Lemon Flavored Dream car

Fuck Ze Germans!

It’s become a phrase I utter often since buying my 2011 BMW 335xi.

 It started as a notion; I’d like to have a year round sedan that’s powerful and fun to drive. Cars are horrible investments and I have a hard time spending money on them. There really aren’t too many ways outside of Las Vegas to burn the value of something 40-50% in three years. After a series of sensible and somewhat entertaining cars, I decided to get something purely fun.

On paper the 335xi fit the bill. As a bonus the engine has a turbo, which helps in the thin Denver air. Naturally aspirated cars lose horsepower as the air thins, turbos are less affected. Passing while heading up a six percent grade over Vail Pass, elevation 10,662′, favors cars with decent power.

My fun-car notion coalesced into an intention when I drove my friend Jen’s 2010 335xi. It was fun, powerful, gave good feedback, and she’d got a smoking deal on it as a pre-owned. After a year and change of Jen owning the car, it was still holding up without complaint. This helped assuage my luxury car repair bill fears.

For my last several cars, I’ve purchased new. BMW takes dinging the customer for should-be-included options to new heights. For reference if you buy a $50k 2014, it comes with bluetooth phone connectivity natively. If have the outrageous desire to stream an mp3 over bluetooth, you need to buy the $2500+ navigation package. A low end Toyota Corolla I rented had bluetooth audio…Thanks Norbert !


Schomp BMW is about an hour away from where I live, but I’ve had several friends buy from them, and they were universally pleased with the experience.


Looking at Schomp’s website, they had a certified pre-owned silver 2011 335xi with just about every option going.
I was happy to be looking at a 3 year old car with 41k miles on the odometer, had a warranty, and had already depreciated about $25k off sticker. Radar adaptive cruise, power everything, leather, and a fairly dated stern hard interior….this might just be it…..on paper.

I drive down and after a short test drive, purchase the car. As it turns out, I should have been less convinced and driven a few other cars.

Wow it is beautiful

Hints of dreams not quite realized.

Germans, they know brakes, engines, suspension, but the cup holder baffles them. A retrofitted ashtray slot has been poorly modified for dual duty, leaving a fairly flimsy cup holder near the upper section of the dashboard. The extra yaw from the additional 18″ of height over the console means even the most gentle exit from a Starbuck parking lot heaves a brown plume of Arabica inflused happiness into the air.

My second less than stellar observation about the car is it really doesn’t like going 15-20mph in a parking lot. Easing off the throttle yields heavy engine braking….which leads me to the gas pedal vs engine vs me.

Can we agree to just not get along? Yes, we do not get along.

The Steptronic automatic transmission, twin turbo system, and I have really not come to accord on corners….or even such things as crossing the street. If this car were a human, I’d say it was an NFL athlete that really doesn’t want to get off the bench. On light to moderate throttle, the car drags it’s feet. Slightly more prodding yields almost nothing more. Going deep into pedal travel, the car wakes up an OH FUCKING FINE, I’LL SPRINT NOW and blasts off like a freight train. There isn’t much in between.

This ends up netting me passing through a parking lot at Granny inspired crawl rates, or like a crack head on payday. I’m really looking for neither of those.

My previous several cars were stick shifts, and naturally aspirated. Rolling on the gas in corners was natural and easy. The 335 again just waves me off mid corner, until the GEEZE OK I’LL GO WAAAAY TOO FASSSSST NOOOW! moment kicks in.

Ok,  the Steptronic will take some getting used to. But hey LOOK AT IT, IT’S BEAUTIFUL!

This might be the best time in my BMW relationship.

Hmmm wonder what that ticking is?

About seven days after I purchase the car, I notice a metallic ticking/rattle coming from the engine on moderate acceleration. I do some reading, and the turbo wastegate is known to rattle on this model. I have a service scheduled with the dealer to fix a small issue with a window shade, so I call them and ask if they will check the rattle out.

As the car transitions from about a week post-purchase to ten days post purchase, the once subtle rattle has become raucous and damn embarrassing to drive around. It sounds like a coffee can is being dragged under the car.


I’m leaving work. At the first intersection I defer on pulling out quickly against oncoming traffic. Turns out this is a good move. As the car starts forward, the engine goes dead. Dead as in fried chicken dead. I put the car into park and try to restart -> nada. The electronics are not coming online either. This represents a problem, as the car will not shift out of park with zero juice. I call BMW roadside assistance and stand by the side of the road, looking at my beautiful car, immobile partially blocking an intersection.


Yep, couldn’t get it out of gear for 15+ minutes, it could have been worse, in 400 yards it would have been mired in bumper to bumper 5pm construction gridlock.

About 15 minutes later I try the car again, and manage to get it into neutral. My wife shows up and is helping me push my dream car…in high heels….this isn’t quite the feel-the-magic-luxo-car experience I was hoping for…Oh well, it has a warranty, and glitches happen…..

The car is now safely across the street. The tow truck company tells me it will arrive in two hours, and if I wanted I could leave the keys in the car. I’m ok with this and head out. I call Schomp to tell them my car is coming in, and they arrange for a loaner car that I can pick up

My wife drives me the hour south, and I pick up a nice loaner car and head to work. This is around the 4th of July, so I’m keeping the loaner for a few days.

I call them on Monday(7/7) and Dave the service guy says the problem may be in the Vanos area. I google this as it sounded like horseshit to me..sure enough, there is a Vanos area, it’s BMW’s variable valve train system.



No word from Schomp’s service department for the rest of the week. I call Schomp on Friday. The woman I speak to ‘thinks my car is done’, but Dave will have to call me back. A few hours later Dave calls me, apologizes for not communicating, then says “oh, they have to do an engine”

Do an engine?

“Yes, we’re replacing the engine. It’s covered under warranty. It will take six to eight weeks.”

I’m horrified, but in the same breath thank Jobu that I have a warranty. Wow, and engine with 42k miles going out? Must just be bad luck, but hey, I’m getting a new engine! Engine is due in 8/29/2014. A quick google for 335xi engine replacement cost yielded someone in England getting dinged $7600 in pounds Sterling…or very roughly $10k USD for the job. Wow, without a warranty I’d have a ~two week old car that needs ten thousand in repairs.


Get a call from Schomp, the engine is in a bit early, but it will take a few days to install it.


My wunder-wagon is DONE! Whoohoo. I’m back in business!

Pick up the car, and so much time has elapsed, I need to get real license plates. My temp tag is expiring. I stop at the DMV on the way home. Wow, this drives WELL! An hour later I have new plates in hand. I crank the engine in the DMV parking lot and am greeted with a warning message “Battery was discharging while car was off” Hmmm…that seems odd, but I delude myself with the notion the car has sat for six weeks and the battery might be a bit run down.

Ten minutes and about three miles later, I’m driving through my neighborhood at 25mph. The dash lights up like the alert Klaxon on Star Trek  “Transmission MALFUNCTION, DSC, ABS, AWD OFFLINE” and puts car into limp-mode. I limp into the driveway and suppress the rage in my voice as I talk to Dave. That’s right, my pinnacle of German engineering didn’t make the trip from the dealer to my house without breaking down.

Dave feels bad and sends a tow truck and pimp loaner car, both arrive in about an hour. Ok, I’m driving a ~$70k 535xi and they brought it to me. This saved me and my wife several hours of schlepping to the dealer.

Wow, so I guess this is luxury car ownership…sucks the car broke down, but hey they’ll get it sorted…right?


Schomp calls in the morning and delivers the news: Battery was replaced as well as high pressure fuel pump which was causing ‘slow starting’. they are setting up time for delivery/pickup of loaner. Thank god I can work from home. I hang out and they pick up the loaner and drops my car off. Again I’m impressed by Schomp’s service.

I take my midget to swim lessons, total distance about six miles from the house at 5pm. As I pull into the parking lot, the becoming-more-familiar problem ding chimes and the dash lights up briefly with “Charging error”. Oh super. I get out of swim lessons, and the message comes back.

I call Dave, again, and we arrange for another loaner car to be delivered late morning tomorrow.


If I take Logan to daycare, he gets to spend an extra hour at the house relative to my wife taking him in. I decide risking the charging error to take the little guy in. It’s 12 miles round trip…..I CAN MAKE IT!

Turns out, I CAN NOT MAKE IT. I drop off Logan, and about two miles later the charging error morphs into some Anglo-Germanic translation of MASSIVE SYSTEM FAILURE. Thanks to a steep downhill, I manage to coast into a parking lot as the computer assures me the apocalypse has arrived.

I call BMW roadside assistance…again. If you need the number it’s 800-332-4BMW. Yes, I now have it memorized.

This is starting to be the shape of my relationship with the car. Standing next to a beautiful car in the Colorado sunshine, waiting for a tow truck. I snap a picture to add to my Facebook ‘my car sucks….again’ thread.


Wunder-car, waiting for the tow truck in the sunny Colorado summer.

In the previous 19 years of car ownership I have had a car towed once. It was a ten year old Altima with 110k, and the alternator went on it.

The tow truck comes about an hour later, takes me home and a loaner shows up shortly. Well, I’m getting to sample BMW’s new lineup. For the record, the 535xi was pimp, and the X3 and 328xi’s are fairly unimpressive.

I call Dave, and BMW diagnoses things as an alternator cable-nut not being attached. It’s going to ‘take a few days’ to get in.

A nut? A few days? How special IS this nut?


Car is returned with proper alternator nut attached.


I realize all the steering wheel controls are dead with the exception of the horn…super.

I’m heading out of town, so I call Dave and we agree continue repairs on my car when I get back.

I’m starting to think this is stupid beyond stupid. I traded in a very fun and perfectly functional Mazda 3 for this ‘dream car’ that can’t seem to keep it’s Schnitzel together for more than a few hours at a shot.

I’m also starting to be paranoid when driving the car. Most of the car’s chimes are the same as the ‘something is going wrong again chime’ so every ping from the car gives me an ‘oh shit what now?’ adrenaline hit. Every shimmy, every tick, every tink stokes a building fear-fire of need-another-tow-truck apprehension.

While I’m out of town, I call home. Looking at my phone call logs, Schomp BMW and BMW roadside assist now utterly dominate the last few months.

We’re heading toward ski season in Denver. Sherrie mentions to me that I should take her vehicle up to the mountains, rather than rely on my car given how flaky it has been.

Don’t drive to the mountains? Is this my dream car? What the fuck am I doing with this thing?


I get back to the Denver airport after a four day trip. As I approach the car, I realize I’m holding my breath. I push the unlock button. Nothing, oh right, I’m more than ten feet away from the car, the fob only works when I’m pretty much standing next to the car….I push the button again. The car does a weird electric dance of flashing lights, short honks and basically spasms for three or so seconds, then unlocks.

I get in, find I’m holding my breath again, and push Start. The car churns for an agonizing few seconds, and comes to life. New battery, new fuel pump, new engine and the thing is chugging to start worse than anything I’ve owned in almost two decades?


I feel like in Vince Vaughn in Dodgeball starting his rust bucket piece of shit car “It’s going to be a good day”

‘Working’, I do not think that word means what you think it means

As a side note, everything ‘works’ on the car, but not in the way your or I would probably consider ‘working’ or ‘working welll’ The keyfob is a great example. It works, but only if I’m standing next to the car. The car has fob initiated auto-down windows, which is a great feature in the summer. You hold the unlock button for 3-4 seconds and the car lowers the windows and vents itself….but, since the fob range is so short, I have to stand next to the car like an idiot for that to work. I changed the fob batteries, this does not increase the range.

My 335 came with a Comfort Touch package, where I can lock/unlock the doors by touching them without having to use the fob. This works, but if I dare to have to fob so far away as…the front pocket of my jeans, about half the time it doesn’t work unless I shove my groin into the door handle….so ‘works’….sort of, much like the car HAS cup holders…you just wouldn’t want to use them. If I hold my keys in one hand, and touch the handles with the other, it does reliably work. If I already have the keys in my hand, why do I need the Comfort Touch system?

I’m starting to very much regret my purchase…but I have to have turned a corner with this ….right?


Call Dave again, ask how his family is….we’re getting to know each other. If I had wanted this much of a relationship with a dealer, I would have bought British.

Dave arranges for another car/loaner swap 9/24


Car swapped, Schomp replaces the shorted module in the steering wheel.  While they have the car, they realize there is a service recall on the engine(yes, the brand new one) to see if the engine had bad valve cover bolts on it…that sinking feeling is becoming more pronounced.


Get car back. WHOO HOO! Time to seek out more empty curves! Punch it Chewie!


Although the vehicle has a ‘set the temperature’ thermostat and dual climate control, I still have to move the hot/cold switch on the dash. This is lame. I turn on the car’s heat for the first time, and there is a burbling sound, then the ‘low coolant’ light comes on. Oh fucking super.

I really don’t want to drive two hours to have coolant added so Amazon Prime to the rescue. I buy BMW coolant and add to car.

Grrrrrr….this shit is weak. My sense of humor about this is getting as ragged a Charlie Sheen after a two week bender…tiger blood notwithstanding.


This is a record, the car has been working and error/complaint free for almost FOUR WEEKS!!!


*subject to later revision

Ok, I’ll stop now, because when the engine is cold and I’m on throttle, I notice the faint pinging/rattling. This seems to be the same rattle that became a new engine in fairly short order.

I call Dave at Schomp and schedule service, but since the car is more than 45 days old, they won’t do the loaner/swap thing they’ve so graciously done so many times.

I pretty much lose my shit on the phone and spoil the fine relationship Dave and I have going. I’m ok with this, as I generally don’t want ANY relationship with a car dealer. I want a car that works.

Rather than eating four hours of my family’s life every time this thing breaks down dropping off/picking up, I decide to see what the BMW dealer in the much-closer Boulder can do.

I schedule service at Gebhardt BMW in Boulder for 11/10. Gebhardt doesn’t have any loaners available until 11/28. I don’t think the car can last that long.

My family trucks me up to Boulder to drop off my dream turning night-terror car Sunday night. My four year old is not amused. Neither am I son, neither am I.


Pick up rental econo-box in the am. My four year old son is now a sympathetic voice.

“Daddy, your car is fun, but it breaks down way too much”

As the day progresses, Denver temperatures drop 40 degrees in four hours and it begins to snow.

Gebhardt says the tapping is result of hydraulic valve lifters warming up. I tell them it goes on for 20+minutes and they back off that as the obvious problem. I ask them to test drive the thing again. They say that can’t hear anything, but changed my oil and wipers per schedule as the car is under covered maintenance.  Really, you can’t hear that? I might be going crazy, but it’s not that subtle a noise. Get in, push the gas like you want to merge on the highway and listen to the tick tick tick.

I drop off the rental at Hertz in a snow storm. My wife picks me up and drives the family to Boulder to get car, now in a full ice storm. It takes a painful hour to get from south Boulder to North Boulder, total distance about 2 miles.

Accidents everywhere. Mass chaos, this is not a great time to be driving around. I’m very un-pumped about being on the road with my son in the back seat.

I get my car and drive home…yep, just about done with this thing.

Influencing my burgeoning notion of getting rid of this time sucking lemon is my friend and high end mechanic Jon Vigil.

“I work on BMW’s all the time and they are COMPLETE JUNK!”

This is a consistent sentiment he maintains on every one of my many “Stop me if you’ve heard this, but my car is broken down again” Facebook threads.

For what it’s worth, I was getting taunted by a friend. “I had a BMW and a Rover, and the BMW was in the shop way more than the Rover”

Getting trolled by a Rover owner on the points of quality and reliability?

New auto-ownership low…Achieved!


Thin ice, last straw.

I’m pretty sure I’m done with this heap. Ice still on the road, I’m test driving cars. I’m between Boulder Nissan and the Infiniti dealer in Dacono with my wife and son in the 335. The car lights up again with unhappy news.


Who needs stability control, ABS or the all wheel drive system to work on ICE AND SNOW!!!

Get to Infiniti dealership to test drive the Q40. Post test-drive, on restart, my 335 doesn’t throw error for about a minute then error comes back on. Driving back to Boulder Nissan, the car stops throwing navigation screen DSC/ABS errors. Now the ‘service engine soon’ light is on in the main console.

Since we were already in Boulder, we go from Nissan dealer to Gebhardt BMW and drop off car. No loaners available until 12/11(nearly a month?). Person who accepted my car seemed to think the DSC/ABS errors are charging system related. I told them the car has a new battery, and the 2-3 trips to fix the loose cable coming off the alternator.



Tina from Gebhardt calls at about 1pm. Says is it wheel speed sensor. Sensor due in 11/18. Car should be done 11/18. Wheel speed sensor taking the cars ABS and all wheel drive offline, kind of makes sense in a ‘go fuck yourself Hans Gruber’ way…

Sorry BMW, you look good, but have not met qualifying height for a daily driver.


We’re Test driving cars in Boulder with Sherrie. It’s down to a maxed out Altima or an Acura TLX. I pick up my BMW from Gebhardt and drive home to get the title. On the way home I marvel at the BMW’s power and handling and have pangs of doubt. I pick up the vehicle’s title and start back toward Boulder Nissan. For purchase consideration, the Altima has a razor thin edge over the TLX. I’m pretty sure I could be happy with either. On the highway, I feel a slight shimmy in the BMW’s steering wheel, most likely from poor road grating, yet the wave of now familiar fear comes crashing back down.

“FUCK! Hold it together for 10 more miles you piece of SHIT!!!!”

There are no more pangs of regret from deciding to sell this lemon-wedge. I trade the BMW in, and bid it a most unfond and quite overdue farewell.

Reflections and Realizations

I had a lot of time to reflect on my luxo-car purchase, mostly while waiting for tow trucks.

Driving Ecstasy…when you can drive

I had the epiphany during the car’s ownership that I can only really drive about 3-5% of the time I’m behind the wheel. Coaxing four wheel drifts and trying to max out tight corners was insanely rewarding in the 335xi cruising the Denver foothills. The other 95%+ of the time I’m stuck behind a Subaru doing 30mph in traffic. While the car was pure driving fun when I could push it, it had a bad personality otherwise. The cup holders sucked 100% of the time, and I was constantly annoyed at having to use a cable to hook up my phone to listen to podcasts.

$30k on a car is 90% of the car you can buy

Two loaner 535’s and an X3 later, I’ve had a fair share of the BMW lineup. I have two friends with M5’s and have griped to them about my deutsch-built-lemon-woes. I test drove a ton of cars in the $30-50k+ range. If I compare luxury cars to a 30K sedan(Acura TLX, Nissan Altima SE, Honda Accord V6, Camry V6) I came to the conclusion 30k on a new car is about 90% of the car you are going to get at any price. Power everything, leather, bluetooth, moon roof, satellite navigation, satellite radio, and HID headlights are pretty much standard. Doubling your money only gets a bit more in some direction, often with the manufacturers profiteering on option packages which were included on a $25k sedan. You can get more power, more handling, a slightly nicer interior, but it’s a monetary doubling to get incrementally more car. At the end of the day, no matter what we drive, we’ll be next to each other stuck behind a wave minivans most of our commute.

I imagine if I gave any value to the auto badge prestige, there might be something there in terms of increased value. This notion misses me wholesale. I don’t give a flying fuck what my neighbors think about the car I drive. I got the 335 because it was to be pure driving enjoyment that I could take my wife and kid with me. On paper, it was a nice set of engineering trade offs that I could throw my snowboard in and drive to Breckenridge.

On balance, It’s not all bad

Ze Germans know ice and snow. During the week where I had my car back from the dealer there was snow and ice around. In this snow and ice, the 335 really shined. The all wheel drive system and electronics(Along with sane driver input) kept the car well in control. It was a blast to throw around in empty icy parking lots as I entertained my retarded inner 25 year old.
Schomp BMW went above and beyond

The service department really did go the extra mile to make things right. That said, I’m less sure about their mechanics. How did I get a car back several times with the same issue? I’m not sure all the turd-polish in the world was going to sort out my car, but multiple trips to sort out the same charging issues eroded my confidence in Schomp’s mechanics.

Will I ever buy another BMW

Unlikely. The series of loaner 2014 BMW’s I drove seemed to have wandered away from pure driving excitement to a more road isolated ride. Note to BMW, if I wanted a Mercedes, I would have bought a Mercedes. To be completely honest, if I wanted a Mercedes, I would have bought a Lexus. BMW, stick to what you were once good at. Add to BMW’s growing driving detachment a Teutonic hunger to price gouge for the privilege, and it becomes an increasingly unlikely purchase option.

What’s that whistling sound when you’re driving?
      Oh, that’s just the depreciation!

If you’re willing to take the risk, a three year old luxury car can save tens of thousands, and it’s likely you’ll have better luck than I did.

I’m not looking to shove my hand back into that particular fire anytime soon.