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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

E36 and E46 BMW Rear Trailing Arm Bushing (RTAB) Replacement

BMW's previous two generations of 3 series cars (sedan, coupes, and convertibles) are extremely popular. There are many thousands of them on the road. The oldest E36 BMW's are now 15 years old and often have well over 150,000 miles on them. The oldest E46 3 series' on the road are now 8 years old and are cracking the 100,000 mile mark. As both generations share very similar rear suspension design, both generations have exhibited similar wear item issues for BMW enthusiasts to be aware. One of those issues is the failure or exteme wear of rear trailing arm bushings, which can be worn out in as little as 50k miles! Symptoms of bad trailing arm bushings include side movement of the rear end under acceleration, general looseness of the rear over bumps, and abnormal tire wear. There are two ways for the backyard/DIY bimmer enthusiast to address this: one repair involves purchasing or renting a special tool for the job, this write up allows you to get the rear trailing arm bushing (RTAB) done without using special tools.

You will definitely want to see if your car is in need of this repair. Some instances of RTAB failure were so extreme that the threaded holes for the 3 mounting bolts fatigued, allowing the arm to break away from the car body! You will need new, upgraded RTABS, preferably the OEM or aftermarket specification ones for the 1996 - 1999 E36 M3. Several companies also sell shims for further peace of mind, but this is not crucial.

You will need 2 18mm sockets for getting the 18mm bolt out of the rear trailing arm bushing, a large straight slot or flathead screw driver, a hammer, power drill, 7/16" drill bit, and other metric sockets to remove items to get at the rear trailing arm.

Once your BMW is securely supported on jackstands, remove the rear wheels. Remove the 10mm bolts that hold the brake lines to the rear trailing arms. This prevents unnecessary strain on the brake lines. Remove the bracket but only after making sure you have noted where bracket lines up. I mark both sides and take pics with a digital camera! Remoe the 3 18mm bolts and then then the 18mm bolt securing the RTAB to the bracket. I recommend liberal use of a penetrating oil like PB Blaster or similar, plus a breaker bar or similar tool to get this off.

Now we have to figure out how to get the old bushing out of the arm. Use a 5/16" drill bit to drill holes around the aluminum center in the bushing. What you are trying to do here is rip out the center part of the rear trailing arm bushing. Measure the gap between the flange and the trailing arm with feeler gauges and note the gap measurements as you'll need to put the new bushing in with the same gap. To get the rest of this bushing out take your huge flat head screw driver and put it between that flange and the trailing arm and start hammering away on it. The metal of the bushing should start to bend inward toward the hole you drilled. Use a large flat head screwdriver to bend the bushing in and eventually wedge the bushing right out of the RTA. An air chisel was suggested in another write up of this repair.

Hint: Dish soap liquid makes a good bushing lubricant. You are going to either have to get the special tool to press your E36 or E46 rear trailing arm bushings in, or make your own crude press. Stay tuned for the next installment of this repair...but first I've got some E34 5 series stuff to work on...

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