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2001-2006 BMW M3 E46 Ownership Review
Owners Review for E46 M3
Having owned 3 E46 M3s since 2010, I have had some good and bad experiences with them. In my opinion, it is one of the better buys out there for what you get. The looks are classic, handling is great and the engine sings. I have laid out the positives and negatives of M3s ownership. Enjoy!
BMW revised the european S50B32 engine into the S54 for the E46 M3. It produces 333hp and it a 3.2L I-6. This engine has a redline at 7,900 rpms with peak power coming in at 7,900 rpms and peak torque of 262 lb/ft at 4,900 rpms. The intake collector feeds 6 individual throttle bodies to help the engine breath. The engine loves to live in the higher rpms which is evident with peak torque being so high up in the range. The S54 won the award for best "International Engine of the Year" and is highly regarded for producing 107 hp per liter in the european market(S54 produces 343 hp in Europe due to cat placement).
The M3 comes with a 6 speed manual transmission that is same in the SMG and manual models. While SMG models have their problems with the hydraulic pump, they can be converted to manual somewhat easily. The transmission itself is not know for any problems. It is recommended to upgrade the shifter linkage to get shorter throws and more precise gear engagement. The differential in the back comes with a factory limited slip which works great. For people wanted more acceleration from slow speeds, the gearing can be changed for a 4.10 ratio gear. This does make it uncomfortable for high speed highway cruising.
The brakes are "good enough" for a stock M3. For street driving, people upgrade to stainless lines and front caliper stiffener kit. For track, it is easy to change to better braking fluid like RBF600, upgrade to PFC 08 pads and if necessary install cooling. Big brake kit is an overkill unless you are Ayrton Senna.
Everyone agrees that E46 M3 is a classic shape that is very attractive. Even though the car can now be bought for $10k, people still consider it a "rich mans" car. The styling has enough aggressive and classic shapes that blend together perfectly. In my opinion it is the models when BMW was doing things the right way. Same goes to E39 M5 styling.
Interior in the M3 is decent, nothing to write home about. The styling is conservative and in some places one can hope for more. The materials are soft to the touch and the buttons do not peel. The console and trays are known to scratch easily. Overall it is a good place to spend time while driving but it is not know for the interior.
One of the best aspects of the M3 is it's driving dynamics. This in combinations with the S54 engine makes the car feel like a true sports car. M3 handling feels sharp and with the LSD differential it is easy to control the rear in a slide. The suspension from factory is sporty which is great for twisty roads but can be felt over rough roads. There is a reason other manufacturers compare their cars to the M3. It is known for its qualities in handling and communication through the steering wheel.
Last edited by pawa_k2001; 02-17-2015 at 13:20.
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Before I get in-depth regarding the faults of the E46 M3, I would like people to know, I am a perfectionist. There are faults that need to be fixed and there are things that I fix because I want it that way. There are ways to do what I do with less money involved but I do not like shortcuts or cheap fixes. Don't forget one fact, this car was $50k when new. If you buy it for $10k, the maintenance is still for a $50k car. Doing your own work can make it very affordable, even cheap.
- Torn rear sub-frame
- Broken tabs on Vanos disk
- Cooling system
- Suspension bushings
- SMG transmissions
- Rod bears
- Door weather seals
Torn subframe - the problem:
Cracked subframe mount
Torn subframes are a problem with all M3s and even some regular 3 series. If you look into E30 M3s and E36 M3s, you will find the problems with cracking rear trailing arm pockets. They redesigned the rear pockets but the subframe mounts are prone to failure. The failure happens mostly to cars that are tracked and modified but it does happen on daily driven cars too. The subframe points themselves are reinforced enough, the problem comes with people not changing out the RTAB(rear trailing arm bushing) and subframe bushing in time. From aggressive driving these bushing start cracking and tearing. The extra slop in drivetrain is enough to over time rip the sheet metal around the rear subframe mounts. If this is caught in time, it is an easy fix. If a person neglects the car, a total failure can occur.
Torn subframe - the fix:
Option 1 fix by the best company, bulletproof repair
There are 3 versions of fixes for the subframe mount failures.
- The first options is to weld on aftermarket rear subframe mount reinforcement plates. Some plates are designed to be welded others are designed to be bonded(glued) in place.
- The second fix is BMWs original fix that most people agree is a good helper fix in combination with welded plates. BMWs fix was to inject reinforcement epoxy around the subframe points. This reinforces the rear points and holds them in place which in turn stops the subframe points from cracking/tearing.
- The third fix is for subframe mounting points that tore away from the body do to neglect or rust(UK/Midwest). This is a $6000 job for parts and labor. The whole rear subframe floor pan has to be drilled out and replaced. Moral of the store is take care of your car.
Total failure fix
Broken tabs on Vanos disk:
Disk/tabs failure problem
Vanos issue is over-blown in M3 forums. It scares people into not driving their cars. The real failure rate is 1-2% but because of internet and forums it seems that everyones Vanos has blown up. From the 3 M3s I have owned and tracked, I never had an issue with Vanos. The problem with Vanos is the fact that the Vanos disk holes have around 1mm of slop for the Vanos hub tabs. Sometimes this slope snaps the tabs off and can lead to an engine failure. The valves overlap and get bent by pistons. This issue can be fixed easily, a company named Beisan sells kits to rebuild Vanos, its electronics, disk with smaller holes and other various parts for around $400. A lot of people go with this fix just so they can sleep well at night.
The cooling system is good in the M3 but it is good for only 60k miles if the M3 is tracked. Otherwise there is no reason to change the system for 100k miles. My only worry is the plastic impeller that I am changed just to feel better.
BMWs, especially M3s are known to go through bushings quickly. One of the reasons is because of the type of people driving the M3s. The bushing known to fail the most are RTAB(rear trailing arm bushings) and FCAB(front control arm bushings). Either of these bushings going bad can make the car feel disconnected or loose. It is recommended to change bushings every 60k miles but it depends on the way the car is driven. The more aggressive you drive the car, the more you should check these bushings. A recommended helper for RTABS are RTAB limiters. These little disks are sold by multiple aftermarket companies, they are highly recommended by everyone. What they do is limit the side to side movement of the RTABs which in turn lets them last longer. Personally, I would recommend for every M3 owner to look over all bushings on the car. A cracked or torn bushing is effecting the cars handling and feeling.
SMG transmissions are basically a manual transmission with a hydraulic pump installed on the outside that shifts the gears for you. The pump is known to fail if used heavily due to heat. It is a $1800 pump. I am swapping my SMG transmission to a manual and it will cost me around $1000 total. There are companies that do this job for $3000 with parts and labor included. My recommendation is to stay away from SMG transmissions unless you got a great deal on it and are willing to invest to convert it to manual.
Door weather seals:
This issue is starting to show up more and more in the M3 community. There are 3 reasons for this.
- First reason is the fact that people that can not offered the M3. These people do not use the recommended oil. The recommended oil is a 10W-60 Castrol Motorsport oil. It costs around $12 a bottle.
- Second reason is people not letting the engine warm up before they rev the piss out of the engine. S54 is a magnificent engine and it loves to be revved to almost 8000 rpms but the oil needs to be warm before this can be done. Cold oil doesn't move around the engine as good so the bearings get starved.
- Third reason is from the track use M3s get. From all the cars I have owned, M3 forum has the largest track section. A lot of the members track their cars extensively. A lot of track means high revs all day which leads to bearings being used up. Most track people I know recommend changing the rod bearings at 100k miles.
Door Seals coming unglued
This is what pisses off me the most. These stupid things are around $180-$200 each at the dealership. No, they are not this expensive because BMW product. The way BMW engineered these seals is what makes them expensive. The seals are not just rubber seals, they have sensors in them for the side windows because the windows don't have a frame around them. They sense how far the window should close. The seals only fail on 2001-2002 and some 2003 models, they were revised for newer models. The is an expensive fix if you want to buy new ones. What most people do is use glue to glue them back together.
Last edited by pawa_k2001; 02-17-2015 at 00:21.
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The M3 is a great buy for the price they are being sold for right now. It is recommended to know how to work on the car to save money on labor costs. This car excels in driving dynamics and engine rawness. From the years that I have owned my 3 M3s, I have had only one part fail. The part that failed was a throttle position sensor which cost me $53. This is after a lot of hard driving and track days on all 3 cars. I do maintain my cars very well and believe that preventive maintenance is key to a well preforming vehicle. The package comes with it's downsides. If one can live with those downsides, that person can enjoy a BMW icon. The car is not for everyone. Thank you for reading this review and hope it helped people make a decision on owning/or not a BMW icon.
See you guys on the local twisties!
For anyone that wants to see the work I put in and what I changed on all of my E46 M3, please visit my build thread. M3 Build Journal
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Such a gorgeous car, great review!
I can't drive any slower - Lewis Hamilton
Just leave me alone, I know what I'm doing - Kimi Raikkonen
Thanks! Tried to show bought sides of this cars ownership so future owners will know what to expect and will be able to make a decision if they want to own this car or not.
Originally Posted by dwsemon
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