How to keep your BMW E46 in top shape

During my experience in driving sport cars, being a member of a sport cars group and having many friends who own different kind of cars, I came to realize that a BMW E46 is one of the best cars in its price range, and even in its class.

However, the BMW audience is somewhat extreme, there is no middle ground when it comes to them, you either love them, or hate them. It is one of the most controversial cars you can own due to the points that will be discussed herewith…

For the people who hate this series, let me tell why you do so:
– If you are the n-owner, you bought a car that is not well maintained.
– You found one that is at a convenient price instead of being reliable.
– You didn’t keep it updated on maintenance that should be done.
– You didn’t take good care of it.

Here are a few things you need to learn about a BMW E46:
– Take good care of it, it’ll take good care of you.
– Being German Engineered, it has many sensors to detect many areas that other cars don’t think of. If you fail to attend to the faults, big possibility that it will go into limp mode (safe mode where the car barely drives at a fraction of its power as to safeguard other components from serious damage), and possibly breakdown and leave you stranded.

BMW E46 lovers know that once they step inside one, turn on the ignition and go for a ride, there is no car that gives them the same feel. The interior is driver oriented, no tacky plastics console and dash, the finishing is amazing, seat is comfortable for long drives, car feels very connected to the road, the handling is great, power delivery… the more i remember my daily drivings the more words i can put in to describe how great it is driving these cars.

For the E46 lovers who want to take good care of their cars, and for the haters who don’t like them, because, well, they were mislead and handed a poorly maintained vehicle, or don’t know how to properly keep them in good shape, let us learn how to maintain our Bimmers:
1- Oil should be changed at a maximum of 7500 km, and use Castrol as it is THE best for it (be careful of buying knock-off/fake Castrol, go to a trusted dealer and get the proper Castrol grade depending on which engine do you have)
2- Change the Oil filter with every other oil change.
3- Air filter should be changed at around 20.000km, however this is not a proper indicator for air filters, since depending on the areas you live in, it might have more dirt than others. Best way is to open the air box and check it for yourself. If it is black then change it, if not, keep it for a little while longer. Keep in mind that 10$ will get you an filter, don’t cheap out on it.
4- Fuel Filter should be changed at around 60.000km, this is somewhat a preference than it is a steady interval, based on how clean the gas your filling is. Dirty fuel filters symptoms are loss of power and hesitation, a somewhat cheap part will bring your car back to life if it’s been left unchanged for a long period of time.
5- Spark plugs should be changed at approximately 100.000km, also you can check them if they are burned or not, however good chances that they have outlived their time by then. Best spark plugs for an E46 are NGK BKR6EQUP.
6- For the people who own 330i (ZHP or not) specifically (yet not uncommon for other 6 cylinders E46s), you will need a VANOS rebuild every 130.000km. I know that people hear a rebuild and go “OH NO, my VANOS is dead, i’ll need to buy a whole new system and pay thousands!!” Well that’s not the case, don’t worry. A VANOS rebuild is simply changing 2 small circular rubber pieces, that wasn’t so drastic now was it? (however the labor takes around 2-3 hours, I would recommend an experienced mechanic to do that job, it’s simple yet requires small intuition).
Symptoms of a failing VANOS are: hesitation when starting from a standing still, rough idle, loss of power when A/C is on with hesitation when accelerating, loss of power at higher RPMs (car feels very rough and barely hitting redline), loss of around 20% of its overall power.
7- Cooling System overhaul, this is THE MOST IMPORTANT maintenance job for an E46. You hear a lot how people complain about their cars, how they overheat frequently, and many blew their head gaskets (expenses are almost the same as buying a new engine) because of this problem. Well actually there is a simple solution for this, do a cooling system overhaul every 100.000km and your engine is guaranteed to last 500.000km. The recommended would be to change every cooling system component by that mileage, however if you are a bit mechanically inclined, every once in awhile inspect your cooling components for leak and change them as you go. This way you will pay very little at intervals of time, and keep your car safe.
8- Inspect your intake boot for leak, this will cause the Service Engine Soon (SES) light to come on due to bad air/fuel mixture since not enough is getting through the engine. Symptoms are rough idle, weaker performance and higher fuel consumption.
9- ICV (Idle Control Valve), TB (Throttle Body) and MAF (Mass Air Flow) Sensor cleaning. Many people pay no attention for these parts, however their clean-up turns your car upside down in performance, idle and fuel consumption. You can clean both ICV and TB with a good Carb Cleaner, however the MAF should be cleaned with a specific Air Mass Cleaner (CRC recommended) since it’s very fragile, strong cleaner like a Carb Cleaner would damage it .
10- As for non mechanical maintenance, BMW E46s are plagued with door trims and clothing peals. As time goes by, you will notice that the door trims, clothing on the rear quarter panels, roof and front panels are starting to fall off.
11- Window Regulator failure, one minute your pulling the windows up and suddenly your hear a snap and the windows falls down since the regulator has broken.

For the regular daily drivers who buy cars to drive them from A to B, they’ll look at that list and say “WOW, that is one heck of a list!”. However if you look closely, 90% of that list is common on all cars. So if you know how to take care of your car, a BMW is no different. But people trust German Engineering so much that they expect their cars to run without fuel, well this is not the case.

Being a proud owner of a BMW 330i ZHP 6 M/T, for its budget and competitor list, I definitely made the right decision of getting one, and keeping it in top shape is a pleasure since the driving experience is simply amazing.

One Reply to “How to keep your BMW E46 in top shape”

  1. Awesome read and very helpful. I too am a proud owner of a Euro Spec 2002 Pre-Facelift 330i Euro spec 5M/T. Absolutely love the car, and love how documented everything is online for us Saturday mechanics.

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