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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 02-20-2010, 02:39 PM
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Fudman Fudman is offline
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DIY - Control Arm Replacement

A few weeks ago, I had posted on a front suspension problem that led to an inspection failure. I had several responses suggesting tie rods, thrust arm bushings and even bearings. Not wanting to spend a lot of time (itís still winter here) & money replacing multiple suspension parts, I conducted a visual inspection of the problem area. I determined that the cause of the problem was a control arm ball joint based on noticeable play in the ball joint when twisting on the brake rotor. So I ordered left and right control arms and proceeded to replace them (after my vacation). Here is the play by play with some interesting lessons learned. BTW, I am no experienced mechanic so if I can do this, anyone can. Having the right tools makes all the difference.

The Bentley indicated a relatively straightforward control arm replacement process. Remove one bolt at the control arm bushing and remove the ball joint nut to replace the control arm. First off, all the nuts and bolts were weird sizes, 16mm, 18mm and 22mm. I have multiple wrench sets and none of them had a 16mm or 18mm wrench. Fortunately, my socket sets had these sizes. I borrowed a Harbor Freight ball joint tool from Chris (Neversaynever) and Dave (gtxragtop) stopped by to assist. My sincere thanx to both of them!

I jacked the front of the car up using the center jacking point, chocked the rear wheels and lowered the car onto jackstands. I then removed the wheels and proceeded to remove the control arms. The first hiccup was removing the level sensor attached to the passenger side control arm. The attaching mechanism is a spring clip that has no easy way to disengage (photo). I used a small chisel to finally get this spring clip to open. It took about 30 minutes of fiddling to avoid breaking it. A hose clamp would have been much easier.

I soaked the nuts with PB Blaster and they came off without a hitch. The bolt head on the bushing bolt is 16mm and the nut is 18mm. I used a socket wrench on the bolt head and an adjustable wrench to hold the nut side. The ball joint nut uses a 22mm socket for removal. Getting the ball joint out of the steering knuckle was a bit problematic. The Harbor Freight tool operates on a pivot point. Given the length of the ball joint bolt, the angle of the tool arms is quite wide and the upper arm does not sit level on the bolt head (photo). Consequently, when tightening the tool, the top arm of the tool tends to slip off the bolt. Multiple attempts resulted in failure. I tried banging on the bolt with a 3 lb. hammer but was being careful not to hit and damage the knuckle, as clearance is not great. The hammer impacts began to round off the bolt making use of the HF tool even more problematic. I did not want to use heat as the knuckle is aluminum. HmmÖ I decided to reduce the angle of the tool arms to increase tool purchase on the bolt by cutting the bolt shorter. This would also leave the bolt surface flat to increase tool purchase (photo). This process took over 20 minutes on the first bolt using my pneumatic cutter as I have a 3 gallon pancake compressor that takes forever to pressurize. On the other ball joint bolt, I did it in under 5 minutes using an electric grinder with cutting wheel. Once cut, I used the HF tool and it worked like a charm. The ball joints popped out in about 5 minutes. Donít forget to use hearing protection! This approach is also applicable to thrust arm ball joints (assuming you decide to replace the complete thrust arm).

Reassembly was relatively problem free. Aligning one of the control arm bushings in the bolt hole was probably the most time consuming chore. Some adjustment to the level sensor clip made reinstallation much easier than removal. When you tighten the ball joint nut, you will find the ball joint bolt may spin. Dave suggested we lower the control arm/steering knuckle onto a piece of wood to push the ball joint into the steering knuckle to keep it from rotating. We placed the wood on the cast aluminum portion of the control arm to avoid stressing the ball joint cap (photo). Voila! The ball joint stopped rotating and I was able to torque the nut (59 ft-lb). Do not forget to put the washer on the ball joint bolt before installing the nut. Do not torque the bushing bolt until after the car is on the ground and loaded. It helps to turn the wheel to the left when torquing the right control arm bushing bolt (81 ft lb) and visa versa for the other side.

I succesfully passed my inspection so I am a happy camper. I hope these lessons learned are of value to someone doing this job.
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  #2  
Old 02-20-2010, 02:50 PM
Baddguy Baddguy is offline
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I just got done removing the control arms, thrust arms, tie rods and center link for replacement ball joints. I can honestly say the job sucked. But I did learn a decent air hammer and a little heat made the job so much easier to pop the ball joints. I tried the ball joint tool and break free, also tried the 3lb hammer and pickle fork, no avail until the air hammer.

Also Fudman for future reference there is a nut on the joint for the leveling sensor that you can undo and not have to take the whole swith off, its in the middle of the two arms you need two 10 mil wrenches and it comes apart. When the clip you had a hard time removing is on the arm away from the car it is much easier to transfer.

Chuck


On a side note there is the plastic arm on the side of the sensor, does anyone know it just that is replacable, or do you have to buy a whole new switch.
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  #3  
Old 02-20-2010, 02:58 PM
Neversaynever Neversaynever is offline
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Fud,
Did you try changing the pivot pin placement on the HF tie rod tool to allow it to fit better? I had to change the pivot point for tie rods to control arms.
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  #4  
Old 02-20-2010, 03:11 PM
cn90 cn90 is online now
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Fudman,

In my suspnsion DIY, I mentioned that you should leave the NUT flushed with the Control Arm Bolt's end to allow space for the Tool to "bite" on it. Works like a charm.

Here is the pic, note the Nut flushed with the Bolt:


Last edited by cn90; 02-20-2010 at 03:25 PM.
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  #5  
Old 02-20-2010, 05:15 PM
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nyclad nyclad is offline
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Lightbulb

Quote:
Originally Posted by Fudman View Post
Consequently, when tightening the tool, the top arm of the tool tends to slip off the bolt. Multiple attempts resulted in failure. I tried banging on the bolt with a 3 lb. hammer but was being careful not to hit and damage the knuckle, as clearance is not great. The hammer impacts began to round off the bolt making use of the HF tool even more problematic. I did not want to use heat as the knuckle is aluminum.
I had the same problem last weekend, but with the thrust arm. I ended up trashing the first Harbor Freight ball joint tool, got a free replacement, and started to tax the second one.
http://www.bimmerfest.com/forums/sho...=399580&page=6

I did heat up the steering knuckle. With a few visits to this board, cn90's advice, and some hesitation, I successfully used a propane torch to heat up the knuckle. I looked it up on the internet, and aluminum conducts heat quite well and expands a bit (which is why we use it for frying pans) and it still withstands heat up to around 1400 deg F. I don't know where it starts to get soft, but there is no "temper" as in steel for the heat to mess with.

Glad you got that done.
Steve
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Old 02-20-2010, 05:50 PM
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Fudman Fudman is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Baddguy View Post
Also Fudman for future reference there is a nut on the joint for the leveling sensor that you can undo and not have to take the whole swith off, its in the middle of the two arms you need two 10 mil wrenches and it comes apart. When the clip you had a hard time removing is on the arm away from the car it is much easier to transfer.
You're right. I tried to remove this connection but you need a THIN 10 mm wrench to hold the the nut between the two arms. Mine was too thick, hence I had to remove the clip.
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  #7  
Old 02-20-2010, 05:52 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Neversaynever View Post
Fud,
Did you try changing the pivot pin placement on the HF tie rod tool to allow it to fit better? I had to change the pivot point for tie rods to control arms.
Chris: The tool was already set at the wider pivot point. Hence, I couldn't change the angle. Thanx for the loaner!!
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  #8  
Old 02-20-2010, 05:54 PM
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Fudman Fudman is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by cn90 View Post
Fudman,

In my suspnsion DIY, I mentioned that you should leave the NUT flushed with the Control Arm Bolt's end to allow space for the Tool to "bite" on it. Works like a charm.

Here is the pic, note the Nut flushed with the Bolt:


Ha! I knew there must be an easier way! I read your post but forgot that one step!! Dave had the same tool as in your picture and we had a tougher time getting that one to engage. Leaving the nut in place would definitely help!
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  #9  
Old 02-20-2010, 08:22 PM
Neversaynever Neversaynever is offline
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Fud,
Rats. I used a bicycle wrench as the thin 10mm wrench. I forgot that and therefore forgot to lend it to you.
Next time...
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  #10  
Old 02-20-2010, 09:44 PM
newton22 newton22 is offline
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I gave up on my ball joint operation and just took it to an indy mechanic. He had to abuse the ball joint with an air hammer before anything happened, and when it did, the sleeve came out with the ball joint stud on both sides. What a PITA.
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  #11  
Old 02-20-2010, 09:56 PM
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Jason5driver Jason5driver is offline
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Fudman-
Did you have to loosen the front strut?
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Old 02-21-2010, 08:11 AM
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Fudman Fudman is offline
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No, removal of the control arms requires no loosening or removal of any other part. A relatively straightforward procedure. 4 bolts total, both sides. It still took me almost 2 hours to get that first ball joint out and replace the first control arm. It took less than 1/2 hour to do the second control arm. Live and learn...
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  #13  
Old 02-21-2010, 09:58 AM
cn90 cn90 is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jason5driver View Post
Fudman-
Did you have to loosen the front strut?
This is ONLY needed you remove the THRUST Arm.
For Control Arm, no need to loosen the strut.
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Old 02-21-2010, 03:01 PM
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Looks like a PITA for sure... I've got to check mine, my seller did new thrust arms, noticed that the control arms looked newish with that yellow sticker still in good shape on them... do you notice any driving improvements?
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  #15  
Old 02-21-2010, 06:39 PM
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No change in driving performance (other than the steering wheel alignment). No shimmy, wander or noise before or after. However, that ball joint was clearly bad compared to the other side.
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Old 02-21-2010, 07:16 PM
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Jason5driver Jason5driver is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by cn90 View Post
This is ONLY needed you remove the THRUST Arm.
For Control Arm, no need to loosen the strut.
Right.
I am talking about the front upper control arm (thrust arm).

Thanks!
Jason
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Old 03-23-2010, 09:43 AM
Beau6183 Beau6183 is offline
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Just FYI, tightening the bolts on the bushings while the car is on jacks is a very bad NONO. You can tear the bushings as soon as you lower the car, and if not then, with just a little driving. DO NOT SKIP THIS. Tighten the damn bolts when it's on the ground or you'll have to do it all over again and be out $60-$300 for new bushings or new arms with bushings... This applies to both upper and lower control arms. (speaking from experience, grumble grumble)
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Old 06-11-2010, 02:36 PM
goose1207 goose1207 is offline
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Will this DIY work on a 540? Is the 540 non-sport suspension setup the same way as the I6's?
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  #19  
Old 06-11-2010, 02:58 PM
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Fudman Fudman is offline
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Can't say from experience but it looks similar. Try this DIY:

http://www.bimmerfest.com/forums/sho...52#post5239552
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  #20  
Old 06-11-2010, 06:14 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jason5driver View Post
Right.
I am talking about the front upper control arm (thrust arm).

Thanks!
Jason
I thought the upper arm is the control arm, the lower arm is the thrust arm... might be dreaming but under my car the lower "thrust arms" (new shiny aluminum) are what were replaced, the upper control arms were not (still dirty)... I'll check out a view on oem.com but I think we have four linkage "arms" up front (two per side)... will have to look, I dont have a good mental picture in my head, ahhhhh maybe that is the wine! : )
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Last edited by Hooray!; 06-11-2010 at 06:16 PM.
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  #21  
Old 11-10-2010, 10:30 AM
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bluebee bluebee is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Hooray! View Post
I thought the upper arm is the control arm, the lower arm is the thrust arm...
I think it's actually (much) worse than that!

On the 525i, while the "upper control arm" is the "thrust arm" ... it's not the "control arm"; conversely, on the 540, the "lower control arm" is the "control arm" but it's not the "thrust arm" nor the "upper control arm".

These terms you guys seem to inherently just "know", absolutely drove me crazy with confusion ... until I made these two pictorial summaries below.


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  #22  
Old 11-10-2010, 12:11 PM
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Fudman Fudman is offline
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The only thing I know is the straight arm is called the control arm and the curved arm is called the thrust arm. And whatever you put in should look like what you take out and should go back into the same place.
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  #23  
Old 11-11-2010, 06:38 AM
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menhir menhir is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Fudman View Post
The only thing I know is the straight arm is called the control arm and the curved arm is called the thrust arm. And whatever you put in should look like what you take out and should go back into the same place.
Spoken on my level. In simplicity there is truth.
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Old 11-11-2010, 10:28 AM
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bluebee bluebee is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by menhir View Post
Spoken on my level. In simplicity there is truth.
I can't disagree, but bear in mind a lot of the articles and retailers for the E39 V8 talk about the "trailing control arm" or "upper control arm", which is curved ... and those E39 I6 articles & retailers often use the terms "leading control arm" or "upper control arm", which is also curved.

So, the problem is, not EVERYONE uses the simpler terminology (that the control arm is straight and the thrust arm is curved). I wish they did. But they don't (extensive proof in the bestlinks thread references).

Neither does BMW, BTW ... who calls the straight arm the "wishbone" for both the I6 and V& and who calls the curved arm the "tension strut" on the I6 but the "traction strut" on the V8.

It makes sense to get everyone to use the same simple terminology ... but they don't.

But, having said that, I'm all for calling the straight arm the "control arm" and the curved arm the "thrust arm".
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Old 11-11-2010, 06:46 PM
dvsgene dvsgene is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by bluebee View Post

But, having said that, I'm all for calling the straight arm the "control arm" and the curved arm the "thrust arm".
That's how I view it too, regardless of I6 or V8.
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