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Used BMW 3-Series Fault Guides

Used Car Expert Fault Guides tell you the common BMW 3-Series faults and wear items that can become problems and big bills for their owner.

Independent research indicated that using our fault guides to check a car before you buy it can save you an average of £300 in surprise bills and hidden problems.

That's because our BMW 3-Series fault guides are written so that anyone can understand them – even if you know nothing about cars and have no tools. For every common fault, we tell you what to look for, what it means and what it costs.

Select your BMW 3-Series fault guide:

BMW 3-Series (1990 - 1998) Fault Guide
BMW 3-Series Compact (1994 - 2001) Fault Guide
BMW 3-Series (1998 - 2005) Fault Guide
BMW 3-Series (2005 - Present) Fault Guide


BMW 3-Series (1990 - 1998) Fault Guide

View BMW 3-Series (1990 - 1998) Fault Guide

We know of 24 BMW 3-Series (1990 - 1998) faults which our fault check guide makes it easy for you to spot and avoid.

  • 3 engine faults
  • 4 suspension wear items or faults
  • 5 interior problems
  • 1 bodywork issues
  • 11 recalls

Here's an example fault on the BMW 3-Series (1990 - 1998)

What to look for:

Open the bonnet and look for a reservoir of water connected to the radiator at the front of the engine. If the engine is cold, open the top and check that the level is between the minimum and maximum markers on the outside of the reservoir. If the engine is hot, do NOT open the top as you will burn yourself. Instead push down on the car wing to make the car bounce. Look at the water as it moves in the reservoir to check its level.

What it means:

You can also look over the engine bay for lots of white specks dried on to the outside of the engine. This is dried anti-freeze and indicates that there has been some overheating. A leak will mean you need either new hoses or a new radiator.

What to do

Have the repair completed to ensure there has been no other damage to engine as a result of the leak. The repair should cost between £12 (for a new hose) to £200 (for a new radiator).


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Registered users also get access to our regional price guides, cars for sale email alerts, and many other benefits to help you buy a safe, reliable used car at a great price.


BMW 3-Series Compact (1994 - 2001) Fault Guide

View BMW 3-Series Compact (1994 - 2001) Fault Guide

We know of 25 BMW 3-Series Compact (1994 - 2001) faults which our fault check guide makes it easy for you to spot and avoid.

  • 3 engine faults
  • 3 suspension wear items or faults
  • 5 interior problems
  • 1 bodywork issues
  • 13 recalls

Here's an example fault on the BMW 3-Series Compact (1994 - 2001)

What to look for:

Open the bonnet and look for a reservoir of water connected to the radiator at the front of the engine. If the engine is cold, open the top and check that the level is between the minimum and maximum markers on the outside of the reservoir. If the engine is hot, do NOT open the top as you will burn yourself. Instead push down on the car wing to make the car bounce. Look at the water as it moves in the reservoir to check its level.

What it means:

You can also look over the engine bay for lots of white specks dried on to the outside of the engine. This is dried anti-freeze and indicates that there has been some overheating. A leak will mean you need either new hoses or a new radiator.

What to do

Have the repair completed to ensure there has been no other damage to engine as a result of the leak. The repair should cost between £12 (for a new hose) to £200 (for a new radiator).


Register to have full access to the BMW 3-Series Compact (1994 - 2001) fault guide.

Registered users also get access to our regional price guides, cars for sale email alerts, and many other benefits to help you buy a safe, reliable used car at a great price.


BMW 3-Series (1998 - 2005) Fault Guide

View BMW 3-Series (1998 - 2005) Fault Guide

We know of 14 BMW 3-Series (1998 - 2005) faults which our fault check guide makes it easy for you to spot and avoid.

  • 2 engine faults
  • 2 suspension wear items or faults
  • 2 interior problems
  • 1 bodywork issues
  • 7 recalls

Here's an example fault on the BMW 3-Series (1998 - 2005)

What to look for:

Look around the bottom of the radiator and above the near-by water pump for green marks or white fur (these are signs of leaks).

What it means:

These marks indicate a leak in the thermostat housing.

What to do

Negotiate a £300 discount or have the repair completed.


Register to have full access to the BMW 3-Series (1998 - 2005) fault guide.

Registered users also get access to our regional price guides, cars for sale email alerts, and many other benefits to help you buy a safe, reliable used car at a great price.


BMW 3-Series (2005 - Present) Fault Guide

View BMW 3-Series (2005 - Present) Fault Guide

We know of 25 BMW 3-Series (2005 - Present) faults which our fault check guide makes it easy for you to spot and avoid.

  • 3 engine faults
  • 5 suspension wear items or faults
  • 8 interior problems
  • 4 bodywork issues
  • 5 recalls

Here's an example fault on the BMW 3-Series (2005 - Present)

What to look for:

Test drive the car – check for a whistling from the sound from the engine under power, a flat feeing engine with a corresponding loss of power and black smoke from the exhaust. Also, check the service history/ask the vendor if the car has ever had the turbo replaced and, if so, were the EGR valves replaced at the same time?

What it means:

The seal on the turbocharger has blown. This is a fairly common fault on early models. The black smoke is caused by oil from the blown turbo seal dripping onto the hot exhaust.

What to do

If the car under warranty (3 years/unlimited miles) then BMW may repair the car for free. Otherwise, try to negotiate a discount of £1500 off of the price of the car. If the turbo has been replaced but not the EGR valves, then try to negotiate a discount of £350 off of the price of the car, and have the repair carried out.


Register to have full access to the BMW 3-Series (2005 - Present) fault guide.

Registered users also get access to our regional price guides, cars for sale email alerts, and many other benefits to help you buy a safe, reliable used car at a great price.


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