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by Dave Zeckhausen


The BMW 540i handling can be dramatically improved by replacing the front and rear swaybars with stiffer ones.  A cost-effective approach is to use M5 parts which cost only slightly more than $300.  Depending on your 540i model, the existing front swaybar diameter is either 24.5mm or 25mm (Sport and 6-Speed).  The rear swaybar diameter ranges from 13mm to 15mm depending on model year and options.  The M5 front and rear swaybars are 27mm and 16.5mm in diameter, respectively.  If you don't mind spending three times as much money, Dinan offers 28mm front and 17mm rear swaybars.

Replacing the rear swaybar on a BMW 540i is a simple procedure that should take 30 minutes or less.  However, the front swaybar is between the engine and subframe and is significantly more challenging.  With two people, following the instructions below, it should be about a three hour job.  With one person, the time required will more than double, since there are several operations that benefit from two people working together.  Zeckhausen Racing does not recommend attempting this modification solo.  A professional mechanic with a lift should be able to complete the job in about three or four hours.

While the M5 rear swaybar will bolt on to a 525i, 528i, or 530i, the front swaybar will not.  The front subframe on 6-cylinder models is a different design.  Thus, the M5 front swaybar can NOT be installed on any 6-cylinder model.  For these models, you need an aftermarket solution for the front swaybar, such as Eibach or Dinan.  However, all of these 6-cylinder models will benefit from the addition of the M5 rear bar, if you are trying to reduce understeer.  The rear swaybar installation is trivial and is probably the best $140 you can spend on improving your car's handling.

Zeckhausen Racing does not sell the parts required for this modification.  We recommend Tischer BMW, since their pricing is outstanding and they are easy to order from on-line.  Prices shown below are subject to change without notice and were accurate as of April 28, 2011.

Parts required to upgrade 540i to M5 front swaybars:

BMW Part #



Tischer BMW


M5 front swaybar (27mm)




M5 front swaybar bushings (2 req'd))



Parts required to upgrade 525i, 528i, 530i, or 540i to M5 rear swaybars:

BMW Part #



Tischer BMW


M5 rear swaybar (16.5mm)




M5 rear swaybar bushings (2 req'd)




Tools required:

Floor jack with a lifting height of at least 20".  More is better.

One pair of QUALITY Jackstands

Air impact wrench is very helpful.  Otherwise a medium to long 1/2" drive breaker bar.

Large Philips screwdriver

Set of Metric combination wrenches including: 10mm, 15mm, 16mm, 18mm

Ratchet handles (small, medium, large) with the following 6-point sockets: 8mm, 10mm, 13mm (deep), 15mm, 16mm (5/8"), 17mm, 18mm, 21mm

Torque wrench with a range of at least 50 to 120 N-m

Variety of socket extenders (short, medium, long)

Stubby wrenches: 15mm, 18mm, 21mm

Small carpenter's hammer

Large dead-blow hammer with non marring face

Small and medium pry bars


Safety Warning:

Working on your own car can be dangerous.  Even quality jack stands can collapse if not positioned properly, and a floor jack can fail suddenly and without warning.  You can be seriously injured or even killed if you do not follow proper safety procedures.   Zeckhausen Racing LLC assumes no liability expressed or implied for the improper installation or use of these components.


Front Swaybar Upgrade Instructions:

  1. Jack the car up in the front as high as possible by positioning the cup of your floor jack in the center of the cross member located just behind the engine.  Be careful not to crush the aluminum strap that holds the rear of the plastic belly pan.  It may be necessary to drive the car onto a couple pieces of wood or a ramp first, in order to gain enough clearance for a typical floor jack to slide underneath from the front.

  2. Place jack stands under the two plastic jacking blocks on the bottom of the rocker panel, located just behind the front wheels.  Gently lower the car onto the stands.  Keep in mind the car will move several inches backwards as the jack is lowered, so be prepared to re-position the stands as you lower the floor jack.

I can't emphasize enough how important it is to raise the car as high as possible.  When the swaybar is being removed, it will require all sorts of twists and turns of the bar to clear the subframe and, if the car is too low, the end of the bar will dig into the ground, restricting your flexibility at removing it.  You may even wish to place a board underneath your floor jack in Step 1 in order to gain another inch or two of lift.

  1. Using a 17mm socket, remove the front wheels.  If you do not have an air wrench, have an assistant step on the brake pedal while you remove the wheel bolts.

  2. Using a large Philips screwdriver, loosen the fasteners that hold the large plastic panel under the engine.   These fasteners are 1/4 turn only and should NOT be removed from the plastic panel.  Remove panel and set aside.

  3. Using a 15mm socket and a 15mm wrench, remove the bolt and nut holding the idler arm (passenger side) to the sub frame.

Idler Arm

  1. Remove three 15mm bolts and nuts holding the steering gear box (driver's side) to the sub frame.  One vertical bolt and another horizontal bolt are easy to remove.  The forward most vertical bolt is a challenge, since the nut is on top of the steering box and is very difficult to access.  This is where the stubby 15mm wrench comes in handy.  Work the wrench onto the nut and then loosen the bolt with your 15mm ratchet.  It can be done, but requires patience and small hands.  An assistant can see the nut from the engine compartment above and help guide the wrench.  Alternatively, if you have a 15mm socket and at least 18" of extensions, you can easily loosen this nut from above. 

Steering Gear Box

  1. Just forward of the driver's side engine mount (within 2")  is an 8mm sheet metal screw that holds the power steering line bracket to the subframe.  Remove this screw.

  2. Disconnect the ends of the sway bar, using a 16mm socket to loosen the nut and a 16mm open end wrench to prevent the stud from turning.  You may need to grind a 16mm wrench to make it thin enough to fit.

  3. Remove the two "C" brackets holding the sway bar to the subframe.  Use a 13mm deep well socket to remove the two nuts holding each bracket.  Pull off the two rubber swaybar bushings.

  4. The threaded studs are easily damaged during the subsequent steps.  To prevent this, reinstall the nuts you removed in the previous step in order to protect them.

  5. If your BMW came from the factory with Xenon headlamps, you have auto-leveling sensors on the right front and right rear suspension.  Before proceeding to the next step, you must disconnect the linkage connecting the front level sensor to the lower wishbone.  Using a 10mm open end wrench to keep the threaded stud from spinning, remove the nut with a 10mm socket.  Pull the linkage away from the sensor arm and reinstall the nut a few turns, by hand, so it won't be misplaced.

Diagram and photo of Xenon headlamp auto-leveling sensor

Two aluminum control arms are connected to the bottom of the subframe.  The forward arm is called a "wishbone" and the rear arm is called a "traction strut."  Both of these must be disconnected from the subframe and pushed out of the way.


Traction Strut

  1. The wishbone is held in place by a 16mm bolt with an 18mm nut.  Remove the nut and bolt.  Pay attention to the orientation of the bolt as you remove it.  The threads face the front of the car for some models and the back of the car for others.  A Sharpie laundry marking pen is useful to label the bolt so you don't forget which way to put it back.

  2. The traction strut is held in place by a 21mm bolt and nut.  You will need to rotate the swaybar in order to gain access to the head of the bolt.  Remove the nut and bolt using a 21mm socket and a 21mm stubby wrench.  Once the nut is removed, it may be necessary to use a small socket extender to push the bolt all the way through the traction strut end before you can remove it.  Pay attention to the orientation of the bolt.  The threads face the rear of the car.

  3. Remove the left and right heat shield from the rear of the sub frame.  They are held in place with 8mm self tapping screws.  Move them away from the car so you don't accidentally damage them.  They are fragile.

  4. After you remove the heat shields, a collection of wires, protected by black flex tubing, and a bracket with sharp edges will be left dangling in your face.  These should also be pulled off the back edge of the subframe, leaving them hanging at least 8" down.  It's helpful to temporarily secure these with a cable tie or a piece of wire.

  5. Remove the 13mm nuts holding the engine mounts to the sub frame.  There are two nuts per mount.

  6. Place a piece of wood on the saddle of your jack to spread the force across a wider area and to gain a few more inches of height.  Place the jack under the flat part of the engine oil pan and lift several inches until the engine mounts clear the subframe.  Be careful that the mounts don't catch on the subframe, as they might tear.  A prybar is helpful to coax the engine mounts and subframe apart.  This is where it really helps to have an assistant.

  7. Remove the six 18mm bolts that hold the sub frame to the chassis.  The front four bolts are easily accessed.  The rear two bolts are hidden beneath plastic panels which must be pulled back to gain access.  Several 8mm sheet metal screws and a couple of Phillips plastic screw/push rivets must be removed in order to gain access to the rear subframe bolts.  Once all the bolts are removed, the subframe will not fall on you, but it will drop down a couple of inches.  Protect your face.  (Optional: Leave the center two bolts installed, but only engaged a few turns.  This will make it easier to align the subframe when reinstalling and will limit how far the subframe drops.)

  8. Work the swaybar out on the passenger side by rotating it and pushing it until it can be slipped completely free. This will take some time and it's the point where you will be thankful you raised the car as high as possible.  You may need to have your assistant move the steering wheel in order to get the bar to clear everything.

  9. Work the new swaybar into place.  For some reason, this is easier if you start from the driver's side.

  10. Push the subframe back up and insert the front four bolts first, turning them by hand to be sure they are not cross-threaded.  Be careful not to pinch the power steering fluid line between the subframe (driver's side) and the chassis. 

  11. Tighten the front four subframe bolts first, before inserting the two rear bolts.  The subframe bolts should all be torqued to 57 lb-ft (77 N-m).

  12. Reinstall the plastic rivets and Phillips screws as well as the 8mm sheet metal screws that hold the plastic fender liners and rocker covers in place.

  13. Have an assistant gently lower the engine back down, making sure the engine mount bolts are aligned with the holes in the subframe.  A short or medium pry bar may be used to line the engine up with the engine mounts as it is lowered.

  14. Install the four 13mm nuts under the engine mounts and tighten to 18 lb-ft (24 N-m) of torque.

  15. Reattach the traction struts to the subframe mounts.  It is easier to line this part up and get the bolt reinstalled if your assistant turns the steering wheel for you.  Remember, the threaded end of the bolt faces the rear of the car.  Attach the nut to the bolt finger-tight but DO NOT TORQUE at this point.  The traction strut and wishbone hardware must be torqued with the car at resting height, otherwise the bushings will tear apart in just a few thousand miles.

  16. Reattach the wishbones to the subframe mounts.  Insert the bolt with the threads facing forward and tighten the nut finger-tight only.

  17. Install the new rubber bushings on the swaybar and then press the U-shaped bracket into place, making sure the bump on the bushing is aligned with the hole on the bracket.  Install and tighten the 13mm nuts (two per side) on the bracket.  If you are using the factory rubber bushings, you should not apply any grease to them.

  18. Rotate the swaybar around so that you can reattach the end links.  Use a 16mm open end wrench to keep the threaded end link stud from rotating and use a 16mm socket to tighten the nut and hold the swaybar end in place.

  19. Reattach the steering box with the three 15mm bolts and nuts.  It will be just as hard to install the nut on the vertical bolt toward the front as it was to remove it in step 6.  Be patient and use a stubby 15mm open end wrench to hold the nut in place once you have thread the bolt into it.  Alternatively, you can use a 15mm socket and at least 18" of extension to reinstall this nut from above.  Use a magnetic socket or two sided tape to hold the nut into the socket while you lower it past the power steering hoses.

  20. Reattach the power steering line bracket with the 8mm sheet metal screw.

  21. Reattach the idler arm with the 15mm bolt and nut.

  22. Install the two heat shields, using the 8mm sheet metal screws.

  23. If your car has Xenon headlights with auto-leveling, reconnect the sensor linkage you disconnected in Step 11.

  24. Hold the plastic panel under the engine and tighten the metal screws 1/4 turn to fasten them.

  25. Place a floor jack under the driver's side shock absorber and raise the suspension until the car just begins to lift off the jack stand.

  26. Tighten the driver's side wishbone chassis bolt to 58 lb-ft (79 N-m) and the traction strut chassis bolt to 81 lb-ft (110 N-m).  (Remember, the wishbone is the shorter, straight arms while the traction strut is S-shaped.) This tightening must only be done while the suspension is compressed with the floor jack.  If it is done with the suspension dangling, the bushings will be torn apart within a few thousand miles of driving.

  27. Repeat the previous two steps for the passenger side.

  28. Reinstall front wheels and torque wheel bolts to 88 lb-ft (120 N-m).

  29. Lower the car to the ground.  You're all done!

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