Friday, January 9, 2015

The Definitive BMW E46 3-Series (1999-2006) Suspension Refresh Guide! (Cheapest prices) 1/2015

This guide will provide essential information and part numbers to refresh your non-M E46 suspension.

I realize a lot of people are on budgets so I'll divide this list into three stages in order of most important (failure prone) to least important (more durable).

Stage 1:

Front control arm bushings w/ bracket, part number 31126783376 x 2

Genuine BMW Front Control Arm Bushing Set (With brackets for easy install)

Associated FCAB hardware:

Bracket bolts (four per car), part number 33306760652 x4 (Meyle HD units come w/ new bolts. If Genuine BMW does too, then no need to order new bolts for the brackets)  BMW bushings are great and they maintain the supple yet firm steering feel BMWs are known for.  You can take it a step further in both feedback/feel and durability and get a solid rubber design like Meyle HD.

At 50,000+ miles, these bushings are well on their way out, if not completely expired. Symptoms can and will include play in steering at any speed, click/clunk as you sharply apply the brake, or steering wheel vibration under braking or general looseness in the steering.

Install tips: 

If you're replacing just the bushings, you'll need a gear puller to separate the bushing and bracket from the end of the control arm.  To reinstall, lube up the control arm and bushing with 1 part soap to 20 parts water and firmly tap onto the arm with a rubber mallet.  The end of the control arm should be flush with the end of the bushing. Don't tap on too far and don't tap on too little.  When you reinstall the reinforcement plate, make sure you purchase 8 new bolts. These are designed to be changed every time you reinstall the plate. They shear in the event of a crash. You don't want to compromise these very crucial items.

Reinforcement plate bolts, link to buy:

Struts and Shocks

Struts are in front, shocks are in back. If you have 50,000 or more miles on your E46, your Original Equipment (OE) Sachs-Boge Struts and Shocks are severely degraded, if not totally blown out. You won't notice this because your BMW is stiffly sprung and sway-barred.  It will still ride firm, turn sharply, etc.  The struts/shocks are crucial in wheel control. Your directional stability is severely compromised when your struts and shocks are failed.  This will also cause excess and uneven tire wear. The parts listed below are OE Sport Suspension units. (I'll probably edit this list to include ZHP as well)  Keep in mind these part numbers are for OE/OEM units.  Many people, including myself, go aftermarket.  Personally I went with Bilstein.

BMW performance ZHP, Strut left, part number 31312282459
BMW performance ZHP, Strut right, part number  31312282460

Sport suspension 9/01+ Strut left, part number 31316750791
Sport suspension 9/01+ right, part number 31316750792

Associated strut/shock hardware (highly recommended)

Strut mount (2 per car), link to buy:
Bump stop (2 per car), link to buy:

Strut tower reinforcement plates (VITAL--must install! Or you risk bending/distorting the chassis! Especially with stiffer shocks/struts) two per car, link to buy:


Shocks BMW performance ZHP, (2 per car) part number 33522282461 , link to buy:
Shocks sport package, (2 per car) part number 33521096366, link to buy:
Shock mount (2 per car), link to buy:

Associated hardware

Bump stop (2 per car), link to buy:
Paper gasket (2 per car), link to buy:
Shock tower reinforcement plates (2 per car), part number 51718413359 (VITAL--must install!)

If your bump stops are in good condition, you may reuse. If soft, deteriorated, or chunks missing just replace it.  If you go aftermarket Bilstein, they feature internal bump stops. No need for external bump stops.

Install tips:

Perform this work at your own risk. Do not engage in any work that is beyond your comfort and/or skill level.  Always secure car on level ground using quality jackstands.  Use quality jacks to lift car only, not support.

You will need a quality set of spring compressors, a variety of heavy-duty tools such as a breaker bar, heavy duty ratchet, large socket set and an allen key set (I believe you'll need a 6mm allen key to prevent the strut piston from turning as you undo the top nut.)  You'll need a 21 or 22mm socket to undo the top nut. Make sure the socket has a hexed-head on it so you can turn it using a 21 or 22mm open end wrench as you hold the piston stationary using a 6mm allen key. This is self-explanatory as you begin to do the work.  A nice electric or air-powered impact gun can also do the job quite nicely.

For installation and torque specifics, consult TIS or a Bentley owners' manual.

Always reuse all washers in correct orientation.

Always replace suspension components in pairs.

Always replace any hardware that is severely corroded or otherwise compromised or damaged.

Always install quality name-brand parts.

Front swaybar endlinks

Chances are your front swaybar endlinks are torn where the rubber boots hold the grease at the balljoints.  Replace.  Link to buy:

Rear swaybar endlinks

Link to buy:

Install tips:

Both front wheels have to be unloaded before you begin to remove/install these. Use one 16mm socket and ratchet and a 16mm open-ended wrench on the other side to counter hold the bolt as you loosen the nut.  No special tools are needed. These need to be installed TIGHTLY or you WILL hear a clunk or pop while driving over bumps.  I can't stress this enough.

Front swaybar bushings

These definitely need replacing. Worn bushings will compromise the response and stability of side-to-side maneuvering.  Two per car:

23.5mm for 4/01+ vehicles with sport package, part number 33556751269

23mm (non-sport?) part number 31351097179.

Note: I ordered 23.5mm bushings but received 23mm bushings. I installed them without any problems. Slightly tighter fit.

Rear swaybar bushings

Rear: 18mm all sedans 4/01+, non-sport sedans up to 4/01, part number: 33551138104

19mm all sedans with sport suspension up to 4/01, part number: 33551094551

20mm for convertibles, people who have upgraded, and I believe XIs, part number 33551096669

Bonus: 20mm rear swaybar part number 33556751267

Stage 2

Control arms

Theres an inner and outer balljoint.  Typically the outer balljoint fails first and is encased in nylon (less durable) on non-M and non-ZHP models.  It is recommended to replace with ///M ZHP arms or Meyle HD arms.

OEM Lemforder Control Arm Kit (BOTH SIDES) LEFT/RIGHT 

(Don't forget Meyle Control Arm Bushings if yours are worn out)  I've never seen or experienced a failed set. Mine are rock solid after 60,000 miles.

Install tips:

Front of car on jackstands, medium and large pickle forks, plenty of extensions, wobbles, step-down adapters.  Access drivers side control arm inner nut from top and passenger side from down below.

Always buy brand new genuine BMW nuts for the control arms (two per arm) part number, 31106774714 x2, and 32216769539 x2.  Do not skimp on these. Do not use the ones supplied by Meyle.

Tierods (complete assembly)

Self-explanatory.  Any signs of play, damage or leaking of rubber balljoint casing, replace.

Tierod left part number 32211096897
Tierod right part number 32211096898

Tierood boot kit
Two per vehicle, part number 32131096910

Rear trailing arm bushing:

Replace these at 60,000+ miles.  Worn bushings will degrade rear-end stability and basically cause your rear wheels to excessively and unexpectedly to steer.  You'll notice this especially when accelerating from a stop.

Part number 33326770817 (two per vehicle)

Install tips:

Use MIS RTAB tool. Nothing else. Don't even think about it or attempt it.  Use large hose clamp in center of bushing to completely compress the split joint as you begin to press it into the trailing arm. Once in, remove clamp.

Be sure to unclip/unscrew main brake line and associated lines clipped onto the trailing arm.  Have heavy duty breaker bar and torque wrench ready with two 18mm sockets.  Pre-load bushing carrier by aligning the same way it came out. For me the carrier was lined up PERFECTLY with a line naturally casted into the trailing arm. You'll see what I mean when you eyeball it.  Worked like magic.

Get an alignment immediately after. Your toe will be WAY out of spec no matter how much you try to get it lined up perfectly.

Steering Coupler/Flex-Disc/Universal Joint

Part number 32301094703. Apply blue loc-tite when reinstalling the bolts. Make sure threads are cleaned on all bolts and the two splined shafts which the coupler installs on.

Install tips: 

Do this part at the same time as the control arm bushings. The reinforcement plate will have to come off.

Stage 3


These require tons of labor and special tools. These are for the pickiest of picky.  You'll need an E36/E46 rear axle service kit which can be found here:

An even CHEAPER axle service kit:

Or unrelated: Fan clutch tool:

Rear end subframe and rear upper/lower, inner/outer control arms bushings and balljoints.

Rear control arms/trailing arm (except main RTAB because it's listed under stage 2)

33326775551 x2
33326771828 x2
33321092247 x2
33326770824 x2


33316770783 x1
33316770784 x1
33316770781 x2


33176770788 x2
33176751808 x1

Differential Bushing Bolts:

33176760337 x2 (Two small diff bolts)
33176760336 x1 (One large diff bolt)
33306760349 x1 (Self-locking nut for large diff bolt)

The Definitive BMW E46 3-Series (1999-2006) Maintenance Guide complete with best prices! 1/2015

How does Mango care for his E46?

You just bought your non-M E46 (323/328, 325/330) and you are probably wondering: What do I do now?

Lets start with the basics on how to make sure your E46 is BULLETPROOF for years to come. These are very common failure areas for the E46 and they WILL leave you stranded.  Fortunately, it doesn't cost that much to bring your E46 to roadworthy condition!

Battery - $100-$200

Right off the bat, the first thing I did when I bought my E46 was throw away whatever battery is in the trunk. Unless you have receipts proving the battery is newer than 5 years old, replace it.  A weak battery is known to cause many problems with the electrical systems in the form of cluster lighting up with warning lights to the car randomly doing other electrical-related things.  The most obvious one is your car not starting.  The E46 relies heavily on proper voltage or the electronics tend to be unreliable.  This is one of the few parts you should get at Autozone or Walmart.  Group size 94 or size H8.

E46 Voltage regulator

The voltage regulator is located on the back of the alternator. It regulates voltage to ensure proper operation of the electrical system. Basically by around 6-10 years, they start to fail. This will kill a new battery.  Replace it.This one is a bit tricky because you'll have to pull your alternator out to know which kind you need.  There's a rounded D-shaped connector and squared off rectangle connector. Pray you have the squared off rectangle connector because it's cheaper.  The D-shape connector is found by searching under the BMW Z4.   If you want to buy a rebuilt alternator, check out

E46 Final Stage Resistor $45

This must be replaced. It can drain your battery (killing it permanently no matter how new or old it is) and cause your blower to blow inconsistently or not at all.  Replace it.  Don't be stuck in the summer time with your AC refusing to blow cold air or worse yet a completely dead battery all because you wanted to skimp on $45!

Genuine BMW 5W-30 Engine oil

Mobil 1 0W-40 Engine oil - Approved by Mercedes Benz, Lexus, Porsche, etc. German Specification.

Change your engine oil and filter anywhere between 7,500 and 12,000 miles.  You can likely go up to 15,000 miles without any problems as our cars hold 7 quarts, however for peace of mind, follow the 7,500-12,000 guideline.

Per the BMW owner's manual, you should check the oil level 5 minutes after a hot engine has been shut down. The dipstick is calibrated to read accurately after 5 minutes has passed.

Note: If you track your car, love to drive in a spirited matter, and/or experience lifter tick noise, it is common practice to overfill by one quart for a total of eight quarts.

You should be using oil with a specification ACEA B3/B4 (extended drain/high performance criteria) and/or LL-01.  The following oils are the most readily available proper oil for your car:

Genuine BMW 5W-30
Castrol European Formula 0W-30
Mobil 1 European Formula 0W-40
Pennzoil Ultra 5W-40 European Formula

Genuine BMW-Mann E46 Oil Filters  $5

E46 Oil Filter Housing Gasket  $4

You can use any OE-spec parts store filter in a pinch, but I recommend using Mahle or Mann OE-quality/OEM filters.  Don't skimp here. This is the lifeline of your engine.

Mahle supplies filters to BMWs for their ///M cars.  Mann supplies for non-M.  Both are fine but I prefer Mahle--the quality seems more robust/high-end. Part number:

Spark plugs

Replace every 60,000 miles (BMW says 100,000) NGK BKR6EQUP (6)

Fuel filter, link to buy  $50

OEM Mahle.  If your upper intake boot has an "F" connector with a vacuum line attached, your car has the integrated fuel pressure regulator.  Most E46s come with this. I believe the M56 SULEV  325 cars use the plain in/out filter. Do this every 50,000 miles.

Differential oil, link to buy:

Synthetic 75W-90 gear oil such as Mobil 1 75W-90.  Your non-LSD diff holds approximately 1 quart.  Do this every 50,000 miles

Transmission oil, link to buy (automatic--be sure to check your specific model requirements at your local BMW dealership) or manual:

Automatic Transmission

You should change your automatic transmission fluid and filter with OE or OE-spec'd high-quality fluid every 50-75k miles.  The type and amount of fluid will depend on your year/make/model.  I will list the various types of automatic transmissions and their corresponding fluid:

323i/iS/iC 7/98-3/00, 328i/iS 6/98+ - GM 5L40 (A5S 360R) Texaco ETL 7045E, supercedes ETL 7045, BMW part number: 83220026922

323i/Ci 3/00-8/00, 325i/Ci/Cic 8/00+, 325iT 3/01+, 330i/Ci/Cic 6/00+ - ZF 5HP19 (A5S 325Z), Esso ATF LT 71141, BMW part number: 83229407807

325xi/xiT 8/00+, 325iT 8/00+, 330xi 8/00+ - GM GM5 (A5S 390R), Texaco ETL 8072B, BMW part number: 83220024359

Manual Transmission

BMW MTF-LT-2, or equivalent

Air filters, link to buy:

These should be replaced at roughly every 15,000 miles.  Use Genuine/OEM Mann.

Cabin air filter, link to buy:

These should be replaced at roughly every 15,000 miles.

Idle Control Valve, link to buy:

Clean every 50,000 miles or replace.  I use SeaFoam Deep Creep:

You might want to replace the rubber grommet which seals it to the intake manifold.  Link to buy:

Clean throttle body

Couldn't find a DIY, but personally I recommend cleaning it.  From the outside (front) mine appeared to be spotless.

The backside was a VERY different story.  Use throttle body cleaner. Requires removal of the airbox, upper and lower intake boots, and electrcial wire junction box.  Four bolts hold it on.  Replace the rubber throttle body gasket.

Throttle body gasket for 323/325/328:

Throttle body gasket for the 330:

DISA Valve

This part can also cause vacuum leaks. It works by altering the volume of the intake manifold depending on engine operation/speed for optimum power and torque under all driving conditions. This system is part of the heart and soul of the BMW M54 powerplant.  Don't skimp here. Remove and inspect yours to ensure the flap is not loose.

You should feel resistance as you manually operate the flap. There should be no excessive noises or rattling.

325/2.5L engines currently use this part:

330/3.0L engines currently use this part:

323/328 - 2.3L & 2.8L engines appear to currently use this part:

Brake fluid, link to buy:

You should completely replace and bleed your brake system every two years or 25,000 miles or more frequently if you see track use or have overheated your brakes/fluid.  I recommend ATE Super Blue (or amber if you had blue last) :

Some also use Motul for more serious heavy-duty driving.

Valve cover gasket, link to buy:

Major source of leaks.  If the front or passenger side (right side) of your engine is covered in oil, then your valve cover gasket is leaking. By 60,000 miles, these are hard, dry, and brittle.  Use Permatex Ultra Black at half moon areas and vanos seams.  LESS IS MORE. Use very little sealant. Don't forget the 15 rubber grommets: part number: [B]11121437395[/B].  Up to 9/02, part number [B]11129070990 [/B]and 9/02+: [B]11120030496[/B].  If you experience repeated leaking, your valve cover could be damaged or warped.

Oil filter housing gasket, link to buy:

Major source of MAJOR leaks. The left side of the block will be wet and you'll have puddles in your driveway. Replace when leaking.

Vanos line, link to buy:

Do this when you replace the oil filter housing gasket.  Link to buy:

Also replace four 14x20 copper sealing gaskets, link to buy 4x gaskets:

Power steering

Use ATF Dexron III only.  Replace reservoir as it has integrated filter.  Link to buy reservoir:

Also trim and re-clamp (using new universal clamps) the power steering lines to the bottom of the reservoir and to the return line at the pump. The BMW clamps get loose over time and oil leaks/seeps out.


Of course, clean the exterior/interior and engine compartment.  There's nothing worse than a dirty car with an engine compartment full of leaves, debris, oil, spiders, and dead rats. Cleaning also can help reveal problem areas or parts that are leaking.  A clean engine is also more satisfying to work on.

I use the Wagner 915 steamer for my interior, engine compartment, and certain exterior items as well. I can't even begin to tell you how well this works! Great for home too. No need for chemicals (Saves $$!!)

Cooling System Guide (Complete)

These are the absolute bare essentials to have a nice running and decently reliable car.   It doesn't stop here though.

Links or products subject to change.  Research your particular vehicle, part numbers, and/or needs for your application.