An E46 M3 is just for Christmas, Not for Life

It was fair to say that I enjoyed the Silverstone Sunday Service back in October 2016. It certainly looked like the car was earning its keep!

This is why it was surprising to hear that BMW were recalling BMW 3-Series cars of the E46 vintage for the driver’s side airbag recall. When it came back the car came back with good news. The car was given the green light for the best part including the subframe. I say the best part as the car was flagged up for having 2 tyres on the limit of being legal in addition to the 2 rear not being much better. Furthermore, the intermittent driver’s side headlamp decided not to work either when at the dealership. Not a bad result overall.  At least the steering wheel looked a little nicer:

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Since the car looked to be earning its keep I decided to treat the front to a front end respray.  Suffice to say it did look alot better afterwards!  Enough for me to consider taking the car to the superb Pistonheads Sunday Service at Prodrive, Banbury in the future!

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Another annoying issue had been the rear view mirror.  Like most E46 M3s the mirror had started to look a little funny, like it didn’t know what shade it wanted to be.  Thanks to a man in the trade known as ‘MirrorJohn’ (no, really!), the mirror was fixed and as good as new again.

 

This is where it seemed I had started to become complacent. Come December and the car lost a cylinder, misfiring badly driving back from work. With all of the M3 horror stories on the internet I began to fear the worst. This was not helped upon me plugging in my el cheapo code reader into the car which claimed all was fine too! It was only when I plugged in the known INPA software that the car that the issue became apparent; there was a misfire on cylinder no.6. Off I went to order another coilpack from Euro Car Parts of the Bosch flavour. All of a sudden the car looked like it was going to be a reliable runner. It was wishful thinking to think it would stay like that.

M3 Issues Xmas 2016 (4 of 4)
Yup, that coil was a little sick!

Since I required an estate for a day or two my father and I switched cars. When it came to switching the cars back I was informed that the car had an intermittent alternator light. Driving the car proved seemed that he wasn’t lying; The battery light was one for a few second and then off again. Putting the voltmeter across the battery terminals also confirmed that the alternator was charging intermittently. With the battery and earth connections it did look like the alternator. When I initially tried to source a regulator for the alternator I was greeted by £100+ regulators, the same as what BMW wanted. With this in mind I grit my teeth and splashed out a little more for a new alternator. Like the valve clearances I ended up taking off a fair few parts just to get to the alternator. At least I now had a rhythm for removing them quickly mind you. Since the front of the engine was sounding rattly I also checked the auxiliary belt tensioners and pulleys. Two of the tensioners were in a bad way so these were also changed for new items which soon silenced the noises.

 

But at least on Christmas day on a quiet drive back from Birmingham Airport it was frugal.  In M terms!

M3 XMas Economy Run (1 of 1)

It was fair to say that the M3 landing me these bills over Christmas was not appreciated. At least one of us got to enjoy Christmas. But I knew the car needed another niggle sorting ; the pesky driver’s side headlight! It was like playing headlight bingo every time I turned them on. There was nothing for it but to take the headlight apart.

 

I changed the bulbs when I first bought the car which seemed to fix the problem intermittently but I had a strong suspicion that it was the headlamp ignitor that was at fault. With that in mind I bought a spare ballast and ignitor so as to plan for this. Upon changing the externally mounted ballast I still had no headlamp! There was nothing else for it but to completely disassemble the headlamp assembly, simply to change one part! Seeing as I was taking the headlamp apart I also took the opportunity to change the headlight lenses. It was fair to say that it was not a job I was looking forward to. However, I was then rewarded with headlights that were finally reliable for my efforts as well as a brand new looking front end.

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Old vs. New

For the next few months all seemed well. So well that I decided to treat the car, and a minor issue ; the rear Rear Axle Carrier Panel/Rear Subframe also known as the RACP. It’s a known issue that the subframe mounts and the RACP can crack and break away from their spot welds irrespective of age or modifications with an E46 3 Series. To be honest my car also could have felt tighther despite driving well. With that in mind I booked the car into ETA Motorsport for the reinforcement work. This was despite the car being given the all clear from BMW.  In short, despite what BMW said my car had cracked on further inspection ; things that are only apparent when the subframe is dropped:

For a few months it seemed the car appreciated the car it was getting some needed TLC. That would stop a fortnight before I dropped it in. I initially saw a wet mark on the undertray. I assumed that it was the power steering pipe ; this has dried on dirt possibly from oil on it:

Leaking Oil Cooler

 

Little did I know not only was Christmas an awkward time for the car but I had another awkward time coming, and this time for Easter!  Would my festive cheer begin to wane?

The Second Coming. Part of 12 Month M3 Ownership.

It is about time I picked up this dormant blog.  After all, I did get a little sidetracked with the French wine tour blog for a while.  With that, it’s time to come back to the Land of the Living.

I left the last blog see what would happen regarding the exhaust mounts ; I knew they were gone when I bought the car.  Despite the exhaust wobbling about more than a pair of wobbly knockers and sagging just as much I knew those mounts were begging to be changed.  All of the tales of sheared mounting studs put me off.  There was nothing for it.  Off I went to order the exhaust mounts.  I was tempted by cheaper mounts but seeing as there was big question marks over their longevity lasting months I bit the bullet and went with genuine items.  After all, the car still had the original mounts on going by the date stamps.

Coming to August 2016 I soaked them 2 weeks prior to working on them in WD40.  It was then time to tackle the inevitable.  Removing the exhaust mounts.  Amazingly I did not break a single stud.  It is just as well as the exhaust mounts were hanging.  Quite literally!

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Spot the difference ; Old vs. New

However, it seemed that my perseverance paid off.  However, I did not want to struggle with these again.  With that in mind I order some new hardware from BMW including the all important copper washers.  It also seemed rude to not paint the mount brackets either.  It’s a shame to have something so small ruin the details!

 

For the first time ever I had an exhaust which now sat correctly against the bumper.  There was no time to waste however ; I had an Inspection I approaching and truth be told I was not looking forward to tackling the job.  Over time I got the ball rolling by acquiring more and more of the parts necessary to complete the job.  That is the gaskets, the special tools as well as the usual oil and filter etc.

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Ooooh, look, service parts!

So, how did I start the job?  That’s simple.  I initially started by going to the superb Southampton Boat show.  What a wonderful place that is.  You can almost lose yourself in that place!  There were so many boats about the place ; it’s easy to see why some people become water gypsies!

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With that in mind I then had a great offer I couldn’t refuse made to me.  I had the opportunity to go to one of Darren Langeveld’s fantastic events as part of his Destination Nurburgring outfit.  DN16.  Being a double weekend this was a special one.  It was even more special with it being Darren’s Birthday as well!  This would be mega!  With a Rent-a-Race-Car Renault Clio 220EDC prepped specifically for the Nurburgring it seemed things couldn’t get better.  We had the car, we had the people, and most importantly, we had the post driver’s briefing with beer :).

It was fair to say that procrastination was treating me well!  But I could put it off no longer.  I’d have to do the Inspection I.  So, what is the big deal about the Inspection I?  Honestly?  Most of it is simple.  I started the ball rolling by changing the oil, and also checking the brake pads, adjusting the handbrake as well as briefly checking the spark plugs.  At the same time I noticed that the auxiliary belts were not in their first flush of youth, so they also got added to the list.

 

Then I would hit the small matter of checking the valve clearances.  Checking them is a simple after and a small task.  Changing the small little blighters was a more arduous process.  Removing the shims was not much of a problem.  But ensuring that they did not fling out when I removed them was trickier than I expected.  I certainly held my breath a few times it has to be said!  No shims “almost” dropped into the engine.  I did however end up with a situation.  Since I did not buy the shims I had an issue of where the shims that I required were on backorder from BMW with a 7-10 working day lead time.  Not what you need when you need the car running within the week.  Thanks to PistonHeads a fellow E46er came to the rescue and got me out of a sticky situation.  I managed to obtain my hands on a set of Wiseco shims.  With days before I required the car it was ready to go.

So why did I need the shims so badly?  That is simple ; I had put myself down for attending the PistonHeads Sunday Service at Silverstone.  To be fair all of the effort did seem worthwhile from the moment I hit the track.

Chas M3 Silverstone 3

With that in mind it was time to call it a day.  But would the remainder of my first year of ownership be plain sailing?

Then Came the Return, Back to England

With the end of the holiday coming up we knew the drill. Wake up, clean up, followed by your typical continental breakfast before starting on the final leg. Oh, and admiring the receptionist while you are at it. The routine will sound familiar to many of you. Of course, it would have been nice if this was the case. It would be a case of being so close but so far.

Before we left however, I did come across this rarity!  You have to love the old Renaults:

 

 

But there was no time to waste.  We had to get a move on!  The train would not wait for us after all!

Citroen French Wine Tour (26 of 34)

After travelling over 900 miles in the superb Citroen the stress of being dormant for so long was beginning to show. Yup, that clonking from the driveshafts off load was showing no signs of getting quieter. Although the car was actually fine at motorway speeds on the smooth French toll roads.   If you ask me you wonder if the car didn’t want to leave France! After all, this example had been imported to the UK in 2012 with it now being back on home soil.  However, it didn’t stop the car getting plenty of attention.

It certainly was getting a lot of attention in France! At petrol stations the car was a superstar. If people were not looking at it they were videoing the car! I was only hoping to go on a wine trip in an old French car, not to feel like some Z-list celebrity!  However, one bloke did admire our car quite a bit.  A Belgian.  It’s fair to say that we admired his motor too.  Seeing as it was a Jaguar Mk2 it’s not hard to see why.  With some great modifications made including better brakes and larger wheels it was lovely to admire the car.  With him speaking a little bit of English and us a little bit of French we somehow managed to chat for ages and ages.  I guess old cars do that, they have their own language!  It certainly was a great time!

Citroen French Wine Tour (25 of 34)

 

But we were not foolish.  With the car begging not to be coasted the return journey was going to be interesting.    Somehow we managed to make the boat back to the UK.  Hurrah, we could relax.

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Upon leaving Felixstowe and heading onto the M20 all was looking well. We could keep the speed up to motorway speeds and the traffic was minimal. Unsurprisingly this would all change as soon as we hit the M25, heading towards the Dartford tunnel. The traffic went from being minimal to being surrounded by slow cars everywhere! It’s not an ideal situation in a car that you can’t coast in. With the car knocking more than Katie Price’s assets on a binge fuelled night it was getting tense. We attempted to coast the car but as we failed more and more to do it in the traffic the knocking simply got worse and worse. Eventually we were driving so erratically that motorists behind us must have hated us.

Citroen French Wine Tour (30 of 34)

Despite stopping at two services the traffic showed no signs of slowing down. The car decided it would protest even more. Pulling into South Mimms we heard a metallic banging sound followed by the wheel trim overtaking us. As soon as it hit the kerb we heard a gong! While the car was trying to humour us we were far from impressed. The car was having enough, we were having enough and at this point an RAC truck was not yet an option ; with the traffic we would have been waiting hours for the truck to arrive.   Not what you want after a drive from Cambrai.

 

As the knocking got worse I soon had visions of us ending up in the Herts Tribune, with imagery of the wheel falling off and us going under a truck. Going past Daventry things got worse on the A-roads. The interior of the car got very hot, ideal in a car without a temperature gauge. What’s more, it looked like the Chinese Voltage regulator was having enough with the voltage slow dropping closer and closer to 12V.

 

By some miracle we arrived back home. A feeling of relief, joy and accomplishment all culminated into banter towards the car, towards us and towards future trips with such brilliant planning.  When we got back we soon had an idea of why the car was getting so hot.  The answer stared us in the face when we opened the bonnet:

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Yup, those belts were destroyed!  But let’s be honest, the breakdown was part of the trip!  It made it different, it made it tense.  Dare I say it the trip was possibly a bit more fun!  It’s something to talk about down the pub after all!

So, here is to the next trip!