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FCP Euro Service Kits

Service Kits

The inline-six engine has been a staple in BMWs since its introduction, and few have garnered more respect and admiration than the S54B32 found in the E46 M3, among others. The high-strung, naturally aspirated mill screams motorsports pedigree at rest and shrieks its way to a 7900 rpm red line with a sound bested by few engines, regardless of cylinder count. Over twenty years since its introduction, the S54 remains a highly-capable performer on the street and on the race track, thanks to its strong output per liter and deep aftermarket support. 

Getting into an S54-powered M car, whether an E46 M3, a Z3M, or a Z4M, will be a memorable experience. While all three chassis have beautiful balance and feel, it’s the rev-happy engine that drives that experience. In its day and now, journalists have almost nothing but good things to say about what is quite possibly the best engine to ever come out of M Division. That isn’t to say that the engine is perfect, though. High-performance engines with tight tolerances and aggressive components need the proper care to perform at a high level reliably, and unfortunately, many M3s weren’t given the respect they needed as they transferred owners. Today, they can be had relatively inexpensively, depending on the model, and with a little bit of guidance and the right parts, you can have a reliable S54 to call your own.

 

BMW S54 Design & Technical Specifications

S54 Engine Variants:

S54B32

S54B32HP

Available In:

2001-2006 BMW M3

2001-2002 BMW Z3M

2006-2008 BMW Z4M

2003 BMW M3 CSL

Cylinder Arrangement:

Inline 6

Inline 6

Displacement:

3.2L (3246cc)

3.2L (3246cc)

Horsepower:

333 hp @ 7900 RPM

360hp @ 7900 RPM

Torque:

262 lb/ft @ 4900 RPM

273 lb/ft @ 4900 RPM

Compression Ratio:

11.5:1

11.5:1

Maximum RPM:

8000

8000

Induction:

Normally Aspirated, Individual Throttle Bodies, MAF Sensor

Normally Aspirated, Individual Throttle Bodies, MAP Sensor

Cooling:

Water-cooled

Water-cooled

Injection:

Port Injection

Port Injection

Valvetrain:

Dual Overhead Camshafts, Finger-Followers, Variable Camshaft Timing

Dual Overhead Camshafts, Finger-Followers, Variable Camshaft Timing

Valves:

24 

24 

Bore x Stroke:

87mm x 91mm (3.425in. x 3.58in.)

87mm x 91mm (3.425in. x 3.58in.)

Timing Chain:

Single Chain Configuration

Single Chain Configuration

Oiling System:

Wet Sump

Wet Sump

Engine Oil Spec:

10w60

10w60

Engine Oil Capacity:

5.5L

5.5L

Required Octane:

Premium Unleaded (91+)

Premium Unleaded (91+)

Digital Motor Electronics:

Siemens MSS54

Siemens MSS54

The S54’s legacy started with its predecessor, the European S50. The S50 was based on the M50, BMW’s first engine with dual overhead camshafts. When it came time for the M3, M Division made the M50 better with more technology, lighter parts, and motorsports qualities to make the E36 M3 an absolute weapon. Fast forward a few years, and the E46 is ready to take over the mantle as BMW’s premier sportscar with the evolved S54 under the hood. 

BMW-M3-2001-1600-4a

The S54 retains the same basic bones as the European S50; the S50 and S52 we received in our E36 M3 was a watered-down version much more closely related to the M52 than the S50. The engine block is cast from iron and capped with a cast aluminum cylinder head that features dual overhead camshafts. The rotating assembly uses a forged and nitrided crankshaft fitted with graphite-coated, forged connecting rods and cast pistons. Induction is supplied by six individual throttle bodies, a first for American-market vehicles. 

BMW S54 Engine Guide Individual Throttle Bodies

Keeping the engine in time is a single chain configuration at the front of the engine that is also responsible for driving the oil pump. With regular track time in store for many M3 owners, BMW was smart to fit the engine with a two-stage oil pump. The oil pump pulls its feed from the deepest part of the oil sump that sits at the back of the engine. Ensuring that the sump is always full of oil, even under braking, is the scavenge pump and forward pick-up. The scavenge pump, which sits in the forward portion of the oil pump housing, has a smaller oil pickup at the front of the sump to feed the main pickup as the oil sloshes forward under braking. Along with preventing oil starvation, those dual pickups help the oil squirters continuously cool the underside of the pistons. 

BMW S54 Engine Guide Dual Oil Pickup

As an evolution of the S50, the S54 benefits from all of the motorsports-derived parts and design, making it an ideal choice for anyone looking for intense track time. 

 

S54B32

As an evolution, the S54 was defined by its improvements; without those, it’d be just another S50. The new engine had to help the M3 compete with the then-new 996 Carrera, Ferrari 360, and C5 Corvette, so it needed some updating. To get more out of the S54, especially low-end torque, BMW focused heavily on improving the cylinder head and valvetrain components. 

BMW S54 Engine Guide Valvetrain Assembly

The new cylinder head was a one-piece design instead of the old two-piece, saving weight from the engine’s highest point. The shimmed buckets under the European S50’s camshafts were simple but required regular adjustments for maximum performance. The S54 ditched the buckets for shimmed finger followers, which again reduced complexity and weight in the valvetrain. The individual throttle bodies fitted to all S54 engines, regardless of market, fed the same 35mm Euro S50 intake valve and 30.5mm exhaust valve. 

BMW S54 Engine Guide Finger Follower

The camshafts grew, too, sporting 12mm of lift on the intake and exhaust side. Their operation was driven by the dual VANOS system. First seen on the Euro S50B32, it provided both camshafts with infinite adjustment within the mechanical capabilities of the internal gearing. 

VANOS control was handled by the new Siemens MSS54 DME and used an updated group of sensors and solenoids to control its operation. 

Other small improvements were made to maximize the airflow improvements and ensure reliability. Inside the engine, the bore grew to 87mm, and although the displacement stayed at 3.2-liters, it actually became 3246cc instead of the S50B32’s 3201cc. The compression ratio also saw a bump by .2 points. BMW knew it had a great performer on its hands with the S50, so it didn’t take much modification to develop the S54. 

BMW S54 Engine Guide Bare Cylinder Head

The S54 was available in the E46 M3 alongside the Z3M and then the Z4M. Power output in the Z3M is reduced by about 15 horsepower and some torque due to the different exhaust routing requirements from the roadster’s chassis. The Z4M’s power figures were nearly identical to the M3’s.

 

S54B32HP

Nearly every M3 has been supported by some small limited run of an extra-special M3 model. The E46 was no different and quite possibly has the best of all, the E46 M3 CSL. Among the extensive chassis improvements and weight reduction was an improved S54 engine. 

BMW S54 Engine Guide M3 CSL Engine Bay Carbon Intake

Starting internally, the most significant upgrades revolve around electronics. Larger camshafts and modified cam timing were supported by the re-tuned DME. The new tune used a speed density tune based on a MAP sensor instead of the MAF-based tune that every other M3 had while revising several key components of the VANOS system. The change in airflow sensor was also supported by a carbon fiber intake plenum that improved sound as much as power. Lastly, the exhaust was modified; the stainless steel headers were reworked with thinner material to shed weight and had a slightly different routing to improve the exhaust flow. 

Altogether, these improvements added up to 17 horsepower and a 4 lb-ft improvement. While not the biggest gains in the world, the M3 CSL lost 240lbs from the basic M3, so the power gain was plenty for the chassis. The standard S54 can be brought up to CSL power levels fairly easily, though it won’t be through the exact changes that M Division made. Check out the Modifications section for more info on how to get more power out of your S54.

 

BMW S54 Family Competition

The S54 was sandwiched between several great engines and remains a special engine from the BMW lineup. Here’s how the E46 M3’s famous engine stacks up against its siblings.

Engine

Displacement

Power Figures

Max RPM

Aspiration

HP/Liter

Years Offered

S52B32

3.2-Liters

(3152cc)

240hp

236 lb-ft

7000 RPM

Normally Aspirated

76 HP/Liter

1996 - 1999

S50B32 (Euro E36 M3)

3.2-Liters

(3201cc)

321hp

258 lb-ft

7600 RPM

Normally Aspirated

100.3 HP/Liter

1995 - 2000

S54B32

3.2-Liters

(3246cc)

333hp

262 lb-ft

8000 RPM

Normally Aspirated

102.6 HP/Liter

2001 - 2008

S55B30

(F80 M3)

3.0-Liters

(2979cc)

425hp

406 lb-ft

7300 RPM

Turbocharged

142.7 HP/Liter

2014 - 2020

 

BMW S54 Major Issues

For all of the praise that has been attached to the S54, there has been a near equal amount of negativity lobbed its way. The revered BMW straight-six, while beloved, suffers from several potentially catastrophic engine defects. BMW parts aren’t inexpensive, especially when connected to their M models, so ensure you do your due diligence surrounding any potential S54-powered car before purchase. Solving one of these issues may not mean the end for your engine, but it’ll certainly cripple your wallet and appetite. However, with that said, replacing and/or repairing these faults should deliver a reliable and powerful performer for many miles.

 

VANOS Related Failures

The VANOS system, while very effective, has several significant failure points that can be quite costly. However, when addressed with improved aftermarket parts, the issues can largely be solved and avoided in the future. Check out the VANOS-related engine codes listed below to see if any apply to you. If so, continue reading to learn about what could be causing your problems.

BMW S54 Engine Guide Vanos Setup

P0010 (BMW xx, 0xxx): Vanos intake solenoid circuit

P0011 (BMW 67, 0x43): Vanos intake timing over advanced

P0012 (BMW 72, 0x48): Vanos intake timing over retarded

Pxxxx (BMW 184, 0xB8): Vanos intake position control

P1525 (BMW xx, 0xxx): Vanos intake solenoid open circuit

P0013 (BMW xx, 0xxx): Vanos exhaust solenoid circuit

P0014 (BMW 22, 0x16): Vanos exhaust timing over advanced

P0015 (BMW 21, 015): Vanos exhaust timing over retarded

Pxxxx (BMW 185, 0xB9): Vanos exhaust position control

P1531 (BMW xx, 0xxx): Vanos exhaust solenoid open circuit

 

Exhaust Camshaft Hub Tab Failure

The VANOS system operates its variable cam timing by using a high-pressure oil feed produced by the VANOS pump. That pump is driven by a hub bolted to the exhaust camshaft. Two tabs on the exhaust hub fit into the back of the VANOS pump, specifically into the “oil pump disc.” Through oversight by BMW in an effort to make VANOS installation easier, the openings in the back of the disc in which the hub tabs fit into were 1mm oversized. As the hub’s tabs interacted with the disc during engine operation, they banged around inside it until they cracking and snapping off the hub. 

BMW S54 Engine Guide Vanos Hubs Tabs

Broken things are bad, as we know, but the broken hubs can cause problems in a few ways. Two broken tabs eliminate the VANOS pump’s drive, rendering the entire system useless. When that happens, you’ll get a significantly reduced power level, especially in the lower rev-range, rough idle, fuel economy loss, and several warning codes causing the “Check Engine” light to light up brighter than the sun. In a best-case scenario, that is how it fails.

When the tabs break, they typically get lodged into the oil pump disc as they rarely fail together. That leaves a relatively large chunk of steel rotating at engine speed without much holding it in. In that situation, you can only hope the AWOL tab stays in the disc until you can pull it out rather than it getting flung around the timing assembly and potentially wiping out the chain or sprockets.  

Arguably, the worst part of this potential issue is that you won’t know it’s happening until too late. There is no symptom for one broken tab; as long as the pump produces the correct amount of pressure, the car is none the wiser. Take caution if there isn’t any mention or documentation of the hub being replaced or upgraded. The tabs can be examined by removing the valve cover and rotating the engine over. A little work in the short term will save a lot of heartbreak in the long term.

 

VANOS Hub & Camshaft Sprocket Bolts

The bolts that BMW used to secure the camshaft sprocket to the camshafts have proven to be an issue. Many owners have had their bolts back out and shear off into the engine, often causing extensive damage. Upgraded bolts made with the correct grade steel are genuinely inexpensive to acquire and provide the necessary fix. However, the entire VANOS unit and valve cover assembly need removal just to access the bolts. It is a time-consuming fix, although one that can be done at home with enough time and patience.  

 

VANOS Solenoid Coil Pack Failure

One of the most common points of failure of the S54’s VANOS system occurs with the attached electronics. Inside the VANOS housing, the various pistons and solenoids that actuate the variable camshaft timing are controlled by the DME. On the outside of the housing are the solenoid coil packs connected to the DME. Inside the coil packs, the soldering on the circuit boards cracks from the engine vibration and heat cycling, breaking the DME to solenoid connection. 

A lost connection leaves the solenoids dead with no guidance or control. When that happens, the engine will look at the cam adjusters in their position at the time of failure. From that, you’d experience poor running and a lack of power at either end of the rev range, but never both. Where that loss in performance occurs is up to the position of the VANOS at failure. Along with the poor engine performance, you’ll likely get hit with several engine warning codes. 

Multiple companies offer rebuilds and refurbished coil packs at reasonable prices compared to new parts. Going for a brand new fix will from BMW run you over $900 as they only sell the coil pack with a new solenoid block. Although the solenoid can go bad, it’s much less common than the electric components attached to them. 

 

VANOS Sealing Plate

The sealing plate that sits between the VANOS unit and the solenoid block was equipped with a rubber material called Buna. Made from nitrile, the material has an operational limit of 212°F, which is well below the temps found in every internal combustion engine. The seals eventually shrink and flatten through exposure to the heat, allowing oil to pass right on by. 

Replacement is inexpensive and certainly a DIY job, but one that should be performed as soon as possible. Any foreign contaminants that gum up the solenoids will cause much larger and more expensive issues down the road. Replacing the plate with an OE replacement piece won’t solve the issue of the incorrect rubber material, though that isn’t to say they aren’t going to last a long while. The best choice for a complete fix is to pick up a Viton seal replacement kit. 

 

Connecting Rod Bearings

Please, stop me if you’ve heard this one before. As early E46 M3 owners began to put serious miles on their cars, an unnerving trend began to emerge. At random mileage intervals, the bearings separating the connecting rods from the crankshaft began to fail and cause knocking from the bottom end. In a technical service bulletin, BMW stated that the issue was limited to certain models between 2001 and 2003. However, later M3s and the Z4Ms were also regular victims of the failure. As if that wasn’t enough, the bearing issue also affected the S65 V10 engines found in the M5 and M6 of the day. Clearly, whatever BMW was using in terms of material or design couldn’t handle the requirements, and it’s a little upsetting to see that they used them for so long—but I digress. 

BMW S54 Engine Guide Rod Bearings

Whatever the reason for their failure, it happens—though, the cars that would’ve had bad bearings from BMW have likely already been changed. It was a big deal around the mid to late ‘00s as most of the M3s were experiencing widespread failures. Damage and repairs varied by case, but none were good outcomes. The best-case scenario meant that the bottom of the engine needed to be exposed to replace the bearings with the engine in the car. Worst case, the bearing material clogged oil passages in the engine and destroyed camshaft bearings, effectively ruining the engine.

 

Upper Exhaust-Side Timing Chain Guide

The S54’s timing chain system is nearly faultless, with the exhaust side’s upper guide being the only weak point. Guide duties are split between two guides, an upper and lower, that overlap each other in a very small area. Due to the cylinder arrangement and firing order, the timing chain doesn’t rotate evenly, bunching slightly on the exhaust side. The extra chain movement puts pressure on the overlapping portion of the guides; enough pressure to wear right through the upper guide quickly. When left long enough, the guide will break and introduce slack into the chain, possibly causing significant valvetrain and rotating assembly damage. 

BMW never addressed the issue with their own guide and still offers the same exact piece known for wearing in as little as 30,000 miles. Thankfully, the aftermarket has come to the rescue and offers a far more durable piece. 

 

BMW S54 Recommended Maintenance

Besides the major areas of concern, the S54 has its recommended fixes and maintenance spots just like any other engine. These range from simple servicing to larger repairs that won’t hurt the engine but sound like they will. Performing these jobs in a DIY setting by yourself or with others is a great way to save some money, improve your wrenching skills, and learn about how the S54 functions. All of these can seriously negatively affect your engine when done incorrectly, though, so be sure to use the right tools, have patience, and check your work.

 

Oil Leaks

Like just about every BMW straight-six made in the last thirty years, some spots commonly develop oil leaks. While most aren’t a large issue, they will dirty your engine, hurt accessory belt components, and drain the S54 of its oil. Some leaks are easier than others, but most can be tackled in a garage or driveway with some hand tools. Here’s a list of all the places the S54 can develop these leaks:

 

Water Pump

Another Achilles heel for the S54 is its water pump. It uses a traditional mechanical pump driven by an accessory belt off of the crankshaft. While they typically last around 100,000 miles, some owners have reported failures as soon as 60,000 after replacement. Overheating an engine is incredibly detrimental to its health, so the S54 shouldn’t be used without a functioning water pump.

While you're there, you might want to replace the components around it. BMW cooling systems aren't the best, and the S54 is no exception. Radiator hoses contain a few o-rings and plastic parts that lose effectiveness with age. Plastic becomes brittle, and the o-rings lose their seal, causing significant leaks. If you trust the condition of your cooling system, buy the parts individually as you see fit. Otherwise, refresh the entire system once with this comprehensive cooling system overhaul kit.

 

VANOS Rattle

Running through both cam gears are splined shafts that interact with the VANOS unit. Inside the thickest part of those splined shafts are a set of bearings and thrust washers. Over time through normal usage, the bearings and washers will develop excess play and begin to make a noticeable rattle during engine operation. Although this isn’t as serious as the rattle caused by the cam bolts backing out, it is something that should be addressed with some urgency. Replacement isn’t an easy DIY job, but it can be done.

 

VANOS Oil Pressure Accumulator Line 

The OE VANOS oil line is a common source of leaks on the S54. General use and vibrations have shown to be enough to make the line start to leak around its fittings. A Genuine replacement line is under $200, and the replacement is pretty simple; however, an OE or OEM replacement will be prone to the same leaks as the original piece. Using an aftermarket line with a braided hose is the best way to prevent a future leak. There are many aftermarket options, and most are near in price to an OE replacement.  

 

VANOS Solenoid Cleaning

Critical to the operation of the VANOS system are solenoids. It’s their job to advance and retard the cam sprocket in relation to the cam position for its variable timing. Over time and possibly through a leaking sealing plate, the solenoids can gum up with dirty oil and other contaminants. Once gummed up, they will either struggle to operate or cease operation altogether and cause very poor running along with some error codes. Luckily the solenoids can be removed, cleaned, and put back, though it isn’t the easiest process. This is best done while repairing a leaking sealing plate or during a coil pack replacement, as both services require removing the solenoid block from the VANOS unit. 

On top of that, the oiling system contains a small filter to trap any debris or contaminants. A new filter kit is very inexpensive and can help extend the life of your VANOS system. Replace the filter every 30,000 miles to ensure proper operation. 

 

Upper Timing Chain Guide

Replacing a worn timing chain guide with another OE piece will never solve the issue of a quickly wearing guide. The best fix these days comes from Beisan Systems, who’s made a solid guide from Nylatron NSM. The special compound offers less friction and more durability than the OE piece and costs around $80. 

BMW S54 Engine Guide Upper timing chain guide

 

Valve Adjustment

The S54 ditched the traditional shimmed bucket lifter for a finger-follower type with a hydraulic adjuster; however, they still do require regular adjustments. With so many potential variables for rattling noises and bad juju from the VANOS system, the last thing anyone needs are some clackity valves to raise your blood pressure and hurt engine performance. 

BMW S54 Engine Guide Valve Adjustment Finger Followers

BMW calls for a check/adjustment every 30,000 miles, though many second-hand owners forego that procedure. Leaving the lash to fall out of spec by too much will cause a reduction in horsepower and torque, so it’s best not to skip this if you value absolute performance. DIYing a valve adjustment will take a few hours but can definitely be done at home. The valves are accessible with the valve cover removed, and the process is relatively the same for each valve. We offer a complete valve lash kit for the S54 and the toolset you need to do it. 

 

BMW S54 Bolt-On Performance Modifications & Tuning

When comparing the effectiveness of engine modifications between normally aspirated and forced induction engines, it’s clear to see why making more power on a boosted engine is so easy. That isn’t to say it can’t be done on an N/A engine like the S54, but the gains made are generally small and quite costly. Luckily for S54 owners, only the last bit of that sentiment rings true, as the BMW straight-six has some room left in the tank for improvement. If you want more power out of your S54, start here.

 

Intake

By far, one of the most popular upgrades or modifications owners make to their S54s is an aftermarket intake box. Airflow is critical to engine performance, and that can be improved. Colder air is denser air and contains more oxygen than warmer air. The colder the air, the more power an engine will make. The direction of the air and the route it has to take into the engine will also affect power. The more direct it is, the greater the power potential.

Search around quickly, and you’ll find a few different intake styles though there are two kinds. The simplest and least expensive options are going to leave the stock airbox but improve how efficiently air is pulled into the box and how cold that air is. The nicest of those pieces comes from Eventuri with their pre-preg carbon-fiber, and CNC’d aluminum components. The kit comes with everything you’d need to bolt it right to a standard S54 and includes the carbon air scoop, carbon air filter housing, and aluminum MAF housing. Other manufacturers like aFe, Dinan, and Injen all offer the same kind of intake, though none include carbon or CNC’d aluminum pieces. Without a DME tune, you can expect a peak horsepower gain of between 10-15 horsepower. Add on a tune, and that power gain can nearly double. 

BMW S54 Engine Guide aFe Intake

The other kind of intake replicates or is based on the M3 CSL’s intake. The CSL intake deletes the stock airbox, air filter housing assembly, and MAF sensor for a large carbon fiber box with a massive bell-mouthed intake snorkel. Deleting the stock air filter housing and MAF components opens up a huge amount of airflow for the S54, letting it breathe easier and much louder. The CSL airbox adds so much more intake noise from the S54 that many put the audio gain on par with the performance enhancements. However, none of them are remotely wallet-friendly. 

Every single aftermarket CSL airbox, and the factory one, too, are made from carbon fiber. The boxes sit right around the $2000 mark depending on the manufacturer, which doesn’t include the other work required for their use. Because the MAF sensor is deleted, the DME needs to be recalibrated with a MAP sensor installed. Figure a couple hundred bucks for the MAP sensor components and up to $1000 for a custom tune on top of the airbox itself. Because of the new tune required to run it, you can’t really compare the power gains as the DME parameters are completely different but expect a larger jump than the non-CSL style. You can find the CSL boxes from Eventuri and Karbonius, among others, though we’re fans of and familiar with the former.  

 

Exhaust

The exhaust system is made up of a few components, but this section is going to focus on a cat-back system strictly. Like with the intakes, airflow is the key to power, so the quicker it can escape, the quicker more air can be pulled in. Advertised power gains and the increased sound from the fifteen-or-so different companies that make aftermarket exhausts for S54-powered cars will vary by exhaust system as they can be pretty different. A full 3” titanium system will not sound like a 2.5” stainless steel one. 

The best thing you can do while picking out an exhaust is to find someone local with the parts you’re choosing between. YouTube exhaust clips can give you an idea of the tone, but they’ll never be identical to what they truly sound like. If you can’t do that, search the forums for a few different options that owners seem to agree positively upon. While power will increase with an aftermarket exhaust, they work best when paired with other modifications for more power. Improved sound quality will be the largest benefit without other modifications. 

 

Headers

If you’re really looking for some gains out of the exhaust system, then you'll want to pair that cat-back with a good set of headers. Headers are essentially more performance-oriented exhaust manifolds, and the S54 has some very nice ones fitted from the factory. However, the catalytic converters fitted to the headers can restrict flow. The best performing headers available for the S54 delete the cats, forcing you to eliminate them altogether or move them somewhere else in the exhaust. If you don’t want to do that, there are larger diameter headers with high-flow cats available.

BMW S54 Engine Guide Headers

Choosing between the various header manufacturers can be tough considering there are so many, and some with multiple header styles. The two styles you’ll see while are shopping are the stepped and non-stepped variants. Some manufacturers claim there's more to gain across the entire range by using a stepped header; however, that is still somewhat of an internet debate. What isn’t an internet debate is the performance benefit of replacing the stock headers with an aftermarket set. The larger diameter pipes, modified routing, and cat deletes have given owners around a 20-wheel horsepower bump over stock without any other modifications—of course, there’s more to gain with accompanying mods, too.

Some of the more popular choices are from companies like Supersprint and Status Gruppe, though the OEM CSL headers are a more affordable and equally available option. The CSL pieces can be found on eBay for under $1000 used, but the Status Gruppe headers are very similar in price. The Supersprints are more than double the price, although they seem to be the go-to with no budget. In between those options are offerings from aFe Power, Fabspeed, and Epic Motorsports, among others. Again, find someone local whose S54 you can experience personally, and maybe give a local BMW independent shop a call and see what they recommend. 

 

DME Tune

You can make all the changes you want to the S54, but without a retuned DME, they might as well all be for nothing. BMW, like every manufacturer, sets up their engine computers with the parameters necessary to keep their engines high-performing but reliable with the components fitted to them. When those things, like intakes and exhausts, change with power in mind, the DME should be recalibrated to take advantage of all of those improvements. With that in mind, there are a few different paths the S54 owners can take.

 

Supercharger Kits

Alright, so this may be punching the limits of “bolt-on,” but it still technically is. The “all-motor” naturally aspirated performance of the S54 is plenty for most, but other have to tinker. Stroker kits, big camshafts, and head porting are all the best ways to pull more power out of the straight-six but will cost nearly as much as an entire E46 M3 when done right. For quick, reliable, and relatively inexpensive horsepower, take a look at a bolt-on supercharger kit. 

You’ll likely be choosing between the kits from VF Engineering, ESS Tuning, and Active Autowerke. All three kits are made specifically for the S54 and its ITBs and feature largely the same components. Belt-driven centrifugal superchargers are present in all three kits, as are larger fuel injectors, a DME tune, an intercooler, and all of the brackets, clamps, hoses, and belts necessary for installation. The differences between them are their parts manufacturers and the types of parts included. The VF kit uses a Vortech supercharger with an air-to-water intercooler built into the new intake manifold. The AA kit uses a Rotrex supercharger and a front-mount air-to-air intercooler. Splitting the two is the VSS kit which uses a Vortech supercharger and an air-to-air intercooler. 

Depending on the horsepower you're looking for, there are a few different kit options to choose from for the VF and ESS kits. The kits offering more power will cost more than those offering less, but the average price is around $8000. Expensive, sure, but attempting to come close to that while normally aspirated is a wallet-destroying quest set for disappointment. 

 

BMW S54 Reliability Modifications 

By now it should be obvious that some of the original parts have some design flaws. With more time on their hands and teeming with S54 enthusiasts, the aftermarket has come up with more than a few improved parts that have proven to solve some of BMW’s oversights completely. If you're planning on any sort of regular spirited driving or track time, these are a must.

 

VANOS Hub

Even after acknowledging that their exhaust cam hub tabs had a penchant for breaking, BMW continued to manufacture their replacement parts with the same specifications they were originally designed with. As such, using an OE hub and pump disc will again result in breakage over time. 

Your best bet to avoid all that headache is to pick up a new hub from a few different aftermarket suppliers. The least expensive option comes from Beisan Systems, though that isn’t a dig at their quality. Machined from a billet of 4140 steel, their hub and VANOS oil pump disc combo reduces hub play to .05mm from the 1mm factory gap, a far tighter tolerance than any other aftermarket piece.  Beisan is one of the best resources on the S54’s issues. Their fixes and products reflect their extensive knowledge. VAC Motorsports is the next step up in price. Their hub is machined from a billet of 4340 steel and doesn’t require the use of a new oil pump disc like the Beisan piece. Lastly are the two options from Dr. Vanos. Both modified versions of the OE hub work as well as any other updated or upgraded disc but cost more than both the VAC and Beisan pieces. 

All three companies have good reputations in the BMW community, so you can’t go wrong with whichever hub you choose. The only way you could go wrong is by ignoring the requirements set by each of the companies. As mentioned, the VAC Motorsports and Dr. Vanos D300 hubs state that you can reuse the original VANOS pump disc. On the other hand, the Dr. Vanos Cryo-treated hub highly recommends a modified disc, and the Beisan hub requires a new Beisan disc. 

 

Oil Pumps

The VANOS issues are scary because of the cost, but I’d argue that the oil pump sprocket shearing off of its shaft while doing 100+ on the front straight at Lime Rock Park is much worse. With that in mind, the VAC Motorsports oil pump upgrade kit is your only sure-fire way to prevent that failure. You’ll see plenty of people with the safety-wired nut or welded nut on the oil pump drive if you do some of your own research, and those are effective solutions to the nut backing itself off. However, that doesn’t stop the sprocket from shearing off the shaft and falling into the oil pan. 

BMW S54 Engine Guide Oil Pump Nut

The VAC kit is designed to prevent any failures associated with the oil pump. It includes a specially designed oil pump shaft and matching sprocket. Instead of the sprocket sliding over a threaded portion of the shaft to be held on by a nut, the VAC pieces use a bolt to secure the sprocket. This is the only kit out there for upgrading the sprocket and shaft, so your options are obviously limited. 

If you’re looking for a more serious upgrade that would ensure you have constant oil pressure even under the most aggressive race conditions but not from a full dry-sump setup, then the VAC Motorsports high-volume oil pump is the only choice. Along with their upgraded shaft and sprocket kit, the new pump uses a custom gear with a larger sweep area to improve volume by 22%. The pump has been around for quite some time and is well proven in hillclimb, drift, and circuit applications. 

 

Camshaft Sprocket Bolts

While you’re in there likely fixing some kind of VANOS issue, the cam sprocket bolts are an absolute must-do. The most difficult part of replacing the bolts is having the correct BMW specialist tools to set the cams in position while the timing chain and sprockets are removed from them. The tools can be bought or rented for anyone looking to DIY the job to save themselves some money.

Once you have the tools, replacing the bolts is fairly straightforward. Replacing them with the stock OE bolts isn’t going to fix any problems, so you’ll need to grab some aftermarket fasteners. You can find assembled kits with the requisite bolts from VAC Motorsports and Lang Racing. Both kits use 12.9-grade inner cam bolts and 10.9 outers to prevent the loosening and shearing issues that plagued the later S54s. For around $30 for a set of 24 bolts, it is truly an inexpensive way to sure up one of the S54’s most significant weaknesses.

 

VANOS Sealing Plate Seals

The sealing plate between the VANOS solenoid block and the cylinder head is responsible for keeping the engine’s oil inside the engine and the solenoids. The Nitrile rubber material BMW used for the sealing rings on the plate doesn’t have the proper heat resistance to be used in that application and has a tendency to shrink and flatten over time. That deformity lets oil leak on by and down the front of the engine. 

The best fix for the sealing plate comes from Beisan Systems. They offer a very inexpensive kit that replaces the nitrile rings with ones made from Viton, a much stronger material that won’t deform due to heat. This fix is easy to make and is easily accomplished during any other VANOS-related repair.

 

BMW S54 FAQ

With so many potential issues, upgrade paths, and types of ownership, there is no shortage of frequently asked questions about the S54. All of the cars they came in have gone through their depreciation curve and are starting to appreciate in the currently wild market. Different examples will have their own needs, but all of the common and major problems are shared between every engine. Do your homework, get the service documentation, and treat it right; you’ll be fine. 

 

Is The BMW S54 Engine Reliable?

BMW’s S54B32 has a fairly straightforward engine design without too many overly complicated systems involved in the operation. In terms of outright reliability, the S54 can be as reliable as any other BMW engine. They’re built to a tight tolerance and must be treated properly according to BMW maintenance recommendations for consistent, trouble-free operation. Using the correct oil, taking care of the weak points, and using the engine regularly as BMW intended will all go a long way to preserving its high-performance ability. 

 

Which Oil Type Is Necessary For The BMW S54 Engine?

There have been quite a few keyboard wars over which oil is best to use in the S54. The original BMW-approved oil for the S54 was 10w60 Castrol TWS. While it is what BMW wanted 20 years ago, they switched oil suppliers in 2015 and stopped offering the TWS. You’ll likely pay around $20 a quart if you can find it, though there are now less expensive options that offer the same protection to those suspect rod bearings. 

Sticking with the OE,  BMW has a new 10w60 synthetic oil specified for their normally-aspirated M engines. We may not know the specifics of the formula, but one has to assume it is up to the exact specs of the Castrol TWS if they aren’t better. Don’t want to go with the BMW-branded oil? Try out LIQUI MOLY’s 10w60 Racetech GT1. Also synthetic, its high-performance, race-oriented properties deliver the film shear strength required by the S54’s rev-happy nature. Other 10w60 synthetics like Castrol EDGE, Red Line, and Motul 8100 X-Power deliver the proper weight and viscosity; however, their use in the S54 has been the subject of debates on forums. Talk to your local independent shop about what they prefer to use or just get the stuff from the dealer. Either way, you’ll likely be fine.

 

Which Coolant Type Is Necessary For The BMW S54 Engine?

Only the genuine BMW blue antifreeze should be used in the S54. It is formulated to the proper G48 specification for the S54 engine to prevent corrosion inside the block. When buying your engine-cooling fluid, ensure you understand what you're buying. The Genuine stuff comes as non-distilled antifreeze in one-gallon or one-liter size. Antifreeze alone isn't ideal for any engine and needs to be split 50/50 with distilled water. 

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Written by :
Christian Schaefer

Owner of a flat-six swapped 1998 Impreza 2.5RS and a 1973 Porsche 914. Horizontally opposed views, only.


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