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E36 BMW Valve Cover Gaskets & Sparkplugs

I did not become a BMW Nut by chance. My father also drives BMW cars, though not exclusively. He has driven a 1992 325i for close to a decade now, and has passed on many helpful hints, tips, and ideas. As I drive a 1995 325is, this means we both own E36 BMW automobiles, and between our two cars have racked up a combined 350k+ miles. We also tend to our own maintanence whenever possible. Both of our Bimmers have lately been exhibiting low rpm stumbling under load. He replaced his spark plugs (He was running Bosch F7 LDCR spark plugs for the last 30,000 miles) with NGK BKR6EK plugs. Immediately, the stumbling and stuttering engine issue was resolved. Noticing that I have not changed my plugs in at LEAST 50,000 miles, I made a mental note to replace mine as soon as possible.

I also knew that with over 160,000 miles on the 325is, this would be a good time to replace the valve cover gaskets (one for the cover, and 2 3-ring inner gaskets, typically sold as a set. Usually around $45 or $50. FYI- I bought mine locally. gets around $44 for the set, same quality as OEM). I decided to go with the NGK BKR6EK plugs, which are pre-gapped. It's not a bad idea to change your oil at the same time. I jacked up the car, blocked the rear wheels, loosened the oil pan drain plug, and drained the nasty 3,500-mile-old 5w-30 oil (it's winter here in New England! Otherwise, I'd be running 15w-40 oil in this or any E36 BMW. Dino juice -not synthetic.

While the oil was draining (and of course I had let the car idle for about 5 - 10 minutes to warm up the oil on a 30 degree F day to make it flow a little easier), I popped the hood and went to work....I like to organize fasteners and items removed and place in plastic bags, with labelled masking tape if possible.
1. Pop off the 4 smooth caps on the two plastic engine covers with a flathead screwdriver. Underneath are two bolts and two nuts. Remove with a 10mm socket.

2. Remove the oil cap if you have not already. Both plastic covers should lift off and forward. On the one that is closer to the passenger side (the one that more covers the valve cover), make sure you don't loose the two plastic and rubber pieces that dampen vibration. Actually, its no big deal even if you do. :)

3. Each of the coils on your E36 BMW are removed individually. This goes for all six cylinder cars powered by derivates of the M50 engine (M50, M50TU, M52, S50, S52 etc). Each coil is held down by 2 10mm nuts. Remove. Notice that coils for the #4 and #3 cylinders have wiring guide supports on them. Notice that there is a ground wire on the innermost coil. Don't lose it when you remove it later and remember to sit it on the post.

4. Remove the spark plugs with a 16mm deep socket or a sparkplug socket. Either way works. Check the plug gaps...mine were way out of spec after 50,000 less-than-gentle miles. Forget about regapping them. This ain't your push mower, it's a BMW! The bad news is that the correct spark plugs list for nearly $11 each. Yikes! However, I paid less than $5/apiece, and you should too if you do your homework, call around and shop online. Check the plugs for signs of oil getting past the seals under the valve cover. These seals harden and wear with heat, time, and use. 3 of my spark plugs were so oil covered, it is testament to the quality of BMW engineering that my car even ran at all. Oil acts as insulator, not a conductor, in these situations.

5. If your valve cover gasket and seals are not worn out, you should see very little oil on the coil connectors and plugs. If this is the case, simply install the new spark plugs )taking care not to overtighten them which could lead to a sparkplug breaking off inside your engine and or stripping the threads. Both are very bad. One can be fixed with a Helicoil, the other, well I think you are f#cked if that happens)...and button everything back up. If not...proceed further...

6. Time to remove your E36 (or E34/E39 5 series if you've got a 525i/525it/528i/528it etc) BMW's valve cover. There are 15 10mm bolts/collars with washers that hold down the valve cover. 10mm socket, ratchet, and regular extension works just fine for this. 11 bolts around the perimeter, and 4 in the middle. The innermost one takes an 8mm then a 10mm to remove the ground wire. Remove them all and set aside.

7. Remove the 3 8mm bolts that hold down the coil wire tray so you can lift the coils up over onto the intake manifold. On M50/M50TU engine BMW's, you will see a sensor/plug on the front on the valve cover, unclip and remove. I have no idea what this sensor is. Oh well.

8. Pry up valve cover around the gasket to pop it loose. It will lift off. Remove any pieces of gaskets from the valvetrain area and from mating surfaces. I use simple green and crc brake cleaner to clean all surfaces. Pay attention to which way the gaskets are supposed to go and install your new gaskets. No other surface or mating surface preparation is required.

9. Button it back up, install the plugs, double check torque/tightness of every nut and bolts twice, and take her for a spin. Replacing the sparkplugs in my 95 325is took care of the stumbling/stuttering/choking issue at part/full throttle at low rpms under load. The revs freer now.

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