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BMW E36 and E46 3 Series Tie Rod Replacement Instructions

The procedure for replacing the tie rods is very similar for both E36 and E46 BMW 3 series cars. The first step is to remove the front wheels. You will have to pop the control arms out of position using a pickle fork, also known as a ball join separating tool. The tie rods are held onto the steering knuckle by a ball joint very similar to the control arms. The tie rods are removed the same way as the control arms. Spin the nut off and use the pickle fork to separate the tie rod from the steering knuckle. These are no where near as bad to get off though as the control arms were because they don’t see the kind of force the control arms do. After you get the outer tie rod ball joints off it will be time to move on to the inner tie rods which are hooked to the steering rack.

There are two rubber booties that protect the steering rack from road grime, held onto the steering rack and tie rod by crimped-on metal clamps. Use a small flathead screwdriver inserted in the crimped portion and twist to spread the crimp out a bit. This allows you to unhook the clamp and remove it from the rubber boots. Repeat this step three more times for the other ones. Then pull back the boot on the steering rack side and you will see a nut with the inner ball joint hooked to it and the other end is threaded onto the steering rack. This is the part that you need to remove. You will also note that there is a ring that has a tab bent down against one of the hex sides of the nut. This tab will need to be bent up and straighten before you can remove the nut from the steering rack. Just use a pair of pliers and bend the tab up so its straight and it will allow the nut to spin off. This ring is a safety that makes sure the nut will not un-thread just in case it comes loose. Be careful, as failure to properly secure this could lead to loss of control when driving your nice BMW.

You will now need a thin 32mm wrench, ideally a crowfoot wrench. Or you can buy a standard wrench and plain it down to the necessary narrow profile. Bicycle shops usually sell these crowfoot wrenches. You need a thin one to get in the small speace between the steering rack and nut. Remove this nut and remove the entire tie rod assembly from the vehicle. Repeat this process for both sides of your BMW.

Once you have the tie rods out from under the car, measure how long they are and try to get the measurements as accurate as possible. Next, take the new tie rods and thread each one out to be as close to the same length as the original ones, then tighten up the lock nuts on both. This is your best bet for eyeballing a crude alignment that will be sufficient to get you to the local tire shop for a real and necessary four wheel alignment.

To install the new tie rods on your E36 or E46 BMW, you first take the rubber boot and slide it over the ring on the new tie rod that holds the outer portion of the rubber boot. Then, take the safety ring on the steering rack that you had to bend the tab up on, and make sure it’s slid over the threaded part of the steering rack with the little notch that fits into the steering rack that locks it in place. Now thread the nut onto the threaded rod of the steering rack and tighten it up with your wrench. Make sure that lock ring though stays seated in the proper position and the little metal tab is locked in its notch. After these nuts are tight, tap the lock ring back down so a tab is pressed against one of the hex faces of the nut. This will prevent it from spinning off if it comes loose.

Slide the rubber boots over the steering rack and zip tie them securely in place instead of using the metal clamps. The outer tie rods should just be hanging and I did not bother to put them on until I was ready to put the outer control arms on. To finish up, simply put the stud of the ball joint through the steering knuckle and put the lock nut on the other side tighten up to the torque specs in the Haynes or Bentley manual and you’re all done.
make sure you get the front end aligned before you drive it very far or risk destroying your tires or at least having bizarre and harmful tread wear patterns.

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