Driven To The Limit: High Mileage E46 Maxes Out Odometer

When people say they drive their cars ‘to the limit,’ it’s usually meant in the context of the track. But what happens when you reach that limit with simple daily driving?

We’ve observed how the E46 generation of the 3 Series has matured over the years; its timeless design and raw driving experience allowing it to evolve into a modern classic that continues to enjoy desirability in the enthusiast community. With this reputation, E46s continue to be well-kept by enthusiasts, with high-mileage examples becoming more and more common as the years roll on. I’ve personally seen numerous models surpass the 200,000 mile mark, like my own 236,000-mile E46 ZHP, while online we’ve seen some odometers surpass the 400,000 and 500,000-mile thresholds. But there hasn’t been a time when I’ve heard of an example with mileage so high that it actually broke the odometer, until now.

The current mileage on my own E46 ZHP. About 400,000 miles short of the car in question.

An E46Fanatics forum user, who goes by the username kburger, was one of the first, if not the first E46 owner to drive his 2000 323i all the way to the limit of what was then BMW’s technology. The E46 driver claims they’re trying to reach a total of 1,000,000 miles, but has stopped short at around 660,000. This number, however, stands as a rough approximation—the odometer itself actually stopped at the 621,372 mile mark, and the car has now surpassed that number. The owner believes the final mileage could be closer to an incredible 660,000 miles. Broken odometer, you say? While I haven’t seen too many models from BMW’s current generations with high-mileage, I think it’s safe to say that a well-maintained E46 does last, and kburger’s 323i is proof of this.

Based on other user’s replies on the forum, however, our high-mileage celebration may be cut short. While we can take a minute to commemorate BMW for their engineering and kburger for his impressive maintenance skills, it seems that even BMW didn’t expect an E46 to ever actually reach this milestone, as evidenced by their development of an odometer that gives up after counting 1,000,000 kilometers (the metric equivalent of 621,317 miles). This technological limitation means the owner is faced with quite a conundrum, as mileage is an integral part of vehicle legalities like yearly state inspections, and the stated goal of trying to reach 1,000,000 miles with the car.

For the owner kburger, this becomes a sort of a solo-mission—help from the community is limited, as no other enthusiast seems to have encountered the same matter—online, anyway. The secondary issue that arose was how BMW North America would resolve the problem, either by replacing the cluster entirely and noting the change on the vehicle history report, or by electronically-resetting and re-coding it, either way leading to potentially more problems. It turns out, because the LCM software is two decades old, it is not updatable due to its tamper-proof design. While kburger has yet to hear back from BMW North America with a solution, it is clear that besides this issue, this is a prodigious testament to BMW vehicles and their potential to stick around for years—if well-maintained, of course.

High mileage Bimmer owners are part of an incredible mini-division of the BMW enthusiast community. In a way, they’re akin to the wise old elders of the club—their well-enjoyed Bavarian machines have seen hundreds of thousands of miles, and their owners have usually seen a propionate equivalent in the form of numerous modifications and maintenance endeavors. It’s clear that the high-mileage community wear their achievements with pride, often times as a badge of honor—and they should. Their willingness to share this knowledge and help out other enthusiasts comes as a great relief to many BMW owners both new and old, especially when they tell you that they’ve, “had that code before” or, “replaced that last week”. This sense of camaraderie is what makes the community great—when you reach out with a question or concern, you can be almost certain a group of enthusiasts will be there to offer you a known solution, or in kburger’s case, ideas that may lead you to find a new one.—Malia Murphy

[Photos courtesy BMW AG, Malia Murphy.]

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