This guide will help you understand what we recommend for your E36. This guide primarily focuses on the I6 models (M50, M50TU, S50, M52TU, S52), but is a good starting point for those of you with the I4s (M42 & M44). This guide is NOT intended to spoon feed you exactly what you should use for your exact car in your exact location, rather, to provide you with the information necessary to make an intelligent, educated decision based on your knowledge.
The first thing is, ABOVE ALL, read your manual. There is a chart printed with the proper viscosities in it. If you don't have one, there are places online you can download copies for free, or you should buy one. It is invaluable to have, and you absolutely should have a copy for your model of E36. The chart for the
E36 M50TUB25 engine is shown later.
Your E36 uses a paper filter that sits in a canister, which is much more convenient than the metal units. BMW uses 3 suppliers for its OEM filters: Mann, Mahle, and Hengst. It's generally accepted that OEM BMW filters are superior to pretty much everything else on the market for E36s. They're available at your dealer, or you can buy them in bulk (~12 filters) from various sponsors for much cheaper. My recommendation here is absolutely to stick with one of the OEM BMW filters listed above.
Your E36 came with dino oil from the factory. Will it hurt to keep using it? No. But, full synthetic oil does have its advantages. Primarily, extended oil change intervals due to its chemical properties. If you're a nerd like many of us and want to know more, there are many great sites that go VERY in-depth about oil types. I won't cover that here. That said, it's generally accepted that once you use synthetic, you shouldn't switch back to dino. Also, it's generally accepted that higher-mileage engines shouldn't switch to synthetic. Again, I'm not going to debate the merits of those here, but if it concerns you, there is plenty of information on both sides of the debate available with a quick search on Google.
Another hotly contested subject. The quick recommendations:
Dino Oil: 3000-4000 miles
Full Synthetic: 6500-9000 miles
You'll hear claims that you can go to 8000 miles on dino from some nuts, and sadly even BMW recommends 15-18000 mile intervals for its new cars on synthetic. Personally, I would never dream
of driving anywhere close to that long on one change. Keep in mind, if you put HARD MILES on your car, you need to change at or earlier than the lower recommended numbers above.
The HARDEST driving you can do to your car is frequent cold starts, and short drives. That 1.5 mile drive around the corner 10 times a day is the worst thing you could ever do, and you NEED to change the oil regularly if you drive like that. Obviously, tracking/racing/auto-x'ing is also hard driving, and if you do this regularly you should keep short intervals. The easiest type of mileage on your car is a nice constant cruise at 70MPH on the freeway.
Oh fun. This is a good topic. I won't bother with dino oil here, but lets deal with synthetics, which are becoming increasingly more popular. In fact, I'll narrow it down to 2 that I'll discuss.
To be short, you can't go wrong with Mobil1 full synthetic of the right viscosity. It's a tried and true oil that performs to expectations. If you have any doubts or are not feeling particularly sporting or adventurous, no one will be upset if you use this.
The drama. Royal Purple makes some pretty outrageous claims, like increasing horsepower and gas mileage. There are some that swear by it, and there are some that claim it will destroy your engine. A simple search should bring up plenty of arguments for and against. I won't pretend that you'll get a huge bump out of RP. I will say that I have used it on several cars for tens of thousands of miles combined, and the engines do seem to run smoother and quieter to the untrained ear on RP than other oils of the same viscosity (including M1 full synthetic). Personally, this is the oil I use, and will continue to use, until someone develops something better.
There is NOT a one-size-fits-all answer for this. However, lucky you! BMW published just what you should use in your owners manual. It is climate specific, and if you live in a region that climate varies from season to season, then you likely will need to use different viscosities for cold and hot seasons. I would recommend using either exactly or just slightly above what BMW recommends for a higher mileage E36. Personally, living in sunny coastal California I was able to run 20W-50 all year round. Chances are, you won't be able to. So, READ THE MANUAL. Don't ask us what viscosity you personally should use
, because we are not meteorologists for your region and we don't know your driving style. For most E36s on this board, this chart will give you a pretty good representation of what to use - I am fairly certain the same specs should be used for the M52 family, but not positive - hence why I say to read the manual for your model.
For the M50TUB25 engine
, here is the chart BMW printed in their manual:
Hopefully this cleared up some confusion, and gives you a good idea of what we recommend around here. If you have a suggestion or correction, please feel free to post it or let me know and I'll add it. It's late and I may very well have missed something or screwed something up inadvertently.