BMW 3-Se­ries E36 ra­di­a­tor swap

Is the ra­di­a­tor in your E36 or Z3 leak­ing? Re­plac­ing it is easy and in­ex­pen­sive, as An­drew Everett demon­strates.

Car Mechanics (UK) - - Contents -

The coolant level was drop­ping on my 1997 318i Tour­ing – not a mas­sive amount, but enough to re­quire a top-up every week. This could have been due to a pin­holed hose or even the be­gin­nings of head gas­ket trou­ble, but I no­ticed that it was leav­ing traces of an­tifreeze on the drive and there were droplets on the base of the ra­di­a­tor, a unit that was bought sec­ond­hand five or six years ago, so could be up to a decade old. Luck­ily, I had a spare Nis­sens ra­di­a­tor from a writ­ten-off 318i, com­plete with the fan. I’ve al­ways used Nis­sens rads and don’t re­ally trust any­thing else apart from pricey main dealer parts.

The E36 ra­di­a­tor has a built-in ex­pan­sion tank and proper hoses with Ju­bilee-type clips. It’s so well de­signed

that my per­sonal record for re­plac­ing one is just 19 min­utes on a 318is, in­clud­ing bleed­ing it.

There are a cou­ple of dif­fer­ent rad types: a deep one for air-con­di­tioned cars (see Photo 8) and a shal­low one for the rest. The E36 rads have 440mm cores and while the four- and six­cylin­der rads can have dif­fer­ent part num­bers, they all seem to in­ter­change OK de­spite a slight dif­fer­ence in core thick­ness for cer­tain cli­mates. The four-cylin­der E36 rad also fits the 1987-1992 E30 and the six-cylin­der rad fits the E30 318is and E34 520i and 525i.

New Nis­sens ra­di­a­tors can be bought on­line from £60 for a shal­low four­cylin­der unit to just over £100 for a deep six-cylin­der one. Coolant ca­pac­i­ties are 6.5 litres for the four-cylin­der and 10.5 litres for the six-cylin­der; an­tifreeze ca­pac­ity should be 40% of these fig­ures.

When the job is done, clean up any spilled coolant with clean wa­ter, washin­gup liq­uid and a broom, as an­tifreeze con­tains gly­col that is toxic to wildlife.

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