The BMW e46 Series 3 was consistently on Car & Driver's 10 Best List during its production years of 1999-2006. But even with these fine accolades, the e46 does have a lingering problem: the power steering pump tends to fail. There are a few steps an owner can take to diagnose this problem, and then take it to a qualified BMW mechanic for confirmation of the defect and possible replacement.
The first sign of trouble would be difficulty steering. It might be hard to turn the steering wheel, or it could feel like there is something rubbing against the steering column or tires. The steering wheel might also vibrate or shake when you turn it, even if the car is at a stand-still. The second sign would be loud rubbing noises when you steer. Some drivers have said it sounds like the rudder of a large wooden ship, or a deep and heavy growl.
If you experience any of these signals, there are a few simple steps to take prior to seeking the assistance of an independent BMW mechanic. First check the power steering fluid. It should be a deep red color, not brown. If it is brown and smells “burnt,” then change your fluid. Secondly, be sure the power steering belt is tight as a loose belt can definitely affect steering. Lastly, the filter should also be free and clear of any clogs or debris.
If the fluid is decent, the belt is tight and the filter is clean, then the problem is most likely the power steering pump. While it is possible to change this part yourself, we recommend contacting a certified, independent BMW technician to perform the work.
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