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 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.

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