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General E46 Forum
This is the place to get answers, opinions and everything you need related to your E46 (sedan, coupe, convertible and wagon) BMW!

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Old 07-13-2011, 09:18 PM   #1
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Shopping for a used e46

Questions arise as to which years are the best for e46s, what to look for, recalls, etc.

Simply put -- from corner to corner, be sure to have the car thoroughly inspected. A structural and mechanical inspection falls within a typical used car inspection. If you're unsure want to and want to determine the condition of the car (this is key) -- have the car inspected independent of the seller.

Mechanical/Structural -- check for fluid/oil leaks, brakes, tires, suspension (rtabs/fcabs for cracking or other wear), alignment, check OBDII codes, etc. Be sure to check for any previous damage (this can be verified by body shop using a paint meter).

I'll update this as time permits -- feel free to add anything you feel to be relevant. Be SURE to have a PPI prior to purchasing a car.

Common issues -

Recalls -

Maintenance -

Last edited by mdsonicTT; 07-13-2011 at 09:26 PM.
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Old 07-13-2011, 09:24 PM   #2
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Buying an E46?

Congratulations on considering an E46 for your next car. The E46 was on Car & Driver's "10 Best" list for every year of its production! It was the car that the Japanese competitors are still trying to copy!

How durable or reliable is the E46? Is it expensive to own?
Given that the very newest E46s available are now four or five years old, this is now a particularly common concern for prospective buyers.

To begin with, "reliability" means different things to different people. To some, a car that starts and runs predictably and does not frequently or repeatedly break down or fail in any significant way could be considered reliable. To others, a "reliable" car is one that suffers from few if any problems of any kind. The E46 is of the first type--the engines and most of the drivetrain components are first class, though unfortunately there are also peripheral components of questionable design and/or production quality which are likely to fail. If you want or expect a car that will get you where you need to go (provided it is properly maintained), an E46 will do that. If you want a car that you can abuse or neglect, or one that will be absolutely free of any sort of minor nuisance or defect, look elsewhere.

Unlike BMW's most expensive and elaborate offerings (7 series) and numerous cars from most other German manufacturers, the E46 does not have particularly problematic electronics; "gremlins" are unusual. Virtually all of the model's common problems are now well documented, and most are actually fairly easy to diagnose and repair.

With that said, the following E46/BMW components can be regarded as being of exceptionally high quality and highly dependable relative to products from other major manufacturers:
Manual transmissions and differentials
Interior materials and furnishings (instrumentation, lighting, radio headunits, etc)
Body panels/glass/paint/rust resistance

The following components are reasonably dependable but do occasionally suffer from minor or seemingly unusual issues (which are generally cheap and/or easy to resolve):

Suspension: certain bushings are wear/failure prone by design--this is more of a problem for people unaccustomed to high performance cars
Automatic heating/air conditioning
Audio speakers and most accessory electronics
The following components are relatively suspect:

Engine cooling system: water pump, thermostat, expansion tank
Accessory pulleys and tensioners
Automatic transmissions, particularly in early model years
ZKW brand HID/xenon headlamps (most cars have AL/Bosch, particularly those built before 2003)
Window lifters/regulators (the mechanical apparatus that physically lifts or lowers the glass side windows) and sunroof shade guides
Rear subframe, primarily (but not absolutely limited to) on early model year cars (model years 1999-2000--i.e. ALL 323/328). Coupes are most prone; convertibles of all years appear to be considerably less susceptible.
Please see the section entitled "What should I look out for?" and the sections on Cooling System, Maintenance, Engine, etc. for more detailed descriptions of these issues and others.

Cost of upkeep varies wildly. The E46 is not an exotic car per se, and does not generally require any special service techniques beyond any other typical import car, though dealerships and many third party shops will attempt to bill you as though it is. Without question, you will save a significant (even enormous) sum of money by performing your own simple repairs and routine maintenance; meanwhile, paying dealership/shop prices for window regulator repairs and blower resistor pack replacements will make it difficult to justify the cost of ownership.

For a typical E46 (7+ years old, 80k+ miles), expect to budget about $1000 per year for repairs and maintenance (including tires/brakes and other expected wear items) if you are willing to perform simple repairs and common maintenance yourself. Note that this is an average; some years will be more expensive, others less. If you intend to have a third party perform all work, you might realistically expect to spend at least 2-3x this amount.

What should I look out for?

The E46 doesn't have many significant problem areas and are generally a durable vehicle; however if the car has not been maintained at all by the PO, you can expect numerous problems just like any brand of car. If you are going to buy a used E46, avoid cars without a good maintenance and repair history. Luckily, the E46 had free maintenance until 36,000 or 50,000 miles (depending on year), so most early maintenance was performed by BMW dealers. Any dealer should be able to provide the service history with just the last seven digits of the VIN.

Below are some typically occurring (high mileage and typically unmaintained vehicles) and well known issues:

Window regulators fail. The windows will then either make clicking noises as they go up/down (sign of a failing regulator) or not operate at all possibly leaving your window partially or fully open. This is an extremely common failure and a clear weakspot of the E46. Out of warranty, expect the parts to cost $150 per door for the front and $100 per door for the rear PLUS $500 - $750 per door for labor. Some owners had success asking BMW NA to cover all or a portion of the cost for this design defect even when the vehicle was out of warranty.

Tail lamp wiring faults. The updated E46 sedan (from 9/01 to 3/05 production) wiring harness has a design defect with grounding wires for the rear lighting that are too small and are made of poor quality materials, thus leading to wiring harness failure due to overheating. As stated in BMW's TSB, "Customers may complain that one of the rear lights is inoperative. CAUSE: Minor corrosion at the 8-pin rear lamp connector creates high resistance causing damage to the connector housing. CORRECTION: Repair the damaged wire(s) and replace damaged connector housing. Install additional ground wires to both left and right rear lamps." This can be easily confirmed by careful examination of the rear lamp wiring connectors which are usually melted. Symptoms include a "burned out bulb" warning in the instrument panel and (intermittently) completely inoperative rear lamp cluster(s). While BMW has a TSB for this problem, many have occurred out of warranty leading to arguments with the dealer (automotive lighting standards are Federally legislated, yet BMW refuses to repair this design defect once the cars are out of warranty). BMW dealers expect $350-$400, or more, PER SIDE to make the tail lamps work. As a result, check for a NHTSA recall (or a class-action lawsuit against BMW) before you pay for repairs. There are many threads on this problem; see the BMW TIS (search for SIB 63 03 06 if the attached link is inop)here. This problem was not limited to US market as you can read here. Cheaper DIY repairs can also be found on a variety of web forums, although your results may vary; here is one: here .

The cooling system will eventually fail catastrophically due to a disintegrating water pump bearing. When this occurs all coolant is lost within seconds and the engine will overheat instantly (remember, these cars have only a total of ~2 gallons of coolant). A much better water pump than the stock/OEM unit is available from EMP Steward, but it's pricey ($200) compared to stock ($70). Other items on the cooling system that should be considered maintenance items since they will likely/eventually fail are the plastic/electric thermostat and the coolant reservoir. Therefore, preventative cooling system maintenance replacing these items every 60k to 80k miles is strongly advised. If an engine is allowed to seriously overheat the repair costs can reach several thousand dollars because of warped cylinder heads.

VANOS unit wear and failure. This was already the case with the B52 engines in the E36, but it's much easier to repair on the E46's B54 engines since the timing chains do not have to be removed. This defect is mostly related to the Buna o-rings in the unit's control pistons which due to heat induced hardening allow excessive oil bypass, thus leading to less accurate control of camshaft timing. Fluctuating idle or stalling can also be signs of this problem. Depending on maintenance this can already occur at 50K miles. If this defect occurs, there is a noticeable rattle in the engine from the VANOS unit, often around 2,000 rpm and low rpm performance will be affected. Repair is actually relatively easy and a true DIY for someone who has basic skills. Replacing the Buna o-rings with higher quality Viton rings in the VANOS unit will fix the issue. Better yet Dr. Vanos sells complete rebuild and blue printed VANOS units that are even better than new OEM BMW units and Beisan Systems sells the above mentioned Viton seal/o-ring DIY kits. Cam sensors (intake and exhaust) on the VANOS unit are also prone to fail and as small as they are, they are expensive ($100+). The exhaust sensor is usually the first to fail and that occurs often right around 100K miles. It has been proven that ONLY OEM BMW sensors should be installed during repair since all aftermarket units are not that compatible and of lower quality. VANOS units on ZHP cars are especially failure prone for undetermined reasons. Common opinion is that this is related to the more aggressive camshaft profiles.

There are many reports of cracked or torn subframe mounting points. Most often the two rear mounting points below the trunk floor are affected. This occurs almost exclusively on the early E46 323i/328i models. BMW later improved the subframe mounting points in the trunk floor of the car and in later E46 325i/330i this problem seems to be absent. This problem seems to be so frequent in early E46 cars that a check before buying a 323i/328i IS AN ABSOLUTE MUST! Repairs are very expensive and difficult since the rear axle and subfram have to be removed and the unibody frame and mounting points have to be welded. Recurring stress cracking often occurs even after a repair has been made.

Many E46 models have erratic HVAC fan speed condition wherein the instrument panel display indicates a set constant fan speed, yet the fan changes speed on a 1hz rate (constantly up and down), or fails to come on at all. This is almost always results from failure of defective original Final Stage Resistors (FSR) whose design provided insufficient heat sink surface area. The improved design FSR's can be purchased for ~$60 to $80 from a wide variety of vendors; installation threads abound.
Front control arm bushings tend to fail after 40-60k miles. You can replace them with Powerflex bushings from Bimmerworld for $149 (pre-pressed into new carriers).

There was a recall for failure-prone Bremi ignition coils. Symptoms include multiple yet intermittent "cylinder misfire" OBD-II codes, among with other difficult to diagnose problems. A dealer can tell you if this TSB/recall has been performed in which all six Bremi coils were replaced. The following build date & VIN ranges were affected by this recall:

E46 with M54/M56 from 09/02 up to 12/04 production date.
325i KL58793 KL62880, NH02298 NH05784, PD00558 PD01068
325iA KL78812 KL89995, KR24002 KR32361, PD56824 PD58282, NJ21783 NJ47934, NJ80013 NJ96910
325Ci JY96097 JY98108, PC99012 PC99995
325CiA PL00001 PL04548, PG60108 PG62814
325Cic JY43694 JY44229, PG97089 PG98243
325CicA PG88872 PG92999, PL24020 PL31534
325iT EZ15376 EZ15633
325iTA PC11346 PC12725
325xi PF58422 PF62576
325xiA PH86839 PH90969, PM52033 PM59296, PR06010 PR12874
325xiT PE91490 PE92062
325xiTA PF01600 PF04589
325iA SULEV KP78010 KP87556, PH30108 PH36104
325CiA SULEV PJ15045 PJ16347, JT20009 JT22530
325iTA SULEV PJ00063 PJ00924
330i KM02321 KM07066
330iA KM24352 KM36386
330Ci PD95092 PD97653, JU28717 JU45159
330CiA PL10037 PL14136, PH02210 PH05245
330Cic EV90090 EV90753, PJ94042 PJ95840
330CicA JU95942 JU99831, PL40018 PL46594
330xi PG09391 PG11594
330xiA PG20116 PG23990, PN30039 PN35923

There was a technical service bulletin for fading FM stereo reception on cars with navigation with the BM53 tuner. The fix is to replace the BM53 tuner in the trunk. Reference service measure #B65-209-04 with your dealer.
There was a technical service bulletin for a 4000RPM power dip on cars equipped with the ZHP Performance Package. The fix is to send the car's DME to New Jersey for reprogramming. Reference service bulletin # SIB 12 17 05 with your dealer - More info here: http://www.linquist.net/motorsports/bmw/sib121705.txt

There was a recall of the electric radiator cooling fan on a wide variety of BMW models, to include many early E46's. The problem could result in an engine compartment electrical fire several minutes after the engine was shut off. Several cars (and homes) were destroyed by the resulting fires.
The sunroof shade track/rails are prone to failure. The sunroof will sometimes fail to operate in the heat on older models.

The interior weather stripping above the coupe doors often falls down after a few years. Easily glued into place. (Some even fell down before the cars were sold new.)

There was a technical service bulletin for an erratic idle with possible stalling. Reference service measure #B12-207-0 with your dealer.
[edit] Is the 330/328 worth the price premium over the 325/323?
Nobody can answer this question but you. The 330/328 obviously have more hp and torque, as well as bigger brakes. To make the 330/328 a better value, BMW includes more options as standard with the "up level" model (such as power seats, HK premium sound in later years, trip computer, etc.).

Furthermore, there would likely be a premium back when you sell or trade it in. In covertible version the differences are even more pronounced since the convertible is a much heavier car and the substantially higher torque of the 328/330 engines are very helpful. Fuel economy is surprisingly identical between the engines since the smaller engines have to be pushed harder in traffic what the larger engines accomplish with more ease. Test drive a car in your price range and see if it meets your needs.

All taken from here: http://www.bimmerfest.com/wiki/index...ying_an_E46.3F
2004 325CI - 2003 3.0 Z4 - 1994 325i - 1967 1602 - 2008 328XI - 2009 135i - 2007 Jeep Wrangler - 2014 *Loading*
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Old 07-13-2011, 09:46 PM   #3
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Excellent reply Jake. One more thing though mdsonicTT, depending on where you live there may be some M56 engine E46s out there, which differ from non M56 E46s slightly. You can read more about them here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BMW_M56

Good luck on your hunt and post what you find for us!

AA exhaust, PSS10, TMS sways, 5mm rear spacers, more to come!
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