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Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Doug's Domain

Doug Vetter, ATP/CFI

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Tools, Equipment, and Supplies
for the DIY BMW Technician

Page 1 of 3

(Image: Top-down view of AFF 2 Ton jack)
The best job begins with the right tools


While I've worked with my hands for as long as I can remember I've never been a gearhead. As a youth I enjoyed woodworking, I grew up in my family's electrical contracting business installing custom electrical services and I turned a few wrenches on airplanes under the supervision of a FAA licensed mechanic, but aside from the occasional oil change, audio gear installation and such, I never worked on the family's cars. And frankly I've never been inclined to do work myself when I could hire people with the proper equipment and experience for a reasonable cost.

However, that was then, and this is now. There's nothing quite like labor rates previously associated only with physicians and attorneys to justify the time and expense necessary to work on my own vehicles. In fact, shop labor is so expensive in my area that the tools outlined in this article have already paid for themselves in terms of saved labor costs. Of course, there are (and will always be) jobs I won't tackle myself for a variety of reasons but for the vast majority of routine maintenance on a BMW all you need is some knowledge (which starts with a Bentley Manual) and a good set of tools. This article lists the tools I purchased specifically for working on my BMWs grouped into the areas of Hand Tools, Shop Equipment, and Miscellaneous Supplies.

I've purchased many general purpose tools at Eppys because I live close to their NJ store. Special BMW tools can be purchased from various sources including Baum Tools.

Please note that this is a work in progress. It will be updated with additional items and photos as time warrants.

No U.S. currency was harmed in the creation of this article. :-)

Hand Tools

Description Source Cost
(Image: Hazet 36mm Oil Cannister Socket) 36 MM Socket for oil filter canister.

Normally a 36MM socket is 3/4" drive. This is a specialty six-point socket with a 3/8" drive - perfect for use with my 3/8" drive torque wrench that has the range of torque required to tighten the canister cover. Not necessary if you have the correct socket and adapter, but worth it to me.

Eppys $25
(Image: SK 32mm Open End Wrench) 32 MM open end wrench

Used to remove the engine-driven fan. Used properly, you don't need to buy the special toolset with the clutch lock tool to remove the fan. However, you must be careful when re-tightening the fan. If you don't tighten it enough, it will spin loose if you lift off the throttle quickly, as the fan is reverse threaded.

Eppys $30
(Image: SK 17mm Impact Socket) 17 MM deep impact socket for wheel studs

While a regular deep socket would work with the breaker bar, I bought this as an impact socket because I knew I'd eventually use it with air tools. Whether or not you use this with air tools, I'd recommend wrapping the exterior of the socket with electrical tape to reduce the chance for damage to the rims.

Eppys $12
(Image: Special 46 and 36mm sockets) Special 46mm and 36mm Sockets

The front wheel hubs on the E36 and E46 are secured with a very large (46mm) six point nut. A garden variety 46mm socket (impact or not) will not work because the outer diameter of the socket exceeds the inner diameter of the hub flange, hence I bought this thin-walled socket made by Stahlwille in Germany (Part # 55SW-46). The rear hubs of the E36 are retained by a 30mm socket. I bought the 36 mm socket in error, but I can still use it elsewhere like on an E46 M3, which I will obviously now be forced to purchase to justify the cost of this socket.

Baum Tools $75
(Image: 30mm impact socket) 30mm Impact Socket

Required to remove the 12 point 30mm axle retaining nuts on the rear of the E36 and the non-M E46. M3's use a 36mm socket. I bought an impact socket because I knew I might need to use my air wrench to remove the nuts were stubborn (and at least one of them was). I bought this part because my distributor was out of the SK part. And it's probably just as well. The SK part was over three times the cost.

Eppys $11
(Image: Special Strut Socket) Special Strut Socket

This special socket facilitates the removal and reinstallation of the nut that fastens the bearing plate to a strut. If you don't hold the strut rod still with an allen key and use this tool to grab the nut the rod will spin. Most people seem to resort to the use of air tools to get around this problem but I've heard this can damage the strut internally. Given that struts are almost $200 each, I figure $25 is cheap insurance against any such damage.

Bimmertools $25
(Image: BMW Special Tool 312110) Front Wheel Bearing Alignment Shaft / Press

BMW special tool 312 110 aids the installation of front wheel bearing assemblies on any BMWs with a 46mm wheel retaining nut (E36, E46, etc.). The inner shaft of the tool screws onto the spindle to help align the bearing and the outer concentric is used to press the bearing onto the spindle by applying force only to the inner bearing race. This prevents damage to the bearing during installation.

(Image: SK 2 to 13mm Hex Sockets) 2-13 mm hex sockets, 3/8" drive

6 and 7mm are needed for brakes, and the 10mm is used to move the belt tensioners on the front of the engine. I bought the set because I knew it would be cheaper in the long run than buying individual parts.

Eppys $83
(Image: Facom D10714 14mm Stubby Hex Socket) Special stubby 14mm hex socket

For E36 differential drain/fill plugs. Required because of limited clearance between the diff and the spare tire well. FACOM D10714. I bought two for good measure, but you only need one to do the job.

Eppys $10
(Image: 22mm Oxygen Sensor Socket) 22mm Oxygen Sensor Socket

The electrical leads of an oxygen sensor prevent the use of a traditional 22mm socket. This is a combination 6 and 12 point 22mm socket with a slot in it through which the leads may fit. The crows foot design allows the use of a smaller 3/8" drive breaker bar or ratchet and helps reduce the overall profile of the tool in tight spaces.

Eppys $10
(Image: T10-T60 Torx Socket Set) T10-T60 Torx Set

There aren't many torx fasteners on BMWs from what I've noticed, but they do exist. A T50 is required to remove seatbelts and a T27 or T30 is required to remove the steering wheel airbag. As usual, I bought the set because it was cheaper to buy it rather than the sockets I needed.

Eppys $40
(Image: Torx Screwdriver Assortment) Torx Screwdriver Assortment

A T20 torx is required to remove the door panels on the E36, so I bought this set in a pinch while I was in Home Depot one day. So far I haven't had a need for the others.

Home Depot $7
(Image: 3 piece dead blow hammer set) Dead Blow Hammers

Sometimes required to free the brake rotor from the hub or chase people out of the garage. Use these hammers when you need to protect the surface you're hitting or where rebound off of a rigid surface is undesirable. These are naturally for light duty use when a little persuasion is required -- not for pounding on a stubborn ball joint or whatnot.

Eppys $23
(Image: C-Clamps) C-Clamps

For pushing pistons back into brake caliper during a brake change, among other things. The 4" works nicely for the brake application. I bought the 6" for other purposes.

Home Depot $8ea
(Image: Wiper Arm / Battery Terminal Puller) Wiper Arm / Battery Terminal Puller

This small puller can be used for a lot of things, but it's marketed as a battery terminal and wiper arm puller. The big knob adjusts the width or opening of the jaws while the center pin screws the pin down.

Eppys $8
(Image: SK Click-Type Torque Wrench Assortment) SK Torque Wrenches
  • Light Duty - SK 30-200 in*lbs, 1/4" drive - Essential to apply lighter torques. I bought this primarily to change the valve cover gasket on the E36 and it paid for itself in that single use.
  • Medium Duty - SK 5-75 ft*lbs, 3/8" drive - This is the general purpose torque wrench and will cover most bolts on the vehicle. Great for spark plug changes, securing belt tensioners, etc. If you had money to buy only one torque wrench, this would be it.
  • Heavy Duty - SK 25-250 ft*lbs, 1/2" drive - I bought this primarily for wheel bolts, but it will also be able to handle the heaviest torque on the car, which I understand to be the axle retaining nuts (a whopping 211 ft*lbs)

All the torque wrenches have pivoting heads. This allows them to get into awkward spaces. Note, however, that when used in this mode you have to do some simple math to adjust the torque setting for the 20 degree offset. Fortunately, the scales are marked in ft*lbs and Newton*Meters, so no on-the-fly conversions are necessary.


S: $138

M: $142

L: $163

(Image: Generic Sears Toolset) 6-19MM 12 point sockets with Ratchets

16mm is needed for brake caliper carrier bolts
17mm is for engine oil drain bolt.

Sears $100
(Image: SK 3/8 inch drive extension assortment) SK 3/8" drive extension assortment through 12"

An assortment of extensions is essential for any tool set. I did a bunch of work with the 3" and stubby, but the 12" also comes in handy when doing stuff like the swaybar bushings. The idea is to get the ratchet far enough out of the works so you can actually swing it. Also comes in handy in combination with the air ratchet since it's bulky and can't reach into small spaces.

Eppys $45
(Image: SK half inch drive ratchet with pivoting head) SK 1/2" drive swivel head ratchet

When I asked my technician what he used to gain access to the control arm ball joint nuts hiding on the top of the subframe he walked over to his ginormous tool chest and pulled out a ratchet like this. The head of this 1/2" drive ratchet swivels 180 degrees to get the job done.

Eppys $50
(Image: Set of half-inch drive SK sockets from 10 to 24mm) SK 1/2" drive six point sockets from 10 to 24mm

I bought this set of 1/2" drive six point sockets for various heavy lifting but for the control arms in particular. The ball joint nuts are typically 19 or 21 mm. I wanted six point sockets because they are capable of supporting the torque loads of larger fasteners, while 12 point sockets are usually a bit thinner and more susceptible to cracking. And as usual the sockets are bought cheaper as a set.

Eppys $60
(Image: Set of half-inch drive SK shallow and deep impact 
		  		sockets from 8 to 24mm) SK 1/2" drive six point impact sockets from 8 to 24mm

I bought this set of 1/2" drive six point shallow and deep sockets when I discovered I didn't have all of the sizes required during a rear suspension overhaul of my E36. While I did not have plans to use the sockets specifically with air tools, I bought an impact set because I knew they could serve that role if needed and because they were far less expensive than the equivalent chrome set.

Eppys $175
(Image: Set of 3/8 drive Astro Pneumatic crowfoot
		  		sockets from 8 to 24mm) AP 3/8" drive crowfoot sockets from 8 to 24 mm

This set was purchased strictly for the 24mm crow's foot socket as required to torque the rear subframe studs to the body, but as is often the case, the entire set was a bargain relative to the cost of an individual socket. Astro Pneumatic part number 7115.

Eppys $36
(Image: Set of external torx from E4 to E24) Titan External Torx Set from E4 to E24

I bought this set of external torx sockets primarily to acquire an E12 socket as required to remove the bolts that secure the driveshaft and output shafts to the differential. The perk? They came attached to a nice organizer so I didn't have to buy that separately.

Eppys $38
(Image: 41 Piece micro torx and screwdriver set from Sunex Tools) Sunex 41-Piece Micro Torx and Screwdriver Set

This was purchased strictly because I needed a T7 Torx to repair the HVAC controller. As usual the set seemed like a bargain so I splurged.

Eppys $28
(Image: SK Breaker Bars) SK Breaker Bars

Essential for removing overtightened lug bolts if you don't have air tools. Pictured from top to bottom:

3/8" drive with 10" handle ($16)

1/2" drive with 16" handle ($30)

1/2" drive with 24" handle ($50)

I bought the 3/8" unit to handle some stuck differential drain plugs because even if I could swing the 1/2" bars under the car (which wasn't jacked up at the time), I couldn't use a 1/2" to 3/8" adapter in combination with the stubby 14mm hex socket due to clearance issues. The 1/2" bar is primarily used to loosen lug bolts. The 16" bar is used in places where the 24" bar would be too cumbersome, but if you had to buy only one bar, the 24" would be the one to get.

Eppys $96
(Image: SK 3/8F to 1/2M adapter) SK 3/8" Female to 1/2" Male Adapter

Needed to use my 3/8" drive torque wrench with larger bolts that for some reason have a very light torque on them (like the oil drain bolt).

Eppys $6
(Image: SK 16pc Combination Wrench Set) SK 6-22MM Combination Wrenches

Every tool set must include some basic open-end and box wrenches. 7 and 9MM are needed for brake lines and bleeder screws, while 19-22 help with control arm / ball-joint replacement.

Note that in some cases ratcheting box wrenches come in very handy due to clearance issues and I do expect to buy a few of those for specific applications, but nothing beats the simplicity, reliability, strength, and price of a common fixed wrench for most applications. The box end of SK's wrenches are particularly nice in that they are thin-walled. This allows one to grab a bolt or nut that is in close proximity to some nearby structure. These are the equivalent of a thin-walled socket.

Eppys $120
(Image: Custom-made 16mm end link wrench) Custom 16mm Thin Wrench

In order to remove the front swaybar end links you need a thin 16 mm (or 5/8") wrench to grab some flats that are between the swaybar and the rubber boot of the ball joint. As I could not locate a proper wrench I took my technician's advice and made one on my grinder. Incidentally, I used a 5/8" wrench because it was all the tool shop had at the time and it was inexpensive. It works perfectly.

Eppys $10
(Image: Telescoping magnet with mirrow attachment) Telescoping Mirror

Essential for examining blind areas when putting on a nut, threading a bolt, etc. Inexpensive, but essential. Hmmmm...there's something familiar in that mirror. I wonder what it could be...

Eppys $11
(Image: 4 Piece Miniature Pick Set) Miniature Picks

I bought this set of four miniature picks. The tip on one is straight (like an awl) while the other three are bent in a few different ways for maximum leverage. I use the straight pick to align my windshield washer jets (a lot of trial and error as compared to the tool built specifically for this job, but a lot cheaper), and I use the curved picks to remove o-rings like those on the shaft of the engine oil filter mount assembly.

Eppys $8
(Image: Drill bit set) Drill Bit Set

Occasionally, on those rare days when things don't work out as the technical manuals suggest, there is a need to get physical with fasteners. I bought this drill set because my last one had many missing and dull bits. A bit overkill, but worth the money. I had some frustration looking for a drill bit set because most of them now come with what I can only describe as an auger tip (I think they call them "starter" bits) and those do not really work if you're trying to drill out fasteners like a stripped bolt or the head of a rivet used to secure a window regulator.

Home Depot $35
(Image: Interior Fastener Puller) Trim Fastener Puller

BMW uses a lot of press-fit fasteners on the car, both on the interior and exterior. I used to manage to remove those fasteners with a screwdriver but a purpose-built tool like this one makes all the difference. This version is made by Lisle. Note: This does NOT work well for door panels because it is too thick to get under the edge of the panel. Use a door panel tool as shown below for that job.

Eppys $5
(Image: Door Panel Tool) Door Panel Tool

This tool is essential to remove the interior door panels. The tool is "ramped" so you can get enough leverage to pop the plastic compression-fit fasteners without breaking them or the panel itself. There's no way you're doing this job safely with a screwdriver -- trust me -- so just buy the tool. I ordered this along with some other stuff from Crutchfield, but I'm sure you can get this at any auto parts store (and likely for less money).

Crutchfield $5
(Image: Fuel line fitting removal tool 161050) Fuel Line Removal Tool

Later E36 models incorporate special fuel line disconnects at the fuel rail and vapor recovery canister in the trunk. How do you remove special fittings in close quarters? You plunk down $23 for the BMW special tool 161050. Simple as that.

Baum Tools $23
(Image: Lisle ) Lisle 20400 Shock Absorber Tool

How do you remove the retaining nut on a rear shock assembly on an E36 or E46 while preventing the shock rod from spinning? You buy an oval socket tool specially designed to mate with the flats machined into the end of the rod. And this Lisle tool certainly did better work than the pair of vice grips most DIYers seem to use for this task. Trust me -- spend the whole $10 on this tool and your DIY work life will be better for it.

Eppys $10
(Image: Ingersoll Rand IR2135Ti 1/2 inch Impact Wrench) Ingersoll Rand IR2135Ti 1/2" Impact Wrench

I wrestled with this decision for several months, but finally decided to buy the Ingersoll Rand IR2135Ti Titanium series impact wrench. I looked at the ubiquitous IR217, but it was physically much larger, weighed significantly more, was rated for a lot less torque, and was not nearly as nicely balanced as the Ti product (the IR217 and other models similar in design were very nose heavy). For the extra $120, I got the better wrench as part of a promo kit that included a protective glove for the wrench, a pair of non-skid gloves, and a small tool bag that I now use to hold all of my air tools.

Eppys $240
(Image: Ingersoll Rand IR107XP 3/8 inch Air Ratchet) Ingersoll Rand IR107XP 3/8" Air Ratchet

Air ratchets aren't just a convenience. Sure, they're faster than a regular ratchet, but that's not where they shine. They are effectively mandatory when working in close quarters like when removing the intake manifold or exhaust headers because there's no space to physically swing a wrench or ratchet. Once you've decided to invest money in air tools, it makes no sense not to spend a little extra for an air ratchet.

Eppys $88
(Image: Ingersoll Rand IR121 Air Hammer) Ingersoll Rand IR121 Air Hammer

I'll admit that this is not a tool I expect to use very often, but I foresee using this for two critical jobs. One is separation of the ball joints when doing the lower control arms.. You can either buy a 10 lb sledge hammer and pound the crap out of the joint with a pickle fork and risk destabilizing the car on the jack stands, or you can use an air hammer to make quick, easy, and safe work of the task. The other job is a possible use as a chisel to aid in the removal of control arm bushings or rear wheel bearings -- it's not pretty, but it gets the job done without having to spend $600 in BMW-specific tools.

Eppys $75
(Image: Ingersoll Rand IR301 Die Grinder) Ingersoll Rand IR301 Right Angle Die Grinder

I bought this tool strictly for prep work necessary to weld in various reinforcement plates during a rear suspension overhaul on the E36. I bought the kit version (IR301-32MK) with the sanding attachments. The kit came with four (4) medium grit 3" 3M Roloc surface conditioning discs and four (4) medium grit 2" discs. The grinder requires a minimum of 3 CFM and a maximum of 14 CFM under load. It also spins at up to 20000 RPM, so ear and eye protection is a must when using it.

Eppys $100
(Image: Six piece air hammer chisel kit) Air Hammer Chisel Kit

This kit was the most cost effective way to get what I really wanted: a simple flat chisel for use with my air hammer. But it's not hard to see where some of the other tips might come in handy. They are labeled, from left to right:

  1. 7" Flat
  2. 8" Tailpipe cutter
  3. 8" Muffler cutter
  4. 8" Muffer and pipe cutter
  5. 8" Outside muffer pipe cutter
  6. 8" Inside muffler pipe cutter
Eppys $50
(Image: Pickle fork kit) Pickle Fork Kit

A pickle fork is sometimes necessary to free stubborn ball joints as used on the tie rods or front lower control arms. Pictured is a subset of a Lisle kit I picked up on sale. The two adapters provided allow the forks to work with an air hammer or sledge hammer. Incidentally, using a pickle fork on a ball joint is a sure way to destroy it, so this tool is used only as a last resort, or if the parts are worn out and being replaced. If you you are just dismantling the components to achieve some other end, a ball joint separator should be used.

Eppys $40
(Image: Spring compressor kit) Spring Compressor

A spring compressor is needed to replace struts. The idea is to compress the spring to relieve pressure on the upper bearing plate so it doesn't fly off into the next zip code when you remove the top nut. The perfect spring compressor is a stand alone unit, but they are very expensive and totally overkill for the DIY guy like me who might use the tool at most once every few years. I looked for two things in the spring compressor I purchased: it had to be reasonably priced, and constructed in such a way that it wouldn't kill me. This Lisle kit impressed me in that it very firmly attaches to the spring. Assembly and removal of the compressor will obviously take longer than some of the other kits with quick-release fasteners, but at least I won't need to spend any time in the hospital before I get to enjoy my new suspension components. The other cool thing about this kit is that it would be easy to dip the ends of the U bolts and the attachment flanges into some of that rubber "tool grip" goo in order to protect the springs from scratches (and thus rust).

Eppys $55
(Image: Spring compressor kit) Front Hub Puller

I bought this during my rear suspension overhaul in order to press a stubborn axle shaft out of the hub. It ultimately worked for that task but it destroyed the threads of three lug bolts in the process and managed to press fit itself to the hub flange, proving once again that garage engineering can get the job done but there is no substitute for the BMW special tools. Considering the outcome and the fact that this tool will also work in its intended capacity as a front hub puller I considered this $30 well spent.

Eppys $30
(Image: Master Appliance UT100si Butane Powered Soldering Iron) Master Appliance UltraTorch UT-100Si Portable Soldering Iron

I HATE buttsplices. They're unreliable garbage. I always bell-splice, solder and heat shrink any wires I touch. This portable model runs on standard lighter fuel (butane) and has a variable output for delicate work. The main reason I use this particular iron is not just for the convenience of going cordless, however. The exhaust air is hot enough to melt heat shrink, so it makes soldering and heat shrinking a quick and simple process.

TechniTool $125
(Image: Starrett 721 6 inch digital calipers) Starrett 721 6" Digital Calipers

I bought this nice set of digital calipers many years ago to aid my experimentation in radio controlled model helicopters. While certainly not required for work on the BMW, I have used them a couple times to measure the odd bolt size so they do come in handy. They were $150 circa 1997. Discontinued many years ago but newer versions are still available.

TechniTool $150

Continued on the next page.