It is incredibly important to use the right engine oil and oil filter in a BMW E36 M3. Failure to use the right one can lead to a number of different problems that can be both major and minor. That’s why we have created this quick guide on the best engine oils and filters for the BMW E36 M3. Also ensure you take the time to read our E36 M3 buyer’s guide, as well as our BMW M3 History guide, for more information on buying and maintaining one of these cars.
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What Engine Oil Should Be Used in an E36 M3?
This is always a hot topic for debate. Many owners have their own opinions on what the best engine oil is for an E36 M3 and it can be hard to get a straight answer. The engine oil an M3 needs also depends on a number of factors from the environment the car lives in to how old it is and whether or not it has any modifications.
The viscosity of engine oil is classified by the “XW-XX” system, with the number proceeding the “W” (winter) indicating the oil’s viscosity at -17.8 degrees Celsius (0 degrees Fahrenheit). What this means in simple terms is that the lower the number, the less the oil thickens in low temperatures.
The two numbers at the end (XX) indicate the viscosity of the oil at 100 degrees Celsius and represent the oil’s resistance to thinning at high temperatures.
If we compare a 5W-30 grade oil vs a 10W-30 grade we will find that the former thickens less in colder weather. However, a 5W-30 grade will thin out quicker at higher temperatures than say a 5W-40 grade.
What this means for your E36 M3 is that an oil with a lower winter viscosity (XW) is usually better in cooler environments or months. For those in hotter environments an oil with a higher viscosity at 100 degrees Celsius may perform better.
So, What Is the Best Engine Oil for a BMW E36 M3?
E36 M3s produced up to early 1999 came with BMW’s Mineral Based Dino 15W-40 engine oil, while those produced at the end of 1999 came with the company’s Longlife 5W-40 (synthetic).
Taking this into account, it is generally recommended that you use a good quality 0W-40 or 5W-40 (most recommended) engine oil. However, many owners like to run 10W-40 and even 10W-60 (as many BMW dealers recommend this weight of oil) oils as well.
Some people do advise against running 10W-60 engine oil as they believe it causes issues with the Vanos system as it is too thick and that dealers only use the oil because that’s what BMW used in later M cars.
Additionally, owners that swapped from 10W-60 to 10W-40 reported that their car’s engine ran quieter when cold. Still, 10W-60 engine oil is a popular choice with E36 M3 owners, especially for those who track or drive their car hard.
Our Recommendations for the Best Engine Oil for an E36 M3
Below we have listed some of our recommendations for the best engine oil for a BMW E36 M3
Castrol EDGE 5W-40 Full Synthetic – Best for General Use
If you are looking for one of the best engine oils for your BMW E36 M3 you can’t go far wrong with Castrol’s EDGE 5W-40 Fully Synthetic engine oil. It is excellent for general road use in a wide range of climates.
Mobil 1 0W-40 Fully Synthetic – Best for Cold Starts & Environments
For those looking for an engine oil that performs slightly better in cooler environments or upon engine start-up, Mobil 1’s 0W-40 Fully Synthetic engine oil is an excellent option.
Castrol Edge 10W-60 Fully Synthetic – Best for Track Use
If you are looking for a thicker engine oil for your E36 M3, Castrol’s Edge 10W-60 Fully Synthetic is arguable the best oil out there. This engine oil will be perfect for those who track or drive their E36 M3 hard regularly. The oil is also approved for M-models by BMW themselves, so you know it is good.
When to Change the Engine Oil in an E36 M3
Now that you know what oil to use, let’s talk about when you need to change it. It is usually recommended that you change the engine oil at least every 5,000 km (3,000 miles) for non-synthetic and every 10,000 km (6,000 miles) for synthetic.
The distances above are the maximum an E36 M3 should travel between oil changes, and many owners like to do it much sooner. If you want to be a bit more “scientific” you can send the old oil to a lab to be tested. They can then tell you if the oil can go longer between changes.
What is the Best Oil Filter for a BMW E36 M3
There are loads of different oil filters available for the E36 M3, but the most recommended one is this one from Mahle. We would avoid using cheaper aftermarket oil filters as they can cause problems with the engine. It is generally recommended that you change the oil filter with every oil change on an E36 M3.
If you are interested in buying a BMW E36 M3 make sure you check out our buyer’s guide here.