Preparing to shoot a few segments of Big Jon in 5 for BEER2WHISKEY in our upstairs studio at Barley's Taproom in downtown Greenville. That's owner Josh Beebe preparing for his closeup.

Monday, August 5, 2013

There Was Only One Dip Stick in the BMW 750i and He Was Behind the Wheel

I must admit, because the cars I drive nearly always have less than 10,000 miles on them -- most less than 5,000 miles -- and are always delivered to me clean and fully serviced, I rarely need to lift the hood unless I am uncontrollably curious. Popping the hood mostly reveals just a lot of plastic covers and some wires. Rather than being a voyage of discovery, lifting the hood usually just has me asking myself, "Hmmm, I wonder what's under there and there?"

Once in a while I will get a car low on windshield-washer fluid, but other fluid levels are always topped off. Those of us over 40 or so remember when pulling up to a gas pump meant a couple of uniformed attendants rushed out to not only pump your gas, but wash your windows and check under your hood. Having your oil checked every fill up was S.O.P.

Of course, those were the days when most cars needed a quart of oil every couple of hundred miles. Unless there is something radically amiss, today's cars barely burn any. As long as you follow the recommended oil change schedule outlined in the owner's manual, you don't need to add any in between those regular visits to Jiffy Lube.

I am waxing on and on about these things you probably already know because I took a little overnighter from Greenville to Charleston and back last week -- a trip of about 420 total miles. Not that it matters to the core topic of this posting, but it was for the wedding of a couple of friends. They actually officially tied the knot in Las Vegas a few months ago. Charleston was an event for the moms and other assorted family members -- plus a couple of friends -- who wanted to participate in the nuptials. It was a beach ceremony followed by a cozy, balls-to-the-wall reception at a beachfront seafood joint on Isle of Palms.

BMW supplied a 2013 750i xDrive -- xDrive is BMW speak for all-wheel drive -- sedan for my little boondoggle. You may pay as little as $89,300 for this luxury four-door, but the one I had rang the register for $107,195, thanks to add-ons like power sunshades on the rear windows, ceramic controls, smart phone integration, special wheels, some extra aero pieces, and night vision with pedestrian detection.

A 4.4-liter twin-turbo V8 cranks out 445 horsepower that, in the case of the BMW I had, turned all four wheels by way of an eight-speed, driver-shiftable automatic transmission. Even with the AWD, this monster got almost 24 mpg on the highway. I really liked the head-up display projecting, not only the car's speed, but the posted speed limit on the windshield. There are so many gizmos and gadgets, I can't even begin to list them all here. Let's say, it's loaded with comfort, convenience and technology features and leave it at that.

A car targeting people in search of basic transportation it ain't.

I had been sporting around Greenville over the weekend in the 750 without incident. With a BMW plant in town, a BMW is not a rare bird -- even a 750. So, although it carries a price tag qualifying it as a show-off car, there are enough of them in Greenville that no one pays much attention. Hey, I can live with that. I survived South Florida for 25 years where a 750 was what one drove to his air-conditioned warehouse to pick up the Lamborghini for a Sunday drive in South Beach.

The point is that I had put at least 100 miles on the 750 before shoving off for Charleston on Tuesday. About 50 or 60 miles into my southward slog, a warning light accented with a melodious bing popped on. I paraphrase here, but the message read: Oil level low; add a quart of oil.

When one is an auto journalist to whom a car company has entrusted a $100,000 automobile, it's not good business to ignore a warning message. At all costs you want to avoid making the call that begins, "The engine in the 750 seized up." Followed by, "Well, yes the oil warning light did come on, but I didn't want to get my hands dirty."

At the next exit off I-26, I pulled into what passes for a gas station today. It was basically a 24-hour convenience store with gas pumps in front. I had nothing with which to open a quart of oil. I had no rags nor a funnel to pour oil through to keep it off all the aforementioned plastic pieces. But I was determined to work the problem.

Is that it? No. Is that it? No. Where's cotton-pickin' dip stick?

Releasing the hood latch, I opened the hood and stared at the packed engine bay. Yes, it contained more than its fair share of plastic covers. I found a spot to add oil, but after several minutes of searching, I couldn't locate the dip stick. I had fetched a napkin from the convenience store specifically to wipe off the dip stick. Where's the damn dip stick!

I climbed back into the car and located the owner's manual. I couldn't believe I had to consult the owners manual to find the dip stick. I'm an auto journalist for the love of God! Using the index, I found the section on adding engine oil. Hmmm, dip stick, dip stick, dip stick: nope, nothing about the dip stick. Hold the phone, what's this? Why, it's a section on measuring the oil level....electronically. What?

Yep, in the finest BMW tradition, they've replaced manually checking the oil level with an electronic system. You work your way through two or three menu items on the touchscreen, clicking on this and that and voila, you arrive at the "measure oil level" screen. Click on "measure," and roughly 30 seconds later the system tells you how much oil you have and if it's enough. The level was well over the "minimum" indicator, and a message reassured me that I had plenty of oil.

Okay, now what? Obviously something was wrong, but I couldn't be sure which message was accurate. I chose to go with the finding of the measuring system, and got back on the road.

I didn't hear from the oil-level system again until I was driving back from Charleston. About 30 miles into the trip, the "add a quart of oil" warning popped on. I ignored it until I pulled into my driveway. I went through the measuring process again and guess what? Yep, it told me I had plenty.

However, I certainly would have felt better about the whole thing had I been able to manually check the level. At times, too much technology is, well, too much.

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