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Discussion Starter #1 (Edited)
Hello

I'm an active member at M3Forum.net, same screen name. I hope you all don't mind a fellow Bimmer freak popping in for a little advice/input, so here goes.

I'm on my 4th M3, so I'm familiar with running costs, fixing these cars, etc. While my current E46M is just a gem of a car, it's harsh ride quality and high strung motor can get tiring at times. Ironically, these two traits are what give the 46M its appeal, but my gut tells me that the E39 M5 is the better "street" car. In addition, I've always had a massive crush on the 39M. With that said, I've done some reading and I've picked up on what seem to be the common issues with these cars but wanted some feedback from all of you in two areas: my assessment of the 39M's issues and how the car compares to the 46M.

39M Issues:
The issues list seems rather short, so let's see how far off I am. I'll list them in no particular order:

1. Rod Bearings: This is something I would not be afraid to fix myself... however, how common is this? Is it only the older cars? High mileage cars? Is the only symptom a light knock at idle?

2. Carbon Buildup in heads: not an issue in my mind as the software "fix" is effective and the issue doesn't affect performance. Am I missing anything here?

3. Clutch: Like any clutch, depends on usage... however, is there a general correlation between mileage and a toasted clutch? Is a car with 90k miles for sure going to need a clutch soon if not done previously?

4. Rear Sway Bar: what's the real deal with this? Random? Only happens on cars with modified suspension? Is this really an "issue"?

5. Vanos: seems sorta hit or miss, similar to the 46M, with most failures happening early in the car's life. Am I on the right track here?

6. Anything else I missed?


39M vs. 46M:

To any of you who've either owned a 46M or have spent considerable time behind the wheel, give me your brutally honest opinion on making this move... am I crazy? Should I have done it sooner?

Thanks for your time,
Eric
 

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39M Issues:
The issues list seems rather short, so let's see how far off I am. I'll list them in no particular order:

1. Rod Bearings: This is something I would not be afraid to fix myself... however, how common is this? Is it only the older cars? High mileage cars? Is the only symptom a light knock at idle?

2. Carbon Buildup in heads: not an issue in my mind as the software "fix" is effective and the issue doesn't affect performance. Am I missing anything here?

3. Clutch: Like any clutch, depends on usage... however, is there a general correlation between mileage and a toasted clutch? Is a car with 90k miles for sure going to need a clutch soon if not done previously?

4. Rear Sway Bar: what's the real deal with this? Random? Only happens on cars with modified suspension? Is this really an "issue"?

5. Vanos: seems sorta hit or miss, similar to the 46M, with most failures happening early in the car's life. Am I on the right track here?

6. Anything else I missed?


39M vs. 46M:

To any of you who've either owned a 46M or have spent considerable time behind the wheel, give me your brutally honest opinion on making this move... am I crazy? Should I have done it sooner?
Welcome, Eric. Here's what I can contribute:

3. Some members are past 100k on stock clutches. It all depends more on driving style (or lack of) rather than mileage. So a car with 90k miles isn't the only indicator that the clutch needs to be replaced. Although it is likely that in that 90k miles the previous owner put some good beating on the clutch. It is a 400hp beast after all.

4. The rear sway bar MOUNTS is a weak point on the E39 M5, not the bar. The E39 M5 stock mounts are extremely fragile. However, at about $120 you can purchase reinforced mounts from BeastPower (sponsor here) and you are set for the life of the car.

I have a E46 M3 in the family. What I can tell you from driving my E39 M5 to driving the E46 M3 is the E46 feels a lot 'slower' because you are lacking all the torque that the E39 provides. The E46 handles better IMO. The driving feedback is better in my E39 than it is in the E46. (Both cars do not even come close to the feedback in my E36 M3 however ;)). They are good compliments to each other but totally different vehicles. I would love an E46 M3 in my ownership, just because I'm a fan of the handling and 'coupe' factor the E46 provides. Both are Ms. You can't really go wrong either way.

I'm not sure how 'modified' your E46 is, but as you may know, the aftermarket support for the E46 M3 is much greater than what is available for the E39. Lot more variety available for you E46 guys.
 

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Discussion Starter #3 (Edited)
Thanks for response.

The GF currentlly owns an E36 M3/4/5... the garage is full of M3s:) But yeah, I hear you on the aftermarket suppot. But to be honest, the only real mod I would do on the 39M would be headers/tune as I'm a power guy deep down and I've had great results with headers/tune on the 46M. I've come full circle with suspension mods in that I now just keep my cars in tip top factory spec condiition (for the most part) when it comes to handling/braking.

I do autoX the 46M, though, and I'd expect a bit less performance there with the 39M, although I'd still tear it up with the big sedan:) Tires will kill me, I know, but the 46M is probably just as bad in that regard.
 

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1. I'm at 125K with no rod bearing issues. If I ever get some extra time and an extra vehicle to drive during the winter, I might change them out.

2. No carbon B/U issues on my '02.

3. 125K on assumed original clutch. If you let it engage before applying a ton of power, I don't see why these wouldn't last. The 6MT certainly seems a better proposition than the SMG 15K clutches. If you do power adders such as an S/C, the stocker may not have enough clamping force. There's several options around $2K to meet this need.

4. The rear sway bar has to do with the brackets breaking. The OEM brackets aren't quite tough enough, and you can pay a little more for a reinforced version. No issues on my car.

5. The VANOS has several issues. Earlier builds have a startup tick before the gear pressurizes. The newer ones have a high pressure reservior to maintain pressure on startup. People have issues with the solenoid seals, sometimes the wiring to the solenoids. The chain guides and tensioners wear out causing chain slack problems. Some VANOS are just more 'ticky' than others. My left side is louder than the right, but don't sound too bad. Sometime I will check out to see if I have a worn chain guide.

6. Thermostats/O2 sensors/MAF meters/camshaft position sensors/ fuel pump/filters are other engine related things. Suspension wise, the thrust arm bushings go bad (heavy car). Cupholders suck. Pixels go out.

7. Not as precise steering as a rack and pinion E46. I think the power band is a lot more fun, a lot more torque down low. My coworker's M3 gets about the same fuel economy as I do in my M5, but I can put people comfortably in the back seat. The M3 is a better track car, and there's more aftermarket support.

8. The M5 is rarer than the M3. I never wish for an M3.
 

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My neighbor just purchased a modded e46 M3 SMG two weeks ago. Basically a Dinan S-3 minus the supercharger was what I was told. It had an aftermarket differential from diffsonline(?). Took me for a few spins, and I have to admit, coming from the M5 the M3 feels pretty gutless in the lower RPM band. I do have to say when he's accelerating all out it does feel pretty fast, not sure if the differential has anything to do with that though. The real major drawback with his M3 is the exhaust- I guess i'm spoiled by the roar of our V8's, but I was surprised the Dinan exhaust sounded so japanese-import-ish on the M3. On the other hand riding in the car I can't even tell he has an exhaust, which may be good for some, but not me. The SMG transmission ticks off shifts in seemingly blinks of an eye, but looking at it in retrospect it made the driver seem as if he was playing a video game. A sports car without a third pedal doesn't really seem right.

In the handling department I would say the M3 is more like a rapier, while the M5 is a broadsword. While the M5 is no slouch in the handling department for its size, the M3's level of precision around the corners is almost perfect. The S3 suspension may play a role in there as well.

In the aesthetic department I never really liked the E46 much since I first saw it, no offense. The car looks a little tall in pictures, and is a little too long in person. The front end styling seems a little disproportionate in comparison to the lines of the car, IMO in large part due to the "under-eye-lids" that cradle the circular beam housings. The interior is pretty fancy, feeling quite a bit more high-tech than the M5, but the surfaces feel a bit hard, and the seats are like washing boards compared to the plush leather executive chairs in the M5.

I've also driven a brand new E46 M3 6spd years ago, and from what I remember I was pretty impressed. This was before I drove an M5 though =)
 

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Discussion Starter #6 (Edited)
Yes, the handling of the 46M is brilliant, perfectly balanced, even at the limit. Just the right amount of understeer when pushing it, but enough power to oversteer at will. The motor does really only work well at high rpm, in stock form, but with 4.10 gears/headers/tune it becomes reasonably torquey... but it's no V8 screamer. But I don't track.... 98% street with an autoX thrown in here or there. I'm thinking the M5 will give me the refinement, comfort and real power I'm looking for, none of which the 46M will ever deliver.

Thanks for the great replies. Sounds like the M5 is pretty sturdy.
 

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I'm on the m3forum too (screen name Bay Area M). I have both the e46 M and e39 M. To add further,

2. CBU appears to occur more often with MY 2000 M5s. Matt at Powerchip sees it more often with higher mileage 2000 year M5s vs. later model years. No issues with disabling the SES light with software. You will have a "not ready" code but you'll still pass CA smog as CA allows one "not ready" code to be present during testing (just no SES light).
3. Clutch is a weak point with the E39 M5 due to a clutch that is probably undersized for a 400 hp motor. If you don't abuse the clutch, life should be fine like others have commented.
6. You will not like the handling of the OEM suspension compared to the e46 M. Shocks are too soft and there's too much understeer (IMO). At some point, you'll want to upgrade the suspension to either Konis (keeping OEM springs), aftermarket springs/Konis, or coilovers.
7. Engine software, while not necessary, does improve power and throttle response. Powerchip, Shark Injector, and ESS seem to be the most popular. I just installed the Powerchip software and I'm really happy with the results.

I love both cars. The comments on both cars are pretty much spot on. I've upgraded my M5 to a Dinan Stage 3 suspension and added their monoballs, and I really like how it handles and feels. Now I have the luxury and power of an M5 with about 95% of the M3's handling ability. Really difficult to choose if I could only have one. With the upgrades I've done, I'd probably choose the M5 just because the S62 is just one amazing motor.
 

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I had an E36 M3.
M5 is just sit back in comfort in a lovely cockpit, if you need to overtake don't worry about changing gear.
5th will do 25-165, can't get lazier than that!
Sounds a lot more suited to what you want than the E46,
 

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Traitor!

.... I've been saying you should get one for a while now. Seems perfectly suited to your car wants.

It is an entirely different experience to the 46, though. If there's anyway you could borrow one for a week.... do it!

Last night I drove my 46m to one shop, dropped it off and picked up an e39 M to drive 2.5 hours to a different shop (to have the main and rod bearings preventatively replaced), and then drove home for another 3 hours in an e60 M5. The 3 cars could not be more dissimilar, and each brings something great to the table.

I have pretty regular access to the e39 M5 above-- it belongs to one of my best friends, and he lets me drive whenever I want... and pushes me to drive it as if it were my own (aka, sideways). It's an amazing car, and imho one of the greatest cars ever made. But, for my taste, it can't replace the M3.

I likely will have both, though.

Funny driving the 46, 39, and 60 back to back. The 39 feels far and away the fastest due to the torque. In reality, his 39 and my 46 are right one eachother, and the 60 destroys both of us.

Fuel economy: When the 3 of us go on a sporty drive, generally the 60 gets about 11 MPG, the 39 gets 14-15, and the 46 gets 17. Highway the 60 gets 16mpg (though he does have a diff), 39 gets ~20, I get ~26 in the 46.

Oh, one last thing. I love the 46 interior, but I think the 39 interior is the nicest BMW has ever put in any car. At least if you do the eurodash (which you should if you're tall). Sad they went so far south on that with the 60.

edit: all that said, my friend with the 39 wishes he has gotten an e46. At the time he thought he needed the practicality, but now his wife has a practical car... so he doesn't. fwiw. It's really on wants, though. The 46 makes you work for it and is rewarding because of it. The 39 is effortless and always feels FAST because of the torque. GT3 vs 911 turbo, on a budget with practicality ;)
 

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I haven't had an E46M, but did have an E36 328i sport. My thoughts are this comes down to:

1. 2 vs 4 doors - this is one of the big reasons I didn't consider an E46M3 in my recent shopping. I was coming from an '05 GTO (400 HP / 6speed /coupe). I decided if I was going to have a pig heavy car it might as well have some practicality!

2. Comfort/Luxury vs. Tossability - While I haven't driven an E46M I believe they are more stiffly sprung than any E39 (regular, sport or M) ever dreamed of being. My neighbor had an E46M (Laguna Seca FTW!) and an E39 530i (he now has an '08 vette). In talking to him the other day he indicated the M3 was great, but got really old on any kind of long trip or over rougher roads. The E39m can get old over rougher roads too, but not as bad or fast. The flipside for the M5 is that weight I mentioned...it just isn't going to feel as effortlessly tossable (I'm guessing) as the lighter E46 which can (ironically) make the M5 a little less involving or enjoyable to drive (yeah, yeah, blasphemy on the M5 board). You see this same type of comment in car mags - usually when they are lauding the virtues of something like a Miata (that car is practically underpowered, but is considered a hoot to drive.)

If you've experienced BMW ownership costs I haven't found the E39m to be (so far - I've only had mine for 11K miles) any worse than my wife's 530i (which we've owned since 60K miles and now has 117k miles). Having said that, the wife's 530i really seemed to start falling apart around 100K miles with every "common" E39 issue including:

oil filter housing leak
CCV and hoses needed to be replaced
Vanos seals (did the Beisan kit)
valve cover gasket leak
radiator popped (at which point I replaced a bunch of the cooling system as many of the other parts aren't far behind)
fuel door solenoid went out
fuel door hinge broke
2 power steering hose leaks
in fuel tank suction jet hose (left us stranded TWICE)
thrust arm bushings (those went at 60K miles...I think the are heading south again)
leaky vapor barrier seals in doors

Any body/chassis related issues will affect all E39s. On my M5 the FSU, fuel vapor valve and one rear sway bar bracket have died (less than $200 total) and both rear door vapor barrier seals were shot. I'm still considering a tune to address the most annoying aspect of the car...the low speed jerky throttle that MANY of us deal with (still not sure I don't have a hardware issue there).

Finally, I actually think the E46M is a good looking car and slightly more current looking than the E39 - in some ways I consider it better looking than the E39M (more blasphemy).
 

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I would also add that the early production 39s may have terrible oil burn issues. Not a performance breaker buy any means, just an extra cost and maintenance issue. Ring design was the issue.
 

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Discussion Starter #12 (Edited)
Traitor!

.... I've been saying you should get one for a while now. Seems perfectly suited to your car wants.

It is an entirely different experience to the 46, though. If there's anyway you could borrow one for a week.... do it!

Last night I drove my 46m to one shop, dropped it off and picked up an e39 M to drive 2.5 hours to a different shop (to have the main and rod bearings preventatively replaced), and then drove home for another 3 hours in an e60 M5. The 3 cars could not be more dissimilar, and each brings something great to the table.

I have pretty regular access to the e39 M5 above-- it belongs to one of my best friends, and he lets me drive whenever I want... and pushes me to drive it as if it were my own (aka, sideways). It's an amazing car, and imho one of the greatest cars ever made. But, for my taste, it can't replace the M3.

I likely will have both, though.

Funny driving the 46, 39, and 60 back to back. The 39 feels far and away the fastest due to the torque. In reality, his 39 and my 46 are right one eachother, and the 60 destroys both of us.

Fuel economy: When the 3 of us go on a sporty drive, generally the 60 gets about 11 MPG, the 39 gets 14-15, and the 46 gets 17. Highway the 60 gets 16mpg (though he does have a diff), 39 gets ~20, I get ~26 in the 46.

Oh, one last thing. I love the 46 interior, but I think the 39 interior is the nicest BMW has ever put in any car. At least if you do the eurodash (which you should if you're tall). Sad they went so far south on that with the 60.

edit: all that said, my friend with the 39 wishes he has gotten an e46. At the time he thought he needed the practicality, but now his wife has a practical car... so he doesn't. fwiw. It's really on wants, though. The 46 makes you work for it and is rewarding because of it. The 39 is effortless and always feels FAST because of the torque. GT3 vs 911 turbo, on a budget with practicality ;)
Ha! Caught red-handed!

Excellent thread so far, great repsonses. I still haven't driven the M5 and I'm still not sure I'm ready to move on from the 46M.... it is a badass coupe. But the 39 does sound like a natural step.
 

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Ha! Caught red-handed!

Excellent thread so far, great repsonses. I still haven't driven the M5 and I'm still not sure I'm ready to move on from the 46M.... it is a badass coupe. But the 39 does sound like a natural step.
In all honesty, if you have the ability to drive an e36 whenever you're in this mood, the 39 is a much better second car imho than the 46. The 36 is a bit better at being sporty, but the 46 is much better at being a car (as in transport). For me the 46 is a nice compromise-- I stick 4 people in when I need to, and it works for that... but it's still sporty enough for me to enjoy driving every day. If I an e36 at my disposal, I'd get a 39 as the second car. It's even better at the transportation part. In fact, I can't think of a better car made for that.

Sergei and I both maintain both of our cars, so I've actually been working on a 100,000+ mile e39 for it's last 60,000 miles. I'd say the overall reliability is damn near identical to the 46. That said, I think running costs are about 50% higher-- more tires needed, more gas needed, and all of the parts are just more expensive (and not and much aftermarket or used stuff to pick up the slack). Moreover (and even more it's a good car for you), modding... just sucks in comparison. There's not only less stuff, all of it is less thought out/developed/tested/etc... and most of it costs more.

Most of the shiz on the e46 maintenance schedule is still true for this car, imho-- just take off the valve adjustments and replace RTABs with thrust arm bushings (btw, X5 thrust arm bushings seem right up your alley-- still OEM, but longer last than the stock (30-50,000 mile) bushings.
 
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