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Thread: Steering wheel squeak FIXED... Writeup w/pics

  1. #1
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    Steering wheel squeak FIXED... Writeup w/pics

    This writeup is probably major overkill for such a simple fix, but this question gets asked about twice a week so I figure it's time we had one of these. At any rate, the random squeaking noises when turning my steering wheel finally became unbearable. I couldn't really find a good writeup, so I tore into it and here's what I found.


    As far as I can tell, there are only three things that can cause this noise. I would check them in this order:

    1. Bearing at bottom of steering spindle
    2. Bearing at top of steering spindle
    3. Steering wheel slip ring

    If you take your car to the BMW dealer with this problem, they will replace the slip ring, which will set you back about $300 and probably won't fix the noise... or it may actually seem to fix it for a week or two until it decides to come back. Speaking from experience on this one. Your best bet is to start with number one and work your way down.

    Perform any of the following at your own risk. As always, follow basic common-sense safety procedures, especially when it comes to jacking up your car.

    So here we go...


    Steering Spindle Bearings


    This is what the steering spindle assembly looks like. The lower bearing, number 7 in the diagram, is the most common cause of the squeak. The spindle itself is actually hollow, so even though the lower bearing is down in the engine bay below the firewall, any noise it makes will echo through the steering spindle shaft up into the car's interior. The result is a squeak that sounds like it is coming directly out of the steering wheel.

    To lube the lower spindle bearing, you will need the following:

    - floor jack and jackstands
    - can of Tri-Flow or equivalent penetrating lubricant (NOT WD-40!!)
    - three flexible party straws (see pic)
    - duct tape
    - safety goggles

    There's no good way to access the lower bearing, because it sits just below the firewall way up in the engine bay. In order to get to it, you're going to need to use the party straws and duct tape to fabricate about 18 inches of extra tubing attached to the end of the lubricant spray can.

    I bought a package of thin party straws with flexible end segments at the local supermarket for $0.58. These work well because the very tip of your 18-inch tube will need to bend slightly in order to get a clear shot at the bearing. Get the thinnest, smallest diameter straws you can find:



    Jack the front of the car up, support with jackstands, and wriggle under there until you see where the steering shaft exits the firewall. It's way up in there, at the top of this thing:



    Shake the can of Tri-Flow or other lubricant up REALLY good... You need to build up some pressure in order for it to shoot all the way up there. Attach your extension and manuever it until the tip is pointed right at the steering spindle assembly where it pokes out of the firewall. Then, soak it! (I recommend wearing some safety goggles while you do this... There's a good chance some of this stuff will drip down into your eyes/face.) At this point you may want to turn the steering wheel lock-to-lock just to make sure everything gets coated properly, then spray the bearing down again just to make extra sure.

    Once that bearing assembly is good and drenched with lubricant, lower the car and take it for a drive. Do whatever you normally do that makes the steering wheel squeak... For me it was sharp low-speed turns like parking maneuvers. Listen for the squeak. If it's gone, great! If not, proceed to #2...



    Next we'll tackle (2) the upper spindle bearing and (3) the slip ring. You will need:

    - Bentley manual (not absolutely essential, but the photos are helpful if you've never removed the steering wheel before)
    - ball-point pen
    - metric socket set
    - T30 Torx key
    - felt marker, ultra-fine tip
    - more Tri-Flow or equivalent
    - copper paste lubricant (aka grease)
    - torque wrench

    This procedure involves removing the airbag. PROCEED AT YOUR OWN RISK.

    Break out your Bentley manual and follow the instructions to remove your driver-side airbag and steering wheel. It goes something like this.

    Start by parking your car with the steering wheel centered and the front wheels pointed exactly straight ahead. Then:

    1. Disconnect negative battery terminal

    2. Remove lower steering column trim mounting screw and remove lower trim. The screw is at the very bottom of the underside of the steering column. Remove it and then remove the plastic trim piece that covers the bottom half of the steering column. You'll need to push your cruise control lever around to get the plastic piece out without breaking it, but it will come out.

    3. Remove orange SRS connector from its holder and carefully separate connector. There's a tiny little tab you'll need to press in on the side... use a ball-point pen. The connector should slip apart.

    4. Working behind steering wheel, completely loosen Torx screws (T30) while holding airbag in place. Support airbag to prevent it from falling out. These scews are a PAIN but they WILL come loose if you're patient.

    5. Carefully lift airbag off of steering wheel and disconnect orange harness connector from rear of airbag unit. Mine just pulled straight off. Be careful to set the airbag down face-up, someplace out of the way.

    6. Now remove the steering wheel center bolt, number 6 in the diagram. (I forgot to note the size, but I'm told it's a 16mm bolt.)

    7. Now you can see the tip of the hollow steering spindle through the middle of the steering wheel. The outer edge of the spindle is toothed where the wheel slides over it. Use an ultra-fine tipped marker or something similar to mark the exact position of the steering wheel relative to the steering column shaft; that way you can put the steering wheel back on in precisely the same position later.

    8. Unlock steering wheel by turning ignition key on. Remove steering wheel.


    Now you can see the top part of the steering spindle assembly. Break out your can of lube and go to work. Give it several good shots and rotate the bearing and snap ring as you go to make sure the lube works its way in all around. Mop up excess.

    I'm told that in some cases, the plastic bearing (#2 in the diagram) can be worn out, causing grinding and/or a wobbly or loose-feeling steering wheel. So, take a good look at the bearing while you're in there. If yours looks like it's on its last legs, you might consider replacing it. (Thanks to Kevin/KTL for the info.)

    On the back of the steering wheel you can see the slip ring. Give it a light coating of copper paste lubricant.


    Now it's time to put everything back together:

    1. Install steering wheel while aligning matching reference marks you made earlier. Make sure airback contact ring locking pin engages cut-out in contact reel. (See the Bentley manual for photos... The pin is white and plastic and fits into a small hole in the ring in back of the steering wheel.) Install steering wheel center bolt and torque to 46 ft-lb (63 Nm).

    The rest is simply the reverse of removal: Re-attach orange harness connector to back of airbag. Replace airbag and tighten the two airbag mounting screws in back of the steering wheel. Re-attach the orange SRS connector. Replace lower steering column trim. Replace trim retainer screw. Re-connect negative battery cable. Then follow the normal procedure for re-activating your auto-up windows, radio code, etc. You're done.

    Take your car for another drive and enjoy the squeak-free silence.


    I've found this entire procedure also reduces steering effort and helps isolate the steering wheel from roadgoing vibrations. My guess is this will all have to be repeated every 50-70k miles or whenever the lubricant dries up again.

    Credit goes to "hyperknight" for cutting through all the confusion and pointing me in the right direction on this issue. Thanks!
    Last edited by Patrokloss; 03-23-2010 at 02:23 PM.

  2. #2
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    Nice Writeup. I've had the damn squeek for years now. Been meaning to hit that lower bearing with some grease for a while now.... the slip ring didnt work for me either.

  3. #3
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    Very nice write up. My squeak has turned into a nice crunch...looks like im gona have to print this out.
    1997 328is

  4. #4
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    Man, this has been bugging me for ages. I knew it wasn't the slip ring on the wheel when I upgraded to the three-spoked wheel. Fun project for tomorrow. Excellet write up.
    Trevor - Click pic for mod list

  5. #5
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    Nice write up...My car squeaks occasionally and hopefully this will solve the problem!

    -Saul
    95 Alpine White M3 ***SOLD***
    87 325is ***SOLD***
    89 Zinnabrot 325is

  6. #6
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    is this the squeak that I can hear coming from my dash area???

  7. #7
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    I'm doing this this weekend . This has been bugging me for a while and the stealer and my mechanic wanted in excess of $350 to take care of this. Thanks alot man, I vote for this to be parked!

    Quote Originally Posted by Ryan M3 View Post
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  8. #8
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    good writeup

    btw this was my favorite quote, heh funny if taken out of context:

    Quote Originally Posted by Patrokloss
    you're going to need to use the party straws and duct tape to fabricate about 18 inches of extra tubing attached to the end of the lubricant

    DesmoBob in Paradise

  9. #9
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    Wow seriously thank you. Ive had that damn sqeak ever since ive owned the car and I hate it Finally ill be able to get rid of that annoying sound!

  10. #10
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    ANOTHER METHOD to fix steering squeak

    I drive a 328ic with 159,000 on her. It stopped squeaking at about 130,000 miles. Now it was a grind...
    In my case it was actually binding up and making it sometimes difficult to turn the wheel. I could hear a binding/cracking noise from behind the steering wheel.

    Thanks to Patrokloss for the great diagrams and the detailed of the real problem i.e.: the lower steering shaft bearings.
    Equipped with Patrokloss’s knowledge I discovered the outer steering column is hollow and the bearings are mounted on it. Picture a shower curtain rod with the screw adjustment inside that needs lubrication without using either end. Drill a hole….
    THE SOLUTION:
    After removing the paneling above the drivers’ feet to gain access to the firewall, drill a 1/32” hole in the outer steering column housing about 2" above the point where it meets the firewall and what I guessed to be a little above the bearings. Spray about 1 ounce of WD-40 in there and place a piece of tape over the hole. That’s it. My grind and squeak was gone….
    Don’t drill on the bottom of the housing because the lubricant will drip out. Drill as far up the side as possible. Stick the lubricant straw in the hole and give it a 20 second squirt. The lubricant will saturate the bearings. I am now considering applying a thicker lubricant/grease.
    My car steers like new.

    Ken Gasper

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by gasper11
    I drive a 328ic with 159,000 on her. It stopped squeaking at about 130,000 miles. Now it was a grind...
    In my case it was actually binding up and making it sometimes difficult to turn the wheel. I could hear a binding/cracking noise from behind the steering wheel.

    Thanks to Patrokloss for the great diagrams and the detailed of the real problem i.e.: the lower steering shaft bearings.
    Equipped with Patrokloss’s knowledge I discovered the outer steering column is hollow and the bearings are mounted on it. Picture a shower curtain rod with the screw adjustment inside that needs lubrication without using either end. Drill a hole….
    THE SOLUTION:
    After removing the paneling above the drivers’ feet to gain access to the firewall, drill a 1/32” hole in the outer steering column housing about 2" above the point where it meets the firewall and what I guessed to be a little above the bearings. Spray about 1 ounce of WD-40 in there and place a piece of tape over the hole. That’s it. My grind and squeak was gone….
    Don’t drill on the bottom of the housing because the lubricant will drip out. Drill as far up the side as possible. Stick the lubricant straw in the hole and give it a 20 second squirt. The lubricant will saturate the bearings. I am now considering applying a thicker lubricant/grease.
    My car steers like new.

    Ken Gasper
    Any pictures of this DIY?

    2005 Audi (Purchased 07/09) - 2005 Yamaha R6 (Raven) (Purchased 5/06)
    07/97 BMW (Sold 08/09) - 03/01 Audi A4 1.8TMCX (Sold 06/03)

    Please do NOT PM me! Email me: clumpymold@sbcglobal.net

  12. #12
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    Steering squeak fix

    No, I didn't take any photos of the operation, however, I can tell you that several days later I still have great steering for the first time in a couple years. Mine was real bad. I was worried that it would cause an accident because I had NO steering wheel return when turning a corner.
    One notation I failed to mention is that the steering column outer housing is fairly thin metal and once you get through (it will be obvious) you will hit the shaft. Stop. I also should note that the drill filings that may fall into the hole can't be good for bearings.... so try not to allow that to happen.
    It may not be the best fix, but I'm happy.

  13. #13
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    It is nice how lubing those bearings has the added benefit of making the whole steering wheel turn more smoothly and easily. This is just a must-do for any E36 with more than 50k miles IMO. Probably should be added to the regular maintenance program.

    I always think it's good to have alternatives, but there's really no need to remove dash panels, drill holes, worry about metal shavings, etc. The whole bearing assembly is below the firewall. Next time you have the front wheels up in the air, just crawl under there and spray it down. Good as new.

    EDIT: Ken, you are right in my backyard! I go to Cal Poly.

  14. #14
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    Sqeaky wheel

    Hello neighbor.
    You must live in SLO??
    I live and work here: http://backbayinn.com
    So you say the bearings are completely below the firewall? Are they exposed or are they covered in some way?

    Ken

  15. #15
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    They're below the firewall and they're exposed, which is probably why they tend to dry out, accumulate road crud, and require lubrication every now and then. Access is a bit awkward (hence the need for the straws/extension) but with the car in the air it's a 60-second job. I've done it on two cars so far and it works like a charm.

  16. #16
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    Tag.

    Mine started squeaking recently.

    -----------------------------------------------------------------------------
    "It is illegal to run out of gas on the Autobahn" -Germany

  17. #17
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    THANK YOU, You are my savior!!!

    I tried this and it worked perfect!!

    My steering wheel squek had grown into a grind, I had NO return to center, and the steering felt very tight hard to steer. When this first happened last spring, I actually replaced the rack, which fixed the problem temporarily, but it returned with a vegeance this past week.

    I sprayed motorcycle chain wax into the lower bearing, and VOILA! the steering was as good as the first day I fell in love with driving this car!

    Sweeeeeeet!

    I think the chain wax will last longer than WD-40 or JB-80.

    Thanks for the assist!

  18. #18
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    i just started having this problem and now i know how to solve it.
    thnx guys......

  19. #19
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    or you guys can take the easy (not cheap) way out and just toss in the 3-spoke wheel....that waht I did for other reasons...and all of a sudden...no more squeek

  20. #20
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    Thumbs up

    Quote Originally Posted by Patrokloss
    This writeup is probably major overkill for such a simple fix, but this question gets asked about twice a week so I figure it's time we had one of these.
    You, sir, are a good man. I have asked this question many times and it has finally been answered. Excellent writeup, I can't wait to try this out!

  21. #21
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    Cool, I am installing an aftermarket steering wheel, and this is exactly what I was looking for!

  22. #22
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    just wanted to say thanks!!!! did the fix last night. the squeak was driving me crazy. i didn't completely believe this would fix it cuz it really does sound like the sound is coming from the steering wheel, but it is totally gone. total time including jacking up the car - < 5 min. i didn't use the straws, i just used the little straw that comes with the lube spray and shot it way up there.

  23. #23
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    this really is odd that it doesn't come from the steering wheel. I was getting the squeek fairly regularly with my 4-spoke wheel and right when I switched to the newer 3-spoke 3 or 4 weeks ago....the squeek has completely dissapeared

    maybe it is a combination of things that make that squeeky sound.

  24. #24
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    I'll be home in 2 weeks and when I get the car in the air, I'll be sure to do this first!!!
    1997 Arctic Silver M3
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  25. #25
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    Quote Originally Posted by 3rd One
    this really is odd that it doesn't come from the steering wheel. I was getting the squeek fairly regularly with my 4-spoke wheel and right when I switched to the newer 3-spoke 3 or 4 weeks ago....the squeek has completely dissapeared

    maybe it is a combination of things that make that squeeky sound.
    If you read the writeup you'll note there are three different areas to check. The lower steering spindle bearing is simply the most common source of the problem. For most people, lubing that bearing will completely eliminate the squeak, so there is no need to go to the trouble of removing the steering wheel unless the first fix doesn't work.

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