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