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Go Back   Bimmerfest - BMW Forums > BMW Model Discussions > 3 Series / 4 Series > E36 (1991 - 1999)

E36 (1991 - 1999)
The E36 chassis 3-Series BMW was a huge hit among driving enthusiasts from the first moment the car hit the pavement. The E36 won numerous awards over the years it was produced and is still a favorite of many BMW enthusiasts to this day! -- View the E36 Wiki

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  #1  
Old 02-12-2013, 10:09 PM
lostmyBMW lostmyBMW is offline
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BMW 3 Series as a Used Car?

Hi everyone,

I'm new to this forum, but I've been trying to find a suitable used 4 door for my wife, and I have become somewhat partial to the 3 series. It seems models with decent mileage can be found for 3-5k for (~150,000miles). As a total Bimmer newbie I humbly ask your advice as to weather or not a 3 series would be a suitable budget used car? I've heard, "Don't buy a Bimmer, it will cost a million bucks for an oil change." Though that statement is a bit obtuse, is there any truth to that? (BTW, I do a fair amount of work on our current vehicles, including oil changes )

Are they dependable? Are there any "infamous" problems that are particular troublesome and expensive to address? For those of you who have bought BMW in the same price range, what are the "red flags" I should know if I should buy one? Mechanical problems that are frequent; wheel bearings, end links, misfiring, faulty electrics (I've read the electric thermostats go out)? Is the 4 cylinder model more dependable than the 6 cylinder model, vice versa?

My first choice is getting a good condition Integra sedan (she likes that specifically), but I'm hard pressed to find one that's not been tampered with by kids and not riced out for a decent price.

Any help would be much appreciated! And for added specificity, I'm looking at mid-late 90's models.
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  #2  
Old 02-12-2013, 10:32 PM
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ZeGerman ZeGerman is online now
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  #3  
Old 02-13-2013, 10:26 AM
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ReillyM3 ReillyM3 is offline
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Eh, dont know if I agree with Ze German on this one. They are very reliable as long as thry arent abused ( by you or the previous owner). They do prefer an owner that is an enthusiast. Someone that will take in a car to a reputable tech to check.out issues. A Honda is more reliable but that is owed to the fact that it is an appliance (no one polishes their refrigerator).
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Old 02-13-2013, 11:11 AM
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http://www.bimmerfest.com/forums/sho...d.php?t=533803

This should give you most of the info you're looking for.
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Old 02-13-2013, 11:28 AM
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Originally Posted by ReillyM3 View Post
Eh, dont know if I agree with Ze German on this one. They are very reliable as long as thry arent abused ( by you or the previous owner). They do prefer an owner that is an enthusiast. Someone that will take in a car to a reputable tech to check.out issues. A Honda is more reliable but that is owed to the fact that it is an appliance (no one polishes their refrigerator).
Don't get me wrong, my E36 has not skipped a single beat since I purchased it years ago. It has been extremely reliable, BUT in order for older BMWs to stay reliable, you have to invest a lot of time and money into preventive maintenance. Much more than a Japanese car. The only reason that my E36 is so reliable is because I have done the following in the last three years:

- Replaced entire cooling system (radiator, t-stat, t-stat housing, water pump, fan, expansion tank, cap, bleeder screw, belts, hoses)
- Replaced entire suspension (struts/shocks, mounts, control arms, tie rods, FCABs, RTABs, RSMs, and all associated hardware)
- Replaced final stage unit
- Replaced brake pedal switch
- Repaired stereo display
- Replaced cluster and OBC bulbs
- Replaced steering wheel slip ring
- Replaced steering column bearing
- Replaced rear wheel bearing
- Replaced rear vent window seals & trim
- Replaced cowl cover
- Replaced trunk seal
- Replaced cabin microfilter
- Refurbished ignition switch
- Replaced spark plugs
- Replaced coil boots
- Replaced valve cover gasket and associated seals
- Rebuilt front left brake caliper
- Annual brake fluid changes
- Annual coolant changes
- Bi-annual trans fluid changes
- Bi-annual diff fluid changes

Everything listed above are things which just about all of us have dealt with, or will need to deal with soon. Such is the nature of E36 ownership. If that prospect seems scary, I cannot recommend an E36 BMW to someone who simply wants a "cheap" used car to get from Point A to Point B. There are a ton of things not on this list which I have been fortunate enough to not have experienced, but I'm sure I will sooner or later (e.g. 02 sensors, MAF issues, ICV issues, leaking coolant hoses under the manifold, wheel speed sensor issues, etc.). That is the stuff you have to deal with on an annual basis when you're driving a 14+ year old BMW. It should also be noted that with the exception of the wheel bearing, I did all this work myself. So unless you are mechanically inclined, it will cost a fortune to have a shop perform all this work. That's why I cannot recommend an old BMW for anyone other than someone who has their own tools and enjoys tinkering with cars.
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Last edited by ZeGerman; 02-13-2013 at 11:50 AM.
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  #6  
Old 02-13-2013, 04:41 PM
lostmyBMW lostmyBMW is offline
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Thanks for the great input everyone. Jonesin, that link is awesome thank you for that. Some stuff, like replacing the shock mounts, don't really scare me; other stuff does. I guess herein lies my dichotomy -- Wanting a nice, dependable car that is still fun to drive but is NOT a Corolla, Civic, or the diabolically ugly mid 90's Camry. Don't get me wrong, I respect Corollas but they are ugly, boring, and even my wife, who is definitely not a petrol head, would rather not have one. I believe I've successfully bridged the gap between practicality and driving pleasure with my current car (2003 Mazda Protege5). It is a cheap, practical sport wagon that is extremely rewarding to drive. Though I do admit, it does take some more preventative maintenance and loving scrutiny than a Corolla, I've been able to straddle most problems myself with the tools and experience I have (EGR, valve cover gasket, spark plugs, engine mounts, coolant hoses, etc).

In short, I think what I interpret from ZeGerman is very similar to my experience with my Mazda: Can be dependable and a solid vehicle, but will need--at least initially--some work to be done, and unless for example the 3 series coolant system is multitudes more sophisticated than the cooling system in my Mazda, seem doable. Do you agree ZeGerman?

The question then will be is it harder to work on than the typical Japanese vehicle? From what I gathered it's a yes. What do you guys think? Have you guys worked on anything other than German luxury cars? I'm willing to put time and a reasonable amount of money into a nicely kept 3 series, given my current constraints in terms of mechanical skill...

Do you guys agree with the thread that jonesin linked about the E36 drive train and tranny being robust? Again, thank you for the input and honesty about your cars. I definitely have some more thinking and researching before I buy one, but I really think the wife would love driving a nice 3 Series.
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Old 02-13-2013, 05:07 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by lostmyBMW View Post
....unless for example the 3 series coolant system is multitudes more sophisticated than the cooling system in my Mazda, seem doable. Do you agree ZeGerman?
Actually, despite the fact that the cooling systems in the E36 BMWs are certainly their weakest link, they are incredibly easy to overhaul/replace. You can easily do a total cooling system overhaul in a few hours with basic hand tools.

Quote:
Originally Posted by lostmyBMW View Post
The question then will be is it harder to work on than the typical Japanese vehicle
The E36 BMW is incredibly easy to work on. Unlike a lot of Japanese cars, and virtually all newer cars, the E36 BMW was designed to be serviced (rather than being discarded). So if you are not afraid to spin a wrench, you shouldn't have any trouble with the E36. They are very DIY friendly, and there is a huge wealth of info and DIYs available online to guide you through just about everything. The base of knowledge available is part of what makes owning these vehicles reasonable. Japanese cars tend to be more reliable and less finicky, but harder to work on. The E36 BMW, on the other hand, is absurdly simple to work on.

Quote:
Originally Posted by lostmyBMW View Post
Do you guys agree with the thread that jonesin linked about the E36 drive train and tranny being robust?
The manual transmissions are bulletproof, but the autos are known as being far from reliable. Some people have better experiences than others, but auto trans failure at 125-150k miles is not uncommon. And of course, since automatics are more complicated, they also cost more to fix when they break. They also suck all the fun out of driving a BMW.
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Last edited by ZeGerman; 02-13-2013 at 05:08 PM.
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  #8  
Old 02-13-2013, 08:41 PM
lostmyBMW lostmyBMW is offline
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Quote:
The E36 BMW is incredibly easy to work on...They are very DIY friendly, and there is a huge wealth of info and DIYs available online to guide you through just about everything.
This is might be a game changer for me I do not mind spinning a wrench at all.

Quote:
They also suck all the fun out of driving a BMW.
Agreed! She's slowly learning manual though.

Thanks so much for this advice. I had no idea that the E36 was relatively simple to work on. I just seem to remember hearing my mechanic moan and groan about having to work on a Bimmer in his shop--and how he had to do so much work for such a simple job. But then again, it was like an '08.

How about jobs that I would pretty much need to take into a shop. Like the suspension bushings (don't have a press), head gaskets? (I'm assuming they overheat not because of gasket failure but the cooling system you mentioned?) Are they prone to fail frequently? I believe Mazda has had to "update" a specific bushing for my car...

And, I suppose I should post this in the appropriate thread, but does anyone know if the 5 series is a completely different beast in the context we've been talking?
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Old 02-13-2013, 09:03 PM
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ZeGerman ZeGerman is online now
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Yeah, anything after the E46 3-Series is not fun to work on at all. Lots of computers, lots of absurdity. BMWs used to be a total dream to work on, but that all changed with the E90s, etc. You have to go to the dealer even if you need something as simple as a new battery, since they have to be programmed for the car...

Anyway, the suspensions are super easy to replace in these cars, so you won't spend a lot for labor if you take it to a shop. I replaced my entire suspension myself, having no prior experience and using manuals and online tutorials. It took me about 3.5 hours to replace all four corners, and I was not rushing at all. The bushings wear out like they would in any car, but they're pretty easy to replace, all things considered. The main bushings that go bad are the front control arm bushings (FCABs) and the rear trailing arm bushings (RTABs). Mine were totally shot when I bought my car with 94k miles on it. Since they needed to be replaced, I removed them and installed upgraded aftermarket bushings which do not require a press to install, so I gained better handling and saved myself the headache of needing to press them in (win/win).

The head gasket question is a bit tricky. If you search around for head gasket failures in BMWs, you will probably turn up a lot of cited examples, suggesting that it's problematic. That really isn't the whole story. If you have a properly maintained cooling system and don't ever let the engine overheat, head gasket failures are quite uncommon (or at least no worse than the industry average). The issue is that if you don't completely overhaul your cooling system in these cars every 75-100k miles, something WILL break, and you will almost certainly overheat the engine. Due to the aluminum cylinder head, warping, cracking, and blown head gaskets can easily occur as the result of even one overheating. They are quite sensitive in this regard, and many non-enthusiast BMW owners don't understand this. They just drive until something breaks, and then they're faced with a $1200+ head gasket bill because they won't spend $450 every 75-100k miles to overhaul the cooling system. Cliffs Notes: It's totally a non-issue if you simply maintain the cooling system correctly, and the consequences are high if you don't.

The 5-Series is more complicated, but they can be fairly reliable. They have more things to go wrong, and are less fun to work on regarding suspensions, but they aren't too bad if you're considering an E34 or E39 (The later E60s are not fun to maintain...). They are certainly nice cars though, but feel absolutely gigantic compared to driving a 3-Series. Still pretty fun with a nice suspension in them, though.
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Last edited by ZeGerman; 02-13-2013 at 09:14 PM.
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  #10  
Old 02-15-2013, 04:09 PM
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Don't we have a sticky for this?
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this jared guy sounds intimidating lol.
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Old 02-15-2013, 09:23 PM
tchavera tchavera is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by lostmyBMW View Post
I just seem to remember hearing my mechanic moan and groan about having to work on a Bimmer in his shop--and how he had to do so much work for such a simple job.
Find a mechanic that isn't so lazy..
Anyway, I would have to agree with ZeGerman on just about everything.
Car is very easy to work on. Engine is reliable as long as you maintain it properly. I have since bought a couple more cars but my 3 series is by far one of the most fun cars I've driven(manual of course). This car will start right up every cold morning no matter where you live. Lots of quality aftermarket parts out there and plenty of help on this site.

Good luck and here are a few tips
1. buy a manual
2. the fan blade is reverse thread
3. if you stay here, use search because these guys get pissed
4. don't buy a bmw!!!!!!!
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Old 02-15-2013, 09:31 PM
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Good luck and here are a few tips
1. buy a manual
2. the fan blade is reverse thread
3. if you stay here, use search because these guys get pissed
4. don't buy an E36 bmw, because you'll be hooked!!!!!!!
ftfy
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  #13  
Old 02-16-2013, 05:52 PM
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These cars easier to wrench on then my girlfriends VW Jetta, my friends Honda civic, a ford sport track, and a few other cars I've wrenched. I haven't hit any task on one yet above my head (rebuilding a 328i right now) and I'm a cheap 17 year old. You'll be fine under the hood of one.
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Old 02-18-2013, 04:38 PM
lostmyBMW lostmyBMW is offline
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These comments are very encouraging, and informative. I think I'm unofficially a Bimmer fan... I hope I can find a gem out there, and post on here as an owner.
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Old 02-20-2013, 05:24 AM
hnaz hnaz is online now
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Originally Posted by ZeGerman View Post
- Replaced cowl cover
Ugh, how did you do this? I am trying to replace the cowel cover on my M3, and it is such a pain to do. On the 318i, it was no problem.

My main problem is these two tabs (reference picture):



And the tabs are located here:



Sorry to hijack the thread, but this thing is such a major PITA. From speaking with other owners, they just tell me to break the tabs off, since they are supposed to go underneath the windshield and are held in place like that.
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Old 02-20-2013, 08:42 AM
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I was able to get the tabs in place by delicately persuading them with a smallish flat-blade screwdriver. I think I put a rag on the tend of it to prevent gouging the plastic. It wasn't easy, though. If I had to do it over again, I'd probably just clip the ends. They really don't do anything, and it wouldn't be noticeable if they were trimmed a little bit.
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Old 02-20-2013, 08:59 AM
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^I tried the same thing, but my story ended in a cracked windscreen.
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Old 02-20-2013, 09:12 AM
hnaz hnaz is online now
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Yeah, I will just cut the tabs off. I spoke to a co-worker who use to work in used cars for Tischer BMW in Silver Spring and he pretty said that was what they did as well at the dealership. He added that the button screws keep it secured pretty tight on the surface, plus with the tight room of the hood latches, it really has no where to go.

The only way to fit the tabs underneath the windshield is to ensure that when the windshield was replaced, that the installer leaves a gap for the tabs at the base of the windshield.

Again, I apologize to the OP for hijacking the thread. I'm going to go do nothing for a while and then read another thread.
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Old 02-20-2013, 09:47 AM
SCJon SCJon is offline
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I managed to do it the same way Karl did. BUT when I hit a seagull and broke my windshield the glass guy ended up bending the cowl cover and discoloring it a little. So either way I think you will end up with the same result.
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Old 02-20-2013, 11:38 PM
lostmyBMW lostmyBMW is offline
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Thread jack forgiven. But thought I'd tell you guys about about an e36 I found on CG. It has 120k miles on a rebuilt tranny and a replaced motor. I asked him how much was on the chassis. He replied back "590" as in give hundred and ninety thousand miles. He then said that "these cars are known to go a million miles." What do you guys think? I've never heard of any car doing that. Except maybe a McLaren F1?
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Old 02-21-2013, 03:13 AM
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thats a whole lot of miles.... i wouldn't do it.
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Old 02-21-2013, 04:10 AM
hnaz hnaz is online now
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thats a whole lot of miles.... i wouldn't do it.
Put the chassis on a lift. If you hear crunching while the lift arms are going up, but the car is still on the ground, walk away. FAST!
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Old 02-21-2013, 10:57 AM
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ZeGerman ZeGerman is online now
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590,xxx miles?! Holy cannoli, that is insane. But if the engine & trans have 120k miles, that isn't the end of the world. You'd just have to make sure the suspension, bushings, brakes, and other wear items are in good working order. With that many miles on the chassis, I'd imagine (or hope) that it has had numerous suspension/bushing/brake/cooling system overhauls over the years. If not, don't waste your time with it (unless it's really, really cheap). Of course, even if all the common wear items have been replaced over the years, other items like the electrical systems, hydraulics, brake lines, etc. will all probably be original to the car, which is a lot of miles.
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  #24  
Old 02-21-2013, 11:35 AM
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If the car is in reasonable shape, go for it.

Expect to replace some things like Ze said above, but you'll be replacing those anyway on a used car.

Alternatively, I have a 97 Alpine White 328i 5spd with a new engine (130k) and 216 on the chassis you could buy. Will be smogged before sale.

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  #25  
Old 02-21-2013, 11:40 AM
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petriej petriej is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by E36 Phantom View Post
If the car is in reasonable shape, go for it.

Expect to replace some things like Ze said above, but you'll be replacing those anyway on a used car.

Alternatively, I have a 97 Alpine White 328i 5spd with a new engine (130k) and 216 on the chassis you could buy. Will be smogged before sale.

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Wouldn't want to miss an opportunity, huh?
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Jared, why don't you just put "It's Giubo" in your sig? Save a lot of typing.
Quote:
Originally Posted by e36 miguel View Post
this jared guy sounds intimidating lol.
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