Having grown tired of getting clonked on the head by the cargo hatch on our 2000 e39 touring wagon I decided to replace the trunk lid dampers (also called struts or simply shocks). I’ve had the struts in my parts crib for over a year but didn’t feel brave enough to attempt the job until recently. Our wagon is currently not drivable so I was able to undertake the task while free from pressure to finish it immediately.

In total, the job took 4 hours but I spread it out over 2 days because of interruptions, family, life and of course going out to buy tools. I’ll talk more about tools shortly because having the right tools is critical to completing this job.

I called a shop that I trust (Bavarian Motorsport in Milpitas, CA) and was quoted ~$200 for doing this job if I got stuck. I presume that price would be labor only and require my parts. It was reassuring to have a fallback option if things went wrong. That is a little less than the cost of the special BMW tools so if your local shop is as cheap you might consider just having them do it for you. My motivation for doing this job myself, besides just fixing my sagging cargo hatch, was to survey the condition of this area and make additional repairs. As evidenced by broken and missing trim bits I could tell that someone had worked in this area at some time the car’s past and I wanted to take stock of and replace whatever was missing.

In addition to replacing a half dozen trims I also took the opportunity to clean all the trunk gutters, find some important places where screws were missing, replaced some broken lights, fixed one of the reading light switches and cleaned some spots the kids left on the headliner. These kinds of “while you’re at it” tasks are exactly why I like to do things myself.

If you’re planning similar improvements you should order any obviously broken or cracking parts well in advance as I found that most of what I needed was back ordered from Germany for 3-5 weeks. Apologies in advance for blurry, low light photos but that’s all I got.

Regarding The DIY

The DIY I followed is posted on Bimmerfest and has been supplemented with some scans from the e39 Bentley service manual. The DIY is brief but actually quite accurate. Where it falls short is on those ever helpful details that give the novice the courage and smarts needed to actually do the job. Hopefully I can fill in the blanks below.

Installation Notes

I replaced only the tailgate struts, BMW part number 51248220072 (see RealOEM for diagram). The dampers for the glass lid of my car are fine so I did not replace them. For the sake of cost and time I elected to do the job without the special BMW tools and everyone seems to agree that for the hatch struts the special tool is not required. However, a long and thin pry bar is absolutely required! More on that tool later.

If you’re interested, the special tools are well referenced in this for sale thread and photo set. If you wanted to replace the glass struts it’s possible to fabricate a tool from PVC pipe instead of buying the BMW tool. I could only find this tool described in vague terms so I’m on no help to you on that topic.

The toolset is BMW part number 83 30 0 492 604.

The toolset consists of 3 pieces:
5 12 153 Plastic Protector (small sheet of plastic)
5 12 152 Windows Strut Tool (aluminum tube)
5 12 151 Tailgate Strut Tool (aluminum bar with collar and fulcrum pin)

Tools

16″ Large Flat Screwdriver
24″ Harbor Freight Pry Bar with Handle
T-20 Torx
T-50 Torx
Metric Hex Wrenches
Trim Removal Tools
Screwdrivers
Flat Micro Screwdriver
Socket Driver
Needlenose Pliers

Note: It’s possible to do this without removing the rear pillars and headliner. If you have the BMW tool or are able to use a screwdriver to pop the struts off their ball connectors without damaging the car then you can skip all of those steps.

  1. Prop open your cargo hatch with a broom stick or something. I used an adjustable closet rod. Also remember that the hatch is extremely heavy without the shock and would probably kill you if it fell on your head so PLEASE use some secondary support such as a tether or some other method of keeping it from closing on you. I tied it to a hook that happened to be in the ceiling.
  2. IMG_0960
    IMG_0984

  3. Remove the carpet covered sidewall access panels in the trunk on both sides to reveal the CD player and battery respectively.
  4. Remove the rear pillar trims. There are 2 screws and 3 snaps. One of the screws is in the sidewall hatch (which is why you removed the access panels). I started pulling the trim at the top and used a trim tool to work the 2nd snap out rather than just yank on the pillar. Watch out, you may have some NAV equipment in this area on the driver’s side of the car. The 3rd snap is released by pulling the bottom third of the trim towards the middle of the cargo hatch sill. The very bottom of each pillar connects to the cargo hatch sill. I could not release these clips without breaking the tabs so it’s advisable to leave the bottoms connected and just work around them.
  5. e39 touring wagon rear pillar removal
    e39 touring wagon rear pillar removal
    e39 touring wagon rear pillar removal broken tabs

  6. Pull off the weather stripping on the hatch. This will afford access to the headliner shortly and you need all available space to pull out the struts and work the new struts in.
  7. Remove the plastic water channel cover that spans between the two cargo hinges on the vehicle side. It is clipped in 4 places and it’s advisable to use a trim tool to pop each tab loose or you’ll tear the water channel cover. Mine was already torn by some previous owner.
  8. e39 Touring remove water channel guide from hatch

  9. Remove the outer most hinge covers from driver and passenger side using your T-20 torx driver. Be careful of wiring in this area. This will allow access to the end of the strut that is fixed by bolt and circlip to the trunk hinge.
  10. e39 touring hinge cover removed
    e39 touring hinge cover removed

  11. Lower the back half of the headliner. First remove the rear light. Then start pulling down the headliner in the centre where a single clip holds it, then use a trim tool to pop the clips on either side of each speaker. I removed the rear screen hooks behind the D pillars using a hex key. I also removed the D pillars but that was probably not necessary. You only need to get access to the T-50 torx bolts next to the speakers.
  12. removing e39 touring headliner
    removing e39 touring headliner clips next to speakers
    removing e39 touring headliner
    removing e39 touring d pillar

  13. Remove the T-50 torx bolt that is furthest away from each speaker (see my photo below). This is the ball end that the damper / strut is attached to. You’ll hear and feel a pop the ball end comes loose so total removal may not be necessary. If you’re going to try to use a long, strong flat screwdriver to pop the ball end loose then of course you would have skipped most of the steps until now except for steps 3-4. Of course the risk of damaging something by blindly sticking a screwdriver in there and levering it around is high but it’s your choice. Obviously you need to do this for both sides.
  14. Removing the T-50 torx next to the e39 touring speaker
    e39 touring strut damper ball replacement

  15. Once the ball end is free you can remove the circlips and shafts holding the shocks in place. These circlips do not have holes for clirclip pliers but can be rotated with needle nose pliers and pushed off with a pair of small, precision screwdrivers.
  16. Remove the old strut by pushing the ball end towards the outside of the car so it is on an angle, pushing the strut forward to clear the hinge and then pulling it out entirely. This is the same way you will insert the new strut.
  17. IMG_0981
    IMG_0985
    e39 touring wagon trunk lid strut damper removal

  18. Reinstall the ball using your T-50 torx if you haven’t already. I didn’t have a torque spec for this but you’ll know once it’s torqued. It won’t tighten any more. Insert the new strut as described above (angled towards the outside of the car), then using your large screwdriver (not the pry bar) insert it below the strut and try to lift the heavy end of the strut up and onto the ball. Some tape on the end of the screwdriver will help protect wires and other things in the strut area. Once it’s on the ball it will resist gentle backwards movement. You may now remove the large screwdriver and switch to the pry bar.
  19. I tried several “large screwdrivers” as mentioned in the DIY and had no luck. I applied a stupid amount of force to no effect and the screwdriver often slipped around. There is probably no way way to use a 16″ or even 24″ screwdriver to actually seat the strut on the ball. Eventually I got a $8 Harbor Freight pry bar which is about 3 feet long. This did the trick nicely. A few notes on pressing the ball into the strut. First, cover the end of the tool in tape to prevent damaging other surfaces. Always be careful of wires in this area and try to move them out of the way. Light will not help you here, there is no room to see. Insert the pry bar on the inside side of the strut with the bent tip pointing towards the ball. You can probably feel your way along the side of the strut, then feel it come to rest on the ball. Now rotate the pry bar around the strut so that it is on the top. Using the trunk hinge as a fulcrum press down on the ball socket while pulling the handle up. If you are applying a lot of force and the ball is not seating then something is wrong. Check the alignment of the ball socket and ball and try again.
  20. e39 touring trunk lid correct pry bar tool for seating the strut damper on ball
    e39 touring trunk lid correct pry bar tool for seating the strut damper on ball
    e39 touring using pry bar screwdriver to install trunk struts

  21. Put the bolt through the end of the strut and the hinge and reinsert the circle clip. You’re done this side, now do the same for the other side.
  22. Replace all the trim and clean up.

November 25, 2014 e39 touring, mechanical, Uncategorized

WARNING AND DISCLAIMER:

I am not an electronics specialist. I do not guarantee the accuracy or completeness of any information published herein and I shall not be responsible for any errors, omissions, or damages arising out of use of this information. I accept no responsibility for the content of the external sites linked from this page or for products offered or purchased from participating companies. You further acknowledge and agree that I shall not be responsible or liable, directly or indirectly, for any damage or loss caused or alleged to be caused by or in connection with use of or reliance on any such content, goods or services available on or through my site. Proceed at your own risk.

Last year I bought several “Canbus Error Free” license plate LEDS trying to find some that would not actually generate an error on the OBC of my 1998 BMW e36 M3. I’ve since learned that canbus means nothing in this context. I even bought the top dollar, guaranteed error free lights from JLeviSW which are the same as sold by BavAuto. And while those lights worked for a few weeks error-free eventually they too generated an failure message.

I did some research and found a DIY that recommended soldering a 0.47 ohm 10W resistor across the contacts in the OEM light housing to reduce the current across the circuit enough to fool the OBC into thinking that there was a normal, functioning bulb. I’d even read about soldering a bulb somewhere into the circuit which would work but sounds like a kludge at best.

Above: Expensive and supposedly error free e36 license plate LEDS.

BMW e36 M3 Lic Plate Light Fail warning on OBC

What I wanted was a snap-in solution that would not permanently alter any of my wiring or parts. I also wanted it to work with my expensive lights. But no such circuit existed. So I researched, trawling through RealOEM, website and forums to find the parts required to make a true, snap-in error canceling circuit.

This is the result:
BMW e36 License Plate LED Error Canceling Circuit

Above: Home made license plate light failure error canceling circuit.

Parts List


Red and Black 18g Wire
Heat Shrink Tubing
2x BMW 8 Connector, Male 61-13-1-378-149 $2.50 each
2x BMW Pin Conn. Blk, Female 61-13-1-378-106 $1.50 each
2x Circular Contact with Cable, 0.5-1.5mm 61-13-1-376-191 $1.50 each
2x Cable Socket, Round, Female 61-13-1-376-202 $1.50 each
2x 0.47 Ohm 10W Resistors $0.45 each
Optional 6x Heat Sinks
Optional 1x Thermal Adhesive
OR
2x Green 10 Watt 47 Ohm 5% Aluminum Shell Wire Wound Resistor $5.30 each

Total cost if you use the green resistors is $19.30 each. This is not a cheap project.

Note: You will notice that I list two different styles of resistor. The green resistor has a built-in heat sink which I didn’t use but would negate the need for gluing on heat sinks. Remember, this circuit will generate as much heat as a light bulb so consider placement carefully.

Tools


Solder
Soldering Iron
Wire Strippers

Steps


Before you proceed you must read and accept the disclaimer and warning at the top of this article and know that you proceed at your own risk. I am not responsible for anything that happens and I’m not an electronics expert. If you mess this up you could start a fire, electrocute yourself or any number of other calamities. I’m not advising anyone to do this, this is not a DIY project.

Essentially, I’m going to insert the resistor into the license plate light circuit making sure that the resistor is in series with the circuit. This is a little tricky with such a large resistor but possible.

  1. Prepare the wire. Each circuit needs 2x red and 2x black wires. Cut them about 12″ long and shorten them to the correct length later on.
  2. Take two of the black wires and strip 1/2″ off one end of each wire.
  3. Solder both black wires together and around 1 of the resistor terminals. Cover this connection entirely in heat shrink. Failure to do so may result in a short circuit or worse.
  4. Take two of the red wires and strip 1/2″ off one end of each wire.
  5. Solder both red wires together and around the remaining free resistor terminal. Cover this connection entirely in heat shrink.
  6. Both black wires are soldered to one side of the resistor and both red wires soldered to the other.
  7. Trim the wires so that they are all even in length. It may be helpful to heat shrink the bundle together as is illustrated above. Then trim off 1/2″ of insulation from each end.
  8. Now to one red and one black wire solder one female (ring) connector 61-13-1-376-202 to each.
  9. To the remaining red and black wires solder one male (tip) connector 61-13-1-376-191 to each.
  10. Insert the wires into the plug housings. The black (ground) wire should be inserted into the keyed side of the plug housing, that is the side with the extra bit of plastic that sticks out. See the photo below and note the brown (ground) wire in relation to the shape of the plug.

IMG_8253

Now with the car turned off connect the new circuit to the license plate light wiring and see if an error is generated. No error should be generated. Everything goes into the trunk cavity through the holes for the license plate housing.

BMW e36 License Plate LED Error Canceling Circuit

The following page was very useful to my in researching this project: http://www.unofficialbmw.com/all/electrical/all_contact_pins.html

Update:


a month or so after I made ‘version 1’ of this error cancelling circuit the failed light message appeared on the OBC of my M3. Inspection revealed that one of the wires on a resistor had broken off where I had bent it sharply. The resistors I used are clearly meant for circuit board applications and not in the manner that I am used it.

I clipped the expensive plugs off to reuse and soldered in one of the green resistors that I sourced earlier. The result seems more robust and compact.

bmw e36 license plate LED error cancelling circuit

October 31, 2014 cosmetic, e36 m3

I compiled the following list of cooling system temperatures to establish a baseline for monitoring temperature issues and I’ve posted it here in case it’s useful to anyone else. I’m assuming that my car is running at a “normal” temperature and I’m not accounting for ambient air temperature.

IMG_0118

In my experience there is no change in readings when switching from OEM to the Mishimoto radiator but the only way to state that confidently would be to account for ambient temperature and engine load.

Thermostat housing temperature varied +/-10˚C over my tests and should not be considered accurate.

65˚C – Thermostat Housing +/-10˚C
80˚C – Top Radiator Hose
73˚C – Water Pump to Thermostat Housing Hose
75˚C – Bottom Radiator Hose

BMW e30 thermostat housing stat temperature
BMW e30 top radiator hose temperature
IMG_0123
BMW e30 lower radiator hose temperature

October 16, 2014 coolant, e30, mechanical, radiator, temperatures

A common cause of a jumpy and inaccurate temperature gauge needle is a loose ground or a short circuit in the instrument cluster. However, because the e30 has a real temperature sender that isn’t buffered or averaged out it’s prone to some erratic movement as warmer or colder coolant passes through the thermostat housing.

The jumpy needle can indicate a loose ground in the cluster, a fault in the wiring harness or might even indicate a cooling issue such a failing head gasket. I swapped in a performance radiator because I wanted to ensure maximum cooling but to solve the jumpy needle I needed to check the other possibilities.

bmws e30 temperature gauge normal

Above: Generally considered ‘normal’ e30 running temperature.

When troubleshooting anything I always start with the easiest, simplest solution just in case it proves correct. In this case that’s the ground on the temperature VDO gauge. I decided to check it, and do a few other cosmetic things on the cluster while I was in there:

  • Find and tighten the ground nut on for the temperature gauge.
  • Replace the missing Anti-Lock bulb to help further diagnose my non-functioning ABS.
  • Replace the plastic gauge rings the PO added.
  • Touch up the red needles the PO painted.

Temperature Needle Ground Nut


After removing the cluster I used a 7mm screwdriver socket bit that I got with a euro toolkit to tighten the nut. It’s not a common tool so you may have to buy a thin wall socket just for this job. On my cluster it appears that someone already tightened the fuel gauge nut but used some pliers which damaged the plastic around the nut. The PO is always the worst person.

BMW e30 rear of cluster showing temperature gauge nut to tighten

Above: The brass temp gauge ground nut is next to the blue plug.

I used light pressure to tighten the nut until it felt about as tight as the fuel gauge nut. The cluster is mostly plastic so over tightening would be a terrible thing. I’m happy to report that it looks like this has fixed my jumpy temperature gauge entirely.

Anti-Lock Bulb


Replacing the bulb is straight forward. Now I need to diagnose my non-functioning ABS which is causing the bulb to light. In the above picture the anti-lock bulb socket is just a plastic hole. The bulb is actually attached to the harness. More on that in another blog entry.

Gauge Rings and Needles


The previous owner put ABS plastic rings around the instrument gauges and even though they are kind of ricey I admit that I’ve grown fond of them. I ordered two sets of real metal rings from Bavarian Restoration (I ordered mine via R3vlimited): polished aluminum and brushed metal. The brushed metal appeared to bright to me so I opted for the polished aluminum.

Bavarian Restoration chrome and matte cluster rings on BMW e30 instrument cluster

Above: Polished vs matte cluster rings.

Fitment of the Bavarian Restoration rings was excellent and required only firm, even pressure to snap into the cluster. While I had the cluster I also used some red Sharpie to touch up the PO’s sloppy paint job on the gauge needles.

Using sharpie to paint e30 gauge needles red

October 8, 2014 cosmetic, e30, instrument cluster, rings

All-aluminum radiators are a popular choice for race applications and cars with modified engines. My daily driver with stock m20 motor fits neither category but I’ve been diagnosing the common jumpy temp gauge and wanted to make sure my radiator is flowing freely and providing maximum cooling. Also, the super clean appearance of aluminum radiators appeals to my sense of aesthetics so I basically convinced myself to do this upgrade.

My criteria for the replacement radiator was improved cooling and OEM fitment. I set on the Mishimoto e30 / e36 radiator after recommendations from friends and finding only positive reviews in online BMW forums. Mishimoto offers a lifetime warranty which is comforting.

e30 Mishimoto radiator in box

However, my decision shouldn’t be taken as endorsement and I haven’t run this radiator long enough to provide a real product review. After I installed this my close friend and local e30 expert Eric Berger told me that he knows several people who have had these radiators fail. In some cases the failure resulted in motor damage: it’s “buyer beware” as always. For the record Eric recommends Behr.

Because of Eric’s emphatic warning I’m going to monitor this radiator very closely especially as it approaches the first year of service. I did some further internet searches and found few reports of failures with the Mishimoto products. Mostly I found complaints about fitment. The few cases I found of failure were related to running straight water (no coolant) for long periods of time and in some cases not even using distilled water. Since coolant lubricates the moving parts of the cooling system and iron in water reacts with aluminum I blame careless owners for those failures I read about. I’m not sure what the issues were with the other local guys who had failures.

IMG_9789

Build Quality and Fitment


I found the quality of the Mishimoto radiator to be good and I would rate it a 9/10. It loses points for two reasons. Firstly, some of the fins were bent and a couple near the top were sheared off out of the box. Radiators are delicate but I’d expect it to be perfect on arrival. There’s a tool that can fix bent fins so I guess I’ll buy one.

Secondly I found fitment to be imperfect. One of the support posts was angled slightly outward. From post edge to post edge the radiator should be 26″ across but because of this defect my Mishimoto radiator was 26.15″ across. The solution was to cut down one of the rubber radiator mounts so that it would still seat to the radiator support. I don’t like this solution as it looks sloppy and failure due to a weakened mount is a concern.

Not necessarily a show stopper but there’s no fan shroud for a mechanical m20 fan that fits on the Mishimoto. I mean, you can throw one on but there’s no where to zip tie or clip it onto the rad. I’m still researching that.

mishimoto e30 radiator mounts wrong fitment

Above: This post for the radiator mounts is angled incorrectly which caused improper fitment.

mishimoto e30 radiator fitment adjusting mounts with knife

Above: Cutting the passenger side rubber radiator mount for fitment.

Installation Notes


  • Installation was easy. It took 30 minutes to remove the hood and old radiator and another 45 minutes to install and reconnect the new radiator including the time it took to solve the problem with the radiator mounts. From start to finish including bleeding it took me 3 hours. I ran into no problems because my hoses are all fresh and flexible. Older hoses may cause more problems.
  • Don’t forget to buy high temp teflon tape for your fan switch. The radiator ships with an aluminum delete plug for the switch port.
  • The Mishimoto drains directly from the bottom of the rad. Draining will splash coolant off the radiator support and make a big mess. Some kind of petcock with a 12mm x 1.5 would help but there’s not much room to fit it.

Mishimoto radiator installed in my late model 1989 BMW 325i e30
Mishimoto radiator installed in my late model 1989 BMW 325i e30

Above: Mishimoto radiator installed in my 1989 BMW e30.

October 5, 2014 diy, e30, mechanical, mishimoto, radiator, repairs

I bought a Ireland Engineering Strut Tower Brace several months ago (over a year?) and put off installing it because I wasn’t entirely sure it would fit. A test fitting indicated it might not fit without jacking up part or all of the car to move the strut towers further apart. But with last month’s steering rack swap it seemed like a good time to put the bar on and have an alignment done.

Install was easy and required only minimal wiggling with the car on the ground but there were two problems: The brace was touching the intake manifold. And when I took the brace off there was a scuff mark to prove it. Also the cruise control bowden cable was crushed under the bar. I was mostly concerned about the the contact between the bar and manifold so I emailed Ireland Engineering and the response was basically

“It is just kind of parr for the course, but you can bend the bar slightly there (or a decent wack with a hammer [after heating up the bar to a good couple hundred degree’s right there as to keep the p.c. from cracking]).”

1989 BMW e30 with IE Ireland Engineering Strut Tower Bar or Brace Installed
IMG_9135
IE Ireland Engineering Strut Tower Bar or Brace rubbing intake manifold
IMG_9148

And this is where I’ll review the product:

  • Once installed the product performs it’s intended function, though I should drill another hole in the strut towers and utilize the 3rd bolt hole to maximize stability.
  • The bar arrived with numerous scratches in the powder coating, some of which were covered up with permanent marker. This should have been a warning sign that build quality is low.
  • The round cut out on each brace end does not match the round extrusion on top of the strut tower. If it was just a little wider it would fit better, instead I had to rely on the strut bolts to pull the bar over that lip.
  • And as mentioned above, the bar will not clear a stock m20 intake manifold. I didn’t buy this bar expecting to mod it myself.
  • If you’re looking for a bar that should fit and have better build quality then I will pass on the recommendation I received, which is the UUC Strutbarbarian. This bar has a bracket to reroute cruise control which shows some thoughtful design. Though I have heard horror stories about UUC build quality (specifically brand new parts breaking during track events) but I believe that the strut bar is a simple enough thing that it can be trusted not to break.

    Hindsight is always 20/20. I got my tools and set about modding the bar. I’m not experienced with fabrication but after only a couple of hits I realized that the powder coating was not going to stay on the bar and I’d have to touch up with regular paint. Thankfully this part isn’t visible because it’s between the bar and the intake manifold.

    Tools for modifying IE Ireland Engineering e30 strut tower brace
    cracked powder coating on strut tower brace
    IMG_9463

    The next project related to this will be sorting out the cruise control cable.

September 29, 2014 e30, mechanical, strut tower brace

At my two most recent BMW CCA autocross events the typical comment from my instructors (i’m still a ‘novice’) has been “wow, you’re pretty smooth even though you have to shuffle steer.” It became clear that the stock 4-turn e30 steering rack was slowing me down and needed to be swapped out.


At the outset I thought this project would take a day, maybe two at the most. It actually took 3 weekends to complete because of missing parts and tools. I also wasted a lot of time researching various steps and confirming that I was doing the right thing. Hopefully my experience will help you with your own steering rack swap. I learned some valuable lessons about this kind of work:

  1. Test fit everything “on the ground” before the day of install. This includes checking bolt fitment in new parts and final assembly. Don’t assume all parts were shipped.
  2. Check all available photos and diagrams for parts and examples of how final install should look before the day of install.

I started my research by asking for some opinions which fell into two categories:

  1. The e36 z3 rack is too twitchy, go with a 95 e36 M3 rack with a lock to lock of 3.0 turns.
  2. You can handle it, go for the e36 z3 rack with a lock to lock of 2.7 turns.

e30 rack vs z3 rack

Above: Comparison of Racks. (Photo Source)

I heard so much praise for the z3 rack, like “best mod ever for an e30″, that I decided to pursue it. Next I started researching the method: most of my web searches turned up the same DIY (posted on R3vlimited) time and again so I decided to follow it. Going with the DIY seemed like the only option but was my first and most costly, time consuming mistake.

I want to put a very fine point on this: If you are planning to do an e30 steering rack to e36 m3 or e36 z3 steering rack swap you should buy a complete kit. There may be other retailers but the kit used by people I know is available from Zionsville Autosport. The pros to buying the complete kit is substantial savings over buying the component parts and the kit is complete requiring no retrofitting or fabrication to install unlike the DIY procedure. I wasted a lot of time blocked because of missing tools, fiddling with retrofits and installing things incorrectly. Save yourself the trouble and buy the kit.

But I didn’t know about the complete kits when I started so I set about ordering the parts I’d need. Web searching led me to The Rack Doctor who I ordered from because I felt most confident that I was getting the rack I wanted. On a scale of 1-5 I’d say my experience was a 3.5.

Pros:


  • Rack was clean, painted
  • They called to confirm that I wanted e36 tie rod arms vs. e30 (there is a difference)
  • New copper crush washers were included but just for the rack, not the pump
  • Shipping was quick

Cons:


  • Paint chipped horribly during install especially on some of the plastic hoses
  • Some important nuts and lock clamps for tie rods were not included which delayed install
  • High core charge not refundable except for identical core return

The DIY I referenced listed out the following parts:

DIY Parts List (DO NOT ORDER FROM THIS LIST):


2x 7/16 Bolt 2 Inches Long
2x Bolt M10x50 26111226737
2x Self Locking Nuts 07129964672
4x Copper Seals 14×20 32411093596
4x Copper Seals 16×22 32411093597
4x Self Locking Nuts 07129922716
1x Power Steering Reservoir 32411097164
1x High Pres. PS Hose 32411141953
1x Spacer 72118119268
2x Spacer 72111847480
2x Nut 721119779250
2x LP PS Return Hoses
1x Bottle of ATF

Some of these parts are NLA or the author just didn’t list part numbers. I have crossed out the list entirely because I don’t think you should reference it. Here’s my recommended parts list:

My Updated Parts List:


4x Copper Seals 14×20 32411093596
4x Copper Seals 16×22 32411093597
1x Power Steering Reservoir 32411097164
1x High Pres. PS Hose 32411141953
1x LP PS Return Hose 32411135936
1x LP PS Return Hose 32411133401
1x e30 to e36 Steering Knuckle Kit (either RPKIT or the kit from here)
1x *e36 Left Ball Joint 32111139313
1x *e36 Right Ball Joint 32111139314
2x *Clamp Ring 32111136179
2x *Nuts 32111136494
1x Bottle ATF Fluid

*Necessary only if you get the e36 ball joints and these parts are not included. e30 tie rods require a different locking nut and may be reused from your old rack. Probably.

BMW e36 tie rod clamp ring parts
BMW e36 tie rod clamp ring parts

Above: Clamp rings and chunky nuts required but not mentioned in the DIY.

IMG_8733

Above: The tiny nut shipped with the e36 z3 rack that is not suitable for this swap.

Additional Tools:


Two 15mm wrenches (for the knuckle)
8mm and 6mm extended hex bits (for installing the knuckle kit around the parts of the knuckle – you’ll see!)
Tie Rod Puller
Bottle Jack (for flattening the rack tabs)
C-Clamps (for depressing brake cylinders)

A note about tie rod pullers: There are two styles. The most common style you’ll find at your local auto supply store features a single U shaped clamp with a bolt through the center. This bolt has a pointed tip that seats in the top of the ball joint bolt. The bolt must have a divot in the top for this tip to seat in otherwise it will not work, and it should be noted that the e36 arms do NOT have this divot. Also note that in order to use the U shaped puller you will need to take off the rotors and loosen the dust shield. It’s really loud when the bolt finally breaks loose but a little less violent than banging on it with a hammer or a pickle fork. The other kind of puller looks like a metal clothes pin and a bolt is used to close the jaws of the pin, again pushing the ball joint bolt out. This tool works by pressing down on the ball joint bolt with a flat surface and therefore works on bolts that do NOT have a divot in the top. Like e36 tie rods and ball joints. So if you have the choice get the clothes pin kind of tool since it’s more versatile.

BMW e30 e36 Two kinds of tie rod pullers

Above: Two different styles of tie rod end pullers.

BMW e30 e36 Tie rod puller in use how to

Above: The clothes pin style of tie rod puller in use.

Notes and Addendum to the DIY:


  1. Disconnecting the ball joints and tie rods was impossible for me without using a puller. A hammer and block of wood only resulted in destroying the wood. Tie rod removal also required the removal of the brake calipers and loosening the dust plate to make enough room for the puller.
  2. BMW e30 tie rod end arm puller removal

    Above: The U style puller. Notice how much room it requires next to the dust shield.
  3. I used zip ties and plastic bags to keep the hoses from dripping after disconnecting them. Keep your work space clean.
  4. Take photos of where the old hoses run so you can run the new hoses along the same pathway.
  5. Removing (and installing) hoses on the rack need to be done in order: there is not room to remove the upper banjo bolt while the lower bolt is in place.
  6. The DIY called for bending the rack tabs on the center cross member to make room to drop the rack. In retrospect lifting the motor or bending these tabs the very smallest amount required would be advisable. I spent 2 hours working the tabs back into place with a bottle jack and some folks posit that bending the tabs weakens them.
  7. Plan to soak the knuckle to rack spline in PB blaster over night. The knuckle to steering column spline slipped right off but I could not remove the knuckle from the steering rack and ended up sourcing a donor knuckle while waiting for the PB blaster to work. I finally got the knuckle off by standing on the old rack and pulling. I can deadlift 300 lb. so that says something about how seized up the splines may be. Also note that the bolt on the rack side of the knuckle must be completely removed as it passes through a slot in the spine that holds it on. You cannot remove the knuckle with the bolt merely loosened.
  8. If modifying your current knuckle i.e. not using a pre-fabricated knuckle then you need to remember that the kit or shortened spacer is used to make the knuckle shorter NOT longer. You will need to enlarge two of the holes on the knuckle to fit the bolts through. A 23/32 drill bit was the right size for me but you should use a bit gauge to measure your bolts.
  9. I needed to tap the knuckle onto the rack spline using a hammer. Actually a friend with more experience did it for me. This should not be necessary but if you simply can’t work the knuckle on by hand then be very sure that the splines are not binding and are lined up properly before gently tapping it onto the spline. Go slow, you’re not driving a nail.
  10. The rack and knuckle need to connect to the steering spline when both are centered (this is mentioned in the DIY). I used a protractor and made a measuring tool to count the number of degrees in a complete lock to lock rotation, dividing the total by 2 and then finding that middle point in the racks rotation. In my case middle was 510 degrees. This is very accurate and does not require the removal of the boots, etc. to measure the tie rod ends. I marked this middle point on the rack and spline using a white paint marker for reference during install but marked it on the side I couldn’t see: make your marks so they are visible when the spline is on your left.
  11. Using rubber bicycle inner tube to protect splines
    e30 rack swap how to center rack
    e30 rack swap how to center rack

    Above: Finding the center of the rack.
  12. Even after finding center I still had to disconnect the rack and knuckle and move it over a single spline tooth. If you put a peice of tape at dead center on your wheel and turn it all the way to the left and right you should see that the terminal position of each is the mirror image of the other. My first attempt found it to be 2″ off (about the amount of a single spline tooth).
  13. The DIY reads “if there is binding use your Dremel to grind the knuckle joint.” You should assume that the knuckle will bind and grind it down on your bench where you have maximum control NOT when it’s installed in the car like the DIY shows. I recommend using a cutting bit not a grinding bit as the amount of metal you need to remove is significant. I removed metal from the U but in hindsight grinding down the edges of the fork may have been tidier and resulted in less cutting.
  14. Dremel cutter grinder bit for shaving down steering knuckle in e30 z3 swap
    Dremel cutter grinder bit for shaving down steering knuckle in e30 z3 swap

    Above: The correct Dremel cutter bit used for shaving down the knuckle to prevent binding.
  15. The DIY calls for tapping the cross member tabs into place with a hammer. This is impossible as the tabs will bounce and absorb all the force of the hammer. Using vice grips mangled the tabs. I recommend using a bottle jack and wood blocks under the tabs to bend them into place but be careful not to lift the car by accident. Putting the rack and spacer on the tab while bending the tabs up will help make sure you don’t bend the tabs too far the other way.
  16. bmw e30 z3 rack install bending cross member tabs back into place

  17. If you use the hoses called for in the DIY you can bend the new high pressure hose into place using your hands, or a little heat and your gloved hands. Using a vice or bender should not be required. Only the pump side should require bending. Study my photos and try to match what I’ve done.
  18. BMW e30 steering rack swap high pressure hose bends
    BMW e30 steering rack swap high pressure hose bends
    BMW e30 steering rack swap high pressure hose bends

  19. The new hoses are a tight fit. The new high pressure hose will need to go over the motor mount arm. Just make sure there is a finger’s width between each hose as you tighten it down because rubbing hoses will eventually spring a leak. Two sets of hands can be helpful here.
  20. During bleeding of the steering rack do not press the brakes because you may over extend the brake piston. If you do this by accident you may be able to use a c-clamp to compress the piston back down. Otherwise a bleed and flush will be required.

BMW e30 e36 z3 rack swap tie rod arm bolt and clamp
1989 BMW e30 sedan blue on flat bed recovery vehicle

Above: Towing my e30 to Bavarian Motorsport in Milpitas, CA for an alignment.

1989 BMW e30 alignment at Bavarian Motorsport

Above: My 1989 BMW e30 on the alignment rack at Bavarian Motorsport in Milpitas.

August 29, 2014 e30, mechanical, rack, repairs, steering, swap

It seems this blog is getting traffic mostly from e30 searches people are making on Google. I’ve been just enjoying my car and doing other stuff instead of blogging but rest assured that I will make some posts soon. Things that will be covered (here or on bmw.iamgary.com):

  1. e30 airbag light troubleshooting
  2. e30 windshield replacement
  3. e30 axles (with Eric Berger)
  4. e39 touring sport suspension update
  5. e36 center console swap
  6. e36 brake switch replacement
  7. e36 airbag light reset

Plus lots of random pictures from fixes and car events over the last 9 months. Come back soon!

1989 BMW e30 325i sedan two bucket wash

June 13, 2014 status

My windshield has always been so pitted that I couldn’t see when driving into the sun. After a chunk of dry wall fell off a truck and left a scratch directly in front of my view of the road I decided to call Safelite and have it replaced.

Total cost for the window with installation was a mere $275 and I saved a little bit by reusing the window weather strip. The black metal spacer (called a cup) and the flexible metal trim are always reused.

I was very impressed with the window tech’s knowledge of european cars and we talked about e30s the entire time he was working. I was especially interested in his technique for replacing the metal gasket which you can see in one of the photos below. I’ve seen this done with soapy water and hand pressure but the diamond shaped loop tool he used made it look easy.

BMW e30 windshield metal cup or spacer

IMG_5504

bmw e30 with window removed

IMG_5508

BMW e30 using a tool to fit the trim into the gasket

April 29, 2014 30, bmwe, cosmetic, repairs, windshield

I recorded this time-lapse video on the last drive I took in my 1989 BMW 325i before leaving the country for the Christmas break. I travelled south on California Hwy. 1 from Pacifica to Santa Cruz expecting to view sunrise at the halfway point but the mountains delayed sunrise by about 15 minutes. The video is as much about showing the great colours of the early morning sky as it is about the road and other scenery. I wish I could have driven the entire distance without stopping but I needed to text my wife and let her know where I was… and also find my sunglasses.

Please watch it in HD for the best viewing experience.


December 15, 2013 driver's log, video

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