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BMW Technical Article

BMW E36 3 Series Front Suspension Overhaul
Jared Fenton
Wayne R. Dempsey

Difficulty Level: 4
Difficulty scale: Adding air to your tires is level one
Rebuilding a BMW Motor is level ten

     In this tech article, we will discuss replacement of the front strut assemblies on the BMW E36 3 Series.  This article applies to the front suspension on all 318, 325, 328, and M3 models from 1992-99.

     The first step in overhauling the front suspension is to loosen the legs on the front wheels while the vehicle is on the ground, but do not remove them. Just get them loose and then snug them back up. Next jack up the front of the car. If you are unfamiliar with the correct way to jack up the front of the E36, you can check out Wayneís tech article on jacking the E36.


     Once the vehicle is firmly supported by jack stands, remove the lugs and take the wheels off. You will now see the suspension strut assembly.  To remove the strut assembly, first look at the brake calipers. On both sides of the car, you will need to first disconnect the ABS sensor wire. Simply unplug it at the connector. On the driverís side, you will need to disconnect the brake wear indicator sensor.

     Next, you will need to remove the calipers. Look at the backside of the calipers; you will see two rubber grommets that have plastic plugs inserted into them. Remove these plastic inserts. Directly behind them are two 7mm Allen head bolts. These are the caliper mounting guide bolts. Use a 7mm Allen key to loosen then remove them. Now look at the front, you will see the brake pad retaining clip. Use a screwdriver to pry it off. Once removed, pull the caliper off the rotor. You may need to force it a bit to get the caliper off. Take the brake pads off at this time as well. Use a zip tie to secure the caliper to frame and to prevent it from hanging by the brake line.

     With the caliper off, we will now have to remove the lower caliper mounting bracket. Two large bolts on the top and bottom hold this on. They are located behind the rotor. Remove these bolts and take the frame off the rotor. Next we have to remove the rotor. A single Allen head screw in front holds this on. Itís a good idea to use a fair amount of penetrant spray around this screw to prevent stripping or seizing. Use an Allen key to remove this screw and pull the rotor off the hub. Now, with the rotor removed you will now see the dust shield behind the rotor. Locate the three bolts that hold it in place and remove the dust shield.

     Next we will need to remove the sway bar drop links. Some E36 models were sold without sway bars, so if your vehicle does not have sway bars, skip to the next step. To remove the sway bar links, you will first need to place a jack under each strut and compress the strut until the sway bar links become level on either side. To do this, place the jack directly under the strut itself and carefully compress the strut. What you ideally want is roughly the angle that the car sits at when on the ground.  Make sure both sides are compressed to roughly the same amount, otherwise the links will not come out. To remove the links, just undo the 199mm nut on the bottom of the control arm. When you decompress the strut, the sway bar links will pull out of the control arm merely from the tension on the sway bar.

     Now we are ready to actually remove the strut. The first step is to place a jack stand under the hub to prevent the control arm from dropping to the floor and causing a lot of damage to the tie rods. With the control arms supported, open the hood and locate the upper strut mount perches. There are three 10mm nuts holding the strut assembly in the perch. Remove these nuts. The strut assembly will be free of the strut perches. 

     Look at the back of the control arm assembly. The strut is held onto the control arm below by two bolts.  Secure the strut assembly and remove these two bolts. You may need a helper to hold the strut assembly as you undo these bolts. Once the bolts are out, the strut will be free from the car.

     Now that the strut is removed, place it in a vice and hold it from the bottom. Now you will need a spring compressor to take the tension off the coil spring, so we can remove the top mounting plate and spring retainer. Now is a good time to mention safety. When you are using a coil spring compressor, be sure to wear goggles and use extreme caution, if a compressor slips off the spring, it can cause SERIOUS damage. These springs, while compressed, have enough potential energy stored in them to break bones or worse. When compressing the springs, turn each side equally, til you have relieved enough tension on the spring to remove the retainer.

     Next we will remove the upper strut mount/spring retainer. To do this, look at the top of the strut. Remove the small plastic cover in the center of the mount. Directly below is the retaining nut for the mount/retainer. Using an impact wrench, take this nut off. Pull the strut mount off the top of the assembly.  Next, remove the upper strut retainer.  Once both are free, remove the compressed coil spring and set it aside. In this instance, we will be re-using the stock springs. However if you are replacing the springs, carefully relieve the compressors from the old springs and place them on the new spring, and compress it.

     Look at the new strut assembly. It will be necessary to remove the lower rubber gasket from the old strut and transfer it onto the strut assembly. This is the lower spring retaining pad. Once the pad is in place, put the old (or new) compressed coil spring over the upper strut rod. Make sure that the coil spring fits in the pad correctly with the end of the spring in the recessed portion of the rubber pad and strut. Slide the protective boot or bump stop over the strut rod. Now place the upper retaining rubber pad over the coil spring, making sure it fits correctly. Place the metal retaining plate over the rubber pad also making sure that it fits correctly. With these two parts in place, place the upper strut mount over the strut rod and thread the new strut retaining bolt on the shock rod. Use an impact wrench to tighten the nut down. Now remove the spring compressors on the coil spring. As before, use caution while doing this.

     Now that we have changed the strut assembly, we are ready to bolt it back onto the car. Have a helper hold the strut assembly from below the car, and guide it up through the strut perch. Make sure that you have the studs lined up correctly whole doing this as they indexed to fit in only one way. Once the strut assembly is through the strut perch, re-install the three 10mm nuts that hold it in place and torque them to 16 ft/lbs.

     Next, get back under the car and use two new self-locking bolts to attach the strut assembly to the control arm. Torque them to 24 ft/lbs. Now remove the jack supporting the control arm. Bolt the splash shield back on the hub using the three bolts removed earlier. Now re-install the rotor, itís a good idea to use a new set screw to hold it in place. With the rotor in place, re-attach the caliper mounting bracket and torque the bolts to 50 ft/lbs. Now cut the zip-tie securing the caliper. Place the brake pads in the caliper, and slide the caliper over the rotor. Re-install the two 7mm Allen head bolts and place the plastic inserts back in the rubber grommets. On the front of the caliper, re-install the brake pad retaining clip.  Now re0install the brake pad wear indicator on the driverís side as well as the ABS sensors on both sides.

     Now to re-install the sway bars links you will need to position the link in itís mounting hole as you jack up the control arm. As you jack it up, the sway bar link will slide in. Use a new 19mm self-locking nut on the bottom and tighten. Now remove the jacks from under the strut assembly.

     Now re-install the wheels, snug up the lugs and lower the car. Once on the ground, using a criss-cross pattern, tighten the lugs.

     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:
Devon Comments: So I have a 1998 323is. I had the front suspension overhauled. Replaced springs, struts, struts mounts, control arms, Tie rods, sway bar bushings, etc. Everything. I got the car back and noticed the tie rods now press against my brake dust shields on both sides. So far it doesnt press the shields into the rotors, but another 1/2" on either side and they will rub. Cause? And is it ok to leave like this as long as they don't move any further towards the rotors? Of course tge mechanic said no worries, but I cant help but worry. Tie rods are not supposed to be out that far... thanks for your thoughts.
August 18, 2016
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: hard to tell from the photo, but it looks normal. - Nick at Pelican Parts  

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