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Ways to improve steering feel?

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  • Ways to improve steering feel?

    Hey folks, I used to be semi-active on m3forum (think I posted under drtwofish) but I'm new here. Hope this is the new home for e36 stuff that's not a quickly-disappearing reddit thread or facebook group!

    I've had my '98 M3 sedan (220k miles) for about 8 years now, my 4th e36, and I've never gotten the steering feel quite where I want it. My memory of all the other e36s I've driven, including Z3s, is very direct on-center feel with a ton of feedback. Mine feels very light on-center with minimal feedback beyond, almost like I have a set of Blizzaks on. There isn't any play - steering is direct and precise - it's just light and uncommunicative.

    Here's what I've tried so far:

    - Michelin PSS, 5-6 years old but good tread and proper inflation
    - New FCABs, RTABs, and tie rods
    - Multiple alignments (nothing wild, but neither has any other e36 I've driven)
    - Replaced steering column coupler
    - Stock springs with fairly recent Bilsteins

    I'm sort of at my wit's end because I love this car, but the steering feel is part of the e36 magic to me. I'm open to any suggestions how I can get proper feel here. My hail-mary would be replacing the steering rack and tires and getting yet another alignment, but I hate to just throw money away because I don't think either is bad. There's no play in the column or rack at rest. Anything I'm missing? Thanks!

  • #2
    Stock alignment specs? Could try zero toe in the front.

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    • #3
      Wear racing gloves.

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      • #4
        Originally posted by jayjaya29 View Post
        Stock alignment specs? Could try zero toe in the front.
        I may try that, thanks. No quality alignment shops in my area unfortunately, so I make do with what I can!

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        • #5
          Did you remove the restrictor in the power steering return line?

          Sort of sounds like you are over assisted. That parts adds weight to the steering feel.

          The restrictor is in the shown rubber line where the oetiket clamp is in the middle.

          Click image for larger version

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          MSportParts | Braymond141

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          • #6
            A good alignment can transform a car, a pro corner balance and you'll be able to run over a dime on the road and tell if it's heads or tails.

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            • #7
              E34 steering u-joint

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              • #8
                Originally posted by Braymond141 View Post
                Did you remove the restrictor in the power steering return line?

                Sort of sounds like you are over assisted. That parts adds weight to the steering feel.

                The restrictor is in the shown rubber line where the oetiket clamp is in the middle.

                Click image for larger version

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                We've been chatting about this on Bimmerforums- this is a great idea that hasn't been mentioned over there and seems like a good root cause of the lightness (and likely a lot of the other feel differences).

                And signs of it missing should be a fairly easy thing to check.

                I want to throw in the E34 U- joint, Z3/ZHP rack, etc, but his earlier cars were stock.

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                • #9
                  What's the deal with the E34 joint? I wouldn't want this on anything but a track car. Besides, the E34 still has the guibo, just higher up the shaft.

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                  • #10
                    I replaced everything on my previous M3- every piece, from wheel bearings to strut bearings. I didn't touch the rack itself, the power steering pump, the power steering hoses, or the steering coupler because I bought another E36 M3 and ran out of money.

                    And the car felt worse than it did with 172k-mile bushings, in terms of steering feel. It was more immediate and had zero slop, but it lost life. H&R Street springs, Koni dampers all around, UUC ARBs set soft.

                    So you're not the only one to feel this change.

                    Did you replace bushings according to the WSM or Bentley? I know I didn't do it to all the bushings when I did the suspension and I suspect it profoundly impacted how the car drove.​ I also didn't pay attention to the location of my FLCABs when I did it on my current car and it feels a little wonky as well; I'm going to redo the bushing installation and need to find someone's measurements re: LCA distance from shoulder to bushing.

                    By the way, zero toe with multiple rubber bushings means dynamic toe out. You'll see an increase in tire wear and tramlining.

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                    • #11
                      Originally posted by MParallel View Post
                      What's the deal with the E34 joint? I wouldn't want this on anything but a track car. Besides, the E34 still has the guibo, just higher up the shaft.
                      This has been a common mod for years. Many others replace the guibo with stiffer poly units, which is terrifying IMO. E34 unit is a much safer and more reliable alternative. It's an OEM part which does not bring the track car waiver of aftermarket replacements that recommend checking after each use. Both eliminate some deflection in the stock system which by default will transmit more road NVH to be perceived as 'feel'. There are other BMW's that came this way from the factory (Z4 for starters) so it's not exactly a risk of catastrophe..

                      There are other ways to skin a cat too. You can run an underdrive pulley on the PS pump to decrease assist, or add the Volkl shims to the pump itself. Stiffer FCAB's are another popular option, but they bring compromises too. Bimmerworld used to offer solid rubber OEM style FCAB's which were the best of all worlds. Not sure if they still do.

                      Depending how low a car is, rectifying the bump steer issues could also regain some steering feedback. Toe and camber settings will also have a noticeable effect but ymmv.

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                      • #12
                        Is the concern with the E34 U-joint nvh related or crash safety related? I've seen some steering components people swap into various applications that usually effect crash safety due to where it would direct things to 'break' instead which is obviously concern for street driven cars. Looking to swap in a ZHP/330 rack and have similar concern about the E34 u-joint swap in regards to crash safety-ness. Doubt the nvh will be enough to bother me.

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                        • #13
                          Any deviation from factory carries with it the possibility of introducing a safety concern.

                          I've never read the input of anyone who swapped a new E36 joint for a new E34 joint and immediately before and immediately after went for a long drive through well-engineered roads with bad road surfacing. That's the only comparison that matters to me for a street-driven car. Someone on Bimmerforums went back to the giubo after the E34 joint.
                          Last edited by Boston Green M3.4.5; 03-22-2023, 07:16 AM.

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                          • #14
                            Thanks everyone! I did a Z3 2.8 steering rack swap over the weekend with new ps lines, reservoir and fluid, got a fresh alignment, and WOW - this thing is tight! I really don't know why my old rack could have worn, or if it was something else in the mix (maybe that ps line restrictor?), but this absolutely transformed it. I'm now on a quest to replace all remaining bushings, starting with the sway bar & end links. Thanks for all the input!

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                            • #15
                              My E34 u-joint experience is like all the rest - went from a totally trashed, original one to the E34 joint + ZHP rack. So yeah, there was a fair amount of improvement, and I couldn't say too specifically which component made the most difference.

                              I wouldn't say that I feel any harshness or vibration come through the wheel at all, only that it feels very direct, very connected to the road. Even when the road is bad I might hear or feel it rattling the suspension, but I wouldn't say that the steering column feeds that unpleasantness to my hands.

                              I'm surprised to hear that someone went back. I can see people going back to a dual mass flywheel or factory motor or trans mounts, but I wouldn't consider this a "racecar" mod.

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