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Old 11-14-2012, 03:20 PM   #1
John949
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Help steering is getting worse

I am a fully paid up member of the vague steering, wandering, tramlining club. The only bits of the front suspension, braking steering system that I haven't changed are: the steering wheel, the lower part of the front strut, the subframe and the wheels.

I recently changed the front lower wishbones again as the cheapo versions developed play in the balljoints in about 1 year. This time I used Lemforder and I have powerflex FCABs (It has the Msport suspension). I also changed the discs at the same time.

The car now has a slight pull to the left but more worryingly the steering doesn't self centre well from the left. Even worse if you wind on full left lock, drive gently forward sometimes it unwinds, but sometimes it pulls even harder left and partially jams. I'm guessing the the partial jam is the right hand inner ball joint jamming in the rack body. I may be imagining it but sometimes there appears to be more positive camber on the left wheel when it jams at full left lock. Naturally I've jacked it up and levered at everything but I can't find any play. I don't see how the wishbones can cause this unless the dimensions are wrong (I orderd the right parts - anyone know how check visually that they sent the right parts for Msport?).

I've spent hours playing with the alignment and to be honest it doesn't make much difference how you set it up. I took all the negative camber I can off the RHS - maybe a little less pull but not much effect (total movement is one half a degree so no great surprise). Today I swapped the front wheels over - again no real difference.

I swapped back to my original rack as the eBay special was getting really bad. It feels as though, when you hit a bump, the rack moves and then is stiffer in the new position. Playing with it on the bench it does appear to be loose in the centre and then tightens after about 5 degrees in either direction. If you try to tighten the adjuster it starts to bind at half travel long before it goes tight at the centre. BTW this is just how tight it feels, I can't feel any play in it.

I'm be tempted to buy a new rack but not even ZF will sell you a new one these days. They are all re-manufactured, which seems to mean that they clean it and change the seals. If there is wear on the pinion teeth or rack teeth - too bad.

One place where there is play is the steering column output shaft. There are a couple of videos of this on YouTube. Onshows someone wobbling the steering column outpu shaft and making a clicking sound, the other shows someone grabbing the top steering uj and pushing it sideways. Mine was like this. WhenI swapped the rack again I packed the nylon bush that sits between the splined shaft and the lower bearing with a piece of shim steel. This definitely reduces the play a bit.

I'm getting a bit fed up with this as it's worse then my old E24, which was not famous for its positive steering.
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Old 11-14-2012, 03:51 PM   #2
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Whoa, I think I have the same or a similar issue as you... Sometimes my steering shakes when I'm going straight. Happens at highway speeds, and it is on/off. When shaking, the car somethings wanders a bit, kinda like when it is really windy out. It feels nice and smooth when taking long turns (on/off ramps).

I've replaced pretty much everything (reman rack from rackdoctor, tie rods, control arms, control arm bushings, end links, struts, strut mounts, caliper, rotor, pads, wheel bearings, steering guibo, tires...) I've went through every bolt in the front end multiple times thinking one is loose or something...

I'm stumped.

Last edited by cposk; 11-14-2012 at 03:51 PM.
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Old 11-14-2012, 03:58 PM   #3
ttrinh9
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RTAB. Replaced mine last week, car drives straight and tight. Can't stop cutting sharp corners now.
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Old 11-14-2012, 04:02 PM   #4
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Originally Posted by cposk View Post
Whoa, I think I have the same or a similar issue as you... Sometimes my steering shakes when I'm going straight. Happens at highway speeds, and it is on/off. When shaking, the car somethings wanders a bit, kinda like when it is really windy out. It feels nice and smooth when taking long turns (on/off ramps).

I've replaced pretty much everything (reman rack from rackdoctor, tie rods, control arms, control arm bushings, end links, struts, strut mounts, caliper, rotor, pads, wheel bearings, steering guibo, tires...) I've went through every bolt in the front end multiple times thinking one is loose or something...

I'm stumped.
didn't you say your suspension installer left out certain crucial parts???
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Old 11-14-2012, 05:08 PM   #5
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I had a problem like that, but did not go as far as you have OP. I am on the original m-sport wishbones (80k miles & still rock solid), but Powerflex bushes all round (FCAB, RTAB & both anti-roll bars) car was then 4 wheel aligned by BMW and it was sorted. The wandering slowly came back a few years later and I replaced that rubber coupling where the steering column connects to the steering rack. This improved things some what, but I had to then adjust the rack pinon gear to take up the slack in the middle of the rack. Things improved again. Most of the play in the steering is now gone. The car after a while slowly started to tramline more and weaving about the road, turns out that one front wheel was ok (toeing in) the other was toeing out slightly, the main cause of the weaving was the rear axle, one wheel was toeing in more than the other. This throws the thrust angle off. I had a friends garage do a 4 wheel alignment when replacing the brakes and the car handles like a dream, nice sharp turn in & reduced play in the steering for some reason. The weaving side to side on the road was fixed with only the normal tramlining characteristic of cars with large wheels and ultra low profile tyres remains.
I would recommend replacing the RTABs with powerflex then getting a full 4 wheel alignment done. When the time comes to change the tyres, maybe avoid tread patterns that are like an arrow. I went from Dunlop Sport SP9000 to Vredestein Sessanta and that reduced tram-lining too.

Last edited by NE1L; 11-14-2012 at 05:10 PM.
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Old 11-14-2012, 05:18 PM   #6
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You need new tierods and a steering flex disc. Your steering changing tightness when you turn it 5 degrees is a combination of the flex disc and the ball joints in the tierods. I would do the RTABs also if you haven't. This is one thing where you might as well do everything. It'll drive like new after these. You wasted money on the steering rack.
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Old 11-14-2012, 08:52 PM   #7
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Originally Posted by E46Mango View Post
didn't you say your suspension installer left out certain crucial parts???
Just a thought that I had. I didn't see them reassemble the strut. I handed them an assembled strut and a new mount (I broke a stud on the old mount when I was checking all of my front end). They took it in the back and replaced the mount on their bench spring compressor.

I think I'd have binding issues if that washer was left out, which I do not have. Something feels loose, but only sometimes...
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Old 11-15-2012, 03:14 AM   #8
John949
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Thanks for all the replies.
A few answers - sorry if they are a bit curt.
I've recently done the RTAB with powerflex bushes - back end feels better but no real change at the front.
If one front wheel is toeing in and the other toeing out then you'll have an offset steering wheel not necessarily an alignment problem.
I've changed the steering u/js and flex disc (twice). I am in the process of butchering one of the old ones to have a solid plate in place of the rubber disc.
Tie rods where one of the first things I tried. Another thing is tyre pressures - played around with those to avail.

Just to be clear, I have no play that I can find it the steering. It doesn't shake on braking (new wishbones cured that) and is fine on nice flat roads. The tramlining & wandering might just be a function of the steering geometry and the tyres (225x40x18 Falken 452s on MV1 rims). The boards are full of posts about tramlining etc. and very few seem to find a complete cure.

My left rear corner sits about 10mm lower than the right, front is pretty level. I think this is fairly standard for a RHD E46.

The bit I don't think is right is the difference in self centring between left and right lock and it certainly shouldn't 'catch' at full left lock. If some people would try the same test for me and let me know how there car behaves I'd be grateful.

Turn to full lock while stationary, take your hands off the wheel and then drive slowly forward. To the right my car unwinds strongly. to the left the wheel turns further left and then needs extra effort to return to centre. Once you turned it back about a quarter of a turn it then continues to centre hands off.

Bent chasis / subframe?
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Old 11-15-2012, 02:00 PM   #9
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I occasionally have the steering rack "locking" when trying to return from a full left or right turn from stationary. I have read about this before and there is a spacer kit that can be attached to reduce the steering lock slightly to prevent this problem. http://www.turnermotorsport.com/p-42...-stop-kit.aspx

With the 18" wheels, there is no way the tram-lining can be completely cured. The combination of a smaller wheel and higher profile tyre will reduce the tram-lining effect, but I don't know how small you can go. 17", certainly no smaller than 16" if that is even possible on a 330. Your car should be running 255x35R18 on the rear with the 225x40R18 only at the front. The front wheels are 8" wide with the rears 8.5" wide. It might be worth checking that the wheels are on the correct axles in case someone has put the same size tyre on all 4 wheels masking the different wheel widths and no one has noticed.

The difference in rear ride height might be due to a broken or corroded spring (very common). My right rear was sitting low and during a service BMW identified the spring was soft due to corrosion. Check the top and bottom of the rear springs for a snapped/missing section or corroded causing that area of the spring to weaken and compress more than it should.

If the car is driving straight and true on a smooth road surface, then I would point the finger at rutted road surfaces and a tyre tread pattern that is more susceptible to those road irregularities than others.

I hope you manage to get the issue resolved.
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Old 11-15-2012, 03:23 PM   #10
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I agree, the tramlining seems to be inherent to the e46 chassis. Different tires do it to different degrees, have you tried a different brand?

The steering "hang" issue seems strange, but I'm hesitant to say it's actually an issue. If you've replaced literally everything else, I wouldn't hesitate to spend the money on a RackDoctor rack.
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Old 12-01-2012, 06:40 AM   #11
John949
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An update. Some progress - still some problems.
Those paying close attention may have realised that I'm currently running the front tyres (Falken 452) in the wrong direction. This seems to have reduced the tramlining a bit so may. I've also made up a u/j with a 10mm alluminium plate in place of the rubber piece. Definitely feels a bit better around the straight ahead position.

I've been investigating my two racks. The first is an '067' three turn rack. This seems to have a lot of wear in the straight ahead position. If I adjust it to take out the play at the centre it jams completely after about 20 degrees. I took this rack of the car because the car dived about over bumps and was very disconcerting to drive. The other rack seems to have some movement in the rack tube at full left lock. The movement is fore / aft not play in the steering movement direction i.e. in / out. This rack is on the car at the moment and locks up if you drive forwards at full left lock. To straighten the wheel you have to use about twice as much force as normal, there is a thump and then the steering goes back to normal.

My conclusion is that both racks are faulty so I'm in he market for a new one. The problem is that you can't actually buy a 'new' one anymore. Even ZF / BMW only sell reconditioned ones. ACS are the cheapest but given that they replace the inner trackrods and the boots, how much more can they do for 125! You can pay all sorts of prices for a re-conditioned rack but what do you get for your money? I can buy one of ebay, clean it and replace the balljoints. Anybody remember 'Heathrow Engine Exchange'? They got caught by trading standards for painting the blocks blue, filling them with heavy oil and then selling them as reconditioned engines. It seems to me that there may be something similar going on with racks - particularly as the rack isn't often the culprit.
Has anybody got any first hand experience of rack reconditioners (in the UK please).
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Old 12-01-2012, 07:25 AM   #12
WDE46
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How are you adjusting your rack? I am curious because I want to try adjusting mine after I put new ATF into the PS system.
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Old 12-01-2012, 10:36 AM   #13
John949
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Adjusting the rack

If you hunt you can find the official ZF rebuild instructions which tell you how to do it for all the variations. Both my racks have a 17mm plastic bolt head on the side of the rack over the pinion. There is also a cover on the bottom of the pinion - it's not that one!

You adjust it on the car. I suggest you go about 30 - 45 degrees at a time and check it's not bnding. You know when you've gone too far as the steering will stop self-centring. The ZF instructions say tighten it until you can just feel it bind then back off 30 deg.
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Old 12-11-2012, 04:53 AM   #14
John949
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Third Time Lucky?

The third steering rack seems to have done the trick! It still dives a bit when you hit a bump but now you can now feel the wheel move as it does so and it responds quickly when you correct it. Self centring is much better and even left to right. It still over-centres on full left lock but comes back without a thump.

I've tweaked the camber left max / right min to reduce the steering pull to almost nothing but I'll put it back when I next replace the front tyres.

I bought another rack off eBay as I'm still not convinced that the 'refurbishers' do any more than clean them & replace the seals. I bought another '067' three turn rack (yes they do have the same travel as the 3.4 turn rack) and I like it better than the standard rack.

I also posted that I replaced the non-return valve in the PS pressure line as mine had fallen apart. I doubt that this has made much difference but it might reduce the steering movement in response to bumps. The theory is that, as hydraulic fliud is incompressible, any attempt to move the wheels away from the current postion will be countered by a rapid rise in pressure and so the wheels won't move far (only the distance required to open the control valve). In practice, the pressure line contains a flexible hose which can expand. The non-return valve stops flow back up the pressure pipe and so 'stiffens' the system. How much difference this makes I don't know but I can't see any other reason to put the valve there.

Anyway I'm currently enjoying a car that goes where I point it and doesn't keep trying to dive into a hedge. Still need to be a bit careful if you run over a while line when braking and turning in though, but I can live with that.
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Old 12-11-2012, 10:33 PM   #15
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Just an FYI because it wasn't brought up in any of your posts, caster controls "return to center" on steering. If you drew a line perpendicular to the ground through the center of your front wheel the steering of the wheel is actually pivoting slightly ahead of that line. This allows the front wheels to return to center similar to grocery cart wheels. The further forward the pivot from that imaginery perpendicular line at the center of the wheel the more dramatic the effect is.

Conversely, if the caster of one of your struts is further back than it should be it will affect the return to center and steering in one direction would feel different than in the other direction. A caster angel problem can also cause a car to pull in one direction regardless of toe in settings.
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Old 12-12-2012, 04:25 AM   #16
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Yes and no. I agree that the wheel pivots about a point slightly ahead of where the tyre contacts the ground and maybe an inch inside the inboard side of the tyre i.e draw a line down from the centre of the strut top bearing through the bottom ball joint and to the ground. This is the axis about which the wheel pivots. This line is inclined top towards the back of the car as you look from the side (this is the caster angle) but also top inwards as you look from the front of the car. This inward inclination causes the outside edge of the tyre to want to move down as the steering rotates. Obviously the tyre can't move down through the road so the car has to rise. The car naturally wants to return to the lowest point so this causes a force which returns the wheels to the straight ahead position. Look up 'king pin inclination' or 'steering axis inclination' on the web for a better explanation. I found it useful to bend the end of a straw so that the long part represents the strut and the short part the axle. By exaggerating the inwards and backwards inclination and rotating it in your fingers you can see how the axle angle changes as the strut rotates.

If we consider the force on the tyre generated by the tyre / road friction (this generates the force required to overcome bearing friction and thereby rotate the wheel), this can be considered to act at a point in the centre of the contact patch. For a wheel with zero camber this will be in the middle of the lowest point on the tyre. If we recall that the pivot point is ahead and inside this point, the drag force will cause a moment about this axis which will try to turn the wheel in a 'toe out' direction. Because cars (should be) symmetrical, this force is balanced by the other side and there is no net pull on the steering.

If we increase the positive camber on one side only the contact point will move towards the outside of the wheel and further away from the steering axis. This will increase the moment on that side and cause the steering to pull to that side.

Sorry if this is difficult to follow as you really need three-dimensional models to explain it properly. If you search around on the web you can find better explanations with diagrams, but be careful as there are quite a few that I think are wrong. I think I'm right because a) there are many sources that say you should set a UK car up with slightly more positive camber on the offside to counteract the road camber and b) changing the camber did affect the steering pull for me.
There seems to be a lot of misinformation about the effect of tracking on the web i.e. adjusting the tracking correctly will cure all handing problems and eliminate tyre wear. I disagree, incorrect tracking can put your steering wheel off-centre and will increase tyre wear, but it won't cause the tyre to wear on one edge (negative camber cause the inside edge to wear and spirited driving / too little negative camber causes the outside edge to wear) and it won't cause the steering to pull to one side. If both outside edges wear, try raising the tyre pressure or driving slower round corners.
I won't try to explain the effect of unbalanced caster angles because a) I don't think it has much effect when the steering is straight ahead and b) I can't adjust the caster without using a file or buying a very expensive strut adjusting plate.
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Old 12-12-2012, 05:45 AM   #17
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The terms to read about would be "mechanical trail" and "pneumatic trail". It is a combination of these two things that center the steering wheel and can cause tram lining.
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