Newbie with a handful

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andytothemax
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Newbie with a handful

Post by andytothemax » Wed Jan 16, 2008 11:18 pm

I wanted a BMW M3 ever since purchasing my previous car, a well-used 2001 530i with Steptronic. Although the 530i was a nice car, it just wasn't a satisfying experience shifting the Steptronic manually. It was a good corporate car but not raw enough for my vision of an ideal driving experience.

While I was browsing certified preowned listings I spent a couple of months off and on reading up on how manual transmissions work, operation of the pedals, trouble spots, etc. I watched dozens of Top Gear episodes on youtube to compare cars and listen to the sounds involved. I watched Euro rally/touring videos featuring BMW M3's. I watched videos about clutches and clutch replacement. When I eventually found a certified preowned M3 that fit my wish list completely, I took a test drive this last Saturday.

Prior to my test drive, I had driven a manual on one occasion for about two blocks. I did well, but that car was a Chevy Nova hatchback owned by my then-roommate who needed me to re-park the car from a red zone on the street into a nearby garage when he was too intoxicated to drive. The Nova probably had 80 horsepower. Let's just say I was concerned about purchasing a 333 hp monster with such limited experience.

The test drive was only somewhat embarrassing. Basically I did fine from a standing start although I let the clutch out too quickly and revved too high into second, jerking and bucking us around. I was very nervous but I didn't stall it at all during the drive. Once we got moving past 25 mph or so, things were fine.

I pulled the trigger, and I picked up my new pride and joy yesterday 1/15/08:

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Purplish blue, manual trans, with competition package. A real beauty. I was very afraid that the power would simply be too much for me to handle. However, I have been pleasantly surprised in that I keep the throttle pretty light until the clutch engages, then I can hammer it freely when off the clutch. The power is there so it seems like I don't have to do much other than be smooth with the clutch. Hill starts being the most difficult part, I practiced it about 50 times on a familiar steep hill until I got it right. The smell of burnt clutch wasn't so great, but I knew I had to do it. If the grade isn't too steep, I don't need the e-brake but I can do it if needed.

One interesting problem is that while around town I now have difficulty responding to questions/comments from the passenger while driving, because so much of my mental energy is focused on driving the car. That could have safety benefits in that I can't talk on the phone anymore except on the freeway. I get nervous when someone is in the passenger seat or if someone is behind me on the street, and that reduces my performance. I guess performance anxiety is pretty standard in this area.

Another issue is that my starts off the line are very slow, even delicate. I am hopeful that will improve with time, and I chalk it up to learning the basics before trying anything rad. The "Sport" button really sharpens the throttle response, but I told myself I'd master the standard settings first.

I have had a hard time rev-matching downshifts but then again have had the car for just over one day. Upshifts are as smooth as an automatic because I've kept the revs low out of 1st even when letting the clutch out quickly. However, the price is slow starts. I hope I can speed those up.

One "wish list" feature would be better shift gates-- I accidentally downshifted several times when I intended to upshift, which was a problem. The manual even encourages the driver to press the shift lever to the right "in order to prevent inadvertent selection of a gear in the 3rd/4th gear plane" when in 5th or 6th. I call that a design flaw rather than something the consumer should have to deal with. Another help would be a gear indicator on the dash to show what gear the car is in. I know that's probably a newbie feature, but it could be helpful at low rpm's as when coming to a stop. One key problem, and probably the only actual problem with the car, is that the handbrake is partially blocked by the center armrest. So I kind of have to reach over the armrest to pull the lever, which is awkward on hill starts.

At the beginning I wasn't sure whether this was a good idea as a first car to learn on. However, in my humble opinion it has been just fine, and I'm glad that I went with my intuition and urge to get the car rather than listening to the voices of doubt! The car is a fantastic blend of performance, comfort, luxury, and everyday driveability. Either way I'm not looking forward to the bill for a replacement clutch...call it $2,000+ with labor. I have no idea how long this clutch will last.

Andy
Last edited by andytothemax on Wed Jan 16, 2008 11:43 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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AHTOXA
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Post by AHTOXA » Wed Jan 16, 2008 11:33 pm

Welcome Andy!

A few things:

1. You mentioned a design flaw with the shift gates or something. M3 has no design flaws. Period. :D

2. Slow starts are fine. You'll get faster the more you drive. Trust me.

3. I love your car. Now excuse me, I need to get some lube and some Kleenex. Will be back in 5.
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Prodigal Son
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Re: Newbie with a handful

Post by Prodigal Son » Wed Jan 16, 2008 11:40 pm

andytothemax wrote: One "wish list" feature would be better shift gates-- I accidentally downshifted several times when I intended to upshift, which was a problem. The manual even encourages the driver to press the shift lever to the right "in order to prevent inadvertent selection of a gear in the 3rd/4th gear plane" when in 5th or 6th. I call that a design flaw rather than something the consumer should have to deal with.
Welcome.

Your owner's manual is right on the money. An H pattern manual is designed so that you can shift without looking at the stick simply by using the correct motion for each gear. The motions are:

1st: Push left and up.
2nd: Push left and down.
3rd: Push straight up.
4th: Push straight down.
5th: Push right and up.
6th: Push right and down.

The important thing is to keep your hand open when shifting so that you are not grabbing or manhandling the shifter. The shifter has to be free to move to the center under the power of the centering spring as you shift. Use the correct motion with an open hand and you will never mis-shift, and never have to take your eyes off the road to look at the shifter.
Last edited by Prodigal Son on Wed Jan 16, 2008 11:49 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Post by jomotopia » Wed Jan 16, 2008 11:47 pm

welcome to the site. nice car. :D

if you use only the palm of your hand to shift and use the proper motion for the gear you want you should be able to avoid mis-shifting regardless of the gates on the car. left+up for first, left+down for 2nd, straight up for 3rd (centering spring will bring it to the middle for you), straight down for 4th, right+up for 5th, right+down for 6th.
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andytothemax
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Post by andytothemax » Wed Jan 16, 2008 11:53 pm

AHTOXA wrote:Welcome Andy!

3. I love your car. Now excuse me, I need to get some lube and some Kleenex. Will be back in 5.
Great minds think alike :)

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Post by AHTOXA » Wed Jan 16, 2008 11:53 pm

There are many methods to shifting.

Here's what I use:

1-2 open palm
2-3 open palm up, let the stick center itself, open palm up again
3-4 index and middle finger light push
4-5 open palm up to center, thumb ot over to fifth and palm up
5-4 open palm letting it self center then down with index and middle fingers
5-3 open palm
4-2 pinky over to the left

And so on....


Not sure why I decided to post all that.
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Warner
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Post by Warner » Thu Jan 17, 2008 12:56 am

AHTOXA wrote:3. I love your car. Now excuse me, I need to get some lube and some Kleenex. Will be back in 5.
I would say +1, but it's too late for me. I just need to change my pants.

You sound like you've done all the right things so far. Learning how everything actually works makes driving a manual much easier. It also makes most of the stuff that's good or bad fairly intuitive.

Oh, and in case my comment wasn't obvious enough, your car is the sex.

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Post by watkins » Thu Jan 17, 2008 1:00 am

For me 4>5 is a bitch. Its surprisingly out of the way to get there because of how the reverse lockout gets in the way. Boo random notchy gear.

As has been said, you should never accidentally downshift when youre intent is to upshift. The stick is designed to make the process simple by gear placement and the centering springs. High speed shifting is a different story however.

But regardless, I recomend running through the shift pattern several times with the car stopped. Watch the stick placement a few times, then do it by feel. Once you get to know it, you should be able to just reach over and know exactly what gear youre in by touch.

andytothemax
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Post by andytothemax » Thu Jan 17, 2008 1:22 am

Warner wrote: Oh, and in case my comment wasn't obvious enough, your car is the sex.
Thanks :)

I'm not used to the extra attention-- I absolutely love the color, and I knew I had to get Interlagos Blue when I set out on this. The women at the office are unanimous in their opinion that it is stunning. I look forward to picking up a date or something.

A

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Re: Newbie with a handful

Post by Leedeth » Thu Jan 17, 2008 4:56 am

WOW. Awesome car. :shock:
andytothemax wrote:One interesting problem is that while around town I now have difficulty responding to questions/comments from the passenger while driving, because so much of my mental energy is focused on driving the car. That could have safety benefits in that I can't talk on the phone anymore except on the freeway.
Yeah I have that problem as well. I often don't hear what they say.

You don't need a gear indicator. That's for slushies. Once you get used to it you should know exactly what gear you're in at all times. Otherwise you can just reach over or look at the gear lever and you should know which gear it's in.

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Post by tehfade » Thu Jan 17, 2008 11:41 am

Sweet car! E46 M3s are so beautiful....I'd do nothing to that. Bet you're loving the engine too. Wish mine revved to 8000.

I'd check up for recalls on it though...I could be wrong, but I seem to remember older M3s having some problem that could lead to total engine failure...it was something really dumb though like people using the wrong oil or something...

As to the problems...a shifter will fix the mis-shifting thing. On my GTO, the stock shifter is a real piece and lots of people did 2-1 moneyshifts at the track. Aftermarket shifters will fix these problems because they come with stronger centering springs. As for the "gear indicator", there is some company somewhere that makes a shift knob with an LED display on the top to show what gear you're in. But I really doubt you need that. And for the handbrake.................<ducks to avoid the flames>.............don't use it. Some of our members will vigorously insist that it's the *proper* way of starting on a hill, but you can do a "stationary heel-toe" that will get you going easier and faster.
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Post by AHTOXA » Thu Jan 17, 2008 12:02 pm

Honestly, I did a dumb thing in my new car once. I was really tired coming home from work and as I was accelerating I went from 4-3 instead of 4-5. Dumb move. I wasn't accelerating hard at the time so it was not a money shift, but it startled me for sure. Even after you drive for a while, you still need to pay attention.

Driving a stick is a great way to drive safer, because it forces you to stay awake (unless on highway, really) and more alert to your surroundings and to what your car's doing.
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Post by Johnf514 » Thu Jan 17, 2008 12:06 pm

Hey there Andy. Gorgeous car - nearly a perfect vehicle for every need. Congrats on taking the plunge on a stickshift! You've come to the right place.

As you get better with the clutch, your foot will find exactly where the "friction point" is, and you will know how and when to get on the throttle to go. It's better that you keep your starts slower and delicate, rather than rushed and careless. With that much power, I'd hate to see you launch into the car in front of you. Once your foot finds that friction point, you can speed up your clutch release. Launching is like a see-saw, the more you come off the clutch, the more you roll on the throttle.

Getting used to the feel of a shifter after many years of driving an automatic is a very new experience. Unfortunately, I find it hard to throw blame in BMW's direction. Read through the suggestions of the others in this thread (PS's post is dead-on) and practice while the car is off. Get a feel for the shifter - you'll know those gates in no time.

The handbrake (IIRC) is on the passenger side of the vehicle to allow the passenger to activate the brake in case of an emergency. As you are a newer standard driver, I recommend using the handbrake on hills. If you like the method, stick with it. If you feel that you can get off the main brake and onto the throttle fast enough when launching (again, in time), that method also works. There are two methods, and as long as you aren't rolling back more than an inch, you're golden.

Rev-matching will come as you learn how much pressure to apply for how much engine revs you need. It took me a few months to perfect my rev-matches on the Mazda3, as it is a drive-by-wire throttle, and the response is different (i.e., slower) than a cable throttle.

Don't worry about not being able to talk and drive - just tell them to shut up and enjoy the experience that is the M3! :D

Good luck, and please feel free to ask us any questions you might have. We're a newbie-friendly community. Welcome! :mrgreen:
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Post by andytothemax » Thu Jan 17, 2008 12:11 pm

tehfade wrote:Sweet car! E46 M3s are so beautiful....I'd do nothing to that. Bet you're loving the engine too. Wish mine revved to 8000.

I'd check up for recalls on it though...
[snip]
Thanks! And thanks for the tips-- Dinan has a short shift upgrade that looks promising, so if I still think it's an issue in a year, that's an option. As for recalls, the 2001-manufactured engines apparently had serious issues resulting in explosive damage. There was a fix. The 2005 model has no issues I could find.

I haven't explored much over 4000 rpm just yet.

A

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Post by jomotopia » Thu Jan 17, 2008 12:13 pm

andytothemax wrote:I haven't explored much over 4000 rpm just yet.
and i recommend you don't until you're really used to shifting and confident you won't mis shift. going to 3rd instead of 5th at 4k probably won't over-rev your engine or hurt anything (don't know where your redline is though). mis-shifting at redline could cause serious damage.
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