BMW 3-series E46 (1998 – 2005) Review

BMW 3-series E46 (1998 – 2005) At A Glance


+Decent rear wheel drive handling. Some status. Plenty of choice.

-Unremarkable looks. Turbo and injector problems with diesels. Hard on suspension components.

Launched in March 1998, the BMW 3-series E46 was an evolution of the E36 and proved a huge success for the company. Coupe and estate variants followed a year later with the convertible arriving in 2001 – the same year as the M3. 

The car was considered by many as setting the benchmark in its class when it came to performance and handling, that was thanks to the E46’s near-perfect weight distribution and sophisticated rear suspension set up. Neither the Audi A4, Mercedes C-class or Alfa 156 could touch it.

It was available with a range of four- and six-cylinder engines, as well as a powerful diesel option. Needless to say, the car dominated both on and off the track.


Ask Honest John

I own a 2003 BMW, which doesn't need the timing chain replacing according to my garage. Do you agree?

"The water pump, radiator and timing chain on my 2003 BMW E46 Touring (with 123,500 miles on the clock) have never been changed. The expansion tank was replaced in February 2019. I asked a local, independent garage about it at my last MOT and service, but they said the water pump and radiator were in very good condition and the timing chain should be okay providing that oil changes are carried out regularly (every 4,000 - 5,000 in my case). Should I be unduly worried about the age of the water pump and radiator?"
The garage is right about the oil changes (as long as the oil is kept clean the chain should be fine). Replacing the water pump will require the chain to be removed. I think the garage is giving you reasonable advice (water pumps on chain-driven engines are usually durable and can last a long time). But it's impossible for me to say if you should change/keep it without actually seeing the car. If you're worried, I'd suggest getting a second opinion from a BMW specialist. You should be able to find a local one with our Good Garage Guide:
Answered by Dan Powell

I bought a unsatisfactory, faulty car and the dealer won't give a full refund. What next?

"I bought a 2006 BMW E46 2.0-litre diesel convertible on 13 May for £2700. It'd done 105,000 miles. I bought it in Birmingham, I live in Shropshire. On the drive home, it was clear that between 1200 and 2000rpm, cruising in fourth, fifth and sixth gear, the engine misfires. I phoned the dealer and they agreed to inspect it when I was next in Birmingham, which was 26 May. They claimed to have found no fault. Back to Shropshire, still misfiring. I was unable to return to Birmingham until 14 July. When the dealer inspected the car again, they diagnosed new glowplugs and EGR valve needed. Work done, they charged for parts only at £261. Back to Shropshire and the misfire persists. I phoned and said enough is enough so asked for a refund. They're offering £1500. What should I do? Thanks in advance."
I think you need to put it plainly to the dealer that the car is not of satisfactory quality and their offer of £1500 is unacceptable, given that you've already forked out £261 to fix a problem they should have addressed before selling the car. I think the 2015 Consumer Rights Act will work in your favour if you need to seek professional legal advice, but it's always better to try and find a resolution with the dealer in the first instance. Legal action can be costly and lengthy - it should always be your last resort. The dealer is entitled to make a fair deduction for the usage you've already had from the car. Most dealers weigh this against the HMRC business rate of 45p per mile. But I would argue that 45p would be unfair on a car that's 16+ years old and a rate of 25p per mile would be fairer. The dealer should also factor £261 into that equation. For your legal rights, see:
Answered by Dan Powell

How much is my BMW 320Ci E46 worth?

"I am looking to get a valuation on my BMW 320Ci Sports Coupe E46 which is silver in colour and has a full service history that has done 54,000 miles and the car is in pristine condition. Full leather seats and sports kit."
If you need a valuation for insurance purposes then the best bet is the BMW Car Club ( While definitely an up and coming modern classic, prices are yet to settle for E46 convertibles. We'd roughly expect your car to fetch between £1500 and £2500. From what you've told us about the condition it should be at the higher end of the price spectrum.
Answered by Keith Moody

Is a 2000 BMW E46 330Ci a classic?

"Is a 2000 BMW E46 330Ci a classic?"
If you're asking whether or not you can get it on a classic insurance policy, it'll depend on the insurer and how you plan to use the car. If you're asking from an enthusiast's point of view, then we'd definitely say yes - either an up and coming classic or (especially with that engine) already a modern one.
Answered by Keith Moody
More Questions

What does a BMW 3-series E46 (1998 – 2005) cost?