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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.

Above: Expensive and supposedly error free e36 license plate LEDS.

BMW e36 M3 Lic Plate Light Fail warning on OBC

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.

This is the result:
BMW e36 License Plate LED Error Canceling Circuit

Above: Home made license plate light failure error canceling circuit.

Parts List


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
OR
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.

Tools


Solder
Soldering Iron
Wire Strippers

Steps


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.

  1. Prepare the wire. Each circuit needs 2x red and 2x black wires. Cut them about 12″ long and shorten them to the correct length later on.
  2. Take two of the black wires and strip 1/2″ off one end of each wire.
  3. Solder both black wires together and around 1 of the resistor terminals. Cover this connection entirely in heat shrink. Failure to do so may result in a short circuit or worse.
  4. Take two of the red wires and strip 1/2″ off one end of each wire.
  5. Solder both red wires together and around the remaining free resistor terminal. Cover this connection entirely in heat shrink.
  6. Both black wires are soldered to one side of the resistor and both red wires soldered to the other.
  7. Trim the wires so that they are all even in length. It may be helpful to heat shrink the bundle together as is illustrated above. Then trim off 1/2″ of insulation from each end.
  8. Now to one red and one black wire solder one female (ring) connector 61-13-1-376-202 to each.
  9. To the remaining red and black wires solder one male (tip) connector 61-13-1-376-191 to each.
  10. Insert the wires into the plug housings. The black (ground) wire should be inserted into the keyed side of the plug housing, that is the side with the extra bit of plastic that sticks out. See the photo below and note the brown (ground) wire in relation to the shape of the plug.

IMG_8253

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.

BMW e36 License Plate LED Error Canceling Circuit

The following page was very useful to my in researching this project: http://www.unofficialbmw.com/all/electrical/all_contact_pins.html

Update:


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.

bmw e36 license plate LED error cancelling circuit

October 31, 2014 cosmetic, e36 m3

A common cause of a jumpy and inaccurate temperature gauge needle is a loose ground or a short circuit in the instrument cluster. However, because the e30 has a real temperature sender that isn’t buffered or averaged out it’s prone to some erratic movement as warmer or colder coolant passes through the thermostat housing.

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.

bmws e30 temperature gauge normal

Above: Generally considered ‘normal’ e30 running temperature.

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:

  • Find and tighten the ground nut on for the temperature gauge.
  • Replace the missing Anti-Lock bulb to help further diagnose my non-functioning ABS.
  • Replace the plastic gauge rings the PO added.
  • Touch up the red needles the PO painted.

Temperature Needle Ground Nut


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.

BMW e30 rear of cluster showing temperature gauge nut to tighten

Above: The brass temp gauge ground nut is next to the blue plug.

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.

Anti-Lock Bulb


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.

Gauge Rings and Needles


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.

Bavarian Restoration chrome and matte cluster rings on BMW e30 instrument cluster

Above: Polished vs matte cluster rings.

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.

Using sharpie to paint e30 gauge needles red

October 8, 2014 cosmetic, e30, instrument cluster, rings

My windshield has always been so pitted that I couldn’t see when driving into the sun. After a chunk of dry wall fell off a truck and left a scratch directly in front of my view of the road I decided to call Safelite and have it replaced.

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.

BMW e30 windshield metal cup or spacer

IMG_5504

bmw e30 with window removed

IMG_5508

BMW e30 using a tool to fit the trim into the gasket

April 29, 2014 30, bmwe, cosmetic, repairs, windshield

If you want people to know you take care of your car then you show them by replacing all the old, yellowed fluid reservoirs with new minty white containers. For older bimmers these things are fast disappearing from the BMW warehouses so now if ever there was a time to buy an expensive plastic bottle with no functional improvement over the one you already have, this is that time.

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.

how to drain e36 washer fluid reservoir

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.

IMG_2847

IMG_2848

e36 washer fluid reservoir plastic gaskets

Compare the old tank and the new one.

e36 m3 washer fluid reservoir part number 61-66-8-370-834-M9

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.

e36 m3 engine bay

November 17, 2013 cosmetic, e36 m3

I’m torn: I love the warmth of incandescent bulbs but I love the piercing brightness and white point of LED lights. I especially love LED for license plate illumination because I think the brightness makes the the entire car seem better cared for, like a well-lit porch on a dark street.

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.

e36 LED Interior Light Kit

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:

  • You will need a screw driver to remove the footwell lights. However, if you have trouble with the driver’s side you can open the OBC port to get access to the clip that secures the light if for some reason the screwdriver cannot reach it.
  • The dome light has a circuit board that needs to be removed to replace the map lights. Ideally this requires three hands: push both plastic clips inward while simultaneously backing the circuit board off it’s connectors.
  • Be very careful removing the rear C pillar lights. Bracing the C pillar with your hand whenever you pull on the lights will avoid accidentally pulling the C pillar trim off and breaking it’s retaining clips. A trim removal tool works best to work the engine-facing side loose, then working on the other sides by hand.
  • Installation of the C pillar LEDs was very difficult because the socket portion is a couple millimetres too long but trust me, it can be done.
  • The LED license plate lights were supposed to be “error free” but generated an error on the check panel. A lot of cheap mods generate errors but I’m a detail oriented fellow so this bothered me.

BME e36 M3 License Plate Light Fail

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.

WeissLicht LED for BMW e36

Above: e36 version.

WeissLicht LED for BMW e39

Above: e39 version.

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.

BMW e36 License Plate WeissLicht LED vs. OEM

BMW e36 License Plate WeissLicht LED vs. OEM

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.

BMW e36 License Plate WeissLicht LED fitment

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.

BMW e36 License Plate LED WeissLicht vs. Other LED

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.

October 24, 2013 cosmetic, e36 m3, e39 touring

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.

bmw e30 all red tails tail lights

bmw e30 all red tails tail lights

bmw e30 all red tails tail lights

bmw e30 all red tails tail lights

October 23, 2013 cosmetic, red, tail lights

I need to reduce my e30 parts cache so I’m selling some things. I’ve had my OEM tail lights in a box for the last 6 months and decided to put them back on and sell the all red junkyard tail lights.

BMW e30 with red tail lights
BMW e30 with factory OEM tail lights

Here’s the junkyard reds: selling them go for $40.

BMW e30 late model all red tail lights
BMW e30 late model all red tail lights
BMW e30 late model all red tail lights
BMW e30 late model all red tail lights

June 19, 2013 cosmetic

A month ago I replaced my BMW MTech I steering wheel with a Momo Mod 7 wheel that provides enough room between pedals and wheel to fit my legs when applying heel-toe. It came with a Momo horn button but I bought a BMW horn button from an Amazon retailer for $20. Unfortunately the colour of the emblem is not even the correct shade of blue.

I decided to use the stock Momo button until I could find the real deal. A search revealed that Momo did make horn buttons with emblems licensed by BMW at some time in the past but I couldn’t find one for sale. Searching BMW forums turned up only dead ends except for one thread on Bimmerforums that contained a lead.

I took a gamble and contacted a user by the name of “vapor”.

Vapor travels back and forth between the US and Japan every few weeks and works his connections overseas to get rare parts. Communication was sporadic: It took a week to hear back from him. He might be going to Japan with a small stop over in the US at which time he could mail the package. It wouldn’t be cheap. He’d contact me later.

Then nothing for 3 weeks until I got a message that the package was in the mail.

Real Momo BMW Emblem Horn Button with Reproduction Version

The authentic Momo BMW horn button differs from the reproduction item in a few notable ways:

  1. The real deal has “MOMO” embossed into the plastic on the back of the button.
  2. The bezel is matte plastic with a shiny black ring around the BMW emblem. No excessive fake chrome.
  3. The emblems has the right colour and is sealed in resin. There is not texture to the emblem.
  4. The real deal also has only one wire for connecting it to the horn circuit. The circuit is completed by grounding out via the horn ring.
  5. Back of Momo BMW Horn Button
    IMG_8776

    My Mod 7 steering wheel is not “period correct” for an e30 but it’s a cheap and functional wheel. The addition of the BMW horn button makes it seem to belong a little more.

    BMW e30 with Momo Mod 7 Steering Wheel and BMW Momo Horn Button

June 2, 2013 cosmetic, horn button, momo