New to me E46 M3 slicktop with the original wheels and paint. Although the wheels may be going...
I’ve been looking for an E46 M3 for a few years now. While living in Nebraska it was tough to justify as a primary vehicle, but after moving to Houston it seemed like the right time to make the move to the ultimate driving machine. For those who have been following the used market for 2001 – 2006 M3s, known by their chassis code E46, they would know that they have bottomed out on the depreciation curve and had recently begun to increase again. Clean manual examples with low miles use to be easy to find in the high-teens to low-twenties, but now go for upwards of $30K and competition package examples can go for as much as $70K. I knew I needed to find one soon or I might be priced out of the market.
When I got serious about my search there were about 25 – 40 classifieds for clean title manual coupes nationally on the major websites like AutoTrader, CarGurus, and TrueCar and each time a fair priced example would show up they sold quickly. With COVID-19 restrictions I was focused on the greater Texas area to minimize the amount of travel required to inspect and purchase the vehicle. The first M3 I reached out about was a 2005 Interlagos Blue M3 in Dallas. It was the highly desirable ZCP package, but had 136K miles, some maintenance history, and minor damage listed on its Carfax after being keyed. It was originally listed for $23K and after about 20 days on the market the price had been dropped to $19.9K, I offered $18.5K and the owner responded saying he’d consider accepting $19K which seemed reasonable to me. The day I was planning to fly up to inspect the car with cashier’s check in hand, someone from Austin offered $19.5K and the owner sold the car before I could counter.
After that first deal got away from me, I continued to look for another few months without much success, but then I found a 2002 Titanium Silver M3 listed in Houston’s suburbs for $15K. The car was listed on CarGurus with only about five low quality photos and a small description, however it had 80K miles and I could tell that it was a no sunroof model so I reached out. After a few emails back and forth with the owner I learned it was his 3rd car, had been garage kept throughout his 11 year ownership, and had been in Houston since it was sold new. The Carfax was clean with no accident history and showed 3 prior owners. The E46 M3 is a great car, but does have a few known faults, specifically the rod bearings required a recall for the 2001 – 2003 model years and the DME needed to be re-flashed for emissions. The owner wasn’t aware if these had been take care of, however since I had the VIN and the Carfax, I was able to call on the owners behalf and get feedback from both his current mechanic and have the local BMW dealership run the VIN to make sure all recalls were taken care of. This gave me the peace of mind to move forward with the transaction.
The transaction itself was rather entertaining. I have bought and sold a few cars over the years, but it was clear the owner of the BMW was somewhat confused by the whole process. I came with a bill of sale, title transfer, and the mileage verification paperwork as well as a cashier’s check for the asking price. After test driving the car, we completed the paperwork at his house, but he insisted we needed to drive to his bank to verify the cashier’s check was good, even after multiple attempts at explaining that cashier’s check are effectively cash and therefore don’t require us to do that step. Given I wanted the car, I didn’t object to the trip to the bank however. At that point he handed me the keys to the car, the signed title, bill of sale, and the cashier’s check back until we got to the bank, which I don’t think he realized meant I had both the car and the cash! The teller at the bank seemed a little confused at first, but verified it was indeed a cashier’s check and we completed the transaction and parted ways.
A few days later I submitted the paperwork at the local DMV and dropped the car off at European Motor Gruppe for an inspection and some maintenance items, including all new fluids, replacing some dry rotted trim / weather stripping, and a few other preventative items totaling about $4K an eye opening reintroduction to BMW ownership. They also inspected the VANOS and rear-subframe, two common problem areas for the M3, and confirmed they were in good condition.
Overall I couldn’t be happier, the 2002 BMW E46 now has 81K miles and it's relatively rare and lightweight spec of non-sunroof ("slick-top"), manual seats, and a six-speed manual transmission is perfect. Stay tuned for some OEM+ updates, including new wheels and tires, a suspension refresh, and a rogue engineering exhaust.