The BMW E46 has a common misconception about oil. Many believe that these cars burn too much oil. A well cared for and higher mileage (173,000+) vehicle in my experience burns the same amount of oil that it burnt the day it left the factory in Germany — 1 quart per 1,000 miles!

My first and only BMW E46 that I have owned is a 2001 330i Sedan with a Manual Transmission. I purchased it outside of Sacramento, CA with about 124,000 miles. As I started commuting in the car one of the first things I noticed was the rate of oil consumption. I started learning more about the 330i’s engine and am sharing what I’ve learned along the way.

Please keep in mind, oil is a hotley debated topic on the Internet and the information in this article is 5-parts research, 2-parts opinion and likely not the end-all be-all of BMW Oils.  That being said, I’ve kept my high-mileage engine in good working order and have the Oil Analysis reports to prove it.

Since I don’t have an M3 (yet) nor a Diesel engine, I will not be sharing my experience with oils for those engines until I acquire one and operate it for some time. Also, this article focuses mainly on the US bound cars but much of the information will carryover to rest of world cars, including capacities and specifications.

Which Type of Engine Oil for a BMW e46 Oil Change?

The recommended oil for E46’s is oil that conforms to the BMW LL-01 specification.  This means that BMW specified certain properties of the oil for their engines and then oil manufacturers will meet and typically exceed these properties.  

You should always check the owner’s manual in your car to make sure your car requires BMW LL-01 specification, but I’m almost 100% certain for the non-M E46’s it is required.

In addition to the type of oil you need to make a decision about the viscosity of the oil. E.g. 5w30 or 5w40.  In general for warmer climates you will want to go with 5w40. If you live in a climate where you experience extremely cold winters, 5w30 will be what you need. Check with your local BMW mechanic to see what they recommend for your area.  We always run 5w30 simply because the car rarely sees temperatures below 30 degrees Fahrenheit.

What is the BMW E46 Oil Capacity?

Regardless of the model you have in the US the general rule of thumb is that the BMW E46 takes 6.9 Quarts of oil from dry.

When we change our own oil we tend to see about 1/2 a quart remaining in the engine.

Be careful when topping up or replacing your oil because you do not want to overfill the oil on your engine. If you have too much oil in your engine, you can damage your catalytic converters because the engine will send oil out your exhaust.

Model Years 1998-2000 (Pre-LCI)
Model (Engine Code) Capacity
323i, 323ci (M52TUB25) 6.9 Quarts (6.5 Liters)
328i, 328ci (M52TUB28) 6.9 Quarts (6.5 Liters)

 

Model Years 2001-2006
Model (Engine Code) Capacity
325i, 325xi, 325Ci, 325ti (M54B25) 6.9 Quarts (6.5 Liters)
330i, 330xi, 330Ci (M54B30) 6.9 Quarts (6.5 Liters)

BMW E46 Burning Oil

All of the BMW’s we have owned consume 1-quart of oil per 1,000 miles regardless of age. I have owned modern Z4’s, to classic E12’s.  It’s just what they do.  In fact, as I recall the Z4 owner’s manual even called it out. To this day I burn 1-quart of oil for every 1,000 miles like clockwork.  If you are consuming more than this, you should have your engine inspected by a mechanic or conduct an oil analysis on your next oil change to diagnose why.

Dashboard Oil Lights

At the top center of your dashboard (instrument cluster) is a warning light. Depending on the status of your oil it can be Red, Yellow or entirely off. When you turn your key to the on-position you should see a Red light. Once you start your car it should go away.

BMW E46 Yellow Oil Light

The Yellow oil light in your BMW E46 means that your oil is about 1-quart low. The good news is that you still have oil in your engine. As is convenient you should add about 1-quart of oil.

 

 

BMW E46 Red Oil Light

The Red oil light in your BMW E46 means that your car has low oil pressure. There are many reasons for this. Regardless, you should tend to this immediately as you do not want to run any car with low oil pressure.

In Conclusion

The BMW E46 has been a great car for us over the years. With continued maintenance and care we have had great luck and about 60,000 miles of use. If you are considering a BMW E46 whether it be a Sedan, Coupe, Convertible or even Wagon we suggest buying one with a lengthy service history and nuortic prior owner. To find one of these check out our app BRZO, which is a great tool for finding these great cars.

Once you’ve used BRZO, you won’t want to browse Craigslist the regular way ever again…”

Car and Driver