RE: Shed of the Week | BMW 330i (E46) Touring

RE: Shed of the Week | BMW 330i (E46) Touring

Friday 12th July

Shed of the Week | BMW 330i (E46) Touring

Make green great again with a Shedly slice of classic BMW



How many chickens can you fit into the back of a BMW E46 Touring? It's not a question you hear every day of the week, admittedly, but the sight of a Rhode Island Red running around the Old McDonald location of today's sub-£1500 tempter has taken Shed back to a time when you could barely hear yourself think for car cabin capacity guessing competitions. How many kids can you get into a Mini, how many footballs will fit into a caravan, how many dead squirrels go into a Ford Zodiac, that sort of thing.

Shed seems to recall that the earliest versions of these comps had an actual purpose to them. In the early days of the Beetle's US invasion, Volkswagen was very keen to show a doubting American public how many people actually could fit into it. The current Beetle record stands at twenty, but that wasn't about convincing buyers, it was university students drawing attention to human trafficking. How far 20 sweating fools would get in a Beetle in traffic is another question, though it would probably have been a bit further than three and a half tons of people would have got in this unsuspecting VW camper van.

In terms of how many chickens you'd be able to ram into an E46 Touring, the number wouldn't be that high. The 3 Series wagon was never that serious a load-carrier. It was much more a lifestyle vehicle designed to give other road users the impression that you were a thoroughbred enthusiast type who occasionally had to stoop to the level of carrying stuff. Shed says this without a trace of sarcasm, having owned an E46 Touring himself. Fact is that you could probably shove more chickens, living or otherwise, into a Mondeo hatch than you could into a Touring.


Far better to look at this Shed as a powerful Three with a funny shaped back end. Then you can concentrate on the good bits, of which there are a lot. And judging by the ad, many of those bits are quite new too. Shed's never quite sure what to think when a big schedule of works appears to have been carried out on a car. It reminds him of the bittersweet moment many years ago when he passed 60 and thereby qualified for free prescriptions. Great that his drugs were suddenly free, not so great to realise that overnight he had officially turned into an old git.

With this BMW, it's great that all this work has been done, but perhaps not so great that it all appears to have been done relatively recently. Combined with the absence of much in the way of paperwork, you come away with the impression of a car that was either starved of attention or ruthlessly beaten earlier on in its life, or both. Which raises the next question: what else might be in store?

Well, you won't have long to wait there because you'll be inheriting a few ongoing faults with this car. Cracked screen, non-functioning sunroof and rear wiper, faulty central locking, scuffed alloys, blowing exhaust, patchy paint, and an oil leak (despite the new rocker cover gasket fitted by the previous owner). None of them individual deal-breakers maybe, but enough to give you pause and make you wonder about the gap between perception and reality when it comes to 'premium' vs ordinary marques. It doesn't matter what badge a car wears, if it's been treated poorly it's going to struggle to wag its tail like a happy puppy.


To his credit the vendor does describe his 330 as imperfect. If you can take all the negatory stuff on the chin and carry on with the good maintenance/mending work, you'll be looking at a refined and big-hearted petrol six (the M54B30) with 228bhp at 5900rpm, 221lb ft of torque at 3500, a 155mph top whack, a six-second 0-60 time, and mpg figures in the low 20s in town, or around 30 overall. Road tax will be £265 a year, but insurance on a classic policy shouldn't be too ruinous.

Other stuff might be though. Problems with the VANOS variable valve timing system have been trumpeted far and wide, and Shed thinks this car has the doubled-up system, but if you ask a BMW specialist they'll tell you that VANOS failure on an M54 is rare. If you're unlucky, fixing it on an M54 will be dear. Like £3k's worth of dear.

These engines have another gadget which is called a DISA valve. DISA stands for Differenzierte Sauganlage, or differentiated intake system valve. Some folk call it an intake manifold adjusting unit. It's basically a flap that controls the length of the variable intake manifold, increasing low-rpm torque and high-rpm power. It probably seemed like a good idea at the time, but in a 20 year old car a swivelling flap is just another thing to go wrong. The symptoms are a rattle, a buzz, possibly a click, and maybe a woo-hoo, plus a lit SES warning light, rough idling and poor low-rpm pull. If you ignore all that lot, the ultimate symptom is engine failure. For sixty notes or less you can get DISA repair/upgrade kits that let you replace the dodgy flap and driver.


Door lock barrels, door seals, window regulators, ignition keys, thermostats and tail light circuit boards all blow. Seatbelts squeak. If the airbag light stays on, it might just be a faulty passenger occupancy sensor, which can be cheaply bypassed. Driveshaft 'flex disc' failure can rip up the diff. Leaks from the diff are often output shaft seals, which are inexpensive to replace. Rear springs snap on the bottom coils, the top rear suspension mounts get stressed, front and back subframe bushes go. Floors crack around the subframe mounts.

The oil filter gasket hardens up and leaks, and the crankcase vent valve can fail. Either of these could explain the wetness on this engine. The PCV problem can also cause sludging. The coolant system can go in any number of places, and by the looks of it this car has suffered mightily from that as the entire system seems to have been replaced.

Shed thinks that the colour of this one might be Boston Green, but he's made wild claims like this before and lived to regret it. Please pop your own opinions and knowledge nuggets in the usual place. The MOT runs to next July and mentions a couple of light nicks to both front tyres, along with the aforementioned oil leak and exhaust blow. It doesn't mention rust, which is unusual. Wings, arches and jacking points are all vulnerable areas on E46s. So, the big question: how many people will fit into a 330 Touring? Well, it depends on the people. If it's Mrs Shed you're talking about, just the one. And even then only if you lie down both front seat backs.


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Author
Discussion

86wasagoodyear

Original Poster:

25 posts

39 months

Friday 12th July
quotequote all
Tomorrow this could become the first car to do the Shed - Brave Pill double...

BeirutTaxi

6,493 posts

157 months

Friday 12th July
quotequote all
I'm going to have the pitchfork brigade on my six for saying this:

The SOTW story in general should be scrapped. Canned. Binned. Fininto.

Old, previously premium expensive cars are simply ste at this price point. Spend the extra cash and have a FMDSH example that's been looked after perfectly.

Alternatively, hand over the hundreds of notes per month that you would pay in maintenance anyway to the finance company and have a actually nice to drive car on PCP.

smartypants

40,404 posts

112 months

Friday 12th July
quotequote all
BeirutTaxi said:
I'm going to have the pitchfork brigade on my six for saying this:

The SOTW story in general should be scrapped. Canned. Binned. Fininto.

Old, previously premium expensive cars are simply ste at this price point. Spend the extra cash and have a FMDSH example that's been looked after perfectly.

Alternatively, hand over the hundreds of notes per month that you would pay in maintenance anyway to the finance company and have a actually nice to drive car on PCP.
Isn’t that the point though? Why throw away hundreds of pounds a month away on a boring euro box when you can have something half interesting for peanuts? Driving these days is a fking chore, so can’t see why people spend even more money doing it.

It’s a bit of a crap article though, you’ve listed everything that can go wrong with a car basically. You could do that on any car ever made, new and old. A 330i is one of the cheapest and most reliable cars you can buy, and it’s a nice drive.

This one does look like a bit of a dog though, pay £3k and you’ll get a lovely example. I know I couldn’t get much more than £4K realistically for my 330ci convertible, and mine is in great condition.

sgtBerbatov

1,436 posts

24 months

Friday 12th July
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Does this come with the indicator system or was that still an added extra when this rolled out of Munich?

only1ian

576 posts

137 months

Friday 12th July
quotequote all
Good car new but not as a shed. BMW’s of this era don’t last well without serious and regular maintenance bills ideally at a specialist. This example looks like a particularly tired money pit
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Strider

129 posts

174 months

Friday 12th July
quotequote all
Excellent article, touches all the key points with these cars. The oil filter gasket one foxed me, my local garages and the BMW dealer for ages but they eventually found it. Can't recommend these cars too highly. I remember reading criticisms of the firmer suspension on the Sport, but by today's bone-shaking standards is wonderfully comfortable. Manual transforms them but is hard to find.


smartypants

40,404 posts

112 months

Friday 12th July
quotequote all
That's lovely. Also had the oil filter gasket leak, not before "fixing" sump gasket. Did it at the same time as the alternator so ended up a cheap fix in all.

CB 987

215 posts

90 months

Friday 12th July
quotequote all
Strider said:
Excellent article, touches all the key points with these cars. The oil filter gasket one foxed me, my local garages and the BMW dealer for ages but they eventually found it. Can't recommend these cars too highly. I remember reading criticisms of the firmer suspension on the Sport, but by today's bone-shaking standards is wonderfully comfortable. Manual transforms them but is hard to find.

I had a facelift Oxford Green 330i (manual) a few years ago. Mine had contrasting natural brown leather. They are still great looking cars.

Nors

1,241 posts

98 months

Friday 12th July
quotequote all
only1ian said:
Good car new but not as a shed. BMW’s of this era don’t last well without serious and regular maintenance bills ideally at a specialist. This example looks like a particularly tired money pit
This about sums this up for me.

Part of the fun of buying something of this ilk is feeling you've turned the clock back and wafting along full of satisfaction knowing you paid next to nothing.

Then you look at all the things that don't work and the fuel consumption and as stated the money pit it's likely to become. doesn't make much sense as a daily nor a weekend 'toy' in this overall condition.

CornedBeef

270 posts

131 months

Friday 12th July
quotequote all
E46's are not at all as ruinous as that potential issues list makes out to be. I've had 4 over the years, all bought for around £4k - all had the M54 engine and were smooth and reliable. They can have quite a few niggles, but they're all actually cheap to fix and there are lots of outfits out there who will refurbish things like the VANOS for far cheaper than replacing it. Although as the article says, VANOS failure is rare - generally the biggest thing plaguing them all is plastic cooling system parts failing - again cheap, and easy to DIY on these.

MrGeoff

298 posts

115 months

Friday 12th July
quotequote all
Strider said:
Excellent article, touches all the key points with these cars. The oil filter gasket one foxed me, my local garages and the BMW dealer for ages but they eventually found it. Can't recommend these cars too highly. I remember reading criticisms of the firmer suspension on the Sport, but by today's bone-shaking standards is wonderfully comfortable. Manual transforms them but is hard to find.

That looks lovely. The E46 touring is a good looking car from a bygone era, infact the coupe and saloon were a good looking bunch of cars.

HumanSteamroller

77 posts

20 months

Friday 12th July
quotequote all
BeirutTaxi said:
I'm going to have the pitchfork brigade on my six for saying this:

The SOTW story in general should be scrapped. Canned. Binned. Fininto.

Old, previously premium expensive cars are simply ste at this price point. Spend the extra cash and have a FMDSH example that's been looked after perfectly.

Alternatively, hand over the hundreds of notes per month that you would pay in maintenance anyway to the finance company and have a actually nice to drive car on PCP.
It's an entertaining feature. It's easy to avoid clicking on the link.

AMGSee55

129 posts

45 months

Friday 12th July
quotequote all
only1ian said:
Good car new but not as a shed. BMW’s of this era don’t last well without serious and regular maintenance bills ideally at a specialist. This example looks like a particularly tired money pit
Agree - there is such a thing as too cheap and unless you're really restricted to bottom dollar there must be much nicer ones around for £2.5-£3.5K. I notice the same car is up for £1000 on Autotrader, so presumably no one was biting the seller's hand off at £1190.

spreadsheet monkey

3,514 posts

170 months

Friday 12th July
quotequote all
BeirutTaxi said:
The SOTW story in general should be scrapped. Canned. Binned. Fininto.

Old, previously premium expensive cars are simply ste at this price point. Spend the extra cash and have a FMDSH example that's been looked after perfectly.
There are loads of examples of old Mercs and BMWs in the Readers Cars forum that run just fine and serve their owners well. Obviously you need to be handy with the spanners if you don't want to spend too much on maintenance, but plenty of people on PH do have those skills.

Old "premium" cars are not for everyone, and ideally you need strong mechanic skills, plenty of free time at weekends, and more than one car in your fleet in order to enjoy the experience. Just because it doesn't appeal to you doesn't mean SOTW should be scrapped.

https://www.pistonheads.com/gassing/topic.asp?h=0&...

https://www.pistonheads.com/gassing/topic.asp?t=17...

CharlesA

7 posts

17 months

Friday 12th July
quotequote all
Continuing the chicken theme - manuals are like hen's teeth, but lovely.

I've got a 328 Touring (£1,200 on eBay with 92k). Beyond servicing, only problem has been the hedgehog (heater fan resistor - cheap component, absolute sod to get at). Fab cars, much prefer them to the subsequent ones.

7 years later and another now 50k, I'm looking for a 330 manual (has to be London ULEZ compliant, which is about post-2002) and having real trouble finding one. May have to go for a E46 330 convertible instead (kids now old enough to take the train and the cat can lump it)

steveb8189

231 posts

134 months

Friday 12th July
quotequote all
Had one for a couple of years and just couldn't get past the throttle by wire in the 330i unlike the 328i I had previously. Just seems very hesitant when trying to feather the throttle.

waftycranker

25 posts

3 months

Friday 12th July
quotequote all
BeirutTaxi said:
Alternatively, hand over the hundreds of notes per month that you would pay in maintenance anyway to the finance company and have a actually nice to drive car on PCP.
Isn’t your name a reference to all the battered old Mercs that plod on for hundreds of thousands of miles, run on a shoestring by somebody just trying to make a living?

On your point though, yes chuck away hundreds a month on the never-never and you could have something reliable with ice-cold air con. Or you could gamble on something interesting and you may get lucky and not have to spend much at all. Or it becomes a money pit and you can sell it on and make a small loss.

The missus spent over 30k on a brand new Q3 which is fine as it’s her money and it’s a nice car. If it had have been me, I’d have spent 3k on an XJ6, 7k on an E46 M3, both of those are at the danger end of the spectrum, but I’d have 2 really fun cars and 20 grand in the bank.

BFleming

1,178 posts

86 months

Friday 12th July
quotequote all
I had a 2000 330i for a few years; many plusses (great size for a young family, fast, economical) and many minuses - here goes:

  • Rust - mine was limited to the arches (all of them to some degree)
  • Gearstick wouldn't centre (on the plus side it was the manual, not the slusher of today's SOTW)
  • Suspension components - it was very needy, just like the Alfa 156 that preceded it
  • Airbag light - of course sir. Like all of them, mine was the passenger seat occupation sensor, so it got bypassed. I learned BMW coding afterwards, which would have been the better solution (you code out the sensor, then code out the seat belt reminder)
  • Erratic idle (as mentioned in the article) - good luck sorting it. Mine had a split intake hose, every vacuum pipe crumbled as I touched it, so everything was replaced. Those caps around the back of the manifold - replaced them. Idle control valve - replaced it, including the grommit it sits in. Oil seperator - replaced it. Vanos rebuilt with new seals - check (not thousands as per the article, just google Mr Vanos). Exhaust camshaft sensor - check. Even the DISA valve. It's actually rarely the DISA valve that's borked. OK, it was a lit better by the time I finished, but there was always some hesitancy there, right to the bitter 2 stroke end. Which leads me on to...
  • Oil consumption - I was throwing a litre into it every 500 miles in the end
  • Cooling system - the bottom of the bowed radiator crumbled, luckily not far from home, so it got a new radiator. A week later the expansion tank decided it too would split, dumping that new coolant in the work car park. A month or so later, the water pump said 'I'm out' too. And they were a pig to bleed properly every time (nose of the car as high in the air as possible for it to burp out any air locks)
I'm pretty sure those are all the negatives I encountered. I brought it on a track day at Brands Hatch once, and it destroyed the Clio & Leon brigade, much to their frustration - great comedy value, and sure footed handling (in between suspension components checking out).

Lastly I'm not sure the Touring floors were as susceptible to being torn by the rear subframe as the saloon & coupe - I'm sure someone will know more than me (many do).

Edited by BFleming on Friday 12th July 10:11

cerb4.5lee

11,849 posts

123 months

Friday 12th July
quotequote all
A friend of mine had the 325i model of this with a manual gearbox and I used to love driving it. I've always really liked them.

BeirutTaxi

6,493 posts

157 months

Friday 12th July
quotequote all
HumanSteamroller said:
It's an entertaining feature. It's easy to avoid clicking on the link.
That's hilarious. It's just an Internet forum and we don't have to agree wink or would you rather the mods policed thoughts like Mr Charrington in the novel 1984?

I've owned plenty of old cars, and each time I buy I convince myself they're worth it. In the end it's just headache after headache. Ask yourself this.. Why have they depreciated so much? Why is every car buyer not grabbing these apparent jewels?

Edited by BeirutTaxi on Friday 12th July 10:15