It’s hard to believe that I’ve owned this 1997 BMW M3 for almost a year — and this wasn’t by choice. Since I bought this neglected, cheap M3, I’ve tried fixing it, giving it away and selling it multiple times — but I’ve never been successful at any of this. My M3 will not stay working long enough for anybody else to want it — and it has become the pariah of my fleet.
My bad history with BMW has been pretty well documented, starting with a 2003 BMW X5 that I drove throughout college. It became a nightmare the moment the warranty ended — and I eventually traded it for a Jeep Wrangler after a few years of the X5 being continuously broken. During my car dealer days, I purchased tons of old BMWs because they were cheap to buy and easy to sell — but it was a challenge to keep customers happy after the purchase, since these BMWs would almost always break shortly after I sold them.
Because I never learn from my mistakes, I continue to buy BMW cars — which recently included a 2005 BMW 745. Despite that car’s horrible reputation, it turned out to be one of my better purchases, as I was actually able to keep that car fixed long enough to sell for only a small loss. My 1991 850i, on the other hand, was a bottomless pit of repairs, which was compounding faster than the interest on my credit card. I sold that Beemer for an enormous loss — but I still have the massive oil stain in my garage to remember it by.
While my 1997 BMW M3 hasn’t been nearly as bad as the V12 850i, it’s still been a very annoying car. Obviously, I expected to do some repairs after buying it for $3,000, since the worn rear suspension made the car feel dangerously unstable, the brakes were shot and the engine bay was making funny noises. It wasn’t too expensive to sort all of these issues, though — just a little over $1,000 for new brakes all around, rear control arm bushings and shocks, along with a new alternator, a driver’s seat motor and a torn intake boot. I also spent a few hundred dollars reupholstering the passenger seat, which looked like someone took a blow torch to the leather. With the car all sorted, I was really excited to surprise my girlfriend with a fancy M3 for Christmas — but then it broke again.
A winter cold-snap around the holidays had illuminated a new issue: The engine really didn’t like starting in frigid weather. The car did slowly cough and struggle its way to life eventually — but with the screaming alternator bearing noise gone, I could now hear some other troubling noises — including a vacuum leak, as well as a troubling ticking noise. So it went back to my mechanic again for another round of repairs — and I decided that perhaps a badly aging BMW wasn’t the best way to convert my girlfriend into a car enthusiast.
Another $1,000 was spent on the next batch of issues, which included replacing the cracked exhaust manifold, as well as a crankcase vent valve that was causing a new massive vacuum leak. It took months to get this done, as my mechanic and I were busy with other projects — but once it was sorted again, I decided to put it up for sale. I assumed I could get my $5,000 total invested back, since that was still cheap for a sorted M3 — even for an undesirable automatic-transmission car. The car did get quite a bit of interest, but nobody would pull the trigger. It didn’t help that the battery would regularly go dead from sitting so much, and the power convertible top started to get weak.
I eventually ended up fixing that, as well, by spending another $250 to replace the top’s elastic webbing, but I still couldn’t find a buyer at $5,000. I even offered the car back to the dealer that sold it to me in exchange for his help with some logistics with my reality show car purchases — but he wisely took a smaller amount of cash instead. So, once again, I couldn’t even give it away — and for a while, I just gave up on trying to sell it.
Since I was making some big car purchases and didn’t want to sit on a convertible through another winter, I eventually decided to try again to sell it last week — but the car, once again, had other ideas. It seems like a motor or transmission mount is failing, as it has a nasty vibration when I put it into reverse, and the electronic trunk release has decided to fail. Since there’s no manual release for the trunk, my only options are to drill into the decklid behind the license plate or remove the rear seats and hack my way into the trunk from there.
Since the repairs haven’t come all at once or been massively expensive, I’ve kept throwing money at it — and after this next round of repairs, I’ll probably be out almost $2,000 — if I ever find someone to give me the $5,000 I think it’s worth. Clearly, I would have been better off selling it for my original purchase price after the first round of repairs. Instead, I’ve allowed this car to steadily bleed me out of thousands from several small cuts over time — and it appears I’m stupid enough to keep going. The good news is that someone is eventually going to have a really, really nice $5,000 BMW M3.