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3-Series (E36) Chat relating to the BMW 3-Series from 1992-1999. Autodoodad Specific models include: BMW 316i, BMW 318i, BMW 318iS/ti, BMW 320, BMW 323, BMW 320, BMW 324, BMW 325, BMW 328.

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Old 01-11-2006, 07:55 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Coolant/radiator issues

Recently my OBC has been saying low coolant.. I've been putting it off for a while (a week or so) and today the car sputtered a little when I turned it on. Checked everything to make sure it was ok and everything checked out fine.. I thought while the hood was open I might as well add coolant. The message went away but the prev. owner explained he had to do this a couple times himself over the course of the few months he owned it. I added about 1.5-2 cups of fluid.

What I'm getting at is, are there common problems with e36 radiators or water pump/coolant systems that would cause this issue? I never notice a leak but I'm pretty sure you shouldn't need to refill coolant this often.. anyone have any input?
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Old 01-11-2006, 08:56 PM   #2 (permalink)
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It could be one of many things.

Is your rad the original? Is your water pump original? e36 common problems. I'd start with check the rad for leaks. Do a pressure test and check for leaks. If you replace the water pump get the one with the metal impeller. Check the hoses too. The fluids got to be going somewhere. Any leak marks under your car? OR you could have a faulty level sensor.
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Old 01-11-2006, 09:45 PM   #3 (permalink)
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if you are not actually loosing coolant it could be the level sensor... but you better be sure first

Last edited by SD318is; 01-11-2006 at 09:52 PM.
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Old 01-11-2006, 09:47 PM   #4 (permalink)
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The level sensor is fine I think.. the resivior was indeed empty when i checked it

I'll look at the hoses and check for leaks, but nothing shows up on the concrete when I let it sit for a while.. when I changed the oil i noticed a lot of gunk (probably what used to be fluid or coolant) caked all over the areas near the radiator...

Edit: everything is stock.. the guy who owned it before me was rich as shit apparently, and looking at all the maintinance records he gave me, this guy probably paid near the retail price of the car getting owned by BMW dealers and mechanics for maintenance, but everything on there is original
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Old 01-11-2006, 10:32 PM   #5 (permalink)
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Well... I agree with all of the above... but if you've had the coolant system serviced in the past month or so... with what I've found to be a common occurance with E36s is, is that it takes a few days for the coolant to fully reach every passage within the block... after a full drain service. It happens. You refill... check it daily in the morning when the car is cold.. fill to the cold line..

If the car keeps telling you that your coolant is low.. but infact your coolant level is just fine... then you have a sensor problem. Easy as that.

If you are lossing fluid.. then you should be able to know that too... as long as you can justify that your coolant system was full at a given time.

My conclusion... fill it up... if the message goes away... for a few days... and the level drops... then you start searching for a leak.

Good Luck,

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Old 01-12-2006, 12:51 AM   #6 (permalink)
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First I would make sure it's bled. Unscrew the plastic screw next to the overflow tank. Crank the car and let it warm up. turn on the heat. Add coolant until coolant comes out of the bleed hole with no bubbles. A little messy, but these cars are notorious for being hard to bleed. that way, if the light comes on again, good possibility you have a leak somewhere.
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Old 01-12-2006, 12:27 PM   #7 (permalink)
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If no leak is visiable, check under you oil cap and dipstick for a "milky" substance. The coolant could be mixing with the oil.. Also I have heard that the coolant could be evaporating therefore not leaving a trail.. I would def moniter this and if it persists look for the cause.
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Old 01-12-2006, 08:59 PM   #8 (permalink)
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To add to 93 325i's comments, if you do find his milky substance, you have big trouble--a crack between coolant channels and oil channels.
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Old 01-12-2006, 11:07 PM   #9 (permalink)
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^ The most common problem towards this issue is the head gasket it self....

I dont like changing those... PITA.

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Old 01-13-2006, 08:20 AM   #10 (permalink)
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bfc has a DIY for the headgasket.. took the guy 30 man hours lol.. After I read it I deducted that it is well worth the $1000 to have it done by a pro. (hope i never need this tho)
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Old 01-13-2006, 09:59 AM   #11 (permalink)
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Yea.... they take a while if you dont have the right tools.. and a couple extra hands.

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Old 01-13-2006, 01:21 PM   #12 (permalink)
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Don't think it's the head gaskets.. pics below. Any help identifying the gunk thats all over the steering column?




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Old 01-14-2006, 07:59 AM   #13 (permalink)
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How often are you refilling? or adding? If you're adding a cup or three every 5-10,000 miles then that is normal. If you find you have to add every few hundred miles then there is a leak. Regarding the gunk in the last pic, it appears to be power steering fluid,common on our cars for the hoses from the PS reservoir to seep/leak and make a mess down there. Those hoses are right behind there, you might as well check to see if you're low on power steering (ATF) fluid too.
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