BMW refers to the fourth generation of the venerable 3 Series as the E46. The belts on all E46s should be inspected regularly and replaced if necessary. As the belts age, they can become dried out and cracked and can eventually fail, leaving the car and the occupants stranded. The alternator, the water pump and the power steering all share the same belt. Replacing the belt can be done by a professional technician or by the owner of the vehicle with the right tools and approach.
- Skill level:
- Moderately Challenging
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Things you need
- Torx bit set
- Allen sockets and ratchet
- New belt
Remove the plastic intake shroud, located at the front of the engine. The shroud is held on with three or four expanding rivets, depending on the year of the model. Remove the rivets by gently prying them up with a flat head screwdriver.
Remove the radiator fan. Remove the wires that go to the back of the fan. Remove the T-25 screws that hold the fan in place. These are located at the top of the fan. On older E46 models, remove the plastic expanding rivet by gently prying it out.
Draw a diagram of how the belt routes or take a photo so that the new belt is installed correctly. Pry off the dust caps on the alternator belt tensioner with a flat head screwdriver. Loosen the alternator/water pump/power steering belt by placing an 8-mm Allen socket into the tensioner and turning it clockwise.
Slip the belts off the pulleys while the tension is relieved. Install the new belt, ensuring that it is routed correctly and in the same orientation as the old one. The belt tensioner will tension the belts properly. Reinstall the dust caps, the fan and the fan shroud.
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