Buyer’s Guide: BMW E46 M3 (2000-2006)

The E46-generation BMW M3 is praised in just about every category. Should you be in the market for one, this guide will serve as a helpful stepping stone to M3 ownership. Used cars on the whole are experiencing a shift in value, but that’s been the case for the E46 for quite some time. However, it’s still possible to find a good deal if you know where to look, and what to look for.

2000-2006 BMW M3 options and pricing

A Silbergrau Metallic E46 M3 photographed from the fron
2002 BMW M3 Coupe | National Motor Museum via Getty Images

Now, paint can have quite a lot to do with value on these cars. The Silbergrau Metallic you see above is the most common. There’s also the Phoenix Yellow, which is quite rare. The blues are more common, but still rare. Those are just the BMW M colors, and more standard colors like black and white can be had. As for the interior, there’s either a gray, black, red, or “Cinnamon” leather option. Lucky for you, I listed those in order of rarity.

As for other options, a sunroof and cold weather pack with heated seats was available, as well as a Harmon Kardon sound system that sounds excellent to this day. Slicktop (no sunroof) cars do exist, but they’re exceedingly rare. Finally, the BMW M3 could be specced with either the infamous “SMG” automatic ‘box or the six-speed. Get the six-speed. The M3’s six-pot motor makes 333 hp and 269 lb-ft of torque straight to the rear wheels.

Known issues and reliability

The M3's S54 inline six motor
BMW’s S54 powerplant | BMW

There’s a lot to discuss here. Of course, these cars are already 14-20 years old, and they can show it in some ways. There’s four big items to be concerned with, in order of importance. First, all cars before 2003 will need the rod bearings done. That’s what helps the pistons spin around the crank, and could be a very expensive fix. Expect around $1,500 for that. Next, the subframe bushings will eventually wear on all cars. If not taken care of, they’ll tear the frame. Fix it immediately, just like the bearings, for around $2,000.

Ensure the VANOS camshaft timing system has been rebuilt. Otherwise, much smoke and oil are in your future. That’ll run you a comparatively cheap $500-$800. Finally, consider going through the cooling system, as these cars can overheat. A new radiator can run around $500-$1,000. You’ll also want to be sure that the car has strong service records. The BMW M3’s 3.2 liter S54 motor is built to incredibly tight tolerances, so don’t go buying a cheapo thinking you’re getting a deal.

A rare experience

A profile shot of the Silbergrau Metallic M3
2002 BMW M3 Coupe | National Motor Museum via Getty Images

The E46 BMW M3 is arguably one of the last great driver’s cars, but you’ll pay for it. If you manage to find a full resale-spec E46 with under 50,000 miles, expect to pay around $50,000. Quality cars with anywhere from 50,000 to 100,000 miles can be had for around $20,000-$40,0000. However, the good news is even high-mile cars hold value as long as they’re close to unmodified and well-kept. It’s a car you can likely drive for free.

That’s a lot of facts and figures, but what do you get for all that? Frankly, you get an experience no longer available in new cars. The days of small, rear-wheel drive, naturally aspirated cars are almost gone, especially when you consider the manual transmission. There’s a reason I’ve bought one, and you should too.

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