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E39 (1997 - 2003)
The BMW 5-Series (E39 chassis) was introduced in the United States as a 1997 model year car and lasted until the 2004 when the E60 chassis was released. The United States saw several variations including the 525i, 528i, 530i and 540i. -- View the E39 Wiki

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  #1  
Old 10-06-2012, 07:36 AM
EconoBox EconoBox is offline
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Suspension diagnose & DIY basics for beginners

I thought this was a nice opportunity to have a beginner's suspension thread that is a little more geared towards beginner DIY. This is one frontier that many people never tackle, b/c it's simply invisible under the car. This is a very arcane and mysterious topic that I'd love to learn more about and maybe even tackle as a DIY, provided it's safe and has decent odds of not needing to punt (frozen bolts, etc)

Symptom: I am getting a light clattering from the front, when going over bumps. It is NOT an abrupt staccato thud or clunk, but more a faint rattle over bumps.

How does one even go about diagnosing the suspension? Jack up the car and grab the wheel at 3,6,9,12 and see if it's loose. And if it is? Just start grabbing random bars until I see that one is loose?

Here is what's been replaced on my car by the PO:
67k: Both rear Sway Bar Links (Is there a sway bar in the rear of the car?)
67k: Left/Front Lower Rear Control Arm.
77k: Left/Front Lower Forward Control Arm
Car is now at 128k

The wording above absolutely needs clarification, and scares beginners away.
..."lower" and "rear" implies each wheel has 4 control arms? (Total of 16 control arms per car?)
For example, for the left/front wheel, do you have:
  1. Lower rear control arm (replaced on mine)
  2. Lower forward control arm (replaced on mine)
  3. Upper rear control arm
  4. Upper forward control arm

The huge roadblock here is that you don't even know what you're looking at !
It's just a bunch of spaghetti until someone shows you, and you work on it yourself.
Sure, THEN, it's easy enough for a 5th grader. Even photos do not help, b/c the perspective is confusing, and very few get under their cars to just look at the suspension.
But, until you replace each component yourself, it might as well be reading about rocket science in Greek.

It seems like these are the top service items in the suspension
This is just a big list of words. None have any meaning to a beginner.
  • Thrust Arm Bushing
  • Inner/Outer Tie rod
  • Worn or Failed Swaybar Endlinks
  • Control arm & bushings (upper/lower)
  • Stabilizer links
  • Ball joints (?)
  • Swing Arm/Stabilizer
  • Worn or Blown Shocks and Struts
  • Torn Subframe and Subframe Bushings

I read the #1 culprit is usually Thrust Arm Bushing.
Where is it in the photo? How do I check that?
Is this possible for a beginner DIY?

http://realoem.com/bmw/showparts.do?...17&hg=31&fg=05
  1. In the diagram above, which are the common wear parts that get replaced?
  2. Are there other diagrams that control other aspects of the front suspension ?
  3. What is the common name for #4 and #11?
  4. Can #4 be replaced by a beginner?
  5. Can #11 be replaced by a beginner?
  6. Which Harbor Freight special tool is needed for either #4 or #11 DIY?

http://forums.bimmerforums.com/forum....php?t=1120495
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  #2  
Old 10-06-2012, 08:00 AM
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bluebee bluebee is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by EconoBox View Post
I thought this was a nice opportunity to have a beginner's suspension thread that is a little more geared towards beginner DIY.
A beginner's suspension DIY thread would be a wonderful thing and is a noble endeavor.

Quote:
Originally Posted by EconoBox View Post
This is one frontier that many people never tackle
I agree. I, myself, am thoroughly confused by the confusing terms people bandy about, so, for me, I would love this thread to:
a) Explain the confusing terms (and show in-situ pictures of the parts)
b) Show how a beginner can inspect & identify the key culprits
c) Point to DIYs for a beginner to replace the identified failed parts

Since I've never done a suspension debug & overhaul, all I can do to help this worthwhile endeavor is point to the previous efforts so that this thread can start where the guys last left off.

First, I typed /front suspension F3 into the bestlinks, which found:
- DIY to replace suspension components, control arm (1), and complete front suspension overhaul (1)

Then, typing /thrust arm F3, I found:
- Thrust arm bushing replacement for the E39 I6 (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6) & V8 540i (1) (2) (3) & thrust arm recommended parts (1) (2) & brand selection (1) (2) & how to make your own BMW thrust bushing tool (1) or buy them (1) (2) or improvise (1)

In those referenced threads, I found the following 40-page BMW suspension training class which explains, in a general sense, the overall design:
- BMW_suspension_systems_training_all_BMW_including_ E39.pdf

Beginners should notice each front suspension arm has FOUR different names, some of which are unique while others overlap:
E39 I6 front suspension arms:
- Thrust arm (common name) = tension strut (BMW name) = leading control arm = upper control arm
- Control arm (common name) = wishbone (BMW name) = trailing control arm = lower control arm

E39 V8 front suspension arms:
- Thrust arm (common name) = traction strut (BMW name) = trailing control arm = upper control arm
- Control arm (common name) = wishbone (BMW name) = leading control arm = lower control arm

EXAMPLE: E39 I6:

EXAMPLE: E39 V8:


Beginners should make note of these often-conflicting and confusing definitions for the E39 thrust arms and control arms:

- thrust arm (longer than control arm, curved, hydraulic bushing)
- control arm (shorter than thrust arm, straight, solid rubber bushing)
...
- wishbone (i.e., the leading control arm on the V8, straight, shorter, solid bushing)
- wishbone (i.e., the trailing control arm on the I6, straight, shorter, solid bushing)
...
- traction strut (i.e., the curved thrust arm on the V8)
- tension strut (i.e., the curved thrust arm on the I6)
...
- upper control arm (i.e., the curved thrust arm, longer, rises higher to the frame)
- lower control arm (i.e., the straight control arm, shorter, rises lower to the frame)
...
- leading control arm (i.e., the curved thrust arm on the I6)
- leading control arm (i.e., the straight control arm on the V8)
...
- trailing control arm (i.e., the straight control arm on the I6)
- trailing control arm (i.e., the curved thrust arm on the V8)
...
Also:
- HD bushing (i.e., heavy duty, aka "solid" bushing)

Note: For the rear suspension, see these:
- How to do a complete overhaul of your E39 rear suspension (0) (1) (2) (3) (4) or just the rear subframe axle bushings (1) (2) or the rear upper control arm (1) or the rear shocks (1) & springs (1) & cv boots (1) & M5 sway bars (1) (2) with special tools for rear ball joint removal (1) & where to buy a rear ball joint press (1) (2) & what tools to use for the rear alignment (1) & what are the BMW TIS alignment specs & procedures (1) & how to do a reduced negative camber (1) or normal rear wheel alignment (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6) (7) (8) (9) (10) (11) & alignment with (1) or without extra weight (1) (2) (3)

To exit terminology clarification and get back on topic, I repeat the OP's questions below for others to help answer:
Quote:
Originally Posted by EconoBox View Post

0. Which are the common wear parts that get replaced?
  1. Are there other diagrams that control other aspects of the front suspension ?
  2. What is the common name for #4 and #11?
  3. Can #4 be replaced by a beginner?
  4. Can #11 be replaced by a beginner?
  5. Which Harbor Freight special tool is needed for either #4 or #11 DIY?
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See also: E39 Bestlinks & How to easily find what you need

Last edited by bluebee; 10-06-2012 at 08:51 AM. Reason: Added clarifying detail
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  #3  
Old 10-06-2012, 02:34 PM
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  #4  
Old 10-06-2012, 04:07 PM
EconoBox EconoBox is offline
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I jacked the car up and checked for play in the wheels.
I felt nothing obvious, but I'm clearly not qualified to know what I'm even looking for.
I yanked on the suspension parts and nothing even budged.

I plan to ask a real mechanic to diagnose this.
Based on reading other threads, I think front suspension is where I draw the line. Seems out of reach "big leagues" for simple driveway mechanics.
Even if I knew what I was looking at, I'm not going near cutting bolts, using air hammers, blow torches, exploding ball joints, hearing damage, etc

But, here is what I looked at:
Here is my front control arm / thrust arm bushing. I see no leak:


Is this correct?
Red: Front Control Arm / Thrust Arm
Yellow: Tie rod (with rubber bellows)
Blue: Rear Control Arm
Green arrow pointing to some ball joint behind these 3 arms (??)


Yellow: Some ball joint connected to thin rod connected to bar that meets the sway bar bushing on the subframe?

Last edited by EconoBox; 10-06-2012 at 04:14 PM.
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  #5  
Old 10-06-2012, 05:03 PM
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What about the upper strut tower bolts? Are they tight?
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  #6  
Old 10-06-2012, 07:09 PM
EconoBox EconoBox is offline
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How do I find the upper strut tower bolts?
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  #7  
Old 10-06-2012, 09:03 PM
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In engine compartment next to cabin filter and above the wheel.
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  #8  
Old 10-07-2012, 02:51 PM
EconoBox EconoBox is offline
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Those bolts are not loose.
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  #9  
Old 10-07-2012, 03:13 PM
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doru doru is offline
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Your 3d pic with the thin yellow marks is the sway bar link.
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Old 10-07-2012, 10:28 PM
EconoBox EconoBox is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by doru View Post
Your 3d pic with the thin yellow marks is the sway bar link.
Can you find it on realOEM? It's almost like a 3 part thing! Ball joint on the wheel connects to a long thin rod turns into a thicker bar that eventually connects to subframe.
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  #11  
Old 11-03-2012, 04:59 PM
vavet5308 vavet5308 is offline
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the thicker bar is the sway bar. The thin rods are the sway bar end links or sometimes called stabilizer end links.
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  #12  
Old 11-04-2012, 03:11 PM
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it's funny, but I've been chasing a very slight click/rattle/something in-between for almost 6 months.
My particular situation seems to be directly affected by ambiant temperature and/or duration of drive...the warmer the temp the sooner the noise and as the thermometer rises and length of drive increases, so does the frequency of the click...this is very odd.

I'm almost thinking it's the motor mounts because those are viscous and would be very temperature sensitive...complete guess at this point, but I've replaced anything that was remotely suspect and the noise continues, although much less since it's getting cold up here
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  #13  
Old 11-07-2012, 04:35 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by golferjohnm View Post
My particular situation seems to be directly affected by ambiant temperature and/or duration of drive...the warmer the temp the sooner the noise and as the thermometer rises and length of drive increases, so does the frequency of the click...this is very odd.
if you haven't renewed your front sway bar end links in some time, then perhaps this is the answer to your nagging click noise.
front end links don't last all that long...fwiw...the back seems to last 2x longer
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Old 11-07-2012, 06:05 AM
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Great summary of the front suspension parts and names. As for diagnosis of looseness and rattles, that's a little bit trickier. If you try the old school method of shaking a raised wheel at 12, 3 and 9 o'clock and you get actual knocking or clicking, its generally a metal on metal worn out condition. Like the ball joint ends of the thrust arm or control arm. If they are that far gone, you can sometimes actually see or feel the play if you can look while someone is shaking the wheel. The bushings are harder to diagnose, and I dont have any ready answers. A person normally cant shake the wheel hard enough to show a worn bushing. It takes the 1000's of pounds of force of the actual car to do that. The thrust arm takes the biggest beating, followed by the control arm. Fortunately, they are not too expensive to replace. Worn tie rods can be diagnosed with the 3/9 o'clock grab and visually looking or feeling the joint at the same time.

There is also the issue of front wheel bearing wear, that can throw mud into the water of figuring out a suspension looseness. Bearings will generally make noise as they fail, and on an E39 you may notice it most at highway speed where you get a slight wandering when going straight or entering a turn.

As for doing the work yourself, its nothing to be afraid of. Once you determine what part to replace its just a matter of having a good floor jack, a set of jack stands, and some wrenches, breaker bars, forks, and a 3-5 lb hammer. Go all in with an air hammer and impact wrench. Suspension parts are quite simple, but very strong, and you need to be able to apply some force. Oh, and a can of PB Blaster. Great stuff for frozen bolts. About 4 feet of black plumbers pipe is a great tool to fit over a breaker bar for the one bolt that will not give (there is one in every project). I call my pipe extension "The Persuader". It does the job.

My 528 front end is pretty worn out right now. I have about 186K on the car and I replaced the thrust arms about 70K ago. I have a shake on decel, a slight oscillation going over bumps, and I feel a thunk when I release the brakes from a stop from the front end shifting ever so slightly. Its driving me nuts, but I have two big garage projects going on right now and it will have to wait. But I got a GoPro camera and I was starting to try to diagnose and film some actual loose front end symptoms and what it actually looks like in the wheel well. Operating the gopro takes a little getting used to and I wasnt getting the right frame rate or view I wanted. Plus I had a major set back when the dang thing fell off on a test vid and was never recovered. (dont ever trust the suction cup without a back up method of securing it-EVER!) So, I recently bought another one and will give it a go sometime before I swap out the parts. It should prove useful to this thread.
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Old 11-08-2012, 03:30 AM
EconoBox EconoBox is offline
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Old 11-08-2012, 04:25 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by EconoBox View Post

I plan to ask a real mechanic to diagnose this.
Based on reading other threads, I think front suspension is where I draw the line. Seems out of reach "big leagues" for simple driveway mechanics.
Even if I knew what I was looking at, I'm not going near cutting bolts, using air hammers, blow torches, exploding ball joints, hearing damage, etc
Suspension work is not all that difficult. Like everything else, it APPEARS difficult for a first timer. However, there are some excellent DIYs to guide you through the process. There is no magic. It is simply turning nuts and bolts. Having the right tools (e.g. impact wrench) makes a HUGE difference and applying all the lessons learned by others really simplifies things and reduces risk. The cost savings can be significant.

On the other hand, diagnosis of a strange sound or problem can be much trickier. That takes experience and a complete understanding of how everything works. After my sway bar links failed, followed shortly by a control arm ball joint, I simply replaced EVERYTHING at 73K. That restored my original ride and handling (WOW!) and gives me (hopefully) about 50K-75K of problem free driving!
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Old 01-15-2013, 07:02 PM
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Subscribing to read up. Have vibration, or more accurately a feeling of torque under containment (if that makes any sense), under front seat at 75+ on highway. Nothing through steering wheel, nothing on braking.

I was thinking thrust arms, but symptoms don't sound like it based on searching to date.
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Old 09-01-2013, 10:39 AM
EconoBox EconoBox is offline
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67k: Left/Front Lower Rear Control Arm.
77k: Left/Front Lower Forward Control Arm


Still trying to figure out what exactly was replaced.
Which is the "lower rear"?
Which is the "lower forward"?



Last edited by EconoBox; 09-01-2013 at 10:45 AM.
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Old 09-01-2013, 02:26 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by EconoBox View Post
67k: Left/Front Lower Rear Control Arm.
77k: Left/Front Lower Forward Control Arm


Still trying to figure out what exactly was replaced.
Which is the "lower rear"?
Which is the "lower forward"?


Simple:

Both say "Left" meaning driver side, not passenger side.
Both say "Front" meaning front suspension, not rear.
Both say "Lower", which is meaningless. Both control arms are below the wheel.
The "Rear" (bushing side) is attached to the rear of the wheel and is the control arm or "wishbone" (#11). This is sometimes referred to as the upper control arm because the ball joint bolt is attached from above the wheel carrier.
The "Forward" (bushing side) is attached forward of the wheel and is the thrust arm or "traction strut" (#4). This is sometimes referred to as the lower control arm because the ball joint bolt is attached from below the wheel carrier.

Last edited by Fudman; 09-01-2013 at 02:30 PM.
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Old 09-02-2013, 10:11 AM
EconoBox EconoBox is offline
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Ok, so my driver's front Thrust and Control arms were replaced about 60k miles ago.
With steering shake, it's not ridiculous to just replace both sets on both sides, right? (total of 4 arms)

$120 for the Control arms ($240)
31121094233
31121094234

$105 for the Thrust arms ($210)
31121141717
31121141718

Total $450 + labor.
What's a fair labor rate to replace all 4 ?

Last edited by EconoBox; 09-02-2013 at 10:23 AM.
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Old 09-02-2013, 10:55 AM
caryalon caryalon is offline
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First you have to get involved in the holy war of choosing which control arms and thrust arms to buy. Some will say only Lemfoerder (OEM). Some will say Lemfoerder with Meyle HD bushings installed. Some will say Meyle HD arms. There are other opinions, too.

The thrust arms (#4) and the bushings (#5) are the usual culprits. New arms come with the bushings installed, and you get new ball joints, too. You can, alternatively, just replace the bushings.

Confused yet?
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Old 09-02-2013, 12:17 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by EconoBox View Post

Symptom: I am getting a light clattering from the front, when going over bumps. It is NOT an abrupt staccato thud or clunk, but more a faint rattle over bumps.
This sounds like your front sway bar links are bad. Don't just replace parts at random. That is the expensive way to go. Diagnose the problem and then fix it. Replacing sway bar links is an easy 30 min DIY.
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Old 09-02-2013, 02:03 PM
EconoBox EconoBox is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Fudman View Post
This sounds like your front sway bar links are bad. Don't just replace parts at random. That is the expensive way to go. Diagnose the problem and then fix it. Replacing sway bar links is an easy 30 min DIY.
That problem was already fixed with new struts and end links.
I am now addressing a steering wheel vibration on braking.
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Old 09-02-2013, 02:13 PM
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A slight tin can rattle over pump is usually the cause of heat shields at exhaust manifold.
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Old 09-02-2013, 02:16 PM
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EconoBox-I want to try to explain how to diagnose front suspension problems. The thrust arm bushings are easy provided your brakes are OK. If you step on the brakes at 50+ MPH and the steering wheel shakes, your thrust arm bushings are worn out. But you must be sure your front brakes are OK-no cheap warped discs, no spots on the discs where the brake pads can hang up momentarily and release, no excessive disc runout.

Now for the other end of the thrust arm (it's the curved one) and the control arm (the straight arm). The part of the control arm and the thrust arm that attaches to the wheel carrier are both ball joints. If you have a lift and are a full time auto tech you will know just how to grab the front wheel and apply large amounts of body force to make the ball joints clunk thereby diagnosing worn ball joints. You can shake and pull at the control arm/thrust arm all day but you will never learn anything by doing that. The way for us non pros without a lift to diagnose worn ball joints is to jack up the front of the car and support it on jack stands at the front jack pads. Now the wheels and front suspension is hanging. Now you need a 16 inch slip joint plier to squeeze each ball joint real hard. If there is any up/down movement in the ball joint, that arm needs replacement. The movement may be extremely small and you may have to squeeze a few times to make sure it is there, but if the ball joint moves up and down, it is worn out.

I have never heard of a control arm (the straight one) bushing wearing out before the ball joint.

Almost forgot the sway bar links. They make a lot of noise clanking and rattling when they are worn. You can shake them and tell they are loose.

When looking at any suspension part with a rubber boot, if that boot is torn or cracked, the component under that boot will be contaminated with dirt and moisture and is doomed.

Last edited by johnstern; 09-02-2013 at 02:25 PM.
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