Since picking up this car I’ve been mulling over doing some upgrades to bring it up to snuff for the modern 21st century motorist.  Whilst not particularly old it is the last generation of BMWs not to be overrun with electrical trickery.  It uses a pretty standard multiplex system which enables features to be easily added/enabled and there are a ton of third party upgrades as the E46 3-series is hardly a rare car.  I was holding off until the car had been inspected and now there are no nasty bills lurking around the corner (touch wood) it is full steam ahead with upgrades.

In no particular order I want to upgrade the stereo, ditch the drug dealer windows, find a set of 4 non-staggered M135 18″ wheels from the Performance Package, fix the sunroof and treat the small patch of rust on the rear passenger side door.

Guiding principles.

No matter what upgrades I consider I do not want to lose the OEM look.  This rules out third party wheels or body addenda.  Inside I want the same OEM style so will not consider any interior modification that was not available from the factory.

Enter the Dynavin.

Dynavin E46
The E46 was a popular car, some might say even common.  Initially I started researching how to retro-fit the OEM navigation and Bluetooth kits as this car is pre-wired for a lot of accessories at the factory.  I found full kits available online but was looking at the thick end of $4,000 to achieve this.  Both kits date back to the turn of the millennium and lack a lot of modern features like A2DP streaming or an online POI database.  Fortunately there is a solution thanks to the enterprising Taiwanese.  The Dynavin E46 is a double din wunderkind entertainment megaplex, it has nav, DVD, TV, FM, MP3, USB, Bluetooth aux-in (audio & video), reversing camera input all in a package designed to look like the OEM nav screen.  It just receiving a major hardware revision and the forums are alive with praise for this budget solution.  The cost?  A very reasonable $649.  I should have mine early January and will install it myself.  If I’m feeling brave I’ll add the OEM style reversing camera that fits into one of the existing licence plate light mounts.

M135 style 18″ wheels

BMW 330i ZHP

The E46 was available with a gorgeous set of 18″ wheels that sadly were not available on the xi.  They were standard fit if you got a 330i/ci with the Performance Package but the front and rears were different widths.  As my car is 4wd I would prefer to have the wheels all the same size which means I either have to go with OEM-alike copies for about $1250 or keep scouring eBay until two sets of fronts turn up.  I really don’t like the existing wheels but the tyres have plenty of life left on them so I’m in no rush to get on this.  I quite like the ZHP body kit but as the car already has the euro spec M Sport kit I don’t think I can be bothered changing it.

Annoying niggles…

The sunroof we have already established is jammed solid.  I found a few good guides on e46fanatics.com and have decided to attempt this repair myself.  The replacement parts will run me upto $100 depending on what is wrong with it and this is a repair I should probably try and get familar with as it seems to be a common and frequently encountered problem.  One poster claims to have had to repair his sunroof four times in six years.  Whilst easy it is a time consuming job and most garages will charge 4-5 hours in labour to do this so by doing it myself I am saving $750 in labour alone.

The front passenger side window is beginning to click when lowered which is a sure fire sign of a failing regulator.  Again this is an easy fix that would cost an arm and a leg at the garage so I’ll be doing this at the same time as the sunroof.

The last thing to make my car perfect would be to fix the minor rust issues on the rear passenger side door.  As the car has spent most of it’s life in the rust belts of Ohio and Pennsylvania there is a small bubble of rust on the bottom of the passenger side door.  It has been over ten years since I have done any kind of bodywork so I’m not keen to tackle this myself without some tuition.  I have a suitably skilled friend back in the UK who keeps threatening to do a west coast road trip so I’ll probably save that job for when he is in town.  It certainly won’t get any worse here in California.

The nice to haves…

In keeping with the frankenstein nature of my car it turns out that my front seats are leather but the rear seat is the fake ‘leatherette’ common in US spec cars.  The previous owner had done a lot of upgrades to the car including adding HIDs, ZHP rear spoiler, euro spec light clusters all round, upgraded MP3 capable stereo and euro spec M sport body kit but I hadn’t realised that he had added leather front seats.  Changing out the rears will be quite simple and I just have to keep an eye on eBay.  I didn’t realise the rears were leatherette until I went to look at more 330xis for a friend, one had full leather and the rear seats were obviously trimmed in the real thing.

I’d also like to add the Black Cube trim from the ZHP but at around $700 there are a lot of other things that come up higher on the list.

If disaster strikes…

With 200,000 miles on the horizon there is a little voice at the back of my head telling me that I am about to suffer a catastrophic engine or transmission failure.  Ideally I’d like to get to 250k before either of those events take place and with regular servicing there is no reason to suspect either to be imminent.  However if the worst does happen I do have a plan.

The 2003.5MY 330xi onwards came with a 6 speed manual transmission and this is a relatively straightforward swap.  Should my gearbox go bang I intend on replacing it with a 6 speeder to give me a longer motorway cruising gear.

The only problem with the 6 speed swap is that with the extra weight of the 4wd system the performance is somewhat blunted and adding a cog will just mean more downshifts to overtake.  When my car rolled off the production line it had 231 horsepowers but it is not unreasonable to expect that a few of them have been melted down for glue as the miles racked up.  The oil consumption points to some minor cylinder wear but a compression test didn’t reveal any horror stories.

The plan here is to change out the M54 lump for the twin sequential turbocharged N54.  Both are 3.0 but the addition of turbocharging makes 300hp+ easy to achieve.  This will be expensive, difficult and well out of the reach of my humble spannering skills.  I’ve seen projects started but no one seems to have completed it yet.  I’ll need to befriend a tame BMW mechanic who is willing to give up his or her weekends and evenings purely for self improvement purposes.  Either that or shell out a small fortune to a local specialist to figure this swap out.  Hopefully by the time I need to do this someone else will have figured it out for me.  It would be cool to put a 335xi badge on the back though!


About tony2x

I'm a burgeoning technology executive living and working in the beautiful Bay Area of Northern California. My life revolves around three things: technology, food and transportation and it is here we will be examining all of those in varying amounts of detail and vitriol.
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