GOAL: Almost Paradise, Part One

Inside a storage garage area

I have ramps (three sets of varying size, actually) and have used those over the years for oil changes, and some other basics.

What I have always really wanted, though, was a garage with a lift.

I know it is possible to have those at your home, and I think some of our contributors in fact do. But, over 27 years of working life and marriage, I either didn’t have a garage that was suitable for a lift, or the timing wasn’t right, or the budget wasn’t there, or the kids were too little, or work was too busy, etc.

Having moved to a larger city to our “empty nest” townhome, I have written recently about needing to find a compromise for car washing and detailing. We have a two car garage, but it is tight. You really have to put one car on the street to be able to work on the other car, open the car doors all the way, etc.

I also didn’t have room for the ramps and other assorted things at the townhouse, to work on the cars.

I recently thought that surely someone in a good size city had a lift, or garage bay with a pit, for rent by the hour. I searched and searched on Google, and mostly came up with nothing. Except, deep into an obscure Reddit thread on BMW’s, I found a reference to exactly what I was looking for. There was a phone number for “the guy in charge” of a rental garage.

I called him, we talked, and he invited me over to see it. They don’t have a sign and don’t advertise in any way. He seemed surprised I found them at all. It’s pretty much a word of mouth thing.

Car in a wash bay

Buried in a nondescript office/warehouse park, they occupy most of a 1970’s building that was formerly several divided spaces. They have a few parking spaces outside you can rent by the month. There are two wash bays in back. Here is my car in one after a bath. The ramp to the right of my car is how you drive inside.

Inside of a garage

There’s room for about two dozen cars inside. These people pay more for a dedicated space for their car, and enough room for tools, parts, a workbench, etc. Some spaces also have a lift of their own.

A BMW inside a garage

For $900.00 a year payable in advance ($75.00 a month), I have access to the work area lift, the outside wash bays, and an inside detail/work area. There are all the “basics” for everyone to share as well, such as compressed air, shop vacs, flashlights, rolling carts, torque wrenches, creepers, rolling work carts, a parts washer, a rolling laptop stand to watch your how-to videos under the car, good WiFi, a Bluetooth stereo system, and basic hand tools.

There is a closet where you can leave leftover fluids, cleaning supplies, etc. for group use. There is also a pretty nice lounge/TV area, kitchenette, a small conference room, and clean bathrooms. They have beer and pizza nights at times, and with so many people working from home now, you can duck into the conference room for a Zoom meeting while you are wrenching on a weekday.

Membership is limited to 35 people, so everyone can get enough access time. You book what you want to use on an app, that shows what is available. Everyone has their own alarm code for 24/7 access, and another app on your phone unlocks the door to the building.

I have washed and detailed my car every other week or so, and my wife’s.

A BMW on a garage lift

I put my son’s BMW hatchback on the lift to change the 6.5 quarts of oil and filter, and give everything a look over. This is a prior COAL, our 2015 328i GT. The computer calls for changes about every 8,000 miles, and the car sees a fair amount of highway miles.

BMW N20 engine

The cartridge filter is on top at the front of the N20 engine, super easy to access.

At 8 years old and 75,000 miles, I was surprised the underside looked so clean, undamaged and rust free, especially since it spent the last three winters in a New England college town. There is oil weeping from the valve cover gasket; I will keep an eye on it. Common BMW issue. I also changed out the cabin filter and engine air filter. I have new spark plugs for it to go in soon as well.

Next, I put the 2015 smart ForTwo (another COAL) on the lift to try to track down a noise from the underside. My wife hit a piece of debris one day (maybe a brick, she’s not sure), and since then we have a loud rattling sound that comes and goes. Some days it sounds terrible, and other days it makes no noise at all.

There are two plastic underbody panels, and one was pretty torn up at the mounting points. I removed it and left it off, and that seemed to help a lot on the drive home. The panel itself was plastic, but I suspect it was slapping against the underside of the metal floor pan.

2018 Range Rover on a lift

Next up was my wife’s 2018 Range Rover Supercharged COAL for an oil and filter change. This was a pretty straightforward job. The computer calls for changes every 16,000 miles and I’m just not down with that, sorry. I’ve been going with 10,000 miles or so, since the car mainly creeps around town.

I was out of pocket about $70 for two jugs of Mobil 1 and a Mann filter. I had the right cartridge cap fitting / wrench from our 2011 LR4 to remove the oil filter cartridge housing on top of the engine; otherwise you would have to remove the intake plumbing and air filter housing to use a traditional wrench. I did have to remove a large skid plate under the engine, held in place by 16 bolts. Since it was aluminum, it wasn’t too bad.

The Range Rover has a tube in the oil filler neck to drain the oil by suction from up top, but I don’t have that equipment. And, I prefer to drain it from the underside anyway, especially with the benefit of the lift.

2018 Range Rover oil level sensor

Once I got the skid plate off, I could see that the oil level sensor on the bottom of the pan had a steady leak. This is a picture of it AFTER I wiped it off, it was pretty gooped up. I’ll replace it next time I change the oil. Owing to the former marriage between Land Rover and Ford, you will note it says FoMoCo on the sensor. I found a Hella replacement sensor on RockAuto for $30, so no big deal.

I plan to do a little more substantive work on my car, the 2018 740e COAL. BMW has used multiple transfer case designs over the years. Some have drain plugs, and some are completely sealed. Mine has a fill plug only, so you have to pump the fluid out to change it.

The rear axle also has a fill plug only, however, the front axle has both drain and fill plugs. Why the difference? Who knows!

The transmission is thankfully fairly “normal”. Unlike recent Mercedes transmissions which require you to fill through the drain plug in the pan, the ZF 8 speed in my BMW has a fill plug as well.

Right over 77,000 miles, I was due for an oil and filter change. The computer calls for a change in 10,000 miles when reset, but then usually extends it out to over 11,000 as the miles go by. My car sees a lot of highway miles, and most of the in-town miles are electric.

a BMW engine

This is the best picture of a B48 I could find, showing the somewhat wonky location of the oil filter near the firewall, compared to the better access on the N20

The oil and filter is easy enough. The cartridge filter is up top, though back close to the firewall on my B48 engine, where it is a little hard to reach. Changing the oil itself was certainly easier with a lift instead of ramps.

Illustration of closed deck engine design versus open deck design

The B48 in my 740e is the successor engine to the N20B20 in the hatchback, so I went down an internet rabbit hole comparing the two; both are 2.0 liter, 4 cylinder turbos, with the main differences being the B48 is “closed deck” construction as opposed to “open deck” on the N20; the B48 is “undersquare”; the internals are forged on the newer engine, and cast on the older engine; the B48 has a “girdle” holding the bottom of the block and internals together; and the B48 has a water to air intercooler instead of air to air.

The newer B48 also oddly (to me) holds less oil, 5.5 quarts instead of 6.5 quarts. There are many versions of the B48; the B48B20O1 was used in the 2018 model year PHEV cars (330e, 530e, X5, and 740e). Fun Fact: this version of the B48 also appears in the current Toyota Supra (along with a B58 BMW six cylinder).

I thought the change to a closed deck design on the newer engine was an interesting choice. Closed deck design is stronger and more expensive to manufacture. Same with the upgrade to forged internals and the addition of the girdle; the newer B48 engine just seems wildly overbuilt compared to the N20, which itself has a generally good reputation. I wish I could call someone in Munich to ask why.

This is my second oil change using Belgian-made Castrol Edge Euro 0w30, which meets ACEA standards as opposed to API. Does it really matter if you’re not on the Autobahn? I’m sure it doesn’t, but it’s what the car was built for, and it’s reasonable in price, so why not. It cannot be found on local shelves, but Castrol sells all their products on Amazon with free shipping. The needed six quarts came to my doorstep for $50.00. I also buy quality Mahle or Mann filters online for a few bucks each.

I had a lot of fun doing the work. It’s not about saving money, though I might eventually versus the dealership, even figuring in the garage rent and a few cheap tool purchases. Just quiet times with your car, and talking to other people in the garage about their cars. It might be dangerous place to hang out. There’s a guy with a turbodiesel W123 wagon he has rebuilt and restored to perfection. If he ever wants to sell, it has to come home with me!