Spring Lows & Highs ; M3 Ownership Part 3

December M3 (3 of 7)

Looks good?  Appearances can be deceptive

It is fair to say that there were undercurrents of bad vibes in the last blog about my old M3. After all, it was beginning to falter and start to empty my wallet out, leaving me feeling more dejected about the car. The car did seem like it was trying to win me back however. With all of the repairs and servicing carried out it pulled a lot better than before and generally drove more like I expected an M3 to and not a large 330i. It also sounded superb with all of the noises that engine made really getting me excited.

The first way I decided to reward the car was to get the SMG CSL software update done. What this does is to change the SMG’s working to becoming similar to that of an M3 CSL. I was apprehensive about how bad this would be. After all, I didn’t find the SMG that bad at all and got to work or master its quirks. I even managed to heel and toe with the SMG as well; yes really! But many spoke about this modification being a gamer changer. After I bought the software I did not realised just by how much.

M3 SMG CSL Software update (1 of 1)

The Software I did not bank on changing the character of the car!  Many thanks to ECUWorx/Martyn Thomas

The gearbox now worked as it should have done from the factory, and really opened up another dimension to the car! Was I regretting not buying a manual? Not a chance! The ‘drivers’ could keep their ‘porridge stirrers’ as another friend put it! I really loved driving the car again and was gelling with it more.

Another treat I had in store for the car was to book it in with ETA Motorsport for the Rear Axle Carrier Panel (RACP) reinforcement to get around a problem area ; the boot floor or RACP from cracking too much. With some poly bushes ordered you would have thought the car would behave. If only it stayed like that.

M3 Poly Bushes RACP (1 of 1).jpg

SuperPro were used for the subframe bushes.  Previously on other cars these have been spot on.

Upon coming to top the screenwash up one day I noticed an oily damp patch on the undertray near the pulleys. I initially thought the power steering pipe was seeping. It was dirty after all. However, it was the oil cooler. Damn! At £300+ they were hardly cheap either! After the cooler saga I had with the Triumph Stag I was through taking chances on coolers. The cooler seemed to have become porous which is why it was not leaking too much.

Leaking Oil Cooler

Blood from the enigne.  Not what anyone likes to see

That said the day came a few days later where I took it into ETA for Mike to work his magic. 2 days after dropping the car off the plates were fitted, the subframe bushes replaced and the car was ready. Wow this thing drove differently! It felt tauter than it ever had done. While the reinforcement may have helped I suspect the poly bushes aided things massively.  If you guys own an E46 3-Series this is definitely an area I consider looking at, even if using stock bushes:




With me getting slightly soft towards the car I decided to change the front two tyres, something my MOT tester reluctantly passed ; I felt he was being harsh personally.  So off I went to the great BT Tyres (www.rugbytyres.co.uk) where I picked up a set of newly released Michelin Pilot Sport 4 Ss at a great price and superb service from Ross as always. These tyres were very impressive from the moment I saw the first roundabout! They certainly get a massive thumbs up from me! The joy however would be short lived



Why? The oil cooler saga was far from over. Seeing that Mister Auto were selling an OE branded oil cooler I decided to take the risk and buy one from them. A week after placing the order I was greeted with a faulty oil cooler, complete with wayward fins but worst of all a large chip present in one of the cooler pipes. Attempting to source a replacement from Mister Auto seemed fruitless ; they were only interested in refunding me. As was attempting to get a new cooler sent over from them within a week with extra money offered for faster postage. It was strange how they managed to restock another oil cooler on eBay once I had returned my faulty item. Would I use them again? No chance. The lesson had been learned. But I had an iffy cooler and I needed another cooler fast with less than a week left until the weekend.



Why did I need the car that soon? I had organised a weekend months beforehand to take our cars to the famous Evo Triangle in North Wales. With that in mind I begrudgingly ordered an oil cooler from Rybrook BMW after begging them to give me some discount. Within the next day it arrived. Great!  With the two coolers side by side things were looking to be on the up! Or so I thought.



Upon removing the old oil cooler I came across a problem ; the oil cooler connections had corroded onto the cooler along with the bolt joining the two together doing the same.   This was not what I needed 2 days prior to travelling to the Evo triangle. After seeing the prices of poorly ended oil cooler pipes on Ebay I went once again to BMW to beg and borrow once more! Being at work with no possibility to get the time off I was left with the Friday night and Saturday morning to fit them. Pleased was not a mood I was in!

M3 Oil Cooler April 2017 (3 of 5)

Where the car would rest for a day  Or rather a week.

Oil Cooler Issues (4 of 5)

The silver bit on the end?  That’s mean to be on the oil cooler, not on the cooler pipes!

Instead of going down for a beer with the usual friends on the Friday I was on my driveway messing around with the oil cooler. It is fair to say that my language was colourful at that point in time. With the cooler put into place as well as me giving the car an oil and filter change while I was there it was time to fire the car up. Hallelujah! The car was now leak free for the first time ever! Suddenly it looked like I might be able to make the Evo triangle trip.

Oil Cooler Changes (4 of 6)

The moment the BMW could leave the ramps.

Of course, Saturday morning was spent doing the same thing as Friday night. Somehow, by 11am I had an assembled and running car again. My friend’s ambitious start time of 11am from Hopwood services was never going to happen. Despite the car now running better than ever and being leak free the atmosphere was very sour around me. After all, I had thrown £1800 at the car in the space of a few weeks with a lot of hassle around it! You can hire a quick car for less than that over a month with a warranty!  While I was asked to clean it I really did not have the time or even the heart to do so.  It had been needy, and far too much so.  It was time the car to stop bleeding me dry and give me something back!

M3 Oil Cooler April 2017 (4 of 5)

This is never a good look.  Never for an M3

The bad mood did soon begin to ebb away however. The more miles that I piled onto the M3 the more I began to enjoy it again. After all, it was now a sorted car with it now driving better than it ever had done. With some good company, great weather and roads that looked like they had been crafted by God himself things were certainly looking up! The car even managed a respectable 31MPG over the trip! OK, that figure did drop around the roads in Wales but still!

Evo Triangle  (1 of 30).jpg

But enough of that.  It was time to enjoy what the M3 was built for ; enjoying the roads.  With the SMG gearbox update, the subframe bushes and decent tyres this now felt like the M3 it should have been!  The gearchanges were spot on (way better than a manual now), the chassis felt like it was part of the car and it felt like it wanted to be driven.  Hard!  It finally became the part time grand tourer and part time out and out backroad machine!

So, I changed the rear subframe bushes, reinforced the RACP and fitted new tyres. The former bits probably did not need to be done. But why was I doing this? Simple. I was heading to Germany in May.

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:

M3 Interior Feb 2017 (1 of 8).jpg

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!

M3 Interior Feb 2017 (3 of 12).jpg

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.

M3 Headlight Fix Feb 2017 (1 of 1).jpg

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!


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.


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!


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?

A Year In the Life of a BMW E46 M3 Owner

I left my last E46 M3 instalment looking as if I had the right car albeit with a few flaws.  Over the course of the year which has just passed I would discover whether this was the case.

I drove it as it was for a month before I would make a start on rectifying the issues

Initially I sorted out a number of the flaws.  The first of which was to get away from the car sounding like a jet turbine with its semi stuck viscous fan!

Fan Coupling During


With the car in position I made a start on removing the fan. I initially believed the internet and tried knocking a spanner with a hammer.  I figured that this probably was not too good for the bearings.  It also didn’t help that the water pump pulley was slipping on the belt!  With the correct fan tool and 22mm spanner later I had the coupling loose.  Sometimes the proper way is the best way as well as the easiest.

However, removing it would throw up a surprise ; the fan coupling was not original to the car.  It was a BERU item of a slightly different design ; a further look would insinuate that it was for a normal E46 but it was tight!  Was I really wasting my money for nothing?


Fan Coupling Comparison

Two couplings, but which is the correct one?

Had I really thrown away £90 on a coupling I didn’t need?  With that in mind I went to fit the new item.  After that I put all of the plastics back together and restarted the car.  On the face of it it seemed like it was a waste of money!  The coupling was still noisy!  That was until a few minutes had passed ; the car was quiet for the first time! With an extended test run later on it seemed that the car had become more responsive as well as having the added bonus of lowering the engine oil temperature!  Result!

Fan Coupling New

Then it was time to tackle a clunk from the back ; the ARB drop links.  These however were not gone as you may have thought:

Speaker Rectification (5 of 5)

Yup, they’re broken!

But then I had the challenge of removing the aforementioned items.  Initially I thought “I know, I’ll change them in situ!”  Little did I know that this would become a nightmare and eventually more work!

Speaker Rectification (1 of 5)

And the tool award goes to…. Not the tools!

It was fair to say that my attempts were futile;  Sure I had removed the bottom broken part but then I still could not remove the top half!  The anti-roll bar was preventing it from dropping down!  Did someone say BMW 1 – Chas Nil?  It certainly felt that way!

On the bench I went to put the ARB into the vice and pull it ; All I did was to snap off the remaining ARB!  Wasn’t I clever eh?  It seemed this is meant to be the Bentley manual way of doing it as well.  But I was not going to give up that easily!  Oh no, it’s the British spirit and ingenuity after all!  Enter stage left:

With this tool the remains of the ARB was off in seconds ; why didn’t I just use this the first time?

With the roll bar given a quick clean it was time to fit on the new BMW drop links. Here’s a top tip (in the Edd China voice…). When you put the drop links back on, put on some rubber grease. It really helps over WD40. With some of the red stuff on the drop links slipped back onto the ARB as I put down onto the drop links in around 30 seconds tops.

Speaker Rectification (3 of 5)

Speaker Rectification (4 of 5)

The clattering and clonking was much reduced!  With that in mind it was time to start on a job I had been putting off for some time ; the rear exhaust mounts.  Would I be lucky or would the exhaust studs snap?