This article gives detailed instructions on replacing the rear sway bar bushings in a BMW E36 3 series vehicle. Even though we used a 1996 BMW M3 to perform this repair, this article can be applied to any 1990-1998 3 series vehicle with minor modifications to the repair steps.
A BMW E36 sway bar bushing replacement will create more rear end stability by decreasing body roll when turning.
There are a lot of parts harmoniously working together to keep the four wheels of your BMW planted on the road. From shocks and struts to control arms and tires, the numerous parts of your vehicle’s suspension help control the ride and handling of your vehicle.
Your BMW’s rear sway bar, also known as a “stabilizer bar” or “anti-roll bar, works in conjunction with the front sway bar to counteract the tilting (or “rolling”) forces of the vehicle while turning. It accomplishes this by cross connecting the rear two wheels with a u-shaped steel bar attached to the swing arms. As the vehicle leans into a turn, the sway bar applies a downward force to the opposite wheel keeping your car flat. The result is less body roll and a feeling that the car is firmly attached to the road. The sway bars are what give your bimmer that road hugging feel and superior handling when making hard turns.
The BMW E36 rear sway bar is anchored to the vehicle at four points; two frame support brackets near the center of the vehicle and two rear wheel control arm stabilzer links. All four anchor points are cushioned by a system of bushings that help reduce road noise, absorb bumps, and deliver a softer more enjoyable ride. As sway bar bushings wear out your BMW will experience a more sluggish rear end response, thumps and squeeks from the rear wheels when turning, and a decrease in overall ride comfort and handling.
Choosing the correct bushing
Most home mechanics doing a BMW E36 sway bar bushing replacement are looking to upgrade the handling of their vehicle. Stock rubber bushings are fine if you want to keep the factory feel of your vehicle. But if you are looking for an increase in performance and handling, now is a great time to switch over to polyurethane sway bar bushings.
Polyurethane sway bar bushings create a faster turn in when cornering and less body roll. The result is a BMW E36 that grabs the road and gives more of a “racing feel” than stock rubber bushings can deliver.
We give three different bushing options to choose from below depending on how aggressive you wish to get with your car. In this article we will be installing Proflex Black Series track bushings into our 1996 E36 M3. The BMW Repair Guide uses this car mostly for the track, with a limited amount of city driving. We are running a stock S52 engine with some minor power producing upgrades.
1. Sway bar bushings (required) – There are six BMW E36 rear sway bar bushings that will need to be replaced: two support bracket bushings, and two in each rear wheel stabilizer link. If you are going to use stock “factory” bushings, purchase the entire stabilizer link with the stock bushings already installed in them. If you are going to use polyurethane bushings, you can use your old stabilizer links and just remove the old stock bushings (see our steps below for more information).
Option 1: Stock sway bar bushings – for everyday street use. Use these bushings if you wish to keep the stock “factory” handling characteristics of your vehicle. You will need to purchase both to complete this repair.
Option 2: Street performance bushings – for street and occasional track use. Use these bushings if you are looking for performance handling without sacrificing comfort. You will need to purchase all three to complete this repair.
Option 3: Track performance bushings – for street and heavy track use. Use these bushings if you are looking for high performance and where comfort is not a concern.You will need to purchase all three to complete this repair.
It is usually not necessary to remove the rear portion of the vehicle’s exhaust (the “cat back”) to perform a BMW E36 sway bar bushing replacement. Under normal circumstances there is adequate space to get your hands over the top of the exhaust pipes to access the left sway bar link and unbolt it from the lower swing arm. If you can avoid removing the “cat back” from the car, we suggest embracing this gift from the Bavarian Gods. The muffler and rear exhaust pipes can be a real pain in the butt to remove and install.
- Jack and support the front and rear of your vehicle using the four corner wheel stand method as shown in our article BMW Jacking and Supporting for Repairs and Maintenance.
- Before beginning the BMW E36 sway bar bushing replacement, familiarize yourself with the rear suspension of the vehicle, the location of the rear sway bar, and its four mounting points.
- Start by removing the two support brackets that anchor the sway bar to the frame of the car. The support brackets are held in place with a 13mm bolt and lock nut. You will need a 13mm open end wrench to hold the lock nut while you remove the bolts.
- Use a 13mm low profile socket wrench to remove the nuts anchoring the sway bar links to the swing arm. The nuts are located on the top of the swing arm. Note that there is limited space to get to these nuts…we strongly recommend using a low profile flexible head ratchet to get to them…especially on the right side where the metal fuel tank filler pipe is in the way (see image below). (Note – you may notice we removed the “cat back” exhaust from our vehicle for photographing this article. Once again…this is usually not necessary when performing a BMW E36 sway bar bushing replacement).
- Remove the sway bar assembly from the vehicle.
- Grab the sway bar link firmly and remove from the end of the sway bar. This may require using a little muscle, but it will pull off. Try rocking it back and forth while pulling. If it is really stuck, use some Dawn dishwashing detergent to lube the tip of the sway bar so the link can slide off. NEVER USE GREASE or petroleum based lubricants to lube the sway bar (this can affect the bushing’s performance).
- Even though the sway bar link is symmetrical, the two bushings are different. Note the difference: the link to control arm bushing has a metal sleeve in it, whereas the link to sway bar bushing does not.
- Unfortunately there are no suppliers of sway bar links without the stock bushings already pressed in (if you find one, please send us an email and let us know where). Since it is a good (and inexpensive) idea to always replace your links when doing a BMW E36 sway bar bushing replacement, we suggest purchasing two new ones. We purchased the OEM ones shown in the following photo for about five bucks each. You can easily remove the stock bushings with a torch and a piece of 5/16” threaded rod (or a large flat blade screwdriver). It is easy and quick to use the torch method to remove your sway bar link bushings; trying to press them out is difficult and time consuming due to the tendency of the rubber to strongly adhere to the inside of the link.
- Put the sway bar link in a vice as shown.
- Use a propane torch to heat up the outside of the link around the bushing. Avoid lighting the rubber bushing on fire…the goal here is to heat up the metal so the rubber bushing releases its grip.
- Use a piece of 5/16” “all thread” to pull the rubber bushing out of the link. You can use a flat blade screwdriver instead of the “all thread”…we just like the “all thread” because the threads grab and hang on to the rubber better making bushing removal easier. While the link is still hot, use a rag to wipe out as much of the remaining rubber residue as possible.
- Use the torch to burn out any residual rubber left in the link that won’t wipe out.
- After the link cools down, use a rag and some lacquer thinner to thoroughly clean the inside of the bushing housing.
This article was written under the assumption that the reader will be performing a BMW E36 sway bar bushing upgrade to polyurethane performance bushings. Install the new polyurethane bushings per the manufacturer’s instructions included with the parts. Since we are installing Powerflex Black Series bushings, the following instructions are specific for that brand only.
- Start with the link to swing arm bushings.
- The swing arm bushing comes in two pieces…use your fingers to install each half into the sway bar link. If the bushings are being obstinate, apply a small layer Dawn dishwashing liquid and press in with the aid of a vice. DO NOT apply grease…only use dishwashing liquid to lubricate the outside of the bushing. Using grease on the outside of the bushing can affect its performance.
- Using the supplied grease (or a high grade waterproof marine grease), lube the bushing bore and the metal sleeve. Install the metal sleeve into the bushing. Once again, employ the use of a vice if the sleeve wont go in using your fingers.
- Repeat on the other link.
- Next, install the link to sway bar bushings. The sway bar bushings will have to be pressed in with a table vice…they are nearly impossible to get in by hand. Thoroughly lube the interior of the link and the bushing with dawn dishwashing liquid. NEVER use grease, or any other type of petroleum based lubricant to install a bushing into its mount…it can affect the performance of the bushing.
- Line up the bushing in the link and place into a table vice. SLOWLY apply pressure until the bushing slides into the link. Stop immediately as soon as bushing is half way in.
- Remove the link and rotate it sideways in the vice. Finish installing the bushing with a rubber mallet.
- Repeat on other link.
- Install the sway bar support bracket bushings. The support bracket bushings are split so they can easily be pulled off and reinstalled on the sway bar. Make sure to note the correct orientation of the support bracket when installing the new bushing. See the following images for more details.
- Finally, press the links back onto the ends of the sway bar with your hands. They should slide on fairly easily…if not you can add a small dab of Dawn to help them on.
Reinstalling the sway bar is fairly straightforward, with one minor issue you should be aware of. Since the new polyurethane bushings don’t flex like the old factory rubber ones, many mechanics have issues reinstalling the sway bar support brackets to the frame. The problem is the stock M8-16mm bolts are too short to get through the support bracket with a polyurethane bushing in them. We ended up swapping out the stock bolts with longer M8-40mm ones…the support brackets went in easily with no issues and thus ended the stream of expletives flowing from our mouths.