I Spent 5x My E46 BMW 330d's Value Fixing It, Have No Regrets

Fixing my 330d has been hellishly expensive, yet I have no regrets. But don’t be like me because your wallet will hate you...
I Spent 5x My E46 BMW 330d's Value Fixing It, Have No Regrets

Let me clarify the headline. Yes, I’ve spent an idiotic amount fixing up an old BMW, and it’s nowhere near done yet. In many ways, I don’t regret it, because the money is already gone, and I bloomin’ love the car. But then again, if I knew before I bought it how much it would end up costing, I’d have run a mile.

This story starts in 2021, when it became clear that I needed to buy a car. My family (wife, infant daughter and I) had a single leased family wagon – a Skoda Octavia – but with my wife regularly out with the child, I was often car-less.

Bored of occasional car hire, I decided it would be very sensible to buy an old-ish car that needed a small amount of work, and budget around £5000 for everything. Having sold my Renault Clio 172 Cup a year earlier, I was looking forward to another project. (Never mind that projects require time and small children take all that time away.)

I Spent 5x My E46 BMW 330d's Value Fixing It, Have No Regrets

But then I stumbled across an ad for a black 2002 BMW 330d Touring M Sport, with a five-speed manual gearbox. The pictures were taken on a very nice day and by gum, it looked lovely. Sure, the mileage was quite high at around 186,000, but there was lots of detail in the ad, and as a bonus, there was a forum thread where the seller had documented his time with the car. He’d clearly enjoyed the ownership and put some time and effort into looking after it. It appealed. And an early 2000s BMW would be more fun to drive than a ‘90s Volvo.

I wasn’t actually looking for an E46. I definitely wanted an estate, because Lifestyle, and had numerous classified alerts for Volvo 940s. Spacious, rear-wheel-drive and retro – what’s not to like?

I Spent 5x My E46 BMW 330d's Value Fixing It, Have No Regrets

The car was close, so I spoke to the seller straight away. He could see me that same day. Surely this was a sign. Off I went for a test drive.

At this point, I hadn’t driven an E46 before. And it felt… OK. Handling wasn’t pin-sharp but then the tyres were on their way out. The straight-six diesel engine felt excellent; big swells of torque and effortless acceleration on the dual carriageway, helped by a rolling road-tuned map that had upped the oomph from 181bhp to 230. The bodywork had a couple of small rust spots at the bottom of the front doors, some bubbling on the rear arches and boot lid and a patch of knackered lacquer on the bonnet, but this was a 20-year-old car with a lot of miles on it. A big book of receipts all made it seem very attractive.

The asking price was a bit high at around £3000. I knocked him down to £2700 and agreed to buy it there and then. In hindsight, I got carried away in the moment; around £2,000 was probably a better price. but anyway, the deal was done on the condition that the seller get it through its MOT, which he duly did.

I Spent 5x My E46 BMW 330d's Value Fixing It, Have No Regrets

I took my new car straight to a BMW specialist for a post-purchase inspection. The news wasn’t great. The boot floor was cracked – a common issue on E46s, caused by strain on the subframe mounting points, but one I’d thought was restricted to E46 M3s. It isn’t. It would need reinforcement plates welding in, and it would be expensive. Thousands of pounds expensive.

In addition, there were various bits that were about to need replacing. This was a crunch point – take the plunge and get the work done, or get scared and sell it for parts at a big loss?

I should have realised that maybe the car hadn’t been looked after as well as I’d thought, and bailed then and there. But reader, I didn’t. I gave the go-ahead for a Grand Overhaul – new subframe, bushings, welded boot floor, new shocks all round and various replacement chassis bits to get everything up to scratch.

I Spent 5x My E46 BMW 330d's Value Fixing It, Have No Regrets

My logic was that I had already budgeted extra to fix things, and it would be better to get everything done once, properly. Sure, it would go a bit over the £5,000 budget, but at the end, I’d have a badass E46 that should keep me going for several years.

A day into the work, I received some photos from the garage. Under the now-removed subframe, the mechanic found rust. Quite a lot of rust. Not enough to write off the car, but rust that would need sorting. The estimated cost to cut and weld in new metal was another few thousand, which I didn’t have. I decided to have it Waxoyled to heck and worry about it later.

A few days later, the work was done and I’d already spent more than double what I’d paid for the car. My credit card was hot to the touch, but it was done and the car felt much, much better.

I Spent 5x My E46 BMW 330d's Value Fixing It, Have No Regrets

Obviously, that didn’t last. A few months later the water pump went. Then the electric fan broke, and various hoses leaked and needed replacing. One of the alloys was buckled and three needed refurbing. The new-but-very-cheap tyres that the previous owner put on to pass the MOT were both rubbish and started to bulge after a year, so I splashed out on a full set of Michelin Pilot Sport 5s all round. Then the steering started to wander in a straight line, which led to a new universal joint and drop links. Oh, and the rear nearside top mount went, punching a hole through the trim in the boot. So that was replaced, too.

There have also been various cosmetic bits and bobs done, which when I look through the receipts have started to mount up. Overall, I’m well into five figures spent – enough to buy a much better car.

I Spent 5x My E46 BMW 330d's Value Fixing It, Have No Regrets

So what’s the lesson? Firstly, a new project car and a new baby don't go well together; I’ve had no time to do anything but the most basic work myself. Additionally, I did what I tell other people not to do – got carried away with excitement and bought the first cool car I saw without doing proper diligence or haggling properly. So, don’t do that. I also should have taken the initial hit and gotten rid when I first had the car looked at by someone competent and qualified. That would have been the financially prudent approach.

And yet. If I wanted to be financially sensible, I’d have bought something newer and lower risk. And where’s the fun in that? Despite the ruinous costs that, let’s face it, are going to keep coming (I still haven’t sorted the underbody rust), I really, really like my E46. I can’t walk away from it without looking back, and it finally drives really nicely – taut but comfortable with a precision to the handling that makes it genuinely engaging on a B-road. It’s also very happy to cruise at 70mph for hundreds of miles.

Or rather, it will be once it moves again – the starter motor died the other day, so it’s dead on the drive. Now, where did I put my wallet?