Piston Slap: The German Engineering Plunge?

Sajeev Mehta
by Sajeev Mehta
piston slap the german engineering plunge

Drew writes:

Dear Truth-sayers…

I’ve finally made it. I have the capability to buy a German sports sedan. But does that mean I should?

Every time I see an Audi S4/S5, a VW GTI, or a BMW 335 – I feel the tug on my heart (and the Kaiser’s dagger on my wallet)…they’re just so damn nice to look at and when I sit in my friend’s BMW or my neighbor’s Audi in the parking garage, I can’t help but sigh with longing.

But there’s a catch. One helluva catch. I’ve heard the stories. I’ve driven friends to the dealership pissed off as hell about their 3rd trip in 30 days for a $200 fuse that won’t stay working or a power window that crashes into a door. Given that TTAC is oh so willing to pile it on when the General, Chrysler, or Ford screw up, it’s now time to spread the love on a few German points nein?

1. Carbon build-up. The pictures on the Internet are disgusting. The solutions are appalling and draconian. Blasting walnut shells into my $50,000+ dream car? What the hell? And EVERY single Audi/VW is suspect?? You gotta be kidding me…is this really a huge issue?

2. High pressure fuel pumps. American gas is that bad…seriously?? WTF?? You can’t get a fuel pump to last 100,000 miles in the 21st century?

3. Run-flat tires. Surely they can’t be this hard to find. Surely they wouldn’t cause you to leave your car behind in Barstow while trying to get back to work Monday morning from Vegas. Surely.

Three big issues I’ve read about. Three strikes. Are these enough to dash my German dreams to pieces?

Sajeev answers:

Oh yeah! TTAC piles it on everyone, usually in proportion to their loony PR-rhetoric merged with the size of their (US) market share. Now to your questions:

Question 1: the best cure for carbon build up is the Italian Tune Up. Just do it. And if you do not, they make top end engine cleaners like Seafoam too. As far as the walnut shell fix, that’s only needed for Direct Injection gasoline engines. So if you decide to go diesel or get a one of the (few) conventionally fuel injected motors available in the CPO section of the dealership, you are somewhat safer.

Question 2: The fuel pump thing is a problem when you are on the bleeding edge of technology, which points to Direct Injection once again. The replacement fuel pump (via recall) for BMW’s DI system might fix the problem. Only time will tell. At some point we usually overcome these hiccups.

Question 3: Its true, run-flat tires are in limited supply because of their limited demand. Plus, even with 15 years of measurable improvement, they still suck. I’d replace any run-flat equipped car with a normal tire using the same performance/traction/treadwear rating. The reasons are clear: a quieter ride for the life of the donut, less unsprung weight and more stick during hard acceleration/cornering (via more flexible sidewalls putting more tire down). Oh, let’s not forget the extra federal green in your wallet.

There it is: three questions with three answers. Was that enough to convince you to take the German Engineering Plunge?

Send your queries to mehta@ttac.com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry.

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3 of 88 comments
  • Jerome10 Jerome10 on May 04, 2011

    I can chime in here. Many German cars in our family. I have a 2008 GTI, my mother drives a 2006 330i, my grandfather has owned a 1997 540i (best car ever made maybe?), a 2003 745i and now a 2010 5 series. My father had a 2002 back in the day. #1: If you LOVE to drive, and I mean love it, I don't think there is anything better. My GTI is a hoot. I love driving it still 2+ years after buying it. But the BMW's? My god, they make my GTI feel like a Honda. For as good as the GTI is, the 3 series in particular is superb. It has better brakes, better balance, better steering, rear drive, and makes you feel like you might be the best driver on the planet. I can muscle my GTI and its pretty quick, I think I'm faster in the 3 series and it feels like I'm not even trying. #2: Having lived in Germany the past 1.5 years, much of what these cars do well is lost in the USA, unfortunately. At 100+ MPH, the GTI is dead stable. I've driven BMWs on the Autobahns at 220km/h (135mph) for long distances, and the car doesn't even sweat. They feel great on twisty, rural roads in Germany and France. Superb. Just a hoot. Now that I'm back in the USA, I find 1) our speed limits are too slow, way below European limits in almost every situation, this is particularly so on the interstates. 80mph in a German car feels like 40mph in something else. Its almost painful to drive 10 over the limit. I'll probably end up with a ticket at some point. Also, our potholed, straight, rough roads really, again, mean you miss out on a lot of what they're good at. But the benefit is that time you need extra brakes, crash safety, acceleration, handling, whatever, these cars can deliver it. And that leaves you feeling very good and secure as well. #2: Budget for some repairs, but I don't think these things cost you boatloads more than other vehicles. Yes, our cars have had a few issues, things I could replace myself if I had to. A/C units in the GTI were bad from the factory, fixed under warranty. DSG had a piece fixed. Warranties extended. I'm ok with that. Sometimes it happens. I was taken care of. Otherwise smaller stuff I don't mind doing myself. Same with the BMW. Sticky outer door handles. That's about it since 2006. But even routine maintenance is expensive. I like to wrench, so I'm OK with that. I also prepared myself for bigger bills which I hope don't come. I said I'd give VW 1 chance. So far, I don't regret it even once. And I'm not tired of the car, which I think says a lot too. I LOVE being in my car. It is worth extra to me to always love being in the car. So far, its far more satisfying than I imagined. I have a few rattles that drive me nuts. But then so did my old cars. So did our old Honda. The TSX I test drove had more on the test drive than my GTI. Rattles are not a German thing... #3: Get off run flats on a BMW. God they're awful. They ride like a truck, make tons of noise, handle like crap, pull in ruts, don't last very long and cost a ton to replace. Some good Michelin sports and the car transformed. Do it before you drive it off the lot. Maybe in another 3-4 years I'll regret it. I hope not. But then I think, would I rather have gotten that Accord coupe? Or an Altima coupe? Or a TSX, etc than my GTI? So far, NO FREAKIN WAY. I had Mazdas before. I had a Miata. They are fun cars. But Germans are at a totally different level. I've never gone this long without feeling some desire to get something else. I don't have that desire at all in the GTI. I still love it. I still feel I made the right choice. If you can pencil in the money and the frustration likely to come from one of these cars, then I say do it. You only live once. If you love to drive, you'll love having it. Maybe you'll get bitten, but whats the fun in driving an appliance? If you don't care, or you're cheap and like stuff that never breaks, get something else. Just don't expect it will put a huge smile on your face every morning you get in it and head to work :)

    • Mnm4ever Mnm4ever on May 04, 2011

      You summed it up perfect, but the appliance fans will never get it. I feel the same as you do about my 2008 GTI... almost 2 yrs now and I still LOVE driving it every day. I havent even chipped it, I still feel like it doesnt need it! The squeaks and rattles do drive me crazy, I didnt have rattles on my last Honda. I wrench on my own and I enjoy it. I might someday regret not buying a Honda, but so far I'm very happy.

  • Andy D Andy D on May 09, 2011

    I love my 528e. The German version of the Dodge Dart. But from talking to my fellow E28 ers, I wont be moving on to later model BMWs It has a full size spare and the tools to change it. The fuel pumps last the life of the car. which was 350k miles before the rust got too bad. Italian tune ups take care of carbon. They are fun too.

  • Jeff S Years ago Kentucky issued a license plate with a horse running with the words "Unbridled Spirit." The religious right objected and did not want the plate because they believed it encouraged people to go to the race track and bet on horses. Anyone who knows anything about Kentucky knows its famous for raising horses and yes there is Churchill Downs where the Kentucky Derby is run but horses in themselves are not sinful. It got so bad that the state issued a blank sticker to put over the horse and the logo. Kentucky also issued a plate for those who were offended stating "In God We Trust." The latest KY plate has no logo and nothing. I always picked the horse because I thought horses were something to be proud of and associated with Kentucky.
  • Old Scold As a Marylander, I got those plates assigned to me when I purchased my car in 2016, 4 years after the so-called anniversary. I figured they were using up NOS, and it never occurred to me to check out the URL. I still don't care. It's a stupid issue, but I have my tag number memorized should I need it.
  • Hpycamper I drive a car with automatic braking and have nothing good to say about it. It has activated going around corners on mountain roads when the hillside is close to the road, when lawn sprinklers turned on and sprayed the car, and driving past cars on the shoulder that are making right turns. Luckily these phantom brake activations have not caused a wreck. The systems are just too dumb.
  • SCE to AUX How long until that $90k yields a profit for my grandchildren?
  • Ajla I do wonder what the legacy of the Alpha Camaro will be. It was higher performing than the Zeta but lacks the pop culture imprinting of that gen or the earlier F-body. And somehow it managed to be less comfortable than the Zeta. I guess it depends if this is really the last traditional Camaro.