Tuesday, 5 April 2011

2002 BMW E46 318i tiptronic

So you have always wanted a BMW?. No?. Well for those of us who have you will most likely not want to spend "BMW money" on a BMW. So can you still get in to a good second hand BMW that ticks all of the right boxes on a budget?

Keep reading to find out.

Over the years I have owned many different cars but one of my personal favourites and current daily drive is a 2002 BMW E46 318i tiptronic face lift. The BMW E46 was the successor to the legendary E36 and was in production from 1998-2005, with a face lift becoming available in 2002 and like all BMW's it continued to offer the right balance of luxury with a sporty yet extremely comfortable driving experience. The most common type of E46 for sale these days in South Africa would have to be the 318i. There are two types of E46 318's on the market, the face lift and preface lift models. What`s the difference you may ask - well think of Madonna in 2002 vs 2010, it`s still the same person just with a few enhancements here and there. The face lift model came out as I mentioned in 2002 with a new front end upgraded engine and reworked rear end, making the car look more modern even compared to today's standards.
So are there any good deals to be had on what is essentially an older BMW?. What are some of the more common faults to be found on some second hand 318's and what it is like living with a second hand E46 318i (servicing costs, fuel economy, driving pleasure, resale value, etc).

You know the drill by now, keep reading.

Deal or no deal:
There are always car deals to be found out there. How good of a deal it is all depends on how hard you have been looking. Let`s take my car as an example - as I said before it`s a 2002 318i tiptronic with only 38 000km's on the clock, with a full service history and it was in immaculate condition - all for the low price of R102 000 including registration and licensing. Not bad considering some of the standard features of the car which I will list below:
Air con
Power steering
Electric windows all round
Electric mirrors
Six airbags
Six speaker BMW business radio sound system
Traction control
Abs with break discs all round
Cruise control
Audio and cruise control buttons on the steering wheel
Leather seats
Five speed automatic gearbox with manual sports shift function (Tiptronic)
Plenty of space, can easily accommodate five passengers comfortably and their luggage thanks to a big boot.

So in my opinion a pretty darn good deal if you look at what`s available on the market today with that kind of mileage in the R100 000 price bracket. Sure there might be newer cars out there but none of them will give you the same driving pleasure that the BMW can.
BMW 318i's range in price from as low as R50 000 up to R105 000 depending on year and mileage and condition. A good starting point if you are looking for a face lift model(2002+) would be a 2002 model with 120 000kms +- for R65 000- R85 000 again this all depends on the overall condition of the vehicle.

Problems? What problems?

All new cars that roll off the production line will at some stage or another begin to show their age as time goes on, be it mechanical break downs or a fading interior, it is inevitable. But just like people some cars are predisposed to certain niggles that pop up in the vast majority of them as the years pass by and the BMW E46 318i is no exception to this, but thank fully most of them are rock solid, quality built machines that will give you years of driving joy even if it is second hand.
I will list some major and minor problems that the E46 318i may suffer from, starting with serious problems 



The N42b20 is a 2L petrol motor used in the 2002 318i. It is a fantastic engine and is pretty much rock solid, I have seen many examples on the road with 250 000kms + on the clock and they run like new. With 105kw's and 200nm of torque on tap it propels the 318i in a 0-100km/h time of 9.5 seconds. The N42 motor can however suffer from sludgeing, where the oil becomes thick over time and sticks to engine components like a thick sludge and can cause severe engine damage. This however is easily avoided by having your oil changed every 15 000kms or 12 months whichever comes first. Word of warning when it comes to owning one of these cars with this motor, don't follow the onboard computers recommendation of when to change the engine oil (BMW say +- every 25 000km's). This in my opinion is just crazy even if the dealer is using long life oil. South Africa has a warm and humid climate and this will cause your oil to degrade faster than say the same vehicle in a colder climate like Europe. Another relatively common problem I have heard of is the cooling system plastic components like the radiator bottle become brittle over time and can leak or fail, so it`s a good idea to have a poke around the engine bay and make sure that there are no fluids being lost on the driveway. Another thing to ask the owner of the vehicle is if the serpentine belt has been replaced. This belt runs all of the motors important systems like the water pump, power steering etc. If it hasn't been replaced and the vehicle in question has +- 160 000kms on the clock I would have it done even if the belt is still in good condition, prevention is better than cure. The N42b20 is by nature a "tappity" sounding motor so don't be concerned if you do hear small clicking or tapping noises when the engine is running.

Gearbox and drive train:

The gearbox is a five speed automatic box with Manual sports mode. The gearbox is pretty rock solid along with the differential, BMW use a special life time oil in the gearbox and differential, meaning these components never need to have the oil changed for the duration of the cars life. This again can cause problems in cars with higher mileage 250 000kms+ where gear shifts become very jerky and this can sometimes be remedied by changing the oil in the gearbox. Please bare in mind that if you want to have your gearbox oil changed you will have to have it done at a independent work shop because BMW won`t replace gearbox or diff oil, unless there is a leak or the car has been in an accident that has resulted in the loss of the oil. Another gearbox failure I have heard of has been the inability to select a certain gear for example reverse. Again this is a problem I have heard of mostly in cars with high mileage and one or two cases with less than 100 000kms on the clock.


One of the most common problems I have come across when it comes to the suspension side of things on the E46 are the control arm bushes. They have a habit of wearing out prematurely in some cases, this can cause a knocking noise under braking as the control arms are allowed to move around more than usual. This will also affect the handling characteristics so be sure to listen out for any strange noises when you go on a test drive.


The interior build quality of the E46 is very good, soft high quality plastics and excellent leather are used through-out and should stand up to even the most hyperactive kids. One of the most common interior problems with E46's are the electric window mechanisms. They have a nasty habit of failing with heavy use, this will cause the window to either get stuck when trying to open or close. Some of the warning signs that the mechanism is on it`s way out is a clicking or popping sound when the window is moving up or down. The window will also move slower than normal under operation so check all four windows are working correctly when you go to look at a potential vehicle.

Other than that the BMW E46 318i is a reliable vehicle, so much so that this is my second one. My previous one was a 2000 pre face lift model that had 220 000kms on the clock and never set a foot wrong or burnt a drop of oil.


Most people think that owning a BMW is an expensive affair, this is partly true. Large mechanical parts for European cars are more expensive than say the Japanese equivalent, but servicing costs are pretty much the same as any Toyota would be. I had an inspection service done on my car that came to R3000.00. This is an in depth inspection/service, done at predetermined intervals by the cars onboard computer. A normal service on the other hand (Filters, oil, fluids, diagnostic check, and checking the brakes for wear) came to R1600.00 from a BMW dealership. You could bring this cost down if you went to an independent BMW mechanic. The only reason I have my vehicle serviced at a BMW dealer is it`s nice to see an official dealer stamp in the service book, it just puts a potential buyer at ease when the time comes for me to sell the car.

Fuel economy:

As with any car the faster you drive the more it`s going to cost you fuel wise. The E46 318i Tiptronic gets around 12L per hundred km's in stop and go traffic, whilst the lowest figure I got on the open road was 7L per hundred km's, this figure could have been lower but it was a short open road trip.

Living with the E46 318i has been a very nice experience, loads of features, great value for money , good reliability, sporty yet comfortable drive, excellent resale value compared to some of the bigger engined E46's, good performance considering it is only a 2L.

So to sum up if you are looking for a BMW family saloon with loads of bells and whistles for a reasonable price, look no further than the E46 318i. Just make sure you check the car out thoroughly, check the service history and never be afraid to negotiate on the price. These are relatively common cars so you will be spoilt for choice when it comes to buying one. Don't snap up the first one that comes along go and look at a few to get a better idea of what`s out there.


  1. Thanks for the information, we will add this story to our blog, as we have a audience in this sector that loves reading like this” Lovely photos...
    BMW 318i Melbourne

  2. hi.. nice to meet you, Im also planning to own a BMW 318i E46, but at my near by area only found 2004. ^^. I heard that 318i, when u start your engine that time, it seems to have some funny sound. Do you have that issue?

  3. Great comments and excellent tips on checking for the serpentine belt. With that, I am now more confident in looking for my used 318i.

    CHeers mate!

  4. Thanx for the tips.....After how many kilometers should i go for an engine service??

  5. Hi
    I have just purchased a 2002 318i (built is SA) with 117K on the odo. The car is in immaculate condition and drives like a dream. I never really considered owning a BMW being concerned about servicing and running costs. I have found a reputable mechanic who had been carrying out log book services on my wife's Honda CR-V at half the the price of the agents.
    and can do the same with the BMW. I got him to check the vehicle prior to purchase and he gave it the green light. The car cost me A$9900 which converts to approx. R96 000 at current exchange rates.
    To summarize - I LOVE this car.

  6. As an owner of 3 BMW's and servicing 7 (including 3 E46's), I definitely agree that servicing them properly is the key to inexpensive running costs, even less than some Japanese makes. I would recommend 10,000 kilometre intervals and 12 months at the most for oil and filter changes. Also, regardless that BMW states "Life Long Transmission and Diff fluids, all oils deteriorate, so full Transmission fluid flushes and diff oil changes every 60,000 kilometres will make life with a BMW much more pleasurable and last longer. Wonderful cars!!

  7. Hi, what is the cylinder head torque setting for the e46 318i 2003 model, black cover ? Thanks

  8. Its a great car and loving it. I recently did a complete service on the Auto Transmission and it picked up an error code EGS
    Its a E46 and 2004 model doing +-250 000km

  9. I have decided to buy this after 10 days. Odo 93k ..excellent condition. Article was very useful and informative.

  10. I have decided to buy this after 10 days. Odo 93k ..excellent condition. Article was very useful and informative.

  11. Buying a used car doesn't have to be risky. If you know what you want then it becomes a lot easier.

    Used ford falcon bf wagon for sale melbourne

  12. It cost me a fraction of a similar toyota. Ive had no issues with it and even this resale value guys are talking about is not by a large margin. Scrap yard

  13. i have purchased mine in the past 7 months. wow i love this car

  14. By using Car Rental 8 you can get cheap car hires from over 50,000 locations across the world.

  15. +$3,624 profit last week!

    Subscribe For 5 Star verified winning picks on MLB, NHL, NBA & NFL + Anti-Vegas Smart Money Signals...