If you’re reading this, it’s more likely than not that you are a petrolhead. Like me, you probably spend hours searching through eBay, Facebook Marketplace, and AutoTrader, looking at cars you’d love to have with absolutely no intention of buying them. All I’ve wanted is to find ways to explore my passion for cars, and driving a bunch of different cars sounds like a whole load of fun. So much so that I decided to start a little side hustle! I would find cheap cars for sale (priced between $1000 and $2000), clean them up, and aim to resell them for a profit. This would also give me a chance to drive the car and have some fun with it in the meantime.
The Impulsive Purchase
I’ve been doing it for a year or two, and it has been working great. However, $1000-$2000 doesn’t get you many “exciting” cars without any issues. I think you can see where this is going. Cue one sunny day in the summer of 2022. I was scrolling through the classifieds, and I stumbled across a 2003 BMW Z4 E85 with the 3.0-liter straight-six and a manual gearbox, all for only $1500!
Unveiling Hidden Issues
Well, that was that. I decided I had to have it, so I called the owner. He said it ran, it drove, it stopped. I went to look at the car, knowing that a good one of these is easily worth around $5000. I thought this would be the flip of the century. Upon turning up, I discovered why it was so cheap. The clutch was gone, and there was an issue with the power steering. The guy said he had no money to fix it since he had just lost his job. Perfect, I thought, these issues aren’t that serious.
The Never-Ending Repairs
He tried to take me for a drive around the block, but the clutch was slipping so badly that we were barely crawling around. It didn’t faze me, and after doing all my other checks, everything else seemed in order, and I promptly paid the man his $1500 and was on my way. He even called his friend with a recovery truck to drop it off at my house, all included in the sale price. A bargain!
Cosmetically, the car wasn’t in the best shape. The kid I bought it from had attempted to give the car a new look with a DIY paint job. He was going for a matte black finish but had told me that he used truck bedliner from a spray can on the whole car. To be fair, he had done a pretty good job. Although not perfect, this cost-cutting attitude should have raised a few flags. I was just far too excited that I now owned a convertible sports car!
So, I set about trying to get the car back on the road. I ordered a new clutch, had the car fully serviced since it came with no paperwork (obviously), and booked it with my local shop to have the power steering looked into. The day came to drop the car at the shop. It was only a mile away, and all downhill, so I thought I’d take a chance with the slipping clutch, and hopefully gravity would get me there. I got in to start the car, and it wouldn’t start.
A Costly Journey
Dead battery! Not the end of the world. I jumped into my daily driver, my Golf Mk5 GTI, and all was well. I got into the Z4, just as I put the car in gear and set off, the exhaust fell off. Brilliant, another job to add to the list. I just about got the car to the shop, and this is where the problems began.
After a clutch was fitted, and the exhaust was temporarily put back into place, the technician took the car for a drive and said that the differential had been welded. This, plus the absolute state of the rear tires, began painting a clear picture of what the previous owner was using this car for. The tires looked more like string cheese than any sort of tire.
It was at this point that the shop came back to me with an extensive list of the works needed:
– New rear brakes, disks, and brake pads
– Front wishbones bushings
– Front drop links
– Passenger Window Regulator
– Rear Taillight
– New Air intake
– New tires
– Rubber windscreen molding missing
That was on top of the full service, the exhaust, the clutch, and the power steering, which was still the biggest problem.
I didn’t think of this as a problem. I knew I’d need to spend some money on it, and I had budgeted up to $4000 total, leaving a nice profit of $1000. Most of the suspension and brakes were cheap enough on eBay and fitted with no problem. Even the differential was only a couple of hundred dollars, which wasn’t the end of the world either.
The shop did all the mechanical work it could. The main issue left was the power steering. I read that BMW had installed a complicated electric power steering system instead of a hydraulic system. So I asked the shop to remove the motor, and I sent the unit off to a specialist to repair. The part came back, we installed it into the car, but nothing. It wouldn’t work.
The Elusive Power Steering Fix
“No Connection” it said. So we took it out again, and I sent it off again. This happened three times before we concluded either the motor was finished or there was something else.
Another month goes by, so I called out a mobile mechanic specializing in BMWs. He came and looked at the car, which, of course, had died again. Damn battery, another thing to add to the list. After looking at the issue, he determined he needed to take the car back to his shop to have a proper look at it, but was confident that he could fix it.
Cue shop number 2. At this point, I’ve owned my E85 BMW Z4 for 3 months and have yet to drive it. Summer is fading, and the warm sunny days I had dreamed about driving my Z4 with the roof down were all but a pipe dream at this point.
A Frustrating Odyssey
The car was recovered again and taken to the second shop. This was further from where I lived and wasn’t easy for me to visit. It was a busy shop, and lots of vehicles and other industrial buildings were located there. The shop began diagnosing my power steering fault. A week later, they called.
They said they lifted the car into the air, and when inspecting the underside, said it looked all wrong. It was clear that someone had done work on the car and that the car had the wrong steering rack!
The Final Sale
What?! I quickly ordered a new steering rack and had it dropped off at the shop. More time and labor costs later, it was discovered that the steering rack in my E85 Z4 was from a BMW 1 Series. Could this get any weirder?
Sadly, after assembling the car again, the fault persisted, and I was advised to change the whole steering column. This is where things fell apart. The shop where the car was located then fell into trouble. The owner was kicked
out, and my car just sat there. Since the shop was far away, I would call, and I would keep getting promised that the work would be done next week, then the week after, then the week after.
Christmas came and went, and after the New Year, I said enough is enough. I went to see the car in person and collect it, only to find that it had been clamped, scraped on the front fender, and my wing mirror was smashed. Now, none of this is the car’s fault, but I was heartbroken.
I paid the fine to get the boot taken off and drove home to order a new wing mirror, sad that someone had hit my car. I returned a few days later, repaired and fit the new wing mirror glass, and drove home. However, the glass didn’t want to click into place, so I had to hold it with my hand as I drove along. It was January, and it was -2 degrees Celsius. I thought I was going to lose my hand; it was so cold.
Upon getting it home, I reached out to a power steering specialist. Shop number 3. They were great, although they also diagnosed a new steering column was needed, and it couldn’t be pre-owned like I always bought. It had to be new to be programmable. That sucker cost me over $1200, nearly more than the car cost me. Ouch!
But finally, in March of 2023, 9 months later, I had power steering and a fully functional BMW Z4. I couldn’t believe it. Finally, I could experience what all my friends had tried to tell me about BMWs.
The End of the Road
Why they are so beloved by car enthusiasts. I drove it home; the gear changes were slick, the steering was so sharp and responsive. I was in love. I could feel the rear wheels right behind me pushing me as I accelerated away. It was great.
Until I got home, and the battery died again. That’s it, time for a new battery.
At this point, the only thing left was some cosmetic improvements and replacing the tires. I replaced the broken tail light, bought new front grills as one of the spokes was missing, and gave the whole car a full detail, especially the interior and under the bonnet. The paintwork was tough to clean with its rough finish. I also bought new headlight covers and replaced them as they were becoming foggy and yellow on the inside. That was a tough job too!
The car needed a new air filter too, as the previous owner had installed a dodgy Pod filter. The engine and the car always stuttered and bogged down low in the revs, and I now discovered why. They had unplugged the Mass Airflow sensor. Great! So I bought a new one, plugged it in, and the car drove like a dream, except the engine light now comes on.
So no MAF sensor means no engine light, but plug in a new MAF sensor, and I get treated to an engine light? Thanks so much. I cleared the codes with my code reader and thought nothing more of it.
And so, I listed the car for sale. At this point, I had overspent, and the car owed me more than the $5000 I was hoping to get. But I thought the money I lost was worth it to experience a rear-wheel-drive icon and the legendary straight-six engine with the manual.
In the meantime, I arranged to meet a friend who lived 30 miles away. I was excited and decided to take the BMW. And off I went. Cruising through town, I had no idea the car got so many looks! As I hit the highway, all was well, until suddenly BANG!!
The Dramatic Conclusion
It was as if I had hit the mother of all potholes. A huge noise. I felt the whole car and my body jump at least a few inches off the ground. A loud whirling noise, I dropped the clutch, the revs dropped, I was traveling at 70 mph, and there was no run-off.
“This is it,” I thought to myself. “This is how I die.”
I coasted along for a few hundred meters, trying to gather my thoughts, keeping the car straight, thinking about how I was going to get home now.
“I don’t even have any roadside assistance,” I thought to myself.
Almost out of nowhere, a turn-off appeared. Hallelujah. I pulled off and gingerly drove the car to a suitable spot on the side of the road. All the gears seemed fine, the clutch seemed fine, the engine was still running, but what was that noise?
I got out to have a look, no fluids leaking, no obvious problems that I could see, under the bonnet was all fine, the car was idling okay. I called my friend, and he came to meet me. Since the car still seemed to drive, I drove it home.
At the shop the next day, they said the differential was blown. The first shop forgot to put any oil in the new differential. Well, great! Again, not the car’s fault, but the experience was terrifying, to say the least.
More out of pocket, I bought a second differential (AND SOME OIL) and had it fitted in the car.
The car had been for sale for a month, and no one wanted it. It seemed very few people wanted a car with as much work done to it as I had done. All the other listings had cars with the same age and mileage, saying “never needed any work. Runs great.”
Now, I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather have a car with a huge long list of work and proof of it being done than a 20-year-old car with none.
Each month the car was costing me in insurance and tax just to keep it, so I had to lower the price until finally one day, over a year after I had bought it, I sold it for a mere $3000.
I was robbed blind on that day, but I think my journey needed to come to an end. It had been a year of heartache, financial pain, and time spent on what seemed like a never-ending series of unfortunate events.
But I will never forget this E85 BMW Z4. Even my mom liked it. The memes of BMWs all do seem to be true sometimes. Even on the day it was sold, the oil light came on and went off for no reason. It’s like it was toying with me. I loved that car. Sadly, it was a love story not meant to be, but now I know exactly what my next car will be.
A used Toyota!
Patrick McCann is the Editor-in-Chief at www.wetrytires.com