E46 Buying Guide

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Buyers' guide: BMW E46 3-Series 1998 to 2004

The Good Bits

Coupé arrived spring 1999, Touring autumn 1999 and Cabrio spring 2000. Improved suspension and steering from April 2001.

Facelift Sept 2001, air-con standard across range, plus sharper steering and suspension for coupés.

Facelifted 320d boosted to 150bhp. Improved warranty from Nov 2001.

316i saloon and Touring relaunched April 2002 with UK-built 1,796cc 115bhp Valvetronic.

Coupé gets facelift early 2003. From Feb 2003, six-speed manual gearbox and dynamic stability control as standard.

Sequential five-speed SMG box on 330CI from Feb 2003.

M3 CSL from August 2003, with 360bhp and less weight.

BMWs generally had below average warranty repair costs in 2003 Warranty Direct Reliability Index.

1998-2000 petrol cars lowest for breakdowns and faults, average for problems;

The Bad Bits

Thermostat problem with 318i and some six-cylinder models.

Premature front suspension balljoint failure.

Spate of snapping rear coil springs.

Air-con fault can flatten battery if car left parked for two weeks.

Turbo failure on 320d 150bhp.

What to watch out for

Make sure electric radiator fan works , a previous failure could mean head gasket trouble.

Front suspension clonks mean balljoint or wishbone bush problems.

Clonks from the rear mean a coil spring has snapped.

List the common problems, and just the normal should dos.

If you are buying a high mileage E46 ask if:

The water pump, tentioner, belts, and control arm bushings have been replaced. First three should be done by 80,000, second every 45-50,000.

Is the suspension still original?

Make sure all the windows go up and down as they should as does the sunroof. Window regulators tend to go out.

If you are buying an 01 330 be aware of the over boosted steering (it is soft)

Check all of the vin numbers on the panels to make sure they line up

Run your fingers along the sides of the panels (inside the door where the sticker is, the ledge where the bumpers meet the boot & bonnet.) If it feels like fine grain sandpaper, you have found overspray-- the car has been repainted.

Check for rear subframe damage. It will be under the car, between the wheels and around the diff.

01 325s have the boosted steering also.

Inspect fan blades on high mileage cars >100K. They've been known to come flying off.

Inspect radiator expansion tank. It sometimes cracks and starts leaking.

You should also mention that the windows should not make any click/clack sounds when going up or down, as that is another sign of impending regulator death.

Coupe headliner trim (next to both doors). They're glued on and will often detach.

E46s built between 2/2001 and 4/2001 could have a defective engine aux/cooling fan, which could result in overheating, smoldering of fan circuitry, and a possible fire. BMW should have notified affected owners of this.

If the car looks good in person, don't forget to have a mechanic give you a pre-purchase inspection, also run a car check. A clean looking car can still have a dirty past.

If you think this is bad, go look at a french poo buying guide, I promise you will be back :D

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If anyone wants to add to this feel free, I consolidate it when we have a nice list..

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Just thought id ad when looking try and test drive from cold start!! i got in mine from hot and all was sound untill next mornin when i noticed the gear stick was lent over to 5th pos!! once warmed it does spring back to neutrall but a pain whilst driving as wen selectin 3rd it will go into 5th heard its an easy job being the bush but gearbox out jobbie!!

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Great info, will be taking a copy of this with us when we go and view a few

as I have been known to have blinkered vision when I see something I like

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Guest jeffthro

Something I've just found out from personal experience and been told by those "in the know" that its a common issue, early E46 floor pans get cracks developing around the nearside rear suspension mountings. Sadly axle has to be dropped to get at it, making a plate up is difficult, and theres not gonna be much change from 400 notes. Bit of a bummer in a £1500 car!

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