By on July 9, 2012

Robert writes:

Sajeev –

My wife drives a 1998 328i that we bought new for her- it currently has 64,300 miles on it. She drives it more or less daily (just not very far) so we couldn ’t just get rid of it; it would have to be replaced. I call this car ”The Immaculata” as it lives in covered parking and is often mistaken by her un-car-savvy girlfriends as almost new.

Unfortunately that isn’t the case. It got a new hood and fender after ”an incident”, and it’s ticked off the list of usual E36 demands. New shocks, radiator, etc. However it’s gotten everything it wanted including regular oil changes and radiator and brake flushes and a transmission flush as well.

Now it’s advanced down the list to having the HVAC mix door slam open when the heat comes on. My Independent macanic say $1,500 to fix that but it annoys the wife.

Thought about replacing the car, but I’m kind of stuck. She’s used to her heated seats and the easy power of the BMW. The suggestion of a new Mini was sneered at. However obviously this car, even in great condition as it is won’t be worth enough to make the trade for a new 3 – and she won’t eventry driving my 2011 anyhow.

So… should I bite the bullet and fix the noise she’s complaining about, bite the shotgun shell and dump it while it’s as valuable as it will ever get and buy a new car she doesn’t want, or tell her she’s crazy and that I don’t hear the noise?

Sajeev answers:

I sure as hell wouldn’t trade “up” from a well-preserved E36 to a MINI: that’s like telling me to sell my well-preserved Mark VIII for an MKS. Keyword: well-preserved!

That’s the problem: when you have one of the best examples of a make/model, loved by car nuts and “un-car-savvy” girlfriends alike, there’s no trade that is a trade up.  Provided you don’t win the lottery, of course. And I think the E36 is the best looking and maybe the best performing (these days used as a pure track car) 3-series ever made.  The E30 is frumpy and somewhat overrated (there, I said it), and every 3-er after has been too big, more Mercedes like and less fun to drive.

You could say I have a thing for the E36. Especially when it sounds like you have some misbehaving foam at the heart of the matter.  And after doing a similar thing on my Mercury Cougar, I can say that replacing all parts in the HVAC box (heater core, evaporator, blower motor, any known electric malcontents, etc) makes the money very well spent. The best A/C in the Mehta garage might be the fully reconditioned unit in the Cougar. The air comes out delightfully cold and brutally dense, even at the lowest fan speed. Granted my car has 200,000 miles, the system was on its last legs and I did all the work myself, but this might be a small price to pay for you too.

My point: it’s funny how happy one gets when a large automotive expenditure yields added perks not expected to come with. Plus, you keep your prized vehicle on the road, in tip top shape.

But I could be wrong. So go test drive a lot of cars before committing to the expense.  Who knows, maybe a Hyundai Genesis coupe pushes the right buttons, at the right price. Wouldn’t surprise me one bit.


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59 Comments on “Piston Slap: E36, The Immaculata!...”

  • avatar

    Why is this even a question? I swear, sometimes I think people are crazy. $1,500? That’s not even the sales tax on a new car.

    But I’ll tell ya what, friend. Sell me your E36. I’ll “take it off your hands”.

    People are funny. They regard $500+ a month, every month, for many years, as normal and nothing to even talk about. But a $500 repair a couple of times a year? Horrors! What to do, what to do?!?


    • 0 avatar

      The part that gets me is the “sell it now, while it’s worth as much as it will ever be” attitude.

    • 0 avatar

      I bought my 1998 328i sedan (silver, two-tone grey interior, RWD, manual) in 2005 from the original owner with 52,000 miles and every dealer maintained receipt. She paid $37,000 new, I paid $13,000.

      Now, it has 115,000, still runs like it did when new. I’ve only had to do regular maintenance — tires, brakes, oil changes and wear stuff — tie rod ends, control arm bushings. Everything works as it should. I clay bar it and wax it twice a year and park it in the garage. Inside and out, it still looks new.

      It gets 21 MPG in mixed around town driving and 33MPG on the interstate (@ 85+ MPH). It’s been the most reliable and fun to drive of all my BMWs (3.0CSi, 1989 535 and 540 Sport). I expect it to go at least another 100,000 miles.

      I say: “Keep it”, especially if it’s stick shift. There is no way I could go from a manual RWD to a FWD car.

      • 0 avatar

        You’re the kind of BMW owner I’d like to sit down with over a cup of coffee. I usually dismiss these cars as completely disposable, but do have a little nag in the back of my mind that wonders if the reason most of these cars are disposable garbage is more a product of the people who buy them, vs. the product itself.

        Something tells me this guy’s $1500 fix could be done for a tenth of that, or should be.

        I don’t know if I would ever want to guinea pig my question personally, but I do wonder.

        In the meantime, I’ll stick with a non-breaking, non-german car that doesn’t gut me every time there’s a problem.

      • 0 avatar

        My 97 328i 4dr manual has 181,000 miles. It runs great, does around 31 mpg on the highway, and puts a smile on my face.

        The small nickel and dime crap gets old, though. I’ve lost track of all the small crap i’ve replaced.

        Only BIG repair was putting a new driveshaft and flex disc in – the U-joint in the back was shot and they’re not serviceable. It was around $400 for everything, and I did it myself – i’m a glutton for punishment.

        I just finished installing new clutch arm bushings, a new clutch master, new return spring, larger adjustable clutch stop. My back still hurts (and I took out the driver’s seat to do the job!) but it was worth it. Clutch is super smooth. It was around $100 in parts.

        Nothing for these cars is REALLY expensive if you do it yourself, and they’re so rewarding to drive. I love mine. People are shocked at the miles, it still looks great.

        Needs shocks though! I won’t even list all the stuff I’ve replaced in the last 20k miles because it makes me ill, but it’s still less than a car payment.

      • 0 avatar

        “In the meantime, I’ll stick with a non-breaking, non-german car that doesn’t gut me every time there’s a problem.”

        Do those exist?

      • 0 avatar

        @noxioux They are great cars, and they run forever. I own an e36 with only 81,000 miles on it and can say it is probably the best car I have ever had the pleasure of driving. It handles like it rides on a cloud, the engine delivers awesome power at a decent gas mileage for a 14 year old car and as long as you follow the recommended maintenance (BMWs and foreign cars demand premium operating fluids, people who run regular gas, don’t add BMW coolant and distilled water, and use a high grade synthetic oil (or decent dino oil) are asking for serious troubles down the line).

        The difference between German cars and American cars are the designed to wear parts. Take the drive shaft for instance, american cars boast a universal joint whereas a German car boasts a guibo, A guibo is a universal joint made of 2 fan disks attached to a rubber and Kevlar disk that flexes when turned. The rubber and kevlar disk is designed to wear to protect the more expensive parts of the car, and that is the key PROTECT THE EXPENSIVE PARTS.

        The car may nickel and dime you on the built to wear parts but if you keep up on them you will easily get 300k+ miles on the car making it a very solid investment. Mercedes even awards people for hitting the million mile mark and it happens more often than you’d think.

    • 0 avatar

      Some people aren’t as mechanically inclined as others on this site. To some, an “expensive” repair is money that could be spent on a new vehicle that they were expecting to buy in the near future anyway. Also, when a car starts to develop problems, some people just lose trust in the vehicle.

      New cars are never necessities, but if someone chooses to spend their hard earned money on one, I don’t see a problem with it. Some people like nice clothes, or houses, or fine wines. Others enjoy a new vehicle every few years. After all, if everyone had the same mentality of driving every car they bought into the ground, then there wouldn’t be any late model used cars for you guys to scoop up.

  • avatar
    word is bond

    I dunno – there’s something about the plastic they used in the 90s that looks really fuckin cheap.
    I’ll take the e30s tall greenhouse and “frumpy looks” over one, any day.
    How about Vellum Venoms for the two? Cos genereally agree with you in that series, but I’m just not seeing it in the e30 e36 comparison.

  • avatar
    word is bond

    I dunno – there’s something about the plastic they used in the 90s that looks really fuckin cheap.
    I’ll take the e30s tall greenhouse and “frumpy looks” over one, any day.
    How about Vellum Venoms for the two? Cos I generally agree with you in that series, but I’m just not seeing it in the e30 e36 comparison.

  • avatar

    I was looking at E36 M3s recently and the going rate for private party good deal seems to be about $10k for a 100k-ish example. You’re probably looking at $7k max on this car even given its condition and mileage, based on its age alone.

    You’ve already replaced most of the failure points, and have a solid ride there. The $1500 HVAC repair is 3-4 months payments on a $25k car note. It’s doubtful you have any other major repairs or maintenance to look at in the near term.

    I say keep it.

    • 0 avatar

      “You’ve already replaced most of the failure points, and have a solid ride there. The $1500 HVAC repair is 3-4 months payments on a $25k car note. It’s doubtful you have any other major repairs or maintenance to look at in the near term.”

      First off, what kind of shmuck gets a $25k car note? My car payment is $250 on a $26k car. 3000 bucks a year, or two BMW repairs. All it took was some planning and saving. After 5 years, if I decide to sell it, the car should be worth 40%+ of what I originally paid, which will enable me to buy another 25k-30k car with another sub-$300 payment.

      Sure, if your E36 only breaks once a year, you win. If it breaks twice, we’re even, save for the fact that my car is 15 years newer (It’s only a Volkswagen, though, so I’m not living life to the fullest!). Anything more than that, you’re an imbecile.

      Oh, but “most of the failure points” have already been fixed. There shouldn’t be any more problems. There’s always more problems. Expensive problems.

      A friend of mine had an E30 in high school. it was a piece of crap from the get go, but he loved it. At one point a specialists quoted him something like $3500 for CV joints and a bunch of other suspension work. I pleaded with him not to do it…dump it and buy a cheap Honda. He didn’t listen. When he finally scrapped the car 7-8 years later, I bet he had close to 10k in it. On the two decade-old Hondas I drove during the same period, other than basic maintenance I spent maybe 1500 bucks a couple of timing belts and a muffler.

      BMW owners spend more in a day than I spent in a decade. It’s one of the reasons why I have a new car now and my friend can only afford a decrepit, hand-me-down Mazda. Old BMW ownership. It’s a disease, folks.

      • 0 avatar

        “First off, what kind of shmuck gets a $25k car note? My car payment is $250 on a $26k car. 3000 bucks a year, or two BMW repairs. All it took was some planning and saving. After 5 years, if I decide to sell it, the car should be worth 40%+ of what I originally paid, which will enable me to buy another 25k-30k car with another sub-$300 payment.”

        By planning and saving, you mean at some point in the past you made the leap, and trade cars often enough that the trade in value actually puts a dent in the new car’s price? Possibly in addition to that you put more money down. I’m sure the B&B can argue all day over whether it makes more sense to finance at a low interest rate (if you have good credit) or spend the cash on a liability like a car. Either way, you spent the money too – just in a different way.

      • 0 avatar

        So you bought a $26k VW… for reliability and resale value? I think you missed your own point.

      • 0 avatar

        Plenty of people have $25k car notes, in the average transaction price on a new car is over $30k, and car’s aren’t getting any cheaper. It sounds like you put down one hell of a down payment on your car or traded something relaitively new, because $250 is $8-12k worth of car note depending on your interest rate.

        Currently, it does you more good to have a large car payment than a large down payment that you pulled out of an interest bearing account the way that interest rates on new cars are.

        I’ll happily drive a car for 10 years and sell it privately for an extra $15-2500, not dealing with trade-in and having a larger loan.

  • avatar

    If leaving it be doesn’t affect how it works, I wouldn’t fix it. It will cost you $1500 now or later.

    If letting it go means foregoing $1500 now could turn it into a $2000+ bill down the road, I’d fix it now.

    $1500 for a benign noise on 14-15 year old car is stupid.

    You are putting 4,000 miles on it a year or 80 miles a week. I’d tell the princess to get some earplugs and grow up.

    • 0 avatar

      I’m surprised by all the car guys who are fine with their vehicle not being in proper working order. For me, anything not working as designed drives me crazy.

      • 0 avatar

        THANK YOU! for saying that. I was thinking I am alone in holding that view.
        I drive an older car, too. Due to finishing my phd, I’m not exactly at a point in my life where I could replace the broken switches for the central locking, the blown speakers or some things like that. As long as it drives, all is well. But otoh it IS driving me insane. I’m absolutely fine driving a car that is not le dernier crie from Paris or Milan (or automotively speaking Munich or Stuttgart), but having one where even small things don’t work… aaargh.

      • 0 avatar

        I’m the same way, my cars have to be “on the button” and they generally are. Even my “Shabby Chic” Alfa Spider with the faded paint and rust bubbles has every single thing working perfectly including the A/C! I’d drive it to California tomorrow too.

        I don’t get why people let nice cars turn into hoopties.

  • avatar
    Mark MacInnis

    Y’see, I never make a major decision without exploring all the alternatives.

    I can think of many, many, MANY hot women who wouldn’t look down there noses at the offer of a brand new Mini. In fact, most would (and should!) be willing to be very accomodating in their expressions of gratitude for such largesse.

    Don’t sell or trade the Beemer. Upgrade the wife.

    • 0 avatar

      I think quite the opposite actually. Most women, especially the hot ones, would DEMAND a new Mini, or a new BMW thats “better” than the one they have. His wife sounds great, she is completely happy with her paid-off 15-year-old BMW, and all she asks is that he perform some normal maintenance to make it still feel (and sound) like new. His wife is definitely a keeper, as is the car.

      I would say to the OP: learn how to fix whatever the noise is on his own. I bet its under $500 for the parts and a weekend disassembling and reassembling the dash.

    • 0 avatar
      Sam P

      So you think a wife who demands a new car every few years is an upgrade because….why?

    • 0 avatar

      The cost of upgrading a car pales in comparison to the cost of upgrading a wife. I’ve maintained the same wife for 32 years now, much longer than any car that I could imagine, and I’m much richer for the effort.

  • avatar
    NTI 987

    “The E30 is frumpy and somewhat overrated (there, I said it)”

    Thank you! I’ve never understood why that car was so revered. (Former E36 M3 owner)

    Oh… and keep the car. Ignore the noise or figure out how to fix it yourself. Agreed that spending $1,500 on a noise on a 15 year old car is stupid.

    • 0 avatar

      It is revered for 3 reasons:

      1. 2800lbs vs 3200 lbs – The E36 got fat.

      2. Reliability – The E30 was built like an old-school German car, it will essentially last forever if you keep it repaired. No crazy electrical crap to break, etc. The OP wouldnt have a $1500 repair to fix the HVAC door on an E30. The E36 was over-complicated and known for various expensive and annoying issues.

      3. Styling – The E30 LOOKS like a BMW, 4 separate round headlights, taut upright grill, lots of side glass, no waste. Its classic, yet drives like a modern car. The E36 looks dated.

      All you have to do is compare resale value between them and see the clear preference is for the E30.

      • 0 avatar

        I thought that all Bimmers cost a bit to fix.

      • 0 avatar

        E30 owner here (’91 318is). It’s revered because they’re simple, easy to work on, and very fun to toss around. They’re trouble-free if you keep on top of the maintenance, and just drive less well if you don’t keep up.

        Wouldn’t recommend one to a non-enthusiast, or someone who isn’t willing to shell out for the deferred maintenance most examples have. I think I’ve put as much into my E30 as I bought it for. Coulda’ bought a new Retina Macbook instead.

    • 0 avatar
      Sam P

      I’ve driven the E30 and E36; own an E46 330i, and I vastly prefer the E36 to the E30. Having torque and more interior room is nice. That having been said, I’d rather have an E28 535iS 5-speed than any E30 if I’m going for classic Bimmers.

      • 0 avatar

        Hey, don’t get me wrong, its obvious that the majority of car buyers think “bigger is better”, which is why every generation of 3-series has grown until the 3 is as big as the 5-series. And given that you prefer a 5 to a 3 shows that you like bigger cars too. I am just saying why the E30 is so revered.

        And just to clarify, there is nothing wrong with the E36 engines, the power upgrades were welcome and those engines are pretty bulletproof, its the rest of the car that had issues. My dream garage contains an E30 with the E36 M3 engine swap.

      • 0 avatar

        I’d agree with you on the refinement deal. The E36 drives and rides far more modern and refined than E30s. The interior build quality, especially on earlier cars and in hot climates, is very lacking though.

        E30s age better as far as ancillaries go. Most E36s I’ve been in, especially early ones, have disintegrating interiors versus E30s I’ve been in.

        Good choice on E28s, they’re absolutely gorgeous and have the big inline six with a timing chain, vs the timing belt version in the E30.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    The correct question to ask is always: “How much would it cost to replace this car?” Not “How much could I get if I sell it?” And the second question to ask is “How much will it cost to keep it?” (i.e. what big repairs — not maintenance items — will I be looking at) Unless the car is such that it no longer meets your needs (i.e. a small sedan and your family is now a wife and two babies/toddlers with all the junk that seems to follow them around; or so unreliable that you dare not drive it more than 20 miles from home), then you should keep it.

    The depreciation on a new car for the first year would pay for this repair — the only difference is that you don’t “see” the depreciation dollars flying out of your pocketbook the way you see them fly out for a repair.

    I own an 11-year old low-mileage BMW. I’ve done the cooling system bits myself (about $700 in parts and most of a days’ labor for an amateur). The only issues with my car are the VANOS system seals are bad (making it a little jerky sometimes), a split seam in the pleather seat bottom of the driver seat and few scratches on the exterior inflicted by various folks in parking lots. And, eventually, the canvas top is going to need replacing, but the car sits in a garage 5 days a week out of the harmful sun. I will probably replace the VANOS system with a rebuilt unit ($475 + most of a day of my labor) and eventually, the seat ($300 from a junkyard).

  • avatar

    Behold the core reason I have never purchased a BMW. Look at the repairs (“usual E36 demands”), with one owner and under 65k! Man, those BMW corporate people, and any mechanics associated with it, must be laughing all the way to the bank.

    • 0 avatar

      It is 15 years old a great deal of deterioration is a function of time as much as mileage.

      • 0 avatar

        I agree. I’m just aghast (as much as an unscathed bystander could be) at how many expensive, acclaimed, ego-centric brands get away with such problems, after braying about their engineering capabilities, and charging more $$. In my experience with vehicles of a similar age, they beat BMW and the rest in reliability and repair costs too.

      • 0 avatar

        It’s because they put ride quality, driving dynamics, etc. above pure reliability when it comes to engineering priorities. If you want a loud, rough riding, scratchy plasticed, reliable penalty box/appliance – Honda is more than happy to hook you up.

      • 0 avatar

        Scratchy plastic? No car made in a free market country ever had worse plastic than the biodegradable garbage BMW put in the E36. Our 2001 E46 had delaminating, pop-off interior trim after less than two years too. The E30 was made of fantastically durable stuff, but BMW got green in 1992, with all of the idiocy implicit.

      • 0 avatar

        I’m not so sure–in 1997 my wife bought a new Acura 1.6 EL 5 speed ( a Canada only mildly tarted up Honda Civic ) which has low milage, but sits outside on the street exposed to the weather every day of it’s life, and it has never had a repair of any kind and everything works perfectly. It is reasonably well maintained and she drove it to Seattle and back to Vancouver this past weekend and reported that everything worked perfectly, including the AC. Yes yes I know it”s no BMW in the handling and power department, but the absolute reliability of these small Japanese cars is remarkable.

        Luckily, her brothers all own newer BMW’s and constantly gripe about the cost of keeping them in repair. Although I have no idea when she will tire of the Acura, she has a nose for value and I suspect her next car will be Korean.

    • 0 avatar

      It doesn’t help that only BMW mechanics can fix them.

      • 0 avatar

        I don’t know where people get this from. It’s another car, not the space shuttle. Find a quality mechanic (not a parts replacer) and they will figure it out. Repairs where a specialist is recommended are extremely rare.

      • 0 avatar

        Sure, if you’re not that bright and don’t have basic hand tools, that’s the case.

        I’m not a mechanic. I have a basic tool set and some Rhino ramps. Here’s things I’ve fixed or done maintenance on my e36:

        -water pump
        -fan/fan clutch
        -radiator hoses
        -coolant overflow tank
        -PCV and IACV valves
        -intake boot
        -throttle body removal/disassembly/clean/replace
        -A/C recharge
        -Blower motor resistor pack
        -Gauge cluster replacement
        -OBC repair
        -Clutch master cylinder/bleeding
        -clutch arm bushings/return spring
        -Brake pads/rotors
        -Flush brake fluid
        -Adjust parking brake thru drum
        -Driveshaft replaced
        -Flex disc replaced
        -Changed transmission fluid
        -Changed differential fluid
        -valve cover gasket
        -brake light pedal switch
        -throttle position sensor
        -multiple oil changes (easiest car to change oil on ever)

        I’ve probably forgotten some. The long list is partially a result of a neglectful previous owner, and partially me being anal retentive and liking to mess with stuff. But seriously, I’ve had to buy like two speciality tools. A 36mm socket for oil changes, and a super-shallow Torx T20 socket for the rear diff plugs because all mine were too long. I’ve borrowed the speciality tools from a friend for removing the fan clutch, but you can do it without them if you want.

        Now, if we’re talking new BMW, friggin’ forget it. I’ve wrenched on my friend’s 07 Z4 3.0Si and it’s NOT pleasant.

        But seriously, i’d rather work on an E36 than a modular V8 Ford.

  • avatar

    A Camry of that era wouldn’t be needing those repairs.

    • 0 avatar

      I beg to differ. I think part of Camry’s unassailable reputation, particularly from that era, stems more from the typical Camry owner’s cluelessness moreso than “baby LS400” build quality.

      A long time ago, my great aunt gave me her immaculate, low-mileage ’96 Camry. Rarely driven, maintained by the book and stored in an underground heated garage all it’s life. It proceeded to cost me *stupid* amounts of money to keep on the road. All sorts of things failing that shouldn’t –alternator, radiator, window switches (that last one I’m used to from my E36s, though). It constantly wore through CV joints, despite the fresh tires and alignment. The Camry cost me an arm and a leg and gave me absolutely no joy in return. My E36s have been expensive to run and I can hardly think of a car I enjoy driving more.

  • avatar

    I’d buy her a new Golf with heated seats and revisit the issue in another 14 years.

  • avatar

    I don’t know for sure about the repairs and/or the uptight attitudes about the supposed BMW superiority. I do know that I would hate to be Robert if his wife reads this thread. Since he doesn’t seem to be able to advise those of you who told him to trade in his wife to F.O., I’ll take this opportunity to do it for him.

    Badmouth his car all you want. That’s what this forum is for. Leave his wife out of the picture.

  • avatar
    Downtown Dan

    As a fellow ’98 E36 owner, I say keep that puppy! At 64k miles, the M52 motor probably has another 150k miles left in it (My 323 is closing in on 145k miles, and my bro-in-law is up to 220k on his 328). And it sounds like you’ve done the right thing with the GM-built gearbox (flush early, ignore factory “lifetime fluid” BS recommendation).

    Do budget for some additional repairs– control arm bushings will need replacing around 130k, for example.

    If you do go new-car shopping, you’ll find that no modern car drives like an E36– even a Mini’s steering feels isolated and artificial by comparison. You’ve got an artifact well worth preserving– the E36 is probably the very last German car that wasn’t an overpriced, overweight, over-teched exercise in ‘lifestyle marketing’.

    • 0 avatar

      I don’t disagree, but it’s funny how many cars people refer to as:

      “the very last German car that wasn’t an overpriced, overweight, over-teched exercise in ‘lifestyle marketing’.”

      E30? E36? E28? E46? All of the above get the above praise every now and again. As do many VWs and Mercs. Hell, there’s probably people out there saying the same about certain Audis, though they’re probably just muttering it to themselves while stranded on the side of the road.

      • 0 avatar

        The same tired stuff is trotted out with every new generation. The best of any car is the NEWEST of them. Time marches on. I LOVED my ’91 318is (and I had two of them), but my ’11 328i Wagon is a better car in every possible way. Bigger and more comfortable, more fuel efficient, faster, goes around corners better, stops better, does absolutely everything better. I fully expect it to last far longer too, and probably be cheaper to maintain in the long run. Free for the first 4 years helps with that, as do things like the factory stainless steel exhaust that will outlive the car. And I doubt that the e91 will ever rust in any meaningful way, even in Maine. Corrosion protection is lightyears beyond what it was 20 years ago.

      • 0 avatar
        Downtown Dan

        You’re not wrong, and I’ll be the first to admit it– BMW people suffer from what I call Acura Integra Fanboi Syndrome (each successive generation is considered “not as good as the last one”, but they keep buying them anyway, until–in Acura’s case– they stop…)

        But in this case, I do think there is a clear brightline between the E36 and the E46 that defined the transition of the 3 series from a no-excuses driver’s car to a sporty, trendy luxury sedan. It’s the little things– the E36 was the last 3 series to be offered with un-hip cloth seats, dog-dish wheels, and hatch bodystyle, for example. With the E46, BMW spent a ton of money upgrading the interior, softened the ride,and mostly got rid of the enclosed driver-oriented cockpit.

  • avatar

    “And I think the E36 is the best looking and maybe the best performing (these days used as a pure track car) 3-series ever made. The E30 is frumpy and somewhat overrated (there, I said it), and every 3-er after has been too big, more Mercedes like and less fun to drive.”


    That said, if the wife is not a car person, perhaps a suitable replacement would be something of similar size, a modicum of prestige, reasonable price, and contemporary amenities? An Acura ILX would seem to fit the bill…unless, of course, the wife actually like cars.

  • avatar

    Just fix it. She loves her car, and doesn’t want a new one. Just fix it, because if she’s annoyed now by the noise, she’ll be even more annoyed by it not getting fixed.

    You’ll pay a price eventually, whether it’s $1500 in repairs now or the suffering she’ll inflict over the course of many years. It’s already been filed in the “mental rolodex”, ready to be hurled in your direction at a moment’s notice in the heat of an argument or fight.

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    “or tell her she’s crazy and that I don’t hear the noise?”

    Don’t… that is a road to hell that is paved with good intentions for your wallet. Unless she’s dumber than a bag of hammers that will not work for very long.

  • avatar

    Get in there and fix it yourself. It’s just a foam seal that’s fallen off the lip. If it’s the door on the bottom of the HVAC unit that you can reach, just break off the grill and improvise from what’s on the shelf at The Home Depot.

    If you’re not a resourceful DIY’er, you’ll be out like $10K in the next few years.

  • avatar

    Fix it. With the possible exception of the e46 zhp, you have the best daily driver BMW ever made (I cant really compare mine to my parents e36 328 cause their’s is in much worse shape). Nothing else you drive will feel the same, including e90s and I presume F30s. Nor will they have the honest, simple, ultimate driving machine orientation, cabin, and style of an e36. Probably an FR-S or Miata among newer cars could match the fun factor, but at the sacrifice of that BMW refinement and power (acceleration numbers are similar, but both Japs lack the torque and smoothness of that I6). The car is almost always worth fixing because there’s its irreplaceable. I have the same view with my car. Just make sure you always have some extra in savings in case you get in an accident and total it and then have to get something else.

  • avatar

    64K? Fix it! Especially if all the other E36 problems have been addressed. If you down south, as in Texas, the adhesive on the foam on the hvac valves will start sticking them at some point. If your guy has to remove the dash, I’d replace all of this.

  • avatar

    Definitely fix it and don’t take that $1500 quote as final. Get second or even third opinions. Some people see that blue-and-white roundel as an excuse for jacking up prices. Happens to other luxury makes, too.

    Another reason BMW’s seem expensive to maintain is because you can tell when something wears out. The handling won’t seem as sharp or the engine won’t run as well. You feel a pressing need to get whatever it is fixed because you want the car to drive as well as it did before.

    They can be frustrating as in so much sophistication can be let down by some cheap-ass hard-to-get-at part. But I don’t think they’re any less reliable than other cars. I’ve owned E36 and E46 coupes and the issues I’ve had are not much different from the MR2’s and the Miata when they started racking up the miles. And the parts don’t seem all that much more expensive, either.

    The Accord and Camry have been subject to the same criticism as the 3-series every time a new model comes out. Only difference is the current Camcords are said to have lost their edge while the 3 still leads its segment.

    Bloat, however, is a common thread for all to the point that smaller models have been slotted in under them to fill the market gaps left behind.

    The true descendant of the E36 and E30, it has been argued, is the current 1-series, not the more recent 3’s.

  • avatar

    When a car gets older, parts go. It’s the fact of life. Your car is a collection of parts from lots of places. The lifespan of each part varies-and it’s usually Bosch as the maker for BMW.

    Having close to 300k on my e46, I’m on a third alternator, second power steering pump, second fuel pump, third battery. Shocks and suspension are better than stock. When parts wear out, upgrade if possible. Brakes, bushings, shocks, all can be ‘better’. I refer to it as parts of varying ages flying in formation, not an “old car”.

    This is lovely if you can DIY. If you cannot, then the equation changes-quite a bit. There’s a huge aftermarket for the three series, and if you avoid certain non Germany sourced parts, you get OE supplier parts for 1/2 to 1/3 the BMW dealer price. My $95.00 front control arm bushings with an hour and a half in the driveway is a $600 day at the dealer. Likewise the $120 window regulator. Luckily, there are beneficent folks who will post a youtube video of every common repair, plus a few you don’t want to “try at home”.

    I just paid my indie (a great shop) to recharge the a/c and replace the heater control valve (another $90 part that goes…)

    My secret ? Mobil 1 every 5-7k, allowing warm up before pushing things, and driving it hard but not abusively.

    Compare this to a friend who bought a mini. The check engine light would come on. He brought it back six times to the dealer, and Mini bought it back. He had no idea why the light came on, (car ran perfectly), but didn’t care.

    This is more the normal buyer than “us folks”. I, on the other hand, will keep this car till something big pukes….and as it is a manual, and all oils are changed on a schedule, it may be a while.

    A new 3 series would have a 500 dollar payment. The new ones don’t drive better. They are a bit faster and have way better gadgets, but I’m not spending or financing new car money for a better satnav system. Each series is slightly different, but the basic feel from E30 to E 90 is the same-the F30’s electric steering isn’t an improvement.

  • avatar

    The E36 had a terribly cheap interior. Nasty plastics, and Ford Festiva-thin door panels. I guess they might have looked sharp when they came out, but the detailing of 80’s BMWs was not the best. The car that replaced it was great – but never this thing.

    The M-B’s of that era were much nicer. Although I concede that from a performance angle they probably weren’t competitive with the 3.

    At the time, I remember thinking how much the E36 looked like a Toyota Tercel (especially the 4-door). I don’t know which was influenced by which, but I’ve heard other people make the comparison. These were never very nice cars, and at that age he should take what he can get…’s going to be a money-pit.

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