Of course it’s not locked. Do you think I’m stupid?

THE WEATHER HAS BEEN HORRIBLY LATELY, with an unnatural amount of rain, snow and ice.   So it was no suprise this morning when we woke up to a land covered in a sheet of ice and snow.  Unfortunately garages are rare, so that means that this morning began with an aggressive scraping of the ice off of the little BMW.

On my way to work I decided I was a little low on fuel, so popped into a gas station.  That’s when the trouble started, because my car’s fuel door was entombed in a casket of ice.

I have a push-to-release fuel door, and while parked next to the fuel pump I pushed it, and it didn’t give a millimeter.  It was completely caked in ice inside and out. I managed to scrape the ice off of the door, and pushed again, harder, but it still wouldn’t release.  I used the only tool I had – my keys – to try to scrape the ice as best as I could from behind the fuel door, but darned if it still wouldn’t release.  It seemed, I dunno, stuck somehow.

AFTER ABOUT 10 MINUTES SOMEONE AT THE NEXT PUMP TOOK PITY ON ME, and happened to have a small spray bottle of antifreeze in his car.  He came over and started to spray around the fuel door and as I watched the ice melt away I figured that would do the trick, but still no release.  He handed me the bottle left to fill his tank and go pay, and when he came back he found me there still holding a now nearly empty bottle of antifreeze and still prying at my fuel door wondering how it is there could still be ice stuck behind it.  After a while my new friend decided he had better things to do and gave up, but he was nice enough to alert the gas station attendant inside that there was a big dumb American in the parking lot clogging the fuel pump because he couldn’t get his fuel door open.

SHE RUSHED INTO ACTION,  taking a liter of water from the glass cooler in the gas station and warming it up, and a few minutes later came out with a piping hot bottle of water. She emptied the entire bottle of water over and into my fuel door. There was no physical way there could possibly be any ice left after that, so she stood back and motioned to the door, and I pressed again….and nothing. Stuck.

I looked at her and she and me, and she frowned, scratched her head.  I was thinking about how I must have damaged the door somehow when I was prying at it, and that I was going to need to drive to the dealership when it opens in a few hours and have them take a look, and thinking about how this was going to throw off my work day when I heard her ask, “Ist es verschlossen?”  Wait a moment…mentally translating….’Is it locked?

“Nein”, I said out loud emphatically.  It couldn’t possibly locked, I’m not stupid.  And just to prove it, and I took my keys out of my pocket and hit the unlock button on the key fob.

And the fuel door popped open.

When a BMW is not about vanity.

THE CAR BUYING PROCESS is – thankfully – behind us.

First there was The-Stupidly-Expensive-Van that severely bit into our car buying budget. Coupled with the extreme costs of German cars, and the realization that banks in Deutschland weren’t just going to extend credit to a couple of American rubes that just tumbled off the boat (so to speak) we had a couple weeks there where we had to evaluate our options on our second car.

Long story short, we finally bit the bullet and shelled out some dough for a More-Reasonable-But-Still-Offensively-Overpriced commuter vehicle. Now with that behind us, let me take a moment to share the most important feature on this particular automobile:

That’s right….it’s  a Beamer. 😉

Now, let’s be clear. We’re not into big expensive cars, nor are we  into vanity… and this is not a big expensive car. This is not the BWM 5 series you often see floating down the Interstate in the US.  It’s not even the smaller 3 series.  In fact, you’ve probably never seen this type of car at all. This is the baby BMW, the 1 series…a 118d (Diesel) to be exact.   It’s a good car for us first because it’s small enough that we can probably stuff it in our suitcase and take it home with us when we leave in a few years.  It’s also truly not about vanity (it’s used and  pretty basic). In reality, it’s about fuel efficiency.  And that’s a big deal.

Let’s start with gas prices in Germany. At first blush, you might think they don’t seem to bad when you stroll across the border and see signs like this one:

The word Benzin is your basic unleaded gasoline, so you might look at this sign and say “$1.19 for gas? That’s all? That’s not bad!”  And you might think that until you filled up your tank. And you might still be thinking that right up to the time you  went up to pay at the register, and right then and there it would occur to you that you just got a one-two punch by the imperial system and the US Dollar.

First off, gas is sold by the liter here, and there are about 3.8 Liters in a US Gallon.  Secondly, that price you’re looking at is in Euros.  There’s nothing wrong with the good ol fashion US Dollar, but let me tell you – it’s no Euro. So taking into account the Liter-to-Gallon conversion and the current exchange rate for the US dollar, current gas prices in Germany in American terms comes to this: $6.91 / Gallon.

To put that into perspective, I had Chevy Colorado before we came here that got 21 mpg (not bad for a pickup).  Now here, I drive 80km every day too and from work…so just based on the commute alone and assuming normal gas mileage that truck would have cost me $16.35/day in gas alone.  $340/month.  $4200/year. And that’s just for the commute.

Enter the BMW 1er.  In Europe fuel efficiency is published in Liters / 100km (in other-words, how many liters of gas the car requires to go 100km in normal conditions).  A gas guzzler might require over 10L/100km.  A ‘fuel efficient’ car is less than 6L/100km. And here’s the beauty of the BWM 118d: It gets as low as 3.9L/100km.  Not impressed? I suppose those numbers don’t mean much, so let’s convert that to something more familiar:  The BMW 118d gets 60 miles per gallon. If that’s not impressive, then consider that the 2011 Honda Civic Hybrid gets a mere 43mpg on the highway. The Prius gets 51.  And those are hybrids, in the BWM 118d we’re just talking about a regular old diesel engine here.

It’s not just BWM either…European car manufacturers have fuel efficiency at the top of their list of customer demands, and it shows up in their technology.  I won’t go into how its achieved, there are a lot of reasons (example on the 118d, the engine shuts off when you come to a stop at a stoplight, and restarts automatically when you pop the clutch – without missing a beat).  But regardless of how, the what is that it makes gas affordable here…and that makes the  price tag almost seem justifiable.

Almost.