BMW E46 M3 - Buyer's Guide checklist

By: Joe Kenwright

bmw e46 m3 2 bmw e46 m3 2

BMW's E46 M3 is a stonking sports car

From Unique Cars #318, Nov/Dec 2010


The E46 M3, launched locally in June 2001, was one of the most capable M3 models for everyday use. Its 3246cc in-line six delivered 252kW at 7900rpm, and had most of its 365Nm available from 2000rpm.

A new engine management system gave the choice of sharpening response with a Sport mode. Transmission was a six-speed manual with a choice of conventional clutch pedal or new SMG sequential manual with electronic clutch control.

| 2018 Market Review: BMW M3 M series/Z3 1987-2006


An in-dash CD was added in March 2003 and a convertible arrived in May ’03. But the real prize is the CSL coupe pre-sold to 22 owners in September 2003 in black or grey only, with 140kg less weight and an extra 13kW and 5Nm. CSL upgrades included several carbonfibre panels, simpler air-dam, 19-inch alloys, faster steering, bigger brakes, wider front track, tubular rear anti-roll bar and different rear suspension geometry that reduced understeer.

For 2005, the CSL steering, wheel, brake and suspension upgrades were combined in a Competition Package for the M3 coupe. An exclusive Interlagos Blue colour choice was offered on these models only. For $11,000 over the standard $143,100 price, it was a big saving over the $210,000 plus for the CSL. The E46 M3 continued after the mainstream E46 range was replaced until the E92 M3 arrived in October 2007.



  • No timing belt changes required but timing chain feeds vibrations and harmonics into camshafts, which cause sprocket bolts to work loose with disastrous results. Inlet cam bolts loosen first but both must be re-attached. If there is no repair history, the six bolts on both cam sprockets must be replaced with upgraded bolts and locked in with correct sealant before they fail. 
  • BMW is very specific about the oil and filter for this engine. Walk away if this hasn’t been recorded. Some early engines had premature conrod bearing failure.
  • Extra grunt and loads on diff carrier highlighted structural flaws in rear floorpan and can result in major cracks in the boot floor. Check this area carefully.
  • Upgraded brakes can chew through rotors and pads.
  • SMG sensor and control unit can fail, replicating a slipping/binding clutch and can be costly to replace.
  • Camshaft throttle position sensors, air mass flow meter and PCV oil breather circuit are typical service items but can add up to a big overhaul bill with labour charges.
  • Lower front castor arm and rear trailing arm bushes, tie-rod ends, anti-roll bar end links, and broken rear shock mounts are routine replacement items.
  • Centre tailshaft bearing and damper can cause clunks and elastic driveline feel if worn.

Technical data confirmed by Northern BM (03) 9499 3088


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