All posts by Scott Huntington

Scott Huntington writes all over the internet about cars. He was (probably accidentally) interviewed to be the host of the next Top Gear USA.

What to Do When Your BMW’s Engine Overheats

Beloved by car enthusiasts but not necessarily mechanics, BMWs raise some real questions about the legend of German reliability.

Running hot is a problem cars from all marques face, and BMW is no different. If you thought that trim panel was expensive, you’ll split a wig when you see the price of new motor components for your beamer. So if your car is running hot, be quick about identifying the issue and implementing a fix. It could make a five-figure difference in your bank account. Here’s what to do.

Know How to Recognize Overheating

Modern BMW engines are water-cooled and do a pretty good job of staying at operating temperature — unless something goes wrong or you’re running the car very hard. Depending on how new your vehicle is, a gauge will indicate the head and oil temperatures of your engine in the central cluster, and you might have a digital readout that displays an error code if it gets too hot. In analog gauge clusters, the needle should never touch go past the halfway mark on the dial.

If you see this happening, don’t continue driving the car because you can do severe damage to the engine. Pull over and call a tow truck. You can repair the issue once a mechanic has had a chance to take a look at things, which may cost a few hundred dollars, but it will save you the price of replacing an engine.

Fixing an Overheating Engine

Now that you know that your engine is overheating, you need to repair it. If the car overheats during regular use, your set of suspects will include your electric fan, water pump and thermostat. You should be able to observe your fan switching on and off. If you can’t, look at the thermostat and if that doesn’t do it, check your fan and fusebox.

If the car overheats at idle, you’re probably dealing with a busted water pump. Make sure you have clean, high-performance oil in the car, as allowing it to degrade or running a cheap motor oil can increase your chances of heat soak.

All these are relatively cheap to replace, and some BMW models are known for having less-than-stellar fan or water pump performance. Your mechanic will know just what to do. If the car has been overheating for some time, you’ll want to check the expansion tank to see if it has become weak.

For drivers who frequently track their cars or engage in spirited driving that causes heat soak, something more serious is needed. Consider upgrading your car’s plastic cooling system to a metal one with a larger fan and radiator. Change your factory oil for something with a higher boiling point, like a full synthetic. This will ensure fewer metal shavings enter your motor and provide better performance in the long run, as well as defend against heat soak during track days. The truly extreme can look for ventilated bodywork, a higher-volume intercooler and turbo plumbing.

Beamers have their fair share of unique issues, but overheating isn’t one of them. These problems have been faced time and time again by the automotive community, and as long as you get to them quickly, they’ll be cheap and easy to fix. Don’t wait until your head gasket breaks. Pay for the fix now, and you’ll be glad your car isn’t down for the count tomorrow.

Can You Tow With a BMW?

BMW, the ultimate towing machine! Not familiar? Perhaps not. Bavaria’s famed automaker is better known for Hoffmeister kinks and persnickety gearboxes than for stump-pulling proficiency. So you might be surprised to learn that not only do BMW SUVs tow, they do it quite well.

Vehicle dynamics have long been the forte of the blue-and-white brand, and while you’re predisposed to think of dynamics as the way your M3 rotates when you chuck it into a 90-degree right, it’s the very same set of principles that informs the way your X5 behaves when pulling the family motorcraft. Naturally, BMW has taken all they know about building surefooted, smooth-riding cars and translated it into confident, capable towing machines.

Serious Tug

Boating magazine recently published a review of the BMW X5 as a tow/haul vehicle. It received numerous compliments, not only for its capable towing, but also for offering boat owners a driving experience that is noticeably more comfortable than that of a domestic-market pickup. While diesel Fords, Chevys and Dodges have added semi-truck levels of torque to their outputs, the BMW’s powerful V8 and robust suspension package make it a worthy competitor for all but the largest oceangoing boats with its 6,000-pound tow rating and 4,000-pound payload capacity.

Smaller oceangoing craft and riverboats should be no problem for the burly X5, which you can also have in diesel flavor with a wonderful compression-ignition powerplant that delivers a hearty 413 foot-pounds of torque, sure to make your trailer feel feathery on the highway. All X5s enjoy 15.2-inch front and 13.6-inch rear ventilated disc brakes in a testament to what a serious towing machine this is. Lots of vehicles offer the power output needed to pull a trailer, but making it safe and controlled to slow all that moving mass is what separates the ultimate driving machine from its lesser competition.

Don’t Forget About Little Sister

You’ll find the same exceptional road manners that make the X5 a capable tow vehicle in the more affordable, more compact X3 for city-going outdoor aficionados and anyone with an active lifestyle. Even in four-cylinder guise, the Twinpower four-cylinder on the base model X3 develops 258 foot-pounds of torque, enough to enable a payload capacity of nearly 1,000 pounds and the ability to tow 4,400 pounds. That’s plenty to haul your small trailer or camper or a pair of watercraft or snowmobiles. It’s the perfect solution for nearly all those who want the ability to tow, but won’t rely on their BMW strictly for towing, and can appreciate the versatility of a crossover.

Plus, You Still Get a BMW!

Seldom do you hear anyone heaping praise onto the full-sized pickup segment for being nimble, responsive backroads dancers with supportive seats and well-placed controls. That’s more a BMW thing. While these cars are capable tow vehicles, they’re also very much BMWs. You’ll enjoy every day of ownership with your tow-package-equipped Bimmer, not just the ones where you visit the lake or pull a trailer.

Consider how often you need to tow. Wouldn’t it be nice to find a vehicle that can comfortably perform the role of tow vehicle while at the same time swaddling you in luxury and offering class-leading performance that makes it a joy to drive? That is precisely what we have in the X line of SUVs. BMW has found success with the suburban market already, but these cars have gone underappreciated as thoroughbreds for some time. The secret’s out now, so don’t be surprised if one of your Ford- or Dodge-driving pals asks you next time they see you, “Can I take your X5 for a spin?”

Say Goodbye to BMW’s 3-Series Gran Turismo

BMW 340i GT M Sport Estorilblau

“It’s hideous, kill it with fire!”

This is a phrase you might find yourself using all too often in reference to the latest crossover, XUV or SAV that the world’s automakers roll out. It would certainly be an appropriate reaction to BMW’s ungainly-proportioned 3-Series GT, and it seems BMW has come to realize this because the GT will not receive a redesign after its current iteration.

For a brand that fervently seeks out and fills even the smallest of niches, the GT’s elimination is BMW admitting that sometimes you just can’t create a niche where there was only a dream before.

Be Sensible, BMW!

BMW’s top brass claims that there is still market demand for the 3er GT even though sales numbers have been presumably weak. It’s impossible to know just how few of the GTs are sold from BMW’s own market data because they roll that number up into the total count of 3-series sedans sold. Can we speak plainly for a moment? If this car was printing money, it would not be getting the axe.

It’s not as though this is going to break BMW. If there’s a vehicle out there that can print money it’s a 3-series, but even Bavaria’s original recipe is struggling to keep pace with the popular and more traditional X3 and X5 (and X1 and X1, and X7…) SUVs.

Add to that that the lower-riding 3-series variants already include a sedan, wagon and “Gran Coupe” and you can see where customers are going to suffer from Cheesecake Factory syndrome. More choices is not always a good thing, and BMW has spent decades perfecting the honest sedan.

A Face for Radio

BMW 330i GT Luxury Arktikgrau

If you know the BMW lineup fairly well, you’ll recall that there are “high coupe” variants of several X models. These crossovers can do everything a 3-series GT can but more importantly, they’re not nearly as ugly.

The 3 is the second attempt by BMW to fashion a high-beltline station-wagon-chimera out of its most popular model, if you’ve still got your sight after clapping eyes on the 5-series GT, you might just want to skip this one.

Don’t be mistaken, there’s plenty to be said for practicality and a form-follows-function approach to car design, look at Subaru. But with so much internal competition, you have to ask why? And now BMW has.

The Next Generation of 3-Series

Bimmerphiles will know the latest coming of the 3er by its G20 body code, and there will be no G20 iteration of the GT.

This is a critical time for BMW which has been criticized as moving away from their sporting heritage in an attempt to capture market share from Mercedes and Audi by offering a less communicative driving experience and a more cushy, amenity-rich interior.

The G20 has a challenging mission in rescuing the brand from dilution and restoring BMW’s sporting name without offending customers who want luxury.

That means that there’s no room for low-volume models. All the development money needs to hit home on the core product lineup which has, admittedly, swollen to a size that should not need help from any more flavors of 3-series.

So if you’ve got a 3-series GT and you love it, good for you. Hold on to it. Maybe it will become a novelty item like the Pontiac Aztek and ten years from now people will be picking through auction lots for them. If you don’t have one and you want one, you had better act fast!