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E46 (1999 - 2006)
The fourth generation 3 Series (E46 chassis) was introduced in 1999 and set the standard for engineering and performance during it's years of production including being named to Car & Driver's 10 best list every one of those years! ! -- View the E46 Wiki

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  #1  
Old 05-15-2013, 07:18 PM
Sam555 Sam555 is offline
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Coolant leak- Expansion tank?

Hi all:

Have been having coolant leak, but with a few strange symptoms. Have seen several posts here related to coolant leaks- just wanted advise on my specific situation.

Basically low coolant light come on, and I refilled. All the coolant drained.

I refilled coolant partially to figure out where the leak is. This time it did not leak. Drove the car around a fair bit, no light, parked it. And lo and behold coolant leak again.

Drove it to the Indy after that to have him take a look. All the while coolant light kept going on and off. Indy hoisted the car, visually inspected it and came back and told me he could not detect the leak.

The erratic behavior makes me think it is an expansion tank problem. There were also few drops of coolant on the black tubing next to the blue drain screw.

Any other thoughts/advise would be appreciated.

Thanks
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  #2  
Old 05-15-2013, 09:36 PM
GoForthFast GoForthFast is offline
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Engine running totally fine?

Loss of coolant without any trace of leaking. That's a tough one.
Need to remove splash shield and get under the car and look hard everywhere.
It's got to be going somewhere.
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Old 05-15-2013, 09:41 PM
chet31 chet31 is offline
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You could have a hairline crack in the expansion tank, which can be hard to spot. If you have never changed the expansion tank, you could just change it out and see if it's the problem. If not, well, you need to change the tank anyway.
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Old 05-16-2013, 03:59 AM
heztheone heztheone is offline
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do a pressure test, it will help u better figure out where the leak is...
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  #5  
Old 05-16-2013, 06:54 AM
Augster Augster is offline
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I may have something similar: my coolant warning light comes on intermittently now and then, but eventually turns off. Even though I never see any visible signs of leaks on the car nor on the ground, when I open the radiator cap, it seems the coolant level is low and I top it off (I really detest the "floating" level setup for determine coolant level). Otherwise, the engine runs at "normal" temperature (needle is midway between C and H).

Someday I may do a pressure test and change out the expansion tank, but it's not bothering me too much at the moment so it's on my deferred list of things to do on my used 325i.
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  #6  
Old 05-16-2013, 09:40 PM
GoForthFast GoForthFast is offline
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Not good if you have a potential small ET crack. Can open up and become a disaster without warning. Get a new ET soon if not close to new.

Use the OBC hidden functions to monitor your coolant temperature exactly while driving.
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  #7  
Old 05-17-2013, 06:31 AM
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ahull ahull is offline
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Also, make sure you're not overfilling the tank as this will cause leaks due to overpressurizing the system. The float level markings allow for *some* air in the tank so it can compress. All liquid will not compress and the pressure will find a weak spot to blow out of.
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DIY E46 Merit Badges: Sunroof resurrection, CCV, OFHG, VCG w/ VANOS seals, DISA, Cooling Refresh I, steering giubo, window regs, Magnetic Infandibulator (see wiki)
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  #8  
Old 05-18-2013, 07:13 PM
Sam555 Sam555 is offline
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The mystery deepens- I filled some more coolant+ distilled water mix. Approx. 400 ml. Laid news papers all under the car to detect where the leak is occurring. No leak whatsoever. No warning light...nothing...car is running great for the last 2 days.

When this car is not giving headaches, its just an absolutely lovely car! I test drove the more recent 3s..somehow just down have the spunk that my 12 yo has...

Anyways, cant figure out what is happening.

Havent done a search on how to do a pressure test....will attack that next.
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  #9  
Old 05-18-2013, 10:11 PM
GoForthFast GoForthFast is offline
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Newspapers under the car will not tell you a thing if you do it with the splash shield on. Did you leave it off temporarily?
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  #10  
Old 05-19-2013, 08:24 AM
Sam555 Sam555 is offline
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If by splash shield you mean the black plastic cover, then yes, it is off. As a matter of fact, I just detected a few days back that I did not have it- one of the guys who worked on the car forgot to replace it..!

Can this just be a tube or hose somewhere in the coolant system which became temporarily loose, and is now ok? Possibly because of me and the indy fiddling around? No leak under the car today either.
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  #11  
Old 05-19-2013, 09:08 AM
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Could've been a loose connection that got tightened. Who knows.... Keep an eye on it. Clean off any visible residue. If your exhaust starts to smell sweet like coolant, you'll know it's the headgasket, but no real reason to think that at this point.
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DIY E46 Merit Badges: Sunroof resurrection, CCV, OFHG, VCG w/ VANOS seals, DISA, Cooling Refresh I, steering giubo, window regs, Magnetic Infandibulator (see wiki)
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  #12  
Old 05-24-2013, 05:57 AM
Augster Augster is offline
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Are there any aftermarket expansion tanks to avoid?

I read a lot about original expansion tanks needing replacing, so I'm not sold that going OEM for its replacement is necessarily a good thing, though I'm sure there are low quality aftermarkets out there to avoid: just don't know which.

I came across one post that said to avoid Uro, such as that sold by OEM Bimmer Parts. I found the "lowest price" ET on eBay for less than $40 shipped, and it includes a level sensor, but I'm wary of its quality...
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  #13  
Old 05-24-2013, 06:40 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Augster View Post
Are there any aftermarket expansion tanks to avoid?

I read a lot about original expansion tanks needing replacing, so I'm not sold that going OEM for its replacement is necessarily a good thing, though I'm sure there are low quality aftermarkets out there to avoid: just don't know which.

I came across one post that said to avoid Uro, such as that sold by OEM Bimmer Parts. I found the "lowest price" ET on eBay for less than $40 shipped, and it includes a level sensor, but I'm wary of its quality...
URO does tend to be lower quality and I'd avoid that or ebay, unless you know the brand is one of the below.

Behr is probably good. Some only go genuine BMW.
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DIY MODS: AA Stage I supercharger, Meyle HD FCAs w Powerflex CABs, Bilstein shocks, Meyle HD Rtabs, Angel Eyes, Clear Corners/Markers w/ LEDs, LED tails, ZHP rims, Akebono pads, AUX input
DIY E46 Merit Badges: Sunroof resurrection, CCV, OFHG, VCG w/ VANOS seals, DISA, Cooling Refresh I, steering giubo, window regs, Magnetic Infandibulator (see wiki)
DIY On deck: Rear Diff bushing. UUC SSK, clutch job eventually, Wavetrac LSD
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  #14  
Old 05-24-2013, 06:52 AM
Augster Augster is offline
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It's just that none of my other makes of vehicles I've owned over the past 30 years have had any issues with their coolant expansion tank ever needing replacement unless damaged due to an external event (e.g. crash). And it seems the BMW branded ET's don't seem to have a stellar record to begin with, so simply going OEM doesn't really guarantee me it won't fail within the next 5 years or so. I don't plan to keep the vehicle past the next several years, more so because it being a SULEV here in California, the government mandated 15 year/150,000 mile warranty on all emissions/fuel/ignition system will expire by then, and I certainly don't want to be exposed to any failure within the fuel tank, which can cost between $6,000-$8,000 for replacement (I already had it replaced two weeks ago by BMW under warranty after the Service Engine Soon light came on; they also replaced a couple ignition coils).

Last edited by Augster; 05-24-2013 at 06:55 AM.
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  #15  
Old 05-24-2013, 07:11 AM
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The e46 system is higher pressure and people tend to overfill the tank which doesn't help. But I agree it's a weaker point of the car. Mine looked fine at 85k miles, but it's a preventive thing. I'd rather change it now and not worry about it for the next several years.
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2003 330i TiAg Sport Pkg
DIY MODS: AA Stage I supercharger, Meyle HD FCAs w Powerflex CABs, Bilstein shocks, Meyle HD Rtabs, Angel Eyes, Clear Corners/Markers w/ LEDs, LED tails, ZHP rims, Akebono pads, AUX input
DIY E46 Merit Badges: Sunroof resurrection, CCV, OFHG, VCG w/ VANOS seals, DISA, Cooling Refresh I, steering giubo, window regs, Magnetic Infandibulator (see wiki)
DIY On deck: Rear Diff bushing. UUC SSK, clutch job eventually, Wavetrac LSD
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Old 05-24-2013, 08:13 AM
Augster Augster is offline
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I need further clarification: My coolant level light came on (and off, but it's mostly always off) intermittently the past two days, so this morning I go to top it off. But according to the manual, if the "float" stick top is level with the opening, then it should be "good", yes?

The top of my float stick was level with the opening (I bounced it a couple times to ensure it was settled correctly), but I went ahead and added more coolant to bring the first molded line level to the opening.

So my question is: was my coolant level "ok" even though my dash coolant level warning light would come on (then off) periodically?

If the coolant level is indeed, fine, then could it be a faulty level sensor?

As I stated in my first post, I can't find any evidence of coolant leakage anywhere, on the ground or otherwise.

Last edited by Augster; 05-24-2013 at 08:22 AM.
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  #17  
Old 05-24-2013, 09:15 AM
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OfTheLost OfTheLost is online now
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I noticed that you havent stated how many miles are on your car and what (if any) of the cooling system has been addressed by you or the previous owners. If most or all of the cooling system is still original, why dont you just do a complete overhaul and be done with it? I had replaced everything but my expansion tank, and I finally just replaced it for peace of mind so I wouldnt be worried about it rupturing while I was on the road one day.

I saw that you were worried about the reliability of the OEM expansion tank, and I can tell you that mine had 115,000 miles on the original one when I replaced it. It still had not cracked. If you plan on selling your car before the SULEV warranty runs out, you definitely wont have to worry about the tank the rest of the time you own the car. When you do replace the tank, I HIGHLY recommend ordering a transmission thermostat (if tranny is automatic) because it is damn near impossible to get the tank off without breaking this. If your car is a manual then you dont have to worry about it.

Good luck with finding your problem, but I would really just replace everything that needs to be addressed so youll sleep better at night knowing your car isnt going to overheat. I know from experience
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Old 05-24-2013, 09:41 AM
Augster Augster is offline
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95,000 on the clock for this 2003 325i.

Thanks for the heads-up on the tranny thermostat; I will add that to my current order on hold. I most likely will replace the level sensor while I'm replacing the expansion tank..

Regarding the remaining components, I'm not sure what the original owner did or did not replace, but during my search for a used 325, I came across many of them with blown head gaskets or other significant cooling system issues, so this appears to be a problematic concern for this model.
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Old 05-24-2013, 10:13 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Augster View Post
Regarding the remaining components, I'm not sure what the original owner did or did not replace, but during my search for a used 325, I came across many of them with blown head gaskets or other significant cooling system issues, so this appears to be a problematic concern for this model.
Blown head gaskets are a result of negligence to the cooling system. When these parts fail, our engines have a tendency to overheat very quickly and can completely destroy themselves. That is why you will find so much info on this forum and the WIKI about addressing cooling system issues BEFORE they become a problem at all. At your mileage it is recommended to do a complete system overhaul (belts, pulleys, hoses, expansion tank, waterpump, thermostat, radiator). This might sound like a lot, but it will save you time and money in the long run from having to keep going back in and replacing it piece by piece, because it WILL all fail at some point (again I speak from experience). Also, steer clear of the cheaper knockoff parts. I made this mistake when replacing my pulleys and had to replace them again 10,000 miles later because they started chirping again.
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Old 05-24-2013, 10:35 AM
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ahull ahull is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Augster View Post
I need further clarification: My coolant level light came on (and off, but it's mostly always off) intermittently the past two days, so this morning I go to top it off. But according to the manual, if the "float" stick top is level with the opening, then it should be "good", yes?



If the coolant level is indeed, fine, then could it be a faulty level sensor?
I go by the guide on the "flap" of the e tank which is to be read COLD, which should be the same as the manual. Top of stick level with neck is minimum, and lower bump on stick level with neck is maximum.

You may have a small leak elsewhere that you just can't see. Maybe only under pressure when running and it evaporates before it hits the ground or gets blown off as you drive.

Very well could be a faulty sensor. The sensor can be changed without draining it, as it sticks up into a recess formed into the bottom side of the tank.
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2003 330i TiAg Sport Pkg
DIY MODS: AA Stage I supercharger, Meyle HD FCAs w Powerflex CABs, Bilstein shocks, Meyle HD Rtabs, Angel Eyes, Clear Corners/Markers w/ LEDs, LED tails, ZHP rims, Akebono pads, AUX input
DIY E46 Merit Badges: Sunroof resurrection, CCV, OFHG, VCG w/ VANOS seals, DISA, Cooling Refresh I, steering giubo, window regs, Magnetic Infandibulator (see wiki)
DIY On deck: Rear Diff bushing. UUC SSK, clutch job eventually, Wavetrac LSD
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Old 05-25-2013, 07:10 AM
Augster Augster is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ahull View Post
I go by the guide on the "flap" of the e tank which is to be read COLD, which should be the same as the manual. Top of stick level with neck is minimum, and lower bump on stick level with neck is maximum.

You may have a small leak elsewhere that you just can't see. Maybe only under pressure when running and it evaporates before it hits the ground or gets blown off as you drive.

Very well could be a faulty sensor. The sensor can be changed without draining it, as it sticks up into a recess formed into the bottom side of the tank.
I'm really beginning to think it's a sensor issue as the float stick has never dropped below the top of the tank throat. Initially, I thought the level must at be at the molded line on the float stick so I always had the impression the coolant level was low (I didn't comprehend the manual correctly at first).

The fact that the warning light always turns off eventually (it never stays on permanently) is another indicator of a faulty sensor.

Just the same, if I am going to replace the sensor, I might as well replace the expansion tank.

Quote:
Originally Posted by OfTheLost View Post
At your mileage it is recommended to do a complete system overhaul (belts, pulleys, hoses, expansion tank, waterpump, thermostat, radiator). This might sound like a lot, but it will save you time and money in the long run from having to keep going back in and replacing it piece by piece, because it WILL all fail at some point (again I speak from experience).
Sage advice overall; a bit overkill IMO, but nonetheless, with all the cooling problems I've come across on the E46 I will do a "full service replacement" at the 100k mark. I drive roughly 8,000 miles a year, so I think I can wait until I clock another 5k or so. I will replace the ET due to the coolant level/sensor issue.
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Old 05-25-2013, 07:36 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Augster View Post

Sage advice overall; a bit overkill IMO, but nonetheless, with all the cooling problems I've come across on the E46 I will do a "full service replacement" at the 100k mark. I drive roughly 8,000 miles a year, so I think I can wait until I clock another 5k or so. I will replace the ET due to the coolant level/sensor issue.
I'd do the t-stat, pump, upper hose, and tank at this point - are you really going to drain the system again in 5k to do the rest? Even on non-bmws, water pumps tend to go out somewhere north of 100k, so you've gotten most of the life from it. upper hose sees higher temps and the tank has only so many heat cycles. Not uncommon for the t-stat to start acting up at this mileage/age too.

IMO, radiators last a little longer and will leak vs. a catastrophic failure. Regular coolant changes help all of it last longer.

So you could wait on the radiator, do the lower hose in 3-4 years at next flush, then the rad in 6-8 or when it leaks.
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2003 330i TiAg Sport Pkg
DIY MODS: AA Stage I supercharger, Meyle HD FCAs w Powerflex CABs, Bilstein shocks, Meyle HD Rtabs, Angel Eyes, Clear Corners/Markers w/ LEDs, LED tails, ZHP rims, Akebono pads, AUX input
DIY E46 Merit Badges: Sunroof resurrection, CCV, OFHG, VCG w/ VANOS seals, DISA, Cooling Refresh I, steering giubo, window regs, Magnetic Infandibulator (see wiki)
DIY On deck: Rear Diff bushing. UUC SSK, clutch job eventually, Wavetrac LSD

Last edited by ahull; 05-25-2013 at 07:38 AM.
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  #23  
Old 05-31-2013, 06:02 PM
Augster Augster is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ahull View Post
I'd do the t-stat, pump, upper hose, and tank at this point - are you really going to drain the system again in 5k to do the rest?
Draining the cooling system isn't that big a deal: changing out the pump, hoses, belts (and even pulleys, as some suggest) is. I'm already working on other projects for the car (headlight lens are in horrible condition, inop side view mirrors, and constant Service Engine Light coming on even after multiple trips to dealership which is paying for everything because it's a SULEV).

After checking the coolant level periodically since my last post, I am relieved to see the coolant level remaining constant-meaning there are NO leaks! Yet the coolant level warning light still comes on (then goes back off if, I say, hit a bump or make a turn) now and then.

So I bought a new sensor, and a new expansion tank while I'm at it.

But I saw a video of an ET replacement and the guy "bled" the cooling system after putting everything back together. I never read anything on "bleeding" the system: is this a necessity?

Last edited by Augster; 05-31-2013 at 06:03 PM.
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Old 05-31-2013, 06:16 PM
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Quote:
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......

But I saw a video of an ET replacement and the guy "bled" the cooling system after putting everything back together. I never read anything on "bleeding" the system: is this a necessity?
Absolute necessity. If there's air in there good chance you'll overheat or run with hot spots at a minimum. Check the wiki for the procedure and follow it verbatim.
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2003 330i TiAg Sport Pkg
DIY MODS: AA Stage I supercharger, Meyle HD FCAs w Powerflex CABs, Bilstein shocks, Meyle HD Rtabs, Angel Eyes, Clear Corners/Markers w/ LEDs, LED tails, ZHP rims, Akebono pads, AUX input
DIY E46 Merit Badges: Sunroof resurrection, CCV, OFHG, VCG w/ VANOS seals, DISA, Cooling Refresh I, steering giubo, window regs, Magnetic Infandibulator (see wiki)
DIY On deck: Rear Diff bushing. UUC SSK, clutch job eventually, Wavetrac LSD
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Old 06-01-2013, 07:48 AM
Augster Augster is offline
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Question

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Originally Posted by OfTheLost View Post
I HIGHLY recommend ordering a transmission thermostat (if tranny is automatic) because it is damn near impossible to get the tank off without breaking this.
So I've been scouring RealOEM to locate the automatic transmission thermostat but couldn't find it in the transmission schematics.

Is it the #"04 Thermostat" listed under the "Expansion tank, automatic transmission" section, shown below with the part in question circled in red)?



The diagram is not clear, but does the top of this part plug-in to the bottom of the expansion tank, which is why it can easily be broken when removing the ET?
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