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Looking at a used 325i Convertible - advice please

Discussion in 'E30 (1984-1993)' started by Christopher Ellis, Apr 1, 2008.

    Christopher Ellis guest

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    Hello all,

    I'm looking at a 1989 (?) 325 Convertible, 5 speed, original red paint in good condition, new top, new (used) seats on Cape Cod, Massachusetts.

    At this point, since the car was locked when I looked at it initially, mileage is unknown, year unknown. It has a 3rd stop light on the trunk if this helps.
    It's owned by a local guy who has a garage that sells / services BMWs and MB. My gut feeling is that someone knowledgeable about these cars probably wouldn't put money into a car he knew to have serious faults. Comments anyone ?

    I know very little about it right now, but wanted to know what I should look for when I do get a chance to check it out carefully.

    I was previously a dealership mechanic for Audi and Porsche until 1983. My knowledge is now pretty dated, but still should be able to give it a good look over. It's for a very non- mechanical friend of mine who loves my 99 Z-3 convertible and wants in to the BMW thing ....

    Any weaknesses I should look out for ?
    What's a reasonable mileage for this vintage that would provide some useful remaining life for my friend ?
    How many miles are too much ?
    My old 2002s ('65 & '67) had rocker / cam wear problems ... is this problem likely with this engine ?
    Do timing chains make any noises or offer any symptoms that I might be able to pick up on without disassembly ?
    Are the transmission and synchros reliable ?
    How does the clutch normally feel ? Self adjusting ?
    Are parts reasonably priced ?
    What else should I be on the lookout for ?

    Where could I read contemporary reviews of this vehicle ?

    Thanks so much for your assistance !!

    Vicksburg guest

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    Hi Chris

    I just joined the forum a couple weeks ago. I recently bought a 1988 325i Convertable. Similar to the one you bought, mine has a fairly new top. Mine also has the trunk mounted break light. Has 133k miles. Paid 3G's. Motor seems to run real smooth with decent power. Has a little surface rust at the lower wheel wells and the rocker panel protective paint is peeling, but no holes or heavy flaking. I could tell by looking at it that it needed a lot of suspension work (sat real low with the tires tipped out). I've been thru that before with an old 67 barracuda - so I knew.

    These past couple weeks I've had a garage going thru the suspension. I want to return it to factory ride height (don't figure I'll be busting to hard around any tracks in a convertible, just want a nice smooth ride). Have had them replace shocks, springs, control arms, tie rod ends, calipers and rotors.

    Have been doing a lot of the small stuff on my own...major cleaning, leather reconditioning, oil change to synthetic, side marker lights (one side), antenna mast and grommet, hood latch cable and handle, muffler hanger, touch up paint, new badges, etc. I still have a ways to go, but I'm pretty excited - it seems to be turning out well. Still waiting on the front springs. Should be able to pick it up in the next week.

    I figure I've put about 2k into it so far. So for a total of 5k I should end up with a fun little car for my wife and I to enjoy the Michigan summer in. I am able to find just about anything I need on line. Seems to be an excellent after market for the E30 body style as so many people use these for track / race cars. Sorry I can't give much input to your more technical questions - I'm not too mechnical. Theres a lot more I want to do to it over the next few years, put I've got to pace myself ($). Hope this helps. Take Care.


    Kirk318 guest

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    Congratulations to your friend on his new interest! You are looking at one of the best cars anyone could ever buy. The E30 is built like a tank and fairly bulletproof. In the interests of full disclosure: I own three E30s and am infatuated with them; I'm an amateur mechanic but I try to gather all the information on E30s I can find. To answer your questions (in no particular order):
    Useful life for these cars is 300k-400k miles or more with proper care and maintenance. They last forever. So, mileage should be reflected in the price, but 150k is far from worn out if it's been taken care of.
    The M20 engine DOES NOT have a timing chain, it has a timing belt. This is really the only weakness the car has. It should be changed every 60k miles or 4 years, so find out when it was done. If the time is unknown, DO IT NOW. If the belt breaks, and it can, you will have an expensive repair job on your hands since the M20 is an interference engine. Also, paying someone else to change the timing belt could cost because it's a fairly involved job.
    If cam and rocker wear is an issue I have heard nothing about it. I'm not saying it's not, I just haven't encountered it.
    The 5-speed tranny and synchros are very reliable. Change the fluid every 30k and it will last a long time.
    The clutch is hydraulic and feels like it. You can adjust the clutch pedal inside the cabin but the clutch itself is self-adjusting.
    If the top has been converted to a manual top this is a plus. It will save you some money and trouble down the road.
    Parts for this car are cheap. There are so many aftermarket sources, even for genuine BMW parts, that the prices are really reasonable. Parts for this car are significantly cheaper than parts for Fords or GMs.
    Some things to check on this car:
    Electrical gremlins. You do not want an E30 with electrical problems. They can drive you crazy or cost you a great deal of money. This is not common, but it's something you want to check for on these cars.
    Look for water getting into the trunk. The taillight gaskets on a car this old are probably dry and shrunken and not sealing perfectly anymore. The gaskets cost about 10 bucks each from Bavarian Autosport and take about 10 minutes to change.
    Also check for water getting into the passenger compartment. The windshield gasket may be starting to shrink and leak or someone may have taken off the door panels and neglected to replace the moisture barrier (this is fairly common).
    If the odometer works I'd be amazed. They are all broken by this time in their lives. Don't sweat it.
    Hope this has been helpful for you. Good luck!
    • Member

    Brian A

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    Some Convertible-specific items

    I'll defer to others regarding general mechanical issues since they are general to all E30s, but I'll add my two cents with a few convertible specific things (I have a 1987 325ic):

    - If the interior is leather, check the rear seatback seams. They may be split in the center at the top of the seat back. Interior shops can't re-stretch the leather and re-stitch the seam if the gap is bigger than about ½ inch. If they can re-stitch; it's a cheap repair ($100); if they can't, a replacement seat back will be hard to find since it is specific to the convertible (and lots of used ones have the split seam). It's only cosmetic, but ugly and conspicuous.

    - Having a new top is very good: replacing my top cost me $1,000 four years ago parts and labor (and is not a DIY project).

    - The two air springs which hold up the convertible cover lid (p/n 54311932751) need replacing every 7 or 8 years and are about $50 / each.

    - The plastic spring-loaded flaps (p/n 51431945355) that cover the mechanism pivot point when the top is stored break once in an while but are cheap ($15) and still available at the BMW dealership.

    - Manual tops are the way to go; open or closed in 20 seconds.

    - Lots of (non-convertible) people claim that the E30 convertible frame is flexible compared to the E30 tintops. Probably this is technically correct, but it is greatly exaggerated. E30 convertibles are just fine (ran mine in autocross this weekend and it goes great).

    - My 3rd taillight recently started to leak and am pleased to read that I can get a replacement. (Kirk318: can you give me the Bavarian Autosport part number; I can't find it.)

    Christopher Ellis guest

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    Thanks !

    I appreciate the inside info. I ask for directions, too.


    jmalter guest

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    hi Chris,

    I agree w/ Kirk318's opinion that E30s are 'fairly bulletproof tanks'. And that it's MANDATORY to replace the timing belt every 50k miles to avoid a motor-munch. The only other recurring prob that I had was that the water pump would fail regularly, requiring replacement. Round 'bout '92 or so, I started to get replacement water pumps that must've been an improved somehow, as they don't break nearly so often.

    Kirk318 guest

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    Thanks Chris, I knew I had forgotten something! All the gurus also recommend changing the water pump when you replace the timing belt ($50 from BavAuto). The plastic impeller jobs self-destruct and the metal impeller models start leaking through the bearing. Also, you have to tear the front of the engine down for the water pump just like you do for the timing belt, so it's free labor when the TB is done, very expensive if done seperately; recommended replacement interval for the TB and the WP is the same. Since I like to keep my bimmers worry-free I go ahead and overhaul the entire cooling system when I do the TB: thermostat, all hoses, coolant, etc. Again, you have to take all this crap off to do the timing belt anyway, so it's the perfect time to perform some preventive maintenance. One other note on the water pump: BavAuto sells a forever water pump for $199 if you're so inclined. However, at a replacement interval of 60k miles it would take 240k miles to break even on the cost.
    On the convertible you should also check the plugs on the holes between the top storage compartment and the passenger compartment. They are sealed with tape which dries out and ceases to function as an effective moisture barrier.
    For more info on these cars check www.roadfly.com/bmw/forums and www.bimmerforums.com.
    Isn't all of this info and advice wonderful? The BMW community is the best part of owning these cars.

    Vicksburg guest

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    Water In the Trunk

    That's a good point about the water in the trunk. Mine was sitting there with about a foot of snow on it when I bought it. I think the tail lights are ok, but the antenna grommet was toast......

    After reading these posts, I'll be getting the timing belt changed, and will be changing the tranny fluid. What do you guys recommend for tranny fluid....I think I may have saw it in another thread.

    Vicksburg guest

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    Nope, that was final drive oil in that other thread....they were talking about "red line". That's another thing I should probably change. I buy this old car, and I have no idea when the last time a lot of this stuff was done. Better safe than sorry....so timing belt and tranny fluid are critical. I've changed the oil to synthetic 20/50. I need to check the air filter. What else is critical to get started.

    By the way, the suspension work I had done turned out great. I drove it 75 miles on Friday and it rolled beautifully. I was doing 80-85 most of the way - man that's fun! It's been years since I drove a manual. When you jump on it to pass someone at those speeds, it really takes off. I guess at that point you've got enough rpm's going to really tap into the motor.

    It was sitting so low when I brought it in. They said that it appeared someone heated the springs to try and lower it. The result.....the front springs were crap, and the back springs were broke in half (got too brittle from the heat). Took it back to factory height. I'm out of town this week. Can't wait to get back and drive it!

    bmw325ic guest

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    My 325ic 1988

    Good news, I purchased my 325ic with 98,000 miles on it, I now have just over 205,000. My biggest purchase outside of normal maint was the soft top, which has been on for 4-5 years and still looks new. I love this car with a passion, it runs good and considering it being in Mint Shape I'm often asked what year is my car. When I say 1988 I hear from that that it looks as though it just came off the assembly line.

    Now for the bad news, I have what appears to be an electrical problem that nobody can figure out, I have a great BMW/Merecedes only Mechanic and even he is stuck on the problem. This all started after I upgraded the low beams and installed a new CD/Radio, the CD/Radio was installed within 10-15 minutes, I'm inclined to believe maybe they installed it improperly, maybe left some wires open or touching something...we just don't know. The following have been replaced: ECU, Alternator, 4-6 sensors connected to the fuel pump and fuel systems, O2 sensor, fuel filter, thermostat, checked the catalyctic converter and replaced the plugs. Each reading produced by the ECU was replaced. What's happening is the temp gage goes to the red, car then loses power and then the check engine light comes on. We've been on this problem for the last three weeks, I won't give up because the car runs awesome and it looks like new, I keep it shinning and covered each night. With this being said, the 1988 325ic is a great car, I'm glad I bought it about 9-10 years ago and I'll keep it, I only hope we can figure out the problem.

    This evening I plan to remove the fuse for the radio, the mech said it appears to be taking in a lot of power even though it's not on, I haven't attached the face place. By removing the fuse it should shut down all power connected to the radio. Once done I'll drive it and see what happens, normally the problem occurs at night when the lights and radio are on, after about 20-30 minutes of driving. If you have one, keep it, it's a great car, I'm just having a problem I've never experienced before......and I'm getting angry over this. Gage goes to red, car loses power and check engine comes one, engine is not even hot, which means the readings are false.


    Vicksburg guest

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    Given the fact you suspect problems with the radio install, I wonder if it would be worth it to take it to a top notch audio place and have them pull it, then reinstall to see if they see any problems. I just had a stero pulled from a durango and the factory radio put back in...they only charged me $40. Good luck. There's some technically strong guys on here that might have some ideas.

    MissingParts guest

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    HEY Did your mechanic check your water pump?or radiator? The other common problem would be the coolant temp sensor and thermo time switch.Both could lead you to think the ECU was bad .Coolant temp sensors are enough of a problem with these engines that BMW incudes one in your tool kit (I bet its gone ).

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