28 Sep 2018

Why I Hated My BMW 320d And Wanted To Sell It - And Then Fell In Love With It Again


I'd bought the 320d. I'd justified it to myself. I was going to keep it. I owned it outright and I didn't want to make any monthly payments. I liked it. So what if it had 200,000 miles on the clock. It ran well and it was comfy and fast and drove well. I'd made my peace with it.

But it had started getting slower. It had started to feel a bit clogged up. All was not well. But I put it out of my mind. I continued using it day to day, short trips and long trips.

Until...

Until a light came on the dashboard, between the speedo and the rev counter. And it was accompanied by a bong. Or maybe a chime. Whatever it was it was not good.

I could have Googled it but I took a photo and put it on Twitter.  The answers came back straight away. All the same.

DPF. Diesel Particulate Filter. Uh? What the hell was a DPF? So I Googled that. It was not good. To cut a long story short a DPF is a filter somewhere in the exhaust system that filters out all the diesel particulates (that as a motorcyclist I can feel in my eyes when following an older bus or taxi in London).

This terrified me. What had I done by buying a diesel? Maybe I should sell the car and buy a petrol. This was a sorry state of affairs.

I went online. Halfords promised to clear out your DPF for a mere £85. Phew! I booked an appointment and a mechanic friend took it there to see if he could learn anything. Sadly not, they said it would take 4 hours so he went for a very long and boring coffee. 4 hours later it was done. £85 poorer but the DPF light had gone out. Job done, scare over.

The next day the DPF light came on again.

I did some more investigation. I consulted many forums where many ill-informed people gave many opinions on what to do, or not. Sell it they said. It's knackered they said. Don't buy a diesel they said. A new one would be £1500 they said.

Not helpful. I did my own investigations. I could buy a new one off eBay for £800. Or alternatively there was a company in Maidenhead who would clear it through for £250. This looked a good and sensible solution, but would it work?

I asked my mechanic friend to call them and book an appointment. We agreed that he would remove the DPF - even though we had no idea where it was or what it looked like - and take it there, get it cleaned and then reinstall it. Great theory but would it work out?

Meantime I had started to hate the car. It let me down and I don't like being let down by mechanical machinery. I like reliability. I talked myself into buying a Mk5 Golf GTI. I spent every waking hour searching Autotrader and eBay.

The BMW started driving terribly. It went into limp mode a few times and would only drive at 25% power.

I discounted 95% of GTIs on sale. Wrong colour, too many miles, not enough history, no cruise control, no heated seats, the dealer sounded like a cowboy (80% of them), too far away, weird stains on seats, not clean enough, mods I didn't like.

But I found one. It was 80 miles from home. The seller sold it really hard. I wanted a discount but he wouldn't give one. I pushed, he pushed back. OK I agreed, I'll come see it and will probably buy it. It looked amazing. So one evening after work my mechanic friend and I travelled 2 hours and met the seller and his car.

Rewind...

Earlier that day my friend had jacked the BMW up and removed the DPF in under 2 hours. It was much easier than expected. He drove it to Maidenhead and it was thoroughly cleaned. It had been blocked almost solid. No amount of recharging by Halfords would have fixed it. Only a deep bath and jet clean with detergents could fix it, and fix it they did. It cost £180 (trade rates) and my friend reinstalled it in an hour.
The Diesel Particulate Filter

The Golf looked fabulous. But a little too shiny. A little too clean. I drove it. It was nice but not as spectacular as I'd been led to believe. The timing belt hadn't been changed for 50,000 miles. This was a concern. I actually preferred the BMW's driving experience. I asked that if I bought it would he consider not cancelling the tax until the next day. He refused.

I thought this was mean spirited but I did agree to buy the car. Some part of my mind was saying no but another part said yes. We agreed the price - the price he had asked - he was so confident he could sell it for the full price. I used my banking app and it didn't work. Hmmm? I phoned my bank. The funds wouldn't clear until the next day.

Snap. That was it. There and then I realised I had done the wrong thing. Fate showed me what I should have seen already. I walked away.

We drove home and only then did I start to realise quite what a difference there was in the BMW. It pulled stronger than it had ever done. The DPF had obviously been quite blocked when I bought it and this had only got worse until it got to the point it started to produce warnings.

By the time we were home I decided I would keep the BMW. I actually loved it and I should never have gone to see the Golf.

But actually I should have. It had been a cathartic experience and I learned lessons. I know I have some kind of syndrome. I call it impulsiveness and I've always had it and it's cost me a fortune in cars I've bought and sold and lost money on. Whatever it is and whatever trendy name might be applied to it matters not.

As soon as something went wrong I wanted rid of the BMW. It took the experience of realising the grass wasn't greener with the Golf to realise I preferred the BMW in the first place and that I shouldn't have gone looking for something else. I should have just fixed it and been done but I couldn't help it. It's for this reason I bought a Yamaha R1 and crashed it and it's for this reason I bought a Porsche 911 and lost £5,000 when the engine blew almost immediately. Sometimes I just cannot help myself - no matter what anyone says.

But, whatever. Lessons learned. I had the BMW and I liked it again.

But there were a few things that needed fixing if I was to keep it. It had satnav via a TomTom but it needed Bluetooth. CDs are too 2000s for me. I need to be able to play music from my phone. I had been using the aux-in cable but saw on the Honest John website a review of Bluetooth units. They recommended the Anker Roav Bluetooth Adapter. They gave it 9/10 so I ordered one.

It arrived the next day and was a plug and play affair. It just needed a USB connection for power and an aux-in port and both are under the armrest. Once plugged in I connected my phone and, honestly, I was amazed. The sound quality is fantastic. I get in, start the engine and press the button on the unit and music plays from my phone. Perfect.
The Bluetooth Adapter

The next job was to fix the headlights. They were pathetic. I had replaced the bulbs with upgraded xenon bulbs but they were still pathetic. The lights only lit a short amount of road ahead of the car. I investigated the mechanical adjustment but it seemed to do nothing. It was obviously broken.

Mechanic friend was booked to take the front end of the car apart so he could remove the headlight units and hopefully bodge a repair. This he did earlier today. It took two hours to get the headlights out. Once off the car we could see the adjuster on both lights had been sheered off the actual light unit at some point in the past so that the light's default setting was to point at the floor.

He fixed them by using Q-Bond adhesive. An amazing engineering bodge that has worked. It took an hour to put it all back together and once it had gone dark I took it for a test drive.

Instantly I knew things were better. The road ahead was lit - a little too much. I was headed for a quiet country lane but had to follow a Citroen Xsara Picasso doing 25mph and weaving around the place. He beeped me a few times as my lights were illuminating the inside of his car.

I stopped and adjusted the lights and drove on. A few cars flashed their lights at me so I stopped and adjusted some more. I repeated this a few times and finally was happy I had a setup that worked and no other drivers flashed their lights at me.
Fixing the headlights

And that was it. I finally had a car that did everything I wanted. The DPF had been fixed and thereafter it was reliable. It had a sound system that worked to my liking and headlights that would light the road ahead.

And so we are. I like my car. It may not have cost much and it had a few faults and they have been fixed. It has been made good and how I like it.

So now I love it and I don't want another car.

I hope it stays this way. I cannot say my impulsive nature won't cause me to want to sell it and buy something newer and faster and perhaps not as good but I will do my best not to do so.

By Matt Hubbard