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

A 3.0-litre, six-cylinder, manual 3 Series estate? For Β£1,000? An early festive treat from Shed right here...

By Tony Middlehurst / Friday, December 20, 2019

Roughly once a year, Shed comes across something highly unlikely. Then, after Mrs Shed has left the room, he comes across something equally weird in the world of sheds, namely a car he thinks he must have covered at some point in Shed of the Week but which it turns out he hasn't.

This week's MOT'd tempter at £1,500 or less - a BMW E46 330d Touring - is a perfect example. Shed's Post-it Note-based records system only goes back seven years, so he can't be sure about anything before that, but he knows for a fact that none of these compact but big-hearted diesel estates have landed in his in-tray in all that time. That's because sought-after cars don't leak value very quickly - and the 330d is sought after.

Why? Because it's a great car. Pre-'03 330ds had the iron M57D30 inline-six diesel producing 181hp and 288lb ft, but post-'03 cars like our Shed got the lighter and more powerful M57D30TU unit with 201hp and 302lb ft, a very worthwhile boost. No car with a 3.0 diesel is ever going to feel light, but the 1,690kg 330 estates feel heavy in a good way. Perhaps 'solid' would be a better word. In this application, the ZF six-speed manual was not so much a sporting accoutrement as a fuel saving device; the automatics could be relatively heavy on juice even in something as titchy as a 3 Series.

Which is fair enough really because the all-round performance was anything but titchy. Check the numbers. 0-62mph in 7.6sec, a top whack of 147mph, and an official combined mpg figure of 41 (35mpg in the auto). Jenson Button famously got nicked in France for not realising he was doing 144mph in his 330d. That kind of speed would be quite normal now of course, but it seemed like a hell of a lot in 2000.

There's nothing obviously wrong with our shed, other than its fairly high 180,000 mileage, but even that needn't be a cause for concern. In 2011, to take care of his 130-mile commuting mix of motorway and country roads, Evo scribbler John Barker paid £5,800 for a 125,000 mile 2004 330d Touring Sport. JB probably isn't the owner any more, but somebody is: MOT records show that it was still going strong in July this year with 225,000 miles on the clock.

They're not perfect though. Generic E46 and 330d issues in no particular order of annoyance include cracking rear coil springs and knackered suspension bushes - a pair of rear trailing arm Powerflexes will be around £80. Rebushing generally is a good idea on well-used 330ds, which can get to 330hp and more with turbo, exhaust and intercooler modding. Even in standard trim the clutch can fail, often taking the dual mass flywheel with it. Single mass flywheel conversions are possible.

Injectors are notorious for breaking. They're about £100 each, there are six of them, and the one at the back of the engine is very awkward to access. Turbos can fail on BMWs but some reckon that they're less prone to doing so on the 330s than they are on the 320s. Problems can and do arise on EGR valves and MAF sensors however.

The E46 saw the arrival of CANBUS electrics, an inevitable technological advance that wasn't universally praised by lovers of simplicity. On the positive side, the 330d didn't come with a diesel particulate filter until a year after our 2004 car was registered, so that's one less thing to go wrong - unlike our next bone of contention.

Whatever you think the term swirl flaps alludes to, it doesn't. In BMW land, six of these flaps sit in the inlet manifold of the diesel M57 six (or four in the four-cylinder M47 diesel). Their job is to generate an optimised fuel/air mix by opening or closing according to load. Sounds like a good idea. Unfortunately the flaps' actuator shafts tend to snap, or the screws attaching the flap to the shaft come loose, or both. Either way it's a nightmare as the broken bits have nowhere to go other than inside the combustion chamber. Oddly, even though owners were clearly having lots of problems with them, BMW persevered with these pesky flaps until 2008.

Shed seems to remember that the earlier, lower-powered 3.0 manuals didn't have them. All the autos and the newer high-power cars did though. It's highly unlikely that the car we're looking at here will still have its flaps in place at 180,000 miles. If any M47 or M57-engined BMW you've bought does still have them, it's very good practice to say the least to whip them out before they whip themselves out and do £13k's worth of damage - assuming you don't fancy slapping about that amount down on the counter of your friendly BMW dealership for a new engine. Replacing the flaps with a blanking plate kit will create no MOT emissions problems and put your mind at rest, albeit for a very small trade-off in cold-engine performance.

The background to our shed's ad pics - close-boarded barn conversion and eighteen tons of twenty-mill pea shingle - makes you think that you're looking at a privately owned motor. In fact it's a dealer car. This is either clever marketing or fake nooz, depending on how cynical you are. Does it really matter, if the car is sound? There's no mention of bodily corrosion anywhere in the MOT history, and the most recent test (in May) had just one advisory for a slightly deteriorated front brake hose, which is about as insignificant as advisories get.

Oh, just one last thing: the standard stereo on these is pants. Still, at just £1,000 or less for this car, you should surely be able to spring for an aftermarket unit as a Christmas present to yourself. A very happy Christmas to you all from Mr and Mrs Shed.

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  1. BMW E46 3 Series [98-06]

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