DIY – Front control arm bushing replacement BMW Z4 (E85) or 3-series (E46)

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February 13, 2015 by quirkyuncle@gmail.com

Replacing the front lower control arm bushings on a 2007 BMW Z4 (E85) or 3-series (E46) is easy, if you know this secret.

Front end rear control arm bushings are a common failure item for the BMW Z4 (E85) and 3-series (E46). The steering starts feeling a bit loose and you might hear some subtle clunking when you go over pavement seams. As the part continues to degrade, you’ll note a weird settling forward when braking.

I replaced my stock control arm bushings with a set of Lemfoerder hydraulic bushings, that came highly recommended by a local BMW specialist. Lemfoerder bushings cost about $100 for the pair, online.

Z4 control arm bushing part

Replacement is a fairly easy job. Here is a video showing the process of checking and replacing the bushing:

This guy obviously knows what he is doing and makes it look very easy. Most things are a lot easier when you have a lift and air tools. Still, even when performed by hand, this job isn’t too bad – if you know the trick.

As he states in the video, some bushings install easier than others. This turned out to be an understatement.

For my first bushing, I pressed it in place and then hit it a few times with a rubber mallet. It slid on about half way.

I hit it some more. It did not move.

I hit it harder. It did not move.

I wailed on it like a madman. It did not move.

For the next hour, I tried various means to seat the bushing. I tried hitting blocks of wood with a metal hammer… I tried hitting blocks of wood with a bigger hammer… I removed the bushing and re-greased it with different types of lubricant. (I did not try soapy water, which one of my readers has found helpful – I’ll use that next time. Thanks, Trent!)

I beat on the bushing a lot… nothing I could do would get it more that 3/4 of the way on.

I finally admitted defeat. The car was not drivable in its present state and could not even be lowered without the bushing being fully seated. I gave up and decided to put the old bushing back on the car and pay (!) someone to install the new ones.

The new bushing slid off fairly easily. I greased the old one and it slid on the control arm, all the way, without a hammer.

Hmmm… did the rubber need to stretch?

I took the old bushing back off, re-greased the new bushing and fit it on the control arm backwards (rear side to the front). I held it there for a minute, flipped it back to the correct orientation, and tried putting it back on.

The bushing slid on all the way, by hand: no hammer required. I used this process the for the second bushing and it also slid right on, just needed to tap the second one lightly twice with a rubber mallet to seat it.

Side one: 1.5 hours. Side two: 5 minutes.

Tools and Time

Tools: Screwdrivers, wrench/socket, rubber mallet
Supplies: Grease, WD-40, soapy water
Time: 5 minutes (per side, not counting jacking up the car)
Difficulty: Easy

Procedure

NOTE!!!
Cars are very heavy. A car on a jack is not stable and can easily fall – always use jack stands and do this task on a firm and level surface (not in the road)! You can get hurt or die! Be careful! You are performing this procedure at your own risk!

Note:

  • Control arm bushings should be replaced in pairs.
  • Right and left control arm bushings are not the same. Make sure that you install the correct bushing on the correct side.
  1. Jack up the front of the car and remove the front tires. Jack stands should be placed under the lift points just forward of the front edges of the doors to leave clear access to suspension components.
  2. Remove the metal under body panel. On my Z4 it is secured by:
    1. At the front edge, three hex-head screws that secure it to the plastic under-body shield.
    2. At the rear, one small hex-head bolt at the rear of a small square shield under the clutch.
    3. Eight 16mm hex head bolts, two in each corner.

    Remove hardware in the order listed above. Leave one of the front bolts in place, caught by a couple threads, then support the panel as you fully remove the last bolt.

  3. Unbolt the rear control arm bushing. It is secured by two 16mm hex-head bolts. Note its orientation prior to removal. The rear of the control arm will gently drop a few inches under its own weight, once the bolts are removed.
  4. Feel the bushing and note how far the end of the control arm protrudes past the rubber core of the bushing.
  5. Slide the bushing off the control arm using a gear puller. If you’re lucky, you might be able to pull it off by hand, but they usually do get stuck in place over time.
  6. Clean the end of the control arm. I wiped mine with some WD-40 and then hit it lightly with a round wire brush in a cordless drill.
  7. Lightly grease the end of the control arm and the inside of the new control arm bushing.
  8. Orient the new bushing in the same way as the original bushing was installed, making sure that the hexagonal shapes line up; then, press the bushing on the end of the control arm. Slide the bushing in as far as you can by hand and hold it in place for a minute; then, slide the bushing off the control arm.
  9. Orient the new bushing so that it is backwards (rear side facing forward), making sure that the hexagonal shapes line up; then, press the bushing on the end of the control arm. Slide the bushing in as far as you can by hand and hold it in place for a minute; then, slide the bushing off the control arm.
  10. Orient the new bushing in the same way as the original bushing was installed, making sure that the hexagonal shapes line up; then, press the bushing on the end of the control arm. Slide the bushing in all the way. You might need to hit it a few times with a rubber mallet to fully seat it. When fully seated, the end of the control arm will protrude past the rubber inside the bushing as you felt in step 4.
  11. Lift the control arm into place and fit the recesses in the upper side of the control arm mounting plate over the sleeves on the frame.
  12. Secure the control arm in place using the two bolts you removed in step 3. Tighten fully.
  13. Repeat steps 3 through 12 for the other control arm bushing.
  14. Install the metal under-body panel:
    1. Tuck the front edge of the metal panel in above (behind) the front plastic under-body shield panel and hold the in place while you catch one of the front 16mm bolts that secures the metal panel.
    2. At the rear, lift the rear of the panel and secure the one small hex-head bolt at the rear of a small square shield under the clutch.
    3. At the front edge, install the three hex-head screws that secure the metal panel to the plastic under-body shield.
    4. Install the remaining 16mm hex head bolts in the metal-under-body panel, two in each corner.
    5. Fully tighten all hardware.
  15. Install the front tires, lower the front of the car, and tighten the front tire bolts. If your front tires are not directional (arrow indicating direction of rotation on the sidewall), you can use this as an opportunity to cross-rotate the front tires.

Enjoy a much tighter ride!

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