Is this part prone to failure on the e36's?
When I was changing my front brakes I noticed there is some play as I twisted the tire side to side. Is this normal? All the play looked like it was from the steering rack.
while it is possible that it is the steering rack (and to answer your question I'm not sure if they are prone to failure) but it is more likely that the play you are exhibiting is from your lower balljoint/lower control arm or tie-rod. I recommend changing both of these before dedciding anything about your steering rack. doing both of these (at least if you do them yourself) are cheaper than the price of a new steering rack, never mind the cost of installation.
I had my car at the dealer recently with the same symptoms. Luckily the mechanic was cool enough to talk to me on the side. My problem ended up being the inner tie rods. Needless to say, after speaking with him, I opted out of the $1500 repair and bought a used (from a salvage yard) rack with tie rods for $150.
There was a recall on the E36s for the steering rack mate. You should be able to call BMW Customer Services or your nearest Dealer, give them the chasis no. and they should be able to tell you whether or not it's already been done.
the racks were prone to problems. My 318is had it and my 325is had, 1994 and 1995 respectively. Both were changed by dealer up here before I purchased the vehicles. I would check the tie rods and joints before jumping to the rack tho. If your rack is failing or has failed look for oil seapage coming from the rack. Normally starts on drivers side where tie-rod meets rack. You may see oil seaping from the 'accordion' style boot on the rack.
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