Changing the shocks in your E39 is one of the most rewarding upgrades that you can do. Replacing old blown shocks with new ones is immediately noticeable and will restore the factory handling and comfort to your car. Just check out this video to see the difference between a new shock and a blown one! The downside to doing this job is that it can be quite tedious and time consuming, especially so on E39 models.
Choosing new shocks
The first thing to do is to order new shocks that suit your needs. Bilstein shocks have a reputation for being very stiff and harsh on E39 models in particular, but are available here if that’s what you’re looking for. Adjustable shocks are available from Koni, which have an excellent reputation on the E39 application, but they are the most expensive option. Finally, you can go with a stock replacement Sachs shock which is the same as BMW uses as OEM. I went with Sachs for a balance of longevity, cost and comfort.
What you’ll need
1. Order a new set of shocks and struts.
2. Order or rent a spring compressor tool here.
3. Order or have a 21mm wrench on hand
4. Have a 9 1/4” long 2×4 piece of wood
5. Order or have nylon pry tool kit on hand
Step one is to remove the rear seat from your E39. You need to remove the rear seat first in order to remove the parcel shelf. Detailed in the video below:
Step two is to remove the c pillar trim and rear parcel shelf from the car. Once they are removed you’ll also remove the rear speakers. Detailed in the video below:
Step three is to replace the passenger side rear shock. Detailed in the video below:
Step four is to replace the driver side rear shock. Detailed in the video below:
If you’ve made it this far, congrats! Soon you’ll be cruising your new E39 off into the sunset. Upgrading the shocks and tires on your car are the two most noticeable performance improvements you can make, so definitely consider these repairs before moving on to a new car.
This is one of the most time consuming jobs you can perform on an E39, due to the rear suspension design of the car. Some extra time is required since you’ll be removing the rear seat, c pillar trim, rear parcel shelf and fender liners. After that, the fuel filler neck on the passenger side and the expansion tank on the driver side both require some extra time to navigate. While the design is not ideal for making fast repairs, let’s just assume you’ll only have to replace the shocks once to get another 100k miles of service. Can you even imagine what the shop labor bill would look like for this job at $125 per hour?
All together I would recommend starting this job on a Friday afternoon and to give yourself both Saturday and Sunday to wrap everything up. All said this job can take upwards of 10 hours or more to complete, so having access to another car for a few days is recommended.
Front Suspension Overhaul
What about my front suspension, you may wonder. The front suspension will likely need upgrading on your E39 too. I’ve uploaded a complete front suspension overhaul DIY in a two part series which you can see on YouTube here. In this series I cover upper and lower control arms, front wheel bearings, sway bar links and front strut replacement.
In conclusion, replacing the rear shocks on your E39 does not need to be a huge financial burden. This is one DIY job that would cost a small fortune if brought to a local repair shop based on the number of hours it requires. Be sure to order the right tools here, and have everything you need ready to go before starting the job.
As always you can connect with me on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for any questions!
I recall many years ago helping a friend as we (attempted) to remove the rear shocks and also replace some other suspension components in the rear of his 530i; We really struggled with the job and as best I recall we were unable to compress the suspension enough/properly to get the shocks out of the car…we ended up re-assemblying the rear end and he took it to a shop and had them do the job.
Thanks for the writeup. And yes, it’s pricey to have a shop do this work….I know as I had an independant mechanic refurbish all the suspension on my 98 528i a couple of years ago, not cheap by any stretch of the imagination.