BMW 3 Series Used Buyer’s Guide

2012 BMW 328i
The compact entry-level 3 Series reigns as ​BMW’s #1 volume-leading bestseller and is the most popular model in the marque’s lineup. It was introduced in 1975 as the successor to the New Class 02 Series and has remained in regular production ever since. With a base price that competes with many other contemporary midsize family sedans such as the Toyota CamryHonda Accord, and Ford Fusion, the 3 Series is arguably the most mainstream of all of BMW’s present-day crop. It’s far more than just a basic commuter car, though. The 3 Series, like its larger sibling, the elite ​7 Series high-end luxury saloon, epitomizes the BMW trademark amalgamation of style, luxury, and performance but unlike that premier flagship vehicle, the 3 Series is attainable and has attracted a broad array of new customers ranging from suburban families to urban millennials. What was once previously exclusive to only the more ​affluent of citizens is now one of the most commonly-seen vehicles on American roads today.

However, the widespread popularity of the BMW 3 Series also saddles it with one of the worst depreciation percentages on the market today: a painful 46.9%. That might not mean anything to someone who leases from a dealership every 3 years, but it really sucks for those who bought brand new from the showroom. But as the old saying goes: “One’s loss is another’s gain.” High depreciation for the 1st owner can be a bargain buy for the 2nd or 3rd in line.



2001 BMW M3 coupe
​A used BMW 3 Series, one that is either a few years old or even a generation or 2 back, can be a discount hunter’s dream. It’s an enticing offer for anyone who seeks ​the brand prestige of BMW for a fraction of the price. Or, perhaps you prefer the simplicity and purity of the past generations over the later, more modernized versions of the 3 Series. For example, the E30, E36, and E46 bodies are all highly coveted favorites amongst BMW enthusiasts. Whichever is the case, keep in mind that ALL cars–regardless of make and model, used or brand new off the showroom floor–are inevitably going to have their issues somewhere down the road. Every car purchase involves risk, but you can’t let that deter you from taking home ​the ride of your dreams. After all, more people have had good luck with their cars than the ones who’ve had bad. It’s all about taking the time out to do your homework. Research your desired vehicle and use your best judgment when it comes time to make a decision.

If you’re in the market for a used late model BMW 3 Series or you’re just new to the brand and just purchased your very first BMW car, here’s a quick reference guide of the 4 most recent generations including the current model and some common issues that have been reported with each one.

DON’T FORGET: Regular car maintenance is important! Change all fluids, filters, brakes, and other wear and tear items as per the manufacturer’s schedule (adjust for personal driving habits and conditions if necessary). Many premature mechanical failures are due to operator error and neglect; routine inspections and service can help prevent breakdowns and lower expensive repair costs over time.

E36
E36 (1992-1999)

Engine

  • valve cover gasket
  • valve cover bolts
  • valve cover
  • timing chain (M42 and M44 I4 engines, all I6 engines)
  • idle control valve
  • computer control module
  • cylinder head (M42 I4 engine)
  • VANOS seals (all I6 engines)
  • engine assembly (M52 I6 engine)

Transmission/Drivetrain

  • clutch (manual transmission)
  • flexplate (4 and 5-speed GM automatic transmission)

Suspension

  • front lower control arm bushings
  • front lower ball joints
  • upper strut mounts
  • rear shock mounts
  • rear trailing arm bushings
  • rear springs

Steering

  • power steering pump
  • steering rack

Cooling

  • radiator
  • water pump

Miscellaneous

  • front and rear window regulators


E46
E46 (1999-2005)

Engine

  • belt tensioner
  • valve cover gasket
  • valve cover bolts
  • valve cover
  • VANOS seals (all I6 engines)
  • oil filter housing gaskets
  • DISA valve (M54 I6 engine only)
  • oil separator (all I6 engines except S54)

Transmission/Drivetrain

  • EGS transmission control unit (all automatic transmissions, including SMG-II)
  • giubo
  • transmission mounts

Suspension

  • front lower control arm bushings
  • tie rods
  • shocks and struts
  • rear shock mounts
  • rear trailing arm bushings
  • subframe and subframe bushings
  • sway bar end links

Cooling

  • radiator
  • water pump
  • fan clutch

Miscellaneous

  • front and rear window regulators
  • door lock mechanism (driver’s side)
  • tail light ground circuit
  • tail light wire harness
  • high pressure fuel pump (N54 and N55 I6 engine only)


E90
E90/91/92/93 (2005-2013)

Engine

  • hydraulic valve lifters
  • valve cover gasket
  • valve cover bolts
  • valve cover
  • throttle actuators (S65 V8 engine only)
  • rod bearings (S65 V8 engine only)
  • VANOS seals (all I6 engines and S65 V8)
  • oil filter housing gaskets
  • oil pan gasket (N52 and N54 I6 engines)
  • turbocharger (N54 and N55 I6 engines)
  • glow plugs (all diesel engines)
  • ignition coils

Transmission/Drivetrain

  • clutch (manual transmission)

Steering

  • steering column (2005-2006 model years)

Cooling

  • radiator
  • water pump
  • EGR thermostat (all diesel engines)

Miscellaneous

  • front and rear window regulators
  • tail light wire harness
  • front seat airbag passenger occupancy mat sensor
  • fuel pump (all models except 2005-2007 325i with N52 I6 engine)


F30
F30/31/34/35 (2012-present)

Engine

  • turbocharger (N55 I6 engine only)
  • timing chain (N47 I4 diesel engine)

Miscellaneous

  • front and rear window regulators
  • engine control module (N55 I6 engine only)
  • tail light wire harness
  • iDrive infotainment system

The BMW 3 Series is considered to be relatively reliable but BMW cars, in general, can sometimes test the patience of their owners. Some are definitely more problematic than others (as evidenced above) but if you’ve got yourself a good mechanic or you yourself have some considerable amount of shop time working on BMW cars, a used BMW can be a smart choice versus paying the unreasonable markups on a brand new model.

Tom’s Foreign is an online retailer of used OEM parts that specializes in European and Asian, as well as domestic late model cars, trucks, and SUVs. We have a dedicated BMW department covers popular 3 Series models such as the 318i323i and 323Ci325i and 325Ci328i, and the performance-oriented M3. Our BMW parts warehouse is fully-stocked with an expansive variety of factory original equipment parts from wheels to window glass, body panels to suspension components, even complete engines and transmissions. Don’t overspend at the dealer or risk your vehicle’s reliability with cheap aftermarket replacement parts. Save up to 75% OFF dealership prices and buy guaranteed quality used OEM parts at Tom’s Foreign.​

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