By on May 2, 2011

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 [email protected] Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry.

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88 Comments on “Piston Slap: The German Engineering Plunge?...”

  • avatar

    If you have the means, do so, full-well knowing the (hidden) price(s) you may pay. If that fear of the unknown gives you pause and keeps you awake at night, buy an Impala LTZ, Jewel Red Tintcoat, and call it a day! At least you’ll have chrome door handles for your trouble!

  • avatar
    A Caving Ape

    Here’s something I’ve always wondered… do those BMWs sold with run-flats come with a spare tire? …Do they even have space for a spare tire?

    There’s no way I’d keep the run-flats, but not having a spare would be pretty annoying.

    • 0 avatar

      I can only speak for the 1er (which was developed concurrently with the E90), but there is a place for it in the trunk. However, they have put some other equipment in there. So it may be difficult to actually drop a real spare in.

    • 0 avatar

      Most folks I know with the run-flats do 3 things:

      1. Replace the run-flats with regular tires
      2. Keep a can of Fix-A-Flat in the trunk.
      3. Obtain a AAA membership.

    • 0 avatar

      There isn’t even a place to put a spare, at least not on the 328i I considered. You can get a little air compressor / fix-a-flat kit, I guess, but that’s not much assurance.

      I am in a similar position as Drew. I’m a driving enthusiast who can now afford a German sports sedan, but seriously doubt I will buy one. I loved test driving a 328i, but the long term costs, lack of a place to even put a spare and not having an oil dipstick–along with the number of miles, times and places I drive–kill it from consideration for me. Those issues also seem indicative of an attitude that BMW owners should let “other people” handle menial tasks like replacing tires and checking oil. I may be reading too much into that, but it still bothers me.

      I thought an Infiniti G35 may be the answer, but I didn’t care for the steering feel and vibrating shifter in the one I test drove. That and I’m not sure I could look at an intentionally misspelled word emblazoned across so many car surfaces and not regularly cringe.

  • avatar

    If you have to ask, then you probably shouldn’t do it. Good cars are not for everyone.

  • avatar

    Every time I drive a Mustang or a Cadillac CTS, I’m reminded anew why I paid the biog bucks for a BMW 335.

    Sure, it’ll cost you a few bucks. But is it worth it? That’s your judgment call.

    BMWs do not come with spare tires, and there is no place to put one, either, without taking up all the trunk space. Also, no jack and no lug wrench.

    I replaced the run flat titres with Continental Extreme Contact tires, and the improvement is amazing. I carry an electric air pump and a can of fix a flat, just l like the M3 does.


  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    + 1 to the other posters so far. I actually have a list of cars that I would buy if I had enough money that the purchase in question would not be my primary transportation. Basically it’s a list of coupes (not practical) and I have a list of cars that aren’t practical because of their reputation for having stupid little crap go wrong with them. That list is mostly filled with European cars.

    Now my lists has used cars on it (heck some of them 20 years old!) but I have already determined I wouldn’t buy a German car unless I could afford to purchase new and dump it when the warranty expires. (Which makes very little sense as a way to use money in the rational part of my brain.)

  • avatar

    Life was so much simpler with my 1972 Plymouth Duster with slant-6, three-on-the-tree and a gulp valve attached to the air pump shoving atmosphere into the exhaust manifold to allow additional “burning” of burnable gasses within.

    I miss my Duster.

    The critter may have been sent to a far-off country or, perhaps, it may still be conveying one or more folks proudly down the roadway.


    I even miss its AM radio.

    Will work for money.

  • avatar

    It is a simple trade off…cutting edge performance for reliability and maintainability. The editor of “Bimmer” regularly pronounces (…about every other issue) BMW’s as being expensive to maintain and they should not be owned out of warranty. Even then, you will get to know the dealer service personnel very well. Unfortunately, high performance German car manufacturers appear to have adopted the old US manufacturers’ strategy of moving the final quality testing to their customers, witness the Porsche M96 engine issue and VW/Audi electronics. MB seems to be doing a little better lately.

    The Audi/VW/Porsche and BMW performance is there but you will pay a price. You can trade off for maximum reliability and a spare tire by going Japanese, although one could argue there are equivalent Japanese performers to mid-grade BMW’s and VW/Audi’s at lower prices.


    • 0 avatar

      Mike Miller (BMW CCA/Roundel’s Tech Talk) also questioned whether or not BMW cars would have a post-warranty future, if I am remembering correctly.

      • 0 avatar

        I think the OP IS referring to Miller. He opines in Roundel and Bimmer. For what it’s worth, my 2003 E46 (purchased new) has been trouble free and a fantastic car to own.

      • 0 avatar

        And I changed out the cooling system on my 2001 E46 330i ZSP last month. If you are type A enough to follow the hive-mind’s maintenance schedule, they are awesome cars. Not too sure about the new ones (hence my E46 instead of a 1 series… dodged a bullet there!).

      • 0 avatar
        Sam P

        Miller did indeed question whether it would be practical to own anything newer than an E46 out of warranty.

        Guess my 330i 6-speed will be in the family for a while. Cooling system has been replaced along with front end bushings and it gets synthetic oil every 7k miles. Love the car.

    • 0 avatar
      Johnny Canada

      Keep an eye on those E46 rear subframe mounting points. How BMW got away with a “quiet recall” with that one is beyond me.

      • 0 avatar
        Sam P

        I got mine looked at by a BMW dealer last fall under that “recall” campaign, and they found nothing wrong with it. They did tell me about a ’99 328i that came in whose subframe was on the verge of falling off when it went up on the lift. By ’01 or ’02 BMW had exorcised that issue, but it still never should have been there in the first place. E30s never had that problem.

  • avatar

    1. Carbon buildup happens to EVERY DI engine, regardless of manufacturer. Open the head of a Cadillac CTS 3.6 or Hyundai Turbo.
    2. Having owned a 335i before my current beloved 335d, I can tell you the HPFP isn’t THAT bad. They’re getting a handle on it, issues have been slashed since the new pump came out a few months back. You will be ok. (plus you get a 120k warranty automatically).
    3. Get the new Michelin Pilot Super Sports and the BMW Mobility Kit out of the M3. Uhmazing!

    I’ve found part of the issue of reliability is the German’s maintenance programs. In an effort to attract more buyers, they’ve slashed the recommended maintenance.
    These cars are very well engineered, but no car can survive for 150k+ with the same fluids it had from the factory. Get involved on the forums and change all the fluids religiously. If you’re going to get a 3-series, and you want the turbo, get the 08 or 09 and up. 2009 was the facelift and boy it looks good. :o)

    In addition, I will tell you that BMW’s warranty support is MUCH better than VW or some of the Japanese.

    • 0 avatar

      The good news is there are car companies that have good engineers who identified the weaknesses of DI rather than shafting their customers. Buy a car from one of them.

      • 0 avatar

        Lexus IS350 comes to mind. It has both port and direct injection eliminating the issue completely. It has above average reliability,and comes on regular “do-NOT-run flat” rubber Now weather you like the IS is a different matter entirely.

    • 0 avatar

      “I’ve found part of the issue of reliability is the German’s maintenance programs. In an effort to attract more buyers, they’ve slashed the recommended maintenance.”

      Are the maintenance recommendations extended to attract more buyers or to lessen in-warranty costs for BMW?

      Seems to me knowledgeable buyers would be wary or purchasing a vehicle where the general consensus is the manufacturer is pulling a fast one when it comes to service intervals.

      Also, if you do decide to change your own fluids, can you without violating the warranty or is this something that must be done at the dealer (at your cost)?

      • 0 avatar

        Transmission, power steering, coolant, and differential fluids are considered ‘lifetime’ by BMW because people were up in arms about the cost to change it 15 years ago (plus that’s when they started free maintenance). The other manufacturers are the same. This isn’t a German thing.

        It will not void your warranty. Just make sure to use the right fluid.

  • avatar

    Sludge is the result of a) marketing screwup, when they insisted on ever-increasing service intervals, b) OEM not insisting on using only full synthetic oil, c) owners neglecting to follow the already stretched past any sensible limit service intervals, d) dealerships using oils with lower than specified grade/unknown quality.

    IMO, the current German motor ownership experience in total does not justify the costs, given that every man and his dog have a 3-Series of some sort. Audi and MB are just as common now. A German “premium” now in many cases tells everybody that the owner is a gullible and brand-dependent consumer not prepared or incapable of thinking out of the box.
    If you really want something special, find yourself a low-mile youngtimer from 1990-95 or so and enjoy the traditional cost-no-object German engineering.

  • avatar

    I blame reunification. West German cars were great. German cars are the average of what was produced by the West and what was produced by the East. You can’t rehabilitate people that spent much of their lives living under communism any more than you can take someone who worked in a union shop and expect them to be productive after they’ve put their organized employer out of business. The same people who made p;olicies that detroyed Eastern Europe are now making decisions for the entire EU. You can’t expect decent cars to come out of such a broken people.

    • 0 avatar

      I would really like to question where you got your insightful knowledge from. Which of the cars, that are considered, Golf GTI, 335 or Audi S4/S5 are made in post-communism East Germany. Answer = null(0). Also the last time I checked none of the former SED (Socialist Unity Party) decision makers are currently sitting in the EU parliament and how are they deciding how BMW/Audi builds there cars, anyway?
      Just the humble opinion of one of the Broken by communism.

      As for Ownership of these cars here in the US. Only new, get rid off after warranty runs out!
      Personal experience will not own a VW in the US ever. Audi is part of VW. BMW maybe, only new and if problems, I would get rid off after warranty.

    • 0 avatar

      I would like to point out that the Audi 5000 was a West German car. I don’t think this point requires further explanation.

  • avatar

    Those 3 concerns are red herrings. You just have to be prepared to put up with a rather higher total cost of ownership in general. Things will (statistically) break more often and when they do they will cost you more to fix than your average AmeriJapKia.

    You will replace bushings, tie rods, sensors, brakes, etc. more often. You will have rattles and squeaks. You will have unpredictable electrical glitches. You will pay $100 for an oil change or void the warranty. You or an independent mechanic will be unable to perform most work for want of a proprietary scanner, a 240 volt, 75 hz reverse inverted electric circlip remover, and an extra long 11.385mm s-bend triple square key.

    And you will need courage to go thru the car wash for fear of dissolving your delicate unicorn’s blood-based paint.

    But these are all things one CAN live with. The question is, can you?

    • 0 avatar

      That’s not true. Any good independent tech should be able to work on your German car. I would look for one who prefers European vehicles. Any good Snap-On or OTC scan tool works very well with European vehicles. I work at an MB dealer, and rarely do I have to use an MB specialty tool.

    • 0 avatar

      I would have to respectfully say this is wildly inaccurate.

      I would certainly agree that parts costs are more, but the durability of the suspensions is similar to any Japanese or American competitor. Check out the brake cost on a Lexus or Caddy. BMW will at least pay for it, but even the parts alone are similar or lower.

      This also goes back to Baruth’s article on how nationalized car stereotypes are a thing of the past.

  • avatar

    For what it’s worth, we’ve had very good luck with three different Audis and one volkswagen Passat that saved my life at the expense of it’s own. I’ve also had one Volkswagen (made in Mexico) that was an abomination from the week I bought it.

    Have the Audis had problems? yes. The dealer, bless them, has tripped over themselves to fix the cars, in warranty or not, in a timely fashion, with loaners, and often at a reduced cost. Once, they even proactively admitted accidental wrong doing and fixed things on thier own dime, bascially ensuring future Audi sales to me and mine. the 06 A3 has been great to us, with only two visits to its name over 70k miles, the 2010 and 2011 A4’s in the fleet seem to be doing just as well, time will tell.

    • 0 avatar

      Also FWIW, my mother’s A4 burned through 3 quarts of oil in 4000 miles on the second year of the lease. It was so low, the oil light came on. The dealer said (apologetically – they are actually decent guys) that it was within manufacturer spec (!!) but that they would monitor it. I pity the sucker who bought that off-lease. That was the 2.0T engine.

      My ’01 Passat eats suspension components and rear brakes and the trim started peeling off about year 3. Otherwise costs are tolerable compared to other aging Europeans.

      • 0 avatar

        You know, my ’03 Audi A4 1.8t did the same thing on oil when it was brand new. I think my oil light came on within the first 1 or 2K on the odo tho. Filled it back up and it never happened again. Just past 90K miles on the A4, still no major issues (knock on wood).

  • avatar

    As mentioned above, the DI is responsible for the carbon buildup, it’s unclear to me whether an “italian tune-up” will work the same way for these engines as it does for traditional mills.

    I’ll believe the fuel pump issues are solved when I see long term results, basically everyone has __it the bed on this one so far, but I wish Hyundai and Ford the best of luck, really.

    Run flat tires are awful and should be replaced by the dealer at cost if you buy a car that equips them standard (BMW salesmen hate hearing this, blind rage may result). They are expensive, harsh, and less sporting than every competitive alternative. A total fail.

    The big bogey is the 10k mile oil change and other ridiculously optimistic fluid projections. Even my non-DI, naturally aspirated Honda gets synth. changes at 7k max. I’ve even told my service manager (in a friendly way) that I wouldn’t buy or even recommend a CPO car if receipts showed a regular 10k interval on engine oil changes. Goes triple for the vehicles you are looking at.

    Buy new or slightly used and owned by an OCD enthusiast. These cars are still worth it.

    • 0 avatar

      You are right, the “Italian Tune Up” won’t fix this. The problem is carbon building up on the intake valves. This is not an issue on port injected engines, because they spray fuel right at the valves and this keeps the carbon off. The only fix besides tearing off the head is to do a fuel induction service to try to clean them off. My co-worker, and former Audi tech says he used to let them suck the air intake cleaner through a vacuum hose until the car stalled out. He would let it sit for a bit to let it sit at the valves and then would fire it up take it outside and then do an “Italian Tune UP.” You could probably use something like Seafoam. The biggest thing to be be careful about is not to let the engine suck in too much product and hydro lock the engine.

  • avatar

    Yes, nothing says you’ve “made it” quite like recieving that monthly statement from a bank for 48 to 72 months. I’m not saying you shouldn’t buy a new car, we all need or want a new set of wheels at times.

    I’m not quite sure a GTI would say the same as an Audi or BMW. But, they all surely say you’ve joined the ranks of a large corporation’s middle-management team. Way to go, you’ve beat all those still in their Hondas and Toyotas.

    But yes, I think they are nice to sit in. And maybe better for wearing those ruts between point A and B, and not much else.

  • avatar

    I’d say part of what should go into your decision is whether you have good independent German car repair shops around. Here, in Boston, we have German Performance Service of Brighton, which has an excellent reputation for diagnosis, quality repairs, and reasonable cost.

  • avatar

    What’s an Italian tune-up? Is that like we used to do in the bad old days, where you’d take the air cleaner off, start the engine, hold the throttle about 3/4 open and dump a cup of kerosene in to burn off the deposits? Seems like that would be bad on catalytic converters and so forth.

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      Italian tune-up: Largely variations on this theme. Find a fairly deserted piece of road where you can put the car in second and run it up against the rev limiter. Say 70mph in 2nd gear. That is supposed blow the carbon out of it, getting the engine hot and making it work hard. Here’s the Urban Dictionary Definition:

      My next door neighbor used to do it to his mother mid 80s Grand Marquis which she never drove anywhere but around town at approximately 25mph. His version of the Italian tune up was to get the old girl out on Ohio State Hwy 613 and run it 85 to 90mph from Continental, OH to Leipsic, OH. It’s a distance of 15 miles with two stop signs (if you choose to obey them.)

      Supposedly the Italian Tune Up is good for 2000 and up Northstar V8s (after GM fixed the head bolt/gasket problem.) Sadly GM gave that engine to their customers who never go faster than on a Shoney’s run.

      • 0 avatar

        According to a Cadillac tech friend, Northstars had some EGR plumbing issue that caused the carbon build up with low-throttle drivers…hence why you might see Northstar powered Caddys running like a bat outta hell in and out of the dealership’s service drive.

  • avatar

    I can’t say what’s right for you, but I have had my new 2008 Audi for an entire day now, and nothing has broken yet!

    I did not have an inordinate amount of problems with my previous Audi, though after eleven years I thought it was time for me to update. Obviously, I did not have enough problems to prevent me from buying one again.

    • 0 avatar

      “I can’t say what’s right for you, but I have had my new 2008 Audi for an entire day now, and nothing has broken yet!”

      It’s only about 2 pm EDT, so there’s still time!

  • avatar

    NO. Don’t buy German: the guys that design them have no idea about repairs or periodic maintenance, and they are not reliable. Eg:

    The Wife’s ’89 W124 with only 106,000 miles has had two steering boxes, new A/C compressor, new climate control computer, broken valve spring(!! only the wife drives it), water pump, radiator, leak at fuel pumps. Now making timing chain noise.

    Bought an ’07 A4 — looked in the owners book for headlight bulb replacement procedure: “take it to the dealer for bulb replacement”. Sold soon there after.

    Co-workers ’08 E350 — dealer wants more than $200 for an oil change.

    At the local Porsche specialist: shown timing chain jack shaft — ball bearing at the front end completely failed; engine destroyed.

    • 0 avatar

      All of those vehicles would be 100% perfect with an LS1-swap. You know this better than anyone else!

    • 0 avatar

      Do you have an E30-LS1??? I have been daydreaming about that combination for a while, and I have found a couple of beautiful E30s for cheap… under $2k… wondering how the swap would work. Its hard to find any info on it, most BMW drivers think its heresy to consider changing the engine, which I think it just ridiculous.

  • avatar

    BMW’s are like great knives, they need to be sharp to work well and need to be kept sharp to be appreciated, and yes, this cost more. But when sharp are they fun to cut with. In my experience its worth it, I have never had any real “This is a total POS” issues with mine.

  • avatar

    Direct Injection, according to my son-in-law who works for BMW as a technician, is something best avoided.

    I drive a 2005 Acura TL, bought with 60,000 km on it in 2008. It now has 125,000 km on it and in that three years it has had a brake job for $600. That’s it other than wear items. Is it as good as the fabled Black Forest Machine? Well, for me anyway, it goes like snot, has a great motor, handles the Rocky Mountains with aplomb and never breaks. Nothing, nada, zip. I am busy business type and the last thing I have time for in my schedule is getting my broken pile of $50,000 rapidly depreciating German lust fixed at the dealer.

    But to each is own, I suppose. I just couldn’t be bothered waiting around for the object my lust to be wrenched on.

    • 0 avatar

      To each their own, I suppose. As someone who is on their third BMW, no wrong-wheel-drive glorified Accord could ever bring me as much pleasure as my Bimmers have, even considering the days they have spent in the service bay.

  • avatar

    An adage that I’ve learned to live by:

    Buy American cars new because they are cheap and thanks to that used ones are often in poor shape.

    Buy Japanese cars used because they last forever and it’s nice to let someone else pay for the initial depreciation

    Lease German cars because they are sexy and fun but too expensive to own outside of warranty.

    • 0 avatar

      I’m afraid you are correct. Americans look to the short term and immediate benefit, while the Japanese plan for the long term. The Germans have great vision, start off very strong, but cannot sustain their efforts!

      • 0 avatar
        Educator(of teachers)Dan

        Jeeze, Zackman, you’re giving me flashbacks to teaching the Schlieffen Plan to high school seniors. I had no idea it applied to automotive engineering.

      • 0 avatar

        Dan, I’ll be sure to give a reverential salute to Defiance, Ohio as I pass the exit on I-75 tomorrow as I make my way to the Detroit area on business!

        A review of whatever rental car I get will follow in a couple of days, too.

        The Schlieffen Plan was a result of the strategy of the German General Staff, as for the most part the country is land-locked and faced threats from all sides. Paranoia? You betcha! But when you’re the most advanced and civilized nation on the European mainland, you gotta protect yourself! At least it used to be that way.

    • 0 avatar

      Regarding the American and Japanese cars – I’ve thought the opposite (buy American used, buy Japanese new) because of the differences in depreciation. Of course, this is under the condition that the used American car in question is carefully chosen and has a good reliability record. Then again, the depreciation differences between American and Japanese cars are closing, so your advice is probably more relevant now.

      As for German cars – well, everyone loves to drive them, but the maintenance costs can be painful.

  • avatar

    Long time reader here, first time contributor.

    I usually figure no one would care what I have to say on an issue, but I couldn’t help myself this time. As a many-year service manager, service advisor, and (when I was younger) technician for automotive dealerships (Saab, Toyota, Mazda, Volkswagen, Audi), I feel it’s time to expose the mystique of “German Engineering” for what it is: a myth. Ever since I was 16 I loved German cars. My first car was a 1980 VW Scirocco, and I’ve owned several other German cars since, including two GTIs and an A-4. I’ve also seen by virtue of my chosen profession how they are put together. You can’t beat German safety as far as crash testing goes, which is good, because sitting along the side of the highway with the hood up is a dangerous place to be these days.

    I really WANT to like German cars, and I love the way they drive, but I can’t honestly recommend them to anyone. I’m currently at an Audi dealer, and I cringe every time someone extols the virtues of German Engineering while I watch cars with 24k miles eating a quart of oil every 1,500 miles, leaking another two quarts a month by 40,000 miles, and need thousands of dollars of rubber suspension components that have worn out by 50,000 miles. Is this the hallmark of a well-engineered car? If these were cheap cars you could almost look the other way, but for an entry price of $30k and going upwards of $100K, shouldn’t one have the right to expect a bit more in the way of build quality?

    • 0 avatar

      Well said, Yankee and Zackman. You really have to give it to the Germans; they are masters of marketing. Heck, even in WW II they had most people convinced their military was an armoured juggernaut when most if it was drawn by horses. But I digress. German cars are all about brand and they are very, very good at selling it. Take a 3 series BMW for example. A reasonably well equipped on is $50k and it will start to fall apart the moment the warranty is up. Most drivers will never get close to the car’s limits either because they don’t care, don’t know how to or can’t because of traffic conditions.

      As for buying Japanese used, bang on, Jackmam. I can’t believe the kinds of rides my employees drive, all way more expensive than my good old (paid for) ’05 TL. I know what these people make and I would never sink such money into a car but then again, that is probably why I am the boss and they are not.

      My TL has never disappointed me, ever, anywhere. It is more capable than I am but most of the time I troll around in traffic at less than 2000 rpm so lateral g force just doesn’t mean a whole lot.

      I do have to give it to the Germans; they are profitable as hell and I commend them for doing it. There seems no shortage of people who will sign up half their salaries for lease payments on one. I have several of them working for me.

  • avatar

    Two Audis.
    Three BMWs-one currently.
    Three Mercedes-one currently.
    The Audis were both trouble free.
    One BMW, and one Mercedes did not havs enough horsepower.
    One Mercedes diesel leaked oil into the alternator-very expensive.
    Out of eight, only one was troublesome.
    My 1965 Corvette L76 burned a quart of oil every thousand miles when I bought it, and when I sold it seven years later.
    Buy one.

  • avatar

    According to a BMW chat room, “Set aside $3,000 a year for maintenance”. I would make that $4,000 a year. So far, on my son’s BMW 3-series: replace radiator overflow, new front end bushings, new clutch, new clutch master cylinder, new front brakes and discs, replace broken wiper stalk (German plastic is cheaper than Japanese plastic).

    Is it worth it? Well, my other son’s Acura Integra, which sold for exactly HALF the price of the Beemer was, in my opinion, just as fun to drive… and MUCH cheaper to fix. (Though, being a Honda, it never broke).

    Nowadays, when I see a Beemer driver, all I can think is: “What an idiot! Paying all that money to impress the hoes! And most girls can’t tell the difference twixt a BMW and a Miata! I wonder if HE– like every other BMW owner– lies about the ridiculous cost of maintaining that POS?”

    • 0 avatar
      The Road Worrier

      Not sure about the horror stories here. A bit of luck and diligence on the buy side and a good indie mechanic and you might be able to drive for years without bankruptcy. Bought a 1998 540i in 2005 with just 26,000 mi for $20,000 [distressed seller, not distressed car]. Now 98,000 mi old with several 2000 mi road trips at high speed, it costs me about $1000-$1500 a year to maintain. By FAR the best car I have ever owned, and the driving experience compares favorably to my buddy’s late model AMG S 63 or whatever. My 850i [bought for 10k with 100k mi 3.5 years ago] another story. Have put $13,000 in maintenance since buying, but these are known pigs not for casual owners, just stupid or obsessed ones. Resale value, with about $5,000 in deferred maintenance in systems not relevant to driving and stopping, is probably about $4,000.

      I have owned two other 5 series – a 1981 528i that ate me alive and a beautiful 92 525i that never complained. So it’s a mixed bag. Wouldn’t touch anything past 2004 except maybe a 3 series.

  • avatar

    I’ve been driving German and Japanese for a while but just bought a used Ford Freestyle. We’ve had good luck with our German cars but the 2003 Passat wagon has that annoying habit of supporting bits failing at early mileages – like the dipstick, stereo knobs, hood and hatch prop rods, floor mat clips, etc. I’m constant fixing little crap like that. But the car punches $10,000 dollars above its actual price in the feel of quality of the moving bits, textures, and fabrics. And, being a VW, it is second bar none in space utility and fuel economy relative to its size and performance. Just took a mixed driving trip (automatic trans, 1.8T) and averaged a hair under 33 mpg. My 1995 BMW M3 Lightweight has been bulletproof and gets 30 mpg. It’s still rattlefree. On the Japanese side of the ledger, rattly after 100k, great fuel economy, cheap to repair. We’ll see about the Ford. Parts are cheap; CR ratings are good.

  • avatar

    Don’t forget about exotic service regimens with the Germans as well.

    If you happen to get a reliable German car, you will still need to fork out for their “service”.

    I recently had my VW DSG transmission in for the 40k service. The DSG service alone cost $700. I’m pretty sure the transmission uses unicorn juice – gear oil can’t be that expensive.

    I do have to say that VW/AUDI have recently stepped up on parts that prematurely fail. My DSG mechatronics module was preemptively replaced, and the warranty was extended to 10 yrs/100k.

    This is far better than my MKIV VWs.


    • 0 avatar

      I got lucky, my mech unit was also replaced, at 38K miles, so I got the DSG service for free… plus the cost of the filter which wasnt part of the recall of course.

      In another 40k miles, when its due again, I will either have my Euro mechanic friend do it for me (he has done several already), or follow the guides on the forums on how to do it myself. The fluid VW requires IS expensive, something like $150-200 for all IIRC but the process isnt rocket science.

      FYI — they make an LSD that can be swapped into the DSG. After its out of warranty anyway would be a good time to look into that, I hear it really makes a big difference in putting power to the ground.

      • 0 avatar

        mnm4ever…Interesting. Does the LSD replace the E-Diff setup? I’d love to know if they disconnect that system entirely. Also, who’s making it, and has it been built for the manual trans. as well?

      • 0 avatar

        I am not sure of the E-diff details, few people have been willing to risk thier warranty by cracking open the DSG box – could be an expensive experiment! Now that more and more are out of warranty, I think its picking up interest.

        Its a Quaife, been around for a while now. It was always available for the manual, they just adapted it to the DSG. From what I read by some mechanics who dissasembled one, the DSG is very similar to the manual internally, just has the computerized clutch packs attached.

      • 0 avatar

        It should just be a software fix, the E-Diff/xds is basically just an ABS application like any stability control system. ESP with a much broader job description and a few extra sensors.

        I’m wondering if equipping a mechanical LSD would require turning off or entirely retuning the factory system.

        Thanks for the link.

  • avatar

    My MkV GTI was my first German car purchase four years ago. I’ve had very few problems with it.

    Approaching ownership of a German car, there are two areas that you need to have clearly sorted out before you buy:

    1. Economic considerations: if you have the means to buy and maintain a German car (knowing that maintenance will be more expensive and/or more labor intensive if you wrench it yourself) owning a German car is no big deal. It takes more commitment, and I enjoy participating in forums, ordering the special tools and parts I need to do my mods, and all the rest.

    If your grasping for a German car, with only enough money to make the payments and fill it up with gas, and try to save money by doing work yourself with the advice of the Pep boys, you will be miserable and broke.

    2. Are a passionate driver or a passionate car guy? German cars are, for the most part, built for driving – intensely. (Great on the open roads, but annoying at the drive-thru window!) My overachieving VW is rock stable at over 100mph, is a respectable participant at track days, and has front seats that over-bolstered for a street car – all of which are a demonstration of its seriousness as a driver’s car.

    If, on the other hand, you are a passionate car guy, German cars can seem too fussy and complicated. Triple-square drivers (try to find those at Autozone!) to swap out the rear sway bar, brake calipers that need to be rotated as they are retracted, and on and on, can seem like so much nonsense to a car nut who knows it just doesn’t have to be that complicated.

    So if you’ve got the dough and you really like to drive, get a German car and then head for the track to see what it really can do!

    • 0 avatar

      “brake calipers that need to be rotated as they are retracted”

      Every car manufacturer has this on their rear calipers where the parking brake is built into the caliper. If it has a separate drum parking brake inside the rotor, then it can be pushed in normally.

  • avatar

    I find some of the recent “updates” to the 3-series absolutely insulting for a car supposedly aimed at enthusists. No dip-stick or spare tire, a computer needed to change the radio station, lifetime fluids? Ridiculous. As a previous owner of a german car, they can keep their “superior” german engineering. Some may think all this cost and B.S. is worth it. That is up the individual to decide. Just be aware of what you are signing up for.

  • avatar

    Dear Drew,

    in short – you have to mentally subtract, say $5000, from your current annual income.

  • avatar

    I live in Philadelphia, and I require a small car or I cant park it. I would buy American, but there were no small cars worth anything in 1997 when i bought my VW Golf. Its a 4 cyl model with 4 doors, a five speed stick and a moonroof. It was and is a certified blast to drive around. Even at 240,000 miles, it still adheares to corners like its on duct tape, and always brings a smile to my face. Unless, of course, it doesnt.

    Upkeep has been evpensive, no doubt about it. When i get repair bills, i wonder why i didnt get a toyota. But I get it back, listen to the motor purr and throw it around a few corners, and I am happy again. I cant explain how a little underpowered (100 hp) red car could be so much fun, but it is. Very few cars can do that – and be easy to park and get great fuel economy. Not to mention a hatchback that can haul amazing amounts of stuff.

    So should you buy one? Sounds like you want one. You will never be able to explain to your toyota echo driving friends why u need expensive sport tires. You will have to bear them rolling their eyes at u when u say how expensive it was to do relatively simple things. The will tsk tsk among themselves at your gleeful discussion of a new chip or lowering kits or stiffer spring/shock combinations. Dont worry. Get in, throw it around a few tight turns, and you will be happy.

    PS: Get a good private mechanic who u can trust.

  • avatar

    I’ve replaced my Buick with a BMW and though the BMW was more expensive to purchase, I can tell you, the cost of annual maintenance and (lots of constant) repairs on the Buick was much higher than my now out-of-warranty BMW.

    Get rid of the runflat tires and you may never have to use your “spare” tire or tire repair kit. I’ve had more problems with the runflat tires losing air for whatever reason than I’ve had with a lifetime of driving with regular tires.

    Can’t say anything about carbon build-up or high-pressure fuel pumps as I have not personally had those issues yet.

  • avatar

    I faced the same decision 4 years ago. Candidates for my retirement present to myself were new Porsche Cayman, used Porsche 911 or 911 Turbo, BMW 3-series, Audi A4 or TT. What I bought was an early Infiniti G37S coupe. The G37 is much more refined than the G35. The only thing I might change would be to buy a G37X, which is the all wheel drive model. I prefer to shift for myself and the X model only comes with an automatic, but traction is so much better that I believe it to be the better driver’s car.

  • avatar

    German cars ARE relatively expensive to repair and tend to have more than their fair share of problems. That said, if you do plan on buying one, you should find a competent independent mechanic beforehand. Car Talk has their Mechanic Files, and forums for the car you’re interested in will probably give you some suggestions. Also, those forums will give you a good idea of the problems you might face and their fixes – it helps if the car is relatively popular and/or has a large enthusiast following.

    For example, when my parents’ Mercedes E320 had a “Service Brake, Visit Workshop” warning come up, I searched one of those forums for them and thankfully found that Mercedes has a “goodwill” 10-year warranty on the SBC brake pump that triggers this warning when it begins to fail. (Of course, the dealer was certainly aware of the warranty, but it helps to know.)

    This Mercedes, by the way, has been a great highway cruiser and is very comfortable, but has had its share of problems:

    (Bought new)

    – A/C failed within a few months of purchase (covered under warranty)

    – Central locking system wouldn’t lock one of the doors when the car was about a year old (covered under warranty)

    – Engine had to be rebuilt twice (!) when the car was less than two years old (thankfully under warranty!)

    – Radio static (just went away by itself…)

    – Rear passenger door would no longer open from the inside (and no, this car does not have child locks – the door latch turned out to be broken) (partially covered under warranty)

    – Trunk would not open with handle or remote, and the CHMSL stopped working (wiring somewhere under the trunk hinges broken – fixed for ~$300 @ dealership)

    – Audio system stopped working – “voice command module” defective (As it turns out, since the car is not equipped with GPS, this module is not really necessary, as discovered on a Mercedes forum.) (“Stealership” wanted over $2000 – independent mechanic fixed it for $300)

    – “Service brake visit workshop” came up – SBC brake pump defective – fixed under 10-year “goodwill” warranty (good thing, since parts and labor would have probably been several thousand dollars)

    Keep in mind that the car is over 7 years old and has well over 100,000 miles. Still, the issues began not long after the car was purchased.

    Some German cars (i.e. the VW Golf with the 2.5L 5 cylinder, certain non-turbo BMWs) are much more reliable than others.

    • 0 avatar

      That brings up a good point. Avoid any MB with the SBC system installed unless you think Rube Goldberg would have been the perfect designer for your brake system. It is basically an electronic brake system where you only get about 10% braking if the the system fails.

  • avatar

    Technically, reliability is an engineering issue. So if German makes aren’t reliable, it means they’re using poorly engineered hardware. Go figure. Fortunately, there’s a lot of people willing to pay to be beta testers.

    I drive a Lexus beater, and my cost of ownership for this cream puff still amounts to $5000 a year, not including $90,000 of depreciation. That’s $140,000 spent on one car over 10 years. I don’t regret the purchase, but that money can buy a lot of nice vacations.

    • 0 avatar

      Please expand. What model, what year? How much did it cost? Does the 5K/year include gas, tires, oil, etc?

      Just trying to figure out how you spent $140K on one car in ten years.

      • 0 avatar

        2002 LS430. $104k Cdn when new (back when $1 US = $0.60 Cdn), Black Book says my high mileage car is worth $7.5k now. $5k includes gas, insurance, maintenance, and parts. I’ve read that the average cost of owning a car (including depreciation) is $7k a year, so my cost of owning this car that doesn’t break is still double the average car.

        Crazy expensive…if all I did was flip my rides every 3-5 years. But some products like a Barbour oilskin jacket, a pair of Allen Edmond welted shoes, or a Swiss watch make sense if you’re planning on keeping it for decades. That’s the heritage that Mercedes and Volvo used to have years ago.

      • 0 avatar

        This post goes to show just how most car owners have absolutely no idea of how much it costs to drive a car. $5000 a year is rock bottom for just about anything. Let’s do the numbers over five years for a $50,000 car. This is assuming you paid cash, btw.

        Year one depreciation $15k. Insurance $2k. Gas $2k.

        Cost year one: $19k.

        Year two depreciation: $10k. Insurance $2k. Gas $2k.

        Cost year two: $14k.

        Year three deprecation: $8k. Insurance $2k. Gas $2k.

        Year four depreciation: $6k. Insurance $2k. Gas $2k. Maintenance $1k.

        Cost year $9k.

        Year five depreciation: $5k. Insurance $2k. Gas $2k. Maintenance $2k.

        Cost year five: $11k.

        Gross cost of ownership five years: $53,000.
        Less retained value: $15,000.
        True cost of ownership: $38,000.

  • avatar

    The best BMW is the simplest BMW – this has been true for 40 years, since the 2002.

    So I ordered my ’11 328i Wagon with about as little as possible. No autotragic transmission, no iDrive, no Xdrive, no xenon adaptive headlights. Since it is a 328i, no fuel pump issues. The runflats will be replaced the day I pick it up. You can sell them easily for more than the non-RFTs will cost. I have not had a flat tire in 20+ years. I am not worried, the fix-a-flat and an AAA card will do the job.

    As to the maintenance, also not worried. For a few hundred bucks you can buy software for your laptop and a USB cable that will let you do about everything the dealer can do. And I defintitely will follow a REAL maintenance schedule, not the joke that the dealers use.

  • avatar
    Sam P

    FWIW, the E90 M3 has old fashioned port injection, and still makes 400 horsepower with an 8000 rpm redline.

    Too rich for one’s blood? Well, there’s also the 128i and 328i, which are pretty reliable and don’t have the hassle of direct injection. Some ’07 and ’08 models had chronic valvetrain noise which was only cured by fitting new cylinder heads under warranty.

    That having been said, the Germans really need to get their act together on reliability and serviceability, otherwise the Asian marques will utterly slaughter them. I’m happy with my E46 which is simple and relatively owner serviceable, but owning a newer BMW out of warranty like an E60 or an E90 doesn’t seem like an entertaining prospect.

  • avatar

    Road Worrier… I am guessing you have been EXTREMELY lucky… even the old Beemers had problems: my mom’s 1800 needed a valve job at 80,000 miles and my grandmother’s BMW 2002 had a dead gearbox at a little over 100,000 miles… actually, not bad for the 1960’s, but terrible by today’s durability standards… and my son’s Jetta? Too many problems to list!

    • 0 avatar

      Seriously dude… you think hes been EXTREMELY lucky, based on the fact that your mom and grandmothers ancient 1960s/70s BMWs needed a valve job and a gearbox? Didnt all cars in the 60s need valve jobs occasionally? And you think they havent improved in quality since then? Do you think that every German car just has failure after failure constantly?

  • avatar

    My 2008 GTI has been fantastic, I love it and I recommend it to anyone who wants a bargain German car. All the hate for VWs tends to be for the 2000-2005 generation, stay away from those and you will be fine. I have heard more horror stories about the newer BMWs, if I was buying one I would go for an E46 or lease a brand new one. Audi had the same generational problems as VWs, stick with 2006+ and you will be fine.

    The biggest problems for German cars tend to stem from the dealers, just stay the hell out of the dealer service department!! Do the work yourself, or find a good independent shop if you cant get your hands dirty. But seriously… learn to get your hands dirty, it makes for a far more satisfying experience, and it makes things much cheaper. Because German cars NEED TO BE MAINTAINED. Do the work and you will be fine.

    People who want an appliance dont get it. People who dont have time or passion to work on thier own cars dont get it. But there are millions of European car fanatics out there who love thier cars, there is a reason for that.

  • avatar

    A little bit of exaggeration going on up there if your looking at cars new now vs. what happened 15 years ago. The thing to remember is that each car stands on its own reliability wise, and what affects that standing is usually volume made, technical complexity, weight and power (poor engineering is evident when this tendency is bucked). Wear items do not cost significantly more between brands (relative to vehicle class), beefy brakes and suspension components are expensive, and heavier vehicles eat these more often. Also, nobody makes a turbo or awd system that doesn’t add to ownership costs somewhere along the way.

    You could get a Golf 2.5 and have a car more reliable than many Japanese cars, or you could go with an M5 and ensure yourself an expensive ownership experience. Personally I would be comfortable with a 128 or 328, the aforementioned Golf, a C300, etc…just spend the money you would have dumped on a turbo on some good tires instead.

  • avatar

    I agree about trying to compare across decades, because many carmakers have changed greatly over the years. The first Hondas and Toyotas in this country rusted before they left the showroom, couldn’t maintain U.S. highway speeds, and were anything but a paragon of reliability. I remember working on the first Hyundai Excels (not that I admit that to too many people) and being horrified at seeing broken rocker shafts for the jet valves being made out of pot metal (same stuff as a matchbox car – very brittle).

    But look what a difference the years have brought. Working in a VW and Audi dealer today (thanks for the vote of confidence mnm4ever, we see cars from hobbyists and your independent shops all the time on the back of a tow truck), I see too many failures that just shouldn’t happen on both new and well-maintained cars only a few years old. We try to help people as much as we can, but the manufacturer just doesn’t seem to care, and turns down most requests for assistance by customers who have made every effort to maintain their car properly. I compare that to my years as a Toyota service manager (long before the recent spate of recalls) and watched the factory reps go out of their way to try to satisfy a customer who was long out of warranty, when the complaint wasn’t even a component failure.

    The best description I’ve heard for the difference between German and Japanese brands was at a recent Audi factory training I went to. The instructor pointed out that Audi has been at the forefront of advancing new technology (e.g., ABS brakes, stability control, etc.), and has suffered the pains of any early adopter (in the form of recalls, bulletins, and warranty extensions to try and fix it after the fact) while the Japanese typically just sit back and reverse engineer and improve the technology (just like they did with American VCRs, for those of us old enough to remember). What he didn’t bother to mention was that the customer suffers right along with the manufacturer. Personally, I’d rather put my money on a well-thought-out and extensively tested vehicle that was a little late to the party, rather than see my dashboard at night by the glow of all the warning lights.

    • 0 avatar

      Sorry to make you feel bad, I have no doubt you see cars like that on flatbeds. And I am also sure you charge them out the ass to fix whatever problem they have.

      If it makes you feel any better, my opinion of dealers isnt limited to European cars, I think they all, for the most part, stink. Maybe yours is great, the best Audi dealer in the entire country. But the great majority of dealers are high priced and of mediocre troubleshooting skills. They can do whatever the factory recommends to fix whatever problem has been reported. When your car is new and under warranty, that method works ok. But once you get out of warranty and actually have to pay for something, thats where it gets out of hand. My VW dealer charged me $216 for an alignment and tire plug, once all fees were added in. And the alignment wasnt even right. I will never pay them for a thing again.

      The techs arent even the problem, most of them are really good guys who are just trying to do thier job. Its the management, its the over-priced parts, its the over-priced labor. Almost every single one of the VW/Audi bashers you read about on here stems from a bad dealer experience, NOT the car itself. They paid too much for multiple repairs, the problem they had wasnt fixed after repeated visits, etc, etc. People get the impression these cars literally fall apart, yet I see dozens of Mk4 Golfs and Jettas on the road every day… running. Are they all on death’s door? Cmon.

      Be smart about which car you choose, find a talented trustworthy and competent mechanic to help you, and learn to do the work properly yourself. If that trustworthy mechanic happens to work at a dealership, great. But I doubt they will…

  • avatar

    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 :)

    • 0 avatar

      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.

  • avatar
    Andy D

    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.

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