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Retrofit a Tilt Wheel on your E36 BMW

Pelican Technical Article:

Retrofit a Tilt Wheel on your E36 BMW

Lars K. Staack


4-8 hours






13mm wrench, metric socket set and metric wrenches, ratchet, set of external Torx screws, White-out, paint or permanent marker, penetrating oil, hammer, chisel, electric drill and 1/8-inch drill bit, two small flatblade screwdrivers, needle-nose pliers, snap ring pliers, Naval jelly and emory pad, human helper (second pair of hands for installation), Dremel tool with cutoff wheel. offset flatblade screwdriver

Applicable Models:

BMW E36 3-Series (1992-99)

Parts Required:

Tilt steering column, spindle bearings, new fasteners as needed

Performance Gain:

Get a bit of steering tilt adjustability for your steering wheel and eliminate the infamous E36 steering wheel squeak

Complementary Modification:

Install an air horn

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 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.

Parts Required

ETK Diagram for tilt wheel steering column

ETK Diagram for tilt wheel steering spindle

Diag Item Qty Part Number Description
    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 3 1 32-31-1-159-757 Supporting Bracket
1 4 2 32-31-1-160-255 Fracture Bolt
1 11 1 32-31-1-161-644 Hex nut with Plate
1 12 1 32-31-1-159-755 Bolt
1 13 1 32-31-1-159-457 Lever
1 14 1 32-31-1-160-805 Circlip
1 15 1 32-31-1-159-756 Screw
1 16 1 32-31-1-160-902 Buffer Stop
1 17 1 32-31-1-159-458 Return Spring
1 22 1 32-31-1-092-847 Joint Link Ball
1 23 1 32-31-1-159-764 Joint Link Pan
1 24 1 32-31-1-159-763 Rubber Ring
1 29 1 32-31-1-160-677 Cover
2 2 1 32-31-1-158-835 Steering Spindle Bearing Plastic
2 3 1 32-31-1-158-478 Backup Ring
2 7 1 32-31-1-158-686 Steering Spindle Bearing Steel



  1. Disconnect the battery ground strap. If you have a stock radio, ensure you have the activation code prior to removing the strap.

  2. Remove covers/panels

    1. Remove lower dash cover
    2. Remove lower valance panel

  3. 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 doesnâÂt scare you, youâÂll also get an airbag light requiring expensive reset from the dealer.

    1. Remove airbag. It is held on by two torx head screws facing the rear of the wheel.
      1. Unplug the airbag plug (you waited at least 20 minutes from disconnecting the battery, right?).
      2. Place airbag face-down someplace out of the way.
    2. Remove steering wheel retaining nut and steering wheel.
    3. Mark "12 o'clock" position of steering spindle with paint or permanent marker.

  4. Remove driverâÂs crash protection knee bolster.

  5. Remove steering column combination switch.

    1. Remove upper and lower steering column cover/casing.
    2. Disconnect and free wiring connectors at column.
    3. Unclip combination switch and remove from column.

  6. 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.

  7. Release steering column at the firewall by turning the plastic fixing ring, or bayonet, counter-clockwise.

  8. 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.
    1. 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.
    2. Get your chisel in there and whack it. Whack and repeat until you get the two bolts out.

  9. 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.

  10. Remove the steering column.
    1. 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.
    2. 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.

  11. 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.
    1. Remove ignition switch. The ignition switch must be removed because of the locking mechanism. Unscrew the ignition switch assembly shear-bolts and remove assembly.
    2. 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.
    3. 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.


  1. 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.

  2. Reinstall spindle.
    1. 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 donâÂt get in the way when you install the assembly.
    2. 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.
    3. 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 âÂpressâ the snap ring back in.

  3. 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.
    1. Screw dowel pin (#2) into lever (#4) so that the square part âÂfixesâ the pin in the mounting block and prevents the pin from spinning when the lever is centered between the mounting block ears.
    2. Screw locking pin (#5) into lever so that the square part âÂfixesâ the pin in the mounting block when lever is centered between the mounting block ears.
    3. 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.
    4. 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.
    5. Mount return spring at the bottom of the column tube and fixing the ends on the mounting block tabs.
    6. Mount rubber stop between mounting block and column tube.

  4. Reinstall ignition switch.
    1. Insert spindle through ignition block and position block under column. Ensure dowel pin fits into bore (see diagram 5).
    2. 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.

  5. Install steering column assembly. You will require the assistance of a second set of hands for this step.
    1. 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 oâÂclock. 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.
    2. 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 âÂtitâ shears off. Tighten the mounting block bolt.
    3. Connect fixing ring to firewall.

  6. Reassemble everything else in reverse order.
    1. Combination switch and casing.
    2. Knee bolster
    3. Steering wheel
    4. Dash panels
    5. 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.

__________________ Lars

Comments and Suggestions: Comments: like have been fidling with my phone.. trying to get information on the ignition switch for bmw320i e36 1995 probably the diagram to no avail... I wonder if anyone can help there...I just see a lot o of wires 7!!but for other. switches it's just 4..
July 17, 2015
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: I don't have that wiring handy.

I would grab a repair manual. It will have the wiring.

Give our parts specialists a call at 1-888-280-7799. - Nick at Pelican Parts
90mx5texas Comments: I wonder if any e46 can be a donor for tis mod....
June 22, 2014
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: I don't believe so. - Nick at Pelican Parts  
polygaryd Comments: Oh and if you're going to pull a tilt column from a donor car instead of buy all new parts $50 vs $150. Pull one from a 95 and above if your car is a 95 or above. The 92 to 94 tube is an 1/8" less in diameter at the top of the tube which makes a difference for your lock cylinder mounting but that is all, I found out the hard way. The lock cylinder will tighten up to the column but you have to cut the retainer piece that has the sheer of bolts in it for length. I just didn't feel comfortable with the difference in the tubes even though it was slight so I pulled another one and measured it to be sure it was the right diameter.
November 8, 2013
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: Thanks again for the input on this one. We appreciate the help.
- Nick at Pelican Parts
polygaryd Comments: edgar I used 8mm x 1.25 thread pitch x 20mm long socket cap bolt for the ignition and 8mm x 1.25 x 30mm socket cap bolt for the column itself.

As a Really helpful side note: take the gas pedal housing off as well as the lower steering shaft, the one that goes into the weebo joint right at the rack and pinion, it is so much easier to take the column out this way and lightly tap off the lower steering shaft from the column out of the car. Rather than the probably correct way the writer of this dyi says to do it. I ended up breaking my gas pedal housing and thrashing the lower spindle splines that on the steering column side because I followed these directions of this dyi instead of the way I did it when I pulled the column from the donor car at the junk yard which was how I described above. Since I thrashed my lower steering spindle I then went back to the junk yard looking for the same type as the one I pulled with the column was an older style. The older style spindle was over all the same length but the u-joint was in a different place making the pivot point different and I didn't know if that would cause any issues. I took out 3 more steering columns looking for my type of lower steering shaft at the junk yard because the first 2 I took out had bad u-joints and of course bmw doesn't let you change them out and they want $180 for a new shaft. The 3rd one was good thank god but they all came out smooth as silk by disconnecting the lower steering shaft at the rack and pinion end and removing the gas pedal. I highly suggest this method. 4 to 1 my way works much better and takes very little extra time. I am including a picture so people know what the lower steering shaft looks like exactly. The bottom that connects to the weebo joint at the rack and pinion side has the splines on the outside and the top that connects to the steering column as the splines on the inside.
November 8, 2013
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: Thanks for the input on this one. We appreciate the help.
- Nick at Pelican Parts
edgar Comments: what are the specs of the 2 or 4? security bolts that need to be notched? I would like to have them on hand before removal. Thanks!
March 8, 2013
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: Giveo ur parts specialist a calls: 1-888-280-7799 They will halp you find the right bolts. - Nick at Pelican Parts  
The Horn Doctor Comments: Offset screwdriver removing security bolt after slotting with Dremel tool I didn't do such a good job of keeping the slot in the center of the bolt head, but it still worked
October 23, 2011
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: Thanks for the additional Info. We appreciate it. - Nick at Pelican Parts  
The Horn Doctor Comments: Picture of an offset screwdriver
October 23, 2011
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: Thanks for the additional Info. We appreciate it. - Nick at Pelican Parts  
The Horn Doctor Comments: Step 8, removing the security bolts. Here's a better way to do it: Get a Dremel or other small grinding tool, fit it with a thin abrasive cutoff disk, and grind a slot in the heads of the security bolts. Keeps the sides as square and even as possible. Once you have a "screwdriver slot" in the heads, use an offset screwdriver to remove the bolts. An offset screwdriver is like a "Z" with a straight screwdriver tip on each end, 90* from each other. You may need to start the screw unwinding with a punch and a whack from a hammer, but the bolts aren't very tight and are easily unscrewed with the offset driver.
October 23, 2011
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: Thanks for the additional Info. We appreciate it. - Nick at Pelican Parts  
babaei Comments: colum of steering wheel is made of two parts
August 21, 2010
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: The steering column is comprised of a bunch of parts to give the ability to tilt. - Nick at Pelican Parts  
tony Comments: thankyou for the info. was extremely helpfull!
January 14, 2010
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: Thanks for the feedback. Glad we could help. - Nick at Pelican Parts  

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