I never thought I would say this, but I bought and own a BMW! Let me give that statement some context- BMW’s don’t have the best reputation in my family. My Dad owned a 2005 BMW E65 735i Sport from 2009-2010. “The single most unreliable car I’ve ever owned”, in his words. It was a brilliant machine to drive, and was actually the very first car I drove prior to learning how to drive a manual. Cue the haters, but I am a partial lover of the infamous bangle-butt generation of the BMW 7. Something about it screams unparalleled practicality whilst also having supercomputer power. However, that was also the car’s achilles heel. The E65 was just stupidly complicated. My Father’s example had numerous problems with the iDrive system, engine timing chain components, and a large number of sensors that simply decided to go on strike and stop working for no apparent reason. As you could’ve guessed, this caused the car’s systems to go haywire. All those headaches from an (at the time) 5 year old with only 65,000km. This was supposed to be The Ultimate Driving Machine. What was I in for when I purchased my 16 year old, 110,000km 330ci? One word: bliss.
A day after we picked it up
A young me with the E65
A few of my friends have owned BMWs of this vintage to. One having a 2000 E46 328i sedan, another having both an E39 525i and an E38 735iL, and a third having a 2001 E46 330ci. They all loved their cars, and I really wanted to see what all the fuss was about. I knew that the E38 was too complicated and too big for my needs, and my previous car was a 4 door sedan so I really wanted to try something different (that ruled the E39 and E46 sedans out). So I was left with the coupe or convertible.
The E46 has always been an enthusiast choice of European express. Almost 50-50 weight distribution, FR layout and a beautiful body design that has only gotten better with age. I’m not one for coil-overs. I’m not one for straight through exhausts (E39 M5 is the only exception to this). And I’m certainly not one to forgo comfort and practicality on a daily driver so that I can get a thumbs up from someone I don’t know at my local McDonalds. Unfortunately, in Australia, the majority of E46’s aren’t left original. Hence why, when I began my search for one in October of 2016, I had to dive and swim through the sea of M-badged 318i’s and 320’s with suspension that crashes so hard it’ll remind you of the 2008 Global Financial Crisis.
I knew that the car I would buy must be at least a 325 or better, must have less then 150,000km, and must be as original as possible. Many phone calls with sellers, many hours spent reading pre-purchase inspection guidelines and buyers guides (special thanks to E46 Fanatics), and many days spent browsing the classifieds on the hunt for my gem.
Two months later I came across this un-molested beauty. It was almost too good to be true. 110,000 original kilometres on the clock, decent enough service history and finished in a colour other than the BMW black or silver paint you so often see. To top it off, upon meeting the seller I learned that I was in-fact purchasing it off the same family that bought it brand new from my state’s only authorized BMW center in 2000: Auto Classic BMW.
Upon first visit we had the usual discussions about the car’s history as I walked around it, picking out all the flaws I could find (there were only a few)! He explained to me how I was actually purchasing it off of his son, who purchased the car from it’s original owner, his grandfather, in 2011, and has owned it ever since. So it had never left its original family since first delivery. The mileage was low simply because he had a company car and travelled a lot for work, but a service every 10,000km put my mind at ease a little more. A service history at a dealership for the first 10 years, then at an independent BMW garage since then. The tour was over, let’s get driving! The first thing that struck me was the simplicity of the interior layout. HVAC vents up top, wood grain and stereo centre, with the HVAC controls and ashtray below. Simple, yet still effective 16 years later. The Hellbeige coupe sport seats were in impeccable condition. With the owners never carrying children or pets, the rear seats were practically brand new with only the driver’s seat showing wear and tear from getting in and out, and black marks from what I guess are black suit/work pants over the years. Nothing a little leather conditioner and elbow grease can’t repair.
Sitting in the driver’s seat, I quickly realized that everything was about me. I’d previously been in my friend’s 2000 E46 328i sedan, but only as a rear passenger at night. The centre console and controls were all satisfying the driver’s needs. The extended woodgrain and sport seats meant that the car featured the 4-spoke sports steering wheel with wood centre slats and steering wheel controls. Also on display was the sunroof, Xenon lighting, front and rear fog lights, and a BMW 4:3 On-Board Monitor with 6 disc CD changer. The chrome gauge cluster rings topped it off. I’ll detail the full options later on.
I later came back for a second viewing the following weekend, except accompanied by a friend who knows E39’s inside and out, and we carried out an informal pre-purchase inspection. Everything checked out apart from a chip on the windscreen and a slight oil leak from the valve cover gasket. A few days prior I ran the car’s VIN number through CarFax and got a report showing no accident history and no outstanding finance. A clean pre-purchase inspection and CarFax report, combined with a leaking valve cover and chipped windscreen gave me all the ammunition I needed to present an offer. After a little negotiation we agreed on $10,000 AUD in lure of him fitting a new windscreen and seals. The car was mine!
A few days before Christmas, Tuesday the 20th December, I handed over the cheque, signed a receipt and received two keys to my BMW along with a sleeve of receipts. I still remember starting the M54B30 for the first time during my ownership, listening to it comfortably sit at 800rpm idling in circular driveway that was once it’s home where it lived alongside 2 Ducatti motorcycles, a BMW 135i coupe, and Aston Martin V8 Vantage. As I pulled onto the freeway, bringing the car up to 100km/h per hour I noticed a light flick on on the dash. Oh no! My first warning light! It was coming from the headlight assembly. When I arrived home, I was expecting to be greeted by a blown Xenon globe, just what I needed within the first 30 minutes of ownership. It turned out to only be a bad parking light bulb.
- Purchased car for $10,000
I’d only owned the E46 for a few days of 2016, and those days were great. However they weren’t without trouble. Trying to fix my parking globe, I removed the front left indicator globe housing to try and get a little more leverage to remove the parking light globe. I didn’t realise that I didn’t actually re-fit the indicator light housing properly flush. So the next time I pulled onto the freeway and got up to speed, this happened:
The wind ripped the housing completely off the front of my car but somehow the globe housing and all the wires got left behind. I ordered a new light housing, but in the mean-time this is how my car looked:
All my research hinted that the fuel pump was a common failure item on these cars. I first ordered an aftermarket one off eBay and had it installed. However, it had a faulty sender unit so my fuel tank was never completely full according to the gauge. That was swiftly swapped out for a OEM Siemens VDO fuel pump from FCP Euro. I thought it be a good time to flush the oil too and give the rest of the fluids a once over.
A few months passed and all was looking good, but me being me wasn’t happy that the car still had outstanding preventative maintenance to be attended to. I noticed that whenever I parked on a slope, like a angled driveway, I would leave a little puddle of oil under the car. This didn’t happen if I parked on a flat surface. To try and determine exactly where the leak was coming from, I remove the lower front splash shield and looked up. Everything was covered in oil so I realised it must have been leaking for a number of years. Removing the splash shield also alerted me to this:
I ordered a new splash shield from FCP Euro as I didn’t want water, dust and stones flicking up into the belts and pulleys of the engine.
With the leak diagnosed, I bought a new complete valve cover replacement kit which included the gasket itself and all new associated hardware and fasteners. I also knew that the fuel filter was original too, and with a new pump installed earlier in the year, it made sense to replace the filter as well.
Oh dear, the dreaded EML and ASC lights. As I didn’t have the ABS light lit I knew it wasn’t the wheel speed sensors or ABS module, it must be a vaccume leak somewhere. Continued rough idle when the car was cold helped point me in the right direction. I had a nasty tear in my lower intake boot
The service history indicated this had never been replaced before, so I order new upper & lower intake boots, new mounting grommets, and a new DISA valve for good measure.
How the car looks after half a day of polish. The Fern Green just sparkles!
I also swapped out my old 4:3 monitor for a newer 16:9 on-board monitor from a 2002 320i, following an Ryan’s E39source video.
There is a small area of dead pixels, but I got it for considerably less then the normal used price.
A pictures of our group of BMWs. The E38 I previously mentioned is still off the road with broken timing chain guides.
I wanted to complete the car’s history, so I ordered a BMW leather service book. This is much nicer then the crappy plastic sleeve that it came with when I bought the car. I picked it up for a steal off eBay is almost mint condition
I also got a BMW Australia brochure from when the E46, E53, E39, E38, and Z3 were still new in the showroom highlighting the full range of cars on offer in 2000 and 2001.
I also bought some 2000 and 2001 UK car magazines from when they were still testing the E46 as a new car. I wish I could’ve experienced it brand new.
As we’re now approaching summer time here in Australia, it’s time to bring my attention to the cooling system. The expansion tank, expansion tank cap, automatic transmission thermostat, and engine thermostat were replaced in October of 2016, so I know they’re fine for a few more years. However, the radiator, water pump, water pump pulley, and all the hoses are original. Prior to Summer, all of those will be replaced along with the drive belts and serpentine belts. Pulleys will be inspected and replaced accordingly.
In addition to the above maintenance, before winter 2018, I’ll fit a new set of tires on as the current 225/45R17 Toyo Proxies 4 have terrible tire noise at 60km/h. I know it’s not wheel bearings because it doesn’t get progressively louder the faster I go, nor does it get louder on one side of the car when I load it up during cornering. I’ll likely go for a set of Pirellis all round, or Michelin Pilot Sport 4S’. I’ll be keeping this updated accordingly.
Approaching summer, where the temperature sits around 37-42 degrees Celsius (98F – 106) for weeks on end. The majority of the cooling system in my E46 was original (thermostate and expansion tank replaced Nov 16) and I don’t trust that old rubber and plastic. So I did a MASSIVE online order
205 Automatic Transmission
249 Multifunction Steering Wheel
261 Side Airbag for Rear Passenger
290 BMW 17″ Style 44 Wheels
403 Glass Electric Sunroof
428 Warning Triangle
431 Auto-dimming Rear Vision Mirror
438 Woodgrain Trim
459 Electric Seat Adjustment with memory (Drivers & Passenger)
502 Headlight Washer System
508 PDC (Park Distance Control)
521 Rain Sensing Wipers
534 Automatic Air Conditioning
602 On-Board Monitor MK2 Navigation Style (Without BMW Navigation Computer)
640 Car Telephone Preparation
676 Hi-Fi Loud Speaker (Not HK audio)
810 Australia Version (Essentially means it’s RHD with KM’s not MPH from factory)
823 Hot Climate Version
825 Radio Control Oceania
861 Change of Coding (??)
876 Radio Frequency 315Mhz
880 English Documentation
925 Shipping Preparation + Protection for Transport
926 Full Size Spare matching Factory Wheels (BMW Style 44)
441 Smokers Package (standard on all Australian delivered E46’s)
672 6 Disc CD Changer (Standard on all Australian delivered 325i or higher E46’s)
522 Xenon Lights (standard on all Australian delivered 328ci or higher models E46’s)