General: I have read that BMW stopped offering tilt steering wheels on E36s after late model year 1995 due to increased U.S. accident safety standards. I don't know that this is true, but I do know that my 98 M3 didn't have one and I wanted one. Every internet post that I have read regarding this mod reports that it isn't worth the trouble; it's a lot of work for little tilt. Well, it is a lot of work, and the tilt doesn't have much travel (see pic); but only you can determine if it is worth it. To me, the value of the mod was measured in exclusivity, not cost or utility.
Replacing the steering column bearings as indicated in this DIY will also eliminate the infamous E36 steering wheel squeak. I did this mod in the evenings over the period of several weeks along with other stuff. However, I estimate that a competent mechanic with a reasonable set of tools, that has all the parts on hand and doesn't run into major difficulties can perform this DIY in about 4-8 hours. I didn't keep a tally of parts cost, but I estimate the total cost to be around $150. I was inspired to attempt this mod by Jim Powel, owner of apexcone.com. His write up on the subject can be found here: Jim Powell's Site
Disclaimer: I am not a professional mechanic; I am just a monkey that bought some tools from Harbor Freight. These procedures worked on my 1998 M3 Sedan; there is no guarantee that it will work with your BMW. I wrote this DIY a couple of weeks after I performed it, so I may leave out some details. All the information contained here may be wrong and you may waste your time, ruin your car and/or injure/kill yourself/your dog/etc. Do not attempt any procedures that are over your mechanical ability. Be warned that this DIY may adversely affect assemblies that are designed to protect you in an accident (airbag, steering column), so do not do it if this concerns you. With this being said, do not sue me if you hurt yourself, others, or your car.
ETK Diagram for tilt wheel steering column
ETK Diagram for tilt wheel steering spindle
|2||32-31-1-157-967||Ignition Switch Fracture Bolt|
|1||07-12-9-922-716||Lower Joint Self-Locking Hex Nut|
|1||1||1||32-31-1-093-025||Steering Column Tube|
|1||11||1||32-31-1-161-644||Hex nut with Plate|
|1||22||1||32-31-1-092-847||Joint Link Ball|
|1||23||1||32-31-1-159-764||Joint Link Pan|
|2||2||1||32-31-1-158-835||Steering Spindle Bearing Plastic|
|2||7||1||32-31-1-158-686||Steering Spindle Bearing Steel|
- Disconnect the battery ground strap. If you have a stock radio, ensure you have the activation code prior to removing the strap.
- Remove covers/panels
- Remove lower dash cover
- Remove lower valance panel
- Remove steering wheel. It is essential to wait at least 20 minutes from disconnecting the battery before disconnecting the airbag. Failure to do so could result in it deploying in your face causing significant injury. If that doesnÃ¢Ât scare you, youÃ¢Âll also get an airbag light requiring expensive reset from the dealer.
- Remove airbag. It is held on by two torx head screws facing the rear of the wheel.
- Unplug the airbag plug (you waited at least 20 minutes from disconnecting the battery, right?).
- Place airbag face-down someplace out of the way.
- Remove steering wheel retaining nut and steering wheel.
- Mark "12 o'clock" position of steering spindle with paint or permanent marker.
- Remove driverÃ¢Âs crash protection knee bolster.
- Remove steering column combination switch.
- Remove upper and lower steering column cover/casing.
- Disconnect and free wiring connectors at column.
- Unclip combination switch and remove from column.
- Disconnect steering spindle from lower joint. Working from the engine compartment, remove the nut and bolt from the lower joint. Soak the connection between the lower joint and steering spindle, or shaft, with penetrating oil like PB Blaster. Replace the self-locking nut during install.
- Release steering column at the firewall by turning the plastic fixing ring, or bayonet, counter-clockwise.
- Unscrew the steering column shear-bolts. The column is mounted to the dash console with anti-theft shear-bolts. These bolts do not have a surface that allows using wrenches. You must turn them with a hammer and chisel.
- Using a drill or small rotary tool, make a gouge into the shear-bolt. Make it large and deep enough to get your chisel point into it. Remember that you must chisel it counter-clockwise.
- Get your chisel in there and whack it. Whack and repeat until you get the two bolts out.
- Unscrew the bolt that goes through the column and dashboard carrier. It will be easier to get to from the top if you remove your dash cluster. The cluster is only held in with a couple of screws.
- Remove the steering column.
- The column is held in four places, 1) the lower joint inside engine compartment, 2) the fixing ring at the inside fire wall, and 3) two places in the dash console.
- The steering column spindle may be stuck to the lower joint. Soaking it in penetrating oil will help loosen rust. You may have to strike the end of the spindle to release the bond.
- Disassemble steering column. At this point, you have the steering column out. The steering spindle is held in the column tube by clips at either end.
- Remove ignition switch. The ignition switch must be removed because of the locking mechanism. Unscrew the ignition switch assembly shear-bolts and remove assembly.
- Remove clip from lower portion of spindle (lower joint end) and remove parts. This clip was fairly easy to remove with standard tools. I think I used a small screwdriver.
- Remove clip from upper portion of spindle (steering wheel end) and remove parts. This clip was more difficult to remove. I used a couple of small screwdrivers and needle nosed pliers.
- Inspection. At this point you should inspect your steering spindle (no need to inspect the column tube; it will be replaced). The parts list above only indicates to replace spindle bearings; you may need to replace others. You will probably have to clean the spindle of rust. I used navel jelly and a green pad. Some of your other parts may have rust as well.
- Reinstall spindle.
- Column tube. Items 22-25 in diagram 1 fit outside of the new column tube and are held in place by friction. These parts hold the tube to your interior firewall. Place them far enough up the tube so they donÃ¢Ât get in the way when you install the assembly.
- Lower spindle. Install items 7-11 in diagram 2. Ensure the recess of the collar (# 3 of diagram 3) points to snap ring. Item 7 is the metal bearing that easily presses into the column tube, but you must lubricate bearing seat with grease. Lubricate the spring (item 9) with grease too. The clip (item 11) should easily go on.
- Upper spindle. Insert plastic bearing inner sleeve with beveled end pointed in. Installation sequence is plastic bearing, backup ring, and then snap ring. I had to use a socket and hammer to Ã¢ÂpressÃ¢Â the snap ring back in.
- Mount tilt mechanism (refer to tilt diagram 4). Apply grease to the contact surfaces of the mounting block (#3) and column tube (#9). Place column tube between the mounting block ears.
- Screw dowel pin (#2) into lever (#4) so that the square part Ã¢ÂfixesÃ¢Â the pin in the mounting block and prevents the pin from spinning when the lever is centered between the mounting block ears.
- Screw locking pin (#5) into lever so that the square part Ã¢ÂfixesÃ¢Â the pin in the mounting block when lever is centered between the mounting block ears.
- Screw nut onto dowel pin to 7 Nm. You will note that the two pins screw into the lever in different directions. This causes the pins to pull the mounting block ears together when the lever is pulled up, and forces them open when the lever is pushed down. You will have to finesse the adjustments until it works properly.
- Install lock washer (#6). The diagram seems to show it going between the locking pin and mounting block, but the square part of the pin does not allow it. I installed it in the inside of the block, pushing it through the locking pin threads. However, I do not know what it is supposed to do.
- Mount return spring at the bottom of the column tube and fixing the ends on the mounting block tabs.
- Mount rubber stop between mounting block and column tube.
- Reinstall ignition switch.
- Insert spindle through ignition block and position block under column. Ensure dowel pin fits into bore (see diagram 5).
- Position ignition block cap and secure assembly with shear bolts. These bolts are secured with a torx socket. Proper torque is achieved when the torx end of the bolt shears off from the main bolt.
- Install steering column assembly. You will require the assistance of a second set of hands for this step.
- Connect spindle to lower joint. Maneuver steering column through hole in firewall. One person must hold the column inside while the other guides the spindle into the lower joint. The lower joint bolt must be removed in order for the spindle to fit. The person inside must ensure that the mark you made on the spindle (see removal step 3) is pointed to 12 oÃ¢Âclock. You may require a light lubricant to fit the spindle into the joint and the person inside may have to give it a whack or two. The lower joint bolt will only fit if the spindle is positioned inside the joint at the right place. Move spindle forward and back until the bolt is all the way through. Tighten with a new self-locking nut.
- Connect column to dash console. With second person still holding the column, thread shear-bolts into the console. The second person can now go back to sleep. While the shear-bolts are still loose, install the long bolt (item 7 in figure 1) that goes through the dash console and the column mounting block. Tighten shear-bolts until the torx Ã¢ÂtitÃ¢Â shears off. Tighten the mounting block bolt.
- Connect fixing ring to firewall.
- Reassemble everything else in reverse order.
- Combination switch and casing.
- Knee bolster
- Steering wheel
- Dash panels
- Battery ground (note: ensure you connect airbag prior to battery ground)
Time to celebrate. Sure, it was a PITA and the tilt hardly moves, but you now have completed a mod that very, very few 96+ E36s have.