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Pelican Technical Article:

BMW Technical Article

BMW E36 3 Series Front Wheel Bearing Replacement
Jared Fenton
Wayne R. Dempsey

Difficulty Level: 3
Difficulty scale: Adding air to your tires is level one
Rebuilding a BMW Motor is level ten

     Are you starting to hear a grinding, wobbling noise coming from your front wheels? Have you noticed a wheel that shakes when you drive? Chances are the wheel bearings may be starting to fail. With most of the E36ís now reaching over 150,000 miles or more, the wheel bearings may be starting to show their age. In this tech article, I will go over the steps involved with removing the old wheel bearings and installing the new units. It is a relatively easy procedure and should be able to be performed in a few hours. This article applies to all BMW E36 3 Series models from 1992-99.

     The first step is to chock the rear wheels to keep them form rolling, then loosen the front lug bolts (but do not remove) and jack the front of the car up. You should make sure to jack the car up on a frame rail or other re-inforced part of the carís chassis to prevent the jack from damaging the body or worse. (I have seen cars that have holes through the floorboards from jacking the wrong way) A good reference is Wayneís article on jacking up the BMW E36.

     Once the car has been jacked up and is firmly supported on jack stands, remove the lug bolts and pull the front wheels off. You will now see a dust cap in the center of the rotor. Pry these both off. You will now see a large nut inside with a pin driven inside the axle shaft. Use a flat-head screwdriver to pry this pin back and out of the axle shaft. Now have a helper apply the brakes and loosen the nut. It may be helpful to use an impact wrench to get this nut off, as it is torques down to 214 ft./lbs. do not remove the nut at this time. We just need to get them loose.

     Now, look behind the brake caliper and disconnect the ABS speed sensors on both wheels. Also disconnect the brake wear indicator sensor on the driverís side wheel. Now look at the back of the brake calipers. You will see two rubber grommets with a plastic plug installed in them. Pry out these plastic plugs. Directly beneath them, you will see a 7mm Allen head bolt. Use a 7mm Allen head key to loosen then remove both bolts on each wheel. Look on the front of the caliper and pry off the brake retaining clips using a flat-head screwdriver. Now you will be able to pull the brake calipers off the mounting bracket.  Use a zip-tie or wire to suspend the brake caliper. Do not let the caliper hang by the brake lines, you may rip the lines. Now, remove the two 19mm bolts that hold the caliper mounting bracket to the hub, and remove the caliper mounting brackets.

     We now must remove the brake rotors. This is done by first removing the small Allen head set screw in the front of the rotor. You may find it helpful to spray these bolts with a good penetrant spray like WD-40 and let them sit overnight. This will prevent the screws from stripping or seizing. Remove the screws and pull the rotors off the hubs.

     Now, we need to use a puller to remove the wheel hub from the car. Thread the puller onto the hub using the holes for the lug bolts and center the puller on the axle shaft. Now remove the hub. It may take a while to remove this, so use plenty of WD-40 and keep pulling. Once off, remove the dust shield form the old hub, and transfer it onto the new hub.

     The wheel bearings on the E36 are an integral part of the hub, so the whole hub assembly must be replaced. The new hubs will come with the bearings already pre-installed. Take the new bearing/hub ad place it on the axle shaft. Use the puller to push it onto the axle shaft. Keep in mind to apply force only to the inner bearing race as you could damage the bearing. Drive the bearings as far as they will go onto the shaft. Now re-install the retaining nut, but do not tighten it right now.

     Now re-install the brake rotors, and use a new set screw to hold it in place. The old set screws are designed for one use only and can snap or break if you try to re-use them. Put the new set screws in and torque them to 12 ft./lbs.

     Next, fit the brake caliper mounting brackets over the rotor and bolt them back on to the hub. Torque the bolts to 81 ft./lbs. Now cut the zip-ties holding the rotors and place the brake pads into the calipers. Place the calipers back onto the mounting bracket and re-install the Allen head bolts that hold them in place and tighten the bolts down. Re-install the plastic plugs over the bolts on the rear of the caliper. Now re-install the caliper retaining clip one the front of the calipers. Re-connect the ABS speed sensors and the brake wear indicator on the driverís side.

     Have an assistant apply the brakes and torque the axle-retaining nut to 214 ft./lbs. You may find it helpful to use an impact wrench to get it on there. Once torqued, use a screwdriver to bend the tang into the axle shaft. This will keep the nuts from coming off. Now put a little bit of grease inside the dust cap and put them back on. Put the wheels back on and install the lug bolts (but do not tighten) now lower the car and tighten the lug bolts in a criss-cross pattern.

     Well, there you have it - it's really not too difficult at all.  If you would like to see more technical articles like this one, please continue to support Pelican Parts with all your parts needs.  If you like what you see here, then please visit our online BMW catalog and help support the collection and creating of new and informative technical articles like this one.  Your continued support directly affects the expansion and existence of this site and technical articles like this one.  As always, if you have any questions or comments about this helpful article, please drop us a line.

Comments and Suggestions:
Murray Comments: E36 328i 97- When I turn a sharp left in a parking lot I can hear a metal on metal, possibly metal on plastic scrape from the left front wheel. Would this be from the bearing assembly? It is the same sound other E36 owners tend to complain about. Thanks!
June 24, 2016
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: Could be worn brake pads. I would start by looking there. - Nick at Pelican Parts  
Chris Comments: What puller are you using? I don't see how it's possible to push the new bearing back on. The puller has nothing to bolt to or to bolt through.
September 14, 2014
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: I use a BMW model, however we can get you an aftermarket tool that is equivalent. Give our parts specialists a call at 1-888-280-7799. - Nick at Pelican Parts  
fred Comments: Overall, very good post! The only two changes/additions would be 6mm retaining bolt on rotor and no need go apply breaks when tightening axle nut.... the spindle is fixed and therefore doesn't rotate.
September 12, 2014
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: Thanks for the input on this one. We appreciate the help.
- Nick at Pelican Parts
fred Comments: The directions are off....mine needed a 6mm, not ab7mm allen and a 16mm, not a 19mm on the break.
August 12, 2014
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: Thanks for the additional info and feedback. We appreciate it.
- Nick at Pelican Parts
Ben Comments: I think these instructions are a bit off. There should be no need to apply the brakes while loosening or tightening the center nut. The retaining nut is attached to the spindle which does not rotate with the wheel. What am I missing?
October 13, 2013
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: The hub flange is inserted through the center of the bearing, the outside of the bearing is captured by the spindle. Therefore the center moves, it is necessary to hold it still when loosening. - Nick at Pelican Parts  
Jay Comments: The inner race was stuck and by the time I got it off I had put a bur and some scratches and even a partial little groove along the edge where the outside of the bearing edge will sit. A mechanic that came by to give me a hand said the axle was not compromised and told me to smoove over the bur with my dremel. I did this but I just wanted a second opinion. Im an engineer and I tend to overthink things.
July 31, 2012
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: As long as the damage is not where the ball bearings ride you are okay providing it's on the outside of the bearing facing the spindle - Nick at Pelican Parts  
rosco328i Comments: hi,the bearing has been changed but is still making the same "worn" noises,orinal thought was the other side needing replacing as well.could the new bearing be at fault,it wasnt a cheap part,got OE part,checked torque on the nut,if any tighter would stop the disc spining,the wheel still has movement top to bottom
January 16, 2011
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: If the noise was there before you replaced the bearing, and then you still have the noise, then I'm 99% sure that the noise is from something else. I would check the wheels and tires, also the alignment of the front suspension. It also doesn't sound like the installation was performed correctly - there should be no movement. Check out my more complete article on wheel bearing replacement here: - Wayne at Pelican Parts  
August 20, 2009
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: - Nick at Pelican Parts

Thank you , we are happy to help, thanks for the feedback.
aston Comments: thanks wayne... would it be possible to get the instructions to replace my clutch on a 1999 bmw 318ti m44 motor. i see the steps for a e36 but not for the 318ti compact. thanks again. cheers
aston martin tonniges
August 19, 2009
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: I believe that the procedure is 95% the same for the two cars. - Wayne at Pelican Parts  
aston Comments: hello is the 46 mm nut that holds the wheel bearing on normal threads, i cannot get it off. can you help. thanks aston martin tonniges
August 15, 2009
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: Yes, but it's tightened down with an incredible amount of torque. You might need a four-foot long breaker bar to get it off. - Wayne at Pelican Parts  

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