Looking after a 1996 BMW 318is?
February 12, 2008 11:38 PM   Subscribe

Looking after a '96 BMW 318is?

I just bought a 1.9L 1996 BMW 318i coupe (208 000 kms) and would like advice on maintaining this particular model. As this isn't a Toyota, I'm concerned about it breaking down, based on my general impression of non-Japanese cars.

I've already done some researching and thankfully it seems pre-1996 318 models had certain, model-specific problems. So perhaps advice on just maintenance and prevention tips for BMW cars would suffice.
posted by gttommy to Travel & Transportation (6 answers total)
my 1995 318 had some small problems that were fixed during warranty: the paint peeled on the B-pillar (fixed), the A/C had a groaring noise when turned on low (groaring is a bmw term, I kid you not, for a low roaring sound). Nowadays my car is just a titch thirsty on oil, but this is easily remedied by checking the oil levels on a monthly basis and getting that oil change every 3K miles.

Otherwise, these little cars *rock*. Mine has been the lowest maintenance of any car I have owned, it is frugal on gas, it's solid on the highway no matter what speed I drive it at, it's retained its colour and lustre - likely because of our gentler Pacific NorthWest winters (my previous cars were bought when I lived in Montreal, across the country). My car has half the mileage of your car.

Treat it well, and it will treat you very well in return. Just watch the oil levels.
posted by seawallrunner at 12:00 AM on February 13, 2008

In that period, BMW made pretty reliable cars. You just want to keep up with the regular maintenance, and fix problems that you find early, before they worsen. I don't think you have a lot to worry about, besides the usual (oil changes, tires, brakes, belts, filters).

Also, hopefully you know what rear-wheel drive implies, as far as the response to messy road conditions. If not, you will want to spend a little time getting familiar with it, so it doesn't surprise you at the wrong time.
posted by knave at 2:34 AM on February 13, 2008

Get thee to an E36 forum! Roadfly used to be a pretty good one, but I haven't checked it in years, so I couldn't speak to its current quality.
posted by saladin at 4:58 AM on February 13, 2008

Make sure that the water pump (cooling pump) has been changed out on it at the required intervals -- 45,000 miles on the us model 1996 318ic that my father had. Those are known to fail, erm, spectacularly when they get old.

Wonderful car. Wish that I'd somehow managed to keep that particular one of my dad's cars. It saved me so many times from wrecks or other misfortunes with it's spectacular handling.

Preventative maintenance -- spending a day with your car every other week or so waxing, cleaning things, checking out anything that doesn't look right, topping off fuel levels -- will go a long way with this car. You can also buy the BMW-specific under-dashboard diagnostic computer for this model online... which will let you check out and clear any engine codes yourself. That thing was worth a couple hundred dollars in saved mechanic fees by itself... the BMW part for a new oxygen sensor was $200 plus a $100 in computer fees and $100 in labor. The computer cost us $150 and the part was $39 from NAPA.
posted by SpecialK at 5:10 AM on February 13, 2008

Bentley Publishers create some of the best service manuals around (here's one for the 3 series). I work near their garage and they are meticulous about tear-down and rebuild to write them. And I agree with saladin about joining a forum. Bentley also hosts BMW forums, including one for E36.
posted by cocoagirl at 7:08 AM on February 13, 2008

Between my father and I, and four of my friends, we have owned a lot of BMW's; one in particular for 10 years between us*. My advice is try not to scrimp on services - BMW parts ARE significantly better than after-market versions (unlike some other manufacturers) - and whilst I didn't go as far as a main dealer for service, I did use to take it to an independent specialist that only used original parts. The labour costs were lower, and the extra money was well spent - it never missed a beat for the whole time we had it.

I loved that car*. I only sold it (to one of the above friends - it had 170,000 miles on it at the time) when I left the country. I'd still have it (2 years later) if I hadn't left. Short story - think of service as investment. It's worth the extra few dollars/pounds/euros/shekkels for the real parts, and if you look after it, it will look after you.

Keep cleaning it, as mentioned, including under the bonnet. Cleaning things is when you notice problems, and early fixes are invariably cheaper on any car. I'd wager it has a reliability record to rival a Toyota, too.
posted by Brockles at 7:42 AM on February 13, 2008

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