Buying review BMW 3-series (E46) 1997-2006 Common Issues Engines Inspection

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Hello and welcome at another car buyers review,

Today we look at a young classic car that has built up quite some reputation. The BMW E46 generation is already a classic, the M3 for this generation is a god for BMW enthusiasts.

There is the normal M3 and there is the hardcore CSL.
If you want to buy such a car, what do you need to look out for ?

We are talking about the BMW e46, the fourth generation 3 series from BMW.

This car came to the market in 1998, 21 years ago. That alone should trigger you to know that the car needs to have a good service history if you want to buy it. If it does not have a good service history this allows you to barging down the price. These cars are quite reliable but maintenance is very important, especially for older BMW’s.

Some maintenance can be done yourself, other more complex maintenance is best done at your BMW dealership. We all know these cars are driven hard, and even though the engines are true masterpieces, maintenance is key.

Let us first get a general idea of the car.

The E46 replaced the successful E36 in 1998. This was the fourth generation 3 series.
Back then BMW still made the beautiful inline 6 engines, and with a driving characteristic that made them icons.

This car is from the late nineties and early 2000’s.
It was built until Augustus 2006. It has been one of the best sold BMW’s or cars in general.
It was very popular, still many of these cars drive our roads today.

It was available as a sedan, a coupe, a convertible and as an estate.
A 3 door hatchback was built from June 2001 until 2004 with the name compact.

Most of the model has rear wheel drive, but there were a few all-wheel drive models available as well. The 325XI, 330XI and 330XD sedan and wagons.

The successor of this car was the E90 on which we already did a review.
The E90 first appeared in 2004 at this point in time BMW started to phase out the E46.
However the E46 coupe and convertible remained in production until 2006.

The M3 version of the E46 was powered by the S54 straight-six engine.
The M3 was released in late 2000 and was available in coupé and convertible body styles.

The S54 engine was marketed as the high performance equivalent to the M54, but actually the engine
was more of an evolution of the BMW S50 engine and shares few parts with the M54.

Reasons to buy this generation 3-series;

  • Rear wheel drive
  • Very good handling
  • Timeless design, especially the facelift models
  • Popular car, quite expensive but it keeps its value
  • This car is very well documented by enthusiasts on the internet. Tips and tricks for DIY maintenance are plenty available as well as the weaker points of the car.

Attention points

  • Since this car is potentially two decades old, check the condition on the headlights, doors, seats and dashboard
  • Rust is not a big problem for these cars but check the doors, rain gutter and tailgate for the touring models
  • Electrical errors; check all buttons and the audio system. Some specific electrical issues are the electric windows, some pixel loss in the navigation screen, central door locks, the GM5 module.
  • The rear-axle carrier could rip, especially with the early 330d’s or other types with higher torque. Check the metal under the car at the differential.
  • The support arms in the front and the back wear out quite fast, especially with a more sportive driving style, be aware of noises coming from the chassis or vibrations in the steering column.
  • The bearings of the water pump wear out quite fast, this results in a complete cooling failure of the engine. Preventive replacement of the water pump every 100.000 KM is the best way to deal with this problem
  • The diesel engines have swirl flaps, these are valves in the inlead trajectory, when they break they end up in the engine. Removal of these flaps are the best way to deal with this problem. Check if these flaps have been removed if not, remove them.
  • The 150 HP of the 320D, the injectors, turbo’s and carter ventilation.
  • The 136 HP of the 320 D, air mass meter, diesel pump preventive replacement every 200.000 KM
  • Petrol engines, water leakages, thermostat housing, expansion vessel, radiator and all plastic parts are weaker parts
  • Pre-face lift 6 cylinder petrol engines, oil consumption and weaker piston rings. Might as well be a VANOS problem. Google that term.
  • Automatic gearboxes do not need new oil according to BMW, but to extend the longevity of the gearbox, flus it and replace the oil to combat early stages of problems or completely prevent them from happening.

Thanks for watching this buyers review of the BMW e46. If you want to go for the M3 versions, maintenance is every more important since these performance cars need proper car. M3 cars of this generation in good condition are very expensive, these cars have such a large fanbase and they are getting rare now.

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