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Old Tue, Dec-29-2009, 03:54:18 AM   #2
He'll save children, but not the British children...
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Chassis weak points:

The E36 chassis was the first 3 series chassis that was CAD designed, as opposed to good old fashioned German engineering, and consequently it does have some weak points that made it into production cars.

"Chassis weak points? What do you mean?"

I mean the sheet metal that makes up the car sucks and has been known to fail. Some areas are more prone to failure than others.

"The metal that makes up the car *fails"?!? It's a BMW. I thought they were good cars!"

They are good cars. But this is the point we're trying to make with this entire catalog of information...the car can break, will break, and can be expensive to own if you don't know what you're doing. The car can be expensive to own even if you *do* know what you're doing. You're here to school yourself on the E36 before you buy the car. Emptying out your savings account to buy the E36 on Autotrader that was a great deal won't do you any good if afterwords you find out there are hairline cracks in the RTAB pocket.

"What's an RTAB pocket?"

Exactly...keep reading.

--Rear shock towers
Problem: As we discussed above in the section on rear shock mounts (RSM's), the shock towers are prone to failure. The sheet metal is paper thin. It can and will develop cracks. A cracked tower will have to be torch cut out of the car and replaced completely with a new one. The part is less than $10, but it's the labor that gets you. Most of us are not proficient enough at welding to perform this repair, so you'll be paying a shop to do it for you. Keep an eye on your RSM's, and if you're looking into buying a car it's *strongly* recommended that you inspect the shock towers carefully for cracks before purchasing it.

Solution: Install rear shock tower reinforcement plates on the tops of the shock towers to disperse the force of shock rebound over a larger surface area. These are available from any parts vendor that stocks aftermarket parts and bolt on to the towers with hand tools. Also, the Z3 chassis coupe and roadster had these reinforcement plates from the factory. You can buy those and install them if you wish to get an OEM part from the stealer. Though, they're just metal plates...there is no reason why OEM will be any better than an aftermarket set.

How common are problems with this?
I'd consider shock tower failure a moderate occurrence, high risk issue.

--Rear trailing arm bushing (RTAB) pocket
Problem: The RTAB is mounted in a metal carrier that bolts to the unibody at 3 points, using threaded bungs that are welded to the body of the car. The sheet metal around these bungs (like the sheet metal in the rest of the car) is weak and has been known to develop cracks and even flat out fail. The RTAB carrier (aka RTAB console) separates from the body completely. I don't think I need to explain how dangerous this is. It has been hypothesized that this is either due to hard track use, and/or due to worn RTAB's, which allow excessive movement of the RTA in the console, causing it to slap up against the metal, which sends mechanical shock through the setup and to the welds around the threaded bungs and unibody.

Solution: Some vendors sell RTAB pocket reinforcements. Welding is required to install these. You will have to drop the RTA, clean the unibody so it's free of undercoat, and weld the reinforcements in. Unless you have the means to turn the car upside down, the welding will be done upside down. This is also tight work with tight tolerances. It needs to be left to a professional that has a lot of experience with similar situations. Your cousin Louie across town (who owns a welder he got at a yard sale and will be happy to "weld that b!tch up for a 6 pack of High Life if you put in a good word for him with your sister") does not qualify as a competent professional.

How common are problems with this?
I'd consider RTAB pocket failure a low occurrence, extremely high risk issue.

--Sway bar mounting tabs
Problem: The rear sway bars mount to the rear subframe by bolting into small (and consequently weak) tabs integrated into the subframe. These mounting points can develop cracks and even sheer off the subframe completely, leaving you with a dangling sway bar. This is most common with larger and stiffer after market sways, which put more stress on the tabs than stock sways.

Solution: Swaybar mounting tab reinforcements. Again, welding required. Look around at the design of different vendors' swaybar reinforcements. Not all of them are designed the same. I'd go so far as to say that if you plan on running after market sways, the reinforcements are a must.

How common are problems with this?
I'd consider swaybar mounting tab failure a very low occurrence, moderate risk issue in a car with OEM swaybars, and a high occurrence moderate risk issue in a car with an aftermarket rear swaybar.

"Problems weak points, and maintenance?! Isn't there anything good about the car?":

I've been trying to stick to the facts about the car, seeing as if you're here looking into one, you likely already know the positive aspects of it. Though, in light of some posts pointing out that most of this information showcases cons of owning the car, here's a little bit of info weighing some of the intangibles of it. This is just one person's account, though i'll try and keep it as objective as possible.

-The drive train is near bulletproof. The main powertrain components (engine, tranny, diff etc) are extremely robust and hold their own with the best in terms of reliability. Expect a well maintained car to go past 200K miles with pretty much no major issues with the motor, tranny, etc. Even in comparison to Hondas and Toyotas, the internals are more robust than what the Japanese usually have to offer. A BMW will be more finicky with respect to oil changes and quality of the oil you use due to things like hydraulic lifters. But the engines run strong for a long long time.

-The car is a handling monster without compromise in ride quality. With 50/50 weight distribution, a nice limited slip diff out back, fat tires, rear wheel drive, and VERY well thought-out suspension geometry, the car handles with the best of them. It's become a cliche thing to remind people of, but the US E36 M3 was dubbed the "Best handling car at any price" by Car and Driver, in a shootout that included the Acura NSX, Chevy Corvette, Dodge Viper, Ferrari F355, Porsche Boxster, Porsche 911 Carrera S, and the Toyota Supra Turbo. The suspension is set up from the factory to be extremely forgiving and the car is probably easier to drive at the limit than just about any RWD car out there. It also has handling limits that exceed most drivers out on the road. With a few well thought out suspension mods, the E36 chassis can be made to be unstoppable. Google some HPDE vids of E36's on the track and watch a 10 year old car hang around every corner with cars costing orders of magnitude more, with double the horsepower, and an extra 5 or 10 years of engineering behind them. The M3, even in stock form, is a car you can take to the race track, and take your girlfriend's Grandmother out for dinner in, in a single day..without a complaint from you about its handling prowess on the track, or a complaint from Grandma about a harsh ride.

-The car is DIY friendly and has HUGE aftermarket support. Yes, there are problems with the car. it will break, it will cost money to fix. But with the amount of after market resources out there, the amount of parts available, and the number of enthusiasts that are passionate about BMW's, the E36 M3 is an iconic automobile that comes with huge resources at your finger tips with little more than a computer and an internet connection. The car is well thought out and easy to work on. Things are fastened together in a logical fashion that's easy to understand, and you don't have to have midget hands to work on the car.

-It's extremely well balanced. ...And not just in the handling department. The car comes standard with dual zone climate control, an onboard computer, 6 disc CD changer, comfortable seats, one-touch power windows, has nice sized trunk, has comfortable seating for 4, gets good gas mileage, has a quiet and compliant ride...yet will commit un-holy acts between rubber and pavement when called upon, will reach triple digit speeds with ease, and dispatch that speed with brakes that will damn near pull your eyeballs out. Who isn't attracted to the idea of a great handling sports car with enough power to get you in trouble, enough comfort, economy and practicality to daily drive, and a price tag that any enthusiast can live with?

...And the list goes on. The M3 has understated, classy design that seems to defy age, rich heritage, performance that's still on par with todays sports cars, and is about as raw and pure as you can get a sports car to be without introducing compromise in livability. If you want to introduce that compromise and ramp up the performance, there is an army of aftermarket resources at your finger tips to do just that. It's a jack of all trades car that excels in many things, and is deficient at very few. For more pros, see this post: BMW M3 (E30 M3 | E36 M3 | E46 M3 | E92 M3) - View Single Post - Informational thread: "Should I buy an E36 M3?"

Cons (I know...i'm really stretching to come up with some of these):
The steering rack. It drives like a truck. This is a sports car, not a pickup, it's nicely weighted and predictable...but i've driven trucks with quicker steering racks. Go watch an AutoX event one day. Watch the drivers of other sports cars as they pilot through the course smoothly and fluidly. Watch the E36 drivers frantically trying to wrestle the steering wheel around every corner, going hand over hand at corners where most cars just need minimal input to negotiate it. The good news is, the racks form other BMWs can be swapped in easily. The bad news is, they're other BMWs...they're not cheap.

The body roll. If there's one critique we'd have to make about the handling of a stock M3, it's the body roll. The springs are progressive, the sways allow for a lot of fore to aft travel. The car rides nice...but it dives into corners like a Caddy loaded with Sopranos. Again, some springs and thicker sways dial it out easily. But in stock form, it'll get you seasick. This is all relative, as you'll likely never experience this on public roads. But for those of us that AutoX or track the car, it's an annoyance.

It's German, it's quirky. The car doesn't have tilt steering. It beeps at you when the ambient temperatures reach the freezing point of water at German altitudes. It beeps at you if your washer fluid is low, if you have a brake light out, or if your brake pads are nearing their end. Yet, the car has no indicator to let you know you've just activated the cruise control system. It doesn't have any indicator to let you know there's a door ajar, or the trunk is open and flapping in the wind as you drive down the highway with your cargo flying out the back. It will give you little to no warning if it's overheating. The stock lights may as well be lanterns on a Ford Model A. It's grumpy in the cold, it will make weird noises you'll never figure out. You will constantly maintain it, clean it, and look it over in search of attaining perfection that just isn't possible with a 10 year old car.

It's predictably unpredictable. You've read about all the common problems, all the issues you should look out for. But you go out and buy one anyways. And it looks perfect, it drives perfect, you're in a state of sheer bliss with it day after day as the weeks pass by and the ownership experience is everything you could've hoped it would...DING DING DING, "Huh? Brake light circuit failure?" And that's far from the last thing you'll be literally standing on your head to replace. But somehow, you can't bear to get upset with the car for it. It comes with the territory and if anyone here didn't think the little annoyances and the maintenance were worth what you get in return from it, this website wouldn't even be here. Enough about cons. There are very few.

How does it do on gas?

The car requires premium fuel, and will normally do anywhere from low 20's to high 20's depending on driving style and situation. I consistently get 22-23 MPG combined highway/city with mostly spirited driving. I consistently get 27-28MPG highway with normal highway cruising. I've gotten as high as 30-31MPG highway, and as low as 17MPG city with a real heavy right foot.

What about tires?

As an FYI, the 1995 M3 was the only one released in NA that has a squared tire setup (all 4 are the same size). The 1996+ cars have a staggered setup with 225 width tires up front and 245's in the back. What does this mean? No tire rotation for the 96+ cars in stock form.

People normally get anywhere from 10K miles to 30K miles out of a set of tires. The car goes through them quick. Most people will go through a set of tires in 20K miles.

1986 325es || 2003 330ci || 1998 M3/4/5

Last edited by fiveightandten; Sat, Sep-13-2014 at 01:57:23 AM.
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