BMW had already been manufacturing the 3 Series for 30 years when the all-new E90, part of the BMW E90 3 Series family, was launched in 2005. Unlike the previous E46 in terms of character and styling, the E90 3 Series was based on the 2004 BMW 1 Series platform, with nearly identical suspension, steering, and brakes. In this article, we will give you some advice on how to buy a used BMW E90 3 Series, things to look for and issues to avoid.
A Variety of Models
The model range remained much the same as before, featuring the N46-powered 318i and 320i, along with the 2.0 M47N diesel 318d and 320d models. The older M54 engine had been replaced by the new N52 engines in the 325i and 330i, while the 330d used the M57N2 engine from the E60 530d. Both the 2.5 and 3.0 N52 engines were all-alloy Valvetronic straight-sixes, producing 215 bhp and 258 bhp, respectively.
In 2006, BMW introduced the 335i with the twin-turbo N54 engine, along with the twin-turbo 335d and the E91 Touring. This was followed by the E92 Coupe and Convertible models. In 2007, the N46 petrol engine was replaced by the N43 direct injection unit in non-US markets, and the M47N diesel was substituted with the all-alloy N47. The N52 engine was succeeded by the direct injection 3.0 N53, except in the USA, where the N52 was retained. The direct injection N53 engines delivered 215 bhp and 268 bhp from a 3.0 core engine.
The 3.0 M57N diesel engine was replaced by the new N57 for the 330d, which was essentially a six-cylinder version of the N47 with a rear-mounted timing chain. The 325d retained the M57N for another year. N43-powered Coupe and Convertible cars were launched as the 320i, with a 318i version arriving later.
The E90 underwent a facelift in late 2008, known as the LCI model. The LCI featured new LED rear lights, a redesigned ‘double hump’ bonnet, an improved grille, restyled bumpers, and wheels. BMW also replaced the twin-turbo N54 engine in the 335i with the single-turbo N55, and production concluded in 2012 in preparation for the all-new F30 3 Series.
Trim and Equipment
Base ES models are relatively uncommon because SE models offered digital climate control, cruise control, a multi-function steering wheel, and rear PDC parking sensors. M Sport variants added sports seats, wheels, and suspension, along with M Sport bumpers and sills, Alcantara suede trim, and high-gloss shadow-line exterior trim.
The BMW E90 3 Series came with a wide range of optional features, including full leather, metallic paint, Xenon lights, headlight washers, rain-sensing wipers, PDC for both front and rear, a six-speed automatic transmission, seats with electric adjustment and/or heating, professional navigation with or without a TV function, LOGIC7 or HiFi upgraded speakers, an electric glass moonroof, electric rear screen blind, and through-loading rear seats. Finding a well-equipped car where the first owner opted for these extras is the key to a satisfying purchase.
Body and Electrics
After the rust-prone E46, the E90 3 Series was a revelation. Coupes and Convertibles have plastic front wings, and upgrading with M Sport bumpers and accessories is relatively straightforward. Components like door locks and window regulators are far more reliable than those of the E46. The electrical system generally performs well. It’s essential to use the correct type of battery; switching between wet-cell and AGM types requires coding the new battery to the car.
All E90 3 Series models feature an electric steering lock with two potential error messages. The orange steering wheel symbol indicates a fault that can often be resolved by clearing the fault code and resetting the counter with diagnostics. The red steering wheel symbol signifies that the steering is locked and the car cannot be driven.
In such cases, the lock may need to be removed and cleaned. While Xenon lights provide excellent illumination, adaptive Xenons can be costly to replace. Convertibles are susceptible to water leaks, which should be addressed promptly. The comfort access relay, located either behind the rear bumper or rear boot trim panel, may fail, rendering the car undriveable; unplugging it can restore functionality.**
The suspension is robust, and both hydraulic and electric power steering racks are durable and cost-effective to replace with used parts. Typically, all four shocks will require replacement by 100,000 miles, and rear subframe corrosion can occur on older vehicles from harsh climates.
ABS faults may be attributed to sensor issues or rusted trigger rings on the rear outer CV joints, which can be resolved by replacing the driveshafts and fitting new rings. ABS modules are increasingly prone to failure, but on four-cylinder models, there are usually plenty of good used modules available.
Poor brake servo action may indicate a failed vacuum pump on the back of the cylinder head. Noisy final drives on 318i, 320i, and 323i cars are common; these models use a smaller differential, and replacing it with a good used unit is the best solution. The E90 comes with either a six-speed manual or a six-speed automatic transmission.
Be cautious of second gear synchromesh issues or failing reverse gear. A juddering clutch suggests a need for a new dual-mass flywheel, particularly on diesel models, where a chattering clutch pedal may indicate a failing flywheel. Automatic transmissions are generally reliable; issues may stem from software problems or a leaking rubber bridge seal between the valve block and transmission casing. A good used automatic transmission is usually more cost-effective than a rebuild.
The N46 engine has experienced several issues due to its age, including problems with the timing chain, plastic tensioner guides, vanos gears, Valvetronic motor and sensor issues, numerous oil leaks, and worn piston rings/stem seals leading to oil smoke. The timing chain assembly should be replaced by 100,000 miles.
The N43 engines, not sold in the US, lack Valvetronic components but have four costly Piezo injectors, as well as potential issues with the NoX sensor and oil pressure, often caused by the electronic pressure control valve behind the alternator and worn balance shafts. The M47N diesel engine is reliable but requires regular oil changes and a new breather every 40,000 miles. For the 320d, it’s advisable to remove the intake manifold swirl flaps.
The N47 and N57 engines feature a rear-mounted timing chain, and it’s recommended to replace it, along with the oil pump chain, around the 100,000-mile mark, using genuine BMW parts. The N52 six-cylinder petrol engines are solid performers but are now aging. The timing chain is similar to that of the N46 but is less prone to issues.
The electric water pump is a component that may need replacement as a precautionary measure. The belt that drives the power steering pump, AC compressor, and other components can sometimes come off due to a worn tensioner assembly or a worn engine mount, allowing the power steering pump pulley to contact the crossmember.
Worn inlet and exhaust cam bearing ledges can cause a groove to form in the alloy cam carrier, leading to reduced oil pressure for the Vanos operation. Fixing this issue often requires a new or good used cylinder head, as the inlet bearing ledge is integral to the head itself. Teflon seals can be fitted if the carriers are not severely damaged. Consider replacing the Vanos solenoids first, as their failure can produce similar symptoms.
The N53, which replaced the N52, features replaceable bearing ledges but is prone to the same Piezo injector and NoX faults as the N43. As for the 335i, these vehicles were equipped with the twin-turbo 3.0 N52 engine with high-pressure direct injection, offering impressive performance. However, after ten or more years of hard driving, many examples exhibit bottom-end problems.