New or Used: A Flip of the E36 Coin

Sajeev Mehta and Steve Lang
by Sajeev Mehta and Steve Lang

Danny writes:

Dear Sajeev and Steve,

This is not necessarily a purchase conundrum, but I hope that you’ll help me anyway. I’m currently the owner of a lovely, well-kept 1998 BMW 323is Coupe (E36) that comes very close to fulfilling every automotive need of a frugal 24-year old single guy living in a big city—it looks good, it’s a blast to drive, it’s economical to run, and it’s pretty comfy to boot.

I picked it up about a year ago for just over 4 grand, and put about $1900 into it (a new set of Yokos and the replacement of a troublesome driveshaft). I’d love to keep the car into old age (it turned 130k on the clock yesterday), but two things give me pause. One: as much as I love the car, I don’t know if keeping it around will be worth the cost of upkeep (I’m mechanically savvy, but my “garage” is a cold pad of publicly-owned asphalt on a city street). Two: in all likelihood, I will be leaving my current city to start graduate school this fall (and will have no need for a car there).

I would hate to get rid of it—it’s been a joy to own and drive, and I know that if I sell it now, I’ll never be able to make back the money I put into it. I could conceivably leave it with a family member, and resume our relationship after I graduate, but that might not be worth the hassle. So what’s a fella to do?

Sajeev Answers:

There’s no doubt about it, E36s are sweet and you aren’t keeping yours. No matter when you sell, you’ll never get your “investment” back from it. So go ahead and do it now, considering the time value of money and your needs in college. The only way I see things differently is if you answer these questions with a yes:

Will you move on, grow up, progress as a human being and regret not having this car around as a future project? Will you piss away far too much money finding another version of your true love a decade (or more) from now? Are you as nuts as me with my Fox Body Fords?

Steve Answers:

This is more of a coin flip. You need to first figure out what your family is willing to do. Would they be willing to drive it once every couple weeks for perhaps 20 miles or so? The cost of insuring this vehicle will go down dramatically if you arrange to have a low mileage policy with your insurance company. I know that USAA does this and I’m sure others do so as well. This is what I did when I flew around the country liquidating vehicles and it worked out.

I would estimate your costs may run right around the $1500 range if you have it driven on occasion. Storing it on blocks would be a lot less. But you have to find a place for that. Not an easy thing to do if you live in a county or city that prohibits it. I would ask yourself a simple question if the storing option isn’t available,. Am I willing to spend $65 a month for the next two years to keep this car? That’s a question only you can answer.

Need help with a car buying conundrum? Email your particulars to , and let TTAC’s collective wisdom make the decision easier… or possibly much, much harder.

Sajeev Mehta and Steve Lang
Sajeev Mehta and Steve Lang

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  • Downtown Dan Downtown Dan on Jun 17, 2011

    Original poster here. Thanks for all the help, guys. I've decided to let it go and put it up for sale once everything's confirmed for next year. Sad moment, but I'll get over it. And once I'm finished with school, I'll rejoin Team BMW with a vengeance by buying my dream car-- a light blue E30 325 four-door with a Thule rack. Either that, or a B7 Alpina-- depends on how the job market is.

    • Cheapthrills Cheapthrills on Jun 24, 2011

      If you find it comforting, you can sell it to this fellow BMW enthusiast, provided you're in the northeast somewhere. (I came very close to buying a 323is once, but it was poorly modified.) As someone who has stored several cars, I agree that nothing is worse for a car than sitting. Selling a car at its peak is more satisfying than fixing gremlins and cleaning mold from your previously spotless baby.

  • Cirats Cirats on Jun 17, 2011

    You are on the right track, son, but when you get out of grad school, look into an E36 M3. In fact, I'll probably be about ready sell mine around then! It's 4-doors, so if you meet someone in grad school and are thinking of settling down by then, you will have the perfect family performance sports sedan.

  • Ravenuer No, I wouldn't be interested in doing this at all. Seems like it would be quite expensive.
  • Tassos Why buy either when you have two matching 2007 diesel e-classes with combined over 950k km. NO ONE SHOULD WANT MORE THAN I HAVE SETTLED FOR.
  • FreedMike Depends on the used car. If we're talking a numbers-matching GTO or something like that, then hell no. But if we're talking about something like a six-banger '67 Mustang, it'd be cool to make it into an EV with modern suspension, brakes and electronics. Call it an electro-restomod.
  • Billccm I think history is repeating itself. In the late 1980s the French acquired AMC. They discovered no easy money in that deal, Chrysler took AMC and Jeep is all that remained.Present day the French acquired FCA, discovered no easy money in the deal, and some Asian manufacturer will take what remains of Chrysler, and Jeep and RAM will be all that survived.To understand the future study the past.
  • Jalop1991 "why did the governor veto a bill to give me free gummint money?"