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325i Touring
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143 Posts
Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Hi fam,

Wanted to start a journal to document the infinite cycle of joy and despair with my 2003 Msport Touring.
Lovingly named Barbara by the previous owner (due to being slightly old and sloppy, apparently), she started off as a 325i automatic in sunny Japan before emigrating to New Zealand in 2010. I bought her in February 2021 at 214,XXXkm from a fellow enthusiast to replace my 325ci for want of a more practical daily driver.
What was intended as just a hassle-free cruiser has since inevitably snowballed into a far bigger project than I'd ever bargained for, a process that I'll try to catch you all up on as quickly as I can. But here's some random pixels for you to enjoy in the meantime.
Wheel Tire Sky Car Automotive carrying rack

Cloud Mountain Sky Ecoregion Plant community
Tire Wheel Automotive tail & brake light Sky Cloud

Sky Vehicle Mountain Plant Car

Tire Land vehicle Car Mountain Vehicle
 

· Registered
325i Touring
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143 Posts
Discussion Starter · #3 · (Edited)
First things first - I am an absolute idiot.
No idea what took hold of me throughout the whole process of purchasing this car but any sort of rationale and healthy scepticism went out the window the moment I saw the for sale ad. I'd interacted with the fella selling it prior to the listing, he had been pretty active in local bimmer groups and forums, came across as fairly knowledgeable and thorough, even helping me out with some advice when I was just starting out with my first BMW so I saw that as enough reason to fully trust him.
The sale ad looked great, tonnes of maintenance items taken care of, looked a clean and well sorted car throughout, with a price tag to reflect that. The local market isn't that big, unsurprising being an isolated island nation of 5 million people, and tidy 6-cylinder Msport Tourings are fairly hard to come by, especially in facelift trim and in my preferred colour. I was instantly sold.
Unfortunately, the car was at the opposite end of the country so I couldn't check it out in person. Instead, I put down a deposit and started arranging flights to go and pick it up.
In hindsight, of course I should have done a heap more due diligence. A lot more questions needed to be asked, more pictures/videos requested and the price negotiations left for the time of pickup. But hey, wouldn't have been half as much fun, would it? Might have even changed my mind and you wouldn't have a sob story to read.

Anyway, I flew up to Auckland where the seller was kind enough to pick me up from the airport. I'd also arranged to pick up a multifunction steering wheel from a guy parting out his car nearby, intending to wire in cruise control to make the 1000km trip down to Christchurch that wee bit more comfortable.
Straight away I started noticing that aesthetically, the car was well below the standard I had hoped for. Nearly every panel had some degree of dings and scratches, a whole bunch well beyond what a cut and polish would be able to tackle. The left rear wheel arch, quarter panel and left side of the bumper had clearly had a run-in with.. a wolverine or something.
Tire Automotive parking light Wheel Vehicle Car

The front bumper was sagging and the rear bumper had a whole heap of deep scuffs below the rear hatch. Turned out the owner was a builder, so the car had often been used as a work van, which showed as everything from the backs of the front seats to the door panels and rear window tints had all sorts of scuffs and scratches from materials and tools being crammed into it, as well as every nook and cranny being blessed with a healthy dose of saw dust and shavings.
Sleeve Grey Automotive exterior Automotive design Hood

The hood had a few indents and to top it off, right smack in the middle, a couple of dollar-coin-sized spots where bird sh*t had eaten away at the clear coat right through to the paint.
Water Vehicle Hood Motor vehicle Car

Water Sky Liquid Astronomical object Science

In the front, the driver's seat had a patch stitched onto it, covering up a hole, the arm rest was broken off, the middle of the dash above the stereo had something resembling a shoe print etched into it and the air bag wasn't sitting properly inside the steering wheel, half popping out on one side.
Oh, and the power mirrors didn't work, I was informed.
I was getting a bit overwhelmed, had a long drive ahead of me and was keen to hit the road. I'd come all this way, too late to back out now. We sorted out the payment, ownership and insurance and off I went before I lost all enthusiasm.
"At least she's solid mechanically," I murmured to myself.
Out on the open road, the car was a joy. The engine felt preppy, the handling sharp and she ate up the miles effortlessly. The list of annoyances kept growing steadily though. The windshield washer pump wasn't working, nor was the rear window wiper. The speakers were rattling at even the slightest hint of bass and most annoyingly of all, going over uneven patches of road that I wouldn't even classify as bumps at highway speeds, the rear tyres would rub against the fenders. Ohh and the headliner was sagging and was ripped in a few places. Great.
Wheel Tire Automotive side marker light Vehicle Vehicle registration plate

I stopped to crash the night at some friends' place where I did a quick scan of the car and partially dismantled the dash to retrofit the multi-function steering wheel I had picked up earlier.
Car Vehicle Motor vehicle Steering part Automotive design

It's when I first discovered a historic transmission speed sensor fault that I didn't think much of at the time, but would come back to haunt me later on.
Wheel Tire Vehicle registration plate Car Sky

After a few detours, a inter-islander ferry trip and close to 2,000km added to the odometer, I made it home where I embarked upon my traditional ritual after buying a new car...
Wheel Vehicle Automotive tire Motor vehicle Hood

...a seats-out deep clean, which may have gotten a bit out of hand this time.
All the interior pillars had been rather shabbily redone, the fabric had become stiff and crunchy with visible patches where it had been saturated through with liquid glue and had begun to peel again. Figured I might as well...
Motor vehicle Automotive tire Hood Automotive lighting Automotive design

Out they came, as did the headliner.
Car Hood Motor vehicle Automotive tire Automotive design

Went on a wee shopping spree, bought a shop vac, a pressure washer, a steam cleaner as well as a Bissell carpet cleaner and went on a rampage. The carpets got a good scrub and came out looking good as new.
White Black Road surface Asphalt Grey

The seats were next. The alcantara was looking a bit tired so went with a wee hack with a lint remover. Topped it off with a soft brush and a little diluted Koch-Chemie MZR to remove some of the lighter stains and they came out looking a lot fresher.
Human body Headgear Material property Helmet Font
Cap Comfort Flooring Wood Font

Automotive tire Motor vehicle Automotive design Grey Automotive exterior
Comfort Textile Sleeve Grey Collar

Automotive tire Gas Tire Automotive wheel system Musical instrument
Automotive tire Automotive design Motor vehicle Plant Vehicle

Amazing what a difference a $5 little device can make.
Surveillance camera Automotive tire Hood Automotive lighting Automotive design

Next, onto the interior plastics. Went through all of the scratched up center console bits, scraping off the rubberised plastic gunk to expose the bare plastic with the help of warm water, scrub pads and some plastic pry tools. Absolute menace of a job, took a solid 3 nights of scrubbing and had skin peeling off the fingers by the end, but well worth the effort. Treated all the bits with Aerospace 303 to finish it off.
Musical instrument Automotive exterior Auto part Technology Automotive tire

Rectangle Yellow Bumper Material property Automotive exterior

Product Musical instrument accessory Rectangle Bumper Gas

Then I got onto stripping the headliner of the nasty foam gunk to get it ready for reupholstering. That's one of those jobs that I didn't trust myself to do a clean enough job so opted to have it professionally handled instead, whilst doing some of the prep work myself.
Brown Rectangle Wood Flooring Sleeve

Motor vehicle Light Automotive tire Automotive exterior Wood

Brown Wood Automotive exterior Gas Rectangle

Automotive tire Hood Bumper Automotive exterior Motor vehicle

A well nasty task, but not as bad as I was made to believe from reading up about it previously. A cheap little nail brush made it a heap easier.
Plant Ingredient Cuisine Seasoning Chemical compound

Dropped the headliner and pillars off to a shop to have refinished and moved on to refurbishing the steering wheel. The wheel wasn't in terrible condition, I've definitely seen worse, but was showing slight signs of age so thought I'd get ahead of it. Went with a genuine leather wrap with black stitching from Mewant to keep it clean and minimal. After a few hours of mucking about and stabbing myself a good number of times, it came out looking a solid 4/5. The slight added thickness was definitely noticeable, but really only a problem if you want to be super picky. Also figured out why the airbag wasn't sitting properly - a simple matter of slotting the airbag wires back into the wee groove on the top side of the wheel.
Wheel Plant Automotive tire Steering part Motor vehicle

Whilst demolishing the interior, I came across a whole bunch of wiring that seemed to be either unconnected to anything or not doing much regardless, likely some old stereo system or the sort from it's former life in Japan. Won't be needing any of that anymore.
Shoe Photograph White Black Road surface

The headliner and pillars came back looking fantastic. Would never have gotten anything close to as good a result with my own crooked hand stubs so was really happy I'd left it to the professionals.
Wheel Tire Table Bicycle Furniture

Table Bag Wood Luggage and bags Automotive exterior

To be continued...
 

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325i Touring
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143 Posts
Discussion Starter · #5 ·
Are those tyres driveguard rft?

I like the color of the car glass, never seen that blueish tint on e46s. Is that an extra?

Good car and good thread, subscribed.

Best of luck.
Some sort of Bridgestone Potenza runflats, yeah. I assume the PO just bought them that way, seeing as those wheels are originally off an E90.
The blue-ish tint might just be the lighting/photo processing. It's just a regular window ting from what I can see. Again, got the car that way. Will probably redo all the window tints at some point as they're scratched up/bubbling/peeling in quite a few places.
Cheers :)
 

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325i Touring
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143 Posts
Discussion Starter · #6 · (Edited)
Pulling the car apart had been like peeling an onion - the deeper I went, the more it made me want to cry. Absolutely no clue how or why someone had felt the need to dismantle some of the bits previously, but the level of care taken was that of a rabid sledgehammer. The absolute majority of the interior plastic bits were either cracked, had clips broken off or were scuffed up to hell. Some of the stuff seemed utterly idiotic. Instead of taking a bit of care to check where the bolts and clips were, or, I don't know, going on YouTube and watching any of the dozens 2-minute videos on how to take every single thing apart without breaking it, it seems that the approach was instead "right, f**k it, brute force it is." So I put together quite an extensive shopping list and went scavenging to the local Pick-A-Part.
Piles of broken crap:
Bumper Rectangle Automotive exterior Gadget Composite material

Tire Wheel Bicycle wheel Automotive tire Bumper

Gesture Finger Wrist Thumb Camouflage

Hood Wheel Automotive tire Automotive lighting Automotive exhaust

Outerwear Dress shirt Dress Sleeve Silver

A bunch of the bits were touring-specific, and we haven't had many of those being parted out down this way lately, but did get quite a few other things ticked off. Got a new armrest, rear rubbish compartment cover, nabbed a fresher-looking gear knob as the old one was rather crusty, all sorts of clips, bolts, wee sensors, fasteners and rubber bits that were tired or missing. Also found a tidy driver's storage compartment and a tidier looking rear seat center armrest.
Wood Floor Rectangle Gas Tool

I did pick up some unbroken front wheel arch liners, but upon getting home discovered that the non-Msport ones had different air vent openings, so those were a no-go. Had to revert to zip-tie stitching for the time being.
Automotive tire Bumper Road surface Tree Automotive exterior

Tire Automotive tire Motor vehicle Bumper Tread

Automotive tire Grey Wood Tints and shades Concrete

The underside of the front bumper was also in quite a dire state, but not much I could do about it just then. On it went with and actually lined up quite well with the help of some more zip ties.
Tire Wheel Automotive tire Motor vehicle Tread

Automotive tire Tire Gas Wheel Vehicle

Automotive tire Tire Black Tread Motor vehicle

Automotive tire Hood Bumper Automotive exterior Motor vehicle

The front fog lights were completely shot too. Not even sure how it was possible for them to get to this state but the whole reflective coating was peeling and coming straight off. Sorted out some replacements from a fellow enthusiast and on they went, along with brand new surround trims which were of course missing completely.
Automotive tire Serveware Kitchen utensil Tableware Table

After many months of searching, I finally found another Touring being parted out locally so jumped on the opportunity to snag some more unmolested wagon-specific trunk plastics.
Bumper Bicycle part Composite material Carbon Auto part

Automotive tire Bumper Automotive exterior Fender Carbon

Tire Wheel Automotive tire Hood Automotive lighting

Carbon Composite material Auto part Font Electric blue

Rectangle Material property Auto part Fashion accessory Metal

Got the trunk looking all nice and tidy. Almost afraid to even put anything in it now.
Car Vehicle Automotive tire Automotive exterior Rim

In the process, I discovered the likely reason why the rear wiper wasn't working. One of the rubber boots above the rear hatch had torn apart with one of the black wires sheared inside. Absolute menace to get to and no real easy way to get to it to solder/crimp back together. Another mission for future-me.
Automotive design Hood Office supplies Automotive exterior Golf

Also, this shit:
Hand Hood Automotive tire Motor vehicle Bumper

I did get round to installing the tow bar I had taken off my previous car. Didn't do the wiring just yet, but at least I could now lug some pushbikes around.
Tire Car Wheel Vehicle Automotive tire

Wheel Tire Car Land vehicle Vehicle

After close to two months of the car being parked up and littered all across the garage floor, I finally got her back into one piece and got to the point where I could actually drive it again. And then the real fun began...
Coming back from work one day, the coolant light came on.
Automotive tire Gesture Motor vehicle Automotive design Helmet

The radiator was leaking from the top side right where the plastic connects into metal. A little pissed off, I got onto FCP and ordered in a new one. Once I started digging into the job of replacing it, my mental state went from "slightly pissed off" to absolute rage. I'd bought the car from a guy who was painting himself as this OCD dude that's obsessed with preventative maintenance, and the ad featured a bold claim of the cooling system being overhauled. It was to my great surprise and disappointment that I found a rusted up old water pump dated 2002, an expansion tank dated 2010 and a thermostat dated 2012, with all the coolant hoses also being originals. Cursing and swearing, I ordered new replacements for those as well.
With the cooling system (actually) taken care of, I thought I could finally get onto enjoying the car. Of course, wasn't to be. Not even a week later, stopped behind a red light, this lovely thing popped up.
Car Automotive design Grey Gauge Font

Basically, nearly every time you stood still behind a red light or at an intersection with the car in Drive for longer than 20 seconds, the gearbox would go into limp mode. You'd turn the car off and on and the problem would go away, until you stopped next time. Annoying as hell, but the way I figured out around it is to just switch the car into neutral every time I'm stuck behind a red light. I did read it's sometimes as simple as a sensor cable coming loose from the top of the gearbox. An absolute bastard to get to, as it sits on the upper passenger side of the box in a tight spot between the body. The clip did seem a bit loose. Managed to take it off, clean it as best I could with a brush, clipped it in securely and cleared the codes. No luck. It's been the workaround since then.
Having not even driven 3,000 km, the thought of selling up and cutting my losses did cross my mind, but I knew full well that even without those issues I'd be taking a loss of a few grand at least, and I couldn't in clean conscience put it up for sale without disclosing all the issues, which would attract all manner of low-balling opportunists that I didn't have the mental capacity to deal with.
At the end of the day, I still thoroughly enjoyed the car, and had already put in a tonne of effort into tidying it up, so decided to stick it out.
For a few months she'd been in daily service without much issues. The gearbox still shifted smoothly but kept on going into limp mode when stationery in Drive so I just got into the habit of shifting into neutral at intersections. Annoying, but what can you do. Continued ticking off the wee annoyances that kept creeping up.
The indicators had an annoying tendency to suck moisture in, so had to sort a replacement set.
Automotive parking light Hood Automotive lighting Headlamp Automotive design

After a wash one weekend, I noticed one of the tail lights had a whole aquarium inside of it. Pulled it off to inspect and turner out it was coming apart at the seams nearly halfway down. With some minor prying, it came apart altogether. Lucky it didn't fall off whilst driving. Cleaned up the surfaces and mated the housing back together with some clear epoxy. Seems to be doing the job.
Automotive parking light Automotive tail & brake light Hood Automotive lighting Rectangle

Whilst I was at it, I replaced all 4 indicator bulbs that all had their coloured coating peeling off and were barely flashing orange anymore. Went with the cheapest ones for now, might go for clear ones further down the line.
Drinkware Liquid Fluid Barware Glass bottle

Had a weekend away with a bunch of mates and took the car out for a first wee road trip in a while. Fun wee drive with some gravel roads thrown into the mix. Definitely enjoying the added practicality of a wagon compared to a coupe, perfect for road trips, exactly what I'd bought it for. Hadn't been the smoothest of experiences with the car up to that point, but it's moments like these that make it more or less worth it.
Wheel Tire Cloud Car Vehicle
 

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325i Touring
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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
Continued with ironing out a few mechanical gremlins. Whilst working on the cooling system, I noticed the sway bar links looking pretty tires, and with the inspection coming up, I decided to tackle those instead of waiting to be pulled up on it.
Automotive tire Bicycle part Rim Engineering Gas

The old ones came off fine, but putting the new ones in I ran into an issue that I should have checked for before embarking on the job. The stud didn't have a hex slot on the end of it to hold put for tightening, instead having a slim little slot for a spanner the other side of the plate it connects to. Every time I tried to tighten it, it kept jamming the spanner, making it impossible to remove afterwards. With the car jacked up in the air and no other cars available at the time, all I was left to do is jump on my bicycle and pedal my way to the nearest auto store to pick up a cheap 18mm spanner, and then went to town on it on a bench grinder. Filed it down just enough to fit in and get the job done. Another item added to the BMW specialty tool collection.
Automotive tire Bicycle part Tool Hood Hand tool

With the car jacked up, I gave it a visual check over and to my absolute delight, found the diff bushing to be at the end of its life. I did start noticing a slight clunk coming from the rear when first taking off from being parked up overnight, and seemed to have found the culprit.
Eye Wood Artifact Automotive tire Automotive wheel system

What an absolute bastard of a job that is. Luckily a mate of mine has a two post lift and was willing to help me out, so made the task a wee bit easier. Still ended up taking a whole day. Instead of taking the whole diff out, we took off the rear cover to get better access and went to town. First we tried pulling it out with a set of cups, a rod and an impact wrench but the thing was so rigidly stuck and rusted in place that the stainless steel rod just snapped off with a huge bang, nearly hitting one of us right in the noggin.
Automotive tire Motor vehicle Gear Tread Automotive lighting

We tried being nice, but in the end had no choice but to resort to violence. Out with the old.
Wood Natural material Artifact Gas Trunk

In with the new.
Automotive tire Gas Personal protective equipment Rim Automotive wheel system

Topped the diff off with fresh fluid and she was good to go. Weirdly enough though, after doing the diff bush, the clunking noise had only become more prominent. No clue what it might be at this stage. Could be some other bushing, or the springs. I wouldn't know what a cracked subframe mounting point would sound like, but I sure as f**k hope it isn't that. One to keep an eye on.

Gave the wheels a mighty old scrub, so those will look fresh for at least a couple of weeks, before being caked in brake dust once again. Never had that issue on the coupe which seemed to have had some dust-free compound pads installed. Will definitely look to switch over to those sometime in the future. I've read a few reviews on Akebono ceramics, and whilst the longevity and low dust really do sound appealing, I've been discouraged from going down that route due to the poor initial bite and thus a potential safety concern when brakes hadn't warmed up yet. What do other people reckon?
Tire Wheel Automotive tire Motor vehicle Tread

On the bright side, I finally invested in a decent headunit, going for an Android 10 double-din with an 8-core processor and 64GB storage off a random Kapud brand. An AliExpress special, but does seem decent enough quality and retains the OEM look. The only downside being the ~20 second startup time, but I was fully aware of that prior to purchase so no complaints there. I opted for that model as it didn't have a CD slot that most similar ones come with. I wouldn't have any use for it anyway, and without it, it looks a bit more minimal whilst leaving a lot more space inbehind to fit all the wiring. Also got a 3D printed HVAC relocation bracket from a UK seller on eBay for something like $40-50. Not cheap but holds the unit in nice and firm without any rattles. There seems to be a few more of similar ones that have popped up since then and are now cheaper as well. Worth a go if anyone's looking for one.
Car Gear shift Steering part Vehicle Motor vehicle

I thought the speakers were shot and I was prepared to tackle those as the next step, but the unit livened them right up. Gone are the rattles and the sound is now way crisper. Not audiophile level by any means, but to my untrained ear it's more than acceptable. Happy days.
I also got a reverse camera that slots in neatly instead of one number plate light but turned out it didn't quite fit in properly, despite being marketed as e46-specific. Might have to butcher the plastic housing on it to make work but that's another thing I left for a later mission.

Whilst happy that I'd been making solid progress on some fronts, the car kept on throwing up more banana peels onto the path.
One evening I took a drive down to a neighbouring town to have a look at a potential side project, a deregistered E91 320i going for cheap. Looked tidy enough but luckily it ended up selling to someone else before I had time to make the dumb plunge into the 4-cylinder world. Barbara here must have gotten jealous as on the way back she threw an engine code, the sassy bitch.

P0174. Classic.

To my knowledge, the DISA hadn't been refurbished, but then again could have been a whole handful of other culprits. The prospect of going on a wild goose chase for vacuum leaks didn't really appeal to me. Nor did chasing down the persistent clunk from the rear end.
Then one day I discovered a line of coolant running down the crank and it just threw me over the edge. Everything else had been replaced by that point so it must have been one of the hard plastic lines under the intake manifold. Fuck that.
I sat down and weighed up my options. I could either continue playing whack-a-mole with the endless slew of problems that would continue popping up, or...
Wheel Tire Car Vehicle Window

...buy a donor car and hit everything in one go.

It had been a while in the making and not at all an impulsive decision to be fair. I had been growing frustrated for a while, and being a sort of 'demolish and rebuild' type of person, I'd much rather start from scratch and tackle everything in one go instead of continuing the endless cycle chasing down persistent issues. I settled on doing a full on assault on the engine, but if I was going to go down the full refurb rabbit hole, I figured it might as well be a 3L instead of a 2.5. I saw a few M54b30's listed on locally for around $1,700 NZD, which seemed silly money for just the engine, so I started keeping an eye on damaged car auctions and after a few months, this little beauty popped up.

A 2002 330i with 160,XXX km on the clock, all up cost me a touch less than the asking price on the aforementioned engines alone, written off with side impact damage.
Tire Wheel Vehicle Car Automotive tire

The two doors took the brunt of the damage, with just a small dent in the B-pillar behind the door, which is what did it. Doesn't take much nowadays. Funnily enough, the previous owner reached out when he came across my part-out listing, so I got a nice insight into the car's backstory. The repair quote had apparently come in at $8k. Yikes!
Getting a whole car meant that I could go for a full 330 conversion - engine, brakes, drivetrain, whole rear subframe with trailing arms and all. So here was the new plan:
  • Full bottom-up engine rebuild, short of re-sleeving the bores. Will be keeping the stock pistons but fitting them with old-style M52TU piston rings. Otherwise all new seals, gaskets, DISA & VANOS rebuild, whatever else needs addressing, the works.
  • Refurb the whole rear subframe - already have a full kit of rear subframe bushes sitting in a box waiting to go on. Will be cleaning everything up for a bit of spray paint to fight off rust and for general visual satisfaction. Will be using OE Lemförder bushes throughout. Did consider poly in places but probably not worth it for what I'm doing. Might look into it more seriously further down the line. Obviously this isn't going to be a competitive track car, just a daily driver / road trip machine. Seeing how I go, might try my hand at a track day or two just for fun, but won't be seeing too much abuse. Keen to hear people's experiences of using poly bushes on daily drivers though. How much harsher does it make the ride comfort?
  • Was going to drop the auto box from the donor car to hopefully cure my limp mode disease, but after staring at it for a while, I went f**k it and shelled out for a ZF 5-speed manual from a fella in England as there's currently bugger all of them available in the country. Might as well make it a full on money pit. Getting a full conversion with full driveshaft and manual diff. Will pair it up with a brand new clutch kit and flywheel, as well as the other bells and whistles to go with it. Will preventatively do the gearbox shift pins and detents, as well as all the bushes in the shifter linkage. Will switch out the shifter for the stock E60 one as it's got a shorter throw, and a ZHP shift know to top it off.
  • Refurb, paint the 330 brake callipers and rebuild the pistons with new seals.
  • Replace the sway bar bushes and front control arms as well. Those are all looking original from factory so long overdue a replacement.
  • Rear subframe reinforcing is probably not something I'm looking to do just at the moment, unless it very obviously needs it, but definitely on the list of potentials for the future.
Anyway, onto the teardown.
Tire Wheel Car Vehicle Automotive side marker light
 

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E46 320d touring 2002
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553 Posts
Continued with ironing out a few mechanical gremlins. Whilst working on the cooling system, I noticed the sway bar links looking pretty tires, and with the inspection coming up, I decided to tackle those instead of waiting to be pulled up on it.
View attachment 957825
The old ones came off fine, but putting the new ones in I ran into an issue that I should have checked for before embarking on the job. The stud didn't have a hex slot on the end of it to hold put for tightening, instead having a slim little slot for a spanner the other side of the plate it connects to. Every time I tried to tighten it, it kept jamming the spanner, making it impossible to remove afterwards. With the car jacked up in the air and no other cars available at the time, all I was left to do is jump on my bicycle and pedal my way to the nearest auto store to pick up a cheap 18mm spanner, and then went to town on it on a bench grinder. Filed it down just enough to fit in and get the job done. Another item added to the BMW specialty tool collection.
View attachment 957826
With the car jacked up, I gave it a visual check over and to my absolute delight, found the diff bushing to be at the end of its life. I did start noticing a slight clunk coming from the rear when first taking off from being parked up overnight, and seemed to have found the culprit.
View attachment 957827
What an absolute bastard of a job that is. Luckily a mate of mine has a two post lift and was willing to help me out, so made the task a wee bit easier. Still ended up taking a whole day. Instead of taking the whole diff out, we took off the rear cover to get better access and went to town. First we tried pulling it out with a set of cups, a rod and an impact wrench but the thing was so rigidly stuck and rusted in place that the stainless steel rod just snapped off with a huge bang, nearly hitting one of us right in the noggin.
View attachment 957828
We tried being nice, but in the end had no choice but to resort to violence. Out with the old.
View attachment 957829
In with the new.
View attachment 957830
Topped the diff off with fresh fluid and she was good to go. Weirdly enough though, after doing the diff bush, the clunking noise had only become more prominent. No clue what it might be at this stage. Could be some other bushing, or the springs. I wouldn't know what a cracked subframe mounting point would sound like, but I sure as f**k hope it isn't that. One to keep an eye on.

Gave the wheels a mighty old scrub, so those will look fresh for at least a couple of weeks, before being caked in brake dust once again. Never had that issue on the coupe which seemed to have had some dust-free compound pads installed. Will definitely look to switch over to those sometime in the future. I've read a few reviews on Akebono ceramics, and whilst the longevity and low dust really do sound appealing, I've been discouraged from going down that route due to the poor initial bite and thus a potential safety concern when brakes hadn't warmed up yet. What do other people reckon?
View attachment 957831
On the bright side, I finally invested in a decent headunit, going for an Android 10 double-din with an 8-core processor and 64GB storage off a random Kapud brand. An AliExpress special, but does seem decent enough quality and retains the OEM look. The only downside being the ~20 second startup time, but I was fully aware of that prior to purchase so no complaints there. I opted for that model as it didn't have a CD slot that most similar ones come with. I wouldn't have any use for it anyway, and without it, it looks a bit more minimal whilst leaving a lot more space inbehind to fit all the wiring. Also got a 3D printed HVAC relocation bracket from a UK seller on eBay for something like $40-50. Not cheap but holds the unit in nice and firm without any rattles. There seems to be a few more of similar ones that have popped up since then and are now cheaper as well. Worth a go if anyone's looking for one.
View attachment 957832
I thought the speakers were shot and I was prepared to tackle those as the next step, but the unit livened them right up. Gone are the rattles and the sound is now way crisper. Not audiophile level by any means, but to my untrained ear it's more than acceptable. Happy days.
I also got a reverse camera that slots in neatly instead of one number plate light but turned out it didn't quite fit in properly, despite being marketed as e46-specific. Might have to butcher the plastic housing on it to make work but that's another thing I left for a later mission.

Whilst happy that I'd been making solid progress on some fronts, the car kept on throwing up more banana peels onto the path.
One evening I took a drive down to a neighbouring town to have a look at a potential side project, a deregistered E91 320i going for cheap. Looked tidy enough but luckily it ended up selling to someone else before I had time to make the dumb plunge into the 4-cylinder world. Barbara here must have gotten jealous as on the way back she threw an engine code, the sassy bitch.

P0174. Classic.

To my knowledge, the DISA hadn't been refurbished, but then again could have been a whole handful of other culprits. The prospect of going on a wild goose chase for vacuum leaks didn't really appeal to me. Nor did chasing down the persistent clunk from the rear end.
Then one day I discovered a line of coolant running down the crank and it just threw me over the edge. Everything else had been replaced by that point so it must have been one of the hard plastic lines under the intake manifold. Fuck that.
I sat down and weighed up my options. I could either continue playing whack-a-mole with the endless slew of problems that would continue popping up, or...
View attachment 957833
...buy a donor car and hit everything in one go.

It had been a while in the making and not at all an impulsive decision to be fair. I had been growing frustrated for a while, and being a sort of 'demolish and rebuild' type of person, I'd much rather start from scratch and tackle everything in one go instead of continuing the endless cycle chasing down persistent issues. I settled on doing a full on assault on the engine, but if I was going to go down the full refurb rabbit hole, I figured it might as well be a 3L instead of a 2.5. I saw a few M54b30's listed on locally for around $1,700 NZD, which seemed silly money for just the engine, so I started keeping an eye on damaged car auctions and after a few months, this little beauty popped up.

A 2002 330i with 160,XXX km on the clock, all up cost me a touch less than the asking price on the aforementioned engines alone, written off with side impact damage.
View attachment 957834
The two doors took the brunt of the damage, with just a small dent in the B-pillar behind the door, which is what did it. Doesn't take much nowadays. Funnily enough, the previous owner reached out when he came across my part-out listing, so I got a nice insight into the car's backstory. The repair quote had apparently come in at $8k. Yikes!
Getting a whole car meant that I could go for a full 330 conversion - engine, brakes, drivetrain, whole rear subframe with trailing arms and all. So here was the new plan:
  • Full bottom-up engine rebuild, short of re-sleeving the bores. Will be keeping the stock pistons but fitting them with old-style M52TU piston rings. Otherwise all new seals, gaskets, DISA & VANOS rebuild, whatever else needs addressing, the works.
  • Refurb the whole rear subframe - already have a full kit of rear subframe bushes sitting in a box waiting to go on. Will be cleaning everything up for a bit of spray paint to fight off rust and for general visual satisfaction. Will be using OE Lemförder bushes throughout. Did consider poly in places but probably not worth it for what I'm doing. Might look into it more seriously further down the line. Obviously this isn't going to be a competitive track car, just a daily driver / road trip machine. Seeing how I go, might try my hand at a track day or two just for fun, but won't be seeing too much abuse. Keen to hear people's experiences of using poly bushes on daily drivers though. How much harsher does it make the ride comfort?
  • Was going to drop the auto box from the donor car to hopefully cure my limp mode disease, but after staring at it for a while, I went f**k it and shelled out for a ZF 5-speed manual from a fella in England as there's currently bugger all of them available in the country. Might as well make it a full on money pit. Getting a full conversion with full driveshaft and manual diff. Will pair it up with a brand new clutch kit and flywheel, as well as the other bells and whistles to go with it. Will preventatively do the gearbox shift pins and detents, as well as all the bushes in the shifter linkage. Will switch out the shifter for the stock E60 one as it's got a shorter throw, and a ZHP shift know to top it off.
  • Refurb, paint the 330 brake callipers and rebuild the pistons with new seals.
  • Replace the sway bar bushes and front control arms as well. Those are all looking original from factory so long overdue a replacement.
  • Rear subframe reinforcing is probably not something I'm looking to do just at the moment, unless it very obviously needs it, but definitely on the list of potentials for the future.
Anyway, onto the teardown.
View attachment 957836
When i did my rear diff bushing, the front ones had also little cracks on them.
 

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2003 325i Touring
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5,244 Posts
The clunk may also be coming from a worn u-joint in the driveshaft, a worn driveshaft guibo (flex disc at the trans), or a worn center support bearing. The bad bushing may have been absorbing some of the clunk previously.
 

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2002 325xiT 5MT
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956 Posts
What a great read! Many kudos to you for your super thorough work.

I recently did a full 330 brake upgrade and went with the Zimmerman drilled rotors and Akebono pads through FCP. I can’t recommend them highly enough. I’m no expert on the exact feel of initial bite vs other pad setups out there, but find the performance and feel to be excellent. No brake dust on top of that and I’m sold through and through.
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^^ What style wheels are those?

I've used Akebono pads for years and the lack of dust is really nice. I recently went to some ATS front pads that give a little more dust but the initial bite is better as well.
 

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^^ What style wheels are those?

I've used Akebono pads for years and the lack of dust is really nice. I recently went to some ATS front pads that give a little more dust but the initial bite is better as well.
Style 285, E90 wheels (and tires haha, but not RF’s) They’re 8x17 et 34. Nice until I find something I like better and lighter weight.
 

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Discussion Starter · #18 ·
With the engine still in the donor car, I went ahead and did a compression and leak down test. The results were a bit all over the shop, sometimes retesting the same cylinder would give radically different results. Probably down to cheap-ish test equipment, but got some sort of gauge anyway.
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Cylinder 4 seemed the dodgiest one, but retesting the leak down on it the second time came out to 14% which fell in line with the rest of them. So heck knows. The engine still held compression fine, car was driveable, but not the freshest.
From the outside too, the engine was in a bit of a state, leaking oil like a sieve.
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Not sure how that happened, but the oil return hose from the CCV to the dipstick had completely split and was pissing all over the place, drenching everything in its vicinity.
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Also pulled the codes prior to disconnecting the power. Engine oil temp high is not a great sign but I boxed on.
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Having not done anything as advanced previously, getting the engine out was a pretty straightforward job. Dismantled the front end, dropped the driveshaft, subframes and out it came along with the transmission. Celebrated with a cheeky hazy.
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Stripped the very last parts off the shell. Tried not to let anything go to waste, so kept everything from the windshield washer motor down to the brake booster and anything else I could lay my eyes on. Now all that was left was to figure out how to get the body out of the garage without any wheels on it...
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Ended up lifting the rear with an engine crane and rested the front rails onto a pole poked through a couple of spare wheels, creating a magnificent wee Batmobile.
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In the final couple of days, the last bunch of salvageable body panels went off to new homes, leaving the formerly glorious machine cutting a rather sad figure. Never nice seeing one of these get taken off the road, but at least the heart will live on in a new shell.
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R.I.P.
2002-2021

Back to the engine, I noted spark plugs 1, 5 & 6 coming out completely drenched in oil. I soon found out that the reason had been that the valve cover had split in several places, from someone clearly "making sure" the bolts were tight enough.
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The cover was also missing chunk out of one corner, a chunk I would later find swimming in the oil pan, but doesn't matter as I'll be using the newer style valve cover and coils anyway.
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The front of the engine was absolutely filthy.
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And here's a friendly reminder to teplace the two hard coolant lines under the intake. Here they had completely rotted away at the ends and came off leaving the tip inside (hue hue).
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Apart from that, everything looked tidy enough. The cams looked pretty heavily varnished so the car obviously was not blessed with regular oil changes, but nothing catastrophic.
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The cams look in good shape with just a couple of minor score marks on one or two caps.
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A few of the lifters looked like they've got some black sludge stuck to them, will see how well those clean off.
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The head came off without issues. Quite a bit of carbon buildup but nothing too concerning.
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The factory hone patterns were still clearly visible on all the cylinders, which is a good sign. Only slight defect was some sort of mark at the top of cylinder 6.
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Someone had gone really OTT on RTV at some point as I found quite a few rubbery worms stuck all over the place, most concerningly a whole pile in the oil pickup tube, one completely blocking one of the oil squirters and one jamming the oil non return valve on the head. Not great.
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Don't be that guy.
 

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Discussion Starter · #19 ·
The pistons looked in alright shape but the rings were predictably quite gunked up. Will be replacing those with an older-style 3-piece bottom ring set. Not a BMW part but should do the job.
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The rod bearings were worn but not to a major degree. Will be putting new ones on along with new bolts.
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The main bearings were in really good shape. So much so that the machine shop guys actually recommended I save the money and reuse them. Ended up finding an OE Glyco set for just $80 NZD so figured I might as well replace them if they're that cheap. Will be reusing the main bolts though since they supposedly aren't subjected to terribly high loads.
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Did a quick clearance check on the crankshaft just to try my hand at Plastigauge and all looks bang on in spec.
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What the machine shop did recommend that I found interesting was getting new valve springs. Fair point, but having looked at the price... I decided against it. This won't be a high performance engine and they go fine on stock springs for a good 300-400k km so I should be fine with reusing the old ones.
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Finished stripping the block and the head and readied them for drop off at the machine shop.
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To-do list for the machine shop:
  • Check for hardness, clean and surface the head, check and seat the valves.
  • Check for hardness, clean, surface and hone the block.
  • Polish crankshaft.
  • Clean the cams and trays.
  • Clean any other aluminium bits (oil pan, baffle plate, timing chain cover etc.).
  • Have the injectors checked and cleaned.
What I won't be doing:
  • Boring the cylinders and getting new pistons - would well and truly blow my already overinflated budget.
  • I know this is a controversial one, but I won't be timeserting/helicoiling the head bolt threads, not preventatively at least. Was strongly discouraged from doing so by the machine shop. They've done a number of these engines and out of all of them, only one they said pulled the threads, and that was a problematic block. They figured since I'm not boosting the engine, there is no need to and to do it purely preventatively could do more harm than good. Might come back and bite me in the ass but hey, I like to live dangerously. Fingers crossed anyway.
With those dropped off, I got onto some other jobs, like stripping the rear subframe.
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The rear wheel bearings were a real bastard to get off. The main bit came off fine but the final ring just would not budge, so had to cut it apart with a wee rotary tool.
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Will be cleaning all the bits up with wire wheels and put a few coats of black paint on to prevent it rusting and make it all look a bit fresher. After that will be throwing in all new Lemförder bushes throughout. Only addition I'll be making is putting in solid limiters around the trailing arm bushes. Those were really shot coming off so hopefully that will prolong their life quite well.
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The 5-speed ZF that I ordered from the UK arrived at my door one day. Pretty impressed as it only took a month to come all the way from the other side of the world. The package was a little beaten up but luckily no real damage done to anything important.
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Really happy with it overall. Even with the shipping, came through quite a bit cheaper than what the local scalper parasites are demanding even without the driveshaft and diff. The diff does look quite pretty badly rusted up but should clean up just fine and will get a tidy coat of paint too. All the bits will be getting a good clean, new bushes, shifter pins, detents and gearbox oil prior to going on. Also new shifter, gear knob and slave cylinder, and will be throwing out the clutch delay valve.

Back on the actual car, just a few aesthetic improvements. The donor car came with leather interior so I jumped at the chance to switch out the sagging cloth door cards for tidy new leather ones. Only thing I'll try and figure out at some point is how to wire in the small speakers that the new door cards came with. My car did not have them originally so doesn't have the wiring for it. If anyone knows of it being done before, please throw a link to the thread my way, would be greatly appreciated.
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Also, seeing all the wheel chat above, figured I'd throw a bit of a boast. Whilst I don't hate them, I'm not the biggest fan of the Style 194's the car came with, so I'd been slowly looking at other options as a lower priority item. Really like the look of Style 135's but didn't see any tidy ones come up for a while, and then I saw these:
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Style 193. Originally off an E90, same as the current 194's and have exactly the same offset which looks pretty spot on. They'd apparently done all of 800km since brand new and had been sitting in boxes for years since. Looking absolutely immaculate and good as new, I couldn't pass up. One of my favourite OEM rim styles out there so absolutely chuffed to have snapped these up. Have already wrapped them in new rubber, went with Dunlop Sp Sport Maxx 050+, 225/40R18 front, 255/35R18 rear.
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Won't be putting them on until after the new engine and gearbox go in but absolutely can't wait. Great motivation to get a move on with it.
 

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Discussion Starter · #20 ·
After a few months of waiting, the machine shop finally got back to me with... not such great news. The high oil temp code I'd pulled off the ECU earlier should have given it away but the machine shop confirmed it - the head had been overheated and gone soft, rendering it unfit to use. I found it somewhat surprising as the head gasket looked to be just about the only place the engine wasn't leaking oil from.
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Pretty disappointed but what can you do. Did get a few shiny parts back from the shop though which softened the blow a wee bit.
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Work done so far:
Acid wash parts, surface block and front cover, hone bores to straighten, measure and expand pistons to suit, polish crankshaft, remove pistons from rods, clean and machine ring grooves, wash pistons, assemble and align pistons on rods, final wash parts, hardness test head and advise head is too soft to re-use.
Embarked on a search for a new cylinder head but didn't have much luck. A few local wreckers claimed to have what I was after but either couldn't find stock or just never got back to me. Another enthusiast also offered one off a parts engine he bought for his stroker build but it also turned out to be soft and had some rust in a few channels, so opted against it.
In the end, after driving around for a good few months with an intermittent engine light, coming home from work one day, Barbara decided to start running on one or two fewer cylinders than optimal, making it an easy decision to park it up and start tearing it apart. Did a bit of research and found that the B25 and B30 came with identical heads, with the only difference being the intake cams which I could easily swap over.
Luckily, I'd stumbled onto another E46 going for cheap in the meantime, a 330i sedan that I couldn't pass up on, so I wasn't left stranded without a car at least. A bit rough around the edges but can't complain for the money I paid for it. Going from 2.5L to 3.0L is definitely noticeable and a great taste of what the wagon will be like (hopefully) in the not so distant future.
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So, rolled Barbara into the garage and started digging into the engine. A weekend of mucking about and off came the head. Getting the exhaust manifolds off was the biggest bastard of a task but did manage after a whole lot of cussing and swearing.
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Dropped the head off at the machine shop who did a quick hardness test and gave the all clear. Great success. Left it to be worked on and got onto removing what was left of the engine and gearbox. Didn't want to open the AC system so unhooked it from the engine and left dangling off the side of the engine bay. The condenser got into some weird yoga poses throughout the process but managed to stay intact.
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Put the front end back together, just so it'd be less of an eye sore for the neighbours and rolled the zero-emissions vehicle out into the driveway. Not a big fan of the new stance though.
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So, this is where I'm currently at - waiting on the cylinder head to come back from the shop, putting together a few last orders on new parts and doing a bit of final research.
I'll be putting together a full outstanding to-do list still and a few questions I still have hanging in the air. This is by far the biggest project I've taken on I'm really hoping to draw upon some of the great wealth of knowledge and experience of other members on here. I've got no mechanical background, up until about 3 years ago when I got my first 325ci, the most I'd done on any car was an oil change so this is a big jump outside my comfort zone. The main reason I got into E46's in the first place was the abundance of info and the great community around the platform, so I'm sure it's all manageable.
Anyway, feel free to chime in wherever you see suitable. I'm humble enough to admit I'm barely informed at best of times, and desperately clueless at others, so am very open to learning from people that have been there and done it before. I'm doing my best to research every step of the process before embarking on it, but if you do see me asking silly questions that have been addressed numerous times before, point me in the right direction and I'll eagerly do the due diligence.
The goal with this process is to do as much as possible with my own two hands, and hopefully by the end of it, be left with a solid and reliable car to enjoy for years to come.
Thanks team!
 
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