My old BMW and it’s Painted Plastic Parts


It had been many years since I had driven a car that was older than 3 years. Being in plastic material sales and in management positions for a number of years, I had company cars that were leased. Basically from 1990 until 2010 I leased 8 different cars on 2 to 3 year leases. Turn and burn, one after another.

In 2010, I was self employed and my finances had taken a hit from starting a company in September of 2008, right before the bottom fell out of the economy. The lease from my 2007 Infinity G35 was coming to an end. I thought about buying the Infiniti instead of turning it in, it had been an excellent car. However I decided to buy a car that I had desired for a while, a BMW 335i. I started hunting for a used one online and finally came across  a three year old example that was the exact car that I wanted at a dealer in San Francisco.

I planned, at the time, to keep the car for 3 to 4 years and then I would trade it in something else. Sometimes life gets in the way of our plans. I still have the car, now almost ten years old. It has been interesting driving a rather complex German car so far out of warranty. I wanted to talk about how it has held up.

Mechanically the car has held up pretty well. I have had very few problems with it. I have been very diligent about doing all of the recommended maintenance on the car. Every fluid has been changed multiple times now. The transmission oil, clutch fluid, differential fluid, engine coolant and even the brake fluid has been changed. I have had new synthetic motor oil put in every 15,000 miles as recommended by BMW. I am sure this has helped the mechanical bits hold up better. BMW has a reputation for excellent drive-train components even though overall reliability is not nearly as good as Toyota or Honda.

I have had two somewhat major issues with the car. The first was (and still is) ongoing issues with the door locks. The car has a system in which you keep the key fob in your pocket and the car unlocks when you put your hand behind the door handle and locks when you touch the top of the door handle. The door locks seem to have a mind of their own locking the doors when I haven’t asked it to.  Occasionally, the door lock fuse will blow. I have had it looked at and had various parts including the door handles and key fobs replaced but I still have the problem. I have just chosen to live with that one. I keep some extra fuses in the glove compartment.

The second issue was the engine coolant pump quitting. A light came on the dash telling me that the engine was overheated. I shut the car down and let it cool. I tried to drive it a few times and found that it overheated after about a 5 mile drive. I had it towed to the dealer. The repair was $1500.00. Ouch.

Currently, I have noticed that the air conditioning compressor is making a rather loud whining sound. I am going to have it replaced in the spring.

The car now has just over 77,000 miles on the odometer.  I really can’t complain too much.

What has really been great about the car is the wear and tear or lack thereof. The inside and outside of the car have really held up well. The exterior paint and trim look excellent and the interior has really held up. The interior looks better at 77,000 miles than many cars do at 40,000. The leather seats and trim look almost new. My wife has a Ford that has about 65,000 miles on it and the leather looks awful.

Ford Leather Seat at 65000 miles
BMW Leather Seat at 77,000 miles

There are two parts in the interior that are showing significant signs of wear. They are both painted plastic parts.

The console is showing some wear from being hit by the seat belt. Actually this was chipped up when I got the car when it was 3 years old. I don’t think that it has gotten worse since I have owned it. Maybe it was previously owned by someone that was overweight and could not find the seat belt buckle. The console is molded out of plastic and is then painted with what is known as soft-touch paint. Basically paint with bits of foam in it to make it feel like a softer leather surface. Painting parts with soft-touch paint is a lot less expensive than wrapping the part with vinyl or leather but more expensive than just having the part molded in color.

Center Console

The second wear item is the driver side door pull. The door pull is also painted and the paint is peeling off. It kind of surprised me that this door pull is painted instead of being molded in color.

Door Pull

I suspect that the use of the paint is to make the interior surfaces look and feel more premium. A molded in color part tends to have more gloss and look cheaper. Many car reviews in magazines complain of interior parts that feel or look too “plasticky”. The term plasticky is a bit difficult to define but I think that parts that are shiny and hard to the touch tend to leave you with that impression.

Adding a softer material to the surface makes the part feel more premium. One way is to cover the part with vinyl or leather or to over-mold it with a softer material. However, painting the part, especially with soft-touch paint can have the same effect. The door pull on my car is not painted with soft-touch paint but the paint gives the part a very even and very matte-finish appearance which, to most people looks more upscale.

It appears that they molded the part in color and then painted over it. This is often done with painted parts so that scratches are not so obvious. Usually, the OEM specifies 90% color match for such parts.

Some of these things like the painted console are just a cost cutting measure. The question I have, is it too cheap for a car that cost $53,000 dollars in 2007 and costs around $60,000 if you bought one today? I’m not sure. The interior of this car is certainly better put together than an interior on a cheaper car and while the car is not cheap, no BMW is, it is also not in the price range of a Bentley or Rolls Royce in which many interior parts are wrapped in very high grade leather.

I understand that even on a car that costs 60 grand, some expenses have to be spared by the manufacturer.

Overall, the interior in this car looks remarkably good in my opinion. I certainly take care of the car but I am not obsessive about it. Some of the painted interior parts are a bit worse for wear and they would probably look better now if they had been molded in color. Oddly, in this case, making the car look more premium when new, makes the parts not wear as good in the long run. If it were a Rolls Royce (ironically owned by BMW), I suspect that this would not be true. The leather wrapped and burled walnut parts would still look good and maybe even look better far in the future.


PS: I have ordered some interior touch-up paint from a company called Colorbond. I am going to attempt to re-spray the door pull and maybe even touch up the console. I will let you know how it goes in a future post.

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