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Last year I bought several “Canbus Error Free” license plate LEDS trying to find some that would not actually generate an error on the OBC of my 1998 BMW e36 M3. I’ve since learned that canbus means nothing in this context. I even bought the top dollar, guaranteed error free lights from JLeviSW which are the same as sold by BavAuto. And while those lights worked for a few weeks error-free eventually they too generated an failure message.
I did some research and found a DIY that recommended soldering a 0.47 ohm 10W resistor across the contacts in the OEM light housing to reduce the current across the circuit enough to fool the OBC into thinking that there was a normal, functioning bulb. I’d even read about soldering a bulb somewhere into the circuit which would work but sounds like a kludge at best.
What I wanted was a snap-in solution that would not permanently alter any of my wiring or parts. I also wanted it to work with my expensive lights. But no such circuit existed. So I researched, trawling through RealOEM, website and forums to find the parts required to make a true, snap-in error canceling circuit.
Red and Black 18g Wire
Heat Shrink Tubing
2x BMW 8 Connector, Male 61-13-1-378-149 $2.50 each
2x BMW Pin Conn. Blk, Female 61-13-1-378-106 $1.50 each
2x Circular Contact with Cable, 0.5-1.5mm 61-13-1-376-191 $1.50 each
2x Cable Socket, Round, Female 61-13-1-376-202 $1.50 each
2x 0.47 Ohm 10W Resistors $0.45 each
Optional 6x Heat Sinks
Optional 1x Thermal Adhesive
2x Green 10 Watt 47 Ohm 5% Aluminum Shell Wire Wound Resistor $5.30 each
Total cost if you use the green resistors is $19.30 each. This is not a cheap project.
Note: You will notice that I list two different styles of resistor. The green resistor has a built-in heat sink which I didn’t use but would negate the need for gluing on heat sinks. Remember, this circuit will generate as much heat as a light bulb so consider placement carefully.
Before you proceed you must read and accept the disclaimer and warning at the top of this article and know that you proceed at your own risk. I am not responsible for anything that happens and I’m not an electronics expert. If you mess this up you could start a fire, electrocute yourself or any number of other calamities. I’m not advising anyone to do this, this is not a DIY project.
Essentially, I’m going to insert the resistor into the license plate light circuit making sure that the resistor is in series with the circuit. This is a little tricky with such a large resistor but possible.
Now with the car turned off connect the new circuit to the license plate light wiring and see if an error is generated. No error should be generated. Everything goes into the trunk cavity through the holes for the license plate housing.
The following page was very useful to my in researching this project: http://www.unofficialbmw.com/all/electrical/all_contact_pins.html
a month or so after I made ‘version 1’ of this error cancelling circuit the failed light message appeared on the OBC of my M3. Inspection revealed that one of the wires on a resistor had broken off where I had bent it sharply. The resistors I used are clearly meant for circuit board applications and not in the manner that I am used it.
I clipped the expensive plugs off to reuse and soldered in one of the green resistors that I sourced earlier. The result seems more robust and compact.
The jumpy needle can indicate a loose ground in the cluster, a fault in the wiring harness or might even indicate a cooling issue such a failing head gasket. I swapped in a performance radiator because I wanted to ensure maximum cooling but to solve the jumpy needle I needed to check the other possibilities.
When troubleshooting anything I always start with the easiest, simplest solution just in case it proves correct. In this case that’s the ground on the temperature VDO gauge. I decided to check it, and do a few other cosmetic things on the cluster while I was in there:
After removing the cluster I used a 7mm screwdriver socket bit that I got with a euro toolkit to tighten the nut. It’s not a common tool so you may have to buy a thin wall socket just for this job. On my cluster it appears that someone already tightened the fuel gauge nut but used some pliers which damaged the plastic around the nut. The PO is always the worst person.
I used light pressure to tighten the nut until it felt about as tight as the fuel gauge nut. The cluster is mostly plastic so over tightening would be a terrible thing. I’m happy to report that it looks like this has fixed my jumpy temperature gauge entirely.
Replacing the bulb is straight forward. Now I need to diagnose my non-functioning ABS which is causing the bulb to light. In the above picture the anti-lock bulb socket is just a plastic hole. The bulb is actually attached to the harness. More on that in another blog entry.
The previous owner put ABS plastic rings around the instrument gauges and even though they are kind of ricey I admit that I’ve grown fond of them. I ordered two sets of real metal rings from Bavarian Restoration (I ordered mine via R3vlimited): polished aluminum and brushed metal. The brushed metal appeared to bright to me so I opted for the polished aluminum.
Fitment of the Bavarian Restoration rings was excellent and required only firm, even pressure to snap into the cluster. While I had the cluster I also used some red Sharpie to touch up the PO’s sloppy paint job on the gauge needles.
Total cost for the window with installation was a mere $275 and I saved a little bit by reusing the window weather strip. The black metal spacer (called a cup) and the flexible metal trim are always reused.
I was very impressed with the window tech’s knowledge of european cars and we talked about e30s the entire time he was working. I was especially interested in his technique for replacing the metal gasket which you can see in one of the photos below. I’ve seen this done with soapy water and hand pressure but the diamond shaped loop tool he used made it look easy.
The first step is to empty the old reservoir. If I lived somewhere where washer fluid was actually useful I’d probably wait until the reservoir was almost empty and then install the new one. But living in California I used a siphon and pail.
Once the reservoir is empty removing the fluid level sensor and washer fluid pump requires no tools: both pieces just pull out with gentle pressure and a little wiggling. The rubber gaskets are pressure fit in place only so these also come out without tools. This is a good time to clean the gaskets with Vinylex or some other rubber treatment and also clean hoses, wires, sensor and pump and the area under the tank. The tank itself is held on with 1 plastic nut.
Compare the old tank and the new one.
Install is the reserve of removal. Be sure to install the fluid level sensor with the plastic float on the bottom or it will always incorrectly report that fluid is low.
For the e36 I ordered what should be a complete kit. This is not a top-of-the-line kit and the price reflects that; less than $30 for everything. Unfortunately my kit was short 2 bulbs so I used and extra LEDs I had lying around. I didn’t feel like wasting time taking it up with the vendor.
Some of the light panels come off with finger pressure but most will require some help from either a screwdriver or a trim removal tool. Generally the Bimmian guide is accurate. A few notes:
To solve the license plate light issue I decided to gamble on some top-of-the-line lights. I say gamble because no one likes it when expensive parts generate errors. I ordered the WeissLicht LED License Plate Illumination Upgrade from JLeviSW which is the same as Bimmian. I ordered the upgrade for the e36 M3 and our e39 touring. The lights appear well made and are complete housings and lenses, not just bulbs.
The lights were installed on the e36 first. I noticed that the connector plugs into the back of the LED housing instead of the side like OEM. This reduces the slack in the wire but is not a problem.
If you have OEM lights you may find that the new lights are a little loose: this isn’t a fitment issue, it’s just that the rubber seal on your old lights was probably stuck to the car creating the illusion of better fit.
The lights are held on more but the trunk handle than anything else, so once the handle is re-installed fitment should not be an issue.
It’s very important with these kits to install and test right away: warranty is usually 30-90 days but if you want to claim a warranty on a DOA part and save shipping costs you usually need to report it within 5 days of receipt. Unfortunately one of the lights has a short in it, but thankfully I just received these 2 days ago.
Until I get a replacement I’ll have one really bright light and one dim one.
I also installed the e39 version for our 2000 540i touring. They look great but fitment was difficult: the left side light kept crushing the bulb contacts which required some adjustment (bending) until they would contact properly.
I found some cheap but apparently good condition all-red tail lights and picked them up. They have no markings on them and the clear coat seems good. Installed these and a UUC clutch stop this morning.
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