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E36 325i/325is/328i/328is/318i/318is/M3 Slip Ring and Other Steering Comonents To Watch

Anyone who drives any E36 BMW model should be aware of a problem that is extremely common among higher mileage E36 BMW's. It's the steering wheel slip ring failure problem. I awoke one December morning to drive my trusty 1995 325is to work. Upon turning the steering wheel, loud crunching noises began to emanate from the steering column. The airbag light came on. The horn stopped working, and steering effort became inconsisent, stiff one moment, light and free the next.

What happened? The slip ring, which allows the airbag sensors to maintain contact via a reel during lock to lock turning, had failed. A piece of the plastic had broken off, and sheared the wiring inside. It caught on the turn signal cancel post and tore up everything. What a mess!

Be aware that there are actually different slip rings, so not just one ring will work for all E36 models. The dealer gets around $160 for this part, which includes the entire slip ring, wiring and plugs. To replace your BMW's steering slip ring (these instructions can be used for replacement of this part on most bmws of the 1990's, such as E34 5 series, E38 7 series, and the 1996+ 5 series as well...), use the following instructions:

1. Disconnet the car's battery and let drain for 30 min to 1 hour. This is important as the airbag retains a charge for awhile. Just disconnect the negative terminal.

2. remove the plastic trim under the steering column. There are a 2 screws. The screw is at the very bottom of the underside of the steering column. Remove it and then remove the plastic trim piece that covers the bottom half of the steering column. You'll need to push your cruise control lever around to get the plastic piece out without breaking it, but it will come out.

3. Remove the orange SRS connector from its holder and carefully unplug connector. There's a tiny little tab you'll need to press in on the side... use a ball-point pen. The connector should slip apart.

4. Working behind steering wheel, completely loosen Torx screws (T30) while holding airbag in place. Support airbag to prevent it from falling out. These scews are a PAIN but they WILL come loose if you're patient. These are the four torx scres on the backside of the steering wheel. I recommend just buying a torx driver from your local auto parts store. Normal screwdriver length.

5. Carefully lift airbag off of steering wheel and disconnect orange harness connector from rear of airbag unit. Mine just pulled straight off. Be careful to set the airbag down face-up, someplace out of the way. Oh, and the brown wire is the horn button. Just pull gently on the connector. It's a simple blade connector.

6. Now remove the steering wheel center bolt, number 6 in the diagram. If I recall correctly you'll need a 17mm socket here. Before I removed the steering wheel, I take a sharpie marker and mark 3 points on the splines of both the wheel and the steering shaft, to make lining it up easier afterwards.

7. Now you can see the tip of the hollow steering spindle through the middle of the steering wheel. The outer edge of the spindle is toothed where the wheel slides over it. Use an ultra-fine tipped marker or something similar to mark the exact position of the steering wheel relative to the steering column shaft; that way you can put the steering wheel back on in precisely the same position later.

8. Remove steering wheel. You might need to turn the ignition switch on if the wheel was locked.

9. Take the unit over to a workbench and use a Torx t10 bit and a small screwdriver to disconnect the old slip ring.

10. Carefully note the position of the slip ring and replace with the new one. Use copper paste dielectric grease on it to prevent corrosion and squeaks.

11. Reassembly is the the opposite of these instructions. Pay attention- Once you have put the steering wheel back on the car, DO NOT let the slip ring turn on the wheel. Important! Turn it as little as possible until everything is buttoned back up.

12. Also, while you have your E36 BMW's steering wheel apart, examine the white plastic collar on the steering shaft and the bearing below it. Both wear and fail on many cars. The symptom of this is a loose steering shaft that has some vertical and horizontal play! This has not happened on my car, but it has on my friend's 1997 328i.

13. The great thing about replacing the slip ring assembly is that the new one includes all of the electrical connector the failed old ring probably destroyed upon failure, and it is simply plug and play.

14. Your airbag light might stay on. Your local BMW dealership can reset this light, as can many independent BMW repair shops.

Now, you might wonder what some symptoms of a slip ring going bad are. They include squeaking noises and strangely stiff steering, plus the most notorious symptom, slow or no return to center when cornering.

Next time we will tackle control arm, bushing, and ball joint repair! The above article is valid for all E36 BMW cars, including the 1992 318i, 1992 318is, 1992 325i, 1992 325is, 1993 318i, 1993 318is, 1993 325i, 1993 325is, 1994 318i, 1994 318is, 1994 325i, 1994 325is, 1995 318i, 1995 318is, 1995 325i, 1995 325is, 1996 318i, 1996 318is, 1996 328i, 1996 328is, 1997 318i, 1997 318is, 1997 328i, 1997 328is, 1998 323i, 1998 323is, 1998 328i, 1998 328is, and 1994 M3, 1995 M3, 1996 M3, 1997 M3, 1998 M3, and 1999 M3, plus 1995 318ti, 1996 318ti, 1997 318ti, 1998 318ti, and some european market cars not sold in North America. Use your best judgement!

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