BMW E36 3 Series Buying guide 325I to M3 Evolution

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From the may BMW's I've owned over the years I thought Id right a brief guide to try and help perspective E36 BMW Owners. I've owned 13 E36 Models including 10 M3's. This guide has been revised March 2010 after bing viewed over 19,000 times ;0) Hope its of some use. Its aimed at M3's Primarliy, but can be applied to most E36 Models.

What to look out for:

An obvious this to look out for is the dreaded often talked about Vanos Unit. The 3.0 Has a Single Vanos, and the Evo’s have a twin vanos, problems usually show round 45,000 Miles. The Solenoids can leak, they can seize, or the gears can where, or fail. Note cars advertised as having a new one are not always a good thing.

The usual issue is leaking solenoid seal’s, a good independent dealer can replace these for circa £250 depending on the garage, Bob Lewis in Tattenhall did mine, and it went on for a good few miles with no ill effects.

The Lambda Sensors can cause running problems like lumpy tick over, and over fuelling (low mpg’s), and they burn out round 60K and there are usually 2 of them, ranging between 55 and 85 quid last time I checked.

The engines are usually bullet proof, but check for overly noisy injectors, oil leaks, evidence of miss use, ensure all lids, and wires are as they should be, and check the oil and water levels, before and after the test drive.

The engine has a little oil pressure value that can start to leak over time, I’ve had 3 done out of the cars I’ve owned so far, not the end of the world, but worth checking, and fixing if you spot it.

Watch the 2nd gear syncro on the manual box as they can get worn when previous owners have been snatching 2nd gear in the 0-60 dash, replacing a syncro on a box is usually going to be a replacement box, now Mike Brewer got one for 500 quid on wheeler Dealers, I have never been so lucky, paying well over 700 for a 325 5 speed, so check that you are happy on the test drive.

A clutch will cost you a good £500 to fit, if the car has between 75K and 100K most are ready for a clutch, unless you are lucky, or if its already had one.

There is a common fault with most M3’s that everyone knows, but here it is, As the cars get older the hydraulic clutch pipe can expand, meaning the clutch can drag, a new pipe, or a braded updated pipe from Ebay or other websites is often a cheap fix. Though doesn’t always solve the issue, unless you old one was really swelling. If you change the pipe yourself, get advise from a BMW Garage on bleeding the clutch, as my friend did his last week, and it was nightmare!!

The Evolution M3 was supplied with the very clever SMG Gearbox, Check oil levels for the hydraulic system, as if its low it will pop out of gear, can suddenly select neutral when driving and give the occasional error code on the dash. when warm get the car in sport mode (not manual) and drive it hard through the gear range, ensure the clutch doesn't slip.

BMW's aren't usually too bad for rust, and most M3's if your lucky have been looked after, if not, look for rust in the following places:

Edge of bonnet, rear arches, around the BMW badge, around the boot lock, behind the boot handle, inside the boot under the boot seals near the lights, around the jacking rubber points and on the two bottom corners of the boot edge where the drain holes are.

Rear Arches
Check the rear arches for signs of rust, as they hold mud and rot from the inside out, especially if mud and wet gets behind the plastic covers and stills on the inside of the wheel arches.

You can buy arch sections for about £80.00 but cost me £500 to have them fitted.

A common well known issue is the rear Shocker top mounts as they wear out, check by lifting car up and down via rear arch, listen for knock, don't be confused with the half shafts catching though, you can remove the inside trim and bounce the car looking for excessive movement in the rubbers, but for £15 each, just get a set, various companies do stiffer ones, but beware as it does make a difference to the ride, you can hear more road nice through the car for example.

I’m running the Rouge Engineering updated ones at the moment, they were £80.00 but won’t need replacing again any time soon, and a feature of them is you can remove the rear shocks without going in the car.

The rubbers on the front and rear trailing arms tend to need replacing circa 75K Get a garage to check for you, you can usually tell if it sides about a bit to much at the rear under heavy acceleration or deceleration. The front ones will give you wandering steering.

We wary about up rated the suspension above standard, as it changes the ride characteristics  of the car, it can make it quite stiff (unless that’s what you’re going for) as a good mechanic once told me ‘BMW spent a lot of money developing and testing the suspension for the M3 cars, so why go changing it?’

Go for a good set of tyres, as after all its what connects the car to the road, Id buy Michelin Pilot Sports, as they handle best in my opinion. You're looking at £600 for a full set at last purchase.

I believe M3’s had Michelin Pilot Sports or some Dunlop options from the factory, so I like to keep as close to the way BMW intended the car to drive. I’ve tried Avon’s, Continentals and Pirelli, but always come back to the Michelins, there a good balanced tyre for wear, performance and wet & dry grip, again in my opinion.
Make sure they are the correct size for the car, as shown on the sticker on the driver’s door area by the door catch.

If they have diamond cut alloys most reburbisher's will not touch them, as the lacquer comes straight off again at the slightest chip, and also if they are damaged BMW charge a lot for a new one (used to be £400 + Vat if you can get one. BMAutosport do a good selection of refurbished alloys usually with tyres, between £500 - £700, don't skimp on cheap wheels as they set the whole car off imo.

The polished alloys on the Imola Individual (GT2) and convertibles are fetching £700 with barley legal tyres, be careful getting them for eBay as you can never really tell how good they are, unless you get good pictures, I’ve been caught out myself a few times.

The M3 Evolution features compound dics in a floating arrangement on the front axel, so if they have been replace with after market discs take note. The price of pads were circa £90 a set last time I priced them, and discs can be well over £100.

Ill get some more accurate figures from BMW UK .


Fuel & Brake Lines
Check on condition of metal fuel and brake lines that run under the passenger floor front to rear, as well as the brake line ‘ends’ where metal reduces in thickness near the tightening clamp.

The rear brake pipes run over the petrol tank, so replacing them can be a bit of a job. I’ve paid £300 for the job, my mate was recently quoted £175 for his 328, so still not chicken feed.

Rear box over £500 and Cats very expensive, they rust at front and rear of the cat mount, where they mount to exhaust pipe, check for blows, also on the Evo there is a flex piece on one of the manifold down pipes that can crack / leak, and the manifolds are £100 - £150 second hand and up to £800 new so quite a hike!

None standard exhaust tend to be too noisy, like the scorpion type as they drown at motorway cruising speeds, Milltek do some good performance bits I believe, but not cheap, £750 for a cat back system, sports cats are circ £900.

It is best to check all switch gear. Make sure all switches do what they should do. In the case of special equipment like heated seats, check they 1. They work, and 2. The equipment is actually fitted and its not just a switch. Often hear stories of Convertibles having manual roofs but a power switch ;0) beware!

Check windows go all the way up automatically on the full switch press, if not the units that control the window stop (as it feels resistance for safety) may have gone, which is a pain as they won’t close unless you hold down the switch, and full closure alarms may not be able to close the window, nor can you on the key.

The Brake Circuit Warning will usually come on at some point in the cars life, this is just usually a switch that resides on the brake pedal, less than £30 to fix.

In my many years of M3 ownership the electric haven’t really let me down, only when a Alarm system has been incorrectly fitted, and that can drain your power, or interfere with remote central locking operation.

Check the battery is the correct size, as often the larger powerful batteries are replaced for cheaper units.

Check the bonnet catches are not to new, as these often get replaced on front end shunts. Check inner wing seam welds, should be neat and match each other, make sure all original BMW stickers ore on the front slam panel, and inner wings. Make sure bumper lines up, after shunts they can be loose or uneven.

Look for signs of paintwork, usual spots are round edge of windscreen rubbers, under the rear lights on the rear 1/4 where the 1/4 meets the rear panel, and inside the fuel filler area. As well as against any rubber area where a paint line will or could have been sprayed up to. (e.g. The ¼ Rear Window Rubbers)

The M Sport mouldings' have metal inside them, these rust and the clips break off, ensure all mouldings' are close to the body of the car. Clips can be bought cheaply form BMW, but note the side mouldings on the doors are really tight, and require a good brave banging to get them to clip in place.

Some companies used to sell a M-sport moulding kit for £125, not sure if still available.

Two areas that usually let the car down are the rear ¼ window seals as they perish, a simple job to replace them, The one that goes around the top inside is about £8.00 and the side rubber that runs on the body under the window is about £10.00.

You can also replace the trim/rubber around the rear window, as the bottom edges perish, this makes the car look a lot fresher, its tricky unless you remove the rear screen, but with Heat, Fairy liquid and patience its possible. All done for under circa £30.

The Door rubbers are expensive to replace it they are split. Also they could have been letting in moisture; check under the sill trim as you get in the car, as the holes where the plastic trim fits to the sill can trap water and rust.

Whilst in this area, check the edges of the M3 sill mouldings, as if they are perished again you might want to consider replacing them, circa £40 a side.

Interior Trim and Equipment
Check for standard equipment, if you want to go that way, as nothing to say your not going to fit a DVD Player and  huge sub woofer, but if your after keeping the marque as it rolled out of the factory note that a BMW CD changer connection lead if the car doesn't have one is a good £50.00 and a new CD changer unit can be £300.
Ebay is obviously a good place to get things, but the genuine e36 CD changers are rare.

Air Conditioning
Ensure the ac blows cold as the ac system is expensive to fix if there's a leak in the condenser unit, up to £500, and they are not a easy DIY job. Then there’s the dryer and the actual A/C Pump. If the outside temperature is too cold the ac doesn't run, this is a feature)

Of course you could be lucky, and if the A/C’s not up to scratch a simple re gas may cure it form £40 - £80 depending on supplier.

I believe M3's from 94 onwards have chip encoded keys that have to be programmed to match the car, so if you only have one key than can be expensive, just think cost of key + at least an hours BMW labour to code it up. (Used to be an hour don't know now)

Foot Note
As with any car purchase it is a case of buyer beware, when viewing a potential purchase approach with eyes wide open, especially given the age. Specialists in the marque are able to provide a pre purchase report. You can always look at getting a AA / RAC Type report as they are very thorough, but remember the MOT covers a fair few points if correctly completed.

M3’ and BMW E36’s in general are prone to the previous owners tastes, which may cost a good chunk of your pocket if you wish to revert the car back to standard, like alloys, sub woofers, extra wiring, exhausts, de-cat pipes, car badges and stickers. Be aware of all this, especially if the car as a dodgy alarm that could cause major electric issues in the future.

As the M3 Cars have been know to fall into the wrong hands, get  a HPI / V-Car check to ensure its not been damaged, stolen, or has finance owing on it.

Should you wish to discuss matters E36 M3 the author can be contacted by email.

www. BMWMREGISTRY .com – Great faq site for M Power Cars used on some of the Model info for this quide.

www. m3gtregister .com – Site Dedicated to E36 M3 Special Editions.


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