BMW E46 Differential Service – 1998-2006 3 Series – All Models

bmw e46 differential service

BMW E46 Differential Service – 2 Hours

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The BMW Repair Guide used this 2003 325ci for the following article. To see other repairs on our site using this actual car, please click on the image below!

Contrary to popular belief the BMW E46 differential does not contain a “lifetime” fluid fill, and should be part of a regular maintenance schedule.

Servicing the rear differential on the E46 3 series is one of the most overlooked maintenance items in the drivetrain…and arguably the most important. The rear differential has a heavy work load of transmitting the power generated by the engine and delivering it to the rear wheels.

This power from the engine (delivered to the differential by the vehicle’s driveshaft) is proportionally sent to the rear wheels depending on whether the vehicle is turning or driving in a straight line. The differential allows the rear wheels to spin at different speeds, adjusting the power to them and maximizing stability to the vehicle. If there wasn’t a differential on the rear of your BMW, you would loose control of the car everytime you sharply turned the steering wheel.

All of this power conversion puts an enormous amount of stress on the differential’s internal gears. If the internal gears are not continually lubricated in a fresh, high quality synthetic oil, they can fail. Signs of a failing BMW E46 differential are handling difficulties, grinding or “whining” noises and rear end vibration. Unfortunately if you are experiencing any of these symptoms, you will probably require a differential rebuild or replacement. Servicing your BMW E46 differential on a regular basis will help avoid driveline failure and a costly repair.

Parts, Tools and Supplies

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Required (must be replaced) – Order two plug gaskets. One for the fill plug and one for the drain plug.

PartQuantityPart #Description
Differential Drain Plug Gasket27119963355Genuine BMW – 1 needed for both drain plug and fill plug


Required – Differential holds approximately 1.5 quarts of oil. 

PartQuantityPart #Description
Differential Fluid 75w90 20012220012LiquiMoly syunthetic, 75w90


Optional (replace if necessary) – Fill and/or drain plug.

PartQuantityPart #Description
Differential Drain/Fill Plug1-233117525064Genuine BMW – works as both a drain and fill plug. Order 2 to replace both


Tools and Supplies
14mm Hex Socket
Torque Wrench
Fluid transfer pump
5 gallon drain pan

  1. Jack and support your vehicle using the Four Corner Wheel Stand Method as shown in our article BMW Jacking and Supporting for Repairs and Maintenance.
  2. Locate the differential and its fill and drain plugs at rear of vehicle. BMW <span class='hiddenSpellError wpgc-spelling' style='background: #FFC0C0;'>E46</span> differential fill plug location BMW <span class='hiddenSpellError wpgc-spelling' style='background: #FFC0C0;'>E46</span> differential drain plug location
  3. Use a 14mm hex socket to remove the BMW E46 differential fill plug located at the top of the differential. Always remove the fill plug first when servicing your differential – you don’t want to drain it then find out you can’t remove it.remove differential fill plug first!
  4. Remove drain plug with 14mm hex socket. Allow differential to completely drain into 5 gallon drain pan.remove differential drain plug drain differential
  5. Replace gasket on drain plug with a new one. Reinstall drain plug and torque to 65Nm (48 ft-lb).replace drain plug and torque
  6. Using a good fluid pump, fill the differential with 75W-90 synthetic gear lubricant until it overflows out of the fill hole. The differential will take approximately 1.5 quarts to fill. fluid transfer pumpbmw e46 differential serviceBMW <span class='hiddenSpellError wpgc-spelling' style='background: #FFC0C0;'>E46</span> differential full of lubricant
  7. When differential is full, replace the gasket on the fill plug and reinstall. Torque plug to 65Nm (48 ft-lb).reinstall drain plug and torque


BMW E46 Differential Service Finished
If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to contact us. And congratulations for Doing It Yourself!

The Repair Difficulty Level displays graphically how challenging the repair is, from easy to advanced. Easy repairs usually require very few tools, have short repair times and do not require jacking and supporting the vehicle. As the difficulty level rises, expect the repair to demand more time, specialized tools, and better understanding of mechanics to complete the job.
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