I know very little about BMWs, but a friend was told by her shop that
she needs to replace the lower control arms on her 2000 323 wagon/80k
miles. She was quoted US$1300. They told her this after she
experienced brake squeel after an expensive brake job. Seems
absolutely unrelated and it seems likely to me they're trying to cheat
her. But maybe it's a good idea to check.
I did some searching and it seems these arms have non-replaceable ball
joints. Online pricing for a pair seems to be between $300 and $500,
so the $1300 quote looks pretty high to me--I don't think this is a
dealer, where you expect to pay 2x for parts.
She doesn't have any handling issues. I should be able to tell if
they're really a problem by jacking the wheel off the ground, holding
top & bottom, and seeing if it wobbles, right?
One more question. In my searching I saw discussion of 323 having top
speed of 120MPH. My only recent experience with BMWs is in Germany,
and a couple of years ago I took a couple of roadtrips in a 323 wagon
cruising at an ECU-limited 230km/h (>143MPH). Good brakes BTW. Are
USDM BWMs that much slower?
The usual symptoms of worn track control arm bushes is wheel wobble at
approx 60 mph - and possibly on braking. Never heard brake squeal put down
to this. The usual cure for brake squeal is to lubricate - sparingly - the
*back* of the pad with copper grease. That's assuming the anti-rattle
springs are in place and undamaged - a cack handed fitter can easily bend
them on removal, or not bother re-fitting them.
*Two many clicks spoil the browse *
Dave Plowman email@example.com London SW
I'm with Dave on this one, brake squeal is completely unrelated to the
symptoms that would occur if the lower control arms were worn. If youir
friend was having handling problems -- shaking, shimmy, rattle, roll
<hehehe> -- then I would suspect control arms. I would not expect control
arms to be worn out on a car with only 80,000 miles either.
Thanks. I thought 80k was a little early for these to wear out. I did
see a lot of talk of replacing them in my web searches though.
This is a little tricky because my friend isn't that familiar with
this stuff, so I don't know if the shop was trying to blame the squeel
on the control arms (big red flag), or claiming they found it when
they revisited the brakes. I remember years ago when I had a german
car the 2 shops I tried that specialized in german cars were some of
the worst I've ever used.
On my own car I've made squeel go away with anti-squeel grease. Even
using high performance pads that some people don't consider the
I wonder if we might have worked together: In the 90s I did a little
work with a guy with your name in Silicon Valley.
If you are talking about front control arm, the mechanics might be correct.
The control arms on E46 (esp. early models) tend to wear quite quickly and
is gone by around 45K. Both arms on mine 99' 323 were replaced, and it is
just 51K on the clock.
The life of these - and on different models - seems to vary dramatically.
Some have had, as you, what most would consider an early failure. Others
find they last over 100,000 miles. I wonder if the wheel size and or road
surface condition as well as driving style influences this?
*A bartender is just a pharmacist with a limited inventory *
Dave Plowman firstname.lastname@example.org London SW
I suspect that it also depends upon environmental conditions, too.
I note that many US posters who advocate changing them in the 60K-100K
range are on the East coast where a lot of salt is used on the roads in
winter. Those boots can only keep so much out.
The boots Honda uses must be a lot different, then!
1991 Honda Accord, 185K or so, original ball joints.
2002 E46 325i, 80K or so, second set of lower control arms due to ball
joint wear at about 50K. That's my wife's car. She is less careful
about bumps (not that our roads are terrible) and drives less
agressively than I do.
All driven year-round in New York State. Lots of salt is used here in
On the other hand, on my 2004 E46 330i with almost 50K on it they show
no signs of wear. Go figure...
Ball joints to ball joints? Well...yes, actually, though I'm not an
automotive engineer, I do think that's a reasonable apples-to-apples
It's the outboard ones that wear on the E46. Both the BMW and Honda
designs have MacPherson Strut front suspensions that I would expect to
load that joint in a similar way under braking and cornering loads.
However, the Honda also loads the joint under acceleration and while
maintaining speed because it is FWD. I would not expect this additional
loading to *increase* the life of the joint. The Honda has a somewhat
more-conventional design with a lower control arm and tension rod in
place of BMW's triangular lower control arm with its trailing bush, but
I would not expect this to have a huge effect on the life of the
outboard ball joint.
My strong suspicion is that ball joint, lubrication, and seal
technologies ought to be pretty darn well-established by now, and not
differ materially between Germany and Japan. Why a car of similar
weight (perhaps with more weight on the front wheels) and with
(probably) more unsprung weight should have more durable ball joints--by
far--is something of a mystery to me as a result.
Perhaps the metallurgy, machining, seals, or the lubrication were not
done right. Or perhaps in an effort to curb unsprung weight they used
smaller ball joints, which with their higher specific loading, might be
expected to be less durable. I don't know why they wear so quickly, and
frankly I don't care--though someone at BMW AG ought to figure that out.
Having said all that, I'm not sure I'll ever go back to Hondas but I
*do* wish the E46's suspension design were more durable. It's a pain in
the neck to change the lower control arms.
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