The Blackstone Oil Analysis for Our M3 Says…

Dec 27, 2016 update to the BMW M3 project car

While we had the car in for an alignment and some other maintenance, we had the oil changed.
Following Red Line’s recommendation, we refilled the engine with their 15W50 synthetic oil.
To get a better picture of our engine’s health, we sent a sample of the old oil to Blackstone Laboratories.
Their mailer features a container inside a container so that it can be sent via regular post.
And good news: The Blackstone report said that things looked good. Going forward, we’ll regularly have our M3’s oil analyzed.

When we bought our 2004 BMW M3, a big, big question loomed: How were those rod bearings?

The E46-chassis M3 has a bad rap regarding rod bearings issues, and even though our car was built after BMW made an update, we were still concerned. Hey, we like to worry. Was the engine about to come apart? Should we plan to replace the bearings asap?

“There are pre-update production cars with a warranty repair, and post-update cars that ‘didn’t need it,’” BimmerWorld’s James Clay explains. “The fact is if this engine, and the BMW S65, S85 and other high-revving M engines, aren’t treated properly—warmed up before being flogged—are all susceptible to rod bearing issues. This is not a production date thing: It is a matter of having a performance engine that requires proper care and handling.”

After refilling our sump with fresh oil–specifically Red Line 15W50–we sent a sample of the used oil to Blackstone Laboratories. That’s their specialty: used oil analysis. Their lab work would reveal the true story.

They provide the specimen bottles for free. Fill up as directed, complete the paperwork, and return via post with a $28 payment. The report would arrive via e-mail.

For a reference point, we included a 2010 report that came with the car. We also explained our predicament: “The big question: Is it time to change the rod bearings? We can handle the truth.”

So we sent off the sample along with our heartfelt note and waited.

And waited.

And waited.

And about two weeks later, we had our news. (Don’t forget, we’re also impatient.)

Good news from the report: “Lead is low, so bearing wear isn’t a concern.”

More good news in the report: “Pretty good report, overall!” (We’re not sure if we should worry about that unnecessary comma, however.)

For a second opinion, we sent the report to James Clay at BimmerWorld. His reply: stop worrying.

For a third option, we sent the report to Cameron Evans at Red Line Synthetic Oil. His reply: Yes, please stop worrying.

Both added that we should allow the engine properly warm up–ideally 180 degrees before applying any heavy load or high rpm. In fact, they both said, allow the car to warm up before leaving the garage each morning.

“The short commutes that never get up to oil temp are the kiss of death to these cars,” Evans added. “That’s why BMW’s choice of 10W60 is so problematic! If you have a short, slow speed commute, and never get up to temp going to work or from work, that means the engine spends most of its life with lubricant that is never working correctly.

“When the oil doesn’t get hot enough, it doesn’t trap contaminants and creates that famous sludge. Also, when the oil doesn’t get up to temp, the additive packages in the oil don’t help to control wear. Plus, thick oil doesn’t get into the bearings properly.

“These commute cars need thinner oil than what BMW recommends. Our 15W50 will suit you fine, but you can see why some should even go to a 10W40.”

For engines that are going to be worked hard, though, Clay stressed that a 15W50 oil should be used. “The 40WT is fine for commutes, but the high revs need the thicker oil for bearing protection,” he adds.

What about fuel dilution of the oil? we asked. Should we worry that allowing the car to sit while warming up was causing a secondary problem? (Remember what we said about worrying about stuff.)

“Ring seal isn’t horrible in a cold motor,” Evans added. “It’s not a problem to the extent of not being able to squeeze thick motor oil into bearings.”

So we’re following their advice and allowing the car to properly warm up.

Next, we have some suspension bushings to replace.

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Reader comments:

Knurled
Knurled MegaDork
Dec. 27, 2016 11:03 a.m.

I'm half tempted to send Blackstone a sample of my oil just to see what their response is. I'm thinking Bill Cosby in the Noah's Ark sketch.

dculberson
dculberson PowerDork
Dec. 27, 2016 11:16 a.m.

Would a block heater help with a short commute car? Get the engine up to temp faster?

wlkelley3
wlkelley3 UltraDork
Dec. 27, 2016 11:29 a.m.

Having lived in extreme north (Fairbanks, Alaska) and having vehicles with block heaters. Block heaters won't heat the oil, they are installed in freeze plug openings and keep the coolant from freezing. Now if you can find an oil heater, like for an air-cooled motor and/or modify it or something along that line in the oil sump, that may work. But then you'll have heated oil circulating in a cold engine. Have no idea if that would be beneficial or not.

bentwrench
Dec. 27, 2016 11:34 a.m.

You can get heating pads that adhere to the oil pan.

Knurled
Knurled MegaDork
Dec. 27, 2016 11:37 a.m.

Many European cars have coolant-oil heat exchangers, warm coolant WILL warm the oil up. I would be shocked if an M3 did not have such a device.

dculberson
dculberson PowerDork
Dec. 27, 2016 12:34 p.m.
wlkelley3 wrote: Having lived in extreme north (Fairbanks, Alaska) and having vehicles with block heaters. Block heaters won't heat the oil, they are installed in freeze plug openings and keep the coolant from freezing. Now if you can find an oil heater, like for an air-cooled motor and/or modify it or something along that line in the oil sump, that may work. But then you'll have heated oil circulating in a cold engine. Have no idea if that would be beneficial or not.

Warm coolant heats the engine block which would heat the oil.. A couple gallons of oil would heat up pretty fast when interfacing with a few hundred pounds of aluminum and coolant, I would think.

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
Dec. 27, 2016 1:32 p.m.

Here's the report for those who are coming here from the message board and are skipping the formal project car post:

The entire process was quite painless.

getfast
getfast Reader
Dec. 27, 2016 1:47 p.m.

Good stuff and looks pretty similar to my last one at 47k... Iron and copper about right, lead staying low, etc. I am also not (yet) too worried about rod bearings...

Bobzilla
Bobzilla UltimaDork
Dec. 27, 2016 1:55 p.m.

I didn't realize they had gotten so expensive.

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
Dec. 27, 2016 2:11 p.m.
getfast wrote: Good stuff and looks pretty similar to my last one at 47k... Iron and copper about right, lead staying low, etc. I am also not (yet) too worried about rod bearings...

That's good to hear (all of it).

ZOO
ZOO UltraDork
Dec. 27, 2016 3:54 p.m.

It is Christmas, and my reading skills may be impaired by holiday cheer, but what exactly is James Clay recommending for track driven cars? It seems you are using 15w50, then there is some advice about using 10w60 for cars that are worked hard (BMW specs this weight), and then Clay says 15w50, not 40t. I am a bit confused.

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
Dec. 27, 2016 4:04 p.m.

No prob:

For street, 15W50 or possibly even 10W40.

For track, 15W50.

HapDL
HapDL New Reader
Dec. 27, 2016 4:49 p.m.

You can get oil heaters with a big magnet that stick to the pan, assuming it's not aluminum. Having raced on ice for years with a full race engine, it can be tricky getting them to even start. You sure as hell want warm oil when it does. Used the magnet heater on the pan and a circulating inline hose heater/pump to get the block and oil thoroughly warm before even cranking it over.

Furious_E
Dec. 27, 2016 9:27 p.m.

Excellent timing, I just got my first ever Blackstone report on my LS1 donor. I got an "Overall, good report!"

pres589
pres589 UberDork
Dec. 27, 2016 11:07 p.m.

10W60 sounds like witchcraft.

Knurled
Knurled MegaDork
Dec. 28, 2016 4:55 a.m.
pres589 wrote: 10W60 sounds like witchcraft.

It's made out of pure unicorn horn, judging by how much it costs per quart.

wlkelley3
wlkelley3 UltraDork
Dec. 28, 2016 12:02 p.m.
dculberson wrote:
wlkelley3 wrote: Having lived in extreme north (Fairbanks, Alaska) and having vehicles with block heaters. Block heaters won't heat the oil, they are installed in freeze plug openings and keep the coolant from freezing. Now if you can find an oil heater, like for an air-cooled motor and/or modify it or something along that line in the oil sump, that may work. But then you'll have heated oil circulating in a cold engine. Have no idea if that would be beneficial or not.

Warm coolant heats the engine block which would heat the oil.. A couple gallons of oil would heat up pretty fast when interfacing with a few hundred pounds of aluminum and coolant, I would think.

If you call just above freezing warm. Block heaters just keep the coolant in the block from freezing when temp is below freezing. One area by the heater may be warmer than the rest of the engine. Recirc heaters may be a little warmer because fluid is circulating, with block heater fluid isn't circulating. Oil isn't in the block during this time, below the block in the pan and not getting any heat. Maybe if worked in conjunction with a pan heater it would warm the engine and oil up. Seems to me I've heard of race team that will circulate warm coolant and/or oil through the engine to warm the engine before start. Impractical for daily use though.

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
Jan. 3, 2017 10:45 a.m.

Several years ago, I remember noting an extension cord plugged into the fuel door on a Grand-Am Cup BMW--the car was in the garage at the time. Its use? Heater for the oil tank.

snailmont5oh
Jan. 3, 2017 7:02 p.m.

wlkelly3, I think the Formula 1 guys circulate warm fluids to have the engine completely warmed up before startup. I think I saw that on the same show that told me that they don't let them idle, they constantly rev them to keep harmonics from setting up and breaking E36 M3.

Wall-e
Wall-e MegaDork
Jan. 3, 2017 7:36 p.m.

In reply to David S. Wallens:

We had these pads Moroso made on the oil pan, dry sump tank, transmission and rear end for our stock car. We only got one lap for qualifying and needed everything up to temperature.

Randy_Forbes
Randy_Forbes New Reader
Jan. 4, 2017 7:39 a.m.

If we had the time, I could explain a lot about the S-54 bearings to you!

I have been swapping the rod bearings out in the '01/'02 Z3/M Coupes/Rdstrs for close to ten (<10) years. The Z3/Ms were not included in those initial recalls because of their 400 RPM lower redline.

The original bearings were tri-metal (lead, copper on a steel shell) and all the recall bearings (and M3s built after 04/03) as well as all the Z4/Ms use a bi-metal (tin/aluminum alloy on a steel shell). As such, the Blackstone reports aren't nearly as effective, due to the harder wear surface of the newer bearings.

I've been doing my own polymer coating (dry-film lubricant) since 1992, and have applied the same process to these; contrary to popular belief, it does not reduce the clearances, which admittedly are marginally tight when the process is done properly.

I just did two cars (for the same owner within the last couple of months); take a look at these Z4/M bearings with only 26,992 miles on them:

http://spcarsplus.com/gallery3/index.php/RMC/IMG_6746

For comparison, here are some Z4/M bearings with right at 60,000 miles:

http://spcarsplus.com/gallery3/index.php/JD-Z4-M-Coupe/IMG_7408

The owner (of the Z3/M & Z4/M) is also scheduled to bring me his E-92 M3 (S-65 engine) but for that car, were planning to use some specially made bearings with an additional .0005" clearance (per shell, .001"gain, ideally yielding about .0025" running clearance). I'm hopeful that these bearings will soon be available for the S-54 engines too.

GRM/CM: I'm practically in your backyard, you should stop by sometime!

z31maniac
z31maniac MegaDork
Jan. 4, 2017 7:49 a.m.
snailmont5oh wrote: wlkelly3, I think the Formula 1 guys circulate warm fluids to have the engine completely warmed up before startup. I think I saw that on the same show that told me that they don't let them idle, they constantly rev them to keep harmonics from setting up and breaking E36 M3.

My understanding is that the clearances are so tight, if the engines aren't warmed up with fluid pre-start..............they simply will not start.

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