Does the E36 M3 have a Timing Chain or Belt?

The E36 M3 uses a timing chain and not a belt. This means that you don’t have to worry about a changing the chain at a specified interval as it should last the lifetime of the engine (in theory).

However, despite the claim that timing chains should never need to be replaced, they can sometimes develop issues such as stretch.

What are the Main Causes of Timing Chain Issues on an E36 BMW M3

Below we have listed some of the main causes of timing chain issues on an E36:

  • Incorrect tension/problems with the tensioner – incorrect tension (both too tight and too loose) will lead to increased strain on the chain, which can lead to premature failure.
  • Engine seizure – if the engine seizes it can lead to chain stretch or possibly even total failure. Most of the time engine seizures are oil-related (lack of oil, wrong oil, etc.).
  • Insufficient lubrication – the chain is lubricated by the engine oil, so if there is not enough of it or the oil is not changed regularly, it can lead to chain stretch/premature failure.
  • Age – Despite claims that timing chains never need to be replaced, they can eventually succumb to wear and tear over the years even if the car is serviced well.

When Do Timing Chain Issues Usually Start to Occur?

There is no hard and fast rule for this, but once a chain driven car starts getting well past 160,000 km (100,000 miles) we would expect timing chain related issues to become a bit more frequent. However, even at higher mileages it should still only be a relatively small number of cars that are affected.

What are the Symptoms of Timing Chain Failure/Stretch on an E36?

Luckily, unlike a timing belt, chains usually give a bit more warning that there is an issue before they fail, so watch out for the following symptoms:

  • Rattling noise from around the timing area, especially at idle
  • Misfires and general rough running
  • Metal shavings in the engine oil
  • Check Engine Light (CEL) warning

If you suspect that your E36 M3’s timing chain is failing, get it checked out and replaced as soon as possible. A failed chain can lead to much more serious damage that can be extremely expensive to repair.


  • Ben

    From his early days playing the original Gran Turismo and with his Hot Wheels car set, Ben has had a long interest in all things automotive. His first foray into the world of automotive journalism was way back in 2009 and since then he has only grown more interested in the industry. Ben also runs and heads up the video production side of Garage Dreams, focusing on small informative documentaries about some of the world's most legendary cars.

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