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Buying E36 M3 - What to Look Out For...

Discussion in 'E36 M3 (1995-1999)' started by JDiazAmador, Nov 8, 2009.

    • Member

    JDiazAmador

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    Hey guys,

    [I posted this in the E36 area before I realized that there would be a dedicated E36 M3 area. Sorry for the noob mistake.]

    Just joined up (after years of contemplating it). My 1997 Toyota 4Runner (which has been *incredibly* reliable), got hit from behind, and is now officially a totaled vehicle with a dead VIN. I got 200K+ miles out of it, and spent less than 2K in repairs, so I can't complain (except to the 18 y.o. kid that hit me).

    I don't need an SUV anymore and I want to indulge my long frustrated desire to own an M3. I think the best place for me to start is with the E36.

    Like many others, I'm a victim of both the recession (self-employed business owner) and the housing bust. So I'm going to be working with a lot less money than I'd like, and I want to avoid financing at all costs. So it's going to be a bit before I have the funds in hand. That gives me time to do my research.

    What are the trouble spots with the E36 M3 that I should be looking out for when checking one out for potential purchase?

    I know about these:

    The cooling system issue with the plastic impeller water pump. Also I heard the thermostat housing and radiator crack.

    The infamous "subframe" problem (I'd like to see photos so I'll know what to look for).

    The rear shock mounts (uppers I think).

    The infamous "transmission shifting missed shift over-rev" problem.

    I appreciate your input.

    Jorge
    Miami, FL USA

    BIMMIR guest

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    I can't offer a lot about most of your questions, but I think the subframe issue effected e46's. If I'm right, maybe that gives you some e36 comfort.

    Other than that I'd say it's all about maintenance, and get ready for a change.
    You need to get ready for a far different maintenance habit, and cost than a toyota. If you can do stuff yourself it will lessen the blow. It's just that simple. I know, I own 2 toyotas, and 2 BMW's.But know there is great support here and in many other places to find parts and advice. But the reward is you will also have a much different driving experience and pleasure of ownership.
    If I were looking at an e36 I'd compare the mileage and work already done on the car to Mike Miller's old school maintenance schedule and get it up to date with those standards. Basically, that means replacing most of the things you mentioned at specific mileage or time intervals. Now, you don't have to, but, those parts may go when you least expect it and cause more damage if you don't. Regardless of generation, BMW's cost money to maintain if you want them to have a chance of being trouble free.
    To each their own, and welcome!
    • Member

    JDiazAmador

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    Thanks BIMMIR,

    I was actually kind of shocked when I got the 4Runner of how little maintenance was called for in the maintenance schedule. I went above and beyond on a few items like flushing out the ATF around 30K. Still, it's amazing how that car lasted. But just think: 3.4 liter DOHC 4-valve engine producing 183 HP on 87 octane. The engine is working no where near it's potential.

    I don't mind doing maintenance myself. I'm mostly a hand-on kind of guy. But I want the engine in the front and the drive wheels in the back. I want to be able to reach the spark plugs. Oh yeah, and I actually want to SEE an engine when I open the hood. I'm old-school like that.

    Where can I find "Mike Miller's old school maintenance schedule"?

    BIMMIR guest

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    Yes Toyota are great for easy low cost maint. and transportation. Some of them like the 4 runner and tacoma are also a blast to drive. They are easy to work on.
    Mike Miller is the tech ediditor for Roundel Magazine, our BMW CCA club magazine. Have you recieved one of these yet? E mail Mike with your questions above, and request the maintenance schedule. He is fantastic!
    His e mail address is techtalk@roundel.org

    Good Luck

    TIm
    • Member

    CRKrieger

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    You'll hear from others on the other problems you mentioned, but this one is a driver error issue compounded by a design issue.

    The E36 M3 has a relatively narrow neutral gate, so it is not too hard to inadvertently cross it, or miss it, as you're shifting. There are also some subtle gearbox alignment issues when the drivetrain is stressed, making it difficult for even accomplished drivers to shift accurately. Finally, a lot of M3s get a 'short shift' kit that aggravates the problem by shortening the already-short throws. Obviously, you don't have a problem if you accidentally upshift instead of downshifting. Fourth to fifth instead of fourth to third just slows you down. However, a downshift instead of an upshift, or a downshift into the wrong gear, can be disastrous.

    Typically, this happens in track events where the car is being pushed near redline and is being driven near its limits. At the end of a very long straight, downshifts from fifth to fourth might end up going into second; or fourth to third can end up fourth to first. I have also known drivers to go from fourth to third instead of to fifth while upshifting on long straights. When any one of these is done and the clutch is engaged, the wheels force the transmission to spin wildly and mechanically* overrev the engine. This can lead to valve float (where the valves don't close fast enough because the springs can't act quickly enough) and they end up getting hit by the pistons. The result is bent valves, dented pistons, and a very expen$ive engine rebuild.

    The only solution is very careful shifting in an M3. Learn to concentrate on every shift if you're driving this way and, if you have a short shift kit, be even more careful. There are several books and videos on driving that offer excellent advice on hand placement on the shifter (different for every shift!) for accurate shifting. ISTR Skip Barber was one of the best. The best way to utilize these is to make it a habit to shift this way on every single shift, whether you're on track or stuck in traffic.

    * Yes, every BMW engine since the 2002 has had a rev limiter of some sort so you cannot overrev the engine by use of the accelerator. These are either an ignition cutoff that shorts out the ignition above a certain rpm or, in the fuel injected cars, a fuel cutoff above a certain preset rpm. Neither of these can prevent the engine from being overrevved by the mechanical action of the wheels driving through the transmission. IF YOU'RE LUCKY, your rear wheels will break traction and slide, spinning your car, but saving your engine if you do this. Sadly, on track, it's usually clean dry asphalt and and sticky tires that keep this from happening.
    • Member

    JDiazAmador

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    Thanks for the info guys! I haven't received Roundel yet, I'm too new.

    Great info on the shifter issue. Unfortunately, this would lead me to avoid cars that have been tracked at all, since it would be impossible to know if they had ever been over-revved like that.

    Do you have an opinion on whether the transmission mounts are too compliant?
    • Member

    CRKrieger

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    Oh, HELL NO! You'd know. There would be this big stack of receipts for an engine rebuild. If it was overrevved to the point of damage, there's severe damage. If it wasn't*, the engine is fine. Also, if it was rebuilt, it's fine. So, it's a simple line: trashed or not trashed. There's no 'in between' to worry about.
    I do not. IME, it's ego-dependent. Those who accept the blame for themselves would say 'no'. Those who refuse to accept any personal blame say 'yes'.


    * It is possible to have a technical overrev without any damage whatsoever. That would lie within the engineered safety margin between the programmed rev limiter and the engine speed at which damage actually occurs. There's probably a couple thousand rpm in between those and a missed shift can easily fall in between. Those are the guys we call "lucky". There is no 'cumulative damage' from doing this.
    • Member

    Bimmerdan

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    Like CR said, if the motor was over-revved and not fixed...you WILL know it. If it was over-revved and fixed, you will probably have a fairly fresh motor.

    I am a huge E36 M3 fan and I firmly believe it's one of the best 'all-around' cars BMW ever built. I have two of them, one's a daily driver (the sedan) and the other has seen more track time than I can count. The coupe has well over 150K miles on it and a lot of those are track/autocross miles but it still runs like new. Just keep up on the regular maintenance and it will be fine.

    I've heard other people mention the rear subframe issue but I have never seen any first-hand evidence of it happening on an E36. For anything short of a full race prepared car I would say it's a non-issue. You do need to check the bushings though (rear trailing arm and front control arm specifically), they tend to wear out, cause really sloppy handling and they can be a pain to change yourself.

    Other items to look at (in no particular order) would be; The power steering lines/reservoir/rack...they tend to leak after a while. Not a big deal but if the seller has fixed it already, it's one less thing for you to worry about. The AC system (this can be nasty expensive to fix if it fails). Make sure the windows go up and down smoothly, the regulators are a pain to change. From a cosmetic standpoint, the headliners tend to fail and peel apart (I've replaced them on every one of my E36's...in some cases, more than once). Check and see if the door panels are in good shape because those can also be expensive to replace if they have been abused. If it has power seats, make sure all the adjustments work.

    Out of all this, the only thing I would consider a deal breaker would be a failed AC system (but I live in Houston so that makes a bit of a difference). The rest of the stuff you can do yourself (it may be a pain but it can be done)

    You are definitely doing it the right way though, take your time and find a nice, clean one and you will be hooked for life!
    • Member

    JDiazAmador

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    I went to Skip Barber Racing School (3-day in Sebring driving Formula Ford) many years ago. They told us that after the 3 days school, any further lapping we did, we would be subject to "rpm penalties". Basically, the tachometer would remember any over-revs and they would charge you for them. I guess it mean the engine would need to be rebuilt sooner.
    • Member

    JDiazAmador

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    OBD-I vs OBD-II, 50-State?

    Bimmerdan,

    Thanks for the advice. I've wanted an E36 M3 since they were introduced. At the time, I needed at least a mid-sized SUV to haul around movie cameras, hence the 4Runner (which has been superb). Hell, it would make a great tow vehicle, if the sleazy insurance company hadn't CoD'd it (Certificate of Destruction) so it has a "dead VIN" now.

    Couple of questions for you M3 experts:

    1. I've heard that the OBD-I is easier to modify and has better performance potential than the OBD-II. Would you guys agree with that? What's the practical difference? Is the OBD-I easier to maintain for an advanced home shop mechanic? Would the OBD-II be better in a state with smog inspections?

    2. I live in Miami Florida right now (BTW, Bimmerdan, YES, A/C is of *vital* importance here and it was the only major repair on the 4Runner in 12 years, but cost almost $1K). I may be moving to California for a job opportunity. This may be happening fairly soon (less than two months if we agree on terms). Right now, I'm still leaning towards going on the hunt for good used M3's as soon as I have enough cash in hand (want to avoid financing).

    I was told by the sleazy insurance co (of the kid that rear-ended me), that they would pay the sales tax on my replacement vehicle. That policy may only be valid if I buy the replacement vehicle in FL. That's $625 on a $10K car. And it would sure help make up for the extra $350 or so CA will want when I register the car there.

    I'm assuming that all E36 M3 have 50 state emissions, am I right to think that? Would an OBD-I or OBD-II car be better for passing smog?

    This is also going to mean that I'm going to have to lean more towards M3's that are stock, and I've noticed that most available ones are not, especially the well cared for cars. I'm guessing that most of the high-end aftermarket companies like Dinan have mods that will still pass CA smog.

    I'd love to hear from anyone that has first-hand experience in this regard.

    P.S. how did you guys get your names in blue with the "BMW CCA Member" and the photo on your posts?
    • Member

    JDiazAmador

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    Where are the decent E36's?

    I keep adding to the "piggy bank" in anticipation of hunting for a nice E36 M3. Once I have $7.5K I plan to start looking actively at cars. But the search so far has been demoralizing.

    Not many cars to choose from, lots of 4-dr Automatics and convertibles. Not many 5 sp coupes. Very, very few in FL (I'm in Miami). LOTS of "rebuilt" and "salvage" titles.

    Not many ads from private sellers who seem to have taken care of their cars. If you can't spell "transmission" why would I believe that you would know it needs the gear oil changed?

    One craigslist ad was titled:
    02 BMW M3 SGM TRASMITION - $17759

    Yeah, I'm sure that SMG had proper maintenance...

    I've been looking in:
    BMW CCA Classifieds
    eBay Motors
    roadfly.com
    craigslist.com

    Can anyone suggest any other places I should be looking?

    Anyone looking to sell their M3 next month?
    • Member

    connorb850

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    You should also check out:
    Bimmerforums.com
    Bimmerfest.com
    M3forum.net
    AutoTrader.com

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