Home » My Beloved BMW 3 Series Has Become A Junker And It’s All My Fault

My Beloved BMW 3 Series Has Become A Junker And It’s All My Fault

Broken Ish Ts1
ADVERTISEMENT

You know that feeling when a car you love isn’t ready for the junkyard, but you aren’t entirely sure about its future? That’s how I feel about my BMW 3 Series right now. While it’s not experiencing any immediate mission-critical problems, they’ve largely piled up because I haven’t seen my 3 Series as much in the past four years as I’d have liked to, and it’s all my fault. Let me explain.

For most of the time I’ve owned my 3 Series, it’s been a leave-behind car, a peculiarity known primarily by Canadian journalists. See, most American writers get press cars delivered, but because Canada is a small market with a small spend, Canadian writers pick press cars up themselves. Now, when your car basically sits behind in press fleet lots for weeks on end, the window for working on it is small. As such, a bunch of little things have cropped up, mostly cosmetic, that have resulted in a slow war of attrition. First a trickle, then a flood, right?

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

The most obvious from the outside is a little bit of rust on the hood. Keep in mind, this 3 Series has done 287,000 kilometers (about 180K miles) and mostly been a city car, so the odd ding or scrape is to be expected. However, those small bubbles on the outside of the hood are mildly concerning, because rust is like an iceberg. What you can see dwarfs what you can’t.

Img 4226

Yeah, that’s not good. Admittedly, a hood isn’t a structural part, and not only did I notice a tiny bit of corrosion under there when I bought the car, I treated it fairly properly by scuffing the surface, decontaminating, and brushing on some POR-15. Yeah, that didn’t work so well, did it? I guess we’ll have to add a hood to the tally.

ADVERTISEMENT

Img 4229

Speaking of corrosion, these bubbles coming out from under the door weatherstripping haven’t grown since I got the car, but they are still mildly irritating. This is one of the things I can just let go, because the door itself isn’t in perfect shape, so it is what it is. If it doesn’t seem to be getting worse and isn’t safety related, might as well leave it until last.

Img 4227

A more pressing concern is a slight vibration from the front left corner under braking. I know this is the front right corner in the picture above, but just imagine it flipped. I’ve had it up in the air and the ball joints and wheel bearing are fine, the bushings are acceptable, and the caliper sliders move freely, so it’s likely just that the discs just have high spots. Right, so let’s add discs and pads to the list, and throw in some end links while we’re in there because might as well.

Img 4230

ADVERTISEMENT

Things get a little bit worse when you slide into the cockpit because this is where the steering wheel points while rolling dead-ahead. Yeah, the only place that was open for an alignment when I swapped the steering rack didn’t do the greatest job in the world. On the plus side, the tie rods are new, so adjustment shouldn’t be too much of a pain. I just need to find the time.

Rest your hand on the ZHP gear knob, and you’ll find a gearbox and shifter bushings that feel every bit of 18 years old. First is somewhere, second doesn’t always like to cooperate in colder temperatures, and there’s quite a bit of shifter play on center. The cold weather behavior is fully my doing, because fluid with a little more shock resistance helps in the summer. If you know, you know. A nice set of Teflon shifter bushings is only about $80, so that might be the move.

Img 4228

When I started this thing up after sitting for three weeks at a press lot, it definitely wasn’t happy. Ah, gnarly misfires at idle on cold start. Love that. Since they cleared up under even a slight load, my hunch says injectors. Thankfully, I have a spare set, so I might as well swap them out and see what happens. Speaking of engine-related annoyances, codes for the primary catalytic converters on both banks being “under efficiency” come and go. On the plus side, used manifolds with integrated cats are cheap due to people switching to headers, so it’s more a job that would take its toll on my knuckles rather than my wallet. Oh, and then there’s the fact that on the way home from Honda, it was very proud of having automatic start-stop. This is only a problem because it was never equipped with automatic start-stop. Hmm.

So far, no deal breakers. That changes when you slide underneath, because this thing is fine in the places it should be rusty and rusty in places where it should be fine. Jacking points, sills, and inner fenders? Pretty good! All the sheet metal around the fuel tank? Pretty ugly. It’s not crazy pitted or anything, but it is corrosion on a structural surface, and rust doesn’t sleep. Doing this properly would require dropping the differential and driveshaft, dropping the fuel tank, and going to town with the media blaster — a tool that I don’t have, and a job requiring permanent space that I can’t really spare. Oh, and then there’s the slight weep from the pinion seal, and the cheapest way of fixing that is likely replacing the whole pumpkin with a used unit. Fun, right?

ADVERTISEMENT

Img 4225

At this point, with a low value vehicle, there are a handful of routes to take, the first of which is to try to go all-in fixing it up. It might not be in perfect condition, but it’s my perfect spec, and finding one with the same mix of options would prove tricky. My 325i still pulls sweetly to 7,000 rpm, corners with incredible confidence, communicates what’s about to happen back to me, and even gets solid freeway mileage. I absolutely adore this car. However, part of me wonders if re-doing the underside is even feasible in the near future, given my free time, lack of a home lift, and somewhat tumultuous garage situation. Paying someone to get everything right on the body may result in a five-figure bill, and that’s a lot of money to spend on what is essentially a $3,000 car. I won’t lie, I did this to myself. Between falling in love with a cheap example and the cycle of sub-optimal care that often comes with a car that’s away from home for weeks at a time, I can’t say that I didn’t warn myself. I guess I just didn’t expect to fall as madly in love with it as I am.

If I were to replace the 3 Series with something more practical and more useful through all four seasons, any incoming vehicle would be sure to attract attention from cyclists, pedestrians, and some of the more anti-SUV people at city hall. It would either be an L322 Range Rover or a Porsche Cayenne, and while those may sound like silly choices, they tick some damn good boxes.

The third option is to walk the line, firing the parts cannon at the little problems, hitting it with some lanolin oil underneath, and putting it back into winter service knowing that decay is inevitable. Sure, it will continue to rust, but short of a full strip-down and underbody respray, it’ll continue to rust regardless. So, what would you do with a rusty, high-mileage 3 Series and no promise of having spare garage space for the next year? Decisions, decisions.

(Photo credits: Thomas Hundal)

ADVERTISEMENT

Support our mission of championing car culture by becoming an Official Autopian Member.

Relatedbar

Got a hot tip? Send it to us here. Or check out the stories on our homepage.

Share on facebook
Facebook
Share on whatsapp
WhatsApp
Share on twitter
Twitter
Share on linkedin
LinkedIn
Share on reddit
Reddit
Subscribe
Notify of
90 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Danny Zabolotny
Danny Zabolotny
16 days ago

Y’all have such high standards, haha. My 95 525i/5 is far more of a junker than that. Somehow it manages to have the worst of everything— it has zero clear coat on any of the horizontal surfaces and the vertical ones are peeling rapidly, the quarter panel was repaired with bondo quite poorly in the past, all four doors have very visible rust bubbles at the bottom, both bumpers are cracked and missing pieces, the seats are torn, the dashboard is warped and rattles, the sunroof whistles, the engine’s failing lifters make it tick louder than a diesel at idle, and it needed new pads and rotors 5k miles ago. Oh and the driveshaft u-joints are clinking quite audibly as well.

Perfect car to daily drive 80 miles to work daily, oh the joys of poverty. 254k miles and still going strong-ish. Maybe I’ll fix some things once I get a few more paychecks at this new job.

Parsko
Parsko
17 days ago

Hi Thomas,

’06 530 XiT 6mt 175k speaking here. Special, special car. But, it’s bumping up on the cursed 20 year old mark. I have replaced everything, and everything is still failing. But, no rust. It was a Florida car for the first 10 years.

The dashboard will go blank and all gauges go to zero randomly, but the car still drives. There are other times where the car will just stall. Or the headlights flicker. The car stalls on every cold startup. Then it stutters and stammers, throwing a timing code, before running pretty normal. I think this one is the timing chain?? A fun job I’m not looking forward to.

I’m staring at the same few doors. I’ve just dropped about $3k in parts this calendar year into in via my own labor (the timing error code just keeps persisting.) What do I do? I think I may fetch $5k, maybe 6 or $7k cause it’s a manual wagon with a fancy special interior?? Doubt it. But. BUUUUT. I could keep it, keep fixing it, cause the no rust thing.

The issue with these cars is the wiring. Replacing all the bushings in the car is $3-4k plus tons of labor (I’m talking ALL the bushings). The N52 will plow on forever with the replacement of…. everything that bolts on, which isn’t particularly hard to work on. But the wiring. It’s so brittle, everything I touch falls apart. I…AM…PETRIFIED of the wiring, and the f$cking gigantic can of worms that opens up. It instantly turns the car into an unreliable car until you completely replace it all. For the wiring reason alone (I can fix anything else,) I want to sell it while it still runs.

I don’t know, I don’t think I’ve added anything to the story here other than I’m just as begoggled as you are when it comes to these cars. Amazing, amazing cars. But.

-Parsko

pizzaman09
pizzaman09
17 days ago

I have to admit, it’s really weird seeing M parallel wheels on a new BMW.
My definition of new BMW is anything after the e38, e39, and e46.

Zelda Bumperthumper
Zelda Bumperthumper
18 days ago

Your rust is the easiest thing to fix, if you do it now. Just get a wire brush and 2 cans of Fluid Film. Brush off the loose stuff and spray away. Reapply every 6-12 months. You can also selectively apply chassi grease to areas of high water contact. I stopped a rust spot on my lower door that way. Your catalyst codes may be related to your misfires.Fix that and the cat codes will probably go away.

Cal67
Cal67
18 days ago

I don’t recommend Fluid Film (I assume that’s what you meant when mentioning a lanolin based RP product) for outdoor protection. It washes off with hot water or a pressure washer. It’s great from the standpoint of not causing skin reactions for most people. My recommendation is Tectyl 506. It is much more durable. Fluid Film (and similar products) are recommended for indoor rust protection. Tectyl 506 is good for up to 3 years of outdoor rust protection. It has better salt spray testing numbers. It is also self-healing for minor scratches. Source: years of use of both before writing our part protection standard. We use Fluid Film for parts that will be stored indoors, but anything that is going outdoors is Tectyl 506. Customers dislike Tectyl 506 because it is hard to remove, but to protect a car chassis that is what you want.
Krown works well but needs annual application.

Last edited 18 days ago by Cal67
Torque
Torque
17 days ago
Reply to  Cal67

Thinking about the rust this is what I would do
1. Wire wheel off all the rust I can and then clean the surface off like I was paint prepping it
2. Apply VHT rust converter to all suspected surfaces
3. Then paint with the rust encapsulator called Mastercoat
4. Apply either Mastercoat topcoat (if I want a smooth textured surface) or raptor liner if I want a textured surface
5. Lastly I’d be happy to try tectyl 506 and reapply it as needed, sounds like this stuff can last 2-3 seasons

Cal67
Cal67
17 days ago
Reply to  Torque

We have had machined parts coated with Tectyl 506 stored outdoors (in southern Ontario) for 3 years that had no rust on them when they were brought inside. We also have had no issues with rust on overseas shipments when using it.
Note that there are some modern coatings that are supposed to do amazing jobs of rust prevention but I have not tested any of those.

Nathan Williams
Nathan Williams
18 days ago

If the cars steering, suspension and tracking are fine then surely for the steering wheel you just need to take it off and adjust it a few degrees.

Peter Andruskiewicz
Peter Andruskiewicz
17 days ago

Eh, many modern cars will object to this since it messes with the expected range of the steering sensor

Cal67
Cal67
17 days ago

I would loosen off one tie-rod at a time and turn both one half revolution and then recheck. If you turn both the same amount in opposite directions, you shouldn’t change the toe-in but it will move the steering wheel. Probably less work overall than removing the steering wheel.

Is Travis
Is Travis
18 days ago

What a bummer, I recently hit a similar wall after trying to get my 300k mile Montero to pass emissions to register in a county that requires that. A shop quoted me $7,900 to swap in a rebuilt block after detmining what the issues were.
Going to drive it to a place I can park it for free indefinitely, and time to scour forums and craigslist for a suitable donor 6g72 Mitsubishi V6 on something with trashed body. They’re out there… somewhere.

Vetatur Fumare
Vetatur Fumare
17 days ago
Reply to  Is Travis

I always assumed the 6G72 would outlive most rusty Monteros. Or get one out of a Dodge Stealth…

Porter
Porter
17 days ago
Reply to  Is Travis

you might also look for 6g74. we pulled a 72 out of a 3rd gen eclipse and put in the 6g74 from a diamante. same wiring harness, same transmission.

Is Travis
Is Travis
16 days ago
Reply to  Porter

I would be very curious to know more about the process here, because the 6g74 doesn’t look like a straight swap… I am going to have to register and post on some Montero boards to get the answers I need, I believe.
I am willing to pay good money to get this thing back going, but not 8k ffs.

Drive By Commenter
Drive By Commenter
18 days ago

Krown it to delay the tin worm and fix the urgent issues.

Stephen Walter Gossin
Stephen Walter Gossin
18 days ago

Same thing you do with an old rusty Stratus: drive it and love it.

Great update, TH!

90
0
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
()
x