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E36 (1991 - 1999)
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Old 03-24-2010, 09:30 AM
Phreon Phreon is offline
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Location: Florida
Join Date: Jun 2008
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Mein Auto: 318is,323i,F150,CJ5,560SL
How to replace a head gasket and Timing Chain Profile Gasket on a BMW M42

I had to replace my blown timing cover profile gasket, TCPG, on my 1993 318is. This requires the head to come off to replace a $2.00 gasket. A local BMW shop wanted $2,000 plus to do the job. The project looked daunting but I decided to tackle it. Much apprehension.

I Googled the job and only found 2 reasonable sites with step by step info on the repair. However, both were for slightly different engines.

One site, http://timthurber.com/tcpg.htm, was for a e30 BMW pre 1992 M42 engine that was close. It was good but lacked some details that I found would be important to a first timer. The second was the Pelican parts technical site that described a 6 cylinder head removal. Not very much like my 4cylinder. http://www.pelicanparts.com/bmw/tech...ead-Gasket.htm

The Bentley manual, available on the web for download, was very good, though limited on M42 info it covers most of the gotcha's. Read this through once before you do the job.

So here is my take on a head removal and replacement for an e36 with M42 engine. The toughest part of the whole job was removing and installing the exhaust manifold, really time consuming. More on that below. I did the job over 5 days working 2 or 3 hours a day. Getting it apart took about 7 or 8 hours. Mostly due to me going slow, marking parts, spending 1 and 1/2 hours on removing exhaust nuts that are really hard to get to. I could probably disassemble it now in probably 3 hours. Reassembly took about 5 hours, mostly due to 1 and 1/2 hours getting to exhaust nuts.

First off a list of parts and tools. I bought most all of the parts from Pelican for $173.50. Total parts, including tools, were under $190. I bought a torx socket from Harbor Freight Tools that I modified, I had the other tools.

Special Note - every part you will work on it either plastic or cast aluminum. They are all delicate and will break if you hit them with a hammer or pry on them with a screwdriver. Everything should come apart with just a little effort. Replacement engine parts are very expensive. Lastly, machined surfaces are machined for a reason; not to leak. If you mar them while trying to clean them you will create a leak. Aluminum is very soft and brittle, so is plastic. Make sure you watch your tightening torques when putting it back together, aluminum threads pull out easily.

Head gasket set
Throttle body gasket (Buy 1 extra, there is only 1 in the gasket set for some reason)
Torx head bolt set
Exhaust manifold studs and copper nuts.
1 foot fuel injection hose.
2 feet of 5/16 vacuum hose.
RTV Sealant
BMW Coolant.
Oil filter and oil.

Torque wrench.
E12 Torx deep well socket.
Wrenches and sockets, 10mm, 11mm, 13mm, 19mm, 22mm.
Metric Allen wrench.
12 inch metal straight edge.
Small square, or try square, or machinists square.
Screw drivers, needle nose pliers, small mirror, flashlight, razor.

Put the car in neutral, (so the engine does not move accidentally, you will understand later.), and set the brake.

Unhook the battery positive side and tape it down. You will loose the computer settings.

Remove the radiator fan shroud. Two plastic push clips at the top and slides up and out. Push the plastic center pins from the clips to loosen.

Drain the water from the radiator using the plastic drain screw on the bottom of the radiator.

Do not drain the oil.

Remove the radiator hose at the thermostat housing. I didn't remove the radiator, fan, belts,or hoses.

Number each of the spark plug wires and remove the spark plug wires and wire loom. (I mixed up 1 and 4 and spent too much time trying to diagnose the miss. The engine will run with 1 and 4 mixed and even drive, though not well.) The loom is held by 2 nuts on the exhaust side. Just loosen them, no need to completely remove the nuts.

Remove the coil packs nuts from the bracket on the wheel well and lay them out of the way.

No need to totally remove the wiring to them, just lay them and the plug wires aside. You probably will have to unhook the round test plug and its ground wire to get it all to move.

Remove the spark plugs.

Remove the valve cover.

Remove the MAF boot. I didn't remove the MAF or air cleaner housing.

Begin to remove the hoses and electrical clips on the top of the intake. Watch out for the gaskets inside of each of the electrical clips. These small square rubber gaskets are there to keep out moisture and they fall out of the plugs. They all have them, they all fell out. Use masking tape and a marker to label where the hoses come from and goes to. This will save you a bunch of time when you reassemble it all. Label the electrical connection locations as well.

Do not remove the throttle cable from the throttle body, TB. There is a half moon shaped clip that holds a square metal fork like part from under the TB. Remove it, and disconnect and mark the 2 hoses that attach. Remove the bolts that hold the TB on. The bolt on the lower left can be removed only after the moon shaped clip is off. Remove the TB and lay the assembly near the brake master cylinder area. Don't bend the cables or stress the cables on it.

Remove the upper intake manifold. Remember to keep labeling the connections.

Loosen as much of the wiring harness as possible. There are 2 nuts on the top and several wires that need to be unclipped. On my 1993 there was no main harness disconnect. I did not completely remove the harness. (I never completely removed the lower intake manifold. More on this below.)

Remove the 2 bolts holding the fuel rail. I cut the small fuel lines knowing I would be replacing these. Remove the fuel injector clips, they just slide off. The fuel rail was really stuck to the injectors. Remove the small wire clips on the injector electrical connector. I used a needle nose pliers to gently undo the front part of the clip and "unwind" it off of the plug. Don't loose these. After you get all 4, pop off the electrical box and let it lay nearby.
Pelican explanation is pretty good.

The injectors in my engine were really stuck. I had to wiggle the heck out of them to get them loose. They all pulled out of the manifold with the fuel rail. Donít use the fuel rail to pry off the injectors. It will bend and itís real expensive to replace.

Remove the nuts on the lower intake manifold. It should be loose enough to pull it away from the head and clear its studs. You can leave it on the studs for now.

Remove the water hose from the back right side of the head.

Remove all of the exhaust manifold nuts. (14 I think). All of my studs came out with the nuts. These will all be replaced. I did not remove the exhaust header connection from the pipes under the car. This might have made reassembly much easier later. (BMW puts pressure on the system by pulling the whole exhaust to the rear about an inch after the pipes are hung to put pressure on the system to avoid rattles. When you loosen the header it will move to the rear about an inch. Makes it real tough to start the studs when you reassemble it.)

I left the fan and all of the belts on.

Remove the cam sensor from the front of the front timing case with an Allen wrench. Remove the thermostat housing, 4 bolts and it pops off. Remove the thermostat. Remove the front timing case cover, 6 bolts and it pops off.

Remove the chain tensioner from the right side of the block. You can disasemble it to clean it but itís not critical. You get it apart by striking it on a hard surface like a vise. It pops apart. Clean it out and put it back together in a vise by getting the spring clip in the collar and pressing it together in the vise. Use a rag in the vice jaws to protect it. Compress it to just under 68mm. You will hear the clip snap in place. Release the vise and it should measure 68.5mm. If its longer then that recompress it. It will get there.

Before you start on removing the head there are some real important preparations for cam timing to make life easy and protect the valves while the head is coming off. I did not use any special tools for this. Just watch what you are doing. If you loose the cam timing don't panic, its actually not really hard to reset with basic tools.

Bring the piston on cylinder 1 up to Top Dead Center, TDC, using a 24mm socket on the crank pulley. There is a small mark on the crank pulley; it is small notch in one of the teeth, that will line up with an small arrow cast in the block when you get TDC. Both of the high part of the cam lobes of number 1 cylinder will point to each other when number 1 is at TDC.

If you look at the front of the cam chain gears you will see a small arrow cast onto the front. These should both be pointing up, relative to the head surface, when you get TDC. (The engine is tilted at an angle to the right, so the arrows on the cam gears will look like they are pointing to the right as well when they are both "up".)


This is the factory timing of the cams. Take a prick punch, (pointy punch), and make a mark on the front of the cam shaft where it comes through the sprocket, and another on the cam gear. I marked mine in line with the arrow that is already on the cam gears. (See the pic below.)

I next wired my cam chain to the cam gears to keep the relationship of gears to chain and it also helps keep the chain from falling.

Remove the chain rail guide adjustment by removing the bolt and then remove the threaded adjustment barrel.
See the last pic.

Important note - BMW manuals require that you lock the flywheel at TDC with a special tool. They also require a special tool to keep the cam's locked at TDC. As best as I can tell, this is primarily to keep the pistons from moving up in the cylinders and banging into a valve when the head is coming off and going on. The engine won't move the way I did it because you will not turn the key, (the battery is disconnected right?!), and you have it sitting in neutral. The cams won't move, (well, maybe only a couple of degrees), when you remove the gears with enough force to push the valves into a piston. DON'T move the engine or the cam's once the gears are loose AND the head is still on the engine. Not a big deal. (The camís moved on my car a couple of degrees when I loosened the gear bolts. No worries.)

Remove the upper plastic chain guide held on with 2 Allen bolts. You can now remove the 4 bolts from each cam gear and slide the gears off.
4819 (Had to delete this pic, forum only lets you use 20 pic's.)

I had no reason to remove the cam's so I pulled the head with the cam's on. To do that, you need an extra long E12 torx socket. BMW sells it for $40 but I modified one from Harbor Freight Tools for a couple bucks. The socket was a little thick to get by the cams to remove the bolts so I put it in a drill and removed used a grinder to take some metal off. I only had to grind 25 thousandths of an inch off it to get it to easily fit. It took only a couple of minutes to do it. Make sure you hand test the socket turning by the cam. It should not bind at all against the head or you run the risk of breaking something. (Do the grinding far away from the engine.)
Once you have the tool ready remove the bolts in the correct torque order and in stages. Break a bolt loose a little, and go to the next one in sequence.

1 8 10 5 3

4 6 9 7 2

There are washers under each bolt. Save them and toss out the bolts. The bolts are designed to stretch as they are tightened and can only be used one time. Grab the head by the inside of the thermostat hole and at the rear of the head and tug. Mine popped loose. DO NOT LIFT THE HEAD BY THE CAM'S. If the head is stuck, check to see that you have all of the bolts out, (Check twice). Using a soft rubber or plastic mallet, gently strike the head on a meaty area, not on the thin metal areas. It should pop pretty easily. If not, check for bolts you missed. DO NOT PRY the head off, there is no place on this head that can be pried.

When it pops off it weighs around 60 lbs. I lifted mine off but help would make this much easier. (Don't drop it, it will break something expensive. New heads without cam's are $500. Cam's are $500. Toes are $500.) I placed mine on a couple of wooden 2x4's on the floor.

Here is a pic of the top of my engine. (My wife looked at it and said they looked like cup holders.)

Here is the blown profile gasket that caused me to do this job. BMW was forced to repair many M42ís under warranty because of this. Most of them blow between 50,000 and 75,000 miles. BMW will not cover this after warranty but will help a little with the parts cost if they do the repair. (Saving $200 on a $2,200 repair seems less then satisfying.)


I spent the next hour with an abrasive plastic pot scrubber, the green pads you use in the kitchen, polishing the head and piston tops. I dried out all of the cylinders with a clean rag and used a screwdriver wrapped in a rag to clean out the head bolt threaded holes. These must be cleaned and empty before you put the new bolts in. I had the proper metric tap so I chased the threads after I cleaned them out, then I cleaned them again. Be careful not to loose the oil pressure check valve that in a hole in the block. It is under a rubber gasket. Leave it be if it is in there and make sure you don't loose it if it comes off with the head. It goes in one way and if you turn it around, or forget to replace it, your oil pressure will never be right again.

I then used the same green pad to clean up the head. Be careful around the valves. Some will be raised out of their seats and can be easily bent. Do not let anything impact the valve faces.
You should check you heads for cracks and warpage with the straight edge. Read this about cracked heads. http://www.pelicanparts.com/BMW/tech...e-Shop-101.htm

I removed all of the paper gasket pieces from all of the other machined surfaces; timing case, thermostat housing, and head, and polished them with the green pad. I cleaned out the timing chain profile gasket valleys with a round drift punch that fit the profile nicely. I cleaned out all of the baked on minerals and polished it with the green pad.

You are now ready to reassemble everything, starting with the head.

In preparation for putting the head on the engine DO ALL OF THIS, IN THIS ORDER. (You are going to protect the valves from colliding with the pistons.)

- Put your 24mm socket on the crank bolt and move turn it counter clock wise about 45 degrees to bring ALL of the piston tops down from the top of the block. Watch out for the cam chain and gears so they don't bind against the chain rail guides while you are turning.
- Make sure the oil check valve is in place in the block correctly.
- Place the new head gasket on, most likely writing up, aligned properly with the alignment nipples in the block. There is an up side to the gasket.
- place the timing cover profile gasket that goes under the head correctly into place.
-look at the head and check the cam lobes. If the cam's moved while you were cleaning the head, turn them so that the number 1 cylinder lobes point to each other and the square ends of the cam's at the back of the head are square to each other with the reference holes up. They should look like the below pic. (This is not too critical because you have lowered the pistons.)

I placed rag and a couple of 2x4's on my fender and set the head there as I climbed in to the engine compartment. I'm 5'6 and 150 and there was allot of room, even with the radiator in there. A 6 footer should fit. Used a step ladder in front of the car and placed a foot on the sway bar as I got in. Very easy to do and really saves the strain on the back. My wife thought I could do a Fred Flintstone car. (Sometimes she's funny, sometimes not so much.)

Pull the cam gears and chain as forward as they will go. Then lower the head gently onto the block making sure the alignment nipples go easily into their holes. Check all around the head to make sure its flat on the block. It should not rock or move once itís down. Check the cam lobes and cam squares to make sure you have cams close to TDC.

Place the intake manifold gaskets on the head studs. Align the intake manifold to the studs and let it slide in place.

Drop in all of the head bolt washers, I pushed them onto a screwdriver and sent them into place. You can push some of the washers into place from under the cam and align them with a screwdriver. Lightly oil each head bolt and drop the new bolts in and finger tighten.

Your head gasket kit probably comes with a torque tightening sequence. If not, it looks like this

10 3 1 5 7

8 6 2 4 9

You first just snug the bolts in that order, then using a torque wrench, tighten in sequence at 30Nm or 22ft-lbs. After you finish the sequence you turn each bolt 90 degrees (15 minutes on a clock face.) in the same sequence, and after finishing the sequence, do another 90 degrees on each bolt in sequence. That is the bolt stretch and thatís why you toss the old bolts.

The cam timing is not tough at all. I forgot to take a pic of the cam timing so here is allot of explanation. Your pistons were lowered in the cylinders. Now make sure the cam is still at TDC. The lobes on 1 are pointing towards each other. Place a straight edge on the rear metal cam squares and make sure they are straight to each other. (A second way is to place a small straight edge or bar against the virticle edge of one of the squares, the machined edge, and then place your machinist or try square on the head machined gasket surface to make sure the bar is square to the head.)
Now gently turn the crank bolt, clockwise about 45 degrees, to bring around the timing mark to the arrow on engine to get TDC on the crank. (Do not force it, if it binds it may be hitting a valve head.) Watch out that the cam chain and gears don't bind while turning the crank. Slide the cam chain gears on and finger tighten the bolts. The punch marks you made should be close if not perfect. You can wiggle the crank a little or use an adjustable wrench to wiggle the cams and get your marks in alignment, (the cam gear arrows should be pointing up as well). DO NOT TURN THE CAMS WITH THE WRENCH. It can bend the valves if they open into a piston. When you like the alignment torque the cam gear bolts to 10 Nm or 89 inch-lbs. (INCH POUNDS NOT FOOT POUNDS.) After they are tight, GENTLY turn the engine clockwise couple of turns to make sure no valves hit and everything moves smoothly. Replace the chain tensioner on the right side of the engine and turn the engine again.

Replace the adjusting nut in the left chain rail and adjust it until it just hits the head, add the Allen bolt to lock it down. Replace the upper plastic chain rail with 2 Allen bolts.

Place the forward part of the timing case profile gasket on the lower timing case. Where it meets the other side of the gasket you installed under the head, add a little "3 Bond 1209" RTV sealant or equivalent to each end where they meet. I had to use a screwdriver to push the gasket into alignment with the one under the head to make the pieces align. Get the front timing case cover, put on the paper gaskets, (I used a really small dab of RTV stuff to get them to hold on.), and align it onto the front of the head. It is not going to want to go down because the rubber gaskets below it are not compressed yet. To get it down, put a bolt in the left top side finger tight and using a screwdriver as a lever in the right cam gear opening, gently push the right side down while tightening a bolt in the right side. Use the screwdriver in the left cam gear to gently lever down that side and tighten the left bolt. The top of the case should be flush with the head surface. Tighten up all of the bolts. Trim the paper gasket with a razor if itís poking out of the top.

Replace the cam sensor and tighten it down with the allen bolt.

Thatís the complex stuff. The rest is replacing all the intake parts you removed and replace the exhaust manifold (with a gasket). The exhaust manifold is really a fight. I used a ratcheting cargo tie down to pull the entire exhaust pipe assembly forward to help make the exhaust studs back into the head. It would be far easier to break the connection from the exhaust header to pipe. Mine were frozen and I thought I could just do it. If I had to over again I would open that connection. I oiled each stud as I put it into the head. Get the exhaust buttoned up before you replace the valve cover. It gives you more room to get to the studs and nuts.

The rest is straight forward. Some stuff to watch...

Replace the valve cover. Put some RTV stuff in the crotch of the half moon shaped gasket where it sits on the head. Make sure the gasket is perfect under the valve cover before tightening the bolts. Replace each bolt rubber gaskets.

Replace the thermostat with a new "o" ring gasket. THE ARROW ON THE THERMOSTAT GOES UP. Replace the thermostat housing gasket and cover. Tighten the bolts. Replace the radiator hoses.

Tighten lower intake manifold to head. The nuts tighten in sequence from the center out.

Replace the 2 fuel lines with new hose. Replace the injector rubber "O" rings top and bottom. Oil them to get them to slide into their holes. Install the injectors in the intake and then push the fuel rail on, starting from the rear. Remember to slide on the clips. The injectors may go too deep into the intake manifold. If they do you can't get the clips on the fuel rail. Before you bolt down the rail, make the electrical connection and use needle nose pliers to put the clips on. Put the clips on before you push the connector on, they will snap in place. Tighten it all down.

Replace all of the connections you made under the lower intake and above. This is where your labels really make it go well. Replace all of the 5/16 vacuum hoses with new. (I think there are only 4 lengths to connect.) Tighten the bolts that hold the intake in place.

Replace the upper intake gasket. Replace the upper intake manifold. Make connections and tighten down. Watch out for the little square gaskets that fall from the electrical connectors. Pelican has the small ones for a buck and $7 for the larger. Ask me how I know.

Put on the throttle body spacer and both gaskets. Replace the throttle body and add the bolts.

Replace the square fork thing and the bracket with 2 bolts that holds it on. (Its function in life is to help warm up the throttle body with warm water from the engine. You probably didnít care, but there you go.) Make all of the water, vacuum, and remaining electrical connections.

Replace the MAF boot.

Replace the spark plug wires on the correct plug, check the order twice, replace wire looms, and tighten the loom carrier.

Replace the coil packs, the round plastic test point, and remember the ground strap.

Fill the radiator. You will have to bleed the system or it will overheat. More below.

I think its ready to start. Connect the battery and fire it up. It will run rough and stall until the computer relearns the engine.

Watch for fuel leaks from the new fuel line, DO THIS RIGHT AWAY. Fuel spray on running engines is bad.

While it is warming up squeeze the radiator hoses to help remove the air from the system. The water level will fall each time, keep refilling it. Keep doing this until it is not pushing air bubbles.

You may see small gasket shavings and dust float up in the radiator. I used a rag to dip into the radiator and it came right out.

It will soon smooth after driving it a bit. If it continues to run rough the obvious places to look are vacuum leaks, (Unmade connection?), plug wires mixed, (I mixed 1 and 4 and it still drove around; though badly.)

When it smooths out, change the oil and filter.

Congratulations, it will feel very satisfying.
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Mom - "The beatings will continue until moral improves."
Wife - "Your not very bright are you .... I like that in a man."
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Old 03-24-2010, 09:45 AM
juvius juvius is offline
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pm sent with some resources....
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Old 03-24-2010, 09:55 AM
injunmort injunmort is offline
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outstanding tutorial and congradulations on doing it yourself.
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Old 03-24-2010, 11:27 AM
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E36youngster E36youngster is offline
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bravo sir! fantastic write up!

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Old 03-24-2010, 11:58 AM
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hornhospital hornhospital is offline
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All M42 owners on this forum will be forever indebted to you. That's the finest DIY writeup of any kind I've ever seen. You da MAN!
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Old 03-24-2010, 01:01 PM
Phreon Phreon is offline
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I had a PM asking for info on the tool I modified...

These are the pic's of the torx tool from Harbor Freight Tools. I chucked the socket into a drill press and used a grinder to take off just a little metal. The original size was 7.07mm and when it was done it was 6.73mm.

There pic below show the same size socket barrel to barrel. You can see not very much was taken off.

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Old 03-24-2010, 06:49 PM
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318iSteve 318iSteve is offline
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Awesome write-up
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Old 10-08-2011, 11:17 PM
victor.askew victor.askew is offline
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This is a awsome write up. I am on the process of removing my 91 318i M42 head today for a head gasket replacment and this has been my guide, This has been spot on with the details. Thanks.
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Old 10-22-2011, 12:25 PM
Fellhauer Fellhauer is offline
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Great write up!! Awesome!
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Old 10-22-2011, 08:25 PM
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Time2Fly Time2Fly is offline
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Do you have a pic of the oil pressure check valve? I didn't see one when I removed my head. Very nice write up!!
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Old 11-05-2011, 02:36 PM
Phreon Phreon is offline
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Sorry for the late reply.
I do not have a pic of the valve. It has been so long since I did that job that I think all of the pictures are gone.
The valve is in the block, make sure you locate it. Make sure you see how it was in there, if you reverse it or put it back in the wrong place your oil pressure will never be right.
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Old 11-29-2012, 06:55 PM
ssbandit158 ssbandit158 is offline
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Also another tip is put the exhaust gaskets on the head and tape them in place before you put the head back on the car, they are a pain to try and squeeze on after the fact!
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Old 11-29-2012, 07:26 PM
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Bimmer1995318ti Bimmer1995318ti is offline
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Great write and props to the courage to tackle it yourself!
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Old 09-16-2014, 05:30 PM
faster357bmw faster357bmw is offline
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thanks for taking the time to document,it helped emensely,especially the do/donts u saved me time an money,tip my hat to uuuu,steve
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Old 04-12-2015, 01:54 PM
E36M42 E36M42 is offline
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Yes, thanks Phreon. I will be doing a headgasket and possible head resurface. Would you guys recommend I get the special cam tools and flywheel bolt? I have timed the straight 6 many times replacing water pump, timing belts, etc. Do you think it's the same difficulty, or a little more difficult.
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Old 04-26-2016, 05:50 AM
Phreon Phreon is offline
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Update ...
I have not looked at this post for several years and decided to provide update on the repair. My 318IS (Ruby) has not given me a moment of trouble since the fix. It appears the new profile gasket fix is permanent and I did not screw anything else up in the process. I got this car in June of 2008 with only 46,000 miles on it. It just turned 83,000 miles and has been a blast to drive for the last 8 years. This is the best handling car I have ever driven and I absolutely love this M42 engine. I am about to do some preventative maintenance, change the water pump and thermostat, replace the original brakes, (yes they went 83,000 miles), etc. It has been a great experience owning Ruby and I hope to own her for as long as her little heart beats.
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Mom - "The beatings will continue until moral improves."
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Old 04-26-2016, 06:44 AM
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dc_wright dc_wright is offline
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Location: Orlando, Florida
Join Date: Nov 2007
Posts: 11,508
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Mein Auto: '06 Z4 3.0si, '11 128CiC
Thanks for coming back with the update! So many times people just disappear from the forum and all we can do is assume things worked out.
2006 Z4 3.0si Sport Package (But I'll still hang with my "homies" in the E36 forum)
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Old 04-09-2017, 12:08 PM
Phreon Phreon is offline
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Location: Florida
Join Date: Jun 2008
Posts: 43
Mein Auto: 318is,323i,F150,CJ5,560SL
2017 Update

Ruby is still running strong. Replaced the water pump ad thermostat last year and found it had a metal propeller pump so it didn't need it. Was a bear to get out. New Michelin's too.

Everything still works well on the car except the driver side door sometimes refuses to open. A common problem, but it doesn't do it often enough to warrant repair yet

I think it has about 85,000 miles now. Paint still shines and it runs great but I don't drive it much anymore. Maybe think it could be time to let someone else enjoy Ruby.

Will update next year if I still have her.
Dad - "It could be that your sole purpose in life is a warning to others."
Mom - "The beatings will continue until moral improves."
Wife - "Your not very bright are you .... I like that in a man."
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