Tips on Buying a BMW E36 3 Series

The follow-up to the iconic BMW E30 3 Series was the E36 model, a car that was and still is very underestimated. The E36, especially the coupe, was a nimble, agile car and, in the M3 guise, killed in most racing competitions and is still dominating today in drifting events.
BMW E36 3 Series 1 photo
Photo: BMW
Over the years people started liking it more and more, even though back in the 90s it was quite as popular. Recently more and more of the BMW community is starting to look closer at this 3er, as it's reaching a certain age and will soon start to be considered a classic.

In case you want to buy one for yourself, restore it and keep it to increase its value over the years, we're here with some useful tips on what to look for when buying one.

The number one problem of the E36 is the water pump. 6 cylinder models up to MY 1997 were equipped with plastic impellers which would break apart and fail prematurely, stopping the coolant flow. Typical replacement interval is 60,000 km, but they've been known to fail at as low as 20-30,000, and often randomly.

The number two most common problem is the clutch fan shattering and doing quite some damage to the radiator, belts and other parts in the vicinity. One way to avoid this is to remove it completely but if you're careful and inspect it regularly, you should be ok.

The stock E36 radiator has plastic necks which can crack or break over time. Even if it looks fine, you may want to replace it, especially near the 100k mark, which is about the typical time when radiators fail.

On manual transmissions, 2nd gear can completely blow out, or it may refuse to go into 5th gear when cold. Though very rare, this problem is expensive and requires a rebuild or replacement altogether. You should check for this issue when inspecting the car.

Power steering hose can leak. In worst cases, the condition eventually leads to hose failure, resulting in a loss of steering assist.

Rear shock mount failure is a very common problem and can occur at as low as 20,000 miles. The symptoms begin with a dull clunking noise in the rear over bumps or rough roads, indicating that the shock piston rod has separated from the bushing mount. This can progress into metallic noises as the mount bolts shear off if not replaced in a timely fashion.

During your test drive do pay attention to all the sounds inside the car, especially those coming from the back as they could point out such a problem. In order to fix it, E46 mounts can be installed but it's quite tricky to do so and might require some serious funds.

DME compartment flooding is a common problem for model years up to ’94. Symptoms are hard starting or no start condition after heavy rain or a car wash. Insufficient drainage allows water to collect in the intake plenum cowl for the heating/AC, and overflows into the DME compartment.

Voltage regulators typically fail on 318s fitted with Valeo alternators. The regulator can be replaced separately. Earlier E36s had issues regarding defective ignition coils from Zundspule and Bemis. They were replaced with Bosch coils. If you still have the older brands installed, replace them right away. Cracked coils can seriously damage the ECU.

Inadequate water drainage and/or rust proofing on some models causes rusting at the bottom of the front passenger side fender where it meets the door so be sure to check those too.

So, there you have it. These are just the most common issues with the E36 3 Series and some other stuff might show up too, so don't think that if you checked these areas, the car is problem-free. However, these are the most expensive issues to solve so you should be good. Good luck!
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