Inspection Results of a Questionable E46 M3 Purchase

I just handed over $6,500 cash for a high mileage 2003 BMW M3 and was sitting in beltway traffic during rush hour in attempt to make it to IM Autohaus. There was no doubt in my mind that Sean would throw his arms up in the air and go home for the day if wasn't there soon. And I wouldn't blame him.

If you’re just tuning in, I had just purchased a 2003 BMW M3 in dire need of love and am on my way to visit Sean and IM Autohaus and get the car on a lift for a thorough inspection to find out what I’m truly in for.

E46 M3 with hood open awaiting inspection
Awaiting inspection at IM Autohaus

What we found during the inspection:

  • DME Codes for “Steering Angle Implausible” and “Selector Level Position L2”. Interesting.
  • Hairline cracks in the rear subframe. Not unexpected.
  • ECS Tuning polyurethane differential bushings. Bonus!
  • Broken clips on the rear bumper to hold it tight to the chassis. Sweet.
  • Terrible wiring on the angel eyes. No biggie.
  • Leaky valve cover gasket. Expected.
  • Dry-rotted tires. Known.
  • Dry-rotted and cracked rubber brake lines. Confidence inspiring!
  • Front rotors were getting low but still in spec. All pads were good though!
  • Belt tensioner making a little noise. Easy fix.
  • Motor mounts were shot. Aiiight.
  • High pressure steering line was wet. Imagine that.
  • Missing the plastic air intake ducts. Not sure how I missed that.
  • Rear differential makes a lot of noise on turns at low speed. Here’s to a fluid flush.
  • Missing speaker in passenger door. Whhaaa?
  • Cracked SMG shifter boot trim. CMON!
The inspHairline cracks in the subframe of Josh’s E46 M3?

So overall, not bad!

That evening I placed an order with ECS Tuning and FCP Euro for a list of replacement parts and fresh fluids. I then placed an order with Beisan Systems for new Vanos seals, upper chain guide and oil pump disk.

Nearly $800 later, my wallet was beginning to feel the wrath of a high mileage E46 M3 and I still needed to replace the tires.

Post-purchase inspection time!
Fingers crossed this post purchase inspection won’t bite me

The next day I went on the tire hunt and stumbled across a Craigslist ad for set of the same polished 19″ wheels, however these were in fantastic condition and wrapped with new Firestone Indy 500 tires. New tires installed would have been nearly $800, tacking on another $400 for mint wheels was a good deal in my book.

A few hours later the wheels were mounted and I was off to get a Virginia inspection. The Check Engine light had went off on the drive to the inspection station so I also opted to go ahead with emissions testing.

Both passed without issue. Phew!

Wanting to get a jump on the subframe, I dropped the car off with Wayne and the guys at RRT in Sterling, VA to have them weld in subframe reinforcement plates, give the car an alignment and look the car over once more.

Go figure, upon their inspection they discovered a bent front control arm. Natch.

The sweet smell of fresh tires.

I settled the bill with RRT for $2,400 or so and immediately drove the car down the street to Xtreme Auto Details for their team to work magic on the severely swirled and neglected paint.

The folks at Xtreme Auto Detail did amazing work. No more swirl marks and they even cleaned up the yellowed headlight housings, though I was told the yellowing would likely return.

Not only was this one good looking E46 M3 but now I had relief that I wouldn’t experience any further subframe damage and I knew that overall the car was mechanically solid. Nearly four years had passed since I sold my 2004 BMW M3 and I was thrilled to be back behind the wheel of a raspy E46 M3 again.

Xtreme Auto Details did a fantastic job on my E46 M3!

If you’re tracking the costs, my cheap M3 is now sitting at an easy five-figures. Personally, I prefer this route to paying a similar amount for a car that had work done by a shop far away. I know who did the work and I know it was done right.

First thing to do when I get home was cut open card board boxes to lay flat in the garage to prevent dripping oil stains. Then do something about the touch points — the torn and grimy steering wheel, the interior trim, and the filthy leather seats.

In no time I’ll have doubled the purchase price of the car, but for now its time to check on those tracking numbers!