Saying Goodbye to a Classic Car

On the morning of April 15, 2018, a (now former) friend of my daughter rang my cell in frantic state. The (then) twenty-three old had borrowed her car, while his vehicle was in the shop. The young man claimed that someone sideswiped Molly’s convertible when parked and he was away meeting a client. I learned that dents and scrapes spanned front to rear panels and the door between them, amid his gasping and repeated promises about paying for repairs. He never did.

The car is gone now; the why and how is an oddly twisted tale that I tell after depositing the insurance check. That act closed the story’s last chapter. 

Double Trouble
In late-May 2012, my (now deceased) father-in-law bought the used 1998 BMW Z3 for his granddaughter as a high school graduation present. Molly loved the car so much that, being still serviceable following the April 2018 hit and run, she continued to drive with damage. She also believed that the (future) former friend would take responsibility for repairs. For my part, I was reluctant to file an insurance claim, not being able to independently corroborate his story (which I couldn’t, of course). Molly was a minor when the Beemer was purchased, so the title was in my name and we had never bothered to transfer it. Being owner of record, I wanted to be sure the story I had been told was truthful. Fortunately, our local service station, and later body shop, would assure me that the damage did appear to be from being sideswiped.

In mid-October 2018, Molly let her (not yet) former friend drive the Beemer with her as passenger. Somewhere on a terribly rainy trip back from a day in Mexico, overheating damaged the engine. Our trusted service station would later tell me that the temperature reached 282 degrees F, based on information retrieved during diagnostic testing. From the plastic container of antifreeze—and wrong kind—behind the driver’s seat, the (now) 24 year-old had been aware of a problem for some time. I wonder why he didn’t inform Molly, or even me. Head gasket had blown. Mixing of fluids and repeated overheating was severe enough to ruin the engine. The shop quoted $5,000 repair. A BMW specialist, giving a second opinion, said between $5k-$10k.

The notorious damaged, rear panel

With the Z3 now out of service, and Molly unable to continue driving it, time had come for me to file an insurance claim for the body damage. The result would determine how to proceed about the engine, which replacement my girl was ready to pay for as she wanted to keep her powder blue Beemer. Our insurer processed the claim as an unattended vehicle. I had expected a more laborious process that would require someone interviewing the former friend or my daughter; that might have been the case had the sportster been occupied at time of collision.

Special Edition
The claims process started on October 17. Our service station graciously assisted moving the BMW to a reputable repair shop certified by the insurer. While waiting for the estimate, I researched the Z3’s worth. Based on the car’s condition before the blown head gasket, a Kelly Blue Book evaluation put value at around $4,000, which is considerably more than what we would ever have considered selling the Beemer. I half expected cost to fix the body would exceed the threshold percentage that requires treating a vehicle as total loss. Sure enough, the initial estimate came in around $3,500. But to my absolute dismay, the insurer valued the sportster at more than $7,000. WTH? Molly’s granddad paid $10,500 six years earlier, with 30k fewer miles. I couldn’t make sense of the valuation. The insurer would pay for repairs.

What to do? Let the body shop make pretty and pristine an automobile with engine that would require another $5,000 (and likely more) to replace or rebuild? That’s what Molly wanted. She loved the car—even after my explaining that, averaged monthly, the cost to fix would exceed payments for a newer vehicle over 24 months. So I authorized repair.

The first snag came after the replacement panels, bumper, and door had been painted and reattached. The rear headlamp cover wouldn’t fit, and the wheel couldn’t clear the new panel. The body shop had purchased the wrong part! With VIN reverified to ensure no future mistakes, the next panel was ordered dealer direct. That one didn’t fit either. Or another!

Before: BMW Z3 on purchase-day (May 2012)
After: BMW Z3 following the incident (April 2018)

After conducting additional investigation, the shop’s specialist discovered that my daughter’s Z3 was a special edition, and a limited number had been produced over six months. The rear panel proved difficult to find, she said. The insurer was informed about the problem around Thanksgiving. Then came a breakthrough: A seller on eBay, familiar with the special edition, had the proper panel on hand. Based on his knowledge and VIN verification, he shipped the thing to the body shop. Once again, the part didn’t fit.

The shop’s specialist told me that the eBay seller said that BMW had made only 10 Z3s like my daughter’s for model year 1998. I have been unable to independently corroborate that claim or the Beemer being special anything. However, I have to think that the insurer’s methodical, pedantic data crunchers would be more likely to know correct value of everything, which could explain the convertible’s much higher-than-expected assessed value.

After four failed panels, rising repair costs, and the shop’s report that proper part unlikely could be obtained, the insurer designated the 1998 BMW Z3 as a total loss. I was relieved. I didn’t see the economic sense of the insurer restoring the body or my daughter paying to replace the engine. Oh, but she still would have. She lamented loss of her distinctive, cute convertible that Grampy gave her.

As the designated owner, although Molly was primary insured driver, I removed wanted items from the Beemer, released the car to the salvage company, relinquished ownership, and mailed the title. The process started December 20. On the last day of 2018, I received email that the body shop would be paid more than $4,300 for its work. New Years Day, the insurer sent notice of total-loss payment being issued to Molly and me. I deposited the check, yesterday.

Back in April, and during summer, I repeatedly asked Molly to let me file an insurance claim and get repaired the body damage she hated looking at. I had no confidence that the (later to be) former friend would do as he promised me. But as previously explained, she would rather have the convertible to drive, and she believed that her (future) former friend would call on some buddies to get the dents out.

I wonder: Had we filed the insurance claim months earlier, would the end still be total loss, or would the proper part have been available? Either way, had the Z3 been deemed a loss from the original repair estimate, the insurer might have saved more than $4k in failed repairs. That end could have come as easily in June as December. We will never know.

Molly’s strong sentimental feelings about the Beemer are understandable: The Z3 was her first car. She learned how to use a stick-shift to drive it. The sportster was a graduation gift from granddad. Despite my logistical concerns, I wish she could have kept the convertible.

But total-loss is the best outcome, for problems foreshadowed. For example, and it’s but one worth mentioning, when removing the last items from the car, I found the trunk to be totally damp from heavy rains falling on several days during different previous weeks. The body shop had covered the Beemer, but clearly the cover wasn’t water resistant. The rear hood had been removed for replacement or repair (dunno which). The trunk and interior leaked in water because of the former friend, too, in the days during damage done to the engine. I trashed the few clothing items left inside the trunk and the cab because of mold. What other problems would water exposure cause?

Whether or not special edition—and I am skeptical about the designation—the car was classic. The 6-cylinder, 2.8 L engine: power everything, including seats (oh, and heated); CD player in trunk (for theft protection); color; overall styling; and ragtop, to name a few things.


I quickly shot the Featured Image and companion on April 19, 2018, using iPhone X. Vitals for the first: f/1.8, ISO 20, 1/201 sec, 4mm; 6:10 p.m. PDT. The second is the same, but 1/408 sec. I captured the new, used BMW Z3 on May 27, 2012, at the dealership soon after purchase, using Samsung Galaxy Nexus. Vitals: f/2.75, ISO 50, 1/105 sec, 3.43mm; correct time is unknown, but sometime in the afternoon. The final photo is like the first two, but 1/194 sec.