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BMW M3 (1986 - 1990)

Last updated 18 March 2013


Buying Guide


  • Old cars now. 316 and 318 relatively slow and over-rated. Many drivers not ready for oversteer, especially in the wet.
  • No room in the back of two-door versions with big front seats.
  • All models apart from 318iS and M3 had timing belts which need to be replaced every 3 years or 36,000 miles without fail. Timing belt failure bends valves on M40 and M20 engines and can break the heads of M20s. Official replacement parts for BMWs over 10 years old phased out from April 2002.

What to Watch Out For

  • Clocking. Rust in early cars. Make sure cambelts and tensioners were recently changed. Cylinder head studs of 6-cylinder engines can shear. Heads of 6-cylinder cars can also crack.
  • M20s can suffer cooling loss and overheating due to the head becoming porous or developing cracks. Failure of central locking can be due to moisture corrosion in A pillar connectors, faulty lock actuators or faulty locking ECU.
  • Engine noise on M40 may indicate worn valve gear due to neglected oil changes. Prime candidate for fully synthetic oil, but if the engine is old don't suddenly switch from whatever is in there to synthetic.
  • Knock from rear indicates rear subframe bushes or rear damper top mountgs worn out. Check for rust around front jacking points which is an MOT failure and rusty rear arches.
  • Check for repaired accident damage. Most convertibles have been 'customised' in questionable taste. Some nice, obviously well cared for M3s are coming over from Germany - and M3s are all LHD anyway. (It's very hard to find a genuine old 3-Series these days.)
  • Autoboxes do not take well to being drained and having their ATF replaced.


  • 1998: 170,000 E30s recalled because radiator cap pressure valve may seize up and over-pressurise cooling system, leading to coolant leak and steaming up inside car
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