Well, three weeks later and three different sets of strut mounts later (two returned), we succeeded today in installing the new Bilsteins, spring pads and strut mounts and my car is now back Home! Many thanks to Rob Siegel for his expertise, patience, and thoughtful decisions and explanations as we decided how to address the issues we encountered. Thanks also to Steve at Blunt for suggesting switching the studs (read below) and how to do it.
You can see by the first few photos why we decided to replace the strut mounts along with the inserts. The damage done by a previous owner to add more potential camber (not used in the current set up but drilled out for) not only looked bad but raised a potential problem with structural integrity. The preferred method seems to be discarding the headlight spacers and simply using washers, but we didn’t want to do that here. Once that decision was made, obtaining strut mounts with the right length stud became a problem.
The strut mounts with the shorter studs and the strut mounts with the longer studs necessary due to the extra height of the spacer have different part numbers, but if you order the latter, you get the former most of the time because everyone says they’re the same part – they’re not! So the solution was to order the regular mounts and the longer studs directly from BMW (BMW of South Atlanta has a great on-line parts site and the person you talk to is Mike – very helpful!), and switch them – they’re press-molded, so this can be done. I remembered also to pick up new wave washers and nuts at the last minute from the local auto store!
At home, before heading over to Rob’s, getting the shorter studs out was pretty easy. I used a hard plastic/rubber hammer on my work bench with a socket underneath. I couldn’t get the longer ones all the way back in despite hitting them pretty hard and figured I’d see what Rob thought. He used a brass head hammer and the concrete floor of his garage as a base to put the socket on – they went right in. The brass hammer head is softer than the studs but harder than rubber/plastic and is meant to deform somewhat so the thing you’re pounding isn’t damaged.
Setting the spring pad into the perch and aligning it and then doing the same thing to the top took some care to make sure the ends of the springs were in the proper position against the seating notch in the spring pad. Once the spring compressors are removed, everything tightens up against the mount on top and perch – voila – a ready to install front strut assembly. The spring pad may squish out on top a little bit but that’s ok as long as the notch is in the right position.
Sliding the assembly up into the wheel well after aligning the studs with where the holes are on the body of the car and fitting the lower end against the ball joint was pretty easy – one nut to hold it on top while the others were attached. Getting the bolts back in to attach the ball joint to the strut was a little tricky. Rob had to rethread the holes and bolts of one strut with a tap and die set. Lock-tight and a torque wrench got them together. Will re-wire them later. Then the calipers were reattached – torque wrench again but no lock-tight.
Wheels on, car lowered off the lift, and out of the garage – 2.5 hours all told, Not quite an epic but sure seemed like it at times. Now about that brake fluid we saw dripping out of the brake booster…