BMW E36 Buying Guide
**this is from my personal experience and readings. it is not necessarily comprehensive and if you have anything to add please do so and I will add it into this guide if its useful**
Rear Shock top mounts
A common wear item. check by lifting car up and down via rear arch and try and spot any play
Vanos An obvious one. M3 Evo’s have twin vanos, problems usually show up around 45,000 Miles, but cars advertised as having a new one are not always a good thing. The usual issue is leaking solenoid seals, a good independent dealer can replace these for circa £250 as opposed to going to a main “stealership” where more than likely you will get stung for ~£1600 for a complete new Vanos unit being fitted.
Exhaust System The rear silencer box is over £500 for the OEM part and Catalytic converters are very expensive. They rust at the front and rear, where they mount to the exhaust pipe. Check for blowing and any visible signs of corrosion. A definite haggling point if there is a problem spotted.
Tyres For a good set of Michelin Pilot Sports as an example (OEM fitted tyre) you are looking at £600 for a set of four. If the tyres are borderline (say 2mm on each) use this as a point to knockdown the cars price with as having to buy 4 tyres is not a nice post purchase present!
Bodywork Side Mouldings (The M Sport mouldings have metal inside them. These rust and the clips break off so ensure all the mouldings are in good order and closely follow the contours of the car and are not peeling away
A/C Ensure the ac blows cold as the AC system is expensive to fix if there’s a leak in the condenser unit. Alternatively if it needs regassing factor this into your purchase.
Window Rubbers A simple job, but the side rubbers by the rear windows perish meaning the car may have had water leakage (check interior for any damage) and also making the car look old!
Electric Windows The window motors on these cars seem in my experience to be often quite troublesome. Check the windows go up all the way automatically using the one touch function and also check they go down smoothly and on each time you press the button. Do this for both windows. A new motor is circa £160 and if the car has a full closure alarm that includes the windows in its locking sequence it will not work correctly!
Keys Most M3's from 94 onwards have chip encoded keys (EWS) that have to be programmed to match the car. (so you can’t just get a key cut) So if you only have one key then you need to factor the cost in to get the dealership to cut and code you a spare. You need 2 keys and 2 alarm fobs as if you only have one and it breaks or gets lost you will have to spend a lotta money to regain your car! Not to mention the inconvenience if it happens out of town etc
Alloys If the car has diamond cut alloys most reburbishers will not touch them, as the laquer comes straight off again, and also if they are damaged a new OEM wheel is expensive!
Front End Check if the bonnet catches are brand new looking as these often get replaced on front end accidents. Check inner wing seam welds which should be neat and match each other and make sure all the original bmw labels are on the front slam panel and inner wings.
Make sure the bumpers line up because after shunts they can be loose or uneven front and rear). Also check all door shut lines to ensure they close flush to the car all the way round.
Check the bonnet gaps at either side are even and not overly large.
Ensure you check the front wheel arches for rust or repair as E36 front wings are prone to rust due to an inner lip design flaw (it collects water leading to rust if not looked after) *both my E36s had rust on the front wings and were 'mint cars'*
Budget £350~ for a pair of OEM wings (stay away from pattern parts is my advice) and £250 for a decent spray job if they do have rust... but use this as a possible warning sign there may be more rust on the car that has been covered up or filled/painted in the past. Use extra caution when examining the rest of the car.
Check thoroughly around the windscreen and where it meets the roof for signs of rust or repair.
Wheel bearings Not really possible to check unless the car is in the air but listen for any strange noises when driving and for any rumblings or hummings!
Rear End Check both rear wheel arches for rust or signs of repair. Also open the boot, remove the lining and check very carefully for any signs of rusting on the rear panel (directly behind the number plate and lights but inside the car). Check externally under the rear lights for signs of rust or recent signs of paint. Again, rear panel rust hidden under the boot carpet is something I have encountered on quite a few E36's.
RTABS (Rear trailing arm bushes) and RSMs (rear shock mounts) This is not an easy one to test without getting very obsessive during the viewing...however on the road. All will become clear if you get to test drive it yourself. If the car feels wallowy, or unstable/nervous during mid to high speed driving and cornering.. it is highly possible that one or both of the above items needs replacing. Rogue RSMs run to about £100 iirc and are an easyish job to fit (budget 2-3 hours labour)...RTABS...are a major PITA to fit without the correct BMW special tool to remove the old ones. In fact, from the grief I had doing mine (and having to buy a reciprocating saw to cut the old bushes out) I would say get them done at a good independant garage. Approx £60 a pair for OEM or £50 for powerflex (a better option if you dont mind slightly harder ride). The suspension needs to be correctly aligned after this job has been undertaken.
Engine Bay Pop open the bonnet and take a good long look at the engine.. Is it sparkling clean? Looks almost brand new even? if so, question it!! Either the owner is an obsessive detailer! (can you picture this?) or the engine has been steam cleaned recently. This could be innocent or could be to hide a multitude of oil leaks or other problems. Is the rest of the car as clean as the engine bay? if not...walk away unless you are convinced it is genuine.
Start the engine up but make sure it is cold to the touch before you do. If it is hot like it has just been for a run, ask why. A hot engine sounds different to the same one from cold.
Either wait to test it for an hour or so till it cools, or recheck from cold if you return to buy (before payment say)
On the E36 M3 3 litre or 3.2 , the vanos should be quiet (no marbles in a tin can noises) but you will most likely hear a ticking from the hydraulic tappets on many of these cars. This is fine and not a problem. Rev the engine and check for puffs of blue smoke out the back. If there is its likely the oil stem seals (or rings) are problematic. Get further investigation done by someone who knows or if in real doubt arrange a leakdown test at a local garage.
If the owner won't have it, walk away. He's obviously got something to hide
On your test drive, plant your foot in a SAFE place to do so and check the clutch is not slipping...best thing to do here is get up to a reasonable speed say on dual carriageway, put the car in 4th and floor it.
if the revs and speedo don't match and the engine seems to be working harder than the car is moving forward, clutch could be on the way out. Not a massive job to replace but factor it in on the price.
gearbox should be smooth through all 5 or 6 gears. Play in the gearstick could indicate worn linkage assembly.
If the car has an SMG gearbox
Check the oil levels for the hydraulic system, as if its low it will pop out of gear and can suddenly select neutral when your driving. It will also give the occasional error code on the dash.
When it’s warmed up get the car in sports mode (not manual) and drive it hard through the gear range. Ensure the clutch doesn’t slip throughout this test.
During the test drive No matter what. Ensure that the radio/cd unit is turned off and during the drive wind both front windows down and go through a range of speeds and directional changes with the car (brake,reverse, hard turn etc) and listen for any dodgy noises. A car stereo and windows up can mask even the most nasty noise that suddenly becomes apparent when you are cruising in the sunshine with the windows down!
Service History and Mileage
These cars tend to handle the miles very well, provided they are cared for and serviced correctly.
Always always get an HPi check done on a mid to high cost car. Its not worth the risk for £30.
Check the mileage on the dash and service history stamps (or MOTs if no SH) tally up.
If your in doubt about the authenticity of the service stamps, make a mental note of say a main dealer while sneaking through the service book and phone them up and ask them if they have a record of the car and its mileage!! You would need the Vin and reg for your "HPI check" for this! Cheeky but totally legit if your suspect.
Check the Vin Tag under the bonnet with the logbook Vin Number and also check the engine number matches the one in the log book too.
Also, check seat bolster wear on the drivers seat closely...is it heavy? worn leather or foam padding?
Is the steering wheel very shiny? are the pedal rubbers worn down to no grip?
if so, does this match the mileage the car is being sold with?
If not, investigate further. Then walk away
Again, if your in doubt about a car you are viewing…..WALK AWAY!! There are plenty of good cars out there, that will give years of trouble free service. Don’t get carried away “in the moment” and buy your banks cards worst nightmare
Then, when you’ve bought the car, get on Bimmerforums.co.uk and get it boosted!