It was my one year wedding anniversary, and I decided to take my wife down to PA for the weekend to a bed and breakfast. We decided to take my wife’s 1997 328i because it was the best on gas and has been relatively reliable. On our way down I-81, we hit a medium sized pothole when going through a curve. It was at that point that I felt a somewhat apparent skip, or tug, to the outside of the curve on the e36. The Pennsylvania roadways are known for their never ending road work and I didn’t think anything of it because after all, I-81 is not kind to your suspension. Within the next 250 miles of travel, this skipping got slightly worse. And I realized that it wasn’t simply going over bumps and blips at high speeds. That didn’t bother me. In fact, skips in the suspension while going over bumps on a straightaway was manageable, practically imperceptible. The issue was going over these highway bumps on curves. That’s how I was able to isolate the behavior. But I was still in denial at this point, thinking to myself that it’s all in my head. Not to mention, I didn’t want it to ruin my weekend.
By the time we got to our destination 4hrs later, I couldn’t take it anymore. Even my wife asked, “what was that?”. I didn’t understand much about the E36 suspension at the time, but knew enough to know that it was coming from the rear of the car.
We parked at our bed and breakfast and I did what any BMW owner does first. Kick and push/pull the tires to identify anything grossly loose. Nothing. But I was so concerned that the next day I interrupted our Saturday afternoon activities by bringing the car to an independent shop and having the car put on a lift. And I’m glad I did! It was then and there that I found the glaring problem. And it was the rear trailing arm bushings, only one of them to be exact. Being an E30 aficionado, I quickly realized that the rear suspension design was nothing like the E36 equivalent.
If you take a look below, you’ll see the differences between the E30 and the newer E36 rear trailing arm bushings. And to save you the suspense, the E46 bushings are identical to the E36 style.
The E36/E46 trailing arm bushings sit inside of a metal enclosure, or “holster” if you will. Connected to the frame by a mere 3 bolts that are easily accessible. Just lift the car, take off the wheel, and remove the bolts as I indicated below:
- Yes, the trailing arm will easily drop down.
- Yes, it exposes the main bushing bolt you need to remove the metal enclosure very easily.
But Yes, you must continue to maintain pressure on the trailing arm downward in order to expose that accessibility. It wants to spring back toward the frame. Nothing that can’t be fixed with a piece of wood wedge between the trailing arm and the body.
- No, it’s not easy removing the old bushing. You must cut the old out with a sawzall, or get lucky enough to press it out like below.
- No, re-installing the new rubber bushing is not easy. In fact you need a homemade press to get this done.
You see, after this issue came up, I researched the heck out of it, and I determined that these bushings are quite easy to replace. Again, if you want to go stock rubber, you’ll have the added complication of making your own press to get the old bushing out and the new rubber bushing in. This can be harder than you think. Urethane bushings are a popular and tasteful upgrade to your E36/E46 rear suspension, but also are so much easier to install in that you do not need a press!!
Hey, at least you’re not dealing with replacing the E30 rear subframe bushings. See below for a quick comparison. It's no picnic.
Upon closer inspection of my faulty E36 trailing arm bushing, I had mixed emotions. First, I was relieved that I found the part, and that this failure is a probable explanation for the behavior of the car on the highway, especially at highway speeds and on turns. However, based on how bad the old rubber bushing was, I didn’t know how in the world the car was able to function!!
The second discovered the issue, threw the indy shop $40 for his troubles, ordered the Garagistic E36/E46 urethane bushings and replaced them in a couple days later. Good as new. I got the 80A for the comfort version. In no way, shape, or form was my E36 going to be a race car!
Nevertheless, I crawled home the next day, received the parts soon thereafter, and replaced both bushings in my garage with nothing more than a few hand tools, and the sawzall of course. After that, my E36 drove beautifully!
In the end, the car was repaired, thanks to Garagistics’s quick turn-around of quality parts, and I was able to drive it like I stole my wife’s 173k mile 328i!
Thanks for reading and stay tuned!
- Frank Macaluso
(main photo credit by:BBS Racing/RIH)