BMW DIY – Shock, Strut, Spring Replacement, E30 3-Series, How To
This answer is applicable for many BMWs in addition to the one listed below.
car year: 1991
car model: 318i
Hi Otto aka BAVauto experts, I’m in the planning stages of replacing my stock shocks with Bilstein Sports (soon to be purchased at BAV) and wanted to know if you have a write up on how to install these parts? I’m definitely doing the rears as I know they are easy on the E30 chassis but depending on how hard the fronts are, i might pass that along to a seasoned BMW shop.
This answer can be applied to shock and strut replacement on all E30 3-series except 325ix (84-91 – 318i. 318is. 318ic, 325e, 325es, 325i, 325is, 325ic, M3), as well to the front shock replacement on most BMW coupe (CS), sedan (Bavaria), 2002, 5, 6, 7 and 8 series models through the late ’80s and mid ’90s.
Note that, with minor differences in how the front strut is attached to the hub/spindle, the E36 procedures are applicable to E46 3-series (99-05 – 323i, 323ci, 323cic, 325i, 325ci, 325cic, 325xi, 328i, 328ci, 328cic, 330i, 330ci, 330cic, 330xi, M3).
We do not have a video yet scheduled for shock/strut replacement on the E30 3-series chassis (84-91). However, we do have a photo DIY for the E36 3-series (92-98), which is very similar. The main difference is that the E30 (and all BMWs up through the late ’80s and some into the early ’90s) use a permanent strut housing at the front, which is part of the wheel hub and spindle assembly and also includes the lower spring seat. The actual shock absorber is a cartridge that inserts into the strut housing. On later models, the shock absorber is actually the complete strut assembly, including the lower spring seat and this assembly is then attached to the wheel hub and spindle assembly.
Click HERE for shocks and struts
(enter your year & model and search “shock”)
- This task requires that the front of the vehicle be lifted and properly, and safely, supported so that the front wheels are off the ground.
- Remove the wheels and tires.
- Disconnect the brake hose and brake pad wear sensor and ABS wheel speed sensor wires (if used) from the bracket on the strut housing by pulling (rolling) the rubber grommet on each of these wires or hoses out of the cut-out in the bracket.
- Remove the brake caliper and hang it out of the way in a manner that does not stretch or stress the brake fluid hose. Click HERE to see the DIY video on replacing BMW brakes for detail on removing the brake caliper.
- Disconnect the tie-rod outer end from the steering arm on the hub/spindle assembly. On some 5/6/7 series models the steering arm can actually be unbolted and removed from the hub/spindle, without disconnecting the tie-rod end.
- Disconnect the outer control arm ball-joint from the hub/spindle. Note that most 5/6/7 series models have two control arms with a ball-joint on the end of each arm. Both ball-joints must be disconnected. Click HERE to see the DIY video on replacing 3-series control arms for an example of disconnecting ball-joints (including tie-rod ends).
- Support the strut and hub/spindle assembly by placing a floor jack under the assembly (or have a helper support the assembly). Remove the three upper mount nuts that secure the strut assembly into the strut tower. These are the three nuts that are accessed from under the hood, at the top of the strut assembly.
- Lower the strut assembly and remove it from the wheel well area.
- Disassemble the upper mount and spring from the strut assembly, using a proper spring compressor tool (click HERE for spring compressor).
Click HERE for DIY on E36 3-series shock/strut replacement, showing use of a spring compressor and upper mount removal.
- Using large “Channel-Lock” pliers or a pipe wrench, unscrew and remove the upper collar nut at the top of the strut tube. This nut may be difficult to remove due to rust and corrosion. Note that the new shock insert will come with a new nut. Therefore, you don’t have to worry about tearing up the nut in attempting to remove it. Securing the strut assembly in a large bench vise will allow you to apply the needed torque to the nut. It may also help to apply heat from a propane torch to the top of the strut housing in the area where the nut is threaded (on E30s, the nut is male and threads into the tube). On some other models the nut is female and threads on the outside of the strut tube.
- Once the nut has been removed, pull the shock cartridge out of the strut tube.
- Tip the strut tube upside-down to drain out any accumulated oil or water.
- Insert the new shock cartridge into the strut tube.
- Install the new collar nut over the insert and onto (into) the strut tube. Torque the nut as noted in the applicable manual. As this nut does not allow a common torque wrench to be used, in reality the torque is “good and tight”.
- Reassemble the strut, spring, new upper mount and the ancillary hardware in the same order as it was removed. Refer to the DIY link noted in step 9, above, for reassembly photos and steps.
- Install the upper mount studs up through the chassis strut tower and start the three nuts onto the studs.
- Install the control arm ball-joint(s). Refer to the PART-2 video noted in step 6, above, for ball joint reassembly.
- Install the tie-rod end to the steering arm (in a similar manner to the control arm ball-joints).
- Install the brake caliper.
- Install the brake fluid hose, ABS sensor wire and pad wear sensor wire (as applicable) to the bracket on the strut housing.
- Repeat steps 3 through 20 for the opposite side.
- Install the wheels and tires and lower the vehicle.
- This task requires that the rear of the vehicle be lifted and properly, and safely, supported so that the rear wheels are off the ground.
- Remove the wheels and tires.
- Click HERE for DIY on E36 3-series shock/strut replacement, showing steps 1 through 13 for REAR SHOCK replacement.