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Pelican Technical Article:

BMW E36 3 Series Differential Oil Change
Jared Fenton
Wayne R. Dempsey

Difficulty Level: 3
Difficulty scale: Adding air to your tires is level one
Rebuilding a BMW Motor is level ten

     In this tech article, we will focus on replacing the differential oil in the BMW E36 3 Series differential. When was the last time you checked the fluid level in the diff? Never? Well this article will show you the simple steps involved in changing the fluid. Usually, a noisy diff is an indication that the fluid level is low. Keep in mind that this tech article is specific to the BMW E36 3 series cars, however this article applies to pretty much all cars in general.

     The first step is to drive the car around the block a few times to heat up the differential oil. This will make it easier to drain out. Cold oil doesn’t flow as smoothly as warm oil.

     Next, put on a pair of work gloves and jack up the rear of the car. Be sure to use quality jack stands and chock the front wheels. Failure to do so can result in the car falling on you! For more info, check out Wayne’s article on jacking up the E36.

http://www.pelicanparts.com/bmw/techarticles/E36-Jacking_Up/E36-Jacking_Up.htm

     Once the car is up in the air, and firmly supported,  look under the car, you will see the differential in the center. Now look under the diff, you will see a hex-head plug. This is the differential drain plug. In order to drain the old oil, we will need to remove this plug. Slide a drain tray under this plug. Now,  look at the back of the diff. You will see a similar plug on the rear face of the differential.. This plug is the fill port for the new differential oil.

     Now, remove the fill plug first. Use a 14mm Allen key or socket to remove the two plugs. This will help relieve any vacuum built up inside the diff and make it easier to drain the old fluid out. Next, remove the drain plug from the bottom.

Immediately, the differential oil will pour out. It should take a few minutes for all the fluid to drain out.

     Once all the old fluid is out, re-install the drain plug  and tighten. Next you will want to measure out the correct amount of fluid for the differential. For 4 cylinder cars, you will want to measure out 1.2 quarts of oil. For 6 Cylinder models, you will want to measure out 1.8 quarts of oil. BMW recommends you use BMW SAF-XO Synthetic Oil for differentials without limited slip, or use BMW SAF-XLS Synthetic Oil for differentials with limited slip.

     Now, use a siphon or pump to get the new fluid into the fill port on the rear of the differential. When the fluid starts to pour out of the top of the fill port, the differential is full. Remove the pump/siphon, and re-install the fill port plug and tighten using a 14mm Allen key.

     Well, there you have it - it's really not too difficult at all.  If you would like to see more technical articles like this one, please continue to support Pelican Parts with all your parts needs.  If you like what you see here, then please visit our online BMW catalog and help support the collection and creating of new and informative technical articles like this one.  Your continued support directly affects the expansion and existence of this site and technical articles like this one.  As always, if you have any questions or comments about this helpful article, please drop us a line.

Comments and Suggestions:
Alex57g Comments: Hi Nick, thanks for the reply. So would it work on my E36 LSD diff? Thanks and regards, Alex
August 26, 2016
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: It wasn't listed so I can't be 100% sure.
I’m not the best with part numbers.

Give The Pelican Parts parts specialists a call at 1-888-280-7799. They can figure out what part or repair kit you need.
- Nick at Pelican Parts
 
Alex57g Comments: Hi, I am doing the oil change on my E36 M3 3.2 and the local BMW dealer/garage reccomended/sold me Synthetik MSP/A 75W-140. 83 22 2 365 988 Could you please confirm if this oil can be used with my LSD diff. Thanks in advance.
August 25, 2016
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: Part 83222365988 was found on the following vehicles:
2' F87 M2   (11/2014 — 05/2016)
3' F80 M3   (04/2012 — 06/2015)
3' F80 M3 LCI   (01/2015 — 05/2016)
4' F82 M4   (02/2013 — 05/2016)
4' F83 M4   (06/2013 — 05/2016) - Nick at Pelican Parts
 
Mouse Comments: Hey, I have a 1996 328i and when the car is cold sometimes when I come to a stop the transmission goes into neutral for a few seconds before engaging the gears again. One the car warms up the problem seems to go away. Any thought?
August 14, 2016
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: First check the transmission fluid level to be sure it is correct. Then check the transmission ECM for fault codes. If the system is not working properly, a fault code will be set. This will be your best bet when diagnosing.
- Nick at Pelican Parts
 
Jim Comments: 1998 323is E36. Can you use Red Line Synthetic Differential Fluid - 75W-90 ?
May 11, 2016
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: Synthetic is fine, as long as Redline has the additives similar to the listed below:

GLS BMW Synthetic Final Drive Oil or Castrol SAF-XO; with multiplate limited-slip use SAF-XLS.

Use only SAF-XJ in the final drive of the Z3 Roadster and M5 models.

Give our parts specialists a call at 1-888-280-7799. They can figure out what part or repair kit you need.

- Nick at Pelican Parts
 
Devon M Comments: I have a 1998 323is coupe. Looking at Red line 75w90 gear oil. AMAZON tells me it "fits my car" . You thought on that or let me know what's best and if I need additives also, how much and what should I add? Thanks for your time.
November 10, 2015
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: Best bet is to Give our parts specialists a call at 1-888-280-7799. They can help you find the right oil. - Nick at Pelican Parts  
billy Comments: hey pelican you provide great advice and parts .my question what weight rear diff oil and how much do i use in my 1996 bmw 318i 4.44 rear gear vin # 4uscd8325tlc70788. the wheels spin in different direction with rear jacked off the ground so i beleive i have do not have limited slip .would i be right?
August 6, 2015
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: Yes, you are right.

I recall 1996 models using a Hypoid oil 80/90. To be sure, Give our parts specialists a call at 1-888-280-7799. - Nick at Pelican Parts
 
Leo Comments: Thanks for your previous response. Today i went to a tire shop to install new tires on the back wheels. As it was in the air, the wheels spun opposite of each other when i spun them. I had the car in park, does it matter if it was in neutral or not? I thought the wheels wouldn't spin if it wasn't in neutral, its a rear wheel differential. My car has a production date of 04/96.
March 24, 2015
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: Doesn't matter if it is in Park, they will just be harder to spin. - Nick at Pelican Parts  
Leo Comments: 96 BMW 318is M44. I dont have the service manual, but can I use 75w90 conventional or synthetic? I dont know if mine has a limited slip differential. I want to use Valvoline 75w90 conventional.
March 22, 2015
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: Differential oil

GLS BMW Synthetic Final Drive Oil or Castrol SAF-XO; with multiplate limited-slip use SAF-XLS.

Use only SAF-XJ in the final drive of the Z3 Roadster and M5 modles. - Nick at Pelican Parts
 
Jayboy27eastleigh Comments: Hi what oil goes in a 94 325i convertible many thanks
December 4, 2014
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: What component are you filling?

Give our parts specialists a call at 1-888-280-7799. They can help you find the right fluid. - Nick at Pelican Parts
 
Chris Comments: how about for a 95 M3. same weight? 80w-90 or 90w-145?
December 3, 2014
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: I am going by memory, but I think it is a 75/90 with limited slip additive. I forget the BMW spec #. Give our parts specialists a call at 1-888-280-7799. They can help you find the right fluid. - Nick at Pelican Parts  
ringo Comments: sorry i have a 99 328i vert
August 26, 2014
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: SAF-XO is 75 90 synthetic.I would stick with that. - Nick at Pelican Parts  
ringo Comments: soooo i had royal purple 75w 140 but i have a open diff no lsd, will this be a bad choice to use and go get 75w 90 or itll be ok??
August 20, 2014
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: I can't comment without knowing what vehicle you have. - Nick at Pelican Parts  
Dean Comments: Hi, my clutch does not seem to engage when I shift into gear and makes this loud knocking sound that comes from the rear. The car will not move but starts up just fine. Could this be because my rear diff fluid has been completely drained??
January 26, 2014
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: Is the clutch pedal firm? The problem could be in the clutch or with a faulty drivetrain component. I would inspect the driveshaft and differential. - Nick at Pelican Parts  
david Comments: im confused, am i reading this wrong? both guys say the opposite of each other, so which one is it?

"Comments: How can you tell which you have limited slip or without?

rotate one of the rear wheels, if the opposite side rear wheel rotates in the same direction, you have an LSD. If the opposite side wheel rotates in the opposite direction you do not have an LSD - Nick at Pelican Parts

Spin one wheel in the forward direction. If the other wheel on the same axles spins in the same direction then you do not have limited slip diff - Kerry at Pelican Parts
October 19, 2013
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: OOPs. Thanks for catching that. Kerry's is a typo.

It should read:

Jack up the rear of the car by the rear subframe or differential. Spin one wheel in the forward direction. If the other wheel on the same axles spins in the opposite direction then you do not have limited slip diff, if it does spin forward then you do have a limited slip diff. - Nick at Pelican Parts
 
Greg323i Comments: Is there a trusted substitute for the BMW diff oil? BMW parts are so expensive here in Australia, but I don't want to screw up the differential either.
October 18, 2012
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: Any synthetic differential fluid is okay 80w-90 or 90w-145 is okay. If you have a limited slip you are also going to have to add the friction modifier additive - Nick at Pelican Parts  
leopole Comments: Very helpful;thanx for answering my question, Nick.


July 27, 2012
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: No problem - Nick at Pelican Parts  
leopole Comments: 1993 325is- limited slip differenial or not. Thanks
July 20, 2012
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: The easiest way to tell is to jack up and support the rear of vehicle. With the transmission in neutral, rotate one of the rear wheels, if the opposite side rear wheel rotates in the same direction, you have an LSD. If the opposite side wheel rotates in the opposite direction you do not have an LSD. A lot of the 325is models with winter package have LSD, but it was an additional option, not standard. - Nick at Pelican Parts  
Ironfist Comments: How can you tell which you have limited slip or without? BMW recommends you use BMW SAF-XO Synthetic Oil for differentials without limited slip, or use BMW SAF-XLS Synthetic Oil for differentials with limited slip. I have a 1996 318ti M44 engine.
January 19, 2012
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: Jack up the rear of the car by the rear subframe or differential. Spin one wheel in the forward direction. If the other wheel on the same axles spins in the same direction then you do not have limited slip diff, if it does sping forward then you do have a limited slip diff. - Kerry at Pelican Parts  
Jeremiah Comments: I think it should be noted in the article that on some E36s maybe all? it is hard to get a regular Allen key on a socket to fit in the space between the spare tire container and the fill plug. Pelican Parts and Snap-on Tools sell low profile Allen keys specifically for this. Alternately you can cut a short section off of a 14mm key and then use that with a 14mm box end wrench to remove the fill plug. Just did mine today, and read all about on some online forums, so just sharing what I learned.
October 20, 2011
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: - Nick at Pelican Parts

I always used a cut down allen key with a box wrench, thanks for the feedback.
 
addies Comments: Thanks so much for your response. It's just great to have someone out there who listens and cares. Will let you know what happens.
October 21, 2009
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: No sweat! - Wayne at Pelican Parts  
addies Comments: Hi there I'm just wondering. Does a differential with low oil or one needing an oil service make a noise like a noisy wheel bearing when driving? Because I had my wheel bearings checked for a sound while driving and discovered that it's not the cause. The differential was leaking oil at some stage and has dried and caked up on one side . Could that be the cause of the sound?
October 13, 2009
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: Yes, that's a very good guess. If it's dry inside, it will be making a noise very similar to a worn out wheel bearing. Whomever checked your wheel bearings probably should have picked up on that. - Wayne at Pelican Parts  

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