Because I’m obsessive, and other people seem to be just as obsessive as I am, I’ve decided to buy the three OEM filters for this engine and compare them.
Before I get into this review/comparison, I want to state my opinion outright: all of these filters are perfectly fine. It’s unlikely that you’ll ever have a problem with any of them, and it’s unlikely that you’ll ever see any kind of difference in real-world performance between the three of them.
An Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) is, at its broadest definition, any company that has made an Original Equipment (OE) part for either your car, or the company that makes your car. Because of that somewhat broad definition, OEM doesn’t always mean that something is good. Bosch is an OEM, and many of their parts are very poor quality, and made in China. The same goes for Behr, and Cool Xpert, etc.
In this case, though, all of these filters are high quality. They’re all made in Western Europe–sort of, the Mann filters are now made in Mexico–and they’re all made by the main three companies that produce filters for BMW. Both Hengst and Mahle produce Genuine BMW filters that are sold at BMW dealerships with roundels on them. As far as I know, though, for this specific filter, for the M54, the Genuine BMW version is only made by Mann. As you’ll see in this comparison, I happen to feel that the Mann filter is the lesser of the three. My assumption is that BMW goes with whatever filter meets their specs and is the least expensive. You’ll easily be able to see that it’s the Mann–it definitely looks like it would meet the specs, and it’s definitely the least expensive to produce. But, again, regardless of any nitpicking, I wouldn’t hesitate to buy any filter for any car from Mann, Mahle or Hengst.
Part • Oil filter (BMW M54 engine)
Brands • Hengst, Mahle, and Mann
Prices • (Because I could only find two european parts retailers who carry all three, those are the only two I’m including.)
- Hengst – $4.09
- Mahle – $4.99
- Mann – $4.99
- Hengst – $6.00
- Mahle – $7.00
- Mann – $7.25
The comparison •
These filters are all called “oil filter kits” because they come with an o-ring for the oil filter housing cap, and a crush washer for the drain plug. The o-rings and crush washers seem similar between the Mahle and Mann filters, with the Hengst having a very distinctly different o-ring: it’s white! I don’t know what it is, but the Hengst o-ring seems a bit smoother and higher quality than the other two. There’s a real benefit to the white o-ring, too, in that you can clearly see how it’s sitting on the oil filter housing cap. Some people make the mistake of pushing the o-ring all the way to the top of the cap instead of letting it sit in the groove it’s meant to go in. I’ve also heard of the o-ring working its way out of the groove while the cap is tightened down. With the white o-ring, you can plainly see where it is on the cap at all times.
I’ll start with the Mann filter. This filter is what you get if you go to the BMW dealership and ask for an oil filter at the parts counter. The only difference is the box, and a BMW roundel on the top. This filter is supposed to be made in Mexico. The online retailers list Mexico for the country of origin, and you’ll find a a bunch of forum posts in which people ask about their Mann filer saying “made in Mexico” on the box. This filter, though, was made in Germany. It says Germany on the filter, and “made in Germany” on the box.
I bought this filter from Napa. My guess here is that it’s just old stock. I’m going to review this filter as though it’s the same as what you’ll buy now if you order this Mann part number, but you should realize that you will receive a made in Mexico filter if you do. While the country of origin doesn’t necessarily bother me, and I’m writing this on a very well-made Macbook Pro that happens to have been made in a factory in China, there’s no denying the fact that this filter costs much less for Mann to make in Mexico than it does for Hengst, and Mahle, to make their filters in Germany, and Austria. This would bother me less if the Mann filter were half the price of those two, but it actually costs more!
The caps on the Mann filter look to be a sort of hard urethane foam somewhere between expanding insulation foam and Gorilla glue. The “gasket,” if you can call it that, is a paper-thin felty material. Having removed one of these filters from the oil filter housing, I can say that it fits snugly and probably doesn’t allow any oil to seep through. The material that the caps are made from, while cruder than the other two, is probably perfectly suited to its intended use. But, really, there’s no denying how inferior it looks next to the other two.
The seam on the Mann filter is also the worst of the three. Wavy and obvious and crude. Will this seam tear open and cause problems for you? No. I guess it’s possible, but I doubt it. Remember, this is the filter that BMW use when they change your oil. But, again, it’s ugly. The Mann filter also has the fewest pleats of the three, at 63. That’s 5 fewer pleats than the Hengst, and 12 fewer than the Mahle. This literally means that the Mann has a smaller filtering area.
There’s been some concern on the various BMW forums over the height of these filters. Mainly due to the visible difference in height between the Mann and the Mahle filters, as can be seen in the first photo. I took these awkward measurement photos to show that the size difference between these filters is actually negligible. Definitely less than 1/8 of an inch. In the other photos, you’ll see just slightly more above the 4″ mark on the mat.
One thing I like about the Mann, which is something it shares with the Hengst filter, is this comparison chart on the box. If you know your filter size from another brand, you can cross-reference it here. While I think this is a cool feature, it’s probably not something that will be very handy to us Americans. I’ve never seen these filters sitting on a shelf anywhere. (Not even in my dreams.)
Before I decided to buy the other two filters for this comparison, the Mahle was my favorite. When I first ordered oil filters for the car, I ordered these.
The caps on the Mahle filter are plastic, just like the oil filter housing cap itself. They’re the sort of hard plastic that BMW likes to make its engine parts out of. That gasket in the middle? It’s a real rubber gasket. It nicely presses onto the oil filter housing and cap, and it seals. Do you see a seam on the inside? Neither do I.
While Western European manufacturing provenance isn’t a requirement for a quality product, I’m sure it would be cheaper for Mahle to make these filters in Mexico for the NAFTA market.
What a hideous seam. And you were doing so good up to now.
Just a smidge taller than the Mann. The Mahle filter area, though, is much shorter than both the Mann and the Hengst, which are just about equal to each other. You can see this in the first picture. I’m not concerned, though, because what the Mahle lacks in height it more than makes up for in pleats. And it has 75. The most pleats of the three.
The usurper. For me, this one is now the winner. There are other factors, but it’s almost unbelievable to me that this one is actually the cheapest of the three.
The Hengst shares Mahle’s plastic caps, but surpasses its printing. The text and graphics were so nicely printed on this cap that I almost want to print this photo out and put it up on the wall. That felt gasket? Sure, it’s a bit cruder than the Mahle. But if you’ve ever changed the filter on one of these engines, you already know that those felt gaskets are going to get pressed down and will then be taking their jobs quite seriously, shouting German obscenities at any droplets of oil thinking of passing through their schnitzel party.
Again, the country of origin doesn’t matter, but you know you want your filter to be made in the same country your car came from.
Made in Germany AND a filter comparison chart? And all of this on the most beautifully designed box of the three? I need to calm down. This is almost too much for me.
While it’s not much taller, maybe a millimeter or so, it knows its place is at the top of the filter food chain. 68 pleats–which is, I admit, a smaller number compared to the Mahle–but you know you want it. The guys at Hengst don’t mess around. Look at how straight those pleats are, too.
Okay, sure. There’s a seam. But it’s not the easiest thing to see if you’re not looking at a zoomed-in photograph. And it isn’t as ugly as the other two. You know this filter is better. In your heart. You know the others will let you down. (Let you down. Emotionally. But don’t worry, your engine doesn’t have feelings.)
Where does this leave us? I’ll give you the score.
Hengst • 10 (Obviously.)
Mahle • 9
Mann • 7
Basically, buy whichever of these three you can find for the lowest price. I obviously prefer the Hengst, because I feel it’s slightly better than the other two, and it’s the cheapest. The Mahle is second best, and the Mann is a bit lower due to its cheap construction and its higher price. Why pay more for less?