The Classic & Sports Car BMW M3 Buyer’s Guide. It’s great. Well, kind of…

Classic and Sports Car Cover April 2017

Reviews are like anything else. They are the opinion of someone who gives their take on a certain matter. What makes them different is how they encapsulate the audience ; the reviews grab the attention of the viewer and by the end of it you want the car more! In some cases it does seem to be the opposite. It is surprising how the reviews can be taken as gospel, it can make or break how an individual perceives a car.

With this is mind it was wonderful to see Classic & Sports Car embrace the BMW E46 M3 and take it under their wing in April’s issue. Their review highlighted a few good points to look at and as a whole was a great review given the short piece it had! For the best part it covered the car very well but as always there are a few points to consider.

Engines

CSL Engine bay.jpg
Aesthetically they are a thing of beauty.  They do have their gremlins however.

While the engines do have issues it seems the world wide web has a habit of exaggerating them. Sure, head gaskets do go on the S54 engine, as do the big-end bearings have issues.  But, there are a number of cars out there with big mileages without the above done to them ; they are still on the original head gaskets and VANOS parts.

But what about the subframe cracking?

 

RACP crack.jpg
The one image that concerns most E46 owners, especially M3 models

The Rear Axle Carrier Panel (RACP) does however have a habit of cracking, with an increasing number of specialists now providing relatively inexpensive solutions of preventing a total failure for occurring. Not all is bad there!

What about the SMG? It’s clutchless, right?

SMG II system.jpg
The SMGII automated manual in the E46 M3.  An often misunderstood system.

Then we get to the SMG Gearbox, or clutchless as the writer called it. I guess the fact that the gearbox itself and the clutch are the same as a manual M3 doesn’t count for it having a clutch? The gearbox getting stuck in 4th gear is also a new one on me. I would really like to see where they got their information from regarding that.  They do drop into neutral as a the pump dies, yes (as a precaution) but not a gear. A pedalless gearbox maybe, but not clutchless? Not by a long shot.

Like anything, the pump is a little like the bullied child from school. It’s picked on by those who don’t know much because it is easy to and rarely without having a deeper understanding for the system in mind. With some logic the system is a little easier to diagnose.  Sure, they have their faults but like anything they are easier and generally cheaper to solve with the right know how.

SMG Clutch Parts
This clutch and assorted parts have all come from an SMG ‘boxed car.

While it can have issues including the pump the issues do tend to reside more in smaller issues. Slow shifting has almost nothing to do with the pump but there will be more regarding much cheaper parts and software issues; BMW did a software update fairly early on during the M3’s life and inexpensive springs breaking can also cause slow shifting problems. But they will never be as quick as a dual clutch ; after all, there is only so much physics can do.

Anything else? What about running costs

While Ferraris may make the M3 look like a cheap car to run it is not as cheap as say other cars in the price bracket.

The price of certain items will raise eyebrows, even for a BMW. How pricey? Let’s get started. If you consider consumables:

  • Front Brake discs and pads – £330 for OE branded items or £500 from BMW
  • Tyres : Even a Falken will not leave much change from £150. A Michelin? Try closer to £200. That’s each.
  • This is an interesting. From asking around and seeing who does a correct Inspection I (many don’t)
    • Oil Service :£150 every 15,000 miles or 2 years, whichever comes first
    • Inspection 1 : £500 every 30,000 miles or 4 years
    • Inspection 2 : £700 every 60,000 miles or 8 years

Why are the Inspections so expensive. The valve clearances are looked at. It is not the most pleasant job to do and a number of specialists are all too keen to gloss over the issue.

While the review encompassed what the E46 M3 is all about it seems that a few areas were misrepresented. I do wonder ; was this down to poor research or simply being rushed for time? It would be great to see accurate portrayals from such a prominent magazine

It did however serve a purpose. It’s got the M3 even more noticed as a good buy that ticks the boxes of many a red blooded male out there.  But better still, it’s helped to establish it more in the world of modern classics.

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Yes, You Can Have Part-Worn Tyres on Your Car! How? With the Following Steps

For the last blog I suggested that Part-Worn tyres could be worth a shot under certain circumstances. Whether it is bad advice or simply making people more aware of what to look for is up to you. In this article I will explain how to consider the above points:

  • What damage does the tyre have?

If you see tyres like the above being sold by a vendor run a mile from them!  No ifs or buts.

This is a serious one.  Having punctures in the centre tread pattern of the tyre that have been repaired correctly are fine.  However, if:

-There is loose rubber on the inside of the tyre
-Deep cuts to the sidewall (potentially an MOT failure)
-Perishing of the rubber
-Puncture or puncture repairs beyond 75% of the centreline of the tread.
-Bulges and deformations anywhere on the tyre

Walk away.  It’s that simple.  The tyres in the above will are likely to have been weakened and make your car a liability.

  • How much tread does the tyre have?
You should never buy a tyre with this much tread! Kojak had more hair on his head than this tyre had tread!

This question is a case of “How long is a piece of string?” If you are a low mileage user you may think “Aha! That cheap 3mm tyre looks like a bargain! But consider this. The minimum legal limit for a tyre in the UK is 1.6mm. What does this mean? Your 3mm tyre isn’t the bargain you think. After all:

3-1.6=1.4mm (of usable tread)

Will 1.4mm of tread last you quite some time? I doubt it. Can you really be bothered to be at a tyre fitters all of the time? I doubt it.

With the above in mind it pays to see what the level of tread is worth. If you have an idea of how your brand of tyre (or others) wear down you could obtain a figure for the true cost as follows:

True Cost per Milimetre = Cost of the Tyre /mm of tread left

In a number of cases when you check those figures the value is not as good as it initially seems.

Bear this in mind. New tyres have between 7 to 9mm of tread on depending on the tyre so anyway between 5.4 to 7.4mm worth of tread.

  1. How old are they ; are they newer than 5 years old?
The 3 or 4 digit code that says it all! This tyre? Built on the 26th week of 2015

This point is often overlooked with people mainly going on the visual condition of tyres. To many people tread on the tyre equates to how much grip the tyre has.  It is an easy one to read too!

Look out for where it says DOT on the tyre.  At the very end of the string of numbers and letters as follows:

DOT DA08 JM1R >518

It’s the numbers in bold that you want.  If it has a triangle as above the tyre was made after 1990 but before 2000.  If there are just 3 digits and no triangle the tyre was made before 1990.  In either case you should not fit such a tyre to a car.  The first two numbers are the week the tyre was made.  The last digit is the year it was made  In the above case the tyre was made in the 51st week of 1998.

Now for tyres made after 2000:

DOT DA08 JM1R 2514

These tyres have 4 digit codes.  In this case the tyre was made in the 25th week of 2014.

You may think “Oh, but I only have a classic car, the old tyres will be fine” or “My (or your wife’s etc.) car isn’t that fast. There is no point in shelling out for new or good rubber” No, not that kind of rubber folks….

The fact of the matter is as rubber gets older it does not grip as well as when it was fresh. It’s one reason why you won’t see many people selling tyres older than 3 years old, and generally, they tend to discount the tyres at this age.

While I’ve had some interesting experiences on old tyres, including a wayward Frenchie and a Triumph Stag that just wanted to go sideways here is an interesting thought.

A post shared by Charanjeet Randhawa (@chasr85) on Mar 23, 2017 at 10:51am PDT

 

Classic Car Weekly did an article on new tyres vs. old. The car? An MGB GT. Hardly the first word in performance. The tyres? The first set were Pirellis that were 10 years old but still with plenty of tread left on them and crack free. The other tyres I think may have been middle of the road tyres.

The results were surprising. With the Pirellis on the car took 30% longer to come to a halt from 30MPH compared to the modern rubber? Do you still think old and cheap rubber is the way forward? 30% is a lot no matter how you look at it.  If someone hit someone you knew in town below the speed limit with old tyres would you still be thinking the same?

  1. Have they worn correctly?
Barely legal (stop it!) and worn unevenly. Even with more tread this would cause strange issues on the car.
This made the car very interesting on the handling front even in the dry!

This question is always an interesting one.

In two cases I bought wheels with tyres. Until I changed the tyres the car had odd characteristics ; On a Peugeot 106 GTi it was a near death experience driving it back and on a Clio 172 it just wanted to go left until I switched the tyres.

The reason. They had worn due to poor alignment on the previous car. If the tyre has not worn perfectly even do not be surprised if you have issues.

Evenly worn part-worns are out there but you’ll have to be patient.

  1. Are they actually worth buying compared to a new tyre?
It looks legal! With 3.5mm is it really worth buying? It barely has 2mm of usable tread left!

With all of the above factors you’ll be in a position to gauge if they are worth buying. Bear in mind you will need to pay to get the tyres fitted unless they are bought from a tyre dealer. That’s on top of petrol or delivery money too. It all adds up.

Don’t just try your local large tyre chain either. Do some searching online. Asda Tyres, Formula 1 and Black Circles all give competitive prices online and allow you to establish a ballpark.   New tyres may be cheaper than you think!

  1. Are they stamped ‘PART-WORN’ if bought from a garage?
It’s not stamped before you buy it? Don’t accept it.

This is an interesting one. Over half the of the part-worn tyres being sold by tyre traders are illegal. Why? It is all down to a simple stamp. The stamp confirms that they meet the minimum standards set by the UK for being a part-worn tyre. That is that they have over 1.6mm of tread within 75% central region of the tyre tread in addition to being repaired correctly and with no other adverse deflects. These defects could include cuts and bulging.

If they haven’t been stamped part-worn have they even been inspected well.

Finally…

We hopefully have a better idea of what we need from a tyre, and what to look out for. Finding the right part-worn tyre can be hard and it can be worth just jacking it in and buying a new tyre.

Hopefully you are not scared of buying part-worns but are more informed of what to look out for and not top be duped into buying what may initially look like a cheap option on the face of things.

Now, time to grab that value beer that has been sat at the bar for a few hours….

BMW Searching Part 2

There was me leaving you folks on a pleasant ending. I had around 7 cars to evaluate. If I had been told correctly this should have been a dead easy! After all the adverts are always truthful right?

Enter exhibit A:

  • 2003 128,000 mile Manual in Silver/Black; £6750 being sold by a trader. –
hearsall-2
Looks lovely eh?  Looks can be deceiving

Despite this car being at a local trader’s it was the cheapest car for sale. It was also the first car I saw.   You know the drill here. Give the seller a call and see what they say.   Sure enough I was told “it was in good condition for the year” and with no real rust to speak of. It did look nice in the photos too.

Upon going to see the car I knew it was a pup, even with it being one of the wettest days in May 2016! The shotblasted looking bumper that was going black complete with appalling front panel alignment, the rusty arches all round as well as the tatty and scratched interior all showed that! With the wheels being CSL replicas they looked great from a distance even they were kerbed a bit!

Hearsall 3
The number plate screws may be rusty but that is only half of the story

Surely inside it would be nicer. Not a chance! Besides having an interesting smell as well as a sticky floor the interior looked very tired inside. What’s more the plastics were scratched to Kingdom Come. Had a cat lived inside this car or had one too many adventures being happening inside it?

Mechanically I thought “Maybe it won’t be that bad”. I was in for a disappointment. Shot discs were present all round! It even had aftermarket ballast packs. That’s before I get to the dash bathing me with error lights present. All would be forgotten as soon as I turned the key.

Hearsall car
Why not take a shot of the good corner?

Well, I say that, but it would take the assistance of a battery pack to fire up the old girl. My God it sounded lovely! All of the faults were forgotten! But you should never buy the first car you see, or the wise men tell you.

It did however have a nice stash of receipts to show the maintenance done.

However, stepping back into my clean Clio 172 which was a mint car in comparison had me asking myself “What the hell am I doing? Going from a good car to a wreck?”.  This car however did sell within two weeks of being put for sale.  I was not even going to offer him anything like £6k for the car!

It was time to move onto the second car. Maybe my luck would change.

NOTE: This car is either SORN’d since 2016 or scrapped going by the DVLA now.

  1. 2003 ’53’ reg Mystic Blue SMG, 111,000 miles £8500

This was the first car I saw for sale from a private seller. After seeing the silver shit hours beforehand it was easy for me to like this car! On first impressions it looked a lot better! It would also be the first time I drove an SMG ‘boxed car as well and see if the truth was as bad as people made out.  It also had a sunroof which oddly enough I wanted!

In short, it didn’t disappoint. The car did not knock at at all from anywhere and it held the road very nicely! The gearbox wasn’t as bad as I thought either. It didn’t pull as well as I expect but maybe I was expecting too much ; after all they have a very high revving engine and I didn’t quite take it to the redline!

But closer inspection of the car soon began to reveal the flaws. While the rear of the interior looked immaculate the front didn’t.

Further flaws became apparent on closer inspection.  Every panel had quite a bit of scratching on.  Despite the car being advertised as damage free the front bumper didn’t suggest that.  It clearly had a cheap blowover at some point (complete with concealed stone chips beneath the orange peel paint) as well a repair Stevie Wonder could have done better while drunk!  The discs also were as bad as the silver car’s and an advisory to bootTo top it off there was no service history (it was lost) and only 1 key.  All of a sudden this car didn’t look to be worth £1.2k more than the Silver manual.

But then I would come across what is said to be the daddy of all specs:

  • Laguna Seca Blue and Black Manual Coupe. 112,000 miles £7950.

I do wonder if I was harsh about this car or that maybe I was simply a timewaster!

On the face of it the car looked superb in the advert. It had clearly been detailed to the hilt. With new discs, backbox and subframe reinforcement it looked like the ticket!

A phonecall would change that. Despite being described as immaculate the owner spoke of rust on the front wings that you had to get onto your hands and knees to see, and that the interior was more tired than the photos made out on closer inspection. What’s more he had a couple of warning lights come on now and again due to the wrong profile tyres being on the front. Oh, they were Marangoni Zetas. Seeing that it failed an MOT on the boot floor cracking badly also put me off ; maybe it needed a complete floor in reality if it was bad enough to fail an MOT.

That and he was not open to any offers even before I raised the question. When he declined to send me further WhatsApp photos of the interior and exterior regarding the areas he mentioned I decided that the trip to Northern Ireland may not have been worth it after all to be disappointed.

It did however sell after a price drop to £7500.  Funny, he was saying he wouldn’t lower his price.  If he was willing to negotiate we may have talked a deal.  NI is quite a way to go just in case the car is a pup.  After all I had just seen two and was dissapointed!

  1. 3. Phoenix Yellow & Black Nappa Manual Cabriolet with 75,000 miles.  £9,000.

To most people this should have been the car I should have bought.  It had to most people the driver’s gearbox and sensible colours along with less miles by quite a way.  I was going to view it but unaware at the time a friend bought it.  it was owned by an ex-BMW mechanic and it had 4 good tyres and new discs.  When I initially saw it I thought happy days!  That impression would not last.

Firstly, the bodywork.  It was not shiny at all, but that can be corrected easily.  Despite having the least amount of miles the front seats had not worn as well as you would expect. Dare I say it, the seats in the 111k Blue/Grey SMG car were better bar a bolster being collapsed in a strange position (right at the top, as if someone was pushing on it)).  While I know it’s a convertible the AC can be handy during the rain or winter, espeically in a convertible.  It didn’t work.  All you got was alarmingly loud hiss from inside the car.  Then I came to drive it.

The way people speak of the manual is that it is amazing and not comparable to the SMG.  They were not kidding on the last part!  The manual has a long throw, is not the most precise thing and at times reluctant to go into gear.  If you read online you’d think it’s as good as an MX-5 with gear changes.  Are you feeling the love?  Me neither!

It later turned out that his back box was held on with zip ties (I am not joking!) and that his engine had a few leaks all round from the rocker cover gasket, CPV and a couple of other areas.  Sure it was not a bad car but it was not perfect and not for me!   It was not for him either, seeing as it was sold 2 months after he bought it…

I also almost saw and bought the car below

  • 2001 Silver & Black Manual Coupe.  88,000 miles, £8900 from a trader

On paper this car looked good.  But the seller was surprisingly honest over the phone and even sent some shots over of the car to me.  It was good to see this and I almost went for it!

He was honest enough to say that there was rust on the car but he had performed Smart repairs on them.  After having rusty cars before I decided it was too big a risk to risk Smart repairs not rusting again.  That and the interior was as tired as the higher milers as were the discs from his vague description and more than the car that I would buy.  I was tempted but not at that price.

The others were fairly similar to the above.  While I didn’t settle on the best car IMO it was a good one overall.

Other candidates included the following:

  • Carbon Black & Red SMG Cabrio, 101,000 miles £7200.

This was tidier than most of the cars but it wanted discs, tyres, mirrors repainting, rust sorting in various areas.  It also had the the dreaded SMG cog light appear.  Interior was surprisingly good, probably the best I saw out of all of the cars.  The owner spent a fortune on servicing it, polybushing it as well as new arms, but he ran out of steam.

It seems I wasn’t alone in the struggle going by someone else’s search

Anyway, I digress. I started looking at the lower end of the market – after all it was meant to be a stop gap car, not something that I wanted permanently in my collection. Well, anything below £8k is an absolute dog – have seen 4 cars and all have rusty arches, tyres not fit to be drifted out, let alone be driven on, shagged and doddgy carbon fiber interiors, dubious mileage histories once the MOT history and service history was consulted. All had the subframes checked – funny, how it is not the subframe, but the boot floor which actually tears apart, and had SMG pumps giving “nice, long primes”….

One of the cars was actually a diamond in the rough, but I just could not bring myself to pay the full asking considering the amount of time needed to bring it up to scratch. Hence, unless you are prepared to DIY a lot, there are hardly any bargains left…

  • 2003 Mystic Blue & Grey Nappa Leather SMG Coupe.  122,000 miles, Private seller

By this point I was getting ready to sack off my search.  I came very close to throwing in the towel.  Maybe my Clio was that good a car!

The advert seemed honest mind you.  He said the car was good overrall but that the interior could use a clean.  Furthermore, it had 4 newish Falken tyres and a full service history.

The owner of this M3 was a pain to contact.  All of my voice messages went straight to his answerphone.  After contacting him through WhatsApp Voice calling (no I am not joking here!) I finally had a chat with him.  It sounded promising.  He said the bodywork had scratches on it, the interior was grubby and that the brakes were all new with genuine BMW parts.  It also had a full service done by Mobile Tune BMW in Birmingham.  Furthermore the AC system had been checked over and regassed in addition to the gearbox being checked over from top to bottom regarding the sensors where the stuff was taken apart etc.  I agreed to go and take a look.

It was refreshingly good in the flesh!  The bodywork had a real honesty about it despite being tidy.  Sure it had the odd touchup and and there but it was clean!  The interior at the front could have been better but it was good overrall.  The seats despite needing TLC were better than the other cars I saw bar possibly the 75k Phoenix Yellow car.  It drove well too but it could pull harder.  I noted that it wanted a replacement viscous coupling in addition to some next exhaust mounts.  It did seem to have some wedge thrown at it mind you!  The rear dampers were relatively new as were odd little bits around the car.  After some talking a deal was struck

After a while we came to a deal.  My fate was sealed.  I was now the owner of an E46 M3! But had I chosen a good car?  Time will tell.

index
Finally part of the club!  But would I be smiling later on?

Yeah Mate, You can bag a Good M3 for £8,000. Really?

Don’t you just love people who claim you can own an object of desire for a pittance?  That the world is wrong and they just don’t know where to look?  This certainly seemed to be the case for me and my search of a car I have wanted for quite some time ; the BMW E46 M3.

With its individual throttle bodies, great looks and lovely handling it had me written over it.  Sure there is the question of image but who cares when you are having so much fun?

So, the budget.  What would it be?  If eBay is to be believed and other people down the pub this should have been dead easy  Oh, and the internet is always right, right?.  After all, back in 2014 M3s had dropped to an all time low in value!  So off I went in my search in May 2016, with a budget of £9,000 but hoping to stay around the £6,000.  After all I don’t mind getting my hands too dirty but I also hate a money pit!  We all know have a £6,000 car can quickly become an £11,000+ car, still with its faults.  But we all cannot resist a bargain:

I don’t think that I was too picky with my specification.  I wanted the following if I could help it:

Any car except Titan Silver
Preferably a manual
Evidence of good maintenance over the years, be it specialists or simply receipts to show what work the car has had done
Good service history from when it was new
New Discs ; I was wise enough to check the price of these!
New but good Tyres ; I was also wise enough to check the price up!
A half decent drive
With the latter two my jaw almost hit the floor when I saw the prices of them

With me previously owning a Clio 172 and a Mondeo V6 with 250,000 miles I thought the above should have been easy.

I had a few contenders to go and see.  These included the following:

  1. A Titan Silver Car with a black leather interior.  It was a manual coupe with 128,000 miles on the clock.  Oddly it was the only one I saw being sold by a trader and also it was the cheapest.  £6750 to be exact.
  2. A Mystic Blue with Grey Leather SMG model.  This would be the first SMG coupe car I saw.  It had 112,000 miles on the clock, a new clutch and only 2 owners.  This car? £8,100
  3. A Laguna Seca Blue and black leather M3.  Also a manual this had 111,000 miles.  It did have many new parts including discs and an exhaust put on.  This was on for £8,000.  It was however in Northern Ireland
  4. A Phoenix Yellow and black leather Cabrio.  As another manual this had 75,000 miles on the clock and was owned by a retired BMW technician.  The price?  £9,000.
  5. A Carbon Black and red leather Cabrio.  This was another SMG.  It had a bit of work done to it including new lower arms etc. and so on.  This was one of the cheaper cars for sale at £7,000.
  6. Another Titan Silver and Black manual entered the scene.  This was an 84,000 mile car being sold by a dealer.  It had 12 months MOT and was ready to go.  This one was £8,900.
  7. This is almost like Deja vu!  I found an almost identical car to the above!  Another Mystic Blue car with Grey leather!  It had more miles on at 122,000 miles and also had been owned for just over a year with plenty of MOT left.

All were claimed to be in great condition upon the first glance of the advert and the pictures.  After all a picture can speak 1,000 words.  So with that respect, surely 8 pictures can speak 8,000 words combined together?

While I did not expect perfection I wanted a clean and tidy car.  I figured with my then 2003 Clio 172 being very tidy for its age this should have been a walk in the park.  With plenty of tools at my disposal like My Car Buying Guide it should have given me an idea of what I was about to see!  Surely they would pass the mark with flying colours.

Little did I know, I had no idea what I was about to let myself in for.

 

Car buying