BMW E36 engine reliability guide

John Avis by | February 8, 2013 | E36

When you are shopping for a car as old as the E36 generation 3 series, it makes sense to choose the model that will be the most reliable and require the least maintenance. Here's a run down on the pros and cons of most of the engines available (in Australia).
When you are shopping for a car as old as the E36 generation 3 series, it makes sense to choose the model that will be the most reliable and require the least maintenance. Here's a run down on the pros and cons of most of the engines available (in Australia).

M40 - 4 cylinder 1.8 litre

Not one of BMW's best engines. It has a timing belt which needs regular maintenance. Suffers from top end wear.

M42 - 4 cylinder 1.8 litre

Originally introduced late in the previous E30 generation life cycle, this engine carried over the E36 coupe with a few changes. Uses a double row timing chain that lasts well. Valve gear can get a little rattly but is no cause for alarm.

M43 - 4 cylinder 1.8 litre

The replacement for the M40. Fitted with a timing chain. This seems to be a reliable engine, for the most part.

M44 - 4 cylinder 1.9 litre

The replacement for the M42. Still with a timing chain. Valve gear improved with roller rockers. Fitted with some plastic coolant pipes which disintegrate with age. One is at the back of the engine which is difficult to replace without the engine or transmission out (replace it if regardless if you are doing this type of major work). [Edit: I have since been told this pipe can be replaced by only removing the valve cover]

The M44 also suffers from a leaking oil filter housing gasket. If you are leaving a lot of oil on the ground where you park then this is the most likely cause. Fortunately they are fairly easily to replace.

M50 - 6 cylinder 2.0 litre and 2.5 litre

Fitted with timing chain. Later models had variable valve timing for inlet valves which can be problematic but early models (1991 and 1992) didn't. Strong iron block with aluminium head.

M52 - 6 cylinder 2.5 litre and 2.8 litre

Replacement for the M50. Fitted with timing chain and variable valve timing on both inlet and exhaust valves. Aluminium block which means that it doesn't like overheating and head gasket replacement can result in stripped threads. Some oil consumption problems due to either Nikasil cylinder linings, bore glazing or oil separator valve. Many engine blocks were replaced under warranty.

Like most of BMW's VANOS equipped engines, the M52 can suffer problems in this system.

Summary

All BMW engines have a reputation for needing regular cooling system maintenance. Personally in more than a decade of BMW ownership, and around 7 different cars, I have only had to replace one water pump. However, I have had to replace the thermostat in almost every BMW I have owned. I have never had a problem with overheating.

In my opinion the best choices are M42 or M44 for 4 cylinder models, or the M50 for 6 cylinder models.

If you do want a 318i then I would strongly recommend you avoid the earlier M40 powered cars and find a later model with the M43 engine.

Related Posts

My 1998 318is E36

I installed an eBay short shifter on my BMW 318is and I hate it

by John Avis | July 30, 2019

Here's what I think about my eBay short shifter.


My 1998 318is E36

I bought the cheapest brake rotors on eBay

by John Avis | May 11, 2019

My experience with the cheapest brake rotors I could find on eBay.


E36

1998/1999 BMW 318is Sport (Australia)

by John Avis | March 22, 2017

In 1998, near the end of the E36 life, BMW Australia introduced a limited edition version of the 318is called the "Sport".

Comments

There are no comments yet. Be the first to leave a comment!

Leave a Comment

Tags

About me

I am a bit of a 3 series fanatic, having owned a couple of E30s and a few E36s, plus a few parts cars. I like the combination of the compact size, good performance and handling, and that they are more sports sedan than an impractical and extrovert sports car. This blog is a place to share my experience and knowledge.

Subscribe

Get the latest posts delivered to your inbox.