How To Buy (And Own) A BMW E30
Buying a BMW E30 is an exciting experience. They’re light, quick, fun, and timelessly styled. If you get one that’s in good shape, and you take care of it, they’re also reliable. If you’re thinking about buying an E30, awesome! If you’re still figuring out which E30 models you’re interested in, check out the “Which E30 Should You Buy” post over on the Classic Bimmer Bits blog. Once you’ve decided what you want, we’re here to help teach you exactly what to look for during the purchasing process. We’ve created this comprehensive buying and ownership guide, compiling our years of experience buying, owning, and working on E30s to help summarize the key things you need to look for when you purchase one yourself. So read through, take some notes, and go find yourself a BMW E30.
BMW E30 Resources:
Here's a list of extremely helpful resources in the research phase when buying your BMW E30, as well as support afterward:
- FCP Euro Blog - Where you are now. A DIY and entertainment resource that is actively growing. This covers all makes and models of European vehicles. Use the search tool to find E30-specific content.
- R3VLimited - This is the online community for E30 owners. As the primary E30-specific forum, you won’t find a place with more answers to your questions about everything E30 related. The community here is generally helpful, with some original members who are actual experts on these cars. One tip if you’re new to E30s and the R3VLimited community: spend some time searching forums before you start a new thread with questions. People in this community welcome new E30 owners, but respect users who have spent some time researching before asking a question that may have been answered many times before.
- Classic Bimmer Bits - Classic Bimmer Bits is a small but growing E30 site, with thorough DIY instructions for many E30 repairs and general maintenance. The how-to guides are detailed and loaded with pictures to help both new and experienced E30 owners know exactly how to work on their cars. New how-tos are added regularly, so check back often or sign-up for the email notifications. Full disclosure: this site is run by the author of this guide; we hope that encourages you to check it out and give them a like!
Bimmerforums - There’s a pretty sizable community on the site, with a fair amount of overlap of R3VLimited users. When you’re looking for answers, this is a useful resource. However, note that Bimmerforums covers a lot of BMW models, so you’ll need to make sure you’re in the E30 sub-forums before you start searching.
Facebook Groups - These are mostly local, but it seems a lot of buying and selling has shifted to Facebook groups. This is especially the case since they have their own classifieds system. I don't have a link since these are local to you.
E30Zone - This site has an expansive wiki with loads of information on E30s. This is a great place to go to find out what are common causes of particular problems you’re having; they particularly have some great wiring diagrams and a step-by-step engine troubleshooting guide. Just bear in mind that this is a UK-based site, so some information isn’t accurate for US cars (if only our wiper motors were as easy to replace as theirs!)
RealOEM - You're going to live and die by this website. I recommend adding your VIN and bookmarking the page that comes up; you will be referencing this website often. Once you know the part you need, just copy that number and paste it into our search tool!
- BimmerCat- Another site similar to RealOEM. The best reference for specific parts and their associated part numbers. Again, take the part number, paste it in our search tool and add that part to your cart.
- Bring a Trailer - Bring a Trailer serves as a great tool to gauge market values. Almost always cars go for top dollar here, though, you can use it to recognize market trends. If you go to the car specific pages, popular models like the E30 M3 have a price history graph and old auctions for reference.
Tips When Buying A Used Car:
These first tips apply to all used car buying, not just the BMW E30. By sticking to these, you will most certainly end up with a better car than otherwise. It might seem like extra hassle and work now, but how long do you foresee yourself owning your car? The added hassle in the buying stage will save you untold amounts of headache in the long run.
Use patience - My first suggestion, and I will say it over and over again. If you've not done a lot of car buying in the past, this will make the most significant difference in the quality of car that you buy. You get to drive more cars during your search, giving you a good baseline on what makes one car better or worse than the next. Don't jump on the first car you see; a better car will always come along.
Look far and wide - It isn't nearly as expensive to ship a car or fly one-way to a car as it may seem. By expanding your search, your options open up ten-fold. If you live in the Northeast, expanding your search to the South and to the West opens up cars that haven't experienced the horror that is winter in the Northeast.
Learn the signs of flood-damaged cars - These last few years there have been an unusually high amount of severe coastal storms. As a result of this, there's currently an abundance of cars coming from down South that have been damaged in the resulting floods. Just personally, I've seen flooded cars being sold as far north as New Hampshire! Stay away from these at all costs. Here is a great write-up on the subject from Carfax.
Look for cars with maintenance documents - Maintenance documents can save you a remarkable amount of money. Knowing how the car has been treated throughout its life can tell you a lot about how it will treat you. Anyone can claim parts were replaced, and work was completed; unless they have the documentation to back it up, their word is meaningless.
Have a pre-purchase inspection done - I can't tell you how many people I've suggested have one done when buying a car, then not have one and regret it down the line. They're really not expensive relative to the price of the car. I just had one done on my new (to me) Mini Cooper S at a mini dealership, and it cost me $90. They normally range anywhere from $80-$150 and can be done at many independent shops, dealerships, and mobile inspection services.
First Things First - Before Seeing The Car:
There are a few things you should look into before seeing the car. It’s always worth running a vehicle history report, so you know what you’re getting into. While a salvage title car may not be a deal-breaker for you, you want to know if the car has ever been totaled. Keep in mind that any BMW E30 you’re considering has over 25 years of history. There are many salvage title cars on the road, and they can be perfectly fine. These cars bottomed out in value at around $2000, so a car could have been totaled for anything from a minor fender-bender to a total wreck. Any sort of significant insurance-covered repair could be the cause for totaling, so you don’t necessarily need to run away from a salvage title car. What you want to avoid is a car that’s seen flood damage, or been bent out of shape in an accident. Running a vehicle history before seeing the car will both save you some hassle if you don’t want a salvage car, and let you know if you need to on the lookout for body and flood damage if it is one.
Another little BMW E30 oddity to be on the lookout for is the transmission; did it leave the factory as an auto or manual transmission. There are loads of automatic cars that have been converted to manual by now, and it’s a straightforward swap that’s no big deal, but you’ll want to know that going into the purchase.
A vehicle history report can also tell you something about the odometer status. Chances are that the car has seen a handful of owners over its 25+ year life, so there’s no rhyme or reason to how many miles it may have seen in a particular year. But if you see 5 years of registrations with no change in mileage, then you know the odometers gears have been broken for a long time, and you can count on the true mileage being quite a bit more than what the odometer shows.
Before seeing the car, or while looking it over, ask the owner what they know about the car’s history. Particularly, ask how recently the timing belt and water pump have been replaced, as these are critical maintenance items. You can also ask if the odometer works, when the oil was last changed, and what kind of oil it’s got in it.
In Person - The Pre-Drive Inspection:
Once you have a little info and history on the car, it’s time to see it in person. We’ll always recommend against buying a car sight unseen, although we’ll admit we’re guilty of it. No amount of pictures, videos, or description can tell you what you can find out from 20 minutes with the car itself. The straightness of the car, the condition of the paint, how smooth it accelerates, brakes, turns, and shifts are tactile experiences. You need to see, hear, feel, and smell the car to really know what’s what. We haven’t found a good reason to bring in the 5th sense and taste a car yet, but we’ll keep you updated.
Bodywork is one area that can be expensive to repair. For that reason, it’s worth taking a good look over a prospective car to decide what you’re willing to accept. Cars this old will almost inevitably have some flaws, so you’ll need to decide what you can live with. Road rash and paint chips are no big deal, you can get touch up paint to cover these. Areas to be concerned with are faded paint and blistered clearcoat since they’ll require respraying to fix.
You also want to take a good look down the length of the car on each side, looking for big dents or tweaks in the body. Look for inconsistent gaps between body panels side to side, around the hood, doors, trunk, etc., as these can indicate that the car, or at least some of the body panels, aren’t straight.
Rust is potentially the number one killer for an E30. Rust repair is completely do-able, but depending on where it shows up, repairs can get expensive and time-consuming. Rust can strike anywhere, so it’s worth looking over the car thoroughly, but several areas are particularly prone to the tin worm:
This is the number one spot for rust in E30s with the battery in the trunk (all the 325 models). Battery acid leaks and vapors eat away at the tray and eventually rot out the right rear corner of the valance. Take a good look at the rear valance from underneath, looking for rust and holes, then open the trunk and look from inside. It’s awesome to find a car with clean battery tray, but it’s also not the end of the world if there is rust. Since this area is primarily covered by textured stone guard, it’s repairable without significant bodywork. But you’ll need to be ready for some cutting and welding.
A rusted—and poorly repaired—battery tray at the rear-right corner of the car.
Rear Wheel Wells:
Take a look inside the rear wheel wells, particularly the outside corners at the front and back of the well. These areas get sprayed with road salt and mud and are very likely to see some rust. If the rust doesn’t extend to the painted outsides of the fenders, then repair is fairly simple and non-cosmetic. Rot into the painted part of the fender is a little more concerning. Take a look at the shock mount in the wheel well as well, making sure it’s not rotted around the mount. This is pretty rare but worth checking while you’re in there.
A moderately rusted rear wheel well. This rust has penetrated to the outside of the fender, but it's still within the textured black stone guard area, so it can be repaired without too much cosmetic work.
This area is notorious and about as common as the battery tray. Clogged sunroof seals, leaky seals in the firewall, or damage to the front “jack points” (see below) can all result in rust in the floors. Take a look under the car, right where the floor starts to slope up into the firewall. Poke around and look for holes. Repairing this area is entirely non-cosmetic, and one of the most common metal repairs to make on E30s.
Floor rust is prevalent on E30s. While bad rust like this looks terrible, it's patchable, and you don't have to be an artist to do it since it's hidden under the carpets on the inside and under-body coating on the outside.
Front Jack Points:
This one is a misnomer. There’s a square pad at the corner of the rocker panel, floor, and firewall. These are frequently mistaken for jack points, but are entirely non-structural and aren’t intended to support the weight of the car. If they’ve been used to lift the car, they often crack the seam in the corner and allow water in, eventually causing rust. You can catch this while inspecting the front floors.
While you’re looking under the car, take a peek at the rear floors. These are far less common, but if water pooled in the rear footwells consistently, they can rot as well, this is another non-cosmetic metal repair.
These square areas right behind the front wheel wells are not jack points. Don't use them that way!
Front Shock Towers:
Take a look into the wheel wells, and from the top with the hood open. This is pretty rare but worth checking. If they are rotted through, this repair is fairly involved.
Take a look under the front bumper, at the metal plate running under the radiator. This is a pretty common area for rust. However, unless it’s completely rotted through, rust in this area isn’t really a big deal. We’ve also seen cases where someone used the support to jack the car up and crumpled it. It’s not supposed to hold the weight of the car, so check this area both for rust and jack damage.
This crumpled radiator support has obviously been used as a jack point, but it's relatively rust-free.
License Plate Lights:
Look at the two lights tucked under the trunk lid, over the license plate. If the trunk seal or light gaskets are deteriorated, and there’s been a lot of moisture in the area, they can rot out.
Take a look at the top of the sunroof, and the roof around it, looking for bubbles in the paint. Slide the sunroof into the forward, tipped up position, and look at the tabs on the bottom of the sunroof panel. They’re all relatively common areas for rust. The sunroof panel isn’t too big of a deal, you can always find one on eBay or the forums. Rust in the roof around the panel is a little more difficult to fix and will require excellent bodywork and paint to look right.
Little bubbles on the outside (top) generally mean much worse underneath (bottom)! Fortunately, in this case, it’s on the sunroof panel itself, and not any of the roof panels around it.
After you’ve given the outside a once over, time to check out the inside. First, feel the floors in front of the seats, front and rear, looking for dampness. Leaks from the sunroof drains or firewall are pretty common, and while they’re not a real big deal, they can be indicators of existing or coming rust.
Next, check out the seats. Be realistic: they’re thirty years old and so torn seams in leather or vinyl seats, or frayed fabric on cloth seats, is very common. Slide the seats back and forth, and try the recline function, as repairing seat hinges is a little tedious, and used seats in good shape can be expensive.
These are typical driver seats in cloth (left) and vinyl (right). It’s not unusual for seats to be in this condition; you can live with it, swap in better seats, or recover a pair yourself with one of the available aftermarket kits.
Look over the dash. Crack-free dashboards are a hot commodity in the BMW E30 world; thirty years of UV rays means even the new old stock parts are pretty brittle anymore. Most cars you see will have cracks in the dashboard; If it’s a big deal for you cosmetically, they can be replaced with several hours of labor.
Cracks like this in the dashboard are very typical. You're lucky if you can find a car without them.
If the car has manual windows and sunroof, give them a try. Make sure the windows go down and up completely. If not, it’s a bit time consuming, but they’re entirely replaceable. The sunroof is a little more difficult to get operating correctly. Wind it forward and up, then down and all the way back, making sure everything operates smoothly. One silly but expensive note: If the sunroof crank hangs down and doesn’t stay in the closed position, BMW ones are expensive, and the MTL ones last about a month. One tip from Alex Frank, our VP of E-commerce and one of our resident E30 owners: If your sunroof crank is hanging, another option that you can try is using a large pair of channel locks to punch the mechanism. The detent should close back around the arm without harming anything.
This silly crank will set you back almost $180. The $15 non-OEM alternative isn't worth the cost savings.
Starting The Car:
After a thorough inspection of the car non-running, it’s time to start checking it’s actual mechanical functions. There are a couple of things you’ll want to check as the car starts up, so don’t just jump in and turn the key. With the key in the accessory position, take a look at the gauge cluster lights. The red warning lights at the bottom should light up. This is important because you want to know that all the warning lights work, in case any of them should be lit up while the car is running. The service indicator lights, the bar of green/yellow/red LEDs, should have at least the yellow and red lights lit up, and likely some of the green lights. Note the status of the lights, and ask about any of the warning lights that aren’t lit up. Now you’re ready to start the car.
When the car starts, look for signs of oil or coolant burning out of the exhaust, as these can be indicators of a leaking head gasket, worn piston rings, or more seriously, head or block cracks. Burning oil will typically leave a sooty residue above the exhaust tip, and will issue blue smoke. Burning coolant will blow white smoke, generally on startup, and when you hit the gas.
Gauge Cluster & Check Panel:
As you start the car, take another look at the gauge cluster. Take note of the status of the bar of service indicator lights. They should all go off after the car starts. If they stay on, it typically means the service indicator (SI) board batteries are dead, and the SI board will need to be replaced. All of the warning light should also go off. If not, some are a bigger deal than others. You can ignore the “brake lining” light, as most cars simply don’t have the sensors connected anymore. The ABS light is indicative of an ABS problem, obviously, and may be an issue. However, we’ve driven multiple BMW E30s with ABS lights, and while yes, the ABS doesn’t work, the brakes function fine without it.
Gauge cluster lights with keys in the accessory position (top) and after turning the car on (bottom). Take note all the lights that should be on before the car starts, and that all except the parking brake light (assuming it’s on) should go out after it starts. In this example that the “brake lining” light is still lit, and the car is overdue for maintenance (or hasn’t had the timer reset), so the service interval lights stay on.
If the “Check” light is flashing, take a look at the check panel above the rear view mirror. All of these lights are indicative of problems worth investigating. The light related warnings usually just indicate a burnt-out bulb. The coolant and oil lights can be caused by bad sensors, but you’ll want to check the coolant and oil levels to make sure. You can clear the flashing light on the gauge cluster by pressing the “Check” button on the panel; make sure that all of the LEDs on the panel light up when you do, indicating that they work properly.
A legitimate check panel warning that a brake light is out (top), and all of the labeled check panel lights should illuminate when the button is pressed to show that they work (bottom).
Electric Windows & Sunroof:
Check electric windows and sunroof at this point, looking for full up/down operation of the windows, and full back forward operation of the sunroof. Non-operational windows can be due to a bad switch or a window. If the owner is okay with it, you can swap switches to check. Also, make sure that both switches work and are plugged in at the window and the console. If one isn't plugged in, neither will work. New OEM switches are $100, so it’s a simple, but expensive fix. Window motors are costly new but can be found used for a reasonable price, although the repair is involved.
Swapping window switches out is a quick way to determine if a window issue is actually a problem with the window and motor, or just a switch.
Heater Blower Motor:
Check that the blower motor runs at all 4 speeds. If it only blows on the “4” setting, it’s just the blower motor resistor, a cheap and relatively easy fix. Not running at all typically means the blower motor is shot; the motor is a bit pricey, but not difficult to replace.
Under The Hood:
With the car started, you’ll want to spend some time under the hood. Look for any obvious fluid leaks, like oil or coolant. Unless it’s actively dripping, oil leaks aren’t unusual, and usually, aren’t too serious. You don’t want to hear any screeches or squeals, which could simply be loose belts but could be more significant, like bad bearings in the water pump or alternator. M20 engines (the inline six-cylinder on 325 models) are notorious for sounding like sewing machines when the rocker arms tap on the valves. Unless it’s very loud, this isn’t a big deal, and may just indicate that the valves need to be adjusted, a simple job. M42’s (the 4 cylinder in most of the 318 models) can sound a little bit like a sewing machine as well, for the same reason. They can also have a rattle due to worn timing chain guides, so listen for that. Both engines should idle below 1000 rpm, and the idle shouldn’t wander up and down excessively.
The Test Drive:
Once you’ve been over the car thoroughly when it’s not moving, you’re ready to take it on the road. There are quite a few things to look for on the test drive. You’ll want to find some roads with areas to accelerate and brake quickly, somewhere to get up to enough speed to get into 5th gear, some sweeping turns, and ideally, something like a railroad crossing or some manhole covers to let the suspension take some small bumps.
Transmission & Clutch:
You’ll want to make sure the car shifts smoothly between all of the gears. With an auto transmission, accelerate smoothly while the transmission shifts up through all four gears. Then decelerate and let it downshift back to first. While you’re driving and in some of the higher gears, hit the gas hard to force a downshift, which should happen relatively smoothly.
With a manual, you need to check out both the transmission itself and the clutch. Check the transmission by shifting up through all the gears, then downshifting as you decelerate. The shifts should be smooth, and there shouldn’t be any grinding. To test the clutch, you can try shifting from 2nd to 4th gear at a low speed, and give the car some gas. If the clutch is bad or going, the car will rev up without speeding up, indicating the clutch is slipping. Check the play in the shifter; when new, it should be pretty tight, with minimal play. As the components wear, you’ll get more and more movement before actually shifting the transmission. This isn’t a huge deal if the car still shifts into every gear, but shifting will generally feel sloppier. You can replace all of the wear components for a few hundred dollars and a Saturday, so shifter play is something to be aware of, but not get hung up on.
A kit like this one includes the parts you need to rebuild your shifter. There are also some aftermarket kits that use polyurethane bushings for added stiffness.
In general, the car should rev cleanly and without stumbling or hesitation. After it’s warmed up, you shouldn’t feel bad about taking it up 4000 or 5000 to shift, although, you should be sensitive to the owner. You want to know that it pulls and runs well up to those higher RPMs, and we regularly shift near 5000 RPM during normal (but enjoyable) driving. When you let off the gas, the car shouldn’t bog down or backfire loudly, although we’ve had cars with larger exhausts that gave a good burble on deceleration, which is fine. The engine and exhaust shouldn’t be excessively loud from inside the car, although this is a total crapshoot if the car has an aftermarket exhaust. A loud engine could be an exhaust issue or a torn rubber boot around the shifter. An obnoxiously loud exhaust could be a leaky stock exhaust or a perfectly fine aftermarket system. Catalytic converters and mufflers are a little expensive but are a reasonable weekend job to replace.
Keep your ears tuned for clunks or squeaking when accelerating, braking, or turning. These typically indicate worn out suspension components or possibly bad axle CV joints. All of these parts are still readily available and reasonably priced, and so most suspension noises aren’t a big deal. It’s not unusual for there to be a little play in the drivetrain, so don’t be surprised if you feel a slight lurch right when you let off the gas. It’s less than ideal, but it’s pretty normal for a 25-year-old drivetrain.
Rubber components like these trailing arm bushings are often worn out on E30’s. You can replace them with OEM rubber like these ones, although many owners prefer to switch to stiffer polyurethane bushings.
Check for excessive play in the steering wheel, and if the car pulls to one side or the other. These can be indicators that the car needs an alignment, that there are worn suspension or components, or more seriously, that the body of the car isn’t straight, particularly if the car is a salvage title. Look out for shaking of any kind. If it occurs at a particular range of speeds, it’s likely a wheel balance issue. During acceleration, braking, or turning, it’s more likely due to worn or loose suspension components. Be careful of these, as they have the potential to be dangerous if not addressed.
If the car shakes in a particular speed band (i.e., 50-60 mph), it’s likely a wheel balance issue. In general, if you see small weights like these, it’s a good sign; large weights may indicate a more significantly out of round or damaged wheel.
While driving, check that all of the gauges are functional. You won’t be able to tell if the fuel level senders are working, but you will be able to see if the gauge itself is working. Check that the speedometer and odometer are working smoothly. The temp gauge should eventually get to between the quarter and halfway marks. A lot hotter than that may mean that the coolant is low, the cooling fan clutch is worn, or there’s an issue with water flow through the pump or radiator All of these are relatively straightforward repairs.
This is a normal temp gauge position, although anywhere between the tick marks on either side of the middle is technically okay. We generally like to see it climb no more than a little bit past halfway. Don’t be worried if the gauge fluctuates a little as you drive; it’s an analog gauge, and that’s pretty normal.
The tachometer is one to pay particular attention to. Its function is related to the status of the SI board batteries. If the tachometer and fuel mileage gauges are working smoothly, excellent. If there are issues with either, they can indicate that the SI board batteries are dead and need to be replaced.
Check that the heater blows hot when set to the hot setting. This is rarely an issue unless the HVAC controls themselves are broken. Check that it stops blowing hot air when you turn the knob to cool. Warm air is normal, especially if it’s a warm day, but hot air indicates a broken heater control valve, which is both expensive and a pain to replace.
If the car is equipped with A/C, check that it works during the test drive. OEM A/C switches are ~$100, so you’ll want the button itself to be functional. If the A/C is charged and blows cold, awesome. If it doesn’t, there’s a whole host of reasons, including the fact that the original E30 A/C ran R12 refrigerant, and the car is most likely now running less efficient R134a. A legitimate A/C repair/conversion can easily start at $500 and end upwards of $1000 in parts. This is an area to be realistic with yourself about what you can and can’t live without. We love A/C, but the reality is that many E30’s no longer have functional systems; if you find a car that’s right in most other areas but doesn’t have A/C, it’s probably worth buying.
After the test drive, take another look under the car just to make sure there aren’t any leaks that start once the car is warmed up. Now you’ve got a decision to make. You’ll need to weigh the price of the car with any areas you’ve identified that will need work, along with how much you want any specific or hard to find features, like trim levels, exterior, and interior colors, etc. Don’t be afraid to mention the areas that need work, and use them to negotiate the price down, but keep in mind that a smart seller has probably taken those things into account already. E30 values are so variable currently, as they make the transition into full-fledged collector cars that we won’t make any specific comments on numbers, but make sure you’ve taken a look around Craigslist, Facebook, and the E30 forums to understand what’s typical for the model you’re looking at. If the price and condition are right, and you’re ready to take on what work the car needs, then you’ve found your E30!
Post Purchase Maintenance:
Once you’ve bought an E30, there are several maintenance items you should take care of right away, in addition to any specific repairs or maintenance you identified when you looked the car over:
Timing Belt/Water Pump:
If you aren’t 100% confident in the mileage and age of the timing belt on your new E30, you should replace it. Timing belt failure can destroy an M20 engine, and replacing it after purchase is cheap insurance to make sure your car stays on the road. E30 timing belts are good for 60-70k miles, and water pumps should be replaced every other belt change, so if the condition of either is unknown, replace them and give yourself a fresh start that should last for years.
This job is involved, but can be done in a day or easily over a weekend. To get to the timing belt, you’ll have to remove the radiator and hoses, the accessory belts, and crankshaft pulley. This is a good opportunity to make sure the radiator isn’t clogged, and the fins are straight. If any of the accessory belts are worn or cracked, they’re inexpensive, and this is a great time to replace them. Once you’ve removed the belt and tensioner, you’ll have access to replace the water pump before installing the new belt. You can get all the parts you need from FCP Euro, and read the detailed how-to procedure over at Classic Bimmer Bits.
Timing belt replacement is a big task, but it’s well worth doing. With guides like the one from Classic Bimmer Bits, you can take it step by step and guarantee your timing belt is good for years to come.
If the odometer isn’t working, but the speedometer is, chances are the odometer gears have crumbled away to nothing. It’s not too hard to replace them, and having a working odometer is important if you’re going to perform regular maintenance on the car. This job involves removing the steering wheel, removing the cluster trim, then pulling the gauge cluster. Once it’s out, you’ll need to remove the back of the cluster to get to the odometer. Replacing the gears themselves isn’t bad, and Garagistic makes a great set of nylon gears that should outlast the car. Whether you’re replacing a broken odometer so you can track your mileage and keep up with maintenance, or preemptively replacing old gears so your odometer stays true, this a satisfying job to finish on your E30. It usually takes a couple of hours. You can get new gears from Garagistic, then follow the detailed instructions from Classic Bimmer Bits.
Pulling your gauge cluster apart might make you a little bit nervous, but it’s really not that hard, and there are guides to walk you through it step by step.
There’s no telling what oil the previous owner put in the car, and there seems to be a lot of miseducation out there regarding motor oils. Unless you know the car has a quality oil filter and the right weight oil recently changed, you should do it. BMW specified 20W-50, which can be hard to find anymore. 15W-50 is another strong choice and more readily available. While we think 10W-40 is too thin, many forum users report okay results. For oil, we like Liqui Moly or Mobil 1; you can get Liqui Moly 20W-50 here on FCP Euro. For filters, Mann and Mahle are both high-quality filters and OEM, and available from FCP Euro as well, individually or as a kit with oil.
An oil change kit like this includes oil, an OEM filter, and drain plug with a new crush washer.
Transmission & Differential Oil:
Alright, this one isn’t as critical as the others. But if the E30 you buy is like many we’ve seen, these fluids may never have been changed. Degraded gear oil can cause premature gear or synchro wear and sticky shifting. Sometime early in your ownership of an E30, you should plan on this job. To be a dealer-quality job, you should flush the oil with a pump, but unless your old oil is absolute sludge, it’s usually okay just to drain the old oil and refill with new. This simply requires jacking the car up high enough to slide underneath and access the drain and fill plugs. You’ll also need an inexpensive manual pump like this one to get the new fluid into the transmission and diff. It’s not hard, and you can kits from FCP Euro with high-quality Redline oil and replacement plugs.
If you’ve been toying with the idea of buying an E30, we say go for it! E30 ownership is an awesome experience that we’d recommend to anybody. They are an absolute delight to drive, reasonable to maintain, and drop-dead gorgeous. Following our guide here, you can go into your E30 purchase with confidence that you know what you’re getting into. Just about every potential issue we’ve mentioned can be fixed by the average joe with a decent set of tools. Over at Classic Bimmer Bits, our goal is to show exactly how, so you can keep your E30 on the roads for many years to come.
Written By: Seth Beckley
Seth got into quirky old cars after inheriting a carbureted ‘86 Honda Accord in college. After toying with other makes and models, including an MKIV Jetta and a 944 Turbo, he bought his first E30 – and has never looked back. Several years and E30's later, Seth decided to leverage his engineering background and his expertise in old BMW’s to start Classic Bimmer Bits in 2017. He dreams of someday being able to create E30 DIY content as a full-time occupation.