Budget Bimmer Part TWO: The E46 touring returns

A few years ago, when Pam and I decided to get another dog, I decided we needed a dog car first. Of course, I did. So the quest for an E46 wagon began. Like most of you, I wanted the unicorn 5-speed car, but a beautiful silver wagon popped up on AutoTrader one night for $6,500. Beautiful, one-owner, and RWD. Three out of four stars towards being a unicorn. But just a little more than I wanted to spend. And it was an automatic.

Back then, before COVID, getting on a plane for a few hours and driving home a thousand miles was nothing. So a quick hop to LAX to meet the owners of this wagon didn’t seem like a big deal. Two-hour flight and a little over 900 mi home. Still too much and still an automatic.

However, as someone I’m convinced was a single-minded dog, like a chow-chow or a terrier in another life, I watched that silver wagon for about two weeks. Suddenly, there’s a massive price drop, “$3,800 must sell.” I email the seller immediately, and we decide to chat first thing in the morning. “What’s wrong with it?” are the first words out of my mouth. The fellow on the other end of the phone explains that he and his wife ordered a new Tesla, and it arrived – right now. If you recall, three years ago, when your Tesla arrived right now, you either took it or got booted to the back of the queue. Way back. “Yeah, where we live, our CC&Rs won’t even let us park a car in the driveway, so the wagon has to go. But we bought it new and want it to go to someone who’s going to take care of it.”

I knew I found the right car. I PayPal him $500 to seal the deal and book a flight for Friday. I love flying one way with no luggage. I bring my briefcase, laptop, and a clean pair of socks for the ride home, straight North up the I-5. I notice the owner’s jeans are covered with sparkly stuff as she gets out of the car. The next thing I see is a shredded driver’s seat. Go figure.

We have a great chat. They took fantastic care of the car, and she hands me a folder with nearly every receipt since the day they picked it up at Beverly Hills BMW. We walk up to the teller window, I transfer the cash, and she signs over the title. 45 min later, I’m through town and headed back to Washington state. The car runs perfectly, not a hiccup, and everything works as it should. The car feels tight. We’ve got our dog car!

I end up calling it a night about 9 pm, and by this time, I am within a 100 miles of the Washington border so that the remaining drive home will be pretty easy.

Getting up at sunrise, I’m back on the road again, Egg McMuffin in hand. I only stop once more for fuel and a couple pics as the sun rises out of the fog. This 323 is going to be a nice wagon. 
Pulling in the driveway, Pam is again impressed that I’ve found another great BMW for not crazy money and wasn’t abducted by strangers.

A full weekend cleaning the car up does not reveal any anomalies, and I happen to have a set of 17-inch Style 17s with brand new Pirellis mounted (from my 330i) that will make up for the rashed 16s with nearly bald Continentals. Swapping tires, I notice that all the front suspension components look like new. A quick text to the prior owner reveals that when the car went in for its last service (thinking the Tesla was much further on the horizon), he just replaced everything. “I’ve always been fussy about this car.” I’m feeling even better about this touring.

Perusing the maintenance history reveals that this car had some transmission work done at about 120k and that it’s been well taken care of its entire life.

 As I’m cozying up to life with my E46 touring, Pam’s daughter’s car takes a turn for the worse. “Can’t we just let her have the wagon? You don’t really need it.” Those fateful words. Pam is always a sport on all things cars. However, I just spent a month agonizing over this car, and my adrenaline levels were coming back down to normal, especially after spending a whole weekend cleaning it up inside, out, and under the hood. I’ve already made an appointment with Beaverton Upholstery to get the front seats re-trimmed. Grrrr.

Of course, I caved in. I can never tell those big green eyes no. That’s more than a story for another day; it’s a screenplay. A week later, I hand over the keys to said stepdaughter and her dopey boyfriend, who has dreams of making this into a drift car. I remember the original owner’s words: “I just couldn’t bear to sell this car to someone that wanted to slam it to the ground and put 20s on it…”

Sometimes, you have to do what you have to do to keep the peace.

As fate would have it, though, almost three years and 30 thousand miles later, said stepdaughter is at a crossroads. She thinks the car has blown a head gasket (my heart sinks at the thought of this car now being trashed), but a trip to Austin over at Autobahn Motorsports, where my Z3 coupe is getting a suspension and clutch refresh, can take time out of his busy day to inspect.

It turns out someone did a lousy job of bleeding the cooling system, and that’s all the overheating problem is. Austin feels the oil

separator needs replacement at some point and is worried about future transmission failure. 

We decide to get Pam’s daughter a new Hyundai Kona (which takes me off the hook as lender of last resort when the E46 needs something major down the road) on one condition: I get the wagon back. Yep, I’m officially a taker backer. In the girl’s defense, this car comes back after almost three years in far better shape than the Passat wagon I let my daughter “borrow” for a year. (it was supposed to be two weeks) That car was trashed beyond belief. Fortunately, the E46 comes back with the body still dent-free and interior relatively intact.

It’s going to need a front bumper cover at some point, the indicators are still wonky, and no one ever addressed the intake situation; it’s been taped together with electrical tape. The engine bay is filthy again, but it looks like a new brake booster and master cylinder have been installed. This weekend, I’ll have to inspect the brakes and check the suspension – the car now rides suspiciously rough. I’m suspecting cheap coil overs. And that purple matte wrap on the mirrors has to go – now.


But there’s nothing that can’t be fixed, and it will be some good therapy for the summer. Who knows, maybe we’ll still get that dog after all. At least now we have the car for it.