This article is one in a series that have been released in conjunction with Wayne's new book, 101 Performance Projects for Your BMW 3 Series. The book contains 272 pages of full color projects detailing everything from performance mods to timing the camshafts. With more than 650+ full-color glossy photos accompanying extensive step-by-step procedures, this book is required reading in any 3 Series owner's collection. The book was released in August 2006, and is available for ordering now. See The Official Book Website for more details.
On just about every road in the world, many hazards exist that threaten your car. None can be as damaging to your BMW's paint, however, as the gravel, rocks, and other debris kicked up by the other cars in front of you. Many people don't realize the amount of paint damage that can occur until it's too late. Protecting your car from damage while it is still in good condition will help it hold its resale value.Without a doubt, the most effective method of protection using a front cover, comically named a "car bra." Many people feel that the look of the car bra detracts from the overall lines of the car. However, not much else is available to protect the front surface of your car. Most bras are made out of a stretchy type of black vinyl that has a leathery feel to it. The bra is attached to the front of the car and protects the bumper, hood, and sides of the fenders from rocks and gravel. The inside of the bra is lined with a felt-like material. Not only does the bra protect your car from scratches, but it can also reduce the amount of damage inflicted from flying rocks. You can minimize expensive and damaging paint chips by using a front mounted bra.
Most BMW bras are two-piece units that cover the fenders and hood separately. This allows you to open the hood when the bra is attached. All the bras must be ordered specifically by model year. Bras typically have openings for the U.S. fog lamps, if your car has them as an option. Most bras can be specially tailored toward your specific car. For example, you can eliminate the license plate opening, front bumper guard openings, or fog lamp openings; you can add holes for headlamp washers. Either way, it's smart to get a bra that fits your car well.
Without a doubt, bras can be unwieldy and cumbersome, and it's wise to follow a few rules of thumb when using one. First, never leave the bra on the car when it's wet. Doing this will allow condensation to build up underneath the bra. The resulting water vapor can seriously damage the paint--whether by cracking the clear coat or altering the shade. Thus, you should get in the habit of removing the bra immediately whenever it gets wet. You would hate to have to put the bra on the car just to cover up damage it was supposed to prevent!
Second, watch the seams of the bra. One tip is to use soft felt squares on any point where there is a seam touching metal. Routine driving may cause the chassis to flex enough to cause substantial rubbing, especially on the hood. Adding these felt squares reduces the likelihood of damage.
Finally, the most important thing to do is keep the bra clean. It won't help your car if there is dirt trapped between the bra and the paint. Routine driving with a dirty bra will only result in scratches to your paint. It's also generally not a wise idea to purchase a used bra for your car, because it will probably be too dirty to amply protect your car from damage. They are really tough to get completely clean--so when in doubt, throw it out!
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When installing a bra on your BMW, make sure it's tight and properly attached. Poorly installed bras can do more damage than rocks kicked up from the road. There are a few different types of bras depending upon the year and model of your 3-Series. Some allow you to open the hood easily, while others fit better by using the hood as an attachment point.
An interesting alternative to the traditional cloth bra is plastic film. While traditional car bras are much thicker and will deflect larger objects, clear plastic film applied to the front of your car can do wonders to protect the paint from nasty rock chips. The film works well, although it is fairly difficult to install and is not inexpensive. In general, the installing film is not a do-it-yourself project, as you can easily make a mistake and ruin the film. I recommend seeking professional installation if you decide to go this route.