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E30 BMW 3 Series Pre Purchase Checklist

The E30 BMW 3 series platform has remained incredibly popular as a reasonably low budget European small car performance platform some decade and a half after production ceased, with hundreds of thousands of examples still registered and seeing daily driver or weekend track car duty. The beauty of the E30 cars lies in its ruggedness and relative mechanical simplicity. They are also great fun to drive, and respond well to intelligent modifications. But let's not kid ourselves, these are getting to be old cars and careful pre-purchase inspection is the key to coming away with a cool old BMW and not a rust bucket, electrical nightmare heap.

Here's a few things to keep in mind when looking an e30.
There are basically only a handful of E30 models you will come across. They are:
1984- 1985 318i with M10 engine, 1991 318i with M42 DOHC engine
1991 318is with M42 DOHC engine
1987-1988 325 (aka eta) with M20 2.7 low revving 6 cylinder engine
1985-1988 325e. see above
1987-1991 325i/325iS with M20 2.5 i 168 hp engine
1988-1991 E30 M3 with 2.3 liter 192 hp S14 engine.

I = Normal Car, IS = Sport Model, E = Economy

The M3 is such a different car altogether that I will address pre purchase inspection in a future, separate post.

First, look to see if there are engine service records. Make sure the timing belt on cars with m20 engines has been changed. Check to see if the water pump has been replaced. Water pump and Timing belt/chain are the first repairs you should do to any e30 without previous documentation! Common, yet easily repairable problems found in e30s are as follows:

-Window switches: They dont work well, they just suck you can buy new ones or repair.
If none of the windows work, there is a breaker button for god knows why on the dash, its right above the deck somewhere by the hazard button. It has a red outline, push it and see if that solves the windows not working problem, I have seen a lot of people tricked by this one.

-Check for a hole in the rubber intake boot. This can cause poor idling and or stalling. Takes about $20, a screwdriver, and 5 minutes to replace. See my E36 intake boot blog entry for more information.

- Dead Speedometer, Tachometer Or odometer: Odometers are prone to break in e30s, so don't always trust the stated mileage. Repair is as easy as replacing the gear set. If all gauges are dead, it may be a bad SI board. SI boards easy to replace and used ones with fresh batteries can be found on ebay or any BMW forum like roadfly, bimmerforums etc.

-Broken seatbelt clips. Very common E30 BMW malady that requires the seat to be removed to be fixed and $30 for new clips at the dealership.

-Door Locks. Make sure the key works in all door locks including the trunk. Sticky or jammed locks are a bad sign.

-RUST!!! Check several places where E30 BMWs are prone to rusting: around the rear license plate, rear lights, inside the trunk and behind the rear tail light covers, under the doors (as window seals wear out and allow water to become trapped), and of course the usual body and cowl visible areas where most old cars like to rust.

-When driving the E30 you are looking at, let go of the steering wheel while going straight on a nice paved road, to make sure the car does not veer off on its own. A myriad of possibilities from bent control arm to out of adjustment tie rods (needs an alignment) can cause this.
Make sure the car does not veer under braking. If the brakes are grinding or squealing, get ready for new pads and rotors.

-Does the car make bad noises when driven over uneven or rough pavement? Does it shudder? This is a good way to see if the shocks are blown or worn out.
-Do the wheels make a grinding noise when cornering hard? A bad wheel bearing is often the culprit and can destroy the hub if left unchecked.

-Check the exhaust for leaks and holes.

-If the car is manual, pull over, push the clutch down, put it in 3rd.. Now Drop the clutch. If the car dies instantly good! that means the clutch is probably in ok condition, if that car pulls itself forward a bit before stalling the clutch may be going out.

-Test the cruise control system to see if it operates correctly

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