It’s fair to say the car hasn’t been the cheapest thing to run, where thoughts of selling up were dancing in the horizons of my mind. They often do when faced with expenditure. Why? I wished to change the big-end bearings.
But why? That is pretty simple really. The way I see it, two things can finish off an M3, well, make keeping the car unviable:
1) A boot floor cracked badly enough to warrant a new Rear Axle Carrier Panel (RACP); About £5k no matter where you go
2) The Rod Bearings; If these go and the crank is marked/scored there is a question mark over whether the crankshaft can be saved; They are tuftrided from the factory and it is said generally reground cranks aren’t as strong as original items. A shame as a new crank is over £2k from BMW, and even the S54 engines are £3k secondhand! That is before fitting!
Yes, head gaskets, VANOS & SMG pumps can go, but generally, the expense is much smaller and easier to spot without generally writing the car off. In those cases, cheaper and potentially longer lasting solutions have been found too in the case of the VANOS & SMG gubbins.
With that in mind I dropped the car off to Autobahn in Halesowen.
Given that Rob was known to colleagues of mine in addition to him racing E46 M3s I figured the car would be in safe hands.
All was going well! I dropped the car off on a Saturday, and then went to the Restoration show at the NEC. That was until Tuesday. I had a phonecall to say that one of my rod bearing bolts was being stubborn.
It was fair to say that I was slightly anxious at this point! But how would it all go? Would this really be a big stalling point?
It is fair to say that I was dreading the leg from Calais to Pamplona. It was a 10 hour drive with stops allowed for with almost 600 miles to cover in a day! All to be done in a car with a reputation for not being mega reliable, and high performance one at that getting on for 14 years old! You can imagine my relief that it made it down! Then again you always worry more when it is your own car.
It was then time to explore Pamplona, and what a city it is! Famed for the questionable bullfighting as well as Ernest Hemmingway residing there during the 1920s. Yup, there was plenty to see, but we decided to try something different first, something carcentric. But in Spain? How? This one was simple. We took a 40 minute trip out in the M3 from the great city of Pamplona to Circuito de Navarra.
Experiencing the atmosphere at a clubman level in Spain was very interesting. Interesting enough for me to say that it was fantastic. Sure, there were pit girls and the usual stuff at the bike event but there was more. There were loads of people present to watch the entry level series where the youth would prove their worth by their skill level, not necessarily by what the bikes could do. The bar was rammed with people ordering Jamon bocadillos. Beers, soft drinks and the odd coffee were being ordered too, all being sold at reasonable prices! There was no overpriced bar here, just loads of people having a great time and watching the racing their mates and loved ones.
It was strange how the entry level events were more fun to watch than the bigger Super 1000s. There were more chances being taken and more rawness present during the racing! If there is an event on here it is well worth the visit.
After this day however we decided to chill out in the city itself. The second day was mostly spent looking at Café Iruna, a lovely café that Ernest Hemingway used to frequent, as well as a bar in the same square, again another one of Hemingway’s haunts.
From then on thanks to some local Spanish company we ended spending quite a bit of the day indulging in many canas and quite a lot of tapas! From mussels to strangely fried eggs it was all lovely,
The day would come however that we would move onto our second destination, Valencia. In comparison to driving down to Pamplona this trip was quite a bit shorter! It was however as hot as Bordeaux the closer we got to Spain. At one point it did go hotter, 35 degrees centigrade to exact! The car’s viscous fan fully locked up on a number of occasions on the way down once the temperature went north 30.
However, Valencia does not have a reputation of being kind on traffic. I had heard from a few sources that Valencia could be a pain to drive in! How would we cope? By the looks of it some cars were forlorn already at Valencia Airport! Our fingers would be crossed.
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:
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!
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.
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.
All of this just to change an alternator?
But at least on Christmas day on a quiet drive back from Birmingham Airport it was frugal. In M terms!
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.
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:
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?
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.
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?
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?
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.
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.