BMW e36 Ball Joints

I know this is a bit esoteric for this forum, but does anyone here know how to get the outer ball joints off an e36? I can separate them from the spindle using a pickle fork, but I cannot figure out how to remove that retainer thingy that apparently locks the ball joint to the control arm.


E36 ball joints were the best money maker on that car. With the correct press tool the job is done on the car. Some tricks for the bottom joint loosen the nut (before you break the holding power between the tapered part of the ball joint stud and the spindle)this is so you can loosen the nut all that is possible without the ball joint stud simply spinning, then in the gap you have created make a cut using first a cut-off wheel then nock the rest off with a chisel then you can pull the control arm down and have access to the lower ball joint (you will have room for the screw type install-removal tool. There are 4 press dies that work with this tool, to do the job fast you need them. the springy ring you are describing does not retain the ball joint it keeps the boot on. These ball joints always went bad and all the tech new how to do the job and jumped on them fast. Paid 2hrs took 20min. E46s also had ball joint problems(lower only) had to replace complete lower control arm this job was cake too and everyone jumped on these. Ball joints on the e36(3series) were held in by being pressed in (tight fit) never saw a guy do the job without the correct tool.I did remove this ring as the ball joint passed easier but it is not necesssary

On the last BMW I replaced the ball joints on, well you couldn’t! The entire control arm required replacing.


What year is yours? I have the Bentley manual for E36 models from 1992-1998 but it doesn’t say how to remove that retainer. For reassembly it just says install the retainer without saying how. If you haven’t already, get a new one which you should probably use anyway and then by inspecting it you can see how is comes off.

Another thing to consider is that if the outer ball joint is bad the center ball joint is likely almost as bad. If so, since the center ball joint isn’t replaceable, you could just replace the whole arm.

Like OldSchool says, the balljoints are pressed and you really need the removal tools to do this without a great deal of angst.

BTW ~ Those ball joints are pressed in with a special BMW grease that cures in about 30 minutes, it cures as a bonding agent, I’d advise getting some and using it on your new balljoints.

Tester as I stated in my blog that is the situation on the E46 (the generation of 3 series car that followed the E36 but I assure you E36 ball joints are replaceable) I was atech for BMW at both Don Mackey BMW in Tucson and Concours Motors in Milwauke Wi.

I should have been more descriptive about the ‘Thingy’. It is beneath the control arm, not near the rubber boot. It is shaped like a shallow ‘C’ with the open side up. No amount of hammering, prying, or twisting seems to make it move.

I have two manuals - a Bentley and a 101 Projects. Both show a picture of the retainer and say simply that this is the ball joint retainer. No hint as to how to remove it.

I have the new ball joints and they appear to be simple press-in parts. You can’t see on the ball joint any particular fitting accomodation for the retainer.

As to the comments on what is replaceable - on the e36 ('92-'98) the outboard ball joint is replaceable EXCEPT on an M3. The inboard ball joint comes attached to a new control arm.

The frustrating part of this is that the ball joints are not worn out! I learned after I tore the rubber boot with my pickle fork that the ball joints are fine. Tight as new. Coast BMW in San Luis Obispo CA told my daughter that they were worn out and the car was dangerous to drive. Since everything else they told her turned out to be a lie, I don’t know why I believed them on this. It is hard to completely unload all stresses from an assembled ball joint to test it for motion, and these have 135k miles on them, so I figured they were due anyway and just started tearing it apart.

Also, the special assembly lube that someone mentioned is for the rear control arm bushing which is rubber, not the ball joint. It melts the rubber and makes it bond to the control arm so that wheel motion twists the rubber bushing rather than letting the control arm twist in the hole and wear out the rubber and make noise.

The part your describing souds like a part of the sway bar which needs to be loosened to allow the control arm to come downlow enough. Never had to deal with any “ball joint retainer clip” do you know that your car has upper and lower ball joints? My procedure is for upper and lower ball joints. No one ever did anything with the “center” or inboard control arm joint I have replaced dozens of these upper an lower ball joints. Not very many in the west but in Milwauke it was like every car. Do you have the tool to do this job on the car or are you trying to remove the control arm? Dont forget about the upper joint. Sorry I cant help with any retainer cant picture what your talking about.Did all these cars I worked on already have this clip removed and discarded? Really is a mystery to me.Sorry I checked with my Master Tech friend here at the local BMW dealer there are no upper ball joints what was I thinking? He said they always replace the control arm (dont have the press tool) but none of the techs new anything about a ball joint retainer. In Milwauke we did have the tool and replaced the outer joint (never the inner) why I thought there were upper and lower I just cant explain . Its been 10 years but you would think I would remember accutatly,again sorry.

That’s what I ran into on the last BMW I replaced the ball joints on. That C-shaped piece of steel is swagged into the bracket. The only way I could see to remove it was to grind off the swagged part to get at the ball joint and then weld it back on once the ball joint was replaced. But in my case, I couldn’t get replacement ball joints for the vehicle, so had to replace the control arms.


This is the first time I have posted on this forum and I am thrilled with the responses! Thank you all!

I posted this same question on three different BMW owner forums. I have over 150 ‘views’ among the three forums and not one response of any kind. On this forum, I got a half-dozen solid responses in just three days! I’m gonna stick around here and contribute where I can.

I know this is an old conversation thread but I came to it yesterday desperately looking for an answer about how to deal with that “retaining clip” (see photo), and just want to conclude the conversation for future info. I found my answer on a website for a replacement ball joint made by Meyle of Germany that showed a diagram of the original equipment and their all steel replacement. The original outer ball joints on BMW’s E36 (which are replaceable except the M3’s) have rubber parts within the ball joint and the whole ball joint assembly is held together by that “retaining clip”. Removing just that clip will allow only the inner parts of the ball joint assembly to drop out, but the outer housing of the assembly will remain and will need to be pressed out. Because the shape of the outer housing (including the tabs that extend from the outer housing and stick through the clip) there is very little bottom surface of control arm to seat a press-out fixture against. If the tabs are cut off then the press-out fixture can be a full circle, otherwise the fixture would need to have cut-outs leaving room for tab extensions (you can see what I mean if you go to a website for BMW tools such as Baum Tools and look-up what they sell for the job). The actual fixture made for removing these ball joints seats to the control arm on either side of that “retaining clip”.

Regarding terming it “retaining clip”: the only place I’ve seen the bottom part of the ball joint assembly referred to as a “retaining clip” is in a technical article on a parts website (Pelican Parts) which includes a photo that points it out and imprecisely states “The retaining clip attaches the ball joint to the arm.”, which, more precisely could state “The retaining clip holds the inner parts of the ball joint within the ball joint housing.”. The Bentley Manual’s description of the removal/installation process is brief and warns that there are special tools for the procedure, but does not refer to removing or installing a clip. It does however, indicate that the alignment of the ball joint seems to matter, so if you are installing a new original equipment ball joint, it will have that “retaining clip” on the bottom and it will need to be oriented in the same direction as the one you remove.