my continuing series of suspension technical articles for the BMW, I now
bring you my article for replacing the front control arms on the E36 3
Series cars from 1992-99. With many of the E36 models now reaching well
over 100K on the odometer, it’s not uncommon to start having suspension
squeaks and loose handling up front. The front suspension on the E36 3
Series was a small improvement over the earlier E30 front suspension. The
newer style suspension on these cars allows you the ability to replace the
outer control arm ball joint whereas you could not on the earlier models.
However the inner ball joint is the same as the E30 control arm and must
be replaced along with the arm. Keep in mind that it is highly recommended
that control arms always be replaced in pairs.
To begin, first chock the rear wheels to keep them from moving when the car
is up on the jack stands then loosen (but do not remove) the lug bolts.
You’ll find it nearly impossible to loosen them when the car is up in the
air. Now begin to jack the front of the car up using a structural member or
jack point. Wayne’s article on jacking up the front of the BMW E36 goes over
in detail how exactly to do this. I recommend that anyone not familiar with
jacking up the front of the car check the article out. Here is a link to the
Jacking up your E36 BMW
the car is up in the air and firmly supported on jack stands, remove the
lug bolts and pull the wheels off. Look at the backside of the rotor/hub
assembly and locate the sway bar drop links that attach to the control
arm. In order to remove these, we will need to jack up the control arm
assembly to as near as ride height as possible. Place a jack under the
control arm and jack the control arm up, then remove the nut that secures
the drop link to the control arm. Now lower the jack. As you lower the
jack, the drop link will pullout of the control arm. Repeat this procedure
for the other side.
locate the outer control arm ball joint. This is the joint that secures
the control arm to the rotor/hub assembly. You may have to turn the wheels
inward to access it. Locate the nut that holds the tapered ball joint in
place, then remove the nut using a breaker bar or open-end wrench. Once
free, tap the top of the control arm with a rubber mallet to free the
control arm from the rotor/hub assembly.
Be prepared for the strut assembly to expand slightly once free.
This is normal.
where the control arm mounts nearest the rear of the car. You will see a
large rubber bushing housed in a bracket bolted to the chassis. Remove the
two bolts holding this bracket to the car. The control arm will now be
only connected to the car by the inner ball joint.
need to remove the inner ball joint, which will free the old control arm
from the car. Look inside the engine compartment, on both sides, you will
see the nut that secures this joint to the car. Remove both nuts from
inside the engine compartment and use the rubber mallet to free the
control arm from the car.
that both control arms are now free, it is necessary to remove the bracket
containing the rubber bushing from the ends of each control arm. We will
need to transfer these to the new control arms. Keep in mind that these
rubber bushings are a very tight fit on the ends of the control arms.
Therefore, it is necessary to use a two or three jaw puller to remove them
from the control arm. Coat the ends of the control arm with grease to help
slide the bushing off. It may also be helpful to center punch the end of
the control arm. This will help you to seat the puller on the end of the
shaft. Now, use the puller to remove the bushing/bracket.
off, take the bracket over to the new control arm. BMW has a special,
kerosene-based lubricant that is used to help install the bushing. This
grease dries out after 30 minutes, essentially gluing the bushing in
place. Make a mental note of the position on the old control arms as to
how the bushings are mounted. This will save you headaches when you go to
put the bushings on and you realize it’s on backward or the left bracket
is on the right control arm.
control arms are shipped with new ball joints already pre-installed, so we
do not have to re-use the outer ball joint from the old control arm. Once
you have the mounting bushings installed on the end of the new control
arm, take it back to the car and line the control arm up to roughly it’s
installed position and press the inner ball joint tapered threads up
through the sub frame mounting point. You may find you need to hold it in
place with a jack. This will seat the tapered threads and help stop the
ball joint from spinning once you thread the nut on. So, install a new
self-locking nut on the threads and torque the nut to 62 ft./lbs. Repeat
this for the other side as well.
important to always use new self-locking nuts anytime you work on
suspension components. The plastic liners inside the nuts provide a
locking surface for the threads. Anytime you remove one of these nuts, it
renders these plastic liners are destroyed, effectively reducing the
effectiveness of the nut to tighten.
line up the outer ball joint with it’s respective hole in the rotor/hub
assembly and use the jack to again seat the tapered fitting. Once secured
with the jack, install a new self-locking nut and torque it to 48 ft./lbs.
Repeat this for both sides of the car.
the rear rubber bracket/bushing mount and secure it to the car using the
two bolts. Loosely thread both in before you start to torque them. Once
both are in, torque them both to 34 ft./lbs.
place the jack under the new control arm assembly. We will need to jack up
the arm so that the suspension drop link will slide into its mounting
point. As you jack up the arm, guide the drop link so it fit’s into the
mounting point on the control arm. Once installed, thread a new
self-locking nut onto the bolt and torque it to 31 ft./lbs. Repeat this
for both sides. Re-mount the front wheels and snug up the lug bolts.
are ready to lower the car. Start out by jacking up either side according
to Wayne’s article, and remove the jack stands from each side. Now
carefully lower the car and tighten the lug bolts on the wheels using a
criss cross pattern. Remove the chocks from the rear wheels and that’s
it, you’re done!
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