You likely happened upon this page because you own a BMW e46, (or another BMW model with an M54 engine). Maybe it’s new to you–an XI, a convertible. Maybe an M3. Most of the information here will be cross compatible between models, though some of it will need to be modified to fit your specific vehicle. Remember to check the owner’s manual for vehicle specific info, and that whenever you work on your car you’re doing so at your own risk.
These cars all use the M54 engine:
- 2000–2006 E46 320i, 320Ci
- 2000–2003 E39 520i
- 2000–2002 E36/7 Z3 2.2i
- 2003–2005 E85 Z4 2.2i
- 2003–2005 E60/E61 520i
- 2000–2002 E36/7 Z3 2.5i
- 2000–2006 E46 325i, 325xi, 325Ci
- 2000–2004 E46/5 325ti
- 2000–2004 E39 525i
- 2003–2005 E60/E61 525i, 525xi
- 2003–2006 E83 X3 2.5i
- 2002–2005 E85 Z4 2.5i
- 2000–2006 E46 330i, 330xi, 330Ci
- 2000–2004 E39 530i
- 2000–2002 E36/7 Z3 3.0i
- 2003–2005 E60 530i
- 2002–2005 E85 Z4 3.0i
- 2003–2006 E83 X3 3.0i
- 2000–2006 E53 X5 3.0i
- 2002–2005 E65/E66 730i, 730Li
- 2000–2002 Wiesmann MF 30
These use the upgraded performance version of the engine, the S54, and will have different parts along with a slightly different procedure:
- 2000–2006 E46 M3
- 2000–2002 E36/7 M Roadster, E36/8 M Coupe
- 2002–2011 Wiesmann MF 3 Roadster
- 2006–2008 E85 Z4 M Roadster, E86 M Coupe
I’ll start with the tools and parts you need to change the oil on this car, including the basics. Then some tips that might help you along the way. And finally the essential DIY info.
The first thing you need–which I’m not going very far into, due to safety and liability concerns–is a way to lift the car up off the ground. The most ideal situation would be a professional garage with a lift. If you’re reading this, you probably don’t have that.
After that would be ramps. Ramps are easy because all you have to do is align them and carefully drive up. Make sure to chock the wheels, and you’re good to go.
The all around solution is a floor jack and a pair of good, sturdy jack stands. If you’ve done this before without using jack stands, you’re an idiot–and lucky to be alive. Below are some links to good ramps, a floor jack, and stands.
Once you have that category sorted, you will of course need the basic tools to get this job done, along with the consumables–a jargony term for stuff that gets used at a set interval–to replace what you drain and remove.
(I’ve included links below for a high quality 3/8″ ratchet, and a small six point socket set that includes the necessary 17mm socket for this job. If you don’t have any of this and plan to keep working on your cars, I highly recommend a metric and SAE mechanic’s set in 3/8″ drive. I have a set from Milwaukee that’s the best I’ve ever used, rivaling Snap On.)
These are the tools you’ll need:
- Philips screwdriver (splash shields)
- 17mm socket, 3/8″, six point (drain plug)
- 36mm socket, 3/8″, six point (oil filter housing)
- Pick set (o-rings)
- Oil drain pan
- Torque wrench (I find the “beam” style more accurate for most low torque applications)
- 3/8″ ratchet
- Ramps & wheel chocks, or
- Floor jack (not an affiliate link, just hands down the best floor jack I’ve ever seen for the price)
- Jack stands (the last jack stands you’ll ever buy, and your life is well worth the investment)
- Nitrile gloves
- Absorbent mat, or drip trap
For the consumables, these are what I recommend: (but remember, this will not cover all variations of the e46. Make sure to check your owner’s manual for specifics.)
- Engine oil (preferably with the A3/B4 certification–I, and many others, like Castrol 0w40, euro formula)
- Oil filter (MUCH more on that here)
- Oil filter housing o-rings (if this is your first time changing the oil on your e46)
Let’s get started.
First thing: always drain the oil with the engine fully up to temp. Cold oil drains slowly–especially in winter–and slightly more waste oil will get left behind. So plan to do this after you’ve been on a reasonably long drive.
Something that always bothers me about these write ups is the lack of important general info. They always tell you exactly which screw to remove and how much torque to use when you put it back–Google is more important in that case–but rarely do you hear the basic time tested advice you get from your grandpa or an old timer on an automotive forum. I’m going to try to intersperse some of that in here.
The first thing you should always do with anything involving a fluid drain is to check the fill cap. Check to make sure that there isn’t something wrong up top before you pull the drain down below. You can drive your car to the mechanic if you notice something seriously wrong, but you can’t drive it once you’ve drained out the engine oil. (*more on this at the end)
In the case of the e46, I recommend this sequence to start:
Start by checking your oil dipstick to get a baseline reading, and make sure it isn’t damaged or stuck. If all is good here, now is the time to get the car up on ramps or jack stands. Remove the oil fill cap, and check for any damage. Finally, remove the oil filter housing cap. If all of these are good, it’s time to start draining. (Note: it also helps the oil to drain more quickly when these upper caps are removed.)
Remove the splash shields from under the car. (**scroll to the end for more on this)
Drain the oil. You do this by positioning your collection pan (or bucket or whatever you happen to be using) under the drain plug. Get your ratchet and socket (or 17mm wrench) and break the plug bolt loose. Once you’ve done this, slowly loosen by hand until you see a tiny drip of oil start. Slow down even more, make sure your pan is positioned in the right place–both directly under the drain plug and also roughly a foot away to catch the oil that pours out–and start to pull a bit while loosening. You’re unlikely to get this right on your first try, but with some practice you’ll be able to loosen and pull the drain plug in just the right way that you don’t get any oil on yourself.
Now let the oil drain off for ten to fifteen minutes. Some people get crazy about this and want to make sure every drop comes out, giving it hours to drain. This doesn’t make sense. Even ten minutes is overkill, but it’s nice to take a break and not rush yourself. Have a few sips of coffee, walk around the block, argue with a bird–whatever gets you in a flow state.
Now’s the time to put it all back together. Start by replacing the crush washer on the drain plug. (The crush washer is included with any of the OEM oil filters I’ve reviewed and recommended, including my top pick.)
(IMPORTANT: if your old crush washer isn’t still on the drain plug, make sure it isn’t stuck to the oil pan. You don’t want two crush washers stuck together–it will cause a leak.) Once you have the new crush washer on, you can reinstall the drain plug. Your drain plug is steel, and your oil pan is aluminum. It’s quite easy to cross thread, damaging the one of these two that is the most difficult to repair/replace: the soft aluminum oil pan. Make sure you’re not cross threading by placing the plug into the threads and carefully rotating it counter clockwise until the feel the drain plug sort of drop/seat itself into the threads on the pan. Once you feel this, you can start hand rotating it clockwise to tighten. At the very end, get your torque wrench and tighten it to the correct torque. (FWIW, I haven’t used a torque wrench on an oil drain plug since I was a teenager. This isn’t rocket science, but if you’re totally new to all of this a torque wrench is a necessity.)
Replace the oil filter. Pull the oil filter housing cap–which holds the filter itself–from the aluminum housing. Make sure you have some towels down for this, as there are likely to be some drips. You might want to wear gloves if you don’t want oil on your hands. Pull the filter off and discard it into a plastic bag. (If you’ve never changed the oil on this specific e46 before, I recommend you replace the two small o-ring/gaskets at the bottom of the plastic housing cap.) Now you should pull the large o-ring/gasket on the housing cap threads, and replace it with the new one from your oil filter kit. Use the picks I mentioned above to replace all of these o-rings. The filter itself is easy–it pulls off and the new one presses back on. Once you have all of that done, you can replace the housing cap by using the same method I outlined for the drain plug, place it back down on the aluminum housing and rotate it counter clockwise until you feel the threads drop into place. Then hand tighten clockwise, and finally torque down the the correct spec found in your owner’s manual. You should also dab a bit of fresh oil around the large o-ring to help lubricate it.
Replace the oil. This part is easy. Using your funnel, pour the specified capacity of your drain pan–this, again, needs to be found in your owner’s manual, or Google–minus half a quart. I always make sure to stay half a quart low when doing this. You can easily add more, but you can’t easily drain. Once you have this done, it’s time to again check that your oil filter housing, dipstick, etc, are all closed and sealed. You can then get the car back down on the ground and start it. (It’s a necessity to have everything filled and closed up and tightened at this step if you’re using ramps, as you’ll need to start the car to get it down.) Once the car is down on the ground, let it run for a minute or so. Turn it off, wait five to ten minutes, then check the oil level via the dipstick. You’ll likely need to add the half quart you left out in the previous step. To do so, run the engine for a minute or so, let it sit, check it again. If it’s good, you can drive the car as usual for the next twenty four hours and check it again. If it’s good, you’re done. If not, repeat the fill step until you’re there.
Reset the oil service light.
Find the odometer reset button. Hold this down while turning the ignition to position 1. Hold the button until the display shows OIL SERVICE or INSPECTION, and RESET or RE.
Let go of the button, and hold it again until “RESET” flashes.
Let go and press it again.
Take notes and monitor. You should take a note when you check the baseline oil level at the very beginning. You should take a note documenting everything you did, along with anything odd. If you ended up having to add more oil than seemed necessary based on your pan’s capacity, take a note. The same for if you added less. If you saw a bit of coolant residue around a hose, write that down. Anything. Always take notes when working on your car. If absolutely everything is perfect after forty eight hours, check again in a week or so and take a note–even if it’s just to note that everything is perfect. You’ll find over time these tedious notes, seemingly with little to no relevance, can save you–time, money, stress–when a problem arises. Another important modern tool: your camera phone. Take pictures of anything you unscrew or take apart. If you end up with a problem, you can always refer back to the photo to see what you now can’t quite remember.
Thank you for reading. I hope this was helpful!
*This, of course, is rarely a concern with engine oil. But it’s a huge problem if it occurs. Even something as simple as a broken dipstick. No, I’ve never seen an oil fill cap that won’t come off. I have seen one that won’t go back in correctly, leaving enough of a vacuum problem that the person who changed the oil thought they inadvertently destroyed the engine while doing it. I’ve also seen an oil dipstick break off at the pull tab, requiring an hour of screwing around with needle nose pliers. Checking the filler plug before removing the drain plug becomes a bigger and more common problem with a transmission, or a transfer case, or a differential. Applying a principal from one area, something that takes almost no time or effort at all, can save you from a huge headache.
**I’ve omitted the info on removing the splash shields due to there being different configurations for different e46 models, with the car seen in the photos–it’s an xi–being on the less common end. This is not a difficult step to figure out, and there are many write ups on this across the internet, all with many photos. There isn’t much to screw up here, either. You get all the screws out and then you put them back in when you’re done.
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2 thoughts on “BMW | Got a new E46? Oil Change DIY + Tips, Tricks, and Suggestions”
Is it possible for the oil dipstick to show full when the oil is low? All search results online people ask the opposite(dipstick reads low after they know full). I had a small leak but the stick still reads full. Checked out and cold and wipe stick. I do not want to overfill but I don’t see how it would not need topping off. Any thoughts or keywords to read up on is appreciated. Thanks
not that i’m aware of, no. like you said, it’s sometimes the opposite.