The BMW 3-Series is the car that Ford and Vauxhall must hate. That’s because family hatchbacks and saloons such as the Ford Mondeo and Vauxhall Vectra were the kings of the company car world, right up to the moment that people worked out they could have a slice of Germanic quality for not a lot more. And so compact executive cars such as the BMW 3-Series took over, by offering a classy badge and low running costs.
Business drivers loved the 3-Series E46 because it made them look like they were running the show, and family buyers loved the high-quality image and the super-low running costs with the most common diesel engines.
The good news is that not only is the BMW 3-Series fairly cheap to run, but it can also be cheap to fix – especially if you have a trusty Haynes manual to hand. Go on, get the toolkit out and sort any issues yourself. You get the satisfaction of sorting it yourself plus the joy of not shelling out on garage labour charges.
What recalls has the BMW 3-Series been subject to?
The good news is that the BMW 3-Series of this vintage hasn’t been recalled to dealerships too much over its lifetime.
Some cars were recalled because of corrosion on the wiring for the blower control unit, which could cause a fire.
Faulty airbags have caused a couple of recalls. In fact almost 350,000 cars were recalled because the driver’s airbag inflator could break when the airbag deployed, causing debris to be fired into the cabin.
Then the passenger airbag caused a recall because it was found that it might not deploy correctly in an incident, slightly defeating its entire purpose in life.
Almost 700 330d models were recalled because of faulty bearings in the high-pressure fuel injection pump. The pump had to be replaced.
And 277,987 cars were recalled because of possible damage to the anti-corrosion coating of the lower steering shaft. The shaft required replacement because corrosion could cause the steering to fail altogether.
What common problems does the BMW 3-Series E46 have?
BMW 3-Series models that are fitted with an automatic gearbox can develop a fault in which the lever cannot be moved out of the ‘P’ position, which does tend to stymie progress somewhat.
But owners of a 3-Series with a manual gearbox shouldn’t feel smug, because on occasion the clutch has been known to seize. A swap is required.
Starting up your BMW 3-Series only to see clouds of white exhaust smoke is disconcerting, and a dodgy EGR cooler is the likely cause.
Turning on your BMW’s ignition only to hear the cooling fan start up immediately and show no signs of switching off is an annoyance you can do without.
And if you regularly park on a narrow street and use your power-folding door mirrors, then any fault that prevents the mirror from folding in is guaranteed to irk.
Finally, if you leave your 3-Series E46 standing for a while, it may prove difficult to start when you return to it.
Why won't your BMW 3-Series' automatic gearbox shift?
Being able to put your car’s automatic transmission into ‘D’ is rather fundamental to your onward progress, but sometimes BMW 3-Series e46 owners are unable to do this.
There are two possible causes. If you connect a fault-code reader and it shows a code, the fault lies with the gearbox interlock solenoid, which needs to be changed.
If no code is present, the gear selector cables have fallen out of adjustment and need to be adjusted. In your Haynes 3-Series manual, we’ve covered how to remove and replace the cables, so you’ll be completely covered when you undertake the job.
Are clutch problems a thing on the BMW 3-Series?
Shifting between gears is essential if you want to get anywhere at a decent speed in your car. Indeed, a clutch releasing properly is essential if you’re to get anywhere at all.
However, the BMW 3-Series can be prone to its clutch seizing up, which makes both of these things nigh-on impossible. The problem lies at the door of a faulty dual-mass flywheel, which you’ll need to replace. Thankfully, we’ve been there and done that already, so you just need to look up your Haynes 3-Series manual and crack on.
If the dual-mass flywheel is not faulty though, you’ll need to swap the clutch, which we’ve also covered – bonus!
If you'd like to know how to check the fluids on your BMW 3-Series, check out our FREE video below.
Does the BMW 3-Series have EGR cooler problems?
Looking in the mirror just after you’ve started your BMW 3-Series and seeing clouds of white smoke is always going to raise the pulse rate a bit. Any kind of smoke looks expensive.
The fault is most likely to be the EGR cooler, which has sprung a leak. You’ll need to pressurise the system using a hand pump and check for leaks. If a leak is found, then you’ll need to replace the EGR cooler.
We’ve covered this very procedure in the Haynes 3-Series manual and Autofix, so all you’ll need to do is follow the steps and images and swapping the cooler will be an afternoon’s work. Easy peasy, and it’ll save you loads of cash. And it’ll save you loads of angst.
Is your BMW 3-Series' engine fan running all the time?
The engine cooling fan in your BMW 3-Series is meant to come on when the engine and coolant are getting a bit hot, and switch off again when things have cooled down once more. What you don’t want is for the fan to be running all the time.
The fault can be based in either the wiring for the cooling fan or with the fan itself.
Your Haynes 3-Series manual and Autofix can help you out in either case, because we have extensive wiring diagrams to help you work out where the fault lies, and if the fan is at fault, we can guide you through every step of the replacement process. Just read up what’s required before you start and you’ll be good to go.
Does the BMW 3-Series have folding-mirror issues?
A power-folding mirror is a great thing. If you live on a narrow street it allows you to fold in the mirrors without getting muck on your hands, so the mirror itself is protected and your hands remain clean. Better still is the system that automatically folds in the mirrors when you lock the car.
However, once you’ve come to rely on the system, it’s frustrating when it doesn’t work.
If you’ve checked and the mirror still has a working power supply, then you’ll need to replace the mirror unit.
But worry not, because you need only look up the bodywork and fittings chapter in your Haynes 3-Series manual, and you’ll be shown how to carry out the procedure. It’s pretty quick and easy, so don’t delay.
Is the BMW 3-Series tricky to start?
There you are. Holiday. Work has stopped for a couple of weeks. No ned to commute. No need to drive anywhere for that matter. Your BMW 3-Series sits there. But when you return to it, it clearly thinks the break isn’t yet over, because it’s reluctant to start.
What to do?
Well, if there’s enough pressure in the fuel system, then the problem lies at the door of the fuel injectors, one of which will have become faulty.
So, it’s simply a case of finding out which fuel injector has failed, and replacing it. And the procedure for this is contained within your Haynes 3-Series manual, so you should have no worries about sorting it out.