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Replacing Rear Shocks and Springs on Your BMW

Pelican Technical Article:

Replacing Rear Shocks and Springs on Your BMW


2 hours2 hrs






Floor jack and two jack stands, 17mm socket and driver, Vise-grips, 18mm socket and driver, 17mm Allen key, blue Loc-tite, 6-foot pry bar, spring compressor tool

Applicable Models:

BMW E30 3-Series (1984-93)
BMW E36 3-Series (1992-99)

Parts Required:

Rear shocks and coil springs

Performance Gain:

Eliminate that annoying bounce when you go over uneven surfaces

Complementary Modification:

Replace the front shocks and springs
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Replacing the rear shocks is easier than the front shocks. The rear shocks are basically a bolt-in replacement. Before you begin, jack up the rear of the car (see Project 1). You don't need to remove the rear wheels if you're only replacing the rear shocks.

To remove the rear shock, place a jack under the rear trailing arm and lift it up slightly. The shocks support the weight of the trailing arm when the car is suspended in air, so you need to remove this tension from the shock prior to removal. With the bottom disconnected, remove the top of the shock and the rear shock mount (see Project 62). Replacement simply involves bolting in the new shock.

Replacement of the springs is a bit more difficult, and the procedures for the E30 and E36 vary slightly. First, the E30 procedure: Begin by unbolting the bottom of the shock from the trailing arm. Then undo the straps that attach the muffler to the car, along with the front exhaust mounting bracket. You will need the exhaust to be somewhat loose so you can drop down the trailing arms and they won't get hung up on the muffler pipes.

Disconnect the sway bar drop links. Then place your floor jack underneath the rear differential and support its weight. Remove the mounting bolt from the rubber differential mount. Inspect this rubber mount and replace it if it's worn. Also disconnect the speedometer sender connection. Slowly drop the differential a few inches to lower the pivot point for the CV joints and allow you to rotate the trailing arms downward. As you lower the rear suspension, make sure the brake cables and hoses don't catch on the rear sway bar. With the trailing arms lowered, have a helper push down on them with a shoe so you can remove the springs. Install the new springs and raise the rear suspension back up. Reconnect the sway bar, speed sensor, muffler straps and bracket, and rear shocks.

The E36 spring replacement is a bit easier. With the rear of the car raised, disconnect the rear shock. Be sure the emergency brake is released (handle down). On the 318is in this set of photos, I had to disconnect the rear sway bar from the trailing arm and the chassis. The bar kept getting caught between the exhaust and the trailing arm, and didn't allow the arm to drop down enough. Using a 6-foot-long pry bar, pull down the rear trailing arm by putting your weight on the end of the bar. With the trailing arm depressed downward, reach in and pull out the rear spring. I used a long piece of pipe normally used for gas lines since this type of pipe is cheap available at most hardware stores. Don't try to muscle your way through it without the pipe--it makes the task a whole lot easier. With the new spring in place, reconnect the rear sway bar and rear shock.

With both the E30 and E36, carefully inspect the rear rubber spring pads. Most of the time they will be perfectly fine, but if they are really old, they may be cracked or worn out. If you encounter tire clearance problems, you can raise up the rear of the car by substituting the upper rear spring pad with a thicker one. Stock E36 thickness is 7.5 millimeters. Replacement spring pads are available in 10 millimeters (part number 33-53-1-136-387) or 5 millimeters (part number 33-53-1-136-385). You can also clip away the center nipple from the pads and combine them for extra height.

Many people purchase spring kits in order to lower the car from its original height. One word of caution: The stock M3 suspension components are designed to already have the car sit low to the ground. So, if you purchase a spring kit designed to lower an M3 and install it on a stock 3 Series, the car will probably sit higher than you want. If you wish to properly lower your stock 3 Series, use the kits that are specifically designed to lower these cars, as they will compensate for the non-M3 components. Also, if you use a spring set to lower your car, you will have to cut down the rubber bumper stop an amount equal to the amount you're lowering. Otherwise, you'll bottom out the shocks against the stop more often.

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Figure 1

Support the rear trailing arm with the edge of a floor jack to take some compression force off of the shock. Remove the bolt (green arrow), and the bottom of the shock will be disconnected from the trailing arm.

Figure 2

Shown here is the rear spring configuration for an E30 (very similar to the E36). The spring sits between the trailing arm and the frame of the chassis.

Figure 3

For E30 spring removal, drop the rear differential to aid in removing the springs. A single mount attaches the rear differential to the chassis (blue arrow). Place a jack underneath the differential and remove the mounting bolt. Now lower the differential and remove the springs. Disconnect the speed sensor from the rear differential prior to lowering the assembly (green arrow).

Figure 4

With the differential lowered, remove the spring from the rear trailing arm. If you don't have enough room to completely remove the spring, use a spring compressor to compress the spring enough to remove it. Shown in this photo are the spring mount (blue arrow), the disconnected shock absorber (red arrow), and the sway bar drop link (green arrow), which has also been disconnected from the rear trailing arm.

Figure 5

The new springs should simply slide into place. If they don't fit, you may need to compress them slightly with a spring compressor tool.

Figure 6

Removing the E36's rear springs (yellow arrow) is pretty easy. Simply get a long piece of pipe (blue arrow), and wedge it into the rear trailing arm. Placing your weight on the pipe, should enable you to pull the spring out. To gain extra maneuvering room with the trailing arm, you may need to disconnect the rear sway bar drop links (green arrow). Inspect the upper spring pad (red arrow) and the lower one (purple arrow) for cracks due to age.

Comments and Suggestions:
Jeremy Comments: Hi, I have an e36 318is and have been searching to find the differences of the rear suspension from the 318is to the rest of the bigger brothers. Subframe, spring perches, etc. It seems spring choice is different from mine to the rest of the cars. Any insight would be welcome!

February 3, 2016
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: I would assume the springs are different due to vehicle weight and ride height. There are likely shock differences too. Give our parts specialists a call at 1-888-280-7799. They can figure out what part or repair kit you need.
- Nick at Pelican Parts
Murray Comments: When under heavy acceleration, I feel an occasional slosh as if the rear wheel especially the rear right one is moving, though it is properly bolted to the car. It resembles a fishtail in a way but occurs a few seconds or so after launch, and it doesn't feel like usual tire slip. Is this a possible degradation issue with the suspension or with the CV joints, bearings, etc.
It's a '97 328i convertible, with a Bilstein lowering kit that was installed before I purchased it, if that helps.
August 19, 2015
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: Check the trailing arm bushing that mounts to the body just in front of the rear wheel. One side may be worn out. - Nick at Pelican Parts  
Rick Comments: I am replacing shocks and struts on my '96 Z3 and found that the bushing sleeve on the original Sachs rear shocks is extended to provide spacing between the shock and trailing arm. I am replacing with Bilsteins that do not have this extended sleeve. I have attached a picture of the two shocks and the mounting bolts.
My issue is that the new mounting bolts are the same length as the original mounting bolts, and this leaves ~1 cm of space between the shock mount and the trailing arm.

Has anyone else had this issue? Is there a bushing that should be used to take up the dead space, or should a shorter bolt be used?

At the moment, my solution is to use a nut as a spacer between the shock and trailing arm. Thoughts?
May 13, 2015
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: I am pretty sure you will need a chock with the same bushing as it originally came equipped with. There may be a sleeve available to adapt the new shock, but I would think it would come with the new shock. Give our parts specialists a call at 1-888-280-7799. They can figure out what part or repair kit you need.
- Nick at Pelican Parts
ray Comments: just replaced my rear shocks with kyb's, but the driver side, that's the right side of the car for me seems to sit lower to the tyre. I did read your instructions pre change, but....
September 30, 2014
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: but? You left me hanging there.

Confirm the part number is correct, if so, inspect the coil springs. - Nick at Pelican Parts
BG Comments: So the rear of my 1994 318is is not stable at highway speeds anymore: It tends to jump sideways upon crossing potholes.

If I use both hands to push down on the rear fender, the suspension yo yo's up and down a couple of times.

Do I need to replace the struts, coil springs or both? How can I determine whether control arm bushings need replacement too?
September 11, 2014
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: If it bounces, the struts are likely bad. Also inspect the bushings on the trailing arms. - Nick at Pelican Parts  
ScottBrianB Comments: Where did you source those mount reinforcement plate pieces that are crescent cut, as in this photo

I have a convertible and cannot use the full size reinforcement plates sold to other e36 owners.
April 21, 2014
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: Through Pelican Parts. Give our parts specialists a call at 1-888-280-7799 and they can help figure out which part or repair kit you need.
- Nick at Pelican Parts
Mick Comments: I'm installing KYB gas-a-just shocks on my 325e and I have two questions:
1 I don't see where the bumpstops go. P/N 33-52-1-125-078
2 I am using RSM# 33-52-6-779-670 and I'm unsure how many "Plates" I should be installing. Should it look like this picture from one of your other tech articles?
November 15, 2013
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: Yes, that is the factory set up. If there aren't any directions to tell you otherwise, install the components in that order. - Nick at Pelican Parts  
GlennJ Comments: Thanks! another great write-up! Just a note for E36 rear springs - while pipe does work, it tends to bend the control arm slightly just cosmetically. As it turns out, if you have done the X-brace mod, the old bar is the PERFECT tool for this! It is just the right shape that it pushes against a stronger part of the arm. So, if you happen to have one of these lying around unlikely, but you never know it's great.
October 14, 2013
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: Thanks for the feedback. Glad we could help. - Nick at Pelican Parts  

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