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The famous Single Vanos found in E34, E36, & M3 BMW’s
This article is mainly focused on Vanos removal. I have included part numbers for a few common replacement parts that can be changed out along the way and during the reinstallation process if needed.
First of all get your car situated in a spot that you are ok with before disabling it because sometimes things just don’t go as planned. For instance, maybe the part’s guy gave you the wrong order or your parts may not be in stock at your local dealer like they said it was. I don’t like the idea of starting this article off with such negativity but I have been through this sort of thing too many times. I found that gathering all of the parts ahead of time and checking them to make sure they are correct and undamaged is the best way to go. Once all the parts checkout ok, then you can concentrate all of your energy into getting the engine apart and put back together.
If you’re not sure which specialty tools & parts you’ll need then take a look at this list I created. It covers just about everything you will encounter: Click on pictures to enlarge them, click again to close them.
1. Vanos spanner wrench kit which includes both locking pins Baum# 115490
2. Camshaft timing blocks Baum# 113240
3. 32 mm or 1 1/4″ open end wrench & water pump pulley holding tool. This picture does not show an actual BMW pulley holding tool but it is similar to the Baum tool. I made this holding tool 12 years ago out of 1/4″ thick steel, it’s around 15″ long and still holding up. Here’s the part numbers for the Baum tools: 32 mm wrench Baum# 115040 water pump pulley holder Baum# 115030 The pulley holder tool now comes double ended to fit more models
4. E type socket set containing E8 & E10 socket size. These can be purchased at O’Reilly Auto Parts. The picture shows a hardened steel E type sockets set which is black in color and a Chrome E type set. Note: if you purchase the hardened steel version of E type sockets they will work fine for removing everything in this article but they will not fit between the camshaft bearing ledge and cylinder head if you ever plan on removing your cylinder head bolts. The cheaper chrome E sockets are thinner and will reach the cylinder head bolts without removing the camshaft & bearing ledge.
5. 1/2″ breaker bar & 22 mm short socket to rotate engine to top dead center
6. Torque wrenches: An inch pound torque wrench that reads from at-least 25 inch lbs to 250 inch lbs and a foot pound torque wrench that can read from at-least 20 ft. lbs to 150 or 250 ft. lbs range. If you ever plan on replacing your front wheel bearings then go with the wrench that can handle up to 250 ft. lbs. You probably can get away with just an inch pound torque wrench in this article if you have a good feel for tightening bolts in the 24 to 37 ft. lbs range. Otherwise you should pick one up.
PARTS: You may not need all these parts but they are involved with Vanos removal.
1. Valve cover gasket BMW# 11-12-0-034-107, Valve cover nut seals which flatten out over time and cause the main valve cover gasket to leak… you”ll need 15 of them BMW# 11-12-1-437-395, I have also included the oil filler gasket ring although it is optional to replace. Its job is to keep oil and moisture from collecting on top of the valve cover which protects the ignition coils, BMW# 11-12-7-526-447 This picture is courtesy of www.realoem.com
2. Here is a view of the small valve cover seal, 15 needed BMW#11-12-1-437-395
3. Vanos gasket BMW# 11-36-1-740-840
4. Crankcase breather valve comes with new O’ring BMW#11-1-51-703-710
5. Spark plugs: I won’t include a part# because there are variables that affect which spark plugs you need…..turbo, supercharged, hot climates ect……
6. Vanos solenoid: these solenoids rarely go bad BMW# 11-36-1-738-494
7. Optional: engine beauty caps if needed, they do become brittle overtime. There’s 4 of them sold individually BMW# 11-21-1-726-089
Safety first: disconnect the negative battery terminal located in the trunk under the floor paneling on the passenger side. You will need your radio code as it will be lost. Note: BMW’s up to 2000 model year require the serial# on the back of the radio + the make of the radio...pioneer—Alpine ect…, 2000 and up models can retrieve their information from the radio LCD. To get your code you can check your car’s owners manual to see if it was written down or you can take your car to a BMW dealer and ask them to retrieve it for you. They don’t like to do this but you can bring the radio’s information to the dealer yourself by removing the radio, copying down the serial number on the back of the radio and showing your cars registration to the service department. You can also go online to get your code at www.radio-code.com There is a fee for this service
Step: 2 The first order of process which only takes a few minutes is to remove the engine beauty cover to get things exposed. Zip Lock sandwich bags work great for holding and labeling hardware. Start by removing the beauty caps using a flat head screwdriver, go gentle they may be brittle from age. Next grab a 10 mm socket and withdraw the two nuts and two bolts that were under those beauty caps. Now remove the oil fill cap and lift off the covers. I usually set the oil cap back in place so nothing accidentally falls in.
Step: 3 Here’s a view of the ignition coils under the beauty cover. If you look at the picture you can see the plastic cable trays are missing in action in the red circled areas. If yours are still there than you can either separate the wires from the trays or remove the trays with the wires by removing the 3 bolts that I circled using an 8 mm socket. We are going to tie the wires up out-of-the-way later. Note: the trays maybe brittle from age and heat
Step: 4 Remove the crankcase breather valve by slipping a flat head screwdriver under the breather valves clip, you should be able to pull and wiggle the valve out. Inspect the breather & O’ring and change if necessary.
Step: 5 Now, we can release the ignition coil trigger wire electrical plugs. Insert a flat head screwdriver into the notch just in front of the metal locking clip & give the screwdriver a twist & lift. Do this to all 6 coils then pull the plugs out one by one.
Step: 6 Next, remove all of the M6 coil nuts using a 10 mm socket.
Step: 7 There are two bundles of trigger wires running down the center of the valve cover. They are held in place by plastic cable holders that snap into the zinc colored plates. You can either separate the plastic holders from the zinc plates or leave them on the plates and lift them up as a unit to remove the coils. Note: the plastic wire holders my be brittle from age & heat.
Step: 8 Grab your ignition coil with both hands by the coil body. The trick here is to lift them out slowly while maintaining a medium pulling force, try not to pull too fast. If you pull too fast you risk separating the boot from the coil and you’ll end up having to fish the boot out with some long nose pliers. Sometimes the coils will pop out quickly and sometimes they’ll feel like there stuck. Remember if it feels stuck just keep constant medium upward pressure on it and it will come out. Note: Remove all 6 coils
Step: 9 Now we need some string or what ever you have lying around to tie the coil wires out-of-the-way. What I like to do is give both groups of wires a wrap with a half hitch, then tie the other end to the driver’s side hood lifting strut. If you find a better spot than go for it. I used nylon twine in this pic
Step: 10 After the coils are out-of-the-way a 10 mm socket will do the trick to remove the valve cover nuts. Be sure to remove the washers, they like to stick to the seals. I like to have room when using tools so I use a long extension on as many of the valve cover nuts as possible. The two nuts closest to the firewall or windshield are a pain to get to but I have found that a 1/4″ 10 mm short socket and 1/4″ ratchet work best, they just clear the valve cover enough to get some sweeps out of the tool. Note: removing the oil fill cap will make it easier to access those hard to reach nuts
Step: 11 Now that you have worked so hard removing all the nuts & washers from the valve cover your probably thinking were going to remove it. Well you can if you want to but instead of removing it lets prep it by sliding a putty knife in between the cover and gasket to separate them. After the valve cover is free just rest it back on the cylinder head, we will remove it later when finding top dead center. “Why leave it exposed for contaminants to get in”
Step: 12 Ok, let’s move away from the valve cover and take a look at the air filter box located on the driver’s side. What we want to do here is get this big bulky thing out of our way so we have more elbow room and easy access to the Vanos electrical plug. Start by removing the Mass Air Meter electrical plug. Twist the round socket counterclockwise to remove it.
Step: 13 Next, let’s undo both clips that secure the mass air meter to the air filter box. Grab a flat head screwdriver and slip it in between the clip and body of the mass air meter and give it a pull or push.
Step: 14 Loosen the hose clamp on the air intake boot that connects to the throttle body and separate it. Next, separate the mass air meter from the air filter box. Also remove the throttle position sensor electrical plug by depressing the metal clip. The reason for disconnecting the TPS senor plug is to help give us extra room for installing the flywheel lock pin later. Note: BMW has a problem with their rectangular plug seals. These seals are known to fall out of the electrical plug when separated from their sensors, you may want to place your hand under the throttle position sensor to catch it. Tip: You can coat the seal with dielectric gel or petroleum jelly to help keep it in place. Use a pick to remove the seal and then coat it.
Step: 15 This step is optional but will give you more room to install the flywheel lock pin later. The Mass Air Meter and air intake boot can be removed from the engine by disconnecting the large idle control valve hose & smaller crankcase ventilation hose from the boot.
Step: 16 Next, we need to unplug the cruise control electrical socket: rotate the round socket counterclockwise to disconnect it.
Step: 17 Using an 10 mm socket, remove both nuts that secure the cruise control motor to the air cleaner assembly.
Step: 18 Behind the air filter box is a coolant thermostat with two hoses connected to it. Its job is to pre-heat the throttle body to keep it from freezing in the winter. Remove the single bolt using a 10 mm socket and withdraw the thermostat from the air filter box.
Step: 19 Now the air filter box can be removed, you may have to separate the cold air pick up duct from the air filter box that I circled red in the picture below. The cold air duct locks into the radiator support header via a plastic latch, but the latch seems to fail overtime. You may just end up pulling the cold air duct out with the filter box.
Step: 20 Next, we need to remove the hose clamp that secures the alternator cooling duct. Release the clamp and remove the duct. This will give easy access to the Vanos electrical plug
Step: 21 Here’s a veiw and location of the plug. If in doubt which plug it is, you can trace the wire from the Vanos solenoid. Depress the clip on the Vanos solenoid electrical plug and separate them. You can leave the plug there for now.
Step: 22 Now we’re ready to remove the fan and fan shroud. To get the shroud out you we will have to remove the top radiator cover first by removing screws and plastic push pins.
Step: 23 Using a Phillips screwdriver withdraw the 4 metal screws and two outer plastic screws which are sometimes push pins instead of screws.
Step: 24 Now we can separate the radiator cover from the alternator cooling duct and remove the cover. “Hey, who put the air filter box back in!”
Step: 25 Next, we’re ready to remove the fan. Note: The fan nut is reverse thread direction, facing the front of the car your wrench needs to turn clockwise to break it loose. Grab your water pump pulley holding tool and see if you can place it over two of the pulley bolts… just a reminder here the bolts are not in a perfect square pattern they are actually offset. If you cannot get the tool over the pulley bolts then grab your 32 mm or 1 1/4″ open end wrench and rotate the pulley via fan nut until you can get a good angle on it. Then slip your open end wrench over the fan nut so it’s situated to the left of the pulley tool and give both tools a good squeeze. If nothing happens then give the wrench a blow with a mallet or hammer.
Step: 26 Spin the fan off and let it rest in the fan shroud, we will remove the fan and shroud as a unit later.
Step: 27 Ok, now that the fan is disconnected we can remove the two push pins on the upper outer end of the fan shroud, I found that pushing on the center of the inner pin from the opposite side with a small flat head screwdriver or punch helps release it. The flat head of the pin sticks out just enough to get a hold of it.
Step: 28 Next, we can prep the overflow return line that connects to the coolant reservoir. I recommend placing a towel under the hose for this. You may need a 10 mm or 1/4″ hose clamp if no one has ever disconnected it before. The factory hose clamp is crimped. You can remove it my slipping a flathead screwdriver into the open lip and working it open, go slow here. Give the hose all the support you can by not allowing it to twist with the screwdriver because this is a plastic radiator and they lose their strength after a few years. After you remove the hose you can cap the radiator with a vacuum hose like pictured. The coolant hose will also have to be plugged with something, a 1/4″ ratchet extension works well for plugging the hose if you can’t find anything else.
Step: 29 This next step is optional but will give you a little more chicken to manipulate the shroud. There is a tie strap on the driver’s side inner fender that secures the lower coolant bottle hose. Using a pair of pliers, bend the tab on top of the tie strap and it will release it.
Step: 30 We are almost there! Disconnect the coolant reservoir level sensor plug and withdraw the fan and shroud at the same time.
Step: 31 I usually place the shroud on the intake manifold or let if hang off the side of the fender
Step: 32 Now we can take a look and see what’s under the valve cover. Remove the valve cover and find a place to set it aside. Take a look at your intake camshaft that’s sitting toward the driver’s side, there is a plastic splash shield that needs to come off. Lift up on the shield from one end and repeat on the other end working it back and forth. What you’re trying to accomplish here is a straight up pull. In case you want to know what the shield is for, its job is to keep oil from splashing onto the valve cover. It keeps oil from entering the crankcase ventilation hose but honestly it doesn’t do a very good job. I will explain this in another article.
Step: 33 Next, remove the valve cover gasket and the two center gaskets that protect the spark plug holes from oil.
Step: 34 “Spark plugs anyone” Now would be a good time to take a peak and see if there is any oil that filled up around your spark plugs from the valve cover gasket going bad……If so then remove your spark plugs with a 5/8″ spark plug socket and wipe them off or change them. Leave them out for now until you’re finished turning the engine by hand to reduce turning effort. There will be two stages of turning the engine later. First finding top dead center and then an additional 2 revolutions to check camshaft timing after the Vanos is reinstalled. I lost the original pic but here is a similar one.
Step: 35 Ok, now we are finally ready to find top dead center. First, I am going to show you a view of the harmonic damper and timing cover marks. We will have to align these two marks with a mirror.
Step: 36 Grab your mirror and 1/2″ breaker bar with a 22 mm socket, you can use a large ratchet but the breaker bar will give you more control. Preset the angle on the mirror, so you have a good view of the timing cover mark. Next, place your socket into the center of the harmonic damper pulley and start rotating clockwise. Keep rotating until both marks are lined up; if you pass your mark, then back it up a 1/4 turn before the mark and try again.
Step: 37 Remember when we disconnected the throttle position sensor electrical plug? Well, that is the area we need to reach through to get to the flywheel lock pin access plug. If you find an easier way to reach it than go for it. The fan shroud takes up a lot of room so you’ll have to work around it. The flywheel lock pen access plug is blue in color “I think they are all blue.” It’s located under the starter which is under your intake manifold where the transmission bolts up to the engine. Grab a pair of needle nose pliers or a narrow screwdriver and slide the access plug out. Note: the plug is fairly long and you do not want to pull it sideways.
Step: 38 Now that the plug is removed we can install the flywheel lock pin from your Vanos tool kit. I found that holding the tool like a cigarette works best when trying to install it. Slip it into the access hole as far as it will go and then gently give your breaker bar a tug to see if the pin locked the flywheel. If the pin did not lock the flywheel, than what you can do is push on the pin with your right hand while rocking the breaker bar back and forth with your left hand. Repeat until the flywheel is locked by the pin. Here are a couple of behind the scene pics of what we’re trying to accomplish.
Step: 39 We are now going to prep for the camshaft locking blocks. A 10 mm socket will do the trick to remove the three studs on the back of the cylinder head like pictured.
Step: 40 Next, we are going to place the camshaft timing blocks on the camshafts. Place the blocks over the camshaft squares, you want the blocks to sit flush against the cylinder head. Once you have both blocks sitting flush, you can then lock them together with the supplied latch. The blocks are doing two jobs here, by checking camshaft timing & preventing camshaft movement.
If you find that the blocks will not sit flush at all, then double-check your top dead center marks & verify that the pin is locked into the flywheel. If that all checks out ok, it’s no big deal we can fix this by jumping to Step 45, which will loosen the exhaust sprocket torx bolts and allow both cams to rotate independently until the blocks sit flush. “Basically you are resetting camshaft timing here” You can adjust the cams using a wrench as pictured, if needed.
Step: 41 Ok, by now you should be locked and loaded. Let’s get this Vanos off!….. Grab yourself a 13 mm socket & ratchet setup to remove the upper and lower bolts that hold the engine lifting bracket. “Hey, who put the valve cover back on!”
step: 42 Just a few more nuts and bolts to go. Just below the front area of the Vanos there are two E clips. Grab yourself a pick or pair of needle nose pliers and withdraw the two E clips that hold the plastic crank position sensor wire in place. After the E clips are removed, give the plastic harness holder a tug to get some slack out of it. Word of wisdom here, these little clips like to go missing in action so you may want to put a towel or napkin under the clips to catch them.
Step: 43 Next, place a towel underneath the Vanos oil line banjo fitting to catch any oil that might spill. Grab a 19 mm socket or wrench and remove the oil fitting.
Step: 44 There are two Vanos access plugs that we need to remove. Grab a 19 mm socket or wrench and remove both of the plugs and set them aside.
Step: 45 Now we need to loosen the exhaust camshaft sprocket bolts. Grab your ratchet and E10 torx socket setup and loosen all 4 exhaust bolts, just loosen them a couple of turns. Heads up here, make sure you socket snaps and locks onto your extension, you don’t want that baby falling into the engine. You can tuck a rag under the sprocket if it makes you feel more comfortable while doing this procedure. “This is an older pic that I had, but it works”.
Step: 46 Ok, we have the exhaust camshaft sprocket loose, so now we need to grab the small pin from the Vanos tool kit and compress the secondary chain tensioner. Compress the tensioner by hand while slipping the pin through the little pin hole in the tensioner body. The pin should end up resting on the chain guide.
Step: 47 Did someone say Vanos!….There are only 6 nuts holding the Vanos to the cylinder head at this point. You’re probably thinking finally to yourself right now, “Yes I can’t wait to get the thing off too!” Grab yourself a 10mm deep socket and remove the 6 nuts located along the bottom of the Vanos.
Step: 48 At this point all we have to do is rotate the exhaust cam sprocket to release the Vanos. Grab your Vanos spanner wrench and rotate it clockwise while guiding the Vanos with your free hand. You may have to wiggle the Vanos a little to free her up.
“One Vanos, coming up!”.
That is pretty much all there is to removing the Vanos. If you haven’t already, feel free to checkout the Vanos removal and installation videos. Thanks!