2002 BMW M3: Engine Failure Imminent! Or maybe not...
April 09, 2008
So the long-term BMW M3 scared the hell out of me this morning. But it's supposed to be a "thrilling" car, so maybe I'm just an old stick in the mud. Regardless, when I looked down and saw the oil light on next to the speedo my blood pressure shot up considerably. My first instinct was to reach up and turn off the key, but at 40 mph on the heavily-trafficked, narrow and twisting Malibu Canyon Road -- with no pull off space in sight -- I didn't see that as my best immediate option. Instead I quickly lifted off the throttle and pushed in the clutch pedal. As luck would have it I'd just passed the highest point on this route through the Santa Monica Mountains, which meant I could realistically coast for the next 3-5 minutes (depending on traffic speed).
During that time I scanned the oil temperature gauge and the engine temperature gauge. I also turned off the audio system and listened intently for troubling noises/vibrations. All appeared fine, and upon further reflection I realized the light was yellow, not the traditional red I normally associate with "Turn Off The Engine Now!!" By the time I hit PCH I decided to keep the tachometer below 2,500, keep the radio off and my ears open, and keep my eyes on the engine/oil temp gauges.
That's how I drove the last 10 miles into work, then I checked the oil level and found it right on (but not below) the low line on the dipstick. It took exactly 1/4 of 1 quart of oil to get the oil level midway between the low and high line, and I've since confirmed that, indeed, the M3 has a red version of the oil light reserved for if/when things get critical (you can see it everytime you first turn the key on).
As an early warning system for a high-performance car it's not a bad design. But as with so many things, a litle RTFM helps avoid panic.
Karl Brauer, Edmunds.com Editor in Chief