a similar (but boring) Lexus. And see what the BMW is worth if the transmission finally lets go. It’s off to the scrapyard, and $1,500 for 4 months of ownership is pretty pricey.

        The entry price is lower, but in my opinion the risk of greater costs during ownership is much greater. And a reliable car has a much easier exit strategy. And there is just the headache factor. I’ve soured VERY quickly on fun cars when they become service nightmare.

        I understand an enthusiast going with the BMW, but I’m skeptical that it’s either risk free or that it brings credibility to the idea that many European cars are not money pits. I think even with a steep discount, they’re still too expensive.

        Best of luck though with it. It would be a boring story if it was about a late 90’s Lexus. You’re not a real auto enthusiast unless you roll the dice like this every once in a while.

        • 0 avatar
          highrpm

          Jacob_coulter, I only wrote this article because we all had been reading and debating older German cars on this site, and I recently decided against better judgement to get rid of a solid winter beater when I ran across this BMW. Nobody would want to read about my Focus winter ride but this BMW experience is interesting.

          I am as curious as you how it will play out. Keep in mind that I do wrench on cars often, so I can repair the car if it actually stops running. The sport of it is to see how little I can fix.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        I would buy an ES300 all day long for $1500. Assuming the body, brake and fuel lines were intact one could keep the ES going for many years even if >$1500 stuff blew.

        • 0 avatar
          jacob_coulter

          If you were to find an ES300 with as many issues as this BMW, it would easily be under $1,500. Especially if you’re talking about buying it at a wholesaler auction.

          But I think it’s a much smarter strategy to pay say $3,000 for a car that’s not on the verge of blowing up. When you’re done with it, my bet is that it’s much cheaper overall.

      • 0 avatar
        KalapanaBlack

        I beg to differ. There are several older ESs under $2500 (not much more than your BMW, and even more unlikely to lose their value in four months’ time) for sale on Craigslist around me. None are perfect (the bodies are far from showroom and the electroluminescent gauges tend to partially blank out), but they are 4 years or less older and probably in better shape than this car. Plus, there are lots and lots of Avalons, Camry V6s, Siennas, etc., in junkyards from which to scavenge super cheap parts.

        As to the price difference, let’s not forget that you bought this at a dealer auction which isn’t available to me or most other consumers. If this car was on the open market in exactly the same state, I’d expect to pay at least $2500-3000 for it due to the “German pedigree.”

  • avatar
    julkinen

    Seriously, would it kill you to change the oil with fresh stuff? Compared to a tank of gas, it’s barely a noticeable expense.

    I also winter-beat a BMW saloon, bought for €Cheap, but oil changes are the one thing I don’t skimp on. Then again, the first thing I bought for it were wiper blades – BMW Original. Kinda helps when your neighbour works the parts desk.

    • 0 avatar
      burgersandbeer

      I will assume you are overseas where gas is expensive from your use of the term saloon, but in most of the US an oil change on the BMW in question is about twice the cost of a tank of gas. It is for me anyway, and I live where gas is expensive relative to the rest of the US.

      • 0 avatar
        julkinen

        Yeah, you assume correct. The 80-litre tank in my E34 costs 170 bucks to fill up, no joke. Compare it to the 34 dollar canister of good oil…

      • 0 avatar
        Scoutdude

        You must have a really small tank or take your car some place very expensive for oil changes. My cars run $40-$70 to fill depending on which one and how low the tank is when it is filled and there are tons of quick lube places that will change the oil for $20-$30. Sure that oil and filter they will use does not meet BMW specs but it is certainly better than driving 5K on who knows how old of oil and another on used oil.

        Considering this vehicle is said to leak oil I’d change it when purchased and then top it off for the next 10K and do a quick change before putting it up for sale to be able to say that the oil was just changed and to not have nasty black oil and a dirty grease encrusted filter when the potential buyer shows up to look at it.

        • 0 avatar
          burgersandbeer

          It takes me about $50 to fill. Usually in the neighborhood of 14 gallons out of I think a 16.5 gallon tank.

          As for the oil change, the car takes either 7 or 7.5 quarts of synthetic. I’m not great about finding it on sale, so that means about $9/quart. Filter is another $12. I do take the car to an independent mechanic for the oil change, usually consolidating the trip with some other nagging issue. That bumps the total up to about $100.

          I find it worth it to pay someone to avoid the hassle of acquiring the oil, spending the time on the oil change, and then bringing the old oil back for recycling.

  • avatar
    burgersandbeer

    10,000 miles is a lot for a beater that is going to get no maintenance. I would not like my odds in a car of that condition for that many miles.

    Also, the no reverse thing would be unacceptable to me. Especially in the winter. What if you have to rock it out of a snow drift? Even ignoring that, the threat of having to push out of a parking spot is an unacceptable inconvenience for that many miles. Did you know about that issue before buying?

    • 0 avatar
      mkirk

      This reverse think is not the sort of thing that improves with age nor is it the sort of thing that is cheap to fix when it finally does croak. But hey, more power to him. My definition of a winter beater is a Plymouth Reliant K with a body that looks like someone took a 12 gauge to it. Having said that I drove a 90 Miata year round in upstate NY but the Salt is much less widely used up there due to how cold it is. Only issue I had was the plastic rear window shattered on a minus 30 morning. I think the Steve Lang Subaru Imprezza is about as good a score as one could do for a winter beater though.

      • 0 avatar
        Kyree S. Williams

        Right. The idea of a “beater” where I live is simply a car that alleviates the daily-driving and commute wear from a nicer car during all seasons of the year, like the gentleman down the street who has a peach of an air-cooled Porsche 911, but uses a 2009 or 2010 Mazda6 as a daily-driver, which he also takes very good care of. By this definition, a beater isn’t necessarily an old or worn-out car, but it’s not a particularly-valuable one, either…

    • 0 avatar
      burgersandbeer

      Speaking of unacceptable issues, I don’t think a coolant leak is something to dismiss. Even if you know for sure that it is a reliable slow leak, coolant is a definitely a fluid you need to keep a close eye on.

  • avatar
    daviel

    Reading the article and comments makes me grateful I don’t live up north.

  • avatar
    Ryoku75

    Why buy a car if you’re only going to keep it for 4 months? I’ve owned several beaters, and always had one for at least a year, except a stupid VW Type 3.

  • avatar
    NoGoYo

    @28-Cars-Later: Like a swanky old Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow/Bentley T-series? That would be my choice for classy old luxury car, even if I would have to replace every wiring harness and probably upgrade the engine’s cooling system to keep it running.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      Not practical for a DD, entirely too flashy. Refurbished pre-95 Mercedes, V8 Volvo conversion, V8 Jag conversion etc, that’s more my style.

      • 0 avatar
        Lie2me

        Trying to repair an old Rolls Royce would bankrupt most people. It would make any exotic German car repair look like a Toyota Corolla tune-up by comparison. That’s why old rollers are so cheap

        • 0 avatar
          NoGoYo

          Well if you have enough money and time to do it, why not do it? And who said daily driver? You don’t daily drive a Roller! That’s preposterous.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            Just last week I saw a white/white Silver Cloud (I think) RR at Kroger grocery store. Historic plates and all. I took a photo, as did some dude in a new Dart.

  • avatar
    Athos Nobile

    I love this guy. There are so many “wrongs” in the whole article that it is just one step of becoming an EPIC WIN. If he can back up the used oil thing with a basic analysis it goes into the EPIC folder.

    • 0 avatar
      burgersandbeer

      I think you missed the point. He isn’t advocating used oil as a maintenance practice. The idea is to find a serviceable car for cheap and see how little he can put into it over the course of a 10k mile winter.

      I think coolant leaks should always be fixed. No reverse is unacceptable to me, but that’s personal preference. If someone is OK with pushing the car out of a parking spot once in a while, more power and money to them. My only objection to the oil strategy is why go to the trouble to change it at all if used oil is the plan? Is someone else pointed out, the minivan in question probably doesn’t even have enough oil to fill the Bimmer.

      • 0 avatar
        Athos Nobile

        Sorry mate, but I got the point. He wants a car that will cost close to $0 for 4 months. During his stay with the car, he will have to service it and reusing the oil from the minivan (which may still have plenty of life left) makes sense. If the oil has enough additives left, I don’t see the problem. That said, if he backs what he said with an oil analysis…

        The lack of reverse is also unacceptable for me, and fixing the solenoid is probably a $150 deal for parts alone. But this being a RWD car, he’ll need to remove the oil pan: jack, stands, hoist (if he’s lucky) … and since he’s down there he may want to service the tranny too… and unless the thing absolutely refuses to go into reverse, I +1 the bloke.

        The leaks he mentioned are probably not that offensive, however, down here if the car is dripping, it won’t pass the RW inspection.

  • avatar
    burgersandbeer

    This depends on where you live, but at least in the SF Bay area I see no way highrpm can lose money on this. I don’t think you can find a running car for $1500 without connections around here. Even if it suffers a breakdown that makes it undriveable, he could sell it as-is for what he paid for it.

  • avatar
    OldWingGuy

    I think Mike has an interesting strategy. Hopefully Mike updates us at the end – what was the cost of ownership after he sells the vehicle. I would laugh if he sells it for more than he paid.

    For true winter beater status, come on up north to a Manitoba or Saskatchewan winter. Where it lasts 13 months of the year. Even a winter beater gets some minimum amount of service. I’ve been driving my winter beater for the past three years, and it gets some service work. A new block heater, a battery and battery blanket, trickle charger, and studded snow tires. Synthetic oil is a must for -40 degree starts. And don’t forget the flattened case of Canadian (a brand of beer up here) in front of the rad…

    So Mike’s strategy would be a bit tougher up here. Especially if you have to put winter tires on. But I applaud him for his approach.

  • avatar
    oldyak

    It is just me but,I would rather drive a BMW with 200K than Asian anything!
    Comparing Avalons,Es`s,Honda`s to BMW`s is like apples to oranges.There are always cheaper rides than a BMW.
    Please go buy one and move along..slowly and boringly!

    • 0 avatar
      Power6

      well if speed is your only judge, you know any car at 200k miles will have tires replaced which might even the playing field toward the ES (it came with crap michelins stock)…I would put it up against a slushbox 323i with 170 sad hp. Lets say Auto-x. Would be an ugly win understeering all the way ha but the Lex is a faster more powerful car oddly enough. You can stuff your Internet puffery “boring” drivel back in your pipe and smoke it like a clapped out LexCamry would hand a auto 323i its ass at a stop light.

      But why get a BMW, a $1500 go-cart would be more fun to drive than some posh 4 door BMW. At some level you get to living real life, and on my typical day the Lexus does better, it drives alright, quieter, faster more luxury, HIDs, great stereo, yada yads. A 323i with no sport pkg just isn’t that great a car. Maybe a 330i with a stick, and now you are talking good reason to give up a trusty Lex, but then you are gonna pay good money for it. Tradeoffs man tradeoffs.

      I owned a bunch of RWDs driven in the snow. One wheel peel is no fun, need LSD to hoon.

      • 0 avatar
        3Deuce27

        Back in the early seventies when I sold Allied Fiberglass dune buggy bodies out of my personal shop on weekends, and modified the VW chassis to accept the bodies, plus complete builds, as an option, I added a second hand brake to the VW tunnel.

        The two hand brakes gave you the traction that you needed for a sticky situation, Wheel spinning on the right or left, apply the appropriate left or right hand brake and the differential starts a more equitable torque split. Reducing spin on the side with traction and applying torque to the one that doesn’t have any.

        What most don’t know, is, that works with any single actuation rear brake system with a emergency braking on both rear wheels. It will even work with a system that only has it on one wheel, if your lucky enough for it to be the problem wheel. Just apply a little emergency brake and the differential will shift some torque to the other side while dampening the spin on the traction wheel, and hopefully enough to get you out of a fix.

        Back in the day when I ordered everything with some type of traction differential or I installed an LS unit, I use to just chain up one wheel, usually the right/curb wheel. Worked great and was a lot less effort. This was only used in town at speeds under 30mph.

        With an open differential, I chained up the left/street side wheel because of road camber, for surface runoff, loading the down slope curb wheel. A little touch of the e-brake and you were out of the parking spot and onto the road.

        Try it some time on your older vehicle without anti-spin. Anti-spin/TCS, generally works the same way along with, maybe, some other actions by the system .

        • 0 avatar
          Power6

          Interesting…I like the individual brakes, that is an early “manual driver controlled” traction control system ha.

          With an open diff the physics aren’t on your side with the e-brake on both wheels, since the open diff always applies the same torque to both sides, the torque to overcome the brake is always the same on each side with the e-brake, not affecting the torque applied to the wheels. That is why a brake traction system applies brake to one wheel on an axle. But you have experience that works so who knows there could be another interaction there, drum brakes can be odd when one wheel is spinning and the other isn’t, as I know from doing many burnouts in old drum braked boats, some with LSD some not…

          This is a great technique with Torsen diffs due to the physics of how they operate. Still couldn’t get my Mom’s Quattro Audi unstuck when I took it too far down an unplowed road;-)

          • 0 avatar
            3Deuce27

            How the e-brake works when applied to both wheels, is explained in the comment. It isn’t always effective and depends on how deftly you apply the brake and the situation. Works better with a handbrake.

            As for sticking your Mom’s Audi, in wet heavy snow, you can pile it up under the vehicle and get lift. The wheels no longer have sufficiently loaded contact to overcome the combination of vehicle weight and the compacted snow surface in contact with the underside of the vehicle.

            Under wet/heavy snow conditions, proceed slowly until you feel your front wheels lift and lose traction, hopefully, you can still back out of the situation, other wise better hope you have an unstuck buddy behind you or a good shovel. Even then, getting that compacted snow out from under the vehicle can be tough with out a pair of jacks and some wood for shoring.

  • avatar
    Zoom

    Rear wheel drive, Michigan winter, and no reverse? No thanks.

  • avatar
    mostlyVW

    E46 automatic, no reverse?
    http://noreverse.org
    http://forum.e46fanatics.com/showthread.php?t=706809


Back to TopLeave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Subscribe without commenting

Recent Comments

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote

Staff

  • Contributing Writers

  • Jack Baruth, United States
  • Brendan McAleer, Canada
  • Marcelo De Vasconcellos, Brazil
  • Vojta Dobes, Czech Republic
  • Matthias Gasnier, Australia
  • W. Christian 'Mental' Ward, Abu Dhabi
  • Mark Stevenson, Canada
  • Cameron Aubernon, United States
  • J Emerson, United States