This article is one in a series that have been released in conjunction with Wayne's new book, 101 Performance Projects for Your BMW 3 Series. The book contains 272 pages of full color projects detailing everything from performance mods to timing the camshafts. With more than 650+ full-color glossy photos accompanying extensive step-by-step procedures, this book is required reading in any 3 Series owner's collection. The book was released in August 2006, and is available for ordering now. See The Official Book Website for more details.
In 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 article: Jacking up your E36 BMW
Once 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.
Now 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.
Look at 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.
We now 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.
Now 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.
Once 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.
The new 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.
It's 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.
Now 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.
Take 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.
Now 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.
Now we 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!
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.