2002 BMW M3: Alternator replacement
September 19, 2008
Two days ago Erin Riches alerted you to a warning lamp that's activated on our Long Term 2002 BMW M3. You had your own thoughts and guesses on the cause. At last count you were split, 4 / 3 for battery and alternator. There were also a few write-in votes: Bad connection, voltage regulator and something about an Eagle Talon (Which hits a bit of a personal soft spot; my first car was a turbo AWD DSM.) and a wholesaler. Good guesses all, but we had a bit of information that you didn't. A bit of information that our guys over at Summit Automotive relayed in passing, "Might want to keep an eye on the alternator. They tend to go on these cars around 50. Maybe 60 [ thousand miles]." So we knew what we were getting into.
While we certainly had a good experience at Summit, independent shops do have drawbacks: time constraints and parts availability are the major ones. Keeping that in mind we decided to use our local BMW dealership, BMW of Santa Monica for the repair. Not only did they have the parts in stock, but they could see us that very same day. Besides, we hadn't used them in a couple of years and this blog is as much about the service shop as it is the car. And so, at 1:23pm on Wednesday, I dropped off our M3 at Santa Monica BMW.
There were a few good signs right off the bat arriving at BMW SM. First was the presentation. While I won't knock a good dealership for not offering state of the art aesthetics, I certainly appreciate the good dealerships that go the extra mile. (Unlike Lexus of Santa Monica that offers the high gloss, but none of the good service.) Next was the wait time, I had barely had time to peek around the bays before my service advisor bounded over. Turns out he's an E46 M3 owner as well, so perhaps our experience was a little better based on that alone. I told him about the battery light and he said the techs would be able to look at it immediately. Then I mentioned the fan failure. The one that prompted Riswick's "It does not blow" blog. Less than a second passed before he said the cause was most likely -- as we already knew-- the final stage unit and they were in stock.
When he called back with an estimate, $1500 for the alternator replacement and $600 for the FSU replacement I stalled and said I'd call back. Then I called Loren, AKA: Subytrojan. He's a solid resource on BMW maintenance and a nice guy to boot. I think he cried a little when I told him the price for the final stage unit. Doing it ourselves, he said, would be a few hours work. Not hard, but time intensive. A lot of M3 owners I'm sure are in the same boat regarding free time: there's simply not enough of it. Schmidt and I conferred and settled on paying for the repair. Budgeted BMW owners can spend a pleasant afternoon in the driveway with a set of Torx drivers replacing this and save a few bucks. Everyone else, be prepared to pay. The part alone lists at $137.40.
I called back intending to authorize the complete repair when our guy surprised me. "We want to be your BMW service shop." He started, "I can do the alternator for $1350 and the final stage unit for $500." It wasn't a huge savings but it was appreciated none the less.
At 1:40pm Thursday, just over 24 hours from the time I dropped the car off, it was complete. The total bill was lower than the estimate but still a whopping $1,899.88. $1,058 was labor. $777.71 was parts ($640.31 for an alternator w/core exchange) and $64.17 went to the Governator's office.
For the geeks out there, our alternator was charging at 11.4 volts, the replaced unit was pushing the recommended 14.2V.
Mike Magrath, Vehicle Testing Assistant @ 62,189 miles