Last summer I bought a 2002 BMW M3 with 284,000 miles on the clock, and aimed to make a fun daily driver out of the careworn Bimmer. On the surface the car seemed pretty nice. I quickly realized it needed a lot of work. I’ve made plenty of fixes so far, including drivetrain bushings, tie rods, brakes, and the starter. But one important thing nagged me: The feel of the shifter. Turns out, all I needed to do was replace a single piece of plastic to rejuvenate the whole car.
When I picked up the M3, I had trouble just getting the transmission into gear. The shifter felt so janky and notchy, that you needed real finesse to wrestle it into first gear. I got used to the trashed shifter after a few thousand miles, but it remained one of the worst parts of driving this car. The leather on the knob itself had also deteriorated, sticky and gross. Plus the little plastic “M” badge on top of the knob was missing.
I bought a shift bushing rebuild kit from FCP Euro, anticipating a deep dive into the shift linkage to return any pleasurable shift feel to the system. I took off the shift knob and all of the sound deadening below the shift boot to discover the plastic shift bearing ring, which holds the lever in place, had disintegrated. It was barely holding the shift lever in position. The bearing ring was in such bad shape, you could simply pull out the lever by hand. It’s no wonder the shifter felt like trash, it was falling out of its axis with every movement.
It took just a few minutes to pop out what remained of the old bearing ring—which promptly crumbled to pieces in my hand—and install the new unit. I reassembled the rest of the shifter and, just like that, it felt amazing to use. It’s now one of the best BMW shifters I’ve ever had the pleasure of handling, falling just short of the magical shift from my long-gone 8-Series. I didn’t even bother with the rest of the shifter rebuild it, there was just no need. All of the other parts were still in fine condition.
Of course, I couldn’t possibly reuse that nasty shift knob. So I got a new OEM unit from FCP Euro, which lights up at night just like the original. To finish things off I also sourced a transmission fluid service kit from FCP Euro that included new fill and drain plugs. A sticker on the side of the transmission says the fluid inside is supposed to last the lifetime of the car, but we all know that’s nonsense. The last owner must’ve known that too, because the fluid that came out looked basically new. Still, it’s good to know there’s brand new fluid in there now. One less thing to worry about for the foreseeable future.
On the road, the shifter feels rejuvenated. I actually had a bit of trouble shifting normally, because I was so used to doing all these weird maneuvers just to get the car into gear beforehand. It took a few minutes of driving to realize that this shifter isn’t so screwed up anymore. That I could just shift it like any other car. And because the shifter knob was no longer a sticky, deteriorating mess, I could actually grip it normally. Luxury!
This M3 has come a long way since I bought it, but there are still a few major items I’d like to address. The next time you see this car, it’ll have updated the suspension with a bunch of new Bilstein equipment. Stay tuned.