Having grown tired of getting clonked on the head by the cargo hatch on our 2000 e39 touring wagon I decided to replace the trunk lid dampers (also called struts or simply shocks). I’ve had the struts in my parts crib for over a year but didn’t feel brave enough to attempt the job until recently. Our wagon is currently not drivable so I was able to undertake the task while free from pressure to finish it immediately.

In total, the job took 4 hours but I spread it out over 2 days because of interruptions, family, life and of course going out to buy tools. I’ll talk more about tools shortly because having the right tools is critical to completing this job.

I called a shop that I trust (Bavarian Motorsport in Milpitas, CA) and was quoted ~$200 for doing this job if I got stuck. I presume that price would be labor only and require my parts. It was reassuring to have a fallback option if things went wrong. That is a little less than the cost of the special BMW tools so if your local shop is as cheap you might consider just having them do it for you. My motivation for doing this job myself, besides just fixing my sagging cargo hatch, was to survey the condition of this area and make additional repairs. As evidenced by broken and missing trim bits I could tell that someone had worked in this area at some time the car’s past and I wanted to take stock of and replace whatever was missing.

In addition to replacing a half dozen trims I also took the opportunity to clean all the trunk gutters, find some important places where screws were missing, replaced some broken lights, fixed one of the reading light switches and cleaned some spots the kids left on the headliner. These kinds of “while you’re at it” tasks are exactly why I like to do things myself.

If you’re planning similar improvements you should order any obviously broken or cracking parts well in advance as I found that most of what I needed was back ordered from Germany for 3-5 weeks. Apologies in advance for blurry, low light photos but that’s all I got.

Regarding The DIY

The DIY I followed is posted on Bimmerfest and has been supplemented with some scans from the e39 Bentley service manual. The DIY is brief but actually quite accurate. Where it falls short is on those ever helpful details that give the novice the courage and smarts needed to actually do the job. Hopefully I can fill in the blanks below.

Installation Notes

I replaced only the tailgate struts, BMW part number 51248220072 (see RealOEM for diagram). The dampers for the glass lid of my car are fine so I did not replace them. For the sake of cost and time I elected to do the job without the special BMW tools and everyone seems to agree that for the hatch struts the special tool is not required. However, a long and thin pry bar is absolutely required! More on that tool later.

If you’re interested, the special tools are well referenced in this for sale thread and photo set. If you wanted to replace the glass struts it’s possible to fabricate a tool from PVC pipe instead of buying the BMW tool. I could only find this tool described in vague terms so I’m on no help to you on that topic.

The toolset is BMW part number 83 30 0 492 604.

The toolset consists of 3 pieces:
5 12 153 Plastic Protector (small sheet of plastic)
5 12 152 Windows Strut Tool (aluminum tube)
5 12 151 Tailgate Strut Tool (aluminum bar with collar and fulcrum pin)


16″ Large Flat Screwdriver
24″ Harbor Freight Pry Bar with Handle
T-20 Torx
T-50 Torx
Metric Hex Wrenches
Trim Removal Tools
Flat Micro Screwdriver
Socket Driver
Needlenose Pliers

Note: It’s possible to do this without removing the rear pillars and headliner. If you have the BMW tool or are able to use a screwdriver to pop the struts off their ball connectors without damaging the car then you can skip all of those steps.

  1. Prop open your cargo hatch with a broom stick or something. I used an adjustable closet rod. Also remember that the hatch is extremely heavy without the shock and would probably kill you if it fell on your head so PLEASE use some secondary support such as a tether or some other method of keeping it from closing on you. I tied it to a hook that happened to be in the ceiling.
  2. IMG_0960

  3. Remove the carpet covered sidewall access panels in the trunk on both sides to reveal the CD player and battery respectively.
  4. Remove the rear pillar trims. There are 2 screws and 3 snaps. One of the screws is in the sidewall hatch (which is why you removed the access panels). I started pulling the trim at the top and used a trim tool to work the 2nd snap out rather than just yank on the pillar. Watch out, you may have some NAV equipment in this area on the driver’s side of the car. The 3rd snap is released by pulling the bottom third of the trim towards the middle of the cargo hatch sill. The very bottom of each pillar connects to the cargo hatch sill. I could not release these clips without breaking the tabs so it’s advisable to leave the bottoms connected and just work around them.
  5. e39 touring wagon rear pillar removal
    e39 touring wagon rear pillar removal
    e39 touring wagon rear pillar removal broken tabs

  6. Pull off the weather stripping on the hatch. This will afford access to the headliner shortly and you need all available space to pull out the struts and work the new struts in.
  7. Remove the plastic water channel cover that spans between the two cargo hinges on the vehicle side. It is clipped in 4 places and it’s advisable to use a trim tool to pop each tab loose or you’ll tear the water channel cover. Mine was already torn by some previous owner.
  8. e39 Touring remove water channel guide from hatch

  9. Remove the outer most hinge covers from driver and passenger side using your T-20 torx driver. Be careful of wiring in this area. This will allow access to the end of the strut that is fixed by bolt and circlip to the trunk hinge.
  10. e39 touring hinge cover removed
    e39 touring hinge cover removed

  11. Lower the back half of the headliner. First remove the rear light. Then start pulling down the headliner in the centre where a single clip holds it, then use a trim tool to pop the clips on either side of each speaker. I removed the rear screen hooks behind the D pillars using a hex key. I also removed the D pillars but that was probably not necessary. You only need to get access to the T-50 torx bolts next to the speakers.
  12. removing e39 touring headliner
    removing e39 touring headliner clips next to speakers
    removing e39 touring headliner
    removing e39 touring d pillar

  13. Remove the T-50 torx bolt that is furthest away from each speaker (see my photo below). This is the ball end that the damper / strut is attached to. You’ll hear and feel a pop the ball end comes loose so total removal may not be necessary. If you’re going to try to use a long, strong flat screwdriver to pop the ball end loose then of course you would have skipped most of the steps until now except for steps 3-4. Of course the risk of damaging something by blindly sticking a screwdriver in there and levering it around is high but it’s your choice. Obviously you need to do this for both sides.
  14. Removing the T-50 torx next to the e39 touring speaker
    e39 touring strut damper ball replacement

  15. Once the ball end is free you can remove the circlips and shafts holding the shocks in place. These circlips do not have holes for clirclip pliers but can be rotated with needle nose pliers and pushed off with a pair of small, precision screwdrivers.
  16. Remove the old strut by pushing the ball end towards the outside of the car so it is on an angle, pushing the strut forward to clear the hinge and then pulling it out entirely. This is the same way you will insert the new strut.
  17. IMG_0981
    e39 touring wagon trunk lid strut damper removal

  18. Reinstall the ball using your T-50 torx if you haven’t already. I didn’t have a torque spec for this but you’ll know once it’s torqued. It won’t tighten any more. Insert the new strut as described above (angled towards the outside of the car), then using your large screwdriver (not the pry bar) insert it below the strut and try to lift the heavy end of the strut up and onto the ball. Some tape on the end of the screwdriver will help protect wires and other things in the strut area. Once it’s on the ball it will resist gentle backwards movement. You may now remove the large screwdriver and switch to the pry bar.
  19. I tried several “large screwdrivers” as mentioned in the DIY and had no luck. I applied a stupid amount of force to no effect and the screwdriver often slipped around. There is probably no way way to use a 16″ or even 24″ screwdriver to actually seat the strut on the ball. Eventually I got a $8 Harbor Freight pry bar which is about 3 feet long. This did the trick nicely. A few notes on pressing the ball into the strut. First, cover the end of the tool in tape to prevent damaging other surfaces. Always be careful of wires in this area and try to move them out of the way. Light will not help you here, there is no room to see. Insert the pry bar on the inside side of the strut with the bent tip pointing towards the ball. You can probably feel your way along the side of the strut, then feel it come to rest on the ball. Now rotate the pry bar around the strut so that it is on the top. Using the trunk hinge as a fulcrum press down on the ball socket while pulling the handle up. If you are applying a lot of force and the ball is not seating then something is wrong. Check the alignment of the ball socket and ball and try again.
  20. e39 touring trunk lid correct pry bar tool for seating the strut damper on ball
    e39 touring trunk lid correct pry bar tool for seating the strut damper on ball
    e39 touring using pry bar screwdriver to install trunk struts

  21. Put the bolt through the end of the strut and the hinge and reinsert the circle clip. You’re done this side, now do the same for the other side.
  22. Replace all the trim and clean up.

November 25, 2014 e39 touring, mechanical, Uncategorized

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

About a month ago the driver’s side low beam went out on our 2000 BMW 540i touring, or as we call it “the wagon”. After swapping the HID bulbs between passenger and driver’s side housings I determined that the the ballast was at fault.

These aren’t cheap but I got one in used condition for less than $100 from an eBay seller. Then I discovered that the adjusters were broken (the beams could not be aimed) and decided that a total aftermarket replacement was the way to go.

BMW e39 Touring with standard Xenon HIDs

Above: Standard HIDs after installing a used but working ballast.

I ordered lights from DDM Tuning but while reading about the install process I learned that I could get better, easier to install lights for a little more money. Unfortunately I’d already tried to install the lights and was committed. I went to DDMTuning based on out dated product reviews and because I’d dealt with them previously. Next time I will definitely shop and compare more thoroughly.

The challenges to this install are:

  1. The AC low-side pipe needs to be bent 1/2 inch to accommodate the new lights
  2. The Angel Eyes need to be hacked into the electrical system (many options based on how you want them to function
  3. The side turn signal connector is different between OEM and aftermarket headlights. In absence of a connector the turn signal needs to be hard-wired to the car.
  4. The kit didn’t come with front turn signal bulbs and required 2x 1156A (amber) bulbs.

Supposedly two pipes such as those used for plumbing can be used to bend the AC low side tube, but I was able to pick up a tool at Harbor Freight for $5 that proved effective.

Tube Bender for AC Low Side Pipe on e39

Above: Tube bender from Harbor Freight.

Install took about 3 hours but would have taken less time if we’d had the correct turn signal bulbs before starting. The new lights (sans Angel Eye functions) are finally installed thanks to my buddy Ryan Rich who I must confess did most of the work.

Ryan Rich Installing Headlights

Above: Ryan showing off OEM quality solder and heat shrink.

BMW e39 Touring with DDMTuning DJAuto headlights

BMW e39 Touring with DDMTuning DJAuto headlights

Above: New lenses and HIDs installed.

October 4, 2013 e39 touring