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Discussion Starter #1
Brief Intro...:

I bought this 2002 325xi Sedan roughly about 6 months ago with 175k km (110k miles), I had never owned a BMW before, so I was overwhelmed right from the start. It took me a couple of months to realize there were some mechanical problems with the car, particularly involving it's handling.
The vehicle doesn't appear to ever had been in any major accidents or anything (clean carfax too).

Just a couple weeks ago, I decided to take my ride down to the rocky mountains (about a 600km drive each way), and this was the time where I realized there definitely was something wrong with my cars handling.
It was very hard to keep my car on a straight line, and it seemed like the wind was just picking it up and had no firm grip to the road. I kept an eye on other vehicles, and I saw that they were managing to keep a straight line, while I wasn't, so it definitely is something with my car.

I took my car to get a wheel alignment done, and I mentioned how I felt there was much play in my steering. They came back to me with a quote of roughly around $3000 to fix the problem.
They wanted to replace my front control arms, rear trailing arm bushings and real coil springs (with OEM parts). I didn't get any work done, and decided to do some research on my own (that's where e46 fanatics came into play).
So I've been reading a lot on other peoples problems, sticking my head under the car and checking out what might need to be replaced and what not and I've come to some conclusions of my own:

-Seems like the rear trailing arm bushings definitely need replacement (they are pretty damaged)
-Control arm connections seem alright (Inner/Outer Ball-Joints and Bushings)
-Wheel bearings don't seem to be an issue either
-I did find some play with the steering, which I have a video link to in the bottom
-My rear springs do look slightly low (but I carry a ridiculously heavy sub-sound set in the trunk), so I don't know if they need replacement or not)

When I'm driving, I have just about the amount you see in the video, with no response to my wheels, which makes me make plenty of corrections while driving, and making it very hard to maintain a straight line. Even when turning, I sometimes feel some kind of clunk (not quite a clunk, but I feel the wheels moving in an odd way, especially when I turn/straighten sharp at lower speeds).

I never looked at the tie-rods (going to do that today maybe), but I'm thinking that may be the problem. If you watch the video, you can see that the steering column is being moved back and forth, that movement is my amount of play, there is absolutely no movement on the tie-rods/wheels when moving that much.

Now for the final questions....

-How can I determine where the play seen in the video is?
-How can I check if my tie-rods are good? (I think I know how to do this, as I've read around. But I'm looking for some of your tricks/tips)
-How do I know if my rack/pinion is worn?
-If my rack or pinion are worn, can I replace one or the other? Or do they have to be replaced as a set?
-Does the pinion have an adjustment to be tightened onto the rack?
-Will the rear coil springs have much to do with this steering play? (I know that the rear trailing arm bushing definitely do make a difference, I've already ordered a pair of Powerflex)


I want to thank you all in advance, sorry for the big write-up, I just wanted to put as much info out there as possible.

Cheers!

Here's the video I uploaded on youtube:
Steering Play on my BMW E46 (325xi 2002)
 

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Discussion Starter #2
Bumpppp....please help me someone...?
Just watch the video...and tell me what you think of the play...

Thanks in advance
 

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You really need to get the tie rods in the shot so we can see if they are moving with the input shaft, but you might be in for a new rack. I picked up a used one for around $150 that had like 50 or 60k miles on it. Probably not 100% perfect but it tightened things up a bit.
 

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I'll try to help...but I've not seen the video...think you described the feeling well enough.

First. the $3000 was so they could charge you money and get you a decent alignment...I think they were planning on more than CAs and rear trailing arm bushings.

Typically what I read here is the the CAbushings go way before CAs themselves...you can search for CA play and wiggle tires around when off the ground to check for that.

Tie rods they like to replace probably coz it's easier to do alignment...though sometimes the ball joints on those are bad too.

Finally, there's a flex disk coupling in the steering column. Pull up your car in realoem.com and go to steering/column and you'll find a part...think it's #2...a rubber disk with metal on top and bottom...about a $40-50 part.

Try to see what you can do first with just bushings...you've not lost much if you also need control arms.

Are you diying or paying someone? Lots of this stuff is diyable with the right tools...and tools pay for themselves practically with the first use for everyone!

Trailing arm bushings wouldn't give you all that play, I don't think. I know mine are bad, but I'm running almost true...but will be getting them myself pretty soon...there's a special tool for removing them...but probably a 'backup' method that'd work...have to study diys on that myself.

Air pressure in tires...just get close to what the door says so you have a decent reference point. Too much pressure in front and you'll be shimmying on center of tire.

Many things, you know, affect handling. Based on just what you've said, start with control arm bushings...look at this flex disk and see how it looks...it's probably not so bad.

If you can, get underneath and look at everything. You might have flat spotted inside wheel rims, which although tires could be balanced with, would create instability because of the vibrations induced.

I'm at 200K...probably have original CAs (personally I like the looseness...reminds me of the nimbleness of my old E36) but have new CABs. I replaced sway bar endlinks...so you might see if their boots are damaged and leaking grease...easy enough diy also.

Look for everything and report back...and folks that know far more than me will help, I'm sure.

Get the basics covered and investigated first.

Doubt it's bearings...but easy to check them too...by spinning or taking on a sweeping turn...you'll hear them...and the direction that makes them worse means the outside (loaded) one is bad...but replace in pairs.

Check condition of tires.

Don't know what you know about cars...so no insult intended.

Welcome to the car!

HTH

Doug
 

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Also just re-read your post and saw you recently bought the car. If you are willing to learn to DIY I'd use this front suspension rebuild kit, then you refresh most of the wearable items in the front suspension so you can count on the car handling well for another 80k miles at least and not have to be piecemeal replacing parts every so often.

Add to that rear trailing arm bushings (RTAB's) and the flex coupling in the steering column and you should be good to go assuming your steering rack is all right. With that mileage I'd bet that refreshing those suspension components will take care of the majority of the problem.

If you are able to DIY then this is the way to go. If you are paying a shop then you can pick and choose parts based on what you think may help, etc.
 

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ok

From all I've read on forums about steering wheel play with nothing else or, not much else moving... you should look into the steering guibo (flex-connection), which wears and causes your wandering symptoms.

Alignment is a (competant) dealer job, imo, so the wheel and alignment are co-ordinated properly. All parts need to be sound and tight first of course.

Could also have problems with tie rod ends, front control arms/bushings or sway bar links. Possible steering rack, but haven't seen many going bad. Good to replace reservoir (with it's built-in filter) and renew fluid in any case.

The steering guibo is a DIY.
 

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Discussion Starter #7
You really need to get the tie rods in the shot so we can see if they are moving with the input shaft, but you might be in for a new rack. I picked up a used one for around $150 that had like 50 or 60k miles on it. Probably not 100% perfect but it tightened things up a bit.
The play you see in the video doesn't move the tie rods at all...I've narrowed the play to be somewhere between the steering column connection on the rack and the tie rods.
So i'm assuming the problem must be on the rack somehow...I played around with the tie rods with the car in the air, and the tie rod joint to the rack seems ok to me.
 

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Discussion Starter #8
I'll try to help...but I've not seen the video...think you described the feeling well enough.

First. the $3000 was so they could charge you money and get you a decent alignment...I think they were planning on more than CAs and rear trailing arm bushings.

Typically what I read here is the the CAbushings go way before CAs themselves...you can search for CA play and wiggle tires around when off the ground to check for that.

Tie rods they like to replace probably coz it's easier to do alignment...though sometimes the ball joints on those are bad too.

Finally, there's a flex disk coupling in the steering column. Pull up your car in realoem.com and go to steering/column and you'll find a part...think it's #2...a rubber disk with metal on top and bottom...about a $40-50 part.

Try to see what you can do first with just bushings...you've not lost much if you also need control arms.

Are you diying or paying someone? Lots of this stuff is diyable with the right tools...and tools pay for themselves practically with the first use for everyone!

Trailing arm bushings wouldn't give you all that play, I don't think. I know mine are bad, but I'm running almost true...but will be getting them myself pretty soon...there's a special tool for removing them...but probably a 'backup' method that'd work...have to study diys on that myself.

Air pressure in tires...just get close to what the door says so you have a decent reference point. Too much pressure in front and you'll be shimmying on center of tire.

Many things, you know, affect handling. Based on just what you've said, start with control arm bushings...look at this flex disk and see how it looks...it's probably not so bad.

If you can, get underneath and look at everything. You might have flat spotted inside wheel rims, which although tires could be balanced with, would create instability because of the vibrations induced.

I'm at 200K...probably have original CAs (personally I like the looseness...reminds me of the nimbleness of my old E36) but have new CABs. I replaced sway bar endlinks...so you might see if their boots are damaged and leaking grease...easy enough diy also.

Look for everything and report back...and folks that know far more than me will help, I'm sure.

Get the basics covered and investigated first.

Doubt it's bearings...but easy to check them too...by spinning or taking on a sweeping turn...you'll hear them...and the direction that makes them worse means the outside (loaded) one is bad...but replace in pairs.

Check condition of tires.

Don't know what you know about cars...so no insult intended.

Welcome to the car!

HTH

Doug
Hi Doug!

Thanks for the useful info! Appreciated!
I had a good look, and I've definitely narrowed the problem to be somewhere in the rack...
The guibo seems alright (from my visual inspection).
Bearings seem to be alright as well.

200k? And you love the lose steering? lol! Awesome, if it works for you, i'm all for it. Doesn't work for me though...I hate it...last car I had, sold it, just because it had some looseness that I couldn't stand.

Thanks again!

cheers
 

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Hi Doug!

Thanks for the useful info! Appreciated!
I had a good look, and I've definitely narrowed the problem to be somewhere in the rack...
The guibo seems alright (from my visual inspection).
Bearings seem to be alright as well.

200k? And you love the lose steering? lol! Awesome, if it works for you, i'm all for it. Doesn't work for me though...I hate it...last car I had, sold it, just because it had some looseness that I couldn't stand.

Thanks again!

cheers
Ah, I should've said nimble...as in easy to turn...it doesn't feel loose as in going side to side. I want to be able to turn easily and it does...and stays in the line I choose (though I've got a little pull to left I'm working on...but very slight and only at highway speeds...might be slight pads rubbing on rotors...might be alignment...which means some more bushings before I get aligned.)

Racks themselves don't seem to be issues here that often...so I'd consider that steering flex coupling first.

Doug
 

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Discussion Starter #10 (Edited)
Hi all!
If anyone is following this thread...just wanted to add a couple facts/questions.

I'm sure the play is not in the guibo or any of the joint along the steering column.
It's something in the rack, for sure.

Now, I've noticed one thing, that should have come to mind right away.
On the left tie-rod/rack boot I noticed some oil build up, and that it has been leaking from one of my power steering lines.
If you look carefully in the video, you can tell...but barely.
It's not much of a leak, but the oil level kind of seems pretty low was well (what level should I have my oil at anyway...there's no gauge on the reservoir, at least that I can find).

Anyway, I know that low level oils wont cool the pump properly, and the oil can boil...loosing important properties and increasing the wear on the gears and rack inside the assembly, but is it possible that it is giving me some play as well?

I will post some pics, that show the oil better.

Cheers!
 

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Discussion Starter #11
So I've been looking further, and I think both, play between the rack/shaft, and dead tie-rods are the main cause of the play.

So my plan of action will be to either replace the tie rods alone, or get a whole suspension rebuild kit, like this one:

http://www.ecstuning.com/BMW-E46-323i-M52_2.5L/Suspension/OEM/ES205227/

Question...there is no note as to this assembly being compatible with my 2002 325xi. Shouldn't it use the same parts? Or is the steering rack on the xi slightly different?

One more thing i noticed...

The sway bar bushings seem to have some minor play in them, is that normal?

Thanks again!
 

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That's the wrong kit dude don't order that!!!

All of the pieces in those kits are xi specific- especially the steering rack and components!

$520 would be a great price though that's not going to happen on your xi.
 

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Discussion Starter #13
That's the wrong kit dude don't order that!!!

All of the pieces in those kits are xi specific- especially the steering rack and components!

$520 would be a great price though that's not going to happen on your xi.
Yeah, I realized that shortly after I had done the thread post. lol
Thanks for the heads up though.

I also realized the xi parts are ridiculously more expensive (especially here in Canada)...we get raped here. lol

One question for you, would you know, if I could take the tie-rod boot out without leaking? I'm talking about the one connecting the steering rack to the tie-rods...

Cheers
 

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vence,

Doesn't look like your question about the PS reservoir level was answered...though it's late (for me) and I'm beat...but skimmed and didn't see it.

On the PS reservoir cap is a built in dip stick...the 3" long cylinder coming down from cap is it. There are two really fine lines on it. Unscrew cap and wipe it clean. Insert and screw back in...then unscrew and view level. It should be at the second mark up from the bottom...not over it...not far below.

Also, if it's low, check the color of the fluid itself. It should be clear pink and you should be able to see a 1/2" diameter circle at bottom of reservoir. If you can't fluid is old and isn't helping any. So, if that's the case, search PS fluid flush...you have two choices...the easy turkey baster method, or releasing one of the hoses from pump to dump all fluid. Then follow diys for bleeding PS system. With turkey baster, no need for that.

So, since you didn't know how to measure level, and since your PS fluid was leaking, I'm thinking this might be the whole issue for you...if it's really low, then possibly you've damaged your pump...but I don't think you need to go beyond that yet.

On tie rod, the rubber boot on the end is holding grease into a ball joint (haven't replaced yet myself, but I'm pretty sure this is so) and if it isn't broken and there's no grease leaking, not an issue...not yet anyway.

Start with the fluid and getting the level right and go from there. Might replace factory clamps on bottom of reservoir, btw, with screw clamps...the most common and frequently used fix for this common leak.

Oh, yes, the sway bar bushings do not hold the bar firmly...I just replaced mine and there's definitely a little play there.

HTH

Doug
 

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Discussion Starter #15 (Edited)
vence,

Doesn't look like your question about the PS reservoir level was answered...though it's late (for me) and I'm beat...but skimmed and didn't see it.

On the PS reservoir cap is a built in dip stick...the 3" long cylinder coming down from cap is it. There are two really fine lines on it. Unscrew cap and wipe it clean. Insert and screw back in...then unscrew and view level. It should be at the second mark up from the bottom...not over it...not far below.

Also, if it's low, check the color of the fluid itself. It should be clear pink and you should be able to see a 1/2" diameter circle at bottom of reservoir. If you can't fluid is old and isn't helping any. So, if that's the case, search PS fluid flush...you have two choices...the easy turkey baster method, or releasing one of the hoses from pump to dump all fluid. Then follow diys for bleeding PS system. With turkey baster, no need for that.

So, since you didn't know how to measure level, and since your PS fluid was leaking, I'm thinking this might be the whole issue for you...if it's really low, then possibly you've damaged your pump...but I don't think you need to go beyond that yet.

On tie rod, the rubber boot on the end is holding grease into a ball joint (haven't replaced yet myself, but I'm pretty sure this is so) and if it isn't broken and there's no grease leaking, not an issue...not yet anyway.

Start with the fluid and getting the level right and go from there. Might replace factory clamps on bottom of reservoir, btw, with screw clamps...the most common and frequently used fix for this common leak.

Oh, yes, the sway bar bushings do not hold the bar firmly...I just replaced mine and there's definitely a little play there.

HTH

Doug
Thanks dmax! I kind of suspected that, but never thought of cleaning it first. Will be flushing the oil tomorrow for sure!

But I was looking into it a bit more the other day and with the passenger side jacked up, with the engine NOT running, I had a friend move the wheel back and forth slightly.
I noticed there was some sort of a slight clunking (I assume it must be between the shaft/pinion and the rack).
There was also a squeaking sound, which I assume was coming from the inner tie rod "ball-joint".

Just as a note, this play I felt, was with a very small movement of the wheel, maybe 1 inch displacement on the outside diameter (approx. 3 degrees).
If there was play without the pump running, there's a good chance my pump is still in shape, correct?

The oil is definitely not pink, and I could tell that thing had been pretty hot already, it was pretty dirty around the reservoir and there was no o-ring rubber on the cap (which I found weird). The oil was in fact BLACK, lol...so I'm definitely taking care of that tomorrow.


What was that about the clamps on the reservoir you mentioned? I should replace them?

Here are the pics I had mentioned I'd upload a couple posts back:

Note:Just a view at the leak...
Question... How would I go about fixing this leak?
 

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First, you may have a gasket, but get a new one for reservoir...and the gasket you have it almost undoubtedly there, and most, first time, do not see it. Use a o-ring remover and you'll feel it if not see it. Get a new one.

On fluid, if you have an indy you can trust, get him to flush it completely or read up on it...think you're too far gone for turkey baster method...sorry. I don't know the full dump method...but believe one of the hoses from PS pump comes off and then the bleeding is simply turning wheel from full stop to full stop a few times...but read up carefully...like many diys, until, as I often say, "you get confused"...then you'll be ready I think.

Next, frankly, if fluid is that dirty, I believe the screen in reservoir can get so clogged, your fluid might not get through screen when it needs to...so look into getting a new reservoir...easy while you're dumping all the fluid anyway.

PS reservoir comes off with 2 10 mm bolts (think they're 10)...anyway, very simple. Most figure out some way of getting factory clamps off and just using new screw clamps. The two hoses are clamped on the bottom of the reservoir, when you unbolt it, you can get to them easily...hoses are relatively flexible. If you get new reservoir, get screw clamps too...and get new gasket for your cap.

The leak on your rack might be PS fluid from above, or it could be from the oil filter housing...or from the CCV...I'm thinking more likely the oil filter housing as it's above the rack and mine also leaked all over the rack...but I also have a ccv putting off oil down below. Just make sure you monitor oil level periodically...but more often than you have been! Nothing personal!

Also, since we know you neglected PS fluid checking...make sure that you periodically check other things that are very easy to check...coolant level, belt condition, leaks on underskirt or below car...don't ignore weird sounds too...use a hose as a stethoscope to check up on their location and then ask around here...someone will know.

These are beautiful machines, seemingly masquerading as clunkers here...they have issues...but just like any machine, if you don't maintain them, they'll be unreliable POS...but maintain them...beautiful! All I can say is mine is at 200K...I'm continuing my 4 year process of rebuilding her to new for the next 200K--I don't want to waste all my diy learning time...I'll just reinvest in another 100-200K!

You got some work to do...but based on your description, I bet that was the whole deal...and I'm sorry I didn't think to ask about such a basic as fluid before when I was covering basics!

Doug
 

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So I've been looking further, and I think both, play between the rack/shaft, and dead tie-rods are the main cause of the play.

So my plan of action will be to either replace the tie rods alone, or get a whole suspension rebuild kit, like this one:

http://www.ecstuning.com/BMW-E46-323i-M52_2.5L/Suspension/OEM/ES205227/

Question...there is no note as to this assembly being compatible with my 2002 325xi. Shouldn't it use the same parts? Or is the steering rack on the xi slightly different?

One more thing i noticed...

The sway bar bushings seem to have some minor play in them, is that normal?

Thanks again!
That's the wrong kit dude don't order that!!!

All of the pieces in those kits are xi specific- especially the steering rack and components!

$520 would be a great price though that's not going to happen on your xi.
Our suspension rebuild kits are designed to replace the common wear parts in your BMW while giving you a further upgrade in parts than what you would find at a normal BMW dealer.

The one's you would want for your Xi are available here...

Click HERE to order or for more information.


Feel free to shoot us a PM or email if you have any questions!

Cheers,
Joe
 

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Discussion Starter #18
Ok, so I bought my rear trailing arm bushing from the stealership the other day ($84 for both...?!??!?!).
I went to install them, and to my surprise, they looked fine to me.
I mean, when you peaked in from underneath the car, you could see some corrosion, and they totally looked like they needed replacement, but when I got a close look, this is what I saw....

You guys think, this needs replacement? Would you replace it?
How you I go about loosening them (they're jammed pretty bad with all the corrosion on that arm).
 

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If you already have it out, and you already bought the new parts, and the new parts only cost $84, why wouldn't you replace them?
 

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Discussion Starter #20
If you already have it out, and you already bought the new parts, and the new parts only cost $84, why wouldn't you replace them?
I couldn't pull them out, so I just put everything back together.
But that was my first thought as well.
My main concern is though, that I was really hoping that the problem would be mainly from these rear bushings, but they seem alright, so now I'm worried...
I made a puller for it, but I bent on me from being so corroded and stuck in there.
What can I use to make that come loose? WD-40?

Cheers
 
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