By on October 13, 2014

mini van. Shutterstock user BoJack

TTAC regular psarhjinian writes:

I just bought a E46 3-Series that needs some care (hey, it was cheap!) and snapped off both bolts holding the alternator to (I think) the oil filter housing. I’ve gotten the alernator off, but the last inch-or-so of the threaded section of one bolt is broken off. Thank you, BMW for using steel bolts in an aluminum block.

Question one: What’s the best method for getting these out? I might be able to back them out with a reversing bit, but there isn’t a lot of clearance (can’t centre-punch it; it’s not a clean break) and I would really, really not like to take the OFH off.

Same car, second question: these things leak PS fluid like crazy out of the reservoir (“they all do that”, but I’m replacing the reservoir and hoses anyway, and the clamps BMW uses just suck…). Combined with a hole in the fender and a prior owner who lived on a dirt rural road, this has created a mini Tar Sands in the engine compartment. What’s the best way to clean out an engine bay when you live in a rental and don’t have a outside water tap? I don’t want to take the car to a carwash and pressure-washer-blast it for fear of making things worse.

Third question: on my wife’s Pontiac Montana (2007) there’s an awful, junky rattling from the front driver’s side over even small bumps, and stretches of bad pavement sound like the van is going to shed parts, and if I rock the car side-to-side I can hear a clink/clank from the wheelwell. Since I need one working car, I need to keep downtime to a minimum and can’t go on a fishing expedition. Where should I be looking and what should I replace?

Sajeev answers:

The best way? It’s via screw extractor (aka E-Z Out) but that’s really the hard way: LSX-FTW swap is the far smarter route.  Sure, it’s more expensive and far more labor intensive.  But you’ll never have to curse BMW for their poor choice in fasteners, hose clamps, and everything else that nickel and dimes you at the E46’s age.  And when the engine is out, you go right ahead and get some shop towels, soak them in engine degreaser and wear some rubber gloves.

Only slightly joking, considering your follow-up email…

psarhjinian added:

Question 1: had to take the oil filter off, tried to use an easy-out on the bolt. Broke the easy-out inside the bolt. Local machine shops won’t touch it and a new OFH is going to be cheaper. So that’s that question answered, dammit.

Question 2: Let’s say that getting the PS reservoir off has made even more of a mess, so this applies.

Question 3: Still here.

Sajeev concludes:

Question 1: Getting a replacement junkyard part is often the best move (time and value-wise, even for BMW spec spares), even if a machine shop would take your money for the work. This isn’t a Cord 812 or something, there are plenty of spares lying around.

Question 2: Don’t worry, take it to the coin-op car wash and use their engine cleaner.  If you are really worried about your rubber lines, electrical connections, etc check the BMW’s “weak spots” that a power washer could get. Then cover them up with a plastic baggie.  Modern cars lack distributors, I don’t see a problem if you refrain from shooting every little thing with high pressure water.  If you are super paranoid, take a can of compressed air to shoot at the spark plug wires/ignition wiring plugs if the BMW doesn’t immediately fire up after being washed.

Question 3: Could be several things, but this seems to suggest worn strut mounts.  The replacements are dirt cheap, but don’t buy until you are sure that’s the problem.  A clean bill of health via mechanic’s diagnostic fee is worth the peace of mind, if you don’t trust your eyeballs when you remove the wheels and look for yourself.

[Image: Shutterstock user BoJack]

Send your queries to [email protected]com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice. 

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32 Comments on “Piston Slap: The E-Z Out for My BMW, Minivan...”

  • avatar

    BMW life. E-Z-outs aren’t really great for bolts that are really stuck, they often break as you found out. Lots of heat and quenching sometimes helps. Other non-part replace solution is to drill, tap and heli-coil.

    With regards to the Montana, I’d start by shaking the wheel for a loose ball joint or tie rod end, but my guess from the description would be sway bar link.

    • 0 avatar

      The sway bars themselves are notorious for breaking on the uplanderelayontanas

      • 0 avatar

        GM quality, hard (and brittle) at work

      • 0 avatar

        Yeah, they snap off at the pressed ends. W-bodies too.

      • 0 avatar

        The sway bar was okay (badly corroded, but okay. The links were not in great shape; replaced them and the clank is gone.

        • 0 avatar

          The power steering wetness is because the tiny, tiny o ring seal at the top of the PS cap is shot. A new one is $3 at the dealer. Picking the old one off will be the hardest part. When you screw the cap back on you’ll feel a definite difference. Don’t kill it.

          Get the car up on jack stands, remove the plastic tray at the bottom (6 or 8 screws) and clean it. If your car has had weep issues+dirt, you will take 5 lbs of junk off the tray.

          In year eleven, with 310k on the clock, I find that the Achilles heel of the 3 are plastic and rubber gaskets. Valve Cover Gaskets are a common replacement item for this reason.

          Check under the oil filter housing on the block for weepage as well. It is an $8 part buried under two hours of labor. It is almost a design defect as there will always be some oil on that seal…

          If you aren’t a member of the BMW club, you should be. Roundel is a great resource. You’ll want to do “old school maintenance” on the car.

          When I picked up mine from the Airbag recall, the Service guy told me the e46 is the last home mechanic fix-able car, as the e90 and F30 “need a computer to fix anything”….

          • 0 avatar

            I actually did the oil-filter housing gasket (because I couldn’t get the NSFWing bolt out of the housing) and yes, it was pretty brittle.

            I expect the cooling system is next.

            No, wait, the brakes are next.

  • avatar

    Oh, I get it, the brown wagon being the theoretical darling of every enthusiast, so a picture of the dumbest looking brown wagon

  • avatar

    Living on poorly maintained back roads, I have been dealing with suspension rattles for years. As mentioned, it could be any of the following in my experience:

    1. Sway bar end links
    2. Sway bar bushings (sometimes the hole gets elongated and the bar rattles in the bushing)
    3. Upper strut mounts, sometimes called the bushing.

    Get the front wheels off the ground and start shaking things and you should be able to figure it out pretty quickly.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      Agreed on this diagnosis.

      As a point of clarity: be sure to jack up the front of the car so both wheels are off the ground and hanging from the frame. The loose items should reveal themselves when you shake it. I suspect a sway bar link.

      As a point of warning: When I got my former, very used Hyundai Elantra, I replaced its struts and strut bearings (Monroe bearings). After a couple years, I raised the car as described above, only to find that one of the new bearings had failed completely. There was nothing securing the strut to the frame. Needless to say, all work stopped until I repaired that.

  • avatar

    Just yesterday I replaced the radiator in my truck and encountered a stuck bleed screw (a hex socket pipe plug at that) in the aluminum neck for the top radiator hose. I could only get a L-shaped hex key in it but it wouldn’t budge. Longest cheater bar I could fit over the long end (a 19mm combo wrench) still wouldn’t budge it. So I soaked it in PB Blaster while waiting on the coolant to drain. Then soaked it again. Then again before I put the new radiator in. Then again as I was buttoning everything up. Then lo and behold the allen key plus wrench got it out and I could properly bleed the system.

    There isn’t really an alternative to using steel bolts in aluminum. Aluminum bolts really suck, strip very easily, and Al-on-Al causes galling that would provide as much removal torque as a couple years’ galvanic corrosion. A quick google shows stainless on aluminum is much worse with a 800+ mV galvanic potential that would corrode the aluminum, whereas carbon steel as a <100 mV potential with the steel as the sacrificial element. The pipe plug in my truck had a black oxide coating on it that was completely gone where the plug was in contact with the aluminum, but it is primarily as a surface rust preventer for shelf storage and has no significant long-term rust protection. A zinc-coated fastener would have fared worse as zinc's galvanic potential to aluminum is higher than steel's.

    The real solution is to apply aluminum-safe anti-sieze (Permatex makes one containing aluminum/copper) and torque to about 25% less than the "dry" torque.

    • 0 avatar

      Thanks, this helps a lot. There’s a couple of industrial fastener supply places that might have carbon-steel bolts in the size I’ll need.

      I actually had to replace the oil-filter housing after the machine shop took one look at it backed off. I ended up getting another OFH off of eBay and promptly snapped off another bolt re-attaching the power steering pump to the OFH. The bolt’s well inside the OFH, so this should be entertaining, but I may end up making another junkyard/eBay pilgrimage as the threads on the OFH/PS pump holes don’t seem in good shape.

      I will try the anti-seize; thank you!

      • 0 avatar


        Standard bolts are carbon alloy steel. You should be able to find a selection at your average hardware store, but avoid zinc-plated (silver/yellow/galvanized) bolts. Black oxide finish bolts might not be a hardware store item, but they may have what you need in a plain finish (i.e. nothing but steel and oil). A plain finish isn’t ideal as the exposed parts will turn to red rust in short order, but if you cover every surface with anti seize it might be OK. You’ll definitely find black oxide fasteners at an industrial supply shop, and you’ll still want to anti seize the threads.

  • avatar

    The cheap shots at BMW are getting cheaper by the day.
    What exactly should they have used on an aluminum block?
    Anyway, from my motorcycle experience, drill and tap. Use a heli-coil if your’e worried about strength.

    • 0 avatar

      I think the preference might have been for an iron block, or for fasteners that were treated so that they don’t corrode and lock up.

      Personally, I don’t find the car offensively cheap to work on. Other than the hose-clamps: those are hateful; I’ve cut far too many of those off to love them.

      I hadn’t considered a heli-coil. I will give that a shot on the bolt-hole that attaches the PS pump.

  • avatar

    I had a rubber isolator between the coil spring and shock cartiridge wear all the way through once and that caused a lot of clunking.

  • avatar

    I’ve never used these much myself, but friends stand by Left-hand drills (like these: for removing broken fasteners.

    • 0 avatar

      They work just fine, BTDT. In my experience EZ-outs are the Devil’s work – pure evil.

      As others have mentioned, the trick is not breaking it in the first place. Aerokroil, PBlaster, whatever weasel-piss you can get your hands on, start marinating the bolts and nuts well before you begin trying to turn them, and your life will be much easier. And best of all, the hot blue flame wrench, whenever possible. Especially on anything that is very expensive to remove or replace, i.e. cylinder heads…

      And a final hint, when you get it apart, replace the old rusty hardware with shiny new with anti-sieze on it. The only thing worse than breaking a bolt getting it out is breaking it putting it back in…

      And a final, final hint for happiness with older BMWs, and cars in general. Do EVERYTHING. Do all the stupid stuff that breaks as soon as you get the car. Then you will be happy for another 100K miles, and not whining about “nickel and diming”.

  • avatar

    Wow a JDM Odyssey in Coco Brown.

  • avatar

    For a new OFH: Junk yards are on ebay now in case you don’t have one nearby. I ordered a bunch of random (working!) E46 stuff from one in texas, usually 1/4-1/3 the price of new. If you find a vendor with a bunch of odd parts but not what you need, give them a call because they probably have it.

    • 0 avatar

      Did that. The new one has a worn hole (above) and I do think it’s worth exercising caution when buying these things online. I did find a decent place on the other side of Toronto (Bimmer Heaven; findable on Kijiji) that’s been helpful.

  • avatar

    Too late now but PB or similar penetrant and heat.
    Repeat repeat repeat …
    Do not attempt to overpower.

  • avatar

    I’ll give blasting the engine bay out a try. With the alternator and HIDs already out (let me tell you, it looks **super classy** in the communal parking lot!) this shouldn’t be too dangerous, and there’s a coin-up in easy pushing distance. I’d been concerned about what could get damaged when I first posted this, but I’ve since replaced most of the suspect hoses.

    If I can snap a couple of bolts, I can push a car. :)

    The LSx swap is, for once, something I’d consider. Or would, if it didn’t involve spending way too much time with an Arduino and a CAN Bus adapter; it seems more an option for E36 owners.

  • avatar

    Intelligent South African solution.

    Once the bolt is out insert steel studs into the aluminium block/cylinder head.
    Use nuts to fasten alternator/other part to studs.

    What have I forgotten?

  • avatar

    The common tapered EZ-out style extractor is ticking bomb because the tend to expand the bolt as you are trying to remove it and they are very brittle and snap at the slightest provocation. The hot ticket is the straight ribbed extractor with the slip on nut made by Ridgid and sold by Snap-On among others. These don’t enlarge the bolt and if worst comes to worst the smaller ones are soft enough that they will twist without snapping so you can still easily pull them out. is what I have.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      Everyone else has covered the broken bolt problem, but I’ll relate a story.

      A friend decided to change the spark plugs on his 04 Sentra, which had 70k miles on it. The last spark plug snapped off deep in the cylinder head. An EZ-Out broke off, too.

      $600 later, we had replaced the cylinder head with a reconditioned one, plus a bunch of other stuff you do when pulling a cylinder head.

      It appeared that the head had an internal water leak that caused the plug to seize.

      • 0 avatar

        The best bet for doing plugs on any engine where they are easily accessible, is to get the engine very hot before. The head will expand and the plugs will come out easier. Obviously, on something like a GM pushrod motor this would not be realistic.

    • 0 avatar

      After following your link I went searched for a set right away. I found it here for about $33 shipped
      Amazing range of prices on this set. I found it over $100 on many sites.

      • 0 avatar

        @Mbella: Err, do you realize that the link is for the box only, no contents, according to the description given? (Confirmed by checking Ridgid’s own web site.) Hence the wide price variations you mentioned. If you’ve already placed your order you’re going to be awfully disappointed when it arrives.

  • avatar

    I reused a header bolt into my LA 340 (never again). It broke during install and I was still in a hurry. Wrench universal broke and dropped a piece down the valley. Then the EZ out broke. No more rush since I had to pull the pan and go fishing for shards to puzzle back together until I felt safe. Oil of wintergreen was my penetrant of choice back then. A good soak followed by some tapping with a hammer and driver to get it vibrating. Repeat for a day and a half. Took a dremmel to to cut a slot in the hateful E Z out which eventually turned out a squeek at a time. I still hate EZ outs.

  • avatar

    Ahh yes, the Dremel with a miniature cutting disc in it to cut a screw slot. I too have been grateful for owning that particular tool.

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