Used cars

BMW E36 Used Car Buy Guide During A Pandemic

There seems to be ‘revenge spending’ in the used car market and this has pushed the prices of some used cars upwards and beyond belief. About 24 months ago a BMW E36 will be worth less than RM15k for a well looked after running unit. Its parts alone will cost more than RM10,000 if taken apart and sold piece by piece.

Then there is the popular E39, 5 Series which has been a low ball seller with prices hovering under RM10k. Today, sellers are asking between RM15k to RM19k and there are willing buyers.

So, is it time to look at an E36, 3 Series which has not climbed up as yet?

The BMW E36 has been somewhat forgotten by enthusiasts today and prices are quite stagnant against the rising prices of its previous model, the BMW E30.

BMW E36 328i_used

Now the 1992 to 1996 BMW 3 Series is showing up on various online used car classifieds at prices that are hard to ignore. Take for example this unit that we were looking at, a 1996 model 328i E36. True car enthusiasts will need a few boxes ticked when looking for a sports sedan. First box to tick is a manual gearbox. Second box to tick is the 6-cylinder engine. Third box to tick is a normal aspirated engine and final box will be, it must be rear wheel drive.

This E36 has it all plus good looks even after 29 odd years. By the way, we are putting aside the manual gearbox as it is not easy to find a manual E36 for sale and we might do a conversion once we find a good used manual gearbox for sale.

From all angles the E36 saloon was just slightly larger than the E30. All this extra size accounted for more passenger room; a much stiffer body structure and 50/50 weight distribution that also produced less wind noise and improved aerodynamics.

BMW E36 328i_used

Its interior was also fresh without carrying any of the E30 knobs and switches. It came with MacPherson struts in front and a Z-axle in the rear, replacing the trailing arm in the E30. The base 318i used a tired sounding four-valve four-cylinder engine from the E30 that delivered 138 horsepower, but the six-cylinder engines are all new.

There was a new dual overhead cam 24 valve aluminum head, inline six-cylinder engine that produced 189 horsepower in the 325i. This contributed to a 0-100km/h acceleration time of just 6.9 seconds, which was impressive in its day.

In 1993 the BMW VANOS variable valve timing system, was adopted by the M50 6 cylinder and made for a more impressive and wider torque curve. By 1995 the 2.5-liter in the 325i and the imported and rare 325is, were replaced for the larger 2.8-liter version putting out 190 horsepower, just 1 horsepower up from earlier 189 horsepower engine.

This was not that significant however the torque rating went from 181Nm at 4,200 rpm to 207Nm at 3,950 rpm, which was the biggest difference that could be felt behind the wheel. There were also some slight visual changes for the 1996 model year as well.

Open the bonnet and get the car started and you should hear a smooth sounding engine. If it is noisy, rattly and smoky, it could be expensive to fix. All BMW engines need high-grade engine oil so check the dipstick for a clear smooth new cooking oil like colour. Check the coolant bottle, if you see teh tarik susu colour water then there could be trouble.

Check for signs of water leaking and even more important oil or power steering fluid leaks. When you start the car for the first time make sure the engine is cold, the air conditioning is switched off and then after it has warmed up for about 15-20 minutes move it away from the parking lot to check for oil stains or water marks on the floor.

Then only switch on the air-conditioning during your test drive. Junk yard half cuts are easy to source and they cost anywhere between RM3,000 to RM15,000 (for a reasonable condition M3) depending on type and year. If you find a used E36 with excellent trim and body but a tired engine, then a junkyard engine swap will be best.

BMW E36 328i_used

A short test drive on an open road to at least 80 to 90km/h, a couple of tight ‘U’ turns and some speed bumps is enough for you to be convinced if the car is worth its asking price.

Worn sagging suspension, worn tyres and tired engine are all signs of a car that has been really used without much care so the selling price should reflect this. A 1996 tired 328i should fetch only RM8,000 to RM18,000 and if the car is well looked after and servicing and parts replacement has been done according to service schedule then you could see prices move higher to about RM22,000. Past this price then you should be looking at an immaculate imported 328i with complete history and drive away condition.

Happy hunting. Meanwhile, we are holding back our purchase as after a few days with this 328i, it just didn’t ‘tickle our interest’ enough as it was just too worn out on the inside, the brakes were a little ‘soggy’ and its gearbox was working too slow for the smooth ticking 6-cylinder engine.

Estimate for a used gearbox for between RM2,500 to RM3,000, the few cabin panels that needed changing would cost about RM300 only and the front bumper fog light another RM300. We could live with the paint finish for a while and the M3 style side mirrors (useless vision and blind spots) had to be swapped for original mirrors.

BMW E36 328i_used

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