The steering of the Bmw E34/E32/E28 is a little bit complex. After
100k miles it will certainly develop some play. This is a list of
what can cause this play:
Check list from the more probable to the less.
Loose steering column nut.
Remove the cover below the dashboard and steering wheel, you will
be able to access the steering column. Locate the nut and tighten
it. It is possible to overtighten that nut, which make the steering
stiff and make funny noises.
links or elements:
Place you car on jack stands and check the play of each steering
arm and links. If a tie rod has some play or the boot is cracked,
change it. The idler arms has a bushing also, don't forget to check
The steering box is adjustable, until you cannot adjust it
anymore (the steering doesn't come back to the center by itself).
The only solution is to change the steering box... or live
This is what you should check: Procedure from George Mann
- Check or replace the outer tie rods.
- Make sure pitman arm pinch bolt was tight on the bottom
of the steering box.
- Tighten adjustment screw on top of steering box (biggest
improvement so far) See procedure below.
- Make sure front toe (alignment) is correctly set at .08
" toe-in. (some improvement to linear tracking) On-center
feel was still lacking.
- Check idler arm and bushing
- Check drag link for wear
- Check overall suspension bolt torques based upon Bentley's
- Finally check universal joint just above steering box.
At this point I was fairly convinced that a worn steering
box was the main contributor to loose- ness. Before embarking
on this major replacement I scoured all the archives for more
answers..there were two clues:
Rebuild kit for worm and roller recirculating ball steering
box contains no hardware, i.e. no replacement gears, bushings
etc. Only 0-rings and seals. Translation: these boxes are
robust mechanically..takes BIG miles to wear them out. Adjustment
will tune out virtually all the slop/unwanted lash. (I now
Note: for E-32 owners refer to Bentley's poor illustration
of the steering componentry on 320-1. Large nut is pictured
between steering column shaft and protective boot...Look close.
Open the hood and grab the intermediate shaft just above the
steering box universal joint/next to the firewall. I could
shake or rattle mine. Intermediate shaft should be firm with
some freedom but should not be loose. I immediately thought
the column shaft and/or universal under the dash must be worn
or loose. I had to go in and find out. Remove the lower dash
valence panel and foam knee blocker underneath. Once removed,
you then next remove the upper peddle box fascia to gain access
to the base of the steering column. Once I got at the base
of the column...there it was...a large 32mm nut that attaches
the splined intermediate shaft to the universal joint on the
column. This large nut had loosened over time and had introduced
considerable play into the steering. If you don't have an
open end wrench that big..this is what you do:
Put a pipe wrench on this nut and rotate the steering
wheel clockwise (helps to start the car for power assist)
while holding onto the wrench to tighten the nut. [Note that
the thread is a standard Right Hand thread..so turning the
steering wheel clockwise while restraining the nut, tightens
the joint.] The nut tightens an articulating collet joint
that connects the intermediate shaft to the column. (No room
to swing the wrench under the dash).
You would not believe the difference (at last) this adjustment
made to the overall steering control of my 90 735il! Transformed
the entire driving experience. Further note on tightening
the big nut: If you have a telescoping column, (mine is non-tilt/non
telescoping) do not tighten this nut too tight or you will
lose your telescoping capability. I think you will find if
you snug this nut you will considerably improve steering control
without sacrifice to column stroking capability.
Finally while you are in there, if you have a non tilt column
like me, be sure to space the column down by 1/4" by
virtue of washers and two longer column attachment bolts for
a much improved steering wheel position. (Don't needlessly
suffer with the truck like steering wheel position.)
(The I.P. rectangular column pass through hole was designed
to accommodate column height adjustment.) After a long bout
of frustration, had to share this major find with my friends
on the board.
Adjusting the steering box:
1. Jack up the front of the car and with the wheels hanging
and the motor off..steering column unlocked...turn the wheel
to get a sense of mechanical friction.
2. Take a flat file..and with any sharp edge on the file..score
a mark on the top/end of the steering box adjustment allen
screw so you can keep track of clocking....very easy to get
lost without a mark after you loosen the 17mm collar locking
3. I would start in about 10 degree increments..tightening
the top screw..then repeat step 1. You will be able to tell
if you overtightened the adjustment screw by how much tension
you feel in the steering with the motor off..just turn the
wheel back and forth.
- Best tip I can provide is to adjust the screw with the steering
wheel well off center. Why?..because the steering
box sector gear inside is eccentric which deliberately introduces
a higher contact ratio on center for better engagement/less
wear/better on-center feel.
4. You should only feel just a bit more friction
as you traverse through center with your steering box.
Provided your overall steering components are in good condition,
if you follow the above procedures, you will restore the steering
feel to your BMW as intended by the factory.