1991 BMW 3 Series 320i Cabriolet


Basically a good car, but mine seems to be a lemon


What hasn't gone wrong with this car? I love it when it is running well, but it always seems to have something or other that needs replacing.

1. The front rubber seal across the top of windshield needed replacing to stop water from leaking into the car.

2. Even though it was a few years old, I was surprised that I needed to replace the complete front end at 28,000kms - at significant cost.

3. The air conditioning stopped working when I needed it to defrost windows at night causing a dangerously impairing vision and safety. Replaced a couple of pipes and fittings and recharged the gas.

4. The battery was repeatedly being drained by a short somewhere. Eventually it was discovered that the stereo/radio was the culprit after it got fried just sitting still for a week. Replaced both battery and sound system.

5. Oil pan gasket leak turned warning light on, had to stop in the middle of the night in the middle of the countryside for a tow. Obviously replaced it. Very inconvenient.

6. Thermostat blew out on the way to the airport for an international flight. Had to have it towed off the expressway and left it at a dealer to be replaced. Had radiator flushed. Made it to check in (after calling ahead) with 2 minutes to spare. Dangerous place to die, and an incredibly inconvenient time.

7. Battery died again after less than 2 years. Replaced again.

8. Had top replaced at great expense.

9. Rubber seal on back passenger window dried up, cracked, and now needs replacing.

10. Water leaks under the top of the front passenger windows when it rains heavily, drenching the front seats even after replacing the top. I must place plastic sheets on the seats when I think it will rain. It is inconvenient, uncomfortable, messy, and not very stylish.

11. Yesterday the door locks stopped locking automatically when I lock the trunk or either door and must now lock each thing manually.

I keep thinking that after each repair I will have a safe and reliable car that will finally be right, but things just keep happening even though I really do take good care of my cars. I have more than paid twice for this car, but I keep thinking that after each repair it will be OK. I could have gotten a brand new economy car for what I've got into this relic. I like older cars, and believe that they usually are better choices, but I'm beginning to rethink my beliefs on this issue.

Now I am worried that the transmission might be a little funky. It has always seemed like it needs another gear or a different gear ratio, but lately it seems even more sluggish than before. Plus, the metal part of the gear selector lever under the leather handle has always heated up more than seems normal. The window toggle switches in the center console next to it also heat up after the car has been running for a while.

General Comments:

There is a strange "shaken" system in Japan that I assume is similar to a MOT in Britain. It is good for two years, and a bit of a selling point when you buy a used car with 2 years of shaken because of the expense involved. The only problem is that if a car is awaiting a new buyer to get the shaken, you may not drive it on the road, so a test drive is out of the question. Most Japanese dealers are reputable (including the one I bought this car from), and the last two used cars I bought like this were both quite good deals and in great condition for the money. However, this seems to be the exception.

There was another 3 Series cabriolet for sale at the same time that was a 325 5 speed, but it was older and had 3 times the mileage as this one. It was a one owner, and it looked brand new, so I figured at only 26,000kms it would be the better choice. Perhaps I was wrong.

When the car is in good working order I love it - even if it is a bit slower off the line than I would like. It is comfortable, the size is better for me and for Tokyo than the newer ones, and the lines are beautiful. However, I have had nothing, but trouble and expense with this car - something that I thought I would avoid after reading other reviews on this site, especially with such a low mileage car.

With all the expenses I have racked up, I could have/should have financed a newer, more expensive model and likely had fewer problems.

I have owned a BMW before, and I know many others who own BMW products, but I seem to be the only one who has purchased a lemon. I might consider buying one again, but I am a little gun-shy at the moment.

The car still looks great, and the interior is like new. But somehow that doesn't seem like enough at the moment.

Would you buy another car from this manufacturer? Don't Know

Review Date: 14th July, 2007

13th Dec 2008, 08:54

I am the original poster and I thought it was time for an update. This car is similar to a boat - a hole in the water into which you throw money.

Since posting I have had to replace the battery again (once more, less than 2 years since the last one), replace the generator and related belts, had the fuel injectors worked on, and replace the exhaust manifold gaskets.

It left me stranded on the way home from a long international flight with a trunk full of luggage and a bad case of jet lag.

This car has developed an engine oil leak that leaves a big spot where I park, and I am afraid to go far with it. This car is history in my book.

I have had a BMW before with good luck, and I have several friends and relatives with them, and they all have had good experiences. If it were not for that kind of exposure, I would never buy a BMW again. As it is, it will be a long time before I do again - if ever.

I can't wait for spring to come when it will be much easier to sell a cabriolet. My next car will be something much more functional and reliable. I know it is an older car, but it still has less than 48,000 kilometers on it, and it has been babied and taken care of very well, so I am incredibly disappointed. Some driver's car this has turned out to be. Good-bye BMW.

15th Dec 2008, 14:30

Sounds like you've got a dud. I've had a 97' 3 series for over a year now and it has been spot on. I think 91 was the year the e36 model was released. Teething troubles maybe.

3rd Apr 2010, 04:50

Original poster here. I finally got rid of this albatross from around my neck (the BMW) and bought a 1999 VW Golf GTI to replace it. I've had the GTI for 9 months of fun, trouble-free driving and LOVE, LOVE, LOVE it. It is everything the BMW was supposed to be, but wasn't. I am sure that my BMW was the exception to the rule, but I feel a sense of relief every time I get behind the wheel of my GTI now. It doesn't leak on me when it rains, it is incredibly quick and fun to drive compared to the BMW, is comfortable, and so far has been trouble free. I find that I am driving much more now, because I am not afraid of the car, and because driving has become enjoyable again. Now I actually look for reasons to drive if I can justify it rather than for reasons not to drive. Sorry BMW, but I don't think the shiny airplane propeller emblem on the hood will ever hold the same allure it used to for me.