BMW E30 models, in particular the convertible, are becoming more popular in the youngtimer scene resulting in continuously rising prices. The timeless design and high build quality make the car a perfect classic. This BMW E30 Buyers guide will help you to identify the common problems when making your purchase.
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Basically you have to decide between the pre and the post facelift model: the estate and coupe switched 1987 and the convertible 1990. The most important visual changes were the exchange of the chrome bumpers that got replaced by bigger plastic ones. Further details were smaller fog and taller tail lights.
The facelift model was equipped with different headlights (half-moon) as well.
When you are considering buying a BMW E30, you should go for the most original, unmodified version. Modified versions are not just havoc to the eyes, but also weaken the body structure (ex.: lowered suspension) – especially convertibles. Big rims need sufficient space in the arches. Wings are often widened. Even worse are big hifi installations with speakers all over the place. Besides ruined door cards, these cars can suffer form cut off sheet metal in door areas. If you decide to purchase such a car, make sure that all modifications can be changed to original specifications. The price tag has to be lowered by the amount necessary to rebuild an original E30.
Same adjustments have to be made if you are going to buy a neglected car. Be careful: the money you have to spend often exceeds the price tag of a mint car. There are still enough cars available on the market. This means you just have to figure out what in particular you are after and how much you want to spend.
Body: the build quality of an E30 is above standard. The quality of the sheet metal, paint, protective undercoating as well as the cavity sealing could serve as the benchmark of its time. On the body, first check the left and right wings behind the wheel arch. Street dirt is often caught between wing and the sill leading to extensive corrosion. The wing can show bubbles in the paint or may already be penetrated by rust. Second area to look at are the sills on both sides. Mostly the areas around the jack points are suffering. Lift the plastic sill protector on convertible door gaps. Quite often the rear connection of the two sheet metal parts are corroded.
The rear wheel archs are rust-prone especially in the frontal area. The lower left and right corner of the windshield frame can be perforated.
On cars equipped with a sun roof check the are around the opening. Removing rust from this area is complicated and expensive. Inside the convertibles the two lower mounting points of the rear bench backrest is often affected. The body check should be finalized at the rear: in the area of the tow-hook.
Mounting parts: the chrome bumpers are often in very sad condition. Besides surface pimples on the chrome the reverse side is heavily corroded. Replacement parts are available from BMW, but at a steep price and after market parts do not meet OE quality. Doors of hard top models are often in much worse condition than convertible doors. The Touring trunk has to be checked from the inside and outside.
Soft Top: convertible soft tops should at least be in usable condition.If more than 10 years old you have to safe the budget for a new one. Check the straps on the inside. They are responsible for properly folding the soft top. If there is to much slack the top has to be folded manually into the compartment. Many E30 specialists disapprove the electric roof. It definitely is not a very sophisticated design. It seems like it just has been adapted to the manual construction. If it works properly you are fine. If not the motor can destroy its own gear casing. Its hard to find someone who can long term wise successfully adjust all components. I can just recommend to think about removing all the electro-mechanic components to downgrade to a manual version. Besides manual and electric there is a third hydraulic version. Since it is pretty rare it can be seen as a very exclusive option. Particular defects are not known.
Interieur: The interieur is generally robust. All components have a extremely high quality and can last forever. With a minimum of care they can still be in mint condition. An exception are colored leather interiors (beige, grey, red). They tend to age much quicker than black leather. In convertibles the upper side of the rear benchs backrest is often ripped. Heat from the sun shrinks the leather resulting in the stitching to crack. Many car sellers pretend that this defect can be repaired easily by restitching. This is definitely not possible since the shrinkage is irreversible. At least the two/ three middle leather sections have to be renewed.
The used parts market still offers a huge variety of replacement parts. With some patience interior can be rebuild to mint condition.
Engine: There are four and six cylinder petrol engines as well as six cylinder diesel engines available. Petrol engines have a very robust design. Some have chains some timing belts which have to be exchanged every for years. If the engines are properly treated and regularly serviced none has particular weaknesses. The four cylinders tend to have problems with the camshafts and rockers. Six cylinder engines are known to have cylinder head cracks.
Drive: The drive of the E30 is highly reliable. However, more often the differential is worn out. An oil change should be made the first repair. If problems persist, used replacement differentials are available for reasonable cost (a few 100 euro ). Differentials equipped with a locker go with a premium. As with all vehicles of this age, flex discs or shaft bearings can be worn out.
Chassis: The chassis of the E30 is well-engineered. At the front axle, the rear rubber mount is quite often porous and should be replaced with upgraded M-tech parts. The ball joints can be loose too. Consider a full rebuild of the front axle including a set of control arms, coupling bars and tie rods. Go for high quality parts from either BMW or another OE supplier. The rubber mounting of the rear axle carrier is often worn out and the repair can be costly. The rear damper supports have to be replaced in regular intervals. But the installation is simple thus cheap. There are improved after market parts from Meyle avaiable.
Conclusion: There is currently a wide range of vehicles available. For this reason you should avoid heavily modified or neglected examples. It pays off to set your budget a bit higher and buy a vehicle in all round proper condition. Minor mechanical repairs should not discourage you since parts are gererally cheap. Repairs can be carried out by yourself or by almost any capable workshop.