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Showcase cover image for UK E46 cosmetic upgrade project

General Information

Aero's E46
E46 318i
Bought as a stock E46 with 49K miles on the clock. This BMW was destined for a visual revamp to bring it into the modern era. Modded by a NFS franchise fan.
Chapter 1: An Introduction
Hi I'm Aero. I got my 20 year-old E46 in November 2022. It was near perfect and a super smooth ride with 49k miles on the clock. The defects were a slight dent to the driver side door and the rear-right rain gutter (moulding) was detached. My plan was to slowly work on cosmetic upgrades for my car. I am not a racer, so was not too fussy about performance. I really like the iconic look of the E46, hence a focus on cosmetics. I figured a showcase of the project and its progress would be nice to share.

Here it is in its stock form:

Chapter 2: Infotainment Upgrade
My stock E46 came with a very dated 2002 radio. So the very first thing I did was to get an infotainment system upgrade as I really wanted a built in satnav and bluetooth capability for my phone. Anything extra would be a bonus.

The guy I bought the BMW from knew a place and so we went there. They had the Xtrons 7in Android 10 Car Radio system. I got this and the car for +200gbp above the car's list price and they fitted it for me as there was a lot of wiring involved. I do see these systems can be picked up for about 185gbp on ebay UK at the time of writing this chapter in Jan 2023. So close to what I paid for it.

Here is the installed system:

I would recommend getting help with this as the amount of plugs and wires looked overwhelming to me, an FNG to the car scene. With this I was then fitted for hotspot, Bluetooth, GPS, Internet, Radio, DVD player and options to add parking cameras too.

If you are going to have a go at this yourself, you need to remove the passenger side dashboard trim, then the central dashboard trim, then the fans above where the system will go, this then frees up access to that area. The heating and air-con controller was lowered to where it is in the picture. After the wiring was completed, the Xtrons system slotted in above and shared the same screws that hold the fans in place. The fans screw holes sit above the Xtrons system holes. Then the trim goes back on in the reverse order to how it was removed.

Chapter 3: Seats/Seat Covers
So my E46 did not come with leather seats. I saw that new seats in leather can be kind of costly if in good condition. It could be 100s of gbp. As a temporary upgrade I decided to go for seat covers as my monthly car project budget went on wheels (coming up in a future chapter due to complications).

I found some great universal leather seat covers on ebay UK that fit really well in my E46. They were by a brand called Bediff and cost 165gbp in January 2023. They were simple to install, took about 30mins and look and feel really great.

Here are the seat covers in the front:

And the seat covers in the back:

The covers in the back are less snazzy. But very good for a temporary fix or if you cannot afford a whole new seat setup. They are great if you have leather already and have kids as you can protect the seats underneath.

Chapter 4: Trim restoration
The trim on my E46 was sun faded from sitting in the sun (somehow we get sun in the UK) for 20 years. The trim was kind of greyed and was worst around the wing mirrors.

See "before restoration" photos for reference:

And the mirrors too, as mentioned, were the worst:

From researching online and various YouTube tutorials I settled on these items for restoration:

I was visiting my dad who likes playing with cars too. He had the Meguiar Ultimate Black lying around so that didn't cost me anything. However, I have seen you can pick it up at Halfords in the UK and also online on Amazon for 15gbp. I got the soft foam applicator pads for a similar price at Halfords. I got the Chemical Brothers treatment from Amazon for about 12gbp.

Here is a photo from during the restoration to show the impact:

I found that the Meguiar was great on thin trim sections. But was quite streaky on the larger window trim between the windows on the side. I did them afterwards with the Chemical Bros treatment and that came out smooth and streak free.

The wing mirrors were tough and required mulitple treatments. But the whole trim of the car, including inside was complete in a like an hour or two. I used only Chemical Bros on the inside and it gave a lovely black shine to everything inside. The feel to sit in the driver seat after was like siting in a brand new car.

Here are the photos of the trim and mirrors after the treatment. I can definitely recommend doing this to any car:

The mirrors:

Chapter 5: Fixed Rear Rain Gutter Moulding
So one of the defects I got my E46 with was a detached driver-side rear rain gutter. I have also seen that this is a very common issue with the saloon version (sedan for the US guys). As in, a lot of people are posting on this website about it. So here is my experience.

When I got my car, it had the detached gutter in the boot (trunk for the US guys). I was not sure how to attach it so I had to do a fair bit of research.

Gutter or moulding as OEM called it looks like this:

A mistake I made was assuming that the three small plastic bits on the back were not needed, so I removed them. However, you need to keep these attached. These are the parts that attach the guttering to the car via another few parts. Also beware, you can't buy these bits separately. If you don't have them, you need to buy a whole new moulding, or as one guy on YouTube did, rivet the moulding to the car instead.

The bits that need to stay attached look like this:

There are threads here that show how these should look on the back of the guttering and that is like this:

The pieces that I was missing were the clamps that attach the gutter to the car. I found a lot of help came from studying the diagrams on the realoem website. Specifically this:

I saw that the bits I needed were the part 14 clamps for the part 13 moulding.

Another mistake I made was buying the wrong clamps initially. I got these:

But eventually did get the correct ones which look like this:

I got a set of 6 but only needed 3. This was in case I made a mistake while attempting to attach the gutter/moulding. I was quite clueless as to how this all worked so reached out to the community here. I was helped by mjdarg and yjsaabman. So a huge shout out to them.

They instructed me that I place the clamps in the holes on the car, and then to apply pressure to the bottom sticking-out part of the clamp to spread the head so that it grips the car. I can then clamp on the guttering.

Here's a pic of the clamps before the rain gutter was attached:

Once these were in place and I had my other plastic parts re-attached to the moulding, it was a simple case of clipping it all together.

Here is the re-attached trim:

I had future plans to sand, polish and re-treat the trim to a gloss black finish in a future chapter.

Chapter 6: Phone mount installed
So, this was just a mini job really. But I wanted somewhere to mount my phone in the E46. As my phone would spend a lot of time linked to the infotainment system, it made sense to have a mounting point somewhere near the system that would allow me to be hands free.

A complication I encountered was most car phone mounts use magnetics to hold your phone in place, but with my thick phone cover, this wasn't working too well. I tested some in a shop before making a purchase decision.

I eventually settled on one that grips and holds your phone from Amazon UK by a brand called Glangeh. It cost me 13gbp in January 2023. It was very easy to attach to one of the air vents on the central dash.

Here is the installed phone holder:

Chapter 7: New Alloys and Wheels
So my attempts at new wheels were briefly mentioned in earlier chapters as there were complications. Here is the chapter.

My stock E46 had very what I call "vanilla" wheels. They did not stand out in the slightest. Very uncool. So I added new wheels to the list of modifications I wanted to do to the car. At first I fell in love with a set of staggered 19in gloss black M3 alloys with Continental Conti Sport M3 tyres on. These were oozing attitude and cost close to 1000gbp.

My issue was that as I was fitting them, I quickly realised that there was little to no clearance between my rear wheel arches and the tops of the wheels. If I got in the car or put weight on it, they were almost touching. So, heart broken, I had to remove them and look to sell them on to a newer E46 or M3 owner if possible.

Here are the M3 wheels on my car for reference:

You can see the issue here on the rear wheels. That's with no weight in the car.

For my next attempt, I used the information in my E46's documentation where it mentions the wheels that will actually fit this specific model. As it turns out, my issue with just trusting Ebay when they said these fit an E46, was that after 2005, the BMW E46 got a minor upgrade where the stock wheels and rims were larger and the car could then handle bigger rim and tyre options. So 2005 onwards, the E46 could handle these M3 wheels. However, as mine was a 2002 model, I was limited to 18in rims and smaller tyres.

Still determined, I found some epic rims and tyres that matched my documentation by a brand called Fox. They were able to be purchased from a company called Carnoisseur online who had an outlet near me. The rims and tyres together cost about 800gbp. They came with new wheel nuts to bolt the wheels to the car. I also spent 5gbp on Amazon UK on wheel nut caps in gloss black to match. The wheel nut caps were 17mm and were from a brand called Fodlon.

Here are the final wheels fitted to my E46:

And another with the whole care in:

My future plans for the wheels were to get new hub caps and discuss them in a future chapter. Either normal black and white BMW caps, or look into the weighted floating centre hub caps if possible.

Future Chapters:
Future chapters will be based on my progress with the upgrades and the challenges I encounter.


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