While the E36 is a reliable car, like any vehicle it's not without it's faults, So we have compiled a list of things to look out for.
A common problem with some E36's is the water pump, BMW fitted some of the pumps with a plastic impeller to pump around the coolant, which unfortunately failed prematurely resulting in no coolant flow and over heating,It doesn't get much better as many replacement pumps come with a plastic impeller, BMW do a composite type which is meant to be better or you can get a aftermarket metal impeller,the choice is yours.
The best prevention is to fit a new one and a guide can be found here http://www.pelicanparts.com/BM…r-Pump/E36-water-pump.htm
A common source of oil leaks from a BMW engine is the cam cover gasket, any leaks down the cylinder head are the majority of the time from here. If you smell burning oil it could well be where it drips onto the hot exhaust, Also the Double Over Head Cam engine can leak oil into the spark plug wells so if you do find oil in there when going to change the spark plugs you know what to do!
A guide for the 6 cylinder engine is in below link.
Got a rattling from the chain area on your 6 cylinder? Before you query the Vanos (fitted generally from 92 onwards) it's worth looking into the timing chain tensioner, It will rattle on deceleration and could grow louder after time,becoming noticeably louder at slow speeds, Have a read here for info and a DIY guide in below link.
If you do suspect the Vanos unit then the DIY for it is in below link.
The M42 and the M44 can also have noisy chains which can be down to the tensioner or the guides being worn/broken.
Complete loss of oil pressure, Can be down to the oil pump nut working loose and then the gear falling off from the pump. While not such a common problem it is something that can crop up on the e36 6 cylinder, more on this problem is detailed in below link.
The car cutting out or trying to cut out at junctions can be down to a air leak, will also cause rough running and possible engine revs hunting or poor performance, check for any split vacuum pipes,engine breather pipes or induction pipes.
A rough idle/lumpy tick over can be attributed to a dirty Idle Control Valve, this can be cleaned out with throttle body cleaner. Some M44 engines are known to have a bad idle control valve causing difficulty in starting or non start of the engine, this is due to a incorrect tolerance between the rotary valve and the housing of the idle control valve, causing a whistling sound when running, the uprated Idle control valve has the part number 13 41 1 435 846.
Another cause of rough running/non start can be from flooding of the DME compartment, this is a known fault with the early e36s (pre July 94 but I've seen later so be warned) especially after heavy rain or taking the car through a car wash, more information is in this guide below.
Early M42 engines (93 and earlier) suffered with a profile gasket that failed prematurely, this is quite a problem as the cylinder head has to be removed to replace the gasket with a upgraded one, and is quite a cost for just a relatively small bit of rubber gasket!
Some e36 m52 engines (323i,328i generally before model year 98) suffer from premature bore wear and low compression caused by high sulphur petrol eating away the special Nikasil lining of the aluminium bore, the only remedy is to replace the engine block. A compression test will identify if you have such a problem. Later engines had steel liners in the aluminium block thus solving the problem.
The standard radiator top pipe is a common point for breaking/cracking as over time the heat cycling weakens the plastic, the same problem can be said of the plastic thermostat housing which can also crack, You can get aluminium replacement thermostat housings which are cheap and reliable.
Difficulty in changing gear can be attributed to the dowels between the engine and gearbox, If the gearbox has previously been removed for any reason then failure to replace any missing or damaged dowels can lead to clutch shake,making it difficult to change gears and a noise from the gearbox, It can also lead to premature failure of the torque converter bearing on Autos.
Clutch pedals can squeak due to the bushing wearing out at the pivot point, Aftermarket uprated bushes are readily available.
The flex disc,also known as the guibo can perish and crack,causing a knocking sound under the hand brake area when the "cords" come out or a "thudding" sound under acceleration. A DIY can be found below.
Clutch judder isn't uncommon when the car gets hot when selecting 1st or 2nd gear,usually when being driven in stop and go traffic for long periods, This is because of the non asbestos lining of the clutch plate, BMW are supposed to have a new lining but similar problems have been reported.
Transmission mounts are common for perishing/splitting causing excessive vibration and movement,and can also result in missed shifts. Uprated mounts are available.
If you have a squeaking clutch pedal or movement in the pedal from side to side then it's time for new pedal bushes, aftermarket ones are readily available.
A slow to engage clutch when driving is most likely due to the Clutch Delay Valve(CDV), not all e36s had them, but the 328i has. A guide is here http://www.zeckhausen.com/CDV.htm
Rear differential bolts have been known to come loose causing a knocking noise from the rear when taking up drive/slowing down on the gearbox and diff bushes and subframe bushes can also cause the same symptoms when the bushes get weak.
SMG gearbox, My advise, stay away, if it goes wrong it can be expensive to fix, many places don't like to get involved in them and can't/don't want to fault find them. If you are going to get a M3 Evo then get a proper manual box.
Front Lower Control Arm Bushes. The rubber bushes which isolate unwanted vibration during braking perish much like the rear shock mounts. They start to develop small tears and cracks, then progress to completely breaking out of their mountings. The normal symptom is vibration in the steering wheel under light braking. If left it will result in uneven tyre wear. Larger than standard tyres/wheels amplify the symptoms.
Front lower swivels, these are rubber mounted and common after time for the rubber bonding to come detached from the metal collar that surrounds it,they then drop onto the metal "bridge" that sits under the swivel, it then causes a knocking noise and excessive play from the front wheels. A special tool is required to replace them unless you like making work for yourself.
Knocking from the front suspension when going over bumps, or when throwing the car from side to side can be worn out front anti roll bar links, a cheap and easy fix.
Rear Shock Mounts. The upper shock absorber mounts are a normal wear item. As they age and get more mileage on them they perish and split, their condition goes from being slightly cracked(nothing to worry about yet) to completely broken out (causing rattling or banging going over bumps). Also the metal around where the rear shock top bolts to can split and eventually break through, leaving the shock to flail around, Strengthener plates are available.
Rear Trailing Arm Bushes. If the rear of the car feels unstable over bumps or when cornering hard and is accompanied by a knocking sound then checking the rear trailing arm bushes out is a good idea, over time they get weak/perish and split away from the mounting(s), resulting in excessive movement of the rear trailing arm(s).
Rear suspension springs are common for breaking, if your car looks excessively low on the rear from one side or both sides then you could well have a broken spring(s). Not a big job to do, a relatively easy DIY for the home mechanic.
Power steering reservoir, it's common for the reservoir to weep from the pipes underneath it, replace the clips that hold the pipes on with jubilee clips.
If there is fluid leaking from a steering rack gaiter or both then you need a new steering rack, the rack seals have gone and can't be replaced. Slight weeping from the power steering pressure pipes where they are crimped to the hoses is common though, new pipes would be required to remedy the problem.
Worn track rod ends and/or tie rods can cause shimmying from the steering wheel and a inability to hold a straight line without continual correction of the wheel, in extreme circumstances you may get a clunk from the steering aswell.
Pelican Parts Tech articles E36 for all these problems http://www.pelicanparts.com/BMW/techarticles/tech_main.htm
It's common for the sliders to break that holds the window to the regulator, leaving you with either a tilted window or no window because it drops inside the door, fortunately the sliders are cheap and relatively easy to change.
If the electric windows and sunroof intermittently work and then not work on your pre 1994 e36 then it's most likely down to the "Comfort relay", this can be replaced for cheap from the main dealer or can be DIY fixed with the guide here.
Author: Ronnie from the U.K., 19-11-2008
You can determine the most likely causes of incorrect operation of the engine of BMW E36 with next table. The bottom table lists the most likely causes of incorrect engine operation of the car BMW E36. First you have to choose one of 8 problems and then analyze those positions from the list below (the same table), which are "+" in the column with number of your problem. BMW 3 series http://bmw-e36.com/tips/24-common-faults-in-the-e36.html