The Case For Maintenance Before Mods

When you’re dealing with a car with over 100,000 miles on the odometer (in this case over 200,000), it’s often the most basic maintenance operations that account for the most dramatic improvements. I will always stress maintenance over modifications to my dying breath, and the 318ti, which you’re no doubt familiar with by now, is a shining example of this ethos. Of course, this car will one day be treated to a set of lowering springs, sport dampers, and a performance chip; first, however, it needed fresh spark plugs and control arms.

Having put several thousand miles on the car, I thought the the front end felt reasonably tight, but bumps, potholes, and expansion joints had a way of making things feel momentarily wobbly. It was clearly time for new ball joints, so we ordered up a fresh pair of Meyle HD control arms and Lemforder lollipops.

While we were at it, we opted for an oil change and a fresh set of plugs. Even with a 400-mile round trip of purely highway driving, the best fuel economy I could muster was around 32 miles per gallon. I hoped that a fresh set of plugs would result in a cleaner, more complete burn.

We opted to complete the work on what ended up becoming a rainy weeknight, but we were still able to complete the work in a reasonable amount of time. Between the two of us, it took about four beers to get the job done.

While my boss removed the old control arms, I set to work preparing the new ones. Pre-installing the lollipops on the arms can be a bit tricky, but there’s an easy way to do it: Coat the shaft on the arm with car-wash soap, spread a little on the inside of the bushing, and get them lined up. Make sure that the holes for the alignment dowels are facing the right way. A few good whacks with a big hammer should get things started, and with the help of the soap, you’ll be able to push it the rest of the way and get it oriented in the right direction for installation.

Installation of the new control arms was a piece of cake compared to the old ones, although we did have to deal with the all-too-common issue of the ball joints trying to turn while we tightened them down. Using a floor jack on the arm, we pre-loaded them to keep them in place. This trick doesn’t work every time, but luckily, it worked for us.

When we finished up with the right side, I changed the spark plugs while Pete—now is as good a time as any to reveal my boss’ real name—started removing the left side. There’s not a whole lot I can say about spark plugs; short of changing oil and filling the windshield-washer-fluid reservoir, it’s about the easiest job you can do. Double check your gap, and do one at a time so you don’t get any wires crossed. (My therapist will vouch for the fact that I’ve probably got enough wires crossed already, but that’s another story).

On the test drive, the difference was immediate: The car felt tight and responsive. I will scream “Maintenance before mods!” from the rooftops until they take me away, and this is just one more example that proves I’m right. All it took was two control arms, four spark plugs, most of a six-pack, and a few hours to transform the little 318ti into the car that Pete and I always wanted it to be.

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