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  • The E36 BMW M3 is actually a great sports car bargain
  • Buying an E46 M3 comes with some maintenance headaches
  • Never, ever, buy anything short of a museum-quality V10 M5 sedan

Everyone loves a good BMW M Car. They’re the distillation of BMW‘s “Ultimate Driving Machine” motto, after all. Unfortunately, that often means they’re hilariously expensive for most everyone. Thankfully, depreciation has worked its magic on a handful of M Cars we’d consider to be worth buying. That is, supposing you can keep them running.

A silver E92 BMW M3 shot from the front surrounded by shadow
Used German sports cars can be expensive to say the least | Jeff J Mitchell via Getty Images

Is Buying a Cheap BMW a Good Idea?

Let’s start with a bit of a disclosure. Buying a cheap, heavily depreciated sports car, especially of the BMW variety, will lead to some maintenance issues. Regrettably, many of the cars on this list are going to have a slew of “must-do” repairs. You can check all of the listings referenced below on Autotrader’s site. That said, know that no matter what, you’re going to pay for that used BMW M3 in maintenance costs, if not upfront. Proceed with caution.

The E36 BMW M3 is the cheapest M Car you can buy

An E36 BMW M3 coupe shot in profile against a red brick wall
E36 BMW M3 | Yianni Mathioudakis via unsplash

Let’s start with arguably one of the more reliable M Cars on Autotrader: the E36 BMW M3. This is the ugly duckling. The Porsche 996 911 of the M3 world. As such, they’re still cheap. Furthermore, the E36 also has the smallest list of “must-do” maintenance items. Just be wary of oil consumption issues. Autotrader currently has one convertible for listed for just shy of $9,000.

Is an E46 BMW M3 convertible a money pit?

A red E46 BMW M3 shot from the front 3/4
The E46 is one of the last great M Cars | John B. Carnett via Getty Images

Some call the E46 BMW M3 the “last real M Car.” That’s hogwash. But, they are very good sports cars you can drive every day. And the convertible listed on Autotrader for $12,000 is only going to add to that appeal. That said, you must budget at least $3,000 to take care of the rod bearings and VANOS system. Both can lead to a new engine if not handled properly. Also not that automatics can be made manual transmission cars, if only through a bit of elbow grease.

An E92 BMW M3 convertible is a sports car bargain

A red E92 M3 retracts its convertible top at a motor show
Convertible top mechanisms are expensive to fix | Kunal Patil via Getty Images

This is the only V8 BMW M3 ever made. The E92 BMW M3 is either a bargain or a money pit, but the one on Autotrader listed for $19,000 looks to be more on the bargain side. Like the E46 BMW M3, the rod bearings must be replaced. Frankly, you need to do it the day you buy it. But, the last and only V8 BMW M3 is something to behold, and well worth the trouble.

A used BMW M5 will cost you everything you hold dear

A dark grey M5 shot from the front 3/4
The M5 is a rolling hand grenade | Picture by Neil Newitt | via Getty Images

I thought it best to end with a lemon. This generation of BMW M5 is so unreliable it’s laughable. Frankly, it shouldn’t be on Autotrader’s list or ours. DO NOT buy one of these cars unless you have multiple thousands to put into maintenance. Enthusiasts say the V10 exhaust note is to die for, but so are the maintenance bills.

Of any car on the list, we recommend the E36 BMW M3. It’s plentiful, (somewhat) reliable, and still offers that great inline-6 BMW M Car feel. As long as you have a pre-purchase inspection and some cash set aside for maintenance, the E36 is genuinely a sports car bargain. Go buy one.