How to Replace the Radiator in an E36 M3

Written by william zane
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The cooling system on an E36 generation BMW M3 (and on any BMW or other brand of car for that matter) is an extremely important component of the engine. A properly functioning cooling system ensures that the engine will not overheat and become damaged or destroyed. If your E36 M3 is running hot, it may be because the radiator needs replacement. This is a relatively easy job to perform with the right tools and approach. Doing it yourself can save you several hundred dollars that you would normally pay someone else.

Skill level:
Moderately Challenging

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Things you need

  • Jack
  • 4 jack stands
  • Socket set and ratchet
  • Open-ended wrenches
  • Torque wrench
  • Screwdriver
  • BMW fan removal tool
  • Three-gallon pan
  • Rags
  • Rubber gloves
  • Eye protection

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  1. 1

    Lift the car with a floor jack and lower it onto jack stands at all four corners. Place the interior heater controls to "hot," turn the ignition to "On" (don't start the engine) and turn the fan on low.

  2. 2

    Place the coolant container under the exhaust manifold. Remove the drain plug located in the engine block just under the manifold on the passenger's side of the engine bay and let the coolant drain. It is recommended to wear eye protection as you drain the coolant.

  3. 3

    Reinstall the plug with a new aluminium sealing washer and tighten it to 18 pound-feet of torque. Move the drain pan under the radiator. Remove the plastic drain plug in the radiator and let the coolant drain out. Reinstall the plug and tighten it to only 18 to 27 inch pounds, which is a very small amount. Place the old coolant into plastic containers and dispose of it at a recycling station.

  4. 4

    Remove the plastic panel that covers the front of the engine compartment and the radiator. The panel is held in with screws that can be removed with a screwdriver.

  5. 5

    Place the BMW fan removal tool on the cooling fan pulley and then remove a 32mm nut that holds the fan in place with a wrench. This nut is reverse threaded and needs to be turned clockwise to loosen and remove it.

  6. 6

    Disconnect the coolant overflow hose from the coolant reservoir. Disconnect the coolant level sensor. Remove the small plastic rivets that hold the fan frame and coolant reservoir in place. The rivets are simply pried out with a flat head screwdriver. Remove the frame and reservoir from the car.

  7. 7

    Loosen the hose clamp with a screwdriver that holds the two large hoses to the radiator, one on the top left of the radiator and the other on the lower right. Disconnect the electrical connector for the coolant temperature sender. Disconnect the automatic transmission lines from the radiator if your car is an automatic.

  8. 8

    Remove the plastic clips that hold the radiator to the chassis. Press the centre of the clips with a screwdriver to release them from the chassis. Lift the radiator out of the engine bay.

  9. 9

    Install the new radiator in the opposite order that the old one was removed. Make sure the radiator is seated firmly on the rubber chassis mounts that hold it in place. Reinstall the clips, replacing any that were broken during removal with new ones.

  10. 10

    Reinstall the hoses and electrical connections, installing new hoses if the old hoses are dried or cracking. Reinstall the radiator frame and the coolant reservoir. Reinstall the front plastic cover with the plastic rivets.

  11. 11

    Loosen the plastic bleed screw, which in M3s is located on the thermostat housing. Use a funnel to slowly fill the radiator with new coolant. The M3 takes 11.1 quarts.

  12. 12

    Fill the coolant expansion tank until fluid comes out of the bleeder screw. Fill the tank until no air bubbles come out of the bleeder screw. Tighten the bleeder screw. Wipe up any spilt coolant. Start the engine and allow it to get to operating temperature. Top off the coolant if necessary. Jack up the car and remove the jack stands, then lower the car back to the ground.

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