My 284,000 mile BMW M3 engine is sort of healthy


This summer I bought an E46 generation BMW M3 with a total of 284,761 miles on the clock. On the surface it seemed like a clean car considering the mileage, but after a few hundred miles it was clear that some serious work needed to be done. Fortunately, the most expensive part of the car, the engine, looks perfectly healthy.

How do you know?

Brian Silvestro

As well as sounding great and going down the redline with no hassle, the 3.2-liter S54 inline-six under the hood of this M3 still feels like it produces roughly the same 332bhp as it does. in the factory more than ten years ago. It does not burn oil and does not suffer from strange clicking noises.

Just to be sure, I sent an oil sample to the Illinois company Blackstone Laboratories for analysis. While oil analyzes can’t tell you everything, they can help determine the wear and tear your engine’s interior has suffered since the last oil change. Here’s what Blackstone had to say about my S54:

BRIAN: You assumed it was 10W / 60 oil and the viscosity of 15.52 cSt is that grade. Overall, these are good results, with only a few things to check. Most wear metals are universal averages, based on oil runs of approximately 4,400 miles. The lead – from the bearings – is actually a little below par, which is nice to see. Copper, on the other hand, is high. It could be accelerated wear of bronze parts or simply wear left by a recent repair. The trends will tell us more if all is well on your end.

No signs of rod bearing issues here. This is all quite surprising given BMW’s reputation for reliability (or lack thereof). The only thing I’ve found on the outside so far is a weakening rear main seal. It’s not that bad, but still worth it to keep an eye on me as I continue to drive the car.

So what are you doing to keep it running?

I ordered a maintenance service kit specific to my car FCP Euro which, in addition to an oil change kit, comes with new spark plugs, an air intake filter, and a fuel filter, all standard items that must be replaced periodically to maintain a healthy engine.

Most of the new parts went in without a problem, although some of the spark plugs that came with the car were too tight in the head. Fortunately, none of them seemed to have damaged the threads, as the new plugs sank in easily.

m3 project car

Brian Silvestro

m3 project car

Brian Silvestro

Whoever replaced the air filter before me dropped one of K & N’s reusable units, which is good. This may be the first car I’ve ever seen fitted with a K&N filter that didn’t have one of those obnoxious stickers placed on the airbox. I still put the new OEM filter back in its place because I didn’t want it to go to waste. I will clean the K&N unit and reuse it once the OEM filter needs replacing.

With all of those basic maintenance items sorted out, I shouldn’t be too worried about the health of the engine in the future … as long as it’s actually running, that is.

What else have you done so far?

The driver side tail light housing acted on my way back to the point where the left turn signal completely stopped. I tried replacing the bulb in an attempt to fix the problem, but it was the bulb housing itself that caused the problem. So I just bought a new FCP Euro housing, which came with new turn signal and brake bulbs. I inserted them and the problem was solved.

All four tires were below their recommended psi when I first checked them, with three out of four hovering around 25 psi (they should be somewhere between 30 and 35). The fourth tire, the rear passenger side, was fully lowered to 10 psi. I’ve filled them all in and the car feels a lot less like it’s driving on sand. I haven’t figured out what kind of tires I’m going to put on this car yet, so I will continue to monitor the psi and refill as needed.

So what’s the next step?

There are a bunch of little things I’d like to fix to make this M3 more usable as a daily driver. The license plate lights aren’t working and they need to be working in order for the car to pass inspection, so I’ll cover that first. There are also the DSC and ABS warning lights on the dashboard, which I need to diagnose. Smaller items like the headlight leveling sensor and the ambient air temperature sensor also need to be replaced.

m3 project car

Brian Silvestro

m3 project car

Brian Silvestro

Bigger things like the front brakes, headset, suspension bushings and the likely subframe cracks I mentioned in the previous article will come a bit later. Stay tuned.

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