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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.

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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

Standard equipment on the US market BMW e36 M3 is a 4-spoke steering wheel with airbag. Aesthetically the wheel is mediocre presenting not a full colour but only an embossed logo on the airbag in contrast to the m colour stitching.

e36 Steering Wheel Options

Substituting a non-airbag wheel seems like a bad idea for a car that’s also a daily driver. But airbag equipped options are limited. Aside from the slip ring and OBC controls the e36 and e39 Sport wheels are identical. While I considered that wheel a good upgrade for our wagon I don’t find the thumb rests beneficial. Steering wheel options are:

  1. Standard 4-Spoke Wheel
  2. Sport 3-Spoke Wheel
  3. Euro 3-Spoke Wheel

BMW e36 M3 Standard 4 Spoke Steering Wheel with Airbag

Above: BMW e36 M3 Standard 4 Spoke Steering Wheel with Airbag.

BMW e36 Sport 3 Spoke Steering Wheel with Airbag

Above: BMW e36 Sport 3 Spoke Steering Wheel with Airbag.

BMW e36 Euro Sport 3 Spoke Steering Wheel with Airbag

Above: BMW e36 Euro Sport 3 Spoke Steering Wheel with Airbag.

Sourcing Euro Wheel and Parts

I ordered my Euro wheel from eBay user Tainik who is well known in the BMW community. I decided on non-perferated leather without thumb rests. Alcantara is popular but does not resist wear so I opted for plain leather. The airbag arrived from England about a month after I paid for the order and the wheel arrived a week later. The wheel’s diameter is a little larger than I prefer but is such an improvement both functionally and aesthetically that compromise is easy. The quality of Tainik’s work is excellent.

To fit the wheel a steering wheel bracket is required which is part number 32311162088. This is the bracket that holds the signal and wiper stalks. The only other things I required were some wire, shrink wrap and tools.

Install Notes

I followed the install instructions from Bimmerforums.The instructions there are complete enough but here are my point form notes from the install:

  1. I needed to remove all the screws from the steering column trim cover before I could remove those pieces. The instructions make it sound like you can remove one and then the other.
  2. The steering column trim covers separated for me by pulling the sides of the bottom piece out while pulling down (while simultaneously balancing the wheel in my lap). You can see the fasteners once the wheel is off which helps you understand what you’re trying to unclip. There are probably other ways.
  3. When removing the top steering column cover you really will think you’re going to break it, or be unable to put it back. I don’t know how it’s possible but it doesn’t break and it does go back in.
  4. Removing the old steering column bracket required putting pressure on the top clips (there is a pair of clips like teeth on either side of the bracket) with a screw driver. I could not remove the bracket with simple downward pressure. Two sets of hands would help here.
  5. Installing the new steering column bracket was impossible no matter how much force I used. Eventually my force broke one of the clips (or teeth) and I was able to get the bracket seated. Even with a broken clip the bracket felt secure and I was decided to proceed with the install.
  6. Try to salvage the horn button connector instead of using Radio Shack connectors. Looks more OEM.
  7. The longest part of the job was soldering the wire and connector for the horn button.

BMW e36 Euro Sport Wheel Install

Above: Underside of the steering column.

BMW e36 Euro Sport Wheel Install

Above: Part of the clip that fastens the steering column covers.

BMW e36 Euro Sport Wheel Install

Above: The new bracket, not yet seated.

BMW e36 Euro Sport Wheel Install

Above: The wheel after splicing the horn button connector.

BMW e36 M3 with 3-Spoke Euro Sport Wheel

December 2, 2013 e36 m3, mechanical

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.

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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

Installing a clutch stop is an extremely cheap performance mod. Basically, the clutch stop allows you to set how far you can depress the clutch pedal before you cannot depress it any further. This decreases the throw distance of the clutch and instinctively you will shift as soon as you feel the clutch pedal stop moving thus shaving fractions of a second off every shift.

My wife is learning to drive manual transmission and she finds it difficult to get the clutch pedal all the way to the floor, which is the only way to reliably know that you’ve pushed the pedal in far enough. I think the new clutch stop will help.

The clutch stop on the M3 is completely plastic and only about 1/2″ in length. The clutch stop in my e30 was slightly more engineered (like everything e30) and featured a 3/4″ bolt with a plastic disc on the top. Both are too short to make a noticeable change in the throw of the clutch pedal.

I ordered the UUC Big Boy Clutch Stop, which is not specifically for the e30 but installed and works fine. Both my M3 and e30 now have this clutch stop installed.

Installation is simple:

  1. Remove the old clutch stop which is located directly behind the clutch pedal. No tools should be required.
  2. Put the nut first, then the washer on the new clutch stop.
  3. Thread it into the hole where the old clutch stop was by hand until it is finger tight.
  4. Test it but depressing the clutch pedal and seeing if you can still shift. On the e30 you will need to do this with the engine running.
  5. Unthread more of the clutch stop bolt and adjust the nut and washer until it is long enough that the clutch just engages when the pedal is fully depressed. This is the ideal length and will result in the fastest shifts.
  6. If you cannot shift you need to set the clutch stop to be shorter.
  7. The first time you drive after installing the clutch stop you will be surprised how short the clutch throw feels. To me, I felt like the throw was 1/2 of what it was before even though the distance is only 1 1/2″ shorter.

    e36 m3 oem factory clutch stop location

    e36 m3 oem factory clutch stop

    uuc big boy clutch stop

    uuc big boy clutch stop installed

October 22, 2013 e30, e36 m3, mechanical

My review of Bascom Trim & Upholstery on Yelp tells the story:

“My 1998 BMW M3 had a sagging headliner that would flap in the wind whenever I drove with the windows down. And after 10 years the current headliner had changed from dark grey to purple grey from sun exposure. I called first and spoke to Lucio, then brought my car in for a quote. When I arrived there were already two other BMWs in the shop getting work, which was encouraging.

IMG_1826

IMG_1819

IMG_1823

Lucio helped me pick fabric for the headliner and sunroof, but told me that most customers get new A and C pillars from BMW because they are cheaper to replace than recover. I booked an appointment for the work and paid a deposit for fabric. Lucio even told me I could drop the car off after hours which worked perfectly for my schedule.

Now, Lucio’s advice for the A and C pillars was definitely true for light grey and beige which would have run me about $280, but the dark grey / black headliner is called Anthrazit and runs about $1200 for the four pieces. Once I found that out I called Lucio for advice, in a pit of panic actually. He took down my VIN and called BMW to confirm the colour my car shipped with: Anthrazit, of course.

OEM pre-upholstered parts were totally out of my budget so Lucio agreed to order some extra fabric and reupholster the A and C pillars as well. This required the car to be in the shop for an extra day, but extra work was required so the extended delivery estimate was totally acceptable.

My wife dropped me off to pick up the car today: she’s a tailor and seamstress and was suitably impressed with the work and colour match. I was happy to find out that my invoice came in barely over the original quote for just the headliner and sunroof – it’s like I got the A and C pillars for free.

Great work, clean shop, good folks to deal with.”

BMW e36 M3 With Dark Gray Headliner Not Anthrazit

Links


Bascom Trim & Upholstery
Upper Interior Trim on Real OEM

October 2, 2013 e36 m3, interior, service