One year with this car has come and gone, but it’s not without its up’s and downs. Here’s what the last 365 days (and 7,000ish miles) has been like:
I’d told myself in the past “don’t buy an old German car, you idiot”. But when this showed up on craigslist, and I saw it on the street around the corner from my Long Island City, Queens apartment, WITH A FOR-SALE SIGN IN THE WINDOW, I started to wonder - especially since it was a 1 owner, low mileage car for fairly cheap. Not having a car at the time, traveling to LI or Jersey to find a cheap beater car isn’t fun, cheap or easy - so I took this as a sign of “buy the thing”.
*You can search my old posts to see my prior vehicles & why I sold them, or feel free to ask in the comments
That one owner was fairly meticulous about service, most of which had been done at BMW dealers between St Louis and Long Island, the two places the owner lived. Before me, he’d had a lot done - thermostat, water pump, all the TSB’s and recalls, belts, front lower control arms, valve cover gasket, VANOS line and more. It’d been in two fender benders which didn’t set off the airbags, so new mirrors, fenders and such - nothing that really worried me, since all the work was done by BMW, and I have every single record to prove.
Hell, when I bought the car, I had not only the original window sticker, but even every credit card receipt from deposit, invoice and dealership business card that the P/O had associated himself with. Most of which I’ve kept neatly organized in a binder - organized by date. (minus the actually sensitive financials)
Besides that, maintenance items like oil changes, re-sealing the diff, front & rear brakes, air filters, etc. He really took fairly good care of this car. The one maint item he refused when he was getting ready to sell the car was the fuel filter - which I later replaced. Bottom line, he brought this car into BMW for ANY issue.
It’s automatic. I love and miss driving a manual, but since I’m splitting it with my fiancé who can’t drive manual, it was a necessary compromise. For $3300, I figured I’d get something I’d at least enjoy driving.
I also promised myself that I’d learn to fix any issue that I could that didn’t require highly specialized tools - more on this later.
“I Just Bought A 16 Year Old BMW”
Right off the bat, I did an oil change, and had all four wheels straightened. The oil change I expected, having to have the wheels straightened, I did not - and frankly, I’m not sure how well the straightening was done. The shop I’d gone to told me that the rumbling I was hearing at speed was likely the bent wheels - It was not (more on that later).
I also had to buy a new diamond key, which was expectedly expensive, as he only had the valet key and the door cylinders are prone to breaking if used too often.
After that, I started to get into some smaller maintenance items:
- Trans fluid + filter (lol this was harder than I thought for someone JUST getting into doing their own work and lead to some panic when I broke a bolt off, which I later was able to get out & replace)
- Rebuilding the front left brake caliper (this didn’t hold, I ended up replacing it with a rebuilt unit)
- Doing the front brakes, twice - not realizing I should replace the pads when replacing rotors, I exercised FCPEuro’s unlimited warranty and had to pay shipping for some heavy brake rotors to get a fresh set when I replaced my front pads.
- Spark Plugs, preventatively at 85k
- The dry-rotted windshield cowl which was chipping away, plus air filter & cabin air filter.
- New tires - the ones that came on the car had TONS of meat on them, and barely any mileage, but were 8 years old and beginning to rot. This was a shame. $500 later & Costco discounts, I had new Bridgestone tires.
- Both front window regulators have a temporary fix - zipties. The passenger side I need to replace as it just started to let go again, and it’s time. I fully replaced the driver’s rear when the cable snapped with an amazon part.
- Between all the regulators, the damn vapor barriers have been a bitch, but I figured out heating them up w/ a heat gun seals them better. No more soaked floors.
- A/C - when I bought the car, it was advertised as the A/C not working. I tested, and it WAS, just not great. Bought some recharge kit, and now it’s fine. May have a small leak somewhere but blows cold in the summer.
- HVAC controls - Replaced the IHKA unit twice, since the pixels started to die. The first one was my fault, the second not.
- Bluetooth - added a GROM kit & wired in a mic to the stock position so that I have full bluetooth on my stock BMW Business Radio head unit.
- A, B & C pillars- as usual, I’ve had to re-glue the fabric on. A- pillars are holding well, but I’ve gotta do the C again. Not massively important.
- Turn signal - front left started to let water in, so replaced.
- Fuel filter - this wasn’t too hard, but the system didn’t de-pressurize when I pulled the fuse to the pump (to stall the car), or I just didn’t do it enough. Getting sprayed in the face with fuel isn’t fun, and then running to a hose to was your eyes out. Lost a good quart while it dribbled out of the lines, but got this done.
- Oil change - the typical.
- Had a forum member Teamviewer into a computer I have INPA & other BMW software on to update the engine & trans management software to the latest (from like… 2008)
The Cooling System
Somewhere in this I also re-did the cooling system - the most vulnerable part on the E46 chassis. The radiator had begun to leak from where it connects to the expansion tank. I took this opportunity to swap out the major related components. Radiator, expansion tank, hoses, etc. The P/O had the water pump & thermostat done already, so I didn’t touch those, thankfully. Glad I did this before a catastrophic failure.
The Front Wheel Bearings
Shortly after having new wheels put on, I hit a sizable bump on the way to Cape Cod, and begun to hear / feel a clicking from the front left, where the impact occurred. I assumed I busted a wheel bearing, since it was a thumping which increased with speed & side load, so I ordered 2 front wheel bearings. While they definitely weren’t in great shape, they were easy to replace. BUT, they didn’t fix the issue.
The issue turned out to be a separated belt in my brand new tires, which was REALLY hard to convince Costco to replace since they were brand new and the damage wasn’t visible. Eventually I paid $18 for the small amount of mileage on the tire and they swapped it. New wheel bearings weren’t cheap, but I just ate the cost.
Since that 50-60 subwooferish booming noise wasn’t fixed by the straightened rims, and frankly didn’t feel or seem like a tire issue I took at look at the CSB & flex disc. They looked like they were starting to wear with age, so I decided to replace them.
This was a PAIN. Not because of the driveshaft, but because apparently the exhaust had never been dropped, at least not in years, so the 4 bolts connecting the headers to the exhaust were awful. It took hours of dremeling, and then drilling, and going through $80 worth of carbide / blue hardened bits to get these off. I had to leave the car in a friend’s driveway overnight and come back the next morning.
The csb / guibo (flex disc) were easy peasy.
This, however, didn’t fix my issue. I narrowed it down to the rear u-joint starting to go bad. So, I ordered a rebuilt driveshaft from a recommended shop in Texas, and hoped for the best.
Once the new shaft arrived, I dropped the old one, and found the U-joint had some stiffness going on. Popped the new one one (ate the cost of the CSB) and viola! The noise was gone. The car was smooth.
A few months and a few thousand miles later however, I think it (or something else) is back. This time, it’s a harder thing to narrow down. It’s different though. Previously, only speed seemed to have an effect on the rumble.
Now, the noise seems to come on as the driveline shifts under load / deceleration, mainly from 55-63 (ish) and largely disappears when it’s put in neutral.
I’m THINKING it’s the motor / trans mounts, which I know need to go (and I should have replaced when I had the shaft off), and really really really praying that it’s not the shaft’s U-joint again. I know new engine / trans mounts are in order, based on the amount of vibrations I’m getting at idle.
Other possibilities are the rear diff bearing, which isn’t fun to do since you need to drop the diff [P.S. If anyone’s local to NYC and wants to help me with this, that’d be amazing].
The LEFT Rear Lower Control Arm
When I bought it, I promised myself I’d do everything in my power to do all the work with my own (with the help of friends) two hands, and I’ve kept myself to that 99%. That 1% was a bent driver’s side lower control arm, which I found out about after going to get an alignment, and the shop saying they’re unable to because of this (BMW Dealer). The passenger side is easy peasy, but the diff needs to be moved to access the driver’s side. Since it was getting cold out, I paid a local shop (way too much) to do this on a part I could’ve gotten for $40. It was hard, but I had to make that call. Had an alignment done afterward, which also confirmed my need for new shocks/struts.
All in all, I’ve enjoyed this car. I put around 7k on it over the course of the year, picking it up at 79k, and it just rolled over 87k, mostly only driving on weekends since I take the subway to work. It lives street parked in LIC.
The biggest plus in my eyes is that I’m not afraid of working on my own car, and getting underneath the car while it’s on jackstands. It’s cost me some $$$ to get to this, but I’m MUCH more confident working on cars now and it’s an amazing feeling - being a life goal for me since I started driving. Putting (literally) blood, sweat & tears into something you enjoy is a great feeling. It’s a decently fun car to drive, for what it is - an automatic, RWD sedan that at least was built with SOME fun in mind. The downsides of the car boil down to it’s age.
- I’d love to figure out the low rumble / vibration / noise I’m getting at highway speed. Around the city, it shifts and runs amazing, no real issues. The noise is annoying and I’m afraid of it ruining other components.
- Along with that, I know I could use shocks / struts, as confirmed when I had an alignment done. This can happen when it’s warmer out*.
- motor mounts - this I’m pretty confident in doing and it’s not too expensive. When it’s warmer.
- re-adjusting my parking brake.
*A lot of the upcoming work on this car is also highly depending on whether or not I really want to keep it. It’s a 17 year old BMW. While the engine I’m sure has tons of life left and runs great, I’m not sure I want to hold onto it much longer and invest more into something that’s going to pile up the bills. I’m currently saving for a wedding in May, but after that wedding I’m considering either leasing (since I don’t use the car every day, only on weekends) or buying CPO. Maybe a Mazda CX-30, Mazda3 (I miss my 1st gen), or a civic Sport/ SI. We’ll see. This BMW has to last until May / June, which I have no doubt it will without problems.
Sometimes I regret selling my $2000, 2004 Civic EX for simplicity and $ sake, but that’s gone.
On the plus side, I haven’t had an issue with CEL’s at all. [knock on wood]
…. Anyone have any ideas about that vibration? :)