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BMW E46 M3 Buyer’s Guide

You don’t have to seek far to discover complimentary remarks about the BMW E46 M3. But bear with me while I take a crack at it. For starters, the automobile is really attractive. Bulging front and rear fenders create the impression that the automobile has been extended over the wheels – an appearance suitable of a “Ultimate Driving Machine.” The BMW E46 M3 also has approximately 50/50 weight distribution out of the box, making it exceptionally neutral with controlled and predictable oversteer. Hydraulic steering is familiar and hefty, yet it is responsive and communicative. Then there’s the 3.2-liter S54 inline six-cylinder engine, with its distinct rasp and 8,000-rpm redline screech summoning racetrack ghosts long gone. Simply simply, they don’t manufacture them like these any more — and never will.

But none of this is even really new. It’s also not a headline to say that costs for these have been steadily rising. The window of opportunity for acquiring one of these iconic driver’s vehicles at a reasonable price is rapidly closing, and this guide will assist you in locating a decent one.

If You Don’t Already Know…

Buyer’s Guide: BMW E46 M3

First, a short rundown of the vehicle. The BMW E46 M3 is the M3 manufactured between the model years 2001 and 2006. It is available as a coupe or convertible and is powered by a naturally aspirated 3.2-liter S54 inline-six engine producing 333 horsepower and 268 pound-feet of torque. The S54 engine has a top speed of 8,000 rpm and is mated to either a six-speed manual or a six-speed SMG II transmission. A standard M3 weighs roughly 3400 pounds, with a precise distribution of 50.3% front and 49.7% rear.

Some optional equipment has withstood the test of time more successfully than others. Sunroofs were a popular add-on. They did, however, add 40 pounds above a “slicktop” example, making automobiles without sunroofs far more appealing to the proper customer. Leather upholstery was standard, although there were a couple leather/Alcantara interior upgrades that could cost premiums as well.

The same is true for manual-adjustable seats. Finally, a now-outdated navigation system was available as an option, and most purchasers prefer the “clean” appearance of a vehicle without it.

E46 M3 LCI 2003.5+ / Facelift with Competition Package (ZCP)

Buyer’s Guide: BMW E46 M3

Though the lower-level E46s underwent considerable modifications, the M3 stayed virtually unchanged until the installation of LED taillights in the mid-2003 model year (hence: 2003.5). Topaz and Steel Gray were replaced with Silver Gray Metallic and Mystic Blue Metallic in the color palette. The trunk handle has been lengthened as well.

The now-desirable Competition Package (option code ZCP) was introduced in 2004. This includes drilled brake rotors and distinctive 19″ wheels, both of which were heavily inspired by the Europe-only M3 CSL. You also get Alcantara inside accents, a “M Track Mode” (think intermediate stability control), and a tweaked suspension and steering ratio. However, BMW determined that cruise control was not in the competitive spirit, thus it was removed from the packing.

The Competition Package is also the only way to get the stunning Interlagos Blue Metallic color. These “Comp Package” automobiles sometimes fetch a large premium above their less competitive counterparts, although all of those extras are very simple upgrades from a non-Comp car. It’s up to you if it’s worth the additional money; myself, I’d rather construct to taste.

Transmission for the E46 M3 SMG II

Buyer’s Guide: BMW E46 M3

The famous “Sequential Manual Gearbox,” or SMG gearbox, lies at the heart of many of the most often asked concerns regarding the E46 M3. SMG debuted with the E36 M3 in its original version abroad, therefore the one we’ve come to know is SMG II. The SMG II is precisely what the name implies – a manual gearbox with shifting handled by either the DME (in automated mode) or the driver, using paddles or the shifter (in manual mode). The upshot is faster-than-human upshifts and downshifts, or so the claim goes.

In its most aggressive shift setting, the SMG II will shift faster and more reliably than a similar manual automobile. However, there are several drawbacks to the SMG II. All of the solenoids, notably the hydraulic pump, will certainly fail one day, and replacing them will be a costly and/or time-consuming task. Second, the SMG II adds weight – the pump and hardware necessary to automate the shifting operation add around 18 pounds to the weight of a standard manual automobile. I also strongly advise driving an SMG II vehicle before purchasing one, since there is a bit of a learning curve to driving one “properly.”

Buyer’s Guide: BMW E46 M3

In general, SMG II automobiles will be sold at a cheaper asking price than an equivalent three-pedal car – so it may be good to consider depending on your budget. Finally, since the gearboxes are technically similar, changing an SMG automobile to a real manual is surprisingly simple and even inexpensive – there are lots of DIY guides online, as well as places who will do it for you. My advise is to save yourself the trouble and simply get the three-pedal automobile, knowing you’ve done the right thing.

The Three Biggest

Buyer’s Guide: BMW E46 M3

While the E46 M3 has an almost unlimited number of items that may fail, there are three areas of failure that need special attention. The first of them is the rear subframe, which BMW engineers allegedly thought wasn’t a very vital component at all. The welds that connect the subframe to the chassis may (or may not) fail, ripping the subframe away from the chassis. Many individuals, even E46 M3 owners, have persuaded themselves that BMW “fixed the issue” in subsequent model years.

Those are the words of delusory lunatics; although post-2002 M3s had a significantly improved design, any model year M3 may be harmed. Though not all M3s are impacted, all M3s are susceptible – make this an inspection point before purchasing an E46 M3.

The next failure point is Variable Nockenwellensteuerung, often known as “VANOS.” VANOS is BMW’s form of variable camshaft timing, and the device that controls it is one of the E46 M3’s other main failure sites. The most typical solution is to simply replace the complete unit – usually from Dr Vanos – and relax. DIYers will be relieved to learn that they may order the components on their own and fix their failing VANOS themselves. A thorough pre-purchase check will detect failed VANOS, but keep in mind that it may fail at any moment. For almost any cause. Rough idling and power loss are common symptoms.

The rod bearings service is the last of the “Big Three.” Another BMW engineer – no certainly linked to the engineer in charge of the subframe building – determined that rod bearings were not a critical component of the engine. So, depending on who you ask, they either utilized the incorrect size or the wrong metal-compound, or both. Someone must have left his tape measure at home that day. The rod bearings in the S54 should last between 60,000 and 150,000 km. However, it might be more or less. So, This, like the VANOS difficulties, is a case of “it may disappear tomorrow, or you could have five or six years.”

Fortunately, measuring the metal composition of the oil is a simple technique to determine how far along your bearings are. There are a few different firms that provide this service, however the majority of the E46 M3 community uses Blackstone. In general, owners will choose to update the bearings rather than re-up on the factory components, and there are many of alternatives available. There was a recall for pre-LCI rod bearings (before mid-2003 model years), but it was mainly ineffective, and rod bearings may fail on any S54-powered vehicle.

The Minor Details

Buyer’s Guide: BMW E46 M3

So you’ve finally discovered an M3 that ticks all the boxes — the correct colors, the appropriate year, and the Big Three. What comes next? As previously said, there are a plethora of little components that might fail on these vehicles. Hopefully, you’re receiving a pre-purchase inspection, but if you’re doing your own inspection, here’s a quick rundown of some of the most typical issues.

The E46 M3 will continue to have typical BMW issues. The window regulators for the two front windows will sometimes fail; keep an eye out for sluggish or strange performance. The little vent windows at the rear might potentially fail, so check these as well.

Another major source of problems is the cooling system, including leaking hoses and worn out gaskets. Check for symptoms of coolant leaks and get the vehicle up to operating temperature to verify it isn’t overheating. Thermostats and water pumps are common offenders.

Here’s an unusual one: a leaking rear-view mirror. The fluid used in auto-dimming mirrors may ooze all over the place, even out of the mirror housing itself! Trim and leather parts will be damaged and stained as a result of this. Look for discoloration in the rearview mirror.

The normal “old vehicle stuff” apply as well: make sure the air conditioning works, that the tires are safe to drive on and that the brakes really stop you, and that all of the seat adjustments work. Inspect suspension components, since most of these vehicles have either gotten or will soon need new bushings, springs, and shocks.

Last Thoughts

Buyer’s Guide: BMW E46 M3

The BMW E46 M3 has a unique position in automotive history, among vehicles such as Honda’s S2000 and Nissan’s R34 GT-R. They highlight transitory times in an automaker’s history when a sports vehicle epitomizes the brand for a generation, like as the E46 M3. Nothing before it could compare, and the ones after it were never nearly as remarkable.

The BMW E46 M3’s value will rise with each passing year. More and more will be purchased for a low price, improperly adapted, and then crashed, which is unfortunate. However, just as many will be acquired as “investments” and stored for the next twenty years in an oligarch’s white-floored, climate-controlled garage, which is just as terrible. Get one before it’s too late. Have fun searching!

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