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Thursday, July 16, 2020

Doug's Domain

Doug Vetter, ATP/CFI

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May 5, 2007

First DIY Oil Service

I was having a bit of fun last weekend flirting with the rev limiter when I noticed the odometer ticked over "3500". While it's only been 2500 miles since the last oil change, it's been almost a year -- long beyond the recommended 6 month change interval -- so today I decided to do my first DIY oil change on the E46.

(Image: First time the E46 is up on ramps)The great thing about the knowledge I've gained working on the E36 is how easily it has transferred to the E46. I suppose this is one of the reasons why I seem to be keeping my eyes focused on the new M3 in spite of the troublesome design deficiencies it inherited from the E90 line. Even though the new M3 will be a radical departure from the E46 mechanically speaking, I believe I'll find it more familiar and easier to work on than, say, a P-car. Although this was my first time under the E46, I found everything quite familiar; even the torque values were the same. The family resemblance under the hood is unmistakable.

For that reason, I figured this would be a pretty straightforward process but it didn't take long to run into a small snag -- as I aligned the ramps in front of the wheels I realized that the ZHP aerodynamics package (including M-Tech II front bumper) did not provide sufficient clearance. Borrowing from some DIY guides online as well as common sense, I took some spare 2x10 scrap and put it between the tire and the start of the ramp so the car would have the benefit of another inch and a half of clearance as the tires started the climb. Sure enough, that made all the difference and I managed to walk the car up the ramps without any clearance issues.

While under the car I conducted a cursory inspection of the front end and learned a few other things. First, the greasy undercoating they spray on the bottom of these cars during manufacturing really becomes a mess after a while. It's turned black with road grime in many places and is holding lots of dirt and sand in suspension everywhere. Obviously, the stuff serves a purpose otherwise BMW wouldn't bother to spray it on, but my primary concern is that the mess makes it very difficult -- if not impossible -- to check for leaks or subtle damage to the underbody structure. I tried rubbing it off with a towel and found that process extremely unproductive. I'm not sure what I'm going to use to clean it up, but I have the strange feeling that traditional degreasers are not going to work.

Another thing I noticed is the fact that the car's underbody protection does a good job of covering many critical parts. In fact, one panel covers the underside of the engine except for an area directly under the oil drain plug. That access hole appears to accept a hinged door, but my car didn't have one. I thought for a while that it had fallen off, but I later spoke with my technician and he told me that only the earlier E46 vehicles had them. The parts guys confirmed that the part existed and would technically fit my car, but was not attributed to my VIN. The downside of this access panel is that it's too small. It gets in the way of swinging a torque wrench...at least when the car is on ramps. Jacking the car or putting it on a lift would mitigate the clearance issue, but I'm not inclined to use either method when ramps are so easy and convenient for this process.

On a more positive note, I noticed ///M branding on the control arms. While I knew that the front control arms on the ZHP were different than the 330, I was not aware they were M-branded parts. It's nice to know that the M division had something to do with the ZHP suspension design, even if only in a parts-bin kind of way.

When I pulled the car down off the ramps, I expected the 2x10s to shift a bit and sure enough they did. If I continue using ramps for oil changes on this car I think I'll need to construct a ramp extension out of wood and secure that to the ramp by means of a couple metal pins (probably constructed using some 1/2" threaded rod), but that's a project for another weekend.

I intend to try to get my dealer to change the oil again in a few months under the free maintenance program in spite of the fact that the service indicator still shows 11500 miles to go, since the "original" fill will be well over a year old at that point. It will only save me about $40 since that's what 6 quarts of BMW 5W-30 and a filter costs me, but it will be worth the trip to get the car up on the lift for an impromptu inspection by my technician.

Mileage: 3529. Parts: $41, Labor Saved: $80