I have to agree with the comments here to an extent, just watch out for gremlins as the cars climb the klms. I have had one of these 318i e46 babies for 5 yrs now, and love many aspects of it, from the timeless exterior, functional and elegant interior, solid teutonic feel, and the crisp and communicative handling that no other car maker seems to achieve. The 318i has proven to be a safe, solid, pleasurable highway and city car, and I can see why the car set a benchmark when first released some 12 yrs ago, and I feel many aspects of the car really haven't dated much.
However, what must be considered is that performance by todays standards is pedestrian to say the least, whilst fuel economy relative to the performance (with an auto) is terribly poor. You really have to step on it to get moving, and this hurts economy even more.
What is of more concern to me and potential buyers is that as the klms have climbed, the reliability, which was one of the mainstay pleasures of owning the car, has now deteriorated to the extent that continuing ownership with repairs cannot be justified, given the astronomical parts costs. Recently in the last 15,000 klms, after 5 years of trouble free motoring, the following have failed for no apparent reason and at significant expense:
1. 2 x window regulators
2. Starter motor
3. Central locking control unit - can't unlock the doors from the inside, even as they're deadlocked; can only open drivers door manually with key
4. Gear changes becoming clunky
The car has been looked after and regularly serviced throughout its life.
On 4 above, got the BMW service centre to check it out, and have been advised that there is a transmission fault and that the auto transmission is about to fail, and replacement is a $8-$10K + job to fix. So now unfortunately what was previously a pleasurable and relatively trouble free experience, is going to end in basically scrap, which is a real pity as it is a beautiful car, and ran perfectly from 70K - 145,000Klms, but from 145 to its now 165, the above problems have developed.
A check on website forums also reveals that all of the above, including the transmission problem, are common faults in these cars once the klms climb. However BMW doesn't seem to admit that there are problems in these areas, and puts the failures down to wear and tear. So be careful, as deep pockets are potentially req'd if you are buying one of these now, though I do realise its hard to resist their numerous charms, especially given they're going so cheap these days. If you do get one, see it as taking a punt; you could find yourself in a stylish, lovely driving and well appointed sedan at bargain prices or an expensive piece of... for the unlucky ones.
I have owned a 2001 BMW 318i since March from 130,000kms. Over the past half year, I have replaced the expansion tank cap, coolant hose, and another plastic joint of the coolant system at the back of the engine. These cost me $500.
Last week, the car began to lose power while going uphill, and the mechanic said it was due to O2 sensor and airflow meter failure, which cost up to $1,000 - the largest bill I have ever had since owning my first car!
Well, hopefully nothing major will occur after this fix, and I can drive it peacefully for another 3-5 years. I may also service the transmission sometime as well, to prevent the notorious problem.
Well, overall it is a nice 'driving machine', but if one has the money, better get a brand new one or purchase an extended warranty, which is something I am so regretting about right now.
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