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Melissa in Tallahassee - BMW Oil change. Wrong answer?


I think our two favorite mechanics have given out some bad advice.

On the May 9 show Melissa in Tallahassee called in. She and her hubby had purchased a low mileage CPO BMW X3 (2005?). The previous owner had also purchased an extended maintenance contract. Standard free maintenance is 4 yrs or 50k miles, extended contracts can take that out to 6 yrs or 100k miles.

Melissa called the fellows to ask if on a low mile car the recommend oil and filter change using the BMW service indicator was frequent enough. They worried that their low mile X3 might have only had the oil changed once in its life. Her hubby ran out and purchase ramps, tools, filters, and oil with the plan on changing them oil himself to get it done more often.

First off, the maintenance system indicates an oil and filter change at 15k miles OR WHEN NEEDED. The indicator is a “condition based system” so driving at high RPM, or heavy engine load or when the engine is cold counts a lot more than 1 mile for every mile driven. For most folks, the indicator may come on at 10k to 12k. It might hit 15k for someone who is all freeway miles, but for most it will not be. The BMW dealer can’t give you a free oil and filter change until the maintenance display shows 100 miles or less.

For low mileage drives, BMW has “Low Mileage Oil Service” which is also free and can be had one year since the last oil change. So a BMW purchased in 2004 or 2005 with say 17k on it could have had the oil changed several times (all for free) by now.

BMW service computers are tied together so you can get any dealer the VIN and they can pull up the service history. So no need to wonder about the prior owner and prior changes. If the oil has been in the car more than 1 year then you would get the oil changed NOW for free.

My local dealer would not reset the system on these yearly changes when I had a low mile BMW so I would get a free change on the 1 year mark and another when the indicator showed under 100 miles to the service. No real need to change it more often if done this way.

I really makes no sense to do this work when BMW will do it for free.

That said, most (all?) BMWs have a top-side oil filter. So if I were going to do interim oil changes on my own I would not buy ramps and run the risk of messing up the oil pan getting the plug in and out. Get a top side oil change device that sucks the oil out via the dipstick. It will get most of it out and then replace the filter top side and you are ready to go. When it is time for the dealer to change the oil, they will drain it from the bottom and remove any oil you may have missed in a top side change.

So to summarize:

1) Have the dealer pull a service history and get a free change if needed - more than 1 year since the last change paid for by BMW - no matter what the maintenance indicator shows. Ask the dealer not to reset the system

2) Get the oil changed for free every year and (or?) when the system shows 100 miles or less - based on driving conditions and NOT just miles driven. Know that the harder you drive the quicker the indicator will show the oil needs changing.

3) If you must change the oil more often, use BMW synthetic and BMW filters and do it topside.

As I recall several Forum members recommended to slip a extra oil change into that 15K interval.

Your number 3 topside advice is purely personal preference (of course use a oil that is accepted).

I will repeat, based upon shop experience I feel BMW is really at the limit when they say 15K is ok. I have seen sludging problems at 17K. You find out about the sludging problem when the oil LEVEL indicator performs out of spec.

As I said, most folks will not hit 15k before the change is called for. I certainly never did, more like 12k for me.

Many cars have a “minder” system these day, some work like the BMW and take into account variations in driving style and length of trips.

The difference is that BMW gives you a free change when the indicator shows it is time. The others just suggest it is time and you decide if you want to pay someone to change the oil at that point or do it yourself or wait.

BMW always uses full synth oil and “in theory” filters designed to last until the indicator.

If I had a car with a top side filter and I was doing extra changes - then no way would I crawl under the car to do an extra change. I know that in a few K miles the dealer will be changing it again (for free) so why hassle with it?

Melissa and her hubby could also just pay the dealer to change it and not reset the system. Every BMW dealer I have used gives a free loaner car even for an oil change. Hint: Plan your oil changes on nice days and get a Z4 or other convertible loaner :slight_smile: . By the time you buy real BMW synth oil and filters, plus ramps (or a top side suction device) you cold have paid for a couple of changes at the dealership.

I’m an advocate of frequent oil changes, synthetic or not. Even 10K is twice too long for my sensitive sense of security. The goal is not to prolong the life of the oil, the goal is to prolong the life of the engine.

I recommend against the oil change device that sucks the oil out of the dipstick. The dipstick tube is not directed at the oil pan’s low spot, but only a spot low enough to get about 1-1/2" below the top of the pool. You have no way of knowing if you’re draining from the bottom of the pan. You very probably are not. Besides, drainng via the drain plug allows the flowing oil to carry with it some of the sludge that’s settled in the bottom of the pan.

Ramps are cheap and easy to use. If you’re going to do the job yourself, do it right. The engine you save may be your own.

I was bothered by the fact that she said her husband, whom she described as not mechanically inclined, had bought “ramps” and they missed a golden opportunity to talk about safety when working under a vehicle, esp. since I have never needed to jack up a car to change the oil.

I would never top side ONLY change my oil. The dealer does it for free when required and does it bottom side on a lift. These are for extra “comfort” oil changes - nothing wrong with sucking it out the top and replacing the filter. It will get done again from the bottom in a few thousand more miles.

The point here is they were not comfortable with the fact that the oil had only been changed once in the life of the car. If they check with the dealer they will know for sure.

If they drive little, they get a free change once per year no matter how few miles they have driven and again when the indicator says it is time. If they drive the car hard, the indicator will come on in fewer miles and they get another free change.

Their CPO BMW has a 100k warranty, including the engine. If they do what the service system says and get their free yearly changes (if allowed) the engine should be just fine and will be covered if it is not. Pretty sure if BMW thought the changes were needed more often they would call for it - since they would be ruining their customer’s engines and have to replace them at great expense.

If you just have to do it more often, then do it the simple top side way or have the dealer do it. With an un-handy husband he could ruin the pan, drive off a ramp, have the car fall on him, have an oil leak and run the engine out of oil, or dozens of other things. Not as much to go wrong top side or with a dealer service.

Nothing wrong with doing all your own changes as often as you want, for sure if you have a car that does not have FREE maintenance. With free service it just does not make sense to spend any time crawling under the car :slight_smile: .

If you are doing your own changes every 3k to 5k then buying full synthetic is really throwing your money away. BMW full synth is available from dealers only and is pretty spendy, so using the right stuff and a BMW filter (doing it the right way) is not cheap. Putting dino oil in a BMW is not smart either. Following the BMW service indicator and getting free changes IS a smart move - to me.

The main thing to remember about a European car is that they (the EU) have higher standards for many things, oil included. If you want to maintain the 15k interval (or any very long manufacturer recommended interval) you must buy oil that is engineered to meet this need. For this application you want ACEA A3/B3 oil. Many brands will sell it as European Performance or Sport oil. if I remember correctly, A1 is high performance, A5 is high mileage, and A3 is is high performance and high endurance. The manufacturers have other standards, but they all subscribe to these. For BMW you want the Longlife (LL) 01 standards.

I’m attaching the official documentation for the ACEA standard.

BMW service intervals increased dramatically right when BMW started offering “full maintenance” on their cars during the warranty period. Coincidence? I don’t think so, and neither does the resident tech wizard at Roundel Magazine, Mike Miller. You can get a copy of BMW recommended service intervals BEFORE the change from him, just by emailing him. The increase has more to do with BMW’s costs and marketing strategy than with actual needs. Ditto the “Lifetime fill” fiasco with BMW automatic transmissions and differentials. Don’t believe it for a minute! “Lifetime” in BMW lingo means “lifetime of the transmission” which will be dramatically shortened if you follow their service advice! But don’t worry – they will be happy to sell you a factory-rebuilt one installed for about $8,000…did I mention no parts are available, you are forced to buy the entire trans?

Change your oil at least once between service lights. On my '97 M3, I did it every 5K miles, which is twice between lights. The engine stil runs flawlessly at 156K miles. If you have an auto box, change the transmission oil every 50-60K, unless you want the trans to die after 100K miles – many do!


Bob in San Francisco

(who just bought an '08 335i, which is ALSO going to get extra fluid changes. I want to drive it 150K plus miles, too!)