How To Adjust Valve On BMW Engine Code S38 or S14

Intro: I own/collect several BMW’s including 3’ E24 M6 1988, E28 M5, 1988 E30 M3 (S38/B36 engine swap), E30 M3 S14, so grand total of 6 BMW///M-cars. Since I want my engines to be in top condition, valve adjustment is a must. This service needs to be performed about every 10K-15K miles but also this varies with the driving condition.

I shopped around to get a quote in CA Los Angeles area. I got 1st estimate from Bavarian-Workshop for $500 plus Shims (about $600 total), BMW Century West gave me the quote about the same $120 per hour and believe me the mechanic will do commercial job on your car! So after the second estimate, I said to myself these people want to became rich very fast ! $600 for valve adjustment times 6 of my M-Cars $3600 Total for all of them! I don’t think so…

After the fat estimate amount I said to myself it’s time to learn how to do valve adjustment. In fact this is a very simple procedure and doesn’t require a professional.

Here is what you need to do -- step by step.

  1. You need the BMW double ended tappet depressor. BMW discontinued to sell this tool so you can buy it from Pelican Parts or Ebay search them on the web.
  2. You need BMW kit Filler Gauge includes 0.10mm, 0.15mm, 0.20mm, 0.25mm, 0.30mm, 0.35mm and that includes a BMW handle to keep it tight part#...... (Note: In fact you only need .30 and .35. They are really strong and after the 5th valve adjustment they don’t scratch ! )
  3. BMW shims are expensive; the price for each is about $8.50. The trick is to use 1991 Volvo shims which are the same shims as BMW and they are only $2.20 each.
  4. There are different sizes going from 3.00mm, 3.05mm all the way to 4.25mm thick with 0.05mm increase. I recommend you to buy 3 of each size just to have it because when you start the job you don’t want to end up using the shims you need and not complete the job because you have to order another and wait and wait 2 more days until they come by the mail or so.
  5. You need simple magnet that you can buy from Autozone or Pep Boys at the cashiers for the price of $3. You need it because it’s the perfect magnet to pick up the old shim.
  6. You need to get screw driver that is sharp at the edge because you need it when you depress the valves you need to stick the edge tool in the little nipple where you will lift the shim out of the bed.
  7. Valve cover caskets are a must -- they are cheap around $30 from World Pack because you don’twant any oil on the spark plugs. The valve cover gasket you don’t need to replace unless they are leaking.
  8. Micrometer is needed too. The best is digital -- makes the work faster. I personally use the micrometer for the 1st adjustment only. I never use it after that because if 3.75mm is too tight, you go down to 3.70mm or 3.65mm…
  9. On S38-S14 the normal vavle lash is from 0.28mm to 0.33mm. so say you are 0.30mm you are perfect.

Doing the Job

  1. Car has to be sit over night. This service has to be performed on a COLD engine.
  2. Remove spark coils carefully as well the engine valve hose ‘Breather’.
  3. Get 8mm socket and start removing all 18 nuts including the little washer. Use the magnet to get the washer out, it’s faster.
  4. After removing valve cover. Remove the FAN clutch and get 33mm pretty long socket, turn the crank shaft and adjust the intake valves.
  5. Set the cam between the nuts.
  6. Try to measure the valve lash with 0.30mm filler. Try to measure the clearance. If it doesn’t slide in, this means that the valve is too tight..
  7. Take the BMW tool depressor and with the wider part from the two ends you start depress the top one intake valve. Depressing it with your left hand slowly and with the right hand with the sharp screw-driver centered in to little cut nipple, in order to take the shim out of its bad. After you remove this shim from its place, take the magnet to take it out. Check the shim thickness. I have noticed that they are around 3.75mm. So if 3.75mm is tight you are taking 3.70mm and with magnet or hand you are sliding it back in to the shim bad. NOTE Make sure the shim is all in tight! After that remove gently the tool depressor and take the screw driver and center it into the little cut/nipple and rotate it sideways freely, which means that its on the right place! If it is doesn’t move this means that you installed it crooked! And then take the tool depressor and adjust the shim to its right place.
  8. On the Exhaust Valves there is oil all the time. If you do the job in your home garage, driveway and don’t have air hose to blow the oil, you need lots of rags so you can dissolve the oil. If you do have air you MUST have big rags to cover the area because it will become very messy and will smell of burnt oil for few days.
  9. After you complete the job install the Valve cover and make sure you start tightening the nuts from the inside to outside so you can have the perfectly tightened valve cover.
  10. Since the valve cover is off, it's good to check your timing chain for any stretches. At last few pictures, you can see the crankshaft pulley red mark has to match the black cog. It is a must to adjust the pulley clockwise. On both camshafts, the two marks have to match as shown on the picture. This example shows the perfect timing chain.

If you have specific questions, you can email me. Go to contact page »

I cannot be held liable for any actions, described here. This article does not provide any warranty. It is only my personal experience and works perfectly on my cars. Please use your judgement when you do mechanical or engine work.