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.
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
Metric Hex Wrenches
Trim Removal Tools
Flat Micro Screwdriver
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.
- 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.
- Remove the carpet covered sidewall access panels in the trunk on both sides to reveal the CD player and battery respectively.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Replace all the trim and clean up.