2002 BMW 3 Series 330Ci Convertible 3.0


So much fun to drive, but not cheap to own


- Lower control arm bushings at 60,000 miles.

- Ball joint developed play, and replaced the lower control arms.

- Thermostat caused coolant temperature to be too low.

- Front passenger seat occupancy sensor broke.

- Rear coil springs broke (common problem among E46 models).

- Strut tower deformed (common problem among E46 models).

- Convertible top inner lining ripped due to warped plastic inserts (both sides).

- OEM Continental tires lasted only 18,000 miles.

General Comments:

There is no doubt this is a fun car to drive. It handles very well in terms of acceleration and turning. With almost 50-50 weight distribution, it handles particularly well in curves. In fact, I love to accelerate through turns.

The mechanized convertible top works flawlessly even after 14 years. With the top up, the car is as quiet as a sedan, and there is no leak.

However, this is not a car to drive in snow. The traction control keeps the car going straight, but frequently I find myself disabling the DSC (dynamic stability control) in order to go up even the slightest hills. When there is snow, I take my 2004 330xi.

Reliability-wise, it's not on the same level as my Toyotas. Several unexpected things have gone wrong, such as broken rear coil springs and deformed strut towers (which evidently are common for the E46 models). If I didn't do most of the repairs myself, it would be too expensive to own after a certain age.

But, it's so much fun to drive, especially with the top down in good weather. That's what really matters.

Would you buy another car from this manufacturer? Yes

Review Date: 4th December, 2015

2002 BMW 3 Series 325i 2.5L DOHC inline 6-cylinder gasoline


A fantastic version of the Ultimate Driving Machine!


Right rear window regulator failed.

Oil filter housing gasket leaking.

Automatic climate control fan speed module failed.

Valve cover gasket leak.

Headlight washer pump failed.

General Comments:

I bought this car in early 2013 from the original owner after a long search. Despite what these cars are "supposed" to sell for, I could not find one that was much less than 120% of KBB value unless I wanted one with a branded title or 200,000 miles. I had been looking for three months when this one came up on Craigslist. I called the owner and left a message while I was looking at another BMW. He called me back and said he had someone who wanted to look at the car at 9:00 the next morning. Given the duration of my quest, I told him I'd meet him at 8:00!

I asked the seller if there was any room on the price, and he said, "Nope. Four people after you want to look at the car today." This was a one-owner, adult-owned, dealer-maintained car that had never been in an accident, and I figured it was worth the money. As the old saying goes, "there is nothing more expensive than a CHEAP used European car".

Sheesh. I just went ahead and paid him.

Be prepared to pay for a nice 3-series of this vintage. Having said that, after owning the car for nearly two years I can understand why they are so popular on the used car market. BMW really got it right with the E46 (BMW's internal designation for this platform). Acceleration, even with an automatic and the "small" engine, is quite brisk. My car has the Harmon-Kardon sound system, but the exhaust note produced by the relatively small inline 6-cylinder engine is so fantastic I find myself turning the radio down. BMWs are known for their excellent handling, and these cars are no exception. You can throw it into most any corner with confidence. If you screw up, the stability/traction controls help correct for you. But unlike many more modern performance cars, these systems don't try to drive the car FOR you. Combine this with stop-on-a-dime four wheel disc brakes, and 27 MPG city fuel economy, and you have a great package. It is a pure car, IMHO one of the last pure "Ultimate Driving Machines" made by BMW, and it doesn't have as much of the whiz-bang electronic gadgetry that dulls the experience of so many luxury sports cars nowadays.

As far as maintenance goes, every car will have its list of needs when it gets to be around a decade old. Certain deficiencies in the original design will come out and begin to manifest themselves as common problems. The E46 is no exception. BMW likes to use a lot of plastic in its cooling systems, so there can be some issues there. The radiators, coolant tanks, fittings, etc, tend to crack with age and use. If you are looking at one of these and smell/see coolant leaking under the hood, chances are you will have to spend a few bucks to bring it back up to spec. The water pumps are also known to fail dramatically, and a cooling system failure can easily be an engine-killer. This is not an engine that tolerates being overheated. Few repairs on these cars are expensive if you do the work yourself and get parts online. If you go to the dealership, things will get expensive in a hurry.

The window regulators are famous for failing on these cars. They are about $60, and are not terribly difficult to change. No more difficult than other cars. The sunroof and shade can also have problems. The module that controls the fan speed for the climate control will fail on earlier examples of this model. The part is not expensive, but is a little tough to access. Some suspension bushings wear out rather quickly, but this is the price of admission for a car that handles like these cars do. The steering should be razor sharp on the E46. If it is not, then the car is likely due for lower control arm bushings at the very least. Not hard to replace, and not too expensive if you shop around. There is certainly no danger associated with worn bushings; the car will just handle like a regular car instead of a BMW. Some early automatics are known for losing reverse gear because of a defect in the reverse gear drum.

Overall, this generation of the 3-series is excellent. It is a nicely constructed car, and does everything well. Mine has 100k, and feels like it only has about 20k. If you want more performance, step up to a 330i, or better yet, the vicious M3. But the 325i is going to be more than enough car for most people.

I really can't recommend it highly enough... but buy the right car! If the car doesn't have a stack of maintenance records with it, have a Pre-Purchase Inspection done at a reputable German car shop.

Would you buy another car from this manufacturer? Yes

Review Date: 17th October, 2014

19th Oct 2014, 02:39

Well-written, informative review :)