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.
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. :-)
| 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.
| 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.
| 17 MM deep impact socket for wheel
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.
| 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.
| 30mm Impact
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.
| 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.
| 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.
| 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.
| 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.
| 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.
| 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.
| 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.
| 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.
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.
| 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.
- 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
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.
| 6-19MM 12 point sockets with Ratchets
16mm is needed for brake caliper carrier bolts
17mm is for engine oil drain bolt.
| SK 3/8" drive extension assortment
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.
| SK 1/2" drive swivel head
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.
| 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.
| 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.
| 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.
| Titan External Torx Set from E4
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.
| Sunex 41-Piece Micro Torx and
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.
| 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.
| SK 3/8" Female to 1/2" Male
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
| 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.
| 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.
| 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...
| 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.
| 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.
| 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.
| 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).
| Fuel Line
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.
| 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
| Ingersoll Rand IR2135Ti 1/2" Impact
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.
| Ingersoll Rand IR107XP 3/8" Air
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.
| 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.
| Ingersoll Rand IR301 Right Angle
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.
| 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:
- 7" Flat
- 8" Tailpipe cutter
- 8" Muffler cutter
- 8" Muffer and pipe cutter
- 8" Outside muffer pipe cutter
- 8" Inside muffler pipe cutter
| 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.
| 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).
| 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.
| 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.
| 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.
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