A 3 Series whose steering makes a clicking/ticking sound, or feels loose when the steering wheel is turned might have this problem with the steering input shaft.
2009 BMW 328i xDrive; photos by Chris Chase. Click image to enlarge
It’s common for a 3 Series to refuse to start in order to avoid the risk of the steering wheel locking up while driving.
BimmerForums.com has a section dedicated to DIY maintenance and repair procedures.
CR notes a few other trouble spots, including, in its words, door locks/latches and power windows.
Crash safety rates high, with “good” results in the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s (IIHS) frontal offset and side crash tests, and four and five stars in National Highway Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) frontal and side impact tests.
Unless you think fun is stupid or would rather take the bus, it’s next to impossible not to like the 3 Series. Even the most basic models, with their only-adequately-powerful engines, are satisfying cars to tear along a twisty road in, especially with a manual transmission. Keep in mind that even a reliable BMW will be a more expensive car to maintain than any mainstream mid-sized car, but if you love to drive, the extra cost will be worth it. Much as it pains me to say it, if you like reliability, avoid the turbocharged 335i models and their troublesome fuel pumps, and approach the diesel-powered 335d with caution, only because not much is known about that motor’s reliability yet; otherwise, a car that comes with complete service records and passes a mechanic’s inspection (try for a shop that knows BMWs and their quirks) will be as good a deal as you’re likely to get on one of the best all-around cars the used market has to offer.