Javier Solis

6 minute read

Our BMW E46 Budget Drift Build

I’ve always wanted to learn how to drift ever since I previously owned a Nissan 240sx. Unfortunately, it’s nearly impossible to find a reasonably priced Nissan 240sx these days or any other cheap car we could use for drifting. We needed something reliable, inexpensive, and capable of drifting with little to no mods required. Our total budget is $5k. That includes the car, maintenance, tires, safety gear, and mods. This is what we found; a 2004 BMW 325Ci 2 door coupe. Better known as an E46 or Entwicklung 46.

What you want vs what you need

For a beginner’s drift build, we recommend the KISS method. Keep it simple stupid. This will also help make drifting somewhat affordable and relatively cheap. The goal in drifting is to get your car to slide sideways by breaking traction in the rear end, so RWD (rear-wheel drive) will be your minimum requirement. I’d highly recommend a manual transmission that allows you to perform a clutch kick.

Clutch kicking is a method that allows you to manipulate the clutch in order to dump higher RPM from the engine to the rear end which helps break traction.

Then there’s what you want, a high-speed 500+hp tire burner versus what you need. Beginner drifting isn’t necessarily focused on high speed, so you don’t need a crazy expensive fast car. With practice, you could drift any low-end 120HP car like this low powered Datsun 510. You’ll also do best with a welded differential or a limited slip differential (LSD). This will allow both rear tires to lock up to perform a smooth and consistent drift. A stock welded diff will cost less than upgrading to an LSD, so I’d recommend a welded diff for beginners. Other than tires and any safety gear this is more than enough to get you going.

Why an e46?

We decided to go with the BMW 3-series e46 after months of searching for the perfect beginner’s budget drift car build under $5k. The e46 is RWD sporting a manual 5-speed transmission and rocks 180HP from its inline 6 cylinder M54B25 engine. Our e46 came with the differential already welded as the previous owner had aspirations to drift, but never got around to it. The car also came with racing seats not yet installed for a grand total of $3600. Other than that, the e46 2 door coupe is completely stock.

So you’re going to want the initial price of the car to stay under $4k as you’ll probably need some extra parts to stay within budget. The biggest challenge you’ll come across is car prices. There’s also “drift tax” or the additional cost due to low supply and high demand for RWD cars used for drifting. Other RWD cars such as the Nissan 350z, Lexus IS300, and the good old Nissan 240sx were selling way over $5k, so we settled on the e46.

You could also go with a Mazda Miata which is possible to find pretty cheap, but we like the BMW e46 style much better and the e46 has a little more horsepower. The e46 vs Miata both have their pros and cons, but it all comes down to availability and budget. I don’t recommend you buy something that meets the minimum requirements and dump another $10k+ of mods into it. This WILL NOT make you better at drifting. You don’t need to change your diff for a different gear ratio, you don’t need an angle kit, turbo, or v8 swap. You need something reliable that you can consistently drift and build technique. And building technique requires seat time, seat time, seat time.

The e46 Build Breakdown

If you’re going to start drifting with a budget in mind I’d also suggest you learn how to fix things yourself. Car maintenance and repairs can be costly. Invest in some tools and take advantage of your local auto store tool borrowing service. You’ll save a ton of cash on labor. Before heading to our first drift event, we planned to take care of general maintenance. The e46 also started to go into “Limp” mode or randomly lose power, so we had some work to do.

Parts List Breakdown

  • Drive belts, pulleys, and belt tensioners - $174.00 Purchase from Fcpeuro.com
  • Mishimoto Upper and lower radiator hoses - $170.00 Purchase from Amazon.com
  • Mishimoto Thermostat housing/low temp thermostat - $112.00 Purchase from Amazon.com
  • Oil filter / Oil - $35 Purchase from Advancedautoparts.com
  • Differential oil - $35 Purchase from Fcpeuro.com

Extras

  • Conquer Snell SA2020 Approved Racing Helmet - $239.00 Amazon.com
  • NRG Racing Seats - $560 Purchase from Amazon.com
  • E46 Racing Seat Brackets(requires shorter bolts) - $102 Purcase from Amazon.com
  • Bracketeer Car Fire Extinguisher Bracket - $59 Purchase from Amazon.com
We started our maintenance with scanning for codes using our Veepeak bluetooth OBD scanner which you can find here on Amazon to try and identify what was causing “Limp” mode. We found that the ECU was throwing P1632, P0121, and P0221. Further inspection revealed that we had a broken MAF sensor which we replaced. We also found a bad vacuum line leading to the fuel pressure regulator from the intake manifold which we also replaced. Once we corrected those issues we fixed LIMP mode.

Then we moved on to replacing the belts, pulleys, tensioners, and main radiator hoses. They weren’t in too bad of shape, but I’d recommend having a fresh set of these types of parts. The last thing you want is a snapped belt, broken radiator hose, or pully failure while drifting. We also decided to upgrade the thermostat to a Mishimoto low temp version which will help alleviate initial heat build-up.

The last thing you’re going to need are some spare burner tires. I found eight spare tires and wheels that came from an e36 on Facebook Marketplace for $85. To my surprise, the e36 rims didn’t quite fit and I had to slightly shave down the rear calipers for fitment. So make sure you leave some wiggle room within your budget for properly sized spare wheels and decent tires.

The Track

Once we were ready, we decided to attend a private novice drift day hosted by Piedmont Drift at Piedmont Dragway. The track consists of a large parking lot transformed into a drift track as well as a separate semi-oval setup and a burn yard pit.



I’d highly suggest you check out your local race track and see if they host any open day drift events or novice days. We’re lucky enough to have 3 different tracks about an hour away from home that host regular drifting events. The drift novice day at Piedmont ended up being a blast. The e46 did great for being nearly stock and I learned a lot. Since then we’ve attended a regular open drift day at Piedmont and I’m looking forward to more seat time.

Check out our YouTube Video - BMW #E46 Beginners Guide Drift Build