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BMW M328i, Steering Wheel Swap Fail

I don’t know about you, but I don’t like using gross worn out steering wheels, and the wheel on the M328i was beyond terrible. Unfortunately the replacement didn’t go as planned.

When I got the car I thought something was weird about the steering wheel. It had a gross rubbery feeling, and it actually turns out that the previous owner has removed the leather and this is the padding that is normally under the leather.

It wasn’t nice to hold, and was kinda squidgy and moved on the wheel. Ugh.

I thought I had won the lottery when a MINT condition, almost new three spoke wheel came up on Trademe. It was from an E46 but looked physically identical (more on that later). I purchased it and marveled at how nice the leather was. So much grain!

Due to the airbag the first step to removing the wheel is to disconnect the battery. First, move your boot trim, disconnect the LED strip and move your massive capacitor. Wait, not everyone’s boot has these?

And then disconnect the negative battery terminal. Check on the battery which is which, as not everyone has enough common sense to use the proper wiring colours…

And then go make a coffee, wait for it to cool down, drink it, and then it should be safe to mess with the airbag. I don’t know if the waiting time is important, but everyone else says to wait, and hell, I don’t fancy an airbag to the arm or face during removal.

The airbag is held to the wheel with two T30 torx screws, one in the back of each side spoke. You can see them either side of the circular center below.

Once you undo these the airbag can be lifted out. It is hooked into the wheel at the bottom, so you need to pull the top forward and out to remove. On the back of the airbag there is an orange connector, this just pulls straight off, away from the airbag. There is also a small spade terminal to remove.

There is a large 16MM bolt in the middle of the wheel holding it to the column. Undo this a few turns, but don’t take it completely off (it’ll stop you taking a wheel to the face), and wiggle/pull the wheel off the spline). Make sure the wheel is dead straight, remove the bolt completely and mark the shaft to indicate center. Before you remove the wheel though, remove the lower steering wheel shroud, and disconnect the two connectors coming from the steering wheel slip ring. DO NOT try to remove the grey connector from the back of the slip ring. It isn’t a connector.

Now you can remove the wheel.

This is where it went wrong though. I needed to swap the clock spring/slip ring from the back of the old wheel to the new one. Unfortunately this is where I learnt that there is one massive different between an E36 version of the wheel, and an E46 one.

On the E36, the slip ring screws to the back of the wheel with three little screws

It also comes through the back of the wheel at about 1-2 o’clock

The E46 wheel, although looking identical otherwise, has no mounting for the slip ring, as on the E46 the slip ring is mounted to the column, not the wheel

You can also notice that the wiring is designed to come through dead at the top

They are the same, but different enough that you can’t easily use an E46 wheel on an E36. Apparently you can machine the back of the wheel to fit the slip ring, but that takes some precision work. You can’t use the E46 slip ring or airbag, as they are two stage and have different wiring (not to mention mount to the column).

So my gorgeous mint condition wheel is useless to me. I have found a cheap replacement to my wheel on Facebook, so should have that at some point. It has all its leather, but has aged/worn. I’ll probably buy a stitch on leather cover for it, but anything has to be better than the leather-less wheel.

It’s a real shame I have a passengers airbag in this car, otherwise I would just bin the airbag wheel and go with a nice Momo or something. It’s too obvious that the car should have an airbag wheel, when it still has the passengers airbag (unlike my old M3 with had only the drivers airbag, no passenger).

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Mark Zhu
Mark Zhu
5 years ago

Interesting, I was told the alternative was an 8 series wheel – the airbag and wiring are compatible.
tbh it would be better to delete the damn thing, im sure it wont save anyone’s life in an accident anyway (not sure if you have seen the crash test video of the e36 lol…..)

3 years ago

WTF is an M328i?