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E46 M3 (2001-2006) Engine: S54 - Max Hp: 333 hp at 7,900 rpm / 262 lb/ft at 4,900 rpm
Total Produced: 45,000+ - Years Produced: 2001 to 2006.


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Old Mon, Jan-18-2010, 07:33:44 PM   #1
Skyfire
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Question Steering play, is my steering coupler worn out?

First of all, I have searched and read most of the related threads I can find. Seems steering problems usually boil down to 4 kinds: FCAB, steering rack, power steering fluid, or steering coupler. I'm still somewhat confused though and could use some help diagnose the problem:
- When stationary, there's ~1/2" play in the steering in either direction. The best I can describe is it feels "loose", until it get past the 1/2" mark and the steering wheel firms up.
- The car pull straight once it hit the pavement, I can hands off the steering wheel and it'll continue straight on flat roads.
- Once it get going, slight dial on steering can cause car to change direction in small amounts, it just doesn't feel "razer sharp", like the steering wheel is mounted with "loose screws".

Here's some info on the car:
2003.5 M3 Cab SMG, 41000mi, previously lowered, now back to stock. New rear tires and RTAB, 80% new front tires. As far as I know, most of the front suspension (aside from spring+shocks), steering components and power steering fluid are all OEM and haven't been changed since manufacturing date.

Does this sound like my steering coupler is worn, or a problem with the steering rack or fluid?

Thanks in advance
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Old Mon, Jan-18-2010, 09:30:58 PM   #2
RedM3/4
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Default You're really going to have to get someone to inspect it

Kind of low miles for any of this to be noticeably worn, but, off top of head, here are things that could leave play in the wheel, in no particular order:
worn or loose wheel bearings
tie rod ends
rack - very odd at low miles, less prone to road vibration wear than most others
coupling - your first suspicion, wouldn't be my first but certainly possible
strut hat bearings
control arms; bushing, joints

Good luck
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Old Tue, Jan-19-2010, 02:18:10 AM   #3
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Default

Thanks for the advice. How can I isolate and diagnoise whether it's the wheel bearings or tie rod ends?
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Old Fri, Jan-22-2010, 03:17:14 PM   #4
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Default

I have a similar issue with the steering wheel "play" in my car. I'm getting my coupling replaced, so hopefully it will fix this issue. I'll tell you what difference was made after i pick it up from the shop today. Something tells me Im going to have to do RTAB's as well tho.
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Old Fri, Jan-22-2010, 03:58:37 PM   #5
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I just went through the same thing as you. I had a number of things that needed replacement on my car.

I started out with the FCAB since my handling was shot. If your front end feels light or if your power steering feels over-boosted, replace these first. The parts are $140 for both sides. This improved my handling right away but still had play in my wheels.

I then proceeded with the steering coupling. This is about $45 for the part. This did tighten up my steering but still had play.

On my car, with the engine turned off, when I turned my steering wheel left to right and vise versa, I heard a light clunk. The sound I heard was the backlash from the pinion to the rack. I figured that my steering rack went bad and I ordered a refurb zf steering rack for $650. There are other cheaper refurb units but I heard that ZF is the best since they are the OEM supplier to BMW. While other refurb units replace only the seals, ZF replaces the rack, pinion, inner tie rods, and other worn items to bring them back to factory spec.

With all the above parts replaced and a proper alignment job, my car is back to normal. The handling is razor sharp and the play in my steering wheel is finally gone.

41k miles seems premature for worn suspension components but since your car was lowered, it could explain the premature failure. If I were you, I would start with the steering coupling. If your front end feels light, or if your handling isn't as good as you remember, replace the FCAB as well. These parts are cheap and there are DIYs out there.

Also, check your tie rod ends. Lift up your car and put your hands at 3 and 9 o'clock and shake. If it's solid, then your tie rod is good. Also, put your hands at 12 and 6 and shake to see if the ball joints on the lower control arms are good. I think I listed all the parts that can go wrong.

Good luck.
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Old Thu, Apr-22-2010, 04:18:10 AM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by bvnmspt View Post
I just went through the same thing as you. I had a number of things that needed replacement on my car.

I started out with the FCAB since my handling was shot. If your front end feels light or if your power steering feels over-boosted, replace these first. The parts are $140 for both sides. This improved my handling right away but still had play in my wheels.

I then proceeded with the steering coupling. This is about $45 for the part. This did tighten up my steering but still had play.

On my car, with the engine turned off, when I turned my steering wheel left to right and vise versa, I heard a light clunk. The sound I heard was the backlash from the pinion to the rack. I figured that my steering rack went bad and I ordered a refurb zf steering rack for $650. There are other cheaper refurb units but I heard that ZF is the best since they are the OEM supplier to BMW. While other refurb units replace only the seals, ZF replaces the rack, pinion, inner tie rods, and other worn items to bring them back to factory spec.

With all the above parts replaced and a proper alignment job, my car is back to normal. The handling is razor sharp and the play in my steering wheel is finally gone.

41k miles seems premature for worn suspension components but since your car was lowered, it could explain the premature failure. If I were you, I would start with the steering coupling. If your front end feels light, or if your handling isn't as good as you remember, replace the FCAB as well. These parts are cheap and there are DIYs out there.

Also, check your tie rod ends. Lift up your car and put your hands at 3 and 9 o'clock and shake. If it's solid, then your tie rod is good. Also, put your hands at 12 and 6 and shake to see if the ball joints on the lower control arms are good. I think I listed all the parts that can go wrong.

Good luck.
I'm going to revive this so I can get some clarity...
At 90+ I feel a slight shaking in the steering wheel. I took it to a shop and found during the roadforce balance that one of my rims had a small dent in it.

I paid to have it fixed and the guy told me he was surprised that I even felt it since it was so small.

Fast forward to today. Took the car up on jacks and pushed/pulled at 3 and 9 o'clock and felt/heard the wheel move. The noise was the steering wheel moving against the lock so I don't know if that was normal.

At 12 and 6, there is no play and there is more play on the drivers side than the passenger side wheel.

I wasn't sure if both wheels were supposed to be up in the air or one side first so I tried both ways. With both wheels up, it was really pronounced. With one side on the ground the drivers side was louder and had more movement however I could see the steering wheel move so I still was unsure if this was normal.

If not, does it sound like the tie rods or could it be wheel bearings?
Thanks in advance to whomever can help out.
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Old Thu, Apr-22-2010, 07:36:13 PM   #7
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Bueller?
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Old Sun, Apr-25-2010, 06:54:32 PM   #8
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Bueller?
I just replaced the outer tie rods and the front control arms this weekend. Inner tie rod was replaced with the steering rack. My car had a bit of a steering shimmy as well at high speeds. Not enough to make any noise when I try to shake the wheel at 3 and 9. You may be experiencing the same as well. My steering shimmy is now completely gone. Not only that, my steering feels brand new. I did change out all the wear and tear items...

When checking for the shake, you would want your steering wheel unlocked. You can check with only one wheel up in the air to prevent the wheel from turning when shaking side to side.

My guess would be your either your tie rods or the ball joints in the front control arms are worn. The front ball joints are an integral part of the front control arm.

BTW, how many miles do you have on your car? Which part have you had replaced? Do you have aftermarket suspension? My first guess would be the tie rods. If your car has 70K + miles, considering replacing the right side and the left side together.
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Old Sun, Apr-25-2010, 09:23:24 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by bvnmspt View Post
I just went through the same thing as you. I had a number of things that needed replacement on my car.

I started out with the FCAB since my handling was shot. If your front end feels light or if your power steering feels over-boosted, replace these first. The parts are $140 for both sides. This improved my handling right away but still had play in my wheels.

I then proceeded with the steering coupling. This is about $45 for the part. This did tighten up my steering but still had play.

On my car, with the engine turned off, when I turned my steering wheel left to right and vise versa, I heard a light clunk. The sound I heard was the backlash from the pinion to the rack. I figured that my steering rack went bad and I ordered a refurb zf steering rack for $650. There are other cheaper refurb units but I heard that ZF is the best since they are the OEM supplier to BMW. While other refurb units replace only the seals, ZF replaces the rack, pinion, inner tie rods, and other worn items to bring them back to factory spec.

With all the above parts replaced and a proper alignment job, my car is back to normal. The handling is razor sharp and the play in my steering wheel is finally gone.

41k miles seems premature for worn suspension components but since your car was lowered, it could explain the premature failure. If I were you, I would start with the steering coupling. If your front end feels light, or if your handling isn't as good as you remember, replace the FCAB as well. These parts are cheap and there are DIYs out there.

Also, check your tie rod ends. Lift up your car and put your hands at 3 and 9 o'clock and shake. If it's solid, then your tie rod is good. Also, put your hands at 12 and 6 and shake to see if the ball joints on the lower control arms are good. I think I listed all the parts that can go wrong.

Good luck.
From what vendor did you order the refurb zf steering rack for $650?
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Old Mon, Apr-26-2010, 01:17:10 AM   #10
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From what vendor did you order the refurb zf steering rack for $650?
I got mine from car-stuff.com. There's a core deposit. Once you return your old steering rack, they will credit you the core deposit.
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Discussing Steering play, is my steering coupler worn out? in the E46 M3 (2001-2006) Forum - Engine: S54 - Max Hp: 333 hp at 7,900 rpm / 262 lb/ft at 4,900 rpm
Total Produced: 45,000+ - Years Produced: 2001 to 2006. at BMW M3 Forum.com (E30 M3 | E36 M3 | E46 M3 | E92 M3 | F80/X)