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Replacing Your Front Control Arm Bushings on Your AWD BMW
 
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Pelican Technical Article:

Replacing Your Front Control Arm Bushings on Your AWD BMW

Nick Czerula

Time:

3 hours3 hrs

Tab:

$300

Talent:

*****

Tools:

Set of sockets, soft faced hammer

Applicable Models:

BMW 325xi Sedan/Wagon (2001-05)
BMW 330xi Sedan (2001-05)

Parts Required:

Ball joint, front control arm, control arm bushing

Hot Tip:

Wiggle the control arm side-to-side to test the bushings

Performance Gain:

Smoother, stiffer suspension

Complementary Modification:

Replace the other suspension bushings as well

BMW E46 front suspension main components are as follows:

  • The front subframe provides a rigid platform for mounting the drive train (engine and transmission), steering rack and most front suspension components. The subframe design on rear-wheel drive and all-wheel drive models differs substantially.
  • Lower control arms on left and right, each with three attachment points: 
    • Bushing at rear anchoring control arm to car frame (rear-wheel drive) or subframe (all-wheel drive).
    • Ball joint at front attaching to subframe.
    • Ball joint at outer end attaching to steering knuckle.
  • Coil springs and shock absorbers in MacPherson strut configuration. 
  • Stabilizer bar anchored at front subframe and attached via stabilizer links to struts.

The front control arm on the E46 chassis has three common areas of trouble: The ball joint that connects to the steering knuckle, the ball joint that attaches to the subframe and the control arm bushing. Bushing failure can cause a number of ride quality problems. You may have a shudder when braking or a clunk when you hit a bump. When replacing your front control arm, I suggest replacing the bushing and both ball joints. Inspect your control arm bushing and ball joints for looseness by jacking up the front of your vehicle and moving each wheel side to side. If you feel looseness in the attachment points, this indicates a problem. You may need help from a friend to watch the control arm components while you wiggle the wheel.

In this tech article, we will go over the steps required in replacing the front control arm bushings on your all-wheel drive E46. If your model is rear-wheel drive, there is a separate article for you. Remember to replace these bushings in pairs.

Keep in mind that when your car was serviced before, parts may have been replaced with different size fasteners used in the replacement. The sizes of the nuts and bolts we give may be different from what you have, so be prepared with different size sockets and wrenches. 

Protect your eyes, hands and body from fluids, dust and debris while working on your vehicle. If you are working with the electrical system, disconnect the battery before beginning. Always catch fluids in appropriate containers and properly dispose of any fluid waste. Recycle parts, packaging and fluids when possible. Do not work on your vehicle if you feel the task is beyond your ability. 

Vehicle models change and evolve as they grow older, so the vehicle shown in our illustrations may vary slightly from yours. If something seems different, let us know and share your info to help other users. Do you have questions or want to add to the article? Leave a comment below. When leaving a comment, please leave your vehicle information.

The control arm has three areas of trouble: The ball joint that connects to steering knuckle (yellow arrow), the ball joint that attaches to subframe (green arrow) and the control arm bushing (purple arrow).
Figure 1

The control arm has three areas of trouble: The ball joint that connects to steering knuckle (yellow arrow), the ball joint that attaches to subframe (purple arrow) and the control arm bushing (green arrow).

To begin, raise and support the front of the vehicle on jack stands. If you need help with this step, please refer to our Pelican Parts Technical Article on Jacking Up Your BMW. Now remove the front wheel from the side of the vehicle you are replacing control arm on. Next, remove the lower splash shield and reinforcement plate. If you need help with this step, please refer to our Pelican Parts Technical Article on Removing the Splash Shield and Reinforcement Plate.
If your vehicle is equipped with Xenon headlights, remove the Xenon headlight height sensor from the control arm.
Figure 2

If your vehicle is equipped with Xenon headlights, remove the Xenon headlight height sensor from the control arm. Remove nuts (green arrows) and lay sensor arm (purple arrow) aside.

Working at the steering knuckle, remove the 16mm ball joint nut (green arrow).
Figure 3

Working at the steering knuckle, remove the 16mm ball joint nut (green arrow).

Then separate the ball joint from the steering knuckle using a pickle fork (photo shows RWD model, AWD model is similar).
Figure 4

Then separate the ball joint from the steering knuckle using a pickle fork (photo shows RWD model, AWD model is similar).

Next, working at subframe, loosen the two inner ball joint 18mm mounting fasteners (green arrow).
Figure 5

Next, working at subframe, loosen the two inner ball joint 18mm mounting fasteners (green arrow). You will be able to remove one of them, but will have to remove the other later.

Working at the rear of the front control arm, locate the fasteners.
Figure 6

Working at the rear of the front control arm, locate the fasteners. The control arm bushing bolts to the top of the subframe. Remove the two 16mm control arm bushing fasteners (green arrows).

Swing the control arm down and remove the final ball joint fastener.
Figure 7

Swing the control arm down and remove the final ball joint fastener. Then remove the control arm from the vehicle.

When installing the new control arm - first install the subframe ball joint to the subframe.
Figure 8

When installing the new control arm - first install the subframe ball joint to the subframe. Tighten the two 18mm fasteners. Then install the control arm and connect only the steering knuckle ball joint.

When tightening the steering knuckle ball joint, it may be necessary to place a jack under the ball joint to stop the stud from rotating.
Figure 9

When tightening the steering knuckle ball joint, it may be necessary to place a jack under the ball joint to stop the stud from rotating.

Apply a liberal amount of tire lube or dish soap to inside of the bushing.
Figure 10

Apply a liberal amount of tire lube or dish soap to inside of the bushing.

Then tap the bushing onto the control arm using a soft-faced hammer.
Figure 11

Then tap the bushing onto the control arm using a soft-faced hammer. Install the bushing fasteners and tighten. Next install and tighten the subframe ball joint nut.

Install the Xenon light height sensor, then install the splash shield and reinforcement plate and double check your work. If you have uneven tire wear, have your vehicle professionally aligned.
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Comments and Suggestions:
WW Comments: Somebody flipped left and right side bushing brackets on my car left bracket with right control arm. You always say to note position of the bushing but since they made that mistake I can't trust their bushing position either.
Do you have a value of how far should the bushing stick out on the front and back side of the bushing bracket?
Would somebody be able to measure that? I can't find that value anywhere.
August 23, 2016
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: Most models the bushing is centered. On AWD models, they are sometimes offset a little. I have seen them installed centered as well with no issue. - Nick at Pelican Parts  
BKL Comments: A problem if you are not replacing your control arm is separating the ball joint from the steering knuckle w/out damaging it. I replaced my control arms so I just used a fork. I did need to go back and do a bushing after I replaced my arms. I didn't bother to take the whole thing off. I think I tore the boot on the joint anyway.
5/8=16mm, nut for subframe ball joint is 22MM, my bushings were not centered in bracket. The hole in the bushing may not be centered in the bushing either. Replacement ball joints may not have same size nuts - Mine were 3/4 19mm and 7/8
May 4, 2016
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: Thanks for the additional info and feedback. We appreciate it.
- Nick at Pelican Parts
 
Unique Pieces Comments: thank you for your info on the bushing issue. Unfortunately my car did not have the bracket and bushing type. I did get it figured out. Only one video that I watched did it make mention of the pad wear sensor, mine did. It was on the left side only but it was rust to the old pad and I had to install a new one. Also again only one video I watched made mention of the ABS sensor. Believe me it was NOT just remove the little screw and pull it out. It took a 1/2 a can of Blaster and a whole lot of wiggling to finally get it out without twisting it off. I realize you can't completely cover every little bit. It would be nice to let people know about things like this and what one might run into.
March 24, 2016
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: You didn't mention what vehicle you have, E46 models use the bushing type shown. All notes for other items that need to be removed for this model are noted in the article. This is our technique, may vary from BMW's. - Nick at Pelican Parts  
Unique Pieces Comments: You show nothing on how to install a new bushing in the old housing and in your parts pictured the ONLY part you show is the bushing itself. There is big step in the procedure which is removing the old one and installing the new bushing in the old housing which is what it looks like you show. I hope this my help someone.
March 2, 2016
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: Most times, the bushing come with preinstalled in the bracket. If they are not preinstalled, use a shop press to remove the old and install the new bushing in and out of the bracket. Note the depth and position of the bushing. On some models, the bushing is not centered in the bracket.

The pressing steps at the end of this article are similar:

http://www.pelicanparts.com/BMW/techarticles/BMW-Z3/66-SUSPEN-Front_Control_Arm_Bushing_Replacement/66-SUSPEN-Front_Control_Arm_Bushing_Replacement.htm - Nick at Pelican Parts
 
Doppelrock Comments: Hello, and thank you for the great article. I'll need to buy my wrenches ahead of time for this project and want to get my ducks in a row seeing how this is my only car.

Three questions:

1. Can you verify what size socket I would need to remove the subframe ball joint from the control arm? I think it is 23mm, but am not sure.

2. Do you know if the bolts for the aft / lollipop bracket for the control arm bushing can be removed from the subframe with a simple 18mm socket, or if I need one of those slick low profile ratcheting wrenches.

3. I had heard, and it also makes sense, that a ball joint will spin in place, though I am unfamiliar. Are there hex wrench placements on the ball joints, or are they just firm enough to stay or lock somehow? I see that Figure 9 suggests placing a jack under the ball joint, however knowing my luck this probably won't work. Any feedback here would be much appreciated.

Thanks!

Rob
February 3, 2015
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: 1. 23 or 24, I don't remember exactly.

2. Regular sockets and wrenches.

3. That is why you place a jack under it, to stop it from spinning. - Nick at Pelican Parts
 
Doppelrock Comments: Hello, and thank you for the great article.

I'll need to buy my wrenches ahead of time for this project and want to get my ducks in a row seeing how this is my only car.

Three questions:

1. Can you verify what size socket I would need to remove the subframe ball joint from the control arm? I think it is 23mm, but am not sure.

2. Do you know if the bolts for the aft / lollipop bracket for the control arm bushing can be removed from the subframe with a simple 18mm socket, or if I need one of those slick low profile ratcheting wrenches.

3. I had heard, and it also makes sense, that a ball joint will spin in place, though I am unfamiliar. Are there hex wrench placements on the ball joints, or are they just firm enough to stay or lock somehow? I see that Figure 9 suggests placing a jack under the ball joint, however knowing my luck this probably won't work. Any feedback here would be much appreciated.

Thanks!

Rob
February 3, 2015
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: 1. 23 or 24, I don't remember exactly.

2. Regular sockets and wrenches.

3. That is why you place a jack under it, to stop it from spinning. - Nick at Pelican Parts
 

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Page last updated: Wed 12/7/2016 02:20:37 AM