One simple trick to restore the steering feel of your E46 BMW

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David S.
Update by David S. Wallens to the BMW M3 project car
Dec 21, 2023 | BMW, M3, BimmerWorld, E46 M3, E46, E46 BMW M3, E46 BMW, Redline Bimmer

You like that headline, right?

So, our E46-chassis BMW M3. Its steering never felt awesome. Let’s call it a little soft, which is a polite way of calling it vague. We could feel a bit of play in the steering before things seemed to engage.

Recently, while backing out of the garage, steering feel suddenly seemed to go from vague to more than vague. It now felt like we also had a bit too much toe-out.

What broke?

We could still drive the car, but it was definitely time to fix this.

The E46-chassis BMW just doesn’t have the most precise steering, we were told. It’s not a Miata.

[Project car: 1992 Garage Rescue Miata]

Tie rods looked good. No wear, no torn anything.

No leaks or issues regarding the steering rack.

Could it be the steering coupler, aka the steering shaft universal joint? This metal and rubber U-joint sits between the steering shaft and the steering rack. Rivets secure the rubber part to the metal part.

We asked Rennie at Redline Bimmer, knower of all things BMW.

It’s the steering coupler, he said, diagnosing our issue from a few hundred miles away. It’s common, he added.

We ordered a new steering coupler from BimmerWorld–retail price is not quite a hundred bucks for the OE replacement.

You can also go aftermarket and save a few bucks.

Sidebar here: We ordered our steering coupler late on Wednesday, and even with ground shipping, we had the part in our hand that Friday at lunchtime. BimmerWorld is in Virginia. We’re in Central Florida.

Okay, back to the story here. We had amassed a short to-do list, so we dropped off the M3 at Spiker Motorsport.

And, of course, Rennie was right: It was the steering coupler.

The old one didn’t look bad, but obviously it was slipping. Our steering now feels sharp and precise–like a new car, not one that recently celebrated its 20th birthday.

So, just one simple trick was all that it took to restore the steering feel to our E46-chassis M3.

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Comments
Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
12/21/23 11:44 a.m.

The moral of the story is to support the experts that know your chassis as well as specialist vendors and not just rely on random Facebookers for troubleshooting and ebay for parts of unknown origin :)

The real question is - why is there a rubber donut in the steering column? Why not replace it with something without a spring rate? I figured there were probably some aftermarket options and a quick google says I was right: poly, billet or a normal U joint. As an E46 owner, why would I want to use any of these or OE?

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
12/21/23 2:28 p.m.

That is a very important moral of the story: trusted sources and trusted parts are good. 

Condor Speed Shop offers a non-rubber steering U-joint replacement. As the site says, though, track use only. 

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
12/21/23 2:28 p.m.

Also, hope you all appreciated the headline. :) 

jgrewe
jgrewe Dork
12/21/23 3:31 p.m.
David S. Wallens said:

Also, hope you all appreciated the headline. :) 

BMW mechanics hate him!

 

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
12/21/23 4:10 p.m.

In reply to jgrewe :

I’m saving that one for another update. 

GameboyRMH
GameboyRMH GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
12/21/23 5:01 p.m.

Similar to a rag joint in the offroad world, where there are kits available to replace them with something solid - not something I would recommend for an offroad vehicle though, as the rag joint has a very slow and forgiving failure mode while its solid replacement may not.

Also newer cars with column-assist EPS have a wearable coupler somewhere between the EPS motor and the steering shaft that can introduce some slop when it wears out.

te72
te72 HalfDork
12/21/23 8:33 p.m.

I'm with Keith on this one, rubber in the steering column just seems like it's inviting slack... no thanks.

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
12/21/23 8:35 p.m.

It does although I also see how it’s a slow failure rate vs. an instant one. 

Hopefully the new one lasts another 20 years. 

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
12/21/23 10:05 p.m.

But if it's not there, it won't fail.

What's the purpose? Is there a change in the angle of the steering column there? I assume not, or the billet ones wouldn't work at all. So why does BMW need a flex joint there? And it seems that steering U joints are a pretty solved problem, so why not one of those?

So many questions :)

Took some hunting, but apparently there's one in my E39 M5 as well. It's only listed on RealOEM as part of the $615 lower column, but that looks serviceable to me. 

Slippery
Slippery GRM+ Memberand PowerDork
12/21/23 10:29 p.m.
Keith Tanner said:

What's the purpose? Is there a change in the angle of the steering column there? I assume not, or the billet ones wouldn't work at all. So why does BMW need a flex joint there? And it seems that steering U joints are a pretty solved problem, so why not one of those?

So many questions :)

I always wondered if its somehow a safety thing. For the column to "breakaway" at that point on a front end collision. 

On the early e30, without airbag and collapsible column, that's its purpose, I think. 

I noticed my e92 M3 went to a solid u-joint, so I purchased one to test when I swap my e46 M3 rack. Been waiting for a month for BMW to ship me the rack, but I will post here whether it works or not. 



 

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