So, you want to buy a 180k mile E46 330i for £650? I appreciate your audacity. You’re my kind of person. Here’s what you might expect...
1. Sunroof’s dead. £60 from eBay. Modern manufacturers have an obsession with overlapping interior trim, covering fixings with other trim panels. This is something you will learn.
2. Steering wheel stitching’s come apart. £10 from a breaker’s yard. Nice and easy fix :)
3. Bit of rust on the rear arches. Wire wheel, rust treatment, filler primer and rattle cans does a surprisingly good job :)
4. Rear wiper motor is seized. Could replace, but ended up blanking it off.
5. Handbrake stops working. Turns out the friction material had come detached from anything else so was just spinning. Forget how much new pads were but it wasn’t expensive, and replacement wasn’t too hard.
6. For a reason i cannot fathom it decides the steering angle sensor is now out of alignment despite not having moved at all. It’s at this point that i discover there is such a thing as a steering angle sensor. I immediately decide it’s a pointless and irritating device that serves no purpose beyond needless complication. £45 for electronic gubbins to talk to the ECU and tell it it was being a moron.
7. Drive to the MoT station. An ABS sensor will go in the 5 mile journey there. Cheap to replace and easy enough to replace. Can do it without even taking the wheel off :) break out the OBD2 program to calm the electronics down from their hissy fit.
8. Throttle response is god-awful. Thought it was something to do with it being 180k miles. Nope. Bit of googling suggests BMW just thought it was a good idea to calibrate a sensation of 1" of slack in their imaginary throttle cable. Is this why people think drive-by-wire is crap because my Alfa’s one is razor-sharp compared to this...
9. At the MoT station, it fails because of the ABS sensor but they highlight a worn trailing arm bush. No problem i thought, i’ve just bought a press! Easy. Nope again. BMW designed a brand new multi-link rear suspension for the E36, carried over to the E46. However, they just couldn’t quite let go of the flawed semi-trailing arm. I guess it would give better toe control if they hadn’t attached everything with some extra-wibbly bushes which negate that. However, all it’s really achieved is making quite a simple job a right ballache. Because the trailing arm is one solid cast piece with the hub, to take it off you have to dismantle a good proportion of the rear suspension, including the driveshaft. Or, you can weld up a pressing tool from some box section and threaded rod and do it in situ. Should be an easy job. Really not because of sub-par design.
10. While poking around under the front suspension I spot a sodding great crack in the front subframe. Further investigation suggests that the reason is because it’s made of steel I swear is less than 1mm thick. Nice and lightweight which I appreciate on a modern car, but I can see why it’s cracked. Bit of an arse to weld as it’s double-skinned and galvanised. Not sure if anyone’s tried to weld steel you can’t get the galv off, but at roughly the melting point of steel zinc starts to burn and dumps a load more heat into the metal you’re welding. As such, it tends to blow out if you put more than the absolute minimum heat you need in to get it to stick.
11. MoT sorted! Test-drive to pick up some box section. Although it’s quiet it does make a rather nice noise. A decent exhaust would go quite a way to making it feel sporty to drive in any way at all. Does shift though :)
12. Speaking of shifting, the gear change is a bit wooly. Probably a spring’s gone in the linkage as it self-centres in one direction but not the other. Classed as ‘livable’ after i google the procedure for replacing it.
13. Oh, and the other ABS sensor went on the test drive. This one is not easy to replace. Bolt rusted solidly into the vertical link. Heat, releasing fluid and welding successive nuts onto it as the old cheese-metal shears didn’t work. Took the hub off (easy enough actually) and drilled it out. More electronic stuff to tell the computer the world had not, in fact, ended.
14. Right! Must be done now. Another test run to pick up a motorbike lift. 5 miles from home, it starts to get noticeably louder. For 4 miles i think ‘this is what this thing should sound like!’. For the last mile, it’s racecar loud. Turns out the exhaust wasn’t held onto the manifold by nuts, but rather the fact that the studs had rust-welded into the flanges. Drop exhaust, angle grind off studs, attempt to drill out studs with drill bits made of the same cheese as the ABS sensor bolt. Borrow and buy some proper drill bits and bolt it back together.
So, that’s the saga of the E46! We were considering keeping it as it’s a bit of a goldilocks tow car, being a 330i Touring 5-speed LPG, but honestly we were put off slightly by the gakky throttle response and steady stream of breaky stuff made more difficult to fix by modern car design.
So, it’s off to the next owner! Hopefully they’ll have a better time of it given we’ve fixed pretty much all the bits that are wrong with it now...