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Old Fri, Dec-14-2007, 04:04:52 PM   #1
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This is a FAQ - to answer the frequently asked questions by people who just bought an E46/M3 - or people who are considering buying one. In some cases - it will refer to other Stickies or FAQs.

QUESTION - I'm thinking of buying an M3 - what is the best year? And what should I look out for.
ANSWER - (DonE) That isn't easy to answer. They're ALL good! There weren't any real fatal flaws in the M3 from when it was introduced. A few years had some potential bearing problems that were addressed by a RECALL from BMW. See the "Bearing Recall" question for more info. In general - condition and maintenance are more important than the year of the M3. A low miles '01 that has been maintained by a fanatic, and not driven hard will be a better car than a newer one that has high mies, was driven hard and put away wet.

On any used BMW - a "Pre-Purchase-Inspection" (PPI) is a GOOD THING to have done. A PPI is done by a BMW dealer. They will charge you for it - usually 1-2 hours of labor, but you'll find out what they find wrong with the car - and what they think may need attention shortly. Be aware that the E46 M3 is known to have issues with a part of the engine that adjusts valve timing known as the VANOS. There is a specific VANOS test found in certain diagnostic tools such as BMW's GT1. Make sure that the shop doing the PPI can perform this test. I highly recommend that you specifically request that this test be performed. It is a quick and easy test that shouldn't cost anything extra and should identify any issues with certain VANOS components. IF the seller refuses to allow a PPI be done (at your cost) - RUN AWAY.. it's not the car you want to buy.
(thanks to Eric/Maveric23 for the addition of the VANOs test.. for more info:

UPDATE: (09/11) There have been increasing numbers of reports of failures of the valve-advance mechanism (VANOs). To really check if this is a potential problem will require somewhat expensive disassembly of the VANOs mechanism. The amount of work required is about as much as fixing it would require. The problems are several - and I'd suggest a potential owner spend some time searching the forum for "VANOS"..
QUESTION - I'm thinking of buying an M3 - but I can't afford one still in warranty - what should I do?
ANSWER - (DonE) Lots of people will suggest you only buy an M3 that is still within warranty. That viewpoint seems rather odd since that would make their car unsaleable once it was out of warranty. There are aftermarket warranties available - usually only at time of purchase. Some of the best might be available from your lending institution if you're borrowing from a Credit Union. Others are usually available from a dealer - even used car dealers, but consider that there is usually a 100% markup on these (if it costs you $2,000, the dealer is pocketing $1,000) - so dickering on the price is very doable.

If you really can't afford a warranty - make certain you can afford some money for repairs. Even simple wear items like brakes and tires for the M3 are expensive. Replacing an M3 clutch will cost in the area of $2,000 at a dealer. Brakes can cost $1,000+ from a dealer, and a set of PS2's easily top $1,000. If these prices scare you - perhaps the M3 isn't the car for you.
QUESTION: I've heard about a "bearing recall" - what's that all about and should I avoid those cars?
ANSWER - (DonE) The bearing recall was a response by BMW to some engine failures on early M3 engines. The range of cars is from late '01 cars to early '03 cars.

The cause of the failure was two-fold, bearings that were out of specification, and in some cases an oil-pump that was out of specification. When this first surfaced - BMW believed it was the fault of the owners - but it soon became obvious that it wasn't an owner caused problem. BMW reacted by issuing a recall - which involved replacing the bearings and oil pumps in the effected engines, AND extending the warranty on the engine to 6 years/100k miles for OIL LUBRICATED parts on these engines. They also specified a new oil for the M3 engines - Castrol TWS 10W-60 oil (more on this in the "what oil should I use" question.)

If the engine recall was done - there is no reason to avoid these cars. Failures after the recall was performed have been rare - and in some cases, the 100k/6-year warranty covered other failures of these engines. If the recall wasn't done - it can still be done, and besides the 100k/6 year warranty, the work will be covered by BMW's 2 year repair warranty.
QUESTION - The seller claims the car has a 100k BMW warranty - what's the story?
ANSWER - (DonE) - There are several different things the seller could be referring to. One might be the 100k/6-year ENGINE warranty that covers oil lubricated parts. This is only applicable on 2001-2003 cars. They might also be referring to the BMW "CPO" warranty - see: for information on the BMW CPO warranty, extended BMW warranty, extended BMW maintenance and aftermarket warranties.

UPDATE: At this point (09/11) - all the cars covered under the original warranty extension are now out of coverage based on time. There may be a few CPO cars still around, but most of them will be out of CPO coverage by early next year, again - based on date.

QUESTION: - What's the story with oil for the M3?
ANSWER - (DonE) - There is only ONE oil approved by BMW for the M3 - It is "CASTROL TWS 10W-60" (Think Ten W Sixty to remember TWS.) The oil is made specifically for BMW engines, and is specified for the S54 engine, and some year M5 series engines. Considering the "special" oil, it's suprisingly reasonable when bought with a BMW-Car Club of America discount - in the $7-8/liter range. The engine uses 5.5 liters - buy 6 bottles for an oil change. It's available from BMW, and some independent vendors who sell BMW parts.

Can you use a different oil? Sure - but don't ask the forums for opinions on using it. Most everyone WILL use the TWS oil simply because we know it is made for the engine, and it works. If you use a different oil, wait for 100k miles and then tell us how it worked out and how much money you saved.

For a great link on DIY oil changes see:
QUESTION - What's that "Sport" button do? Do I get more power?
ANSWER - (DonE) - Not much actually. It gives you NO MORE POWER. It won't make the car go faster. What it does is changes the response of the electronic throttle on the engine making it respond more to less pedal movement, but 100% is still 100% - and that's all the throttle available "sport" or no "sport". You may find the car more difficult to drive smoothly with the sport button pressed - but some people seem to like that - so it's up to you what you do with it.
QUESTION - How do I know if the car has original paint or not?
ANSWER - (bCaHnIaCnKa) - Very few shops are good enough to actually repaint a car correctly or match it very close to OEM so you can't tell if a part has been repainted. Spotting repaint can give a clue about the car possibly being in an accident or have been damaged that hasn't been reported to CARFAX.

Imperfections in the paint such as small bumps, holes, or "fish eyes" are a sign of a imperfect paint job where debris and dust were allowed to get into the paint booth. Furthermore, some re-paints may actually crack at certain parts that OEM paint would not unless there has been an impact. Other signs of repainted parts include orange peel as well as poor color matching against other body panels.

If you're at all in doubt - or inexperienced in looking for hidden body damage - it's worth taking the car to a good body shop and asking for them to inspect it. A BMW dealer doing a PPI may also include this as part of their report.
Questions suggested by RBC44 (Ben):
QUESTION - Is this a good price? (year, equipment, mods)
ANSWER - (DonE) - This question is asked all the time - and usually answered by people claiming either: it's WAY too much for the car; or that they bought a car for less. The real answer is - the car is only worth what someone will pay for it. To figure out if the car is within reason - go to sources like Kelly-Blue-Book (, Edmunds ( and NADA ( - all of these offer price guides. Looking for completed auctions on Ebay can also give you an idea of what cars/years/miles/mods bring what prices.

The on-line guides don't consider much for "mods" - and most people will not pay a premium for mods since they may not be what the buyer is interested in, or may indicate to the buyer that the car was driven "enthusiastically" by someone. Only you can decide if the mods are what you want and what the value of them is to you.
QUESTION - What to look out for (recalls, sibs, etc.) when buying an M3?
ANSWER - (DonE) - Your first step here is to have a friend at a dealership - or have a PPI done (see above.) The dealer can pull up a car's warranty/recall repair information on their computer - even if they didn't sell the car. That is valuable information, and will give you some idea if the car was maintained - at least during the free maintenance period. You want to make sure the engine-bearing recall was done if the car falls under that group of VIN#'s.

Did we mention the PPI enough times to get you to have one done? Do you feel comfortable gambling that amount of money without one?
QUESTION - What are Inspection I and II?
ANSWER - (DonE) - "Inspection" services are exactly what the name describes. These are major services where many components on the car are "inspected" by the technician doing the job, looking for any problems or worn parts. The two services include different things - with "II" being the bigger (and more expensive) of the two. Depending on where you're located - Inspection services will range from $500 for an Inspection-I, to $1500 for an Inspection-II. BOTH inspections include doing a "valve adjustment" - this is not optional, it's not done by them listening to the engine - it has to be done and will require from 3-6 hours of labor time.

The offical "checklist" for I and II:
QUESTION - What are the differences in model years?
ANSWER - (DonE) - for everything you need to know..
QUESTION - Are there any DIY sources?
QUESTION - What are all these abreviations people use (ssk, bbk, cai, etc.)?
QUESTION - HELP! My check-engine-light just came on, what's wrong?
ANSWER - (DonE) - The honest answer - we don't know what's wrong. Forum members can take potshot guesses at what they might think is wrong based on their experiences.. but without reading the fault codes - it's just guesses. What you should do is get the codes read. Most large chain autoparts places (AutoZone, PepBoys, etc) will loan you a code reader in the hopes when you find the problem you'll buy the parts to fix it from them. These code readers will read the OBD-II codes (emissions related P0001-P0999) and perhaps some of the BMW proprietary engine management codes (P1000-P1999). It will tell you what the standard OBD-II codes mean - the BMW specific ones you'll have to lookup on the web. You also could visit a dealer (figure $100+ to read the codes) or a good independent who specializes in BMWs.

You also can purchase your own code reader (BMW specific ones are Peake Research - around $200, and AutoEnginuity with the BMW extended module - around $500.) A few uses of the Peake vs visiting the dealer make it pay for itself.

Once you get the codes THEN come back, tell us what they are, and we'll be better able to take educated guesses as to why your CEL is on.
QUESTION - I'm thinking of buying an M3 - but what's that noise in the exhaust system around 2,500-3,700 RPM?
ANSWER - (DonE) - That noise is normal. Listen to a Ferrari at full tilt - same sort of noise. It's called "the rasp" - and is caused by the design of the headers and first exhaust section on US cars. US cars have the catalytic converters as part of the exhaust headers.. the first exhaust section has different designs for the two legs of the exhaust. All of this creates the "rasp". It's normal - but can be eliminated if you want to spend some money. There are various vendors who sell front exhaust sections that help eliminate it.
QUESTION - Some cars I'm seeing for sale say "SMG" - What's SMG mean? (Thanks to xASAPx for the question!)
ANSWER - (DonE) - SMG is BMW's version of a Formula-1 transmission, where shifting of a manual transmission is done under computer control and the clutch and engine speed matching is also controlled by the computer. SMG stands for "Sequential Manual Gearbox". For more info see:,
QUESTION - I'm looking at an M3 - where can I get the service records from the prior owner(s)
ANSWER - (DonE) That depends. A dealer can call up BMW's computers - where any warranty (+CPO) or free-maintenance services records will be recorded. Normally they'll only do this for the current owner of the car, or as part of a PPI (see above!), but sometimes if approached right, they might do it for you as a favor. Out of warranty/free-maintenance records are normally only kept on the computer of the servicing dealer - if the car was dealer serviced. These are lots harder to get - usually requiring you to contact the former owner and ask that they contact the dealer and give permission in writing for you to see/obtain these records. If the former owner(s) used independent shops - chances are - you're not going to get the service records unless they came with the car.
QUESTION - My keys don't lock or unlock the car
ANSWER - (DonE) First make sure you're within range - which on the E36/M3 (especially the convertibles) is really a short distance. About 10 feet isn't an unusual max range. You can improve on the range by touching the metal key tip to your chin (really - it works, try it..) This sort of becomes 2nd nature after a while, even if you do look to the world like a complete idiot.

If you're within range - and one or more keys don't work with the remote locking system - it's possible the key battery has become discharged. The battery is charged when the key is in the ignition lock. Try recharging the battery by driving around for a few hours with the "dead" key.

If that doesn't help - or all keys don't work - they may be unrecognized by your locking system. To re-initialize the keys on your M3 so the locking system recognizes them follow this procedure:
  • Get all the keys together (the ones with buttons, not the plastic one and not the valet key)
  • Get in the car, put one key in the ignition and turn it to accessory position (where the radio comes on) and then quickly turn to off.
  • Remove the key from the ignition, and press and hold-down the UNLOCK button.
  • While holding down the UNLOCK button, press the LOCK button 3 times. The locks in the car should then cycle to lock/unlock, indicating the system recognizes the key.
  • Repeat the key-press sequence for your other keys. I believe you have a maximum of 30 seconds (can anyone confirm?) between keys before the system decides you're done.
If doing the above doesn't make your keys work - there may be a fault in the keys, or the central locking system. A visit to a dealer or well equipped independent is in your future.
QUESTION - What's this subframe thing I've heard about?
ANSWER - (DonE) The "subframe issue" really isn't an issue with the rear subframe (which is a framework that holds the differential in the rear of the car, and some suspension components mount to) - It's an issue with the part of the car's body that the subframe mounts to.

The subframe MOUNT issue is where the mounting points for the subframe start to crack where attached to the sheet metal of the car, or start to tear the sheet-metal away from the car. There are various theories why this happens, and a number of "fixes" for it. If you're looking at a car to buy - this again is a good reason for getting a PPI done before buying it. When you have the PPI done - specifically request that they inspect the rear-subframe mount points.

If the car has subframe mount damage - cost to repair it ranges from $0 (BMW picks up the tab) to several thousand dollars (depending on the extent of the damage.) Prices as high as $10,000 have been mentioned where the entire rear body pan is removed and replaced. Search on "subframe" for a lot more information on the problem.

UPDATE: (09/11) In response to a class-action lawsuit, BMW "settled" (admitting no wrong) with an agreement that any M3 owner could take their car to a dealership and have the subframe mounting points checked. If damage was found - BMW would pay to repair it provided the car had original equipment suspension/tires/etc on it. This offer lasted one year - and has now expired. BMW in individual cases has been known to cover subframe mount failure repairs - but it's as a good-will gesture, and is VERY dependent on the dealer's recommendation that it be covered. In most cases it has been for customers who have been regular dealer customers, with good service records, and with the potential to buy a new BMW someday. It isn't a given, but if you meet those stipulations, it can't hurt to ask your dealership to appeal to BMW-NA for some assistance.

QUESTION - The "clown-nose" (round red thing under the rear-view mirror) blinks when the car is locked, does that mean I have an alarm?.
ANSWER - (DonE) Probably not if you don't get a chirp when you lock and unlock the car.

The car comes with remote locking/unlocking, and the visual warning light (clown nose) blinks even if you don't have an alarm when the car is locked. The alarms are usually setup (this can be configured by a dealer) to chirp on lock/unlock.

If you think you have an alarm, that has been set to silent mode (no chirp on lock/unlock) and you have a coupe - leave a window open, lock the car, stick your arm in the window and wave it around. If you have an alarm you'll know it - the interior motion sensor will set off the alarm. The convertible is a bit more difficult. Up to around 2004 - there was no interior motion sensor on the convertibles. With a window open - lock the doors, then reach in and try opening the door using an inside door release handle. If you have an alarm - you'll know it.

For more details on how to install a factory alarm:

NOTE: After installing a factory alarm - you must visit a dealer to have it activated for your car. This requires that they hook the car up to a programming device. Most dealers will charge you 1/2-1 hour of labor for this job.
QUESTION - Hey - this morning my car beeped at me, and my display is showing a blinking temperature. What's up with that?
ANSWER - (DonE)It's BMW's temperature nanny telling you the roads may be cold enough for black ice. At temps below 37F - the display will flash and one beep will sound. Once it does it - it doesn't do it again, unless you drive through temperature gradients that pass through 37F. It will do it again if you stop and then start the car.
QUESTION - Is there any service info on the SMG available on-line?
ANSWER - (DonE) Yes there is.. see (thanks to FastDog911 for the link..) Back on line! Thanks FFWD!
OFFLINE when checked 11/15/11. Please PM me if it goes back on-line.

QUESTION - Recommended parts sources (realoem etc.)?
ANSWER - (GoSlow2GoFast) - Sure are:

Last edited by deilenberger; Wed, Nov-16-2011 at 12:17:58 AM.
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