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E46 M3 (2001-2006) Engine: S54 - Max Hp: 333 hp at 7,900 rpm / 262 lb/ft at 4,900 rpm
Total Produced: 45,000+ - Years Produced: 2001 to 2006.


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Old Tue, Dec-21-2010, 08:24:13 PM   #1
maveric23
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Exclamation E46 M3 Buyers Beware: Concealed VANOS Problems

I am writing this thread as a warning to all potential buyers of used E46 M3s. If you've done your research, you'll know that there have been a number of E46 M3s over the years that have suffered from various VANOS issues that can be costly to fix. I suspect that many such cars are being sold to unsuspecting buyers who are then left holding the bag. Not only do I believe that this has happened to me, but I believe it's happening to others because I've read about several other E46 M3 buyers who have suffered VANOS issues shortly after their purchase.

In my case, I was fully aware of the VANOS issues before I purchased my M3. I presumed that any car with a VANOS issue would exhibit the telltale signs (marble in a can sound, SES light, etc.) or that a Pre-Purchase Inspection (PPI) would uncover it. When I test drove my M3, the engine was silky-smooth across the power band and quiet at idle. I took it to a BMW Indy shop for a PPI. They scanned the DME and found fault code, "185 Function, exhaust VANOS". I was immediately concerned, but the mechanic reassured me that it wasn't a problem because it was a "one-time occurrence". He claimed that the S54 engine was very sensitive and having such a "one-time occurrence" was perfectly normal. I figured he was the expert and I took his word for it. I assumed that this fault code was triggered a long time ago and was no longer an issue. Being excited about buying a M3 after months of searching, I blindly trusted his opinion and ultimately purchased the car.

As you might have guessed, the mechanic's "one-time" fault code assertion was wrong. After about 600 miles of ownership, my SES light appeared with the same VANOS fault code. After about 2 months of troubleshooting, I discovered that the car had a faulty VANOS actuator. It cost about $1,000 to fix!

I highly suspect that the previous owner knew about the problem and purposely concealed it from me and my PPI mechanic by resetting the DME. It is very easy to do this with a relatively inexpensive reset tool. Once the DME is reset, the fault codes are cleared and the SES light is deactivated. Because it takes several ignition styles to register a fault, it may take some time for existing faults to show up again in a DME scan and for the SES light to reactivate. As a result, problems can be hidden for a period of time.

The moral of the story:
  • There may be unscrupulous sellers out there so it is always better to be safe than sorry.
  • Don't let the excitement of buying a car cloud your judgment.
  • Get a PPI done, preferably from a BMW Indy shop. It should cost no more than $200.
  • Be sure that the PPI includes an inspection the rear-subframe mount points
  • Be sure that the PPI includes a scan of the DME for BMW specific fault codes and assume the worst if any fault codes are found.
  • 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 such as the actuator and solenoid. I wish that I had known about this test before I bought my M3 because it would have caught my problem and would have saved me much anguish and money!
  • Remember that a PPI is no guarantee that your car is perfectly fine. There is no standard definition of a PPI and the quality can vary greatly. As I have explained, it is possible to hide fault codes.

I hope that my cautionary tale will help prevent future E46 M3 buyers from possibly getting scammed. However, I don't want to scare buyers away from this car because I love my E46 M3 and it's by far my favorite of the three cars that I've previously owned. It was just a major disappointment to discover that I was most likely deceived and a PITA to fix. But if I knew back then what I know now, I would have probably avoided this problem. Remember, it's ultimately up to the buyers to protect themselves.
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Last edited by maveric23; Fri, Jan-14-2011 at 06:54:31 PM.
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Old Tue, Dec-21-2010, 08:39:33 PM   #2
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Default Re: E46 M3 Buyers Beware: Concealed VANOS Problems

Sh*t happens. It's no scam.
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Old Tue, Dec-21-2010, 09:35:51 PM   #3
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Default Re: E46 M3 Buyers Beware: Concealed VANOS Problems

I wouldn't call it a scam but either way people should always research and get inspections done before they purchase a used car. Also you need to know what you're getting into when it comes to things that break on the car you're planning to buy.
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Old Tue, Dec-21-2010, 10:07:08 PM   #4
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Default Re: E46 M3 Buyers Beware: Concealed VANOS Problems

was it the actuator or just the solenoids?

edit: nvm I just saw your fs thread.
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Old Tue, Dec-21-2010, 10:58:25 PM   #5
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Default Re: E46 M3 Buyers Beware: Concealed VANOS Problems

A recently reset DME is a red flag.
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Old Tue, Dec-21-2010, 11:31:21 PM   #6
trebm3
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Default Re: E46 M3 Buyers Beware: Concealed VANOS Problems

$1000 really isn't that bad to be honest. Being that you just bought the car and it had that problem sucks. What was the mileage on the car?
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Old Tue, Dec-21-2010, 11:45:54 PM   #7
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Default Re: E46 M3 Buyers Beware: Concealed VANOS Problems

Caveat Emptor!!!!
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Old Tue, Dec-21-2010, 11:56:51 PM   #8
00 XE7EN
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Default Re: E46 M3 Buyers Beware: Concealed VANOS Problems

well, the vanos isnt the only problematic issue for these cars...SMG pump failure, subframe issue, ect ect. just gotta be prepared with extra funds to take care of the issues if they arise. i dont think that little fact is emphasized enough when buying these cars.
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Old Wed, Dec-22-2010, 12:10:45 AM   #9
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Default Re: E46 M3 Buyers Beware: Concealed VANOS Problems

I guess this is the risk of buying used cars without warranty. It is just difficult with cars that didn't exhibit any signs of problems. Or the problems could have occurred shortly after the sale which is no fault of the sellers.

Also keep in mind that there are many sellers who are not mechanically inclined and know very little about all these potential issues. They depend on the dealers to maintain the cars.
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Old Wed, Dec-22-2010, 12:13:03 AM   #10
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Default Re: E46 M3 Buyers Beware: Concealed VANOS Problems

IMHO, there are alot of things that can go wrong with any used car. thats why we usually buy used with warranty or even NEW.
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Discussing E46 M3 Buyers Beware: Concealed VANOS Problems in the E46 M3 (2001-2006) Forum - Engine: S54 - Max Hp: 333 hp at 7,900 rpm / 262 lb/ft at 4,900 rpm
Total Produced: 45,000+ - Years Produced: 2001 to 2006. at BMW M3 Forum.com (E30 M3 | E36 M3 | E46 M3 | E92 M3 | F80/X)