E36 BMW 3 Series Wear Items Checklist
|The E36 BMW 3 series began production in late 1990 for the European market, and 1991 for the North American market. This car faced the unenviable task of replacing the admittedly long-in-the-tooth but well loved and highly praised E30 3 series, and specifically the line of 325i, 325is, and 325ix BMWs that had restored the small-sedan performance image to BMW's lineup. The first BMW to feature extensive C.A.D. (computer assisted design), the E36 3 series was a significantly more technologically advanced car than the E30, whose ancestral roots can be traced all the way back to before the BMW 2002 to the BMW 1600! The trailing axle rear suspension was finally replaced with the new BMW Z link rear suspension, a more forgiving design that would also allow for less tricky wet handling. The base 4 cylinder engine was a carryover from the late E30 318i and 318is, the 138 hp M42. The 6 cylinder engine was BMW's fairly new M50 engine, recently introduced in the 525i, and offering 21 more hp and greater torque over the old belt-driven M20 2.5 liter six. The new E36 was a larger car, and weighed approximately 300 lbs more than its E30 predecessor. The E36 series cars are great deal today for used car buyers because the E46 3 series was an evolutionary change sharing many similar chassis design elements, and E36 cars, while getting a bit older, offer a modern driving experience with the refinement/sporting balance tilted a bit more towards sporting and feeling slightly rawer than the E46 cars. However, the E36 series are not without flaws or potential problems. Anyone looking at one should absolutely go through this checklist of wear items when considering purchasing any E36 BMW (which includes the 1992 BMW 325i, 1992 325is, 1992 318i, 1992 318is, 1993 BMW 325i, 1993 325is, 1993 318i, 1993 318is, 1994 BMW 325i, 1994 325is, 1994 318i, 1994 318is, 1995 BMW 325i, 1995 325is, 1995 318i, 1995 318is, 1995 318ti, 1996 328i, 1996 328is, 1996 318i, 1996 318is, 1996 318ti, 1997 328i, 1997 328is, 1997 318ti, 1998 323i, 1998 323is, 1998 328i, 1998 328is, 1998 318ti, 1994 M3, 1995 M3, 1996 M3, 1997 M3, 1998 M3, 1999 M3 and other BMW E36-based models not sold in North America.)|
Many of the wear items in this list should have been replaced or least inspected by 75k-100k miles. Some are model specific, for example the water pump issue is a non factor with cars that metal water pump impellers (ie most 1996 and newer models).
Lower Control Arm Bushing Failure: Common symptoms for torn or cracked lower control arm bushings are undesired front toe changes during cornering, vague and rubbery feel in the steering, and vibration experienced while braking at freeway speeds. Non-M bushings are commonly replaced with M3 bushings to increase performance with little to no change in comfort.
Tie Rod Wear: Symtoms include: steering shimmy, clunking during steering input and inability to hold proper alignment. If any of the ball joint boots is cracked (you'll see grease coming out) then expect that component to need replacement. All components should also be checked for excessive play, and replaced if out of BMW spec. I bought complete tie rod inner/outer assemblies on ebay for $70 total vs over $200 at the dealership. You just need one of those wrenches that mount on your ratchet to get at the inner nut. Easy DIY repair that is probably best adressed when you do that ball joints, since the ball joints must be popped out with a pickle fork to do the tie rods anyway!
Worn or Blown Shocks and Struts:
Worn or Failing Swaybar Endlinks: Worn swaybar endlinks can degrade the handling of your E36 BMW. A worn swaybar can sound like a metallic clicking noise. There is no critical danger in a failed swaybar endlink, but the handling of the car is severely compromised. End links are easy to replace.
Torn Rear Trailing Arm Bushings: (RTABs) If the rear of the car feels strange during cornering or you have excessive rear tire wear, expect that your RTABs , also known as rear trailing arm bushings, are tired. Typical mileage for the E36 is around 40-50k. Don't let this problem go unrepaired, as torn RTABs could lead to a torn rear subframe, which is a nightmare for any E36 or E46 owner. Many aftermarket suppliers have beefier solutions for the factory setup. Having said this, I've only heard of rear subframe failures or tears occurring on cars driven either ridiculously hard on the street, or track cars.
Torn Rear Shock Mounts (RSM): Torn or destroyed rear shock mounts will produce a very pronounced clunk during any sort of suspension movement, and could possibly just tear right through the trunk carpeting into the passenger cabin. Sloppy and erratic handling and excessive rear suspension play are common symptoms of a rear shock mount, also called RSM, failure.
Torn Subframe and/or Subframe Bushings: Torn subframe bushings can lead to subframe failure. Common symptoms of subframe failure are erratic handling and unidentified clunks and bangs from the rear of the car. Early detection of a torn or cracked subframe bushing can prevent costly subframe repair and welding. Non-M 3-series cars do not have the subframe reinforcements built in, and even street-driven cars can tear the mounting areas. The M3-specific bushings act as reinforcements and will prevent this problem.
Torn or Cracked Transmission Mounts: If your E36 has torn transmission mounts, it can lead to the dreaded 'money shift,' which is when you downshft into the wrong gear causing mechanical overrev and the resulting serious damage to your car's engine. Worn transmission mounts allow for an excess amount of transmission movement. Symptoms of torn or cracked transmission mounts can be hard, notchy and forced shifting during cornering, excessive shifter jerk during hard acceleration and braking, and muddy shifter feel. UUC offers stiffer mounts that will make your car shift better and more positively.
Ripped or Failed Guibo: A torn guibo, also known as the Flex Disc, will result in a perceivable 'drivetrain elasticity.' Acceleration will be preceded with a loud clunk as the guibo bolts bind together. A fairly inexpensive item to replace, the guibo should be one when you are doing the clutch at a bare minimum.
Dirty Automatic Transmission Fluid or Clogged Filter: E36 cars equipped with automatic trannies can experience shift hesitation or hard shifting as a result of dirty and old automatic transmission fluid or a clogged transmission filter.
Water Pump Failure: The earlier E36 cars are most prone to this problem due to their plastic water pump impeller, but the bearing on all water pumps eventually wear out, and water pump failure is the quickest way to cause extensive and expensive damage to your BMW's engine. The telltale sign is a rapidly overheating motor. The failure of the bearing or impeller on the stock waterpump allows the cooling system to fail. When the needle on your temperature gauge goes over the 3/4 mark, pull over and shut off the engine right away, because if you don't catch an overheating BMW engine in time, the results can be a warped head or trashed engine.
Cracked Radiator Neck: The plastic around the radiator necks become brittle and cracks with age, often without warning. Radiators should be thought of as 80-100k mile wear items. A warning sign for a failing E36 radiator neck is the buildup of coolant residue and corrosion. Look for whiteish gunk and dried powdery substance around the neck.
Cracked and Failed Thermostat Housings: This applies to M50 engine 6 cylinder cars. The factory thermostat housing can eventually crack causing cooling system failure. Replacement with an aluminum housing, or replacing with the new composite units every 60k or so will prevent problems. While you have the housing off, replace the thermostat as well. Preventative maintenance like this means cheap peace of mind.
Accessory Belt and Tensioner Failure: Worn tensioners and idler pullies will sound like a squealing noise from the engine bay. Belts should be inspected for cracks regularly. If a belt happens to snap, the cooling system will fail as the water pump will cease to operate. Power steering and the alternator will also fail to work. Again, pull over and shut the car off immediately should you suspect a belt failure or see the temperature gauge rise past the 3/4 mark.
Leaky valve cover gasket: Prevalent on all BMWs, a burning oil smell could indicate a leaky valve cover gasket. If the condition continues unchecked, oil can seep into the spark plug holes and damage the ignition coils, resulting in costly replacement. Replacement of this inexpensive gasket is a good idea when changing sparkplugs as the coilpacks will already be out. Check your spark plugs - if they come out covered in oil, it's definitely high time to replace the valve cover gasket. An article detailing this procedure can be found on this site.
O2 Sensor Failure Bad oxygen sensors can cause poor gas mileage, poor idle and flat spots in the power curve. They can even fail or hamper performance without throwing a CEL (check engine light). To test using the Bentley manual fault codes, turn the engine on, then off, then turn the ignition switch to run (not start) and press and release the gas pedal 5 times. A series of flashes from the check engine light will result to let you know the problem. BMW recommends replacing the oxygen sensors every 100k miles. If you run your car at high-RPM for extended periods, and or have a high-performance chip, it may cause faster wear of the 02 sensors.
Clogged and dirty pollen cabin filter: If the flow of air out of the air conditioning and heater system is not as strong as it used to be, it strongly suggests the pollen microfilter of your car has become dirty and clogged over time. A damp and musky smell can also indicate a dirty filter.