First, we need to take care of some unfinished business. In last week’s piece about repairing some low-hanging fruit, I diagnosed the cause of the illumination of the Z3’s ABS and traction-control lights as a bad right-side wheel-speed sensor. I said that I didn’t really care that the lights were on, but added that the car is coming up for inspection in a few months, and having any safety-related dash lights on is an automatic inspection failure in Massachusetts.
But I was wrong.
Not about the diagnosis—about the lights being an automatic inspection failure. Alert reader and fellow Massachusetts resident Lyle Nyberg sent me the following: “My 2000 Z3 has passed inspection even with SRS (airbag) and DSC (traction control) lights on, since the car is older than fifteen years (older than a 2007). I show the inspector a copy of the state guidance. For DSC, see here (search for “15” or “2007” about 1/3 of the way down), and here. For SRS, “We no longer fail model-year 2007 and older vehicles if the airbag light is on, or if the airbag is missing or has been deployed.” (See here, first item under “Did You Know?”, about 1/3 of the way down.)
Thanks, Lyle. Next time I may elect to just let ’em burn. However, with the lights extinguished, the Z3’s instrument cluster looks so peaceful.
Okay, on to the matter at hand.
I’ve owned my ’99 Z3 M coupe (aka the Clown Shoe) for sixteen years. That’s a longer tenure than every other car in the stable except the E9. For a car I’ve owned that long, you’d think that I love it in the SNL “Mercury Mistress” sense, but that’s not the case. Sure, I love to look at its fat, planted rear end, but it’s just not a car I drive a lot.
The main reason is the seats. There’s something about those deeply bolstered chairs that angers my back after just 45 minutes of driving (and, for the record, this is something that’s been going on for years, and isn’t simply a result of my recent back woes). When you have a car that actively hurts when you drive it even short distances, you don’t road-trip it, and when you take that away, you drain the waters in which bonding usually occurs.
As I wrote a few weeks ago, having the M coupe and four other cars stored in a not-exactly-convenient warehouse on the Massachusetts/Connecticut line has me thinking that maybe it’s time to sell something. Plus, part of the business model of this stage in my life, when my income as a freelance writer is a small fraction of what I used to make as an engineer, is that every once in a while, in order to keep the family finances solvent, I need to sell a car that’s dear to me. This is why in 2019 I sold Kugel, the ’72 2002tii that was on the cover of my first book—and that was a car with which I had a deep road-trip history.
Now, I’ve gone through this “Should I sell it?” thing before. A few years ago it was the ’79 Euro 635CSi that was in my crosshairs, but when I brought the big shark out of storage and photographed it, I decided that it was just too cool to let go.
Then I wondered if I should take advantage of the Bavaria’s increasing value. I had a few conversations with a friend who’s joked for a decade that he has dibs on the Bavaria if I want to sell it. When pressed, “dibs” turned out to be more like Tom Behringer’s Magnum PI-like TV-star character in The Big Chill backing off his pleas to JoBeth Williams to leave her husband. So my flirting with selling the M coupe, at least right now, is more my trying the idea on for size.
In these matters, I’ve found that a good place to start is making a punch list of things you’d need to fix before selling the car—that is, in theory, it’s always better to fix something rather than have to include it in the ad and apologize for it, but in practice, it becomes an exercise of weighing what you think the car would bring with the rough edges repaired as opposed to doing nothing and selling it as-is.
Of course, cost and time have to be factored into any of those decisions, so the process becomes one of enumeration, analysis, and possibly action. In the M coupe’s case, the four main warts in need of Compound W were these:
1. Wheels and tires: About five years ago, one of the car’s rear calipers seized, and the ensuing heat caused the finish on that wheel to discolor to almost a greenish tint. And even without this, all four wheels wear their age with chips and minor curb rash. In addition, as I wrote in “My Dream Date with Magnus Walker,” the M coupe’s tires are an embarrassing (and potentially hazardous) eighteen years old, making it so no one would want to fly in and drive the car home without first freshening up the rubber. Thus, it made sense to refinish the wheels and replace the tires at the same time.
Of course, when the car was just sitting in storage, what that meant is that I did neither instead of both. I mentioned this to the Boston Mobile Tire guy I use for in-driveway mounting and balancing, and he mentioned that he works with someone who does refinishing, making it seamless to me from a pickup and drop-off standpoint.
I spoke with the refinishing guy, and he gave me a cost-saving option for sanding and painting, and a more-expensive option for full refinishing with media blasting and powder-coating. And one bent wheel needed straightening. Since the target is the prettying-up of a driver-quality car to sell it (that is, the wheels don’t need to be more mint than the rest of the car), I opted for the former. For tires, I opted for a set of staggered General G-Max RSs. The total bill came to about $1,400, which was more than I wanted to spend, but quite reasonable—and long overdue.
2. Cracked tail ight: I vividly recall the incident that created the cringe-worthy crack in the car’s right taillight. It was about six years ago. I went to AutoZone to buy a battery. I threw myself at the mercy of the young attendant and asked him if he could carry it out to the car. He put it on the ground while I opened up the rear hatch. When the hatch was open, he somehow lifted the battery and swung it in a single motion—right into the corner of the taillight. Incredibly careless on his part, but what was I supposed to do, storm inside like a BMW-owning Karen, demanding to speak with a manager? I let it go.
Unfortunately, the taillight assembly (part number 63212695026) currently lists for $490, with 10% discounted list at $437. Since these fit only the M coupe, and since just 2,870 of those were built for the U.S. market, used taillights are as rare as hens’ teeth. I combed car-part.com (the big junkyard database), but the M coupe doesn’t even show up as a model. You have to instead select Z3, then coupe. But the Z3 coupe’s taillights aren’t the same as those on the M coupe. A “looking for this part” email to car-part yielded no results, so I appeared to have no options other than expensive full-on replacement.
I became curious whether I could repair mine. If you look closely at the crack, you can see that there were two issues: One was that the rim of the taillight had a good-size separation in it, but the other was that one portion of the lens had slid under another portion, preventing the sections from mating and being glued together. Although it wasn’t planned, I actually broke a piece of the cracked section away from the rest, then re-introduced the broken piece. This had the unintended benefit of allowing it to mate better against the rest of the lens. The result is far from perfect, but it cost me nothing, and it doesn’t stand out quite as glaringly as it did before.
3. Front bumper cover:| Although the damage is not even close to being in the same league as the front bumper cover issue of its Z3 sister, the M coupe’s bumper cover is a bit rougher than the rest of the car. In addition to the normal wear and tear of chips and minor scuffs, there is a section dead-center where the paint has cracked, revealing cover’s original blue color beneath (obviously it was a used part that had been repainted). I cheaped out as I always do, spending $14 to buy a tiny tin of Arctic Silver touch-up paint on Amazon, and of course the result looks like absolute crap. Although the rest of the car’s paint isn’t perfect, it’s pretty good, and the condition of the bumper cover stands out as obviously worse.
I’m trying to decide whether I should have the bumper cover refinished professionally, try to do it myself, or split the difference and have one of those guys who advertise on Craigslist that they do in-your-driveway bodywork and paint, as they’d probably do a better job than I could.
4. The big bad driver’s-door window clunk: M coupes in general and my car in particular have a common issue with the bracket inside the door, to which the window regulator attaches, breaking. As I wrote here, last year I coaxed mine back into general functionality. In fact, at the end of that piece, I literally wrote, “A part of me thinks, ‘Sell it now before it breaks again.'” My memory was that I still needed to do more work on it, but it appears to be rolling up and down smoothly, although it makes a small clunk when the driver’s-side window does its auto-roll-down thing when the window is all the way up and you open the door. In this case, a small apology in the ad is preferable to opening the patient back up.
I give it about even odds that, after this appearance freshening, the M coupe gets a reprieve, as the 635CSi and the Bavaria did before it. We shall see.—Rob Siegel