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All Dressed Up and Nowhere to Go

September 10th, 2013 8 comments

2002 BMW M Coupe Steel Gray over Imola Red with BBS RGRs

This was the first year since I bought my coupe that it did not work out to go to Dorkfest. Leaving my wife with a 5 year-old, 3 year-old, and 4 month-old to go be dorky just didn’t seem very thoughtful. I was also unable to come up with an economical way to get us all out to California either. What’s a guy to do?

One of the perks of maintaining a site like this is that in my search for car listings, I often come across parts listings as well. I also make lots of great contacts allowing me to pick up parts off recently purchased or soon to be sold cars. Over the last few years, I had accumulated many of the parts I’ve always had my eye on including:

Suspension

Brakes

Drivetrain

Wheels

The problem was that I was so busy this spring and summer (new baby), I could never find a good time to install or get the parts installed. I also usually try to budget some Dorkfest money and was a little bummed to not be joining in the festivities. Enter Alex (you may know him as Cloudbase on Bimmerforums). He recently purchased a 4-post lift and was looking for side jobs to help justify it :-). I knew he had done most of these jobs before, and his attention to detail was equal to my own. I packed up my hatch (who says sports cars aren’t practical?), and headed down to his house. Needless to say, I am more than happy with his work and really enjoyed hanging out and dismantling the hatch trim too. All in all, it was a pretty good Dorkfest alternative.

2002 BMW M Coupe Steel Gray over Imola Red

The downside of doing so many modifications at once is that it’s hard to feel the individual differences. I’ll do my best to describe my thoughts on each below.

Suspension

Back in the day, Jeremy Clarkson called the M Coupe’s handling “perfection”; and it truly is pretty unbelievable. But can perfection get any better? I now know the answer is yes!

2002 BMW M Coupe Steel Gray over Imola Red with BBS RGRs

20130831-10712002 BMW M Coupe Steel Gray over Imola Red with BBS RGRs


TC Kline Smart Design D/A Coilovers

I always thought owners of these coilovers were exaggerating when I’d hear them say “they ride even better than stock”. How could dropping your car 1+ inches while firming up the struts and shocks make it ride even better? Well, I don’t know, but they really do. Even my wife noticed the difference in ride quality.

Also, in my opinion, the stock ride height of the M Coupes just looks way too high for my tastes. While I kept my ride height pretty conservative and more driving (rather than aesthetics) oriented, I still thing just the relatively subtle drop looks perfect and how it should have looked from the factory.

And finally handling, what the suspension is really all about on a sports car. Lets just say I have yet to meet the limits of these coilovers. Corners that I would previously start to lose traction on can now be taken significantly faster while sticking to the road. It’s almost uncanny. My first 5 minute test drive after getting the car back kept me smiling for a week.

I never thought I could love my coupe more, but I do. These are by far my favorite modification I’ve done thus far.

TC Kline Rear Shock Mounts
TC Kline’s rsms are built by Rogue Engineering who most agree make the best rear shock mount available. The TC Kline version is just prettier :-). It was almost a pity to cover them up with carpet.

Why replace them? First of all, the stock rsms have rubber bushings that are known to wear out and cause clunking sounds from the hatch area. Most importantly though is that the stock mounts require you to disassemble the entire hatch just to detach the rear shocks. It took Alex and I about an hour doing it together. Just to make sure I’ll never have to disassemble the hatch again, Alex cut small access holes above the rsms to allow shock adjustments in the future. The holes are covered by black plastics caps; most would never know it’s not stock.

2002 BMW M Coupe Steel Gray over Imola Red with BBS RGRs

Vorshlag Camber Plates
I read lots and lots of reviews before deciding to go with Vorshlag’s camber/caster plates. TC Kline and Ground Control also offer nice alternatives, but Vorshlag has a very long history of making reliable plates for E36 BMWs, and most agree they still have the best overall design. I have not tracked my coupe yet, nor do I plan to ever make it a regular occurrence, but I do appreciate the adjustability.

One thing to note, when you install any set of camber plates and remove the stock strut mounts, be sure to keep the stock strut tower reinforcements on top of the plates. I’ve come across a couple coupes that have cracked their front strut towers after removing the reinforcements. To get the full range of adjustability from the camber plates, you may need to trim the reinforcements a little depending on the design of your plates, but they’ll still be doing their job. Most agree having a strut tower bar also reinforces the strut towers and may be enough reinforcement. Better safe than sorry though. Alex even sanded an repainted my reinforcements while they were out of the car; that made my day.

Powerflex Subframe Bushings
Polyurethane subframe bushings may be one of the best and perhaps most important upgrades you can make to your coupe. Not only do they settle much of the tail wagging behavior that the stock rubber bushings allow, they’ll also help protect your rear subframe and differential mount (see here). I do kind of wish I could have experienced having subframe bushings before installing the coilovers to have a better idea of how much they contribute to the transformed handling, but I did not. From what I’ve heard from others, they may be just as important to my new found cornering ability.

Besides Powerflex, both Ireland Engineering and AKG make highly acclaimed subframe bushings for our coupes. I went with Powerflex due to a couple trusted recommendations and a great deal on Ebay. I don’t think you could go wrong with any of them though. Also, unless your car is just for track use, I’d go with the slightly softer street versions of any of these. I’ve heard the race versions are incredibly firm and can add some discomfort and noise in normal driving.

2002 BMW M Coupe Steel Gray over Imola Red with BBS RGRs

Brakes

 BMW Euro Floating Rotors
The floating rotors were standard on M Coupes everywhere else in the world (including Canada). BMW USA worried about their durability here and opted for plain old single piece rotors. My brakes have always worked great, but it was obvious my coupe had been winter driven by the original owner, and they were just ugly. I figured it was probably about time to replace them anyway, so why not upgrade? No, I don’t really need more stopping power; nor do I need the extra fade resistance the 2-piece floating design provides. They just look so cool! The center hub is aluminum which saves weight, but also does not discolor with age like the stock cast iron ones. There’s also a big shiny “///M” logo embossed on the hub. If you order the rotors now however, you’ll receive the same rotors though I’ve heard the new batch is missing the “///M” logo. I know it’s fickle, but I waited until I came across an unused set on Craigslist and verified the presence of the “///M”. Yep, I guess I’m that guy. I still know they weren’t completely necessary, but they make me smile every time I see them through my wheels. Of note, their was only ever floating rotors in the front. The rest of the world shared the plain rear rotors.

Hawk HPS Brake Pads
With the rotor change, I figured it was probably time to change/upgrade my brake pads. I’ve heard great things about Hawk pads from many both for the street and the track. I was primarily looking for something with increased stopping power (don’t know why) and way less brake dust. The High-Performance Street (HPS) pads from Hawk fit the bill perfectly. They also offer a Performance Ceramic pad that has even less dust, but for some reason I felt like I wanted the extra performance of the HPSs. So far, I’m a fan. I haven’t really driven them aggressively enough to feel the performance difference, but they are definitely less dusty.

2002 BMW M Coupe Steel Gray over Imola Red with BBS RGRs

Drivetrain

Rogue Engineering Stainless Steel Clutch Line
This was not originally in my plan necessarily, but the guy I bought the rotors from threw it in for free. Score! I think Rogue Engineering makes great products, and if you haven’t noticed, it’s not the easiest to shift smoothly with these cars initially because of the clutch delay valve (CDV) BMW graced them with. This valve does exactly what it sounds like, it delays the action of the clutch in order to save the clutch from inept drivers. If you know how to drive manual, it really just slows your shifts and takes a soft touch to make them smooth (especially 1st to 2nd). Why not just remove the CDV? BMW thought of that and made it part of the stock clutch line itself. The only way to remove it is replace the line. The options are a stainless steel clutch line from a number of sellers or the OEM route is buying a stock, non-M Z3 clutch line which does not have the CDV built in. The Z3 has both the upside and downside of a rubber line in that it can expand with heat but is softer in feel. The stainless steel line does add a little bit of mechanical noise when shifting, but I already do not notice it anymore. The absence of the CDV was not really a night and day change for me like I thought it could be, but I sure notice the difference when I drive my dad’s coupe that still has it. Overall, I think it’s a worth while change.

Wheels

2002 BMW M Coupe Steel Gray over Imola Red with BBS RGRs

18″ BBS RGRs
Now for the most obvious change on my coupe: the new wheels. Unless you have a serious track car or have more power than your tire size can handle, wheels are pretty much just jewelry. It’s fitting that the color of my wheels is called diamond black. I’ve always loved M Coupes with stepped-lip wheels, and that’s what I had planned to find someday. But BBS RGRs have always been my favorite wheels in general and diamond black my favorite BBS color.  When I came across this set on Craigslist in Houston that came off of an M Roadster, it just seemed meant to be. That is until I emailed the seller, and he was only willing to sell locally with absolutely no shipping.  That’s ok, I happened to have a good friend moving back to Fort Collins from Houston two weeks later. Yep, the stars were aligned, and my friend had room on his truck.

2002 BMW M Coupe Steel Gray over Imola Red with BBS RGRsI think 18″ wheels are the sweet spot for wheels on M Coupes. Granted the right set of 19″ wheels can look amazing, but I’m not willing to give up the ride comfort with even lower profile tires. This set happened to be as close as BBS makes to correct fitment (actually for E46 M3s) in 8.5″ et38 front and 10″ et25 rear. The tires are 255/35-r18 front and 285/30-r18 rear. The front tires are probably slightly wide and did rub on the coilover height adjuster when I tried them on my dad’s coupe. His coupe sits almost an inch lower than mine though. They sure looked good on black sapphire though. They fit perfectly on my coupe with absolutely no rubbing. I had picked up a set of Rogue Engineering 10mm spacers to try to offset the look of some of the camber picked up when lowering a car on trailing arms, so I left those one. The stance seems just right to me now.

What is also crazy to me is that even with wider wheels and much wider tires, they were noticeably lighter than the stock roadstars. BBS lists them at 18.6 pounds front and 21.2 pounds rear which is roughly 5 pounds lighter per corner. I guess forged aluminum does make a difference :-).

To be honest, the RGRs look way better on my coupe than I thought they would. I’m still not sure if I like the diamond black on steel gray though. They looked a lot better on my dad’s black sapphire coupe and I can easily picture them on alpine white, imola red or estoril blue too. If I keep them, I’ll probably try to track down some red BBS center caps to replace the current BBS/BMW caps. We’ll see what happens.

2002 BMW M Coupe Steel Gray over Imola Red with BBS RGRs

Special thanks to my wife for having the photo skills in the family. JennEileen.com

LeatherZ Armrests

May 10th, 2013 1 comment

LeatherZ Mark2+ Armrest

LeatherZ has been around as long as coupes with their first product, the Mark1 armrest, being made available in October 1998. Since then their business and product portfolio has grown substantially supplying anyone looking to make their Z more unique or luxurious. Both Andy Maddux and his brother John own coupes, so it’s always nice to support fellow Coupe Cartel members.

BMW M Coupe Center Console

Before

BMW M Coupe LeatherZ Mark2+ Armrest

After

Mark2+ Armrest

I have long desired a LeatherZ Mark2+ armrest as much for its looks as for it’s functionality. In my eyes, it’s the only armrest available for the Z3 platform that looks not only factory, but actually better than any of the center console options originally offered by BMW. LeatherZ’s product has come a long way since the original Mark1 and slightly skinnier Mark2 versions, and I think it’s now reached it’s zenith. It’s a pretty simple flip-up piece that attaches to the factory single or double cupholder consoles. It is of high quality though using BMW factory leather, and man did the box smell good when I opened it :). Most of the common Z3 and Z3M interior colors are available.

You have three choices when ordering. If you already have either the factory 2-cupholder console or 1-cupholder/large storage base console, you can buy the armrest only and install yourself. If your coupe was configured cupholder-less, you can order it already attached to either of the bases. My coupe was originally configured with the plain center console, but I had recently picked up a 2-cupholder console to which to attach my new armrest. I actually like the clean look of the plain console, but it makes for a long 1200 mile drive to Dorkfest without a cupholder.

BMW M Coupe Center Console

Before

BMW M Coupe LeatherZ Mark2+ Armrest

After

Installation is very easy, and the instructions are clear and well written. If you have an existing console, simply remove the carpet/foam/felt piece in the back half of it, and you’ll be able to see the single Phillips screw holding it in. Remove the screw, lift up the back of the cupholder base far enough to clear the center console, then pull it towards the rear of the car to disengage the single plastic tab holding in the front. While the base it out, give your center console a good cleaning as well as the cupholder base itself. You are now ready to attach your armrest.

I do not have too much to add to LeatherZ’s instructions as far as attaching the armrest to the cupholder base as they pretty much cover everything. I would just encourage you to follow them to the letter. When initially lining up the base and armrest on my workbench, I was tempted to offset it just a little to the passenger side as it looked more straight to my eye. A test fitting in the car showed why I should have just follow the instructions as the armrest would have rubbed up against the passenger seat bolster. Mounting the hinge in the dead center of the base is the way to go. Also be sure to use the thin piece of cardboard or small stack of business cards to space out the rear of the armrest. This compensates for the small bumpers on the front of the armrest and will make sure it’s level once installed.

Reinstalling the cupholder base (now with armrest attached) is simply a matter of reversing the steps you took to remove it. Place the front in first with the plastic tab under the center console. Once the tab is engaged, lower the rear of the base the rest of the way then replace the single screw. Now step back and admire your work or better yet, lounge in the driver seat and let your right elbow enjoy the fruits of your labor.

BMW M Coupe LeatherZ Mark2+ Armrest

Door Armrests

To be honest, door armrests were never really on my radar until last year. After driving ~2800 miles in the span of 4 days for Dorkfest last year, my left elbow was numb for almost 3 days afterward. Evidently, I rested my elbow on the hard plastic door panel a significant number of those miles. I swore then that if I was going to make the drive again, I was going to pad my elbow.

BMW M Coupe LeatherZ Door Armrest

Driver Door

BMW M Coupe LeatherZ Door Armrest

Passenger Doro

Forgoing the simplest solution of buying some stylish elbow pads (or borrowing my son’s), I decided to look into LeatherZ’s far more elegant solution. I’m always very hesitant to do anything irreversible to my coupe, but a couple of recent sales listings with photos of the door armrests as well as the memory of my elbow convinced me to give them a try.

My next decision was which color to order them in. The few photos I saw online matched their door armrests with their center armrest (and sometimes the shift and brake boots as well). I’m a little more conservative, and while I absolutely love the imola red interior in my coupe, I decided imola red door armrests may be taking it a step too far. I ended up going with black.

Installation is extremely simple requiring only that your clean the door panels very, very well with alcohol wipes (provided) to make sure the 3M adhesive sticks as well as possible. Next you line them up where you want them, remove the backing from the tape, and hold them down firmly for 30 seconds. Ta-da.

Seeing as this was a practical mod rather than an aesthetic one, I was expecting to compromise on looks in order to achieve the functionality. I have to say I’m very pleasantly surprised by the end result. I actually LOVE the look of the installed armrests. Very few people would even recognize they are not stock, and boy are they comfy. My two hour drive after the install confirms that my left elbow approves.

BMW M Coupe LeatherZ Armrests

LeatherZ Armrests

Conclusion

I’ve seen LeatherZ center console armrests in many coupes over the years, and everyone has loved them. I’ll add my agreement to that as well. The door armrests, on the other hand, seem to be far more rare. With how satisfied I am with them, I’m surprised by how few photos I was able to find of coupes that have them installed. I had never even seen them in person before installing my own. If you haven’t either, check them out in my coupe at Dorkfest. I highly recommend the upgrade, and so do your elbows.

Buy a LeatherZ Mark2+ Armrest
Buy LeatherZ Door Armrests
Buy the LeatherZ Armrest Bundle

The Keyless Remote Dance (Step-by-Step)

April 4th, 2012 4 comments

BMW M Coupe Keyless Remotes

When I received the spare key for my coupe, I was disappointed to find that there was not a second keyless remote attached to it. I have yet to use the spare key, and it appears that none of the previous owners ever did either based on its condition. But things like that bother me, so I’ve kept an eye out to pick up a spare. Last week, I was fortunate enough to come across a Craigslist ad in California with a remote listed. I did a quick Google search to see if you could reprogram the remotes yourself without paying the dealer $70 to do it. I came across a great November 2002 article on MZ3.net; the instructions sounded so ridiculous and fun, I just had to try them. I contacted the seller of the remote, and he was more than happy to ship it to me. He even threw his two spare remotes into the deal just for good measure. Thanks Matthew!

To give a little background, each remote has a unique identification code that you need for your security system to recognize. The goal of the following process is to get your security system into learning mode, so that you can register your new remote’s ID. On a side note, if you lose one of your remotes, you can also use this process to delete it’s ID from your system so that it can never be used again (without reprogramming).

Phase 1 – Initialization

These steps just to get you to the starting place of the process.

  1. Remove the key from the ignition
  2. Close both doors, the hood and the trunk/hatch
  3. Use your current remote or key to disarm your security system by unlocking the doors

Phase 2 – Activate Code-Learning Mode

Before you start, read these directions several times through. You must complete these 5 steps in 45 seconds or less (and in order) or code-learning mode will not be activated. Also, be sure to have your new remote(s) with your before beginning this phase (you’ll see why later). Here is where the fun starts…

  1. Open the trunk/hatch and leave it open
  2. Open the driver’s door
  3. Sit in the driver’s seat
  4. Close the driver’s door
  5. Put the key in the ignition and switch it between the “off” position and “position 2” (ignition on and all dash lamps illuminated) and back 5 times in rapid succession. This was the trickiest part for me as all 5 cycles must be completed within a total of 10 seconds (and within the 45 seconds for all five of these activation steps). Also be careful not to start the engine during this process of you will need to begin this phase again.

If you have successfully entered code-learning mode, your security system status LED light (mine is down near the heated seat controls but installations can vary) will stay lit and your siren will chirp once (even if you have the chirping disabled).

Phase 3 – Registering Remote ID Codes

Like I said before, be sure you have your new remote(s) with you when you enter the car during phase 2.

  1. Remain seated in the driver’s seat and leave the key in the ignition
  2. Open the driver’s door
  3. Close the driver’s door
  4. Press and release any button on the remove you want to register with your system

The status LED will blink off to confirm the ID has been registered. Repeat Phase 3 for each of the new remotes you want to register.

Phase 4 – De-Activate Code-Learning Mode

Once all your remotes are programmed, you need to exit code-learning mode and return the car to normal operation.

  1. Open the driver’s door
  2. Exit the car but leave the door open
  3. Close the trunk/hatch
  4. Now close the driver’s door

If successful, the status LED will turn off and the siren will chirp twice. You can now test your newly programmed remotes (amazingly it actually works).

Ending Notes

So the lesson is you don’t have to pay your dealership $70 to program the remotes for you. You can also pick up any used remote off of Ebay, Craigslist or a forums member and reprogram it to your car. Pretty cool huh? My 1.5 year-old daughter was looking at me like I was crazy during the process as well :).

I mentioned before that it is possible to delete ID codes from lost remotes. The security system can memorize a total of four different ID codes. When each new code is registered, the oldest code is dropped. Therefore, if you wish to delete an ID code, you can register your remote four times during Phase 3, so that all other codes are cleared.

Good luck and feel free to email me at jon@mcoupebuyersguide.com if something is not working for you.

All the information in this article I learned from the MZ3.net article entitled Activate Keyless Remote written by Robert Leidy in November 2002. Thanks Robert!

Illuminated BMW ZHP Shift Knob

December 4th, 2011 4 comments

Illuminated BMW ZHP Shift Knob

From the time I purchased my coupe, my shift knob has always been pretty loose; I have even pulled it off a couple times on fast shifts. I got used to it after the first few drives, and it has not bothered me recently (although it has surprised some test drivers I forgot to warn). In any case, it was still a great excuse to upgrade. The three most popular shift knob upgrades for M Coupes seem to be the OEM ZHP that I purchased, the custom Whalen Shift Machine, and the UUC RK5. All are slightly shorter and heavier than the stock knob and all have their strong supporters. While I love the look of the Whalen knob, the direction I’m taking my coupe in is OEM+. I’d like to subtly upgrade everything but in such a way that the average person would not even know it has been modified. The ZHP shift knob looks very similar to the stock knob besides it’s size and the chrome ring on it’s base, so it fits my criteria perfectly. And what’s a little more chrome in an M Coupe interior anyway? I had more than one person guarantee I’d like it so much that they would reimburse me for the price I paid if I didn’t like it. Sold.

If you are pretty familiar with BMWs, you probably know where the ZHP shift knob originates from, but for those that don’t, here you go. ZHP is the identifier for the Performance Package offered on the E46 3-series from 2003-2006. It’s original intention was to make a quasi-M3 sedan in the E46 model as it was never offered, but the package later spread to 3-series coupes and convertibles as well. The entire package was nice, but the shift knob is becoming widely known as the best ever OEM BMW shift knob. It’s become a popular upgrade on models across the range including M3s and M5s.

The stock M Coupe shift knob illuminates the shift pattern and the M when the interior lights are on. The problem for me was that an illuminated version of the ZHP knob was never offered by BMW. Several companies out there have corrected this oversight by modifying the knobs with color-matched LEDs. The largest and best known supplier of Illuminated ZHP shift knobs is LeatherZ. They give you a choice of shift pattern inserts and wiring connectors to make the install as easy as possible. Tommy at Dorkfest alerted me to a German Ebay seller who also sells illuminated versions quite a bit cheaper. I went with that option. The downside is the connector it came with did not match up with my 2001+ connector. It was as simple as snipping off the connector from the wires on the old shift knob and splicing it onto the new one.

If you are not as picky as me and can live without the illumination. Non-illuminated ZHP shift knobs can be picked up a number of places including your local dealer for $55-65.

Installation

Installation is actually a pretty simple process partly thanks to talking to others who have done it recently.

Step 1 – Remove the Old Shift Knob
This was especially easy for me as mine was pretty much already detached. All you have to do though is pull the knob straight up from the shift lever with a firm even pressure. Eventually it will slide right off but be careful no to hit yourself in the face (it has happened).

Step 2 – Remove the Shift Boot
What worked best for me was to just pinch some of the leather in front of shift lever opening and pull straight up until the front clips detached (note: the chrome trim around the shift boot does not need to come off). I was then able to get my fingers under the front of the shift boot base and used even pressure to disconnect the rest of the clips and it popped off. (see photo below for clip locations)

Step 3 – Disconnect the Wiring Connector
Not too much explanation required – just get a firm grip on each side of the connector and pull apart. (see photo below for the 2001+ connector)

Step 4 – Clean Up
Every time I disassemble something in my coupe, I take the opportunity the clean out the nooks and crannies I don’t usually have access to. In this case I cleaned and conditioned the shift boot and vacuumed out the now gaping hole in my center console.

Step 5 (if necessary) – Switch Connectors
This may not be necessary depending on where you buy your ZHP knob (or buy a non-illuminated one). I just snipped off the connector from the old shift knob and used twist on wire connectors to attach it to the new knob.

Step 6 – Install New Shift Knob
If necessary, run the wires through the shift boot then reattach the wiring connector. Turn on the car and lights to make sure you have it wired up correctly. If everything works, reattach the shift boot them firmly press your new shift knob onto the lever, and you are done!

Step 7 – Drive
Go for a drive and try it out. I guarantee you’ll love it.

M Coupe Shift Boot Clips

Shift Boot Clips

M Coupe Wiring Connector

Wiring Connector

Comparisons

M Coupe Stock vs ZHP Shift Knob

As you can see in these photos, the ZHP shift knob is a significant 3/4″ shorter than the stock knob. It also weights 5.4 ounces which doesn’t sound like much, but it feels like a lot more.

Illuminated BMW ZHP Shift Knob

Illuminated BMW ZHP Shift Knob

Stock M Coupe Shift Knob

Stock Shift Knob

Illuminated BMW ZHP Shift Knob

Illuminated BMW ZHP Shift Knob

Stock M Coupe Shift Knob

Stock Shift Knob

Conclusion

I’ve only driven a couple miles with the new shift knob because of our recent weather here  in Colorado, but I can already tell it’s going to be one of my favorite upgrades so far. Such a seemingly small change impacts the shifting action so completely that it almost feels like a new transmission. All of my shifts seem smoother, and I literally removed the short shift kit from my list of future upgrades. I just don’t see the need any more. The ZHP short shift knob has lived up to all the hype.

I can see! HIR Headlight Bulbs

August 20th, 2011 3 comments

BMW M Coupe Headlights

I’ve talked to many a new coupe owner whose first thought on driving their recent purchase at night is, “I can’t see!”. It may be a little bit of an over-dramatization, but not far from the truth. My first thought was that I needed to do some headlight restoration (which could be the case for some as they are close to 10 years old now), but no, mine are completely clear and covered by clear Laminex. I admit I may be a little spoiled by the flame-throwing adaptive bi-xenons on our Audi A3, but I think the stock coupe headlights are even worse than those on my 1999 Nissan  Sentra I bought in high school. It’s unfortunate BMW didn’t add the Xenon headlights from the E39 M5 or E46 M3 it had available in 2001, but such is life.

Thus began my quest for better headlights. With much research I basically came up with three possibilities:

  1. ProjectorZ / SONAR Projectors
    These full headlight replacements can be purchased from Umnitza or off of Ebay from a variety of manufactures who all seem to start from the same basic headlight and do their own touches to them. As far as I could tell, for the most part, you get what you pay for with these with the more expensive ones having a higher customer satisfaction rating. I admit they do give the M Coupe a much more modern look with their optional halos and look great on many coupe colors (black especially), but I decided I wanted to maintain a more stock appearance and didn’t necessarily like the looks of them on steel gray. I’ve also heard many complaints about how impossible they are to get adjusted and aimed correctly.
  2. HID Retrofits
    There are several talented people around (and some coupe owners on Bimmerforums) that have successfully cut into their stock headlights and inserted Xenon projectors from another vehicle (usually an E46 M3 or Acura TSX). This was originally the most appealing option to me as it maintains close to stock appearance while upping the light output dramatically. It still may be something I look into down the line, but for now I was discouraged by the high price (about $800) because the process is so labor intensive, and the fear of messing up my electrical system with headlight ballasts that require far more power than the current bulbs do (also applies for the HID options on the projectors above). People have had success with them, but it’s a relatively new idea, and was not yet as “tried and true” as I’d like. If I were to do it, I’d probably try to find some other headlights to modify and keep my stock ones in case I ever change my mind down the road.
  3. HIR (Halogen Infrared Reflecting) Bulbs
    These bulbs were the result of a GE project to create a bulb with 75% the light output of an HID at 25% of the cost. While GE primarily stuck with the residential lighting market, they licensed the technology to Toshiba for automotive applications. “These bulbs attain light levels 75% to 110% brighter than stock as a result of an engineering process that deposits multiple, yet almost invisible, layers of semi-reflective coating on the surface of a specially shaped quartz bulb. This coating ( a titania/silica, zinc oxide/silica, zirconia/silica, silicon nitride/silica, and titania/magnesium fluoride tantalam/silica multi-layer dielectric, according to the patent) reflects a portion of the infrared energy emitted by the filament back onto the filament, causing it to glow brighter and emit more light from the uncoated forward portion of the bulb.” (FineMotoring.com)

At first glance the HIR bulbs appeared to be too good to be true with 75%+ more light at the same wattage. I eventually came across a June 2005 article from Roundel magazine entitled “Let There be Light’ discussing ways to improve the headlights of E36 3-series cars. They did a very in-depth comparison of the HIR bulbs versus aftermarket replacements including the popular Sylvania SilverStars (Read it Here). They proved to be the real deal.

One thing you will notice is that the HIR bulbs are 9011 and 9012 (high and low beam respectively) versus the stock 9005 and 9006. This concerned me at first, but they are the exact same size, shape, and wattage as the stock bulbs. The only thing you need to do to make them fit is trim the center tab on the mounting flange (more details below).

Philips now makes a version of the bulbs too. After some research and recommendations I decided I wanted the original Toshibas.

Purchase

As with everything I buy, I then searched high and low for the best price. Most retailers I came across, including Amazon, only carry the newer Philips bulbs. About the only place I could find the Toshibas HIR bulbs was FineMotoring.com which is where most of my information came from anyway, so I was more than happy to support them. They have a very fair price of $32.55 per bulb shipped or all four for $106.20 shipped. You can choose either Toshiba or Philips at that price. At the time, it also happened to be the cheapest source I could find. The site owner, Max Lumens (great name for a headlight bulb seller), also gave the slight edge to the Toshibas, so I took his recommendation. They are pretty expensive for headlight bulbs, but the difference is well worth it.

Side Note: I noticed Amazon currently has the Philips HIR bulbs very on sale at $21.02 for low beams and $18.39 for high beams with free shipping. If you want the Toshibas or want to support a small enthusiast business go with Max (hirbulbs@finemotoring.com).

Installation

To be honest, it took me quite a while to get around to the installation – at no fault to the bulbs. When I realized it required the removal (or loosening) of both the airbox and wiper fluid reservoir (at least on an S54 M Coupe) I kind of procrastinated until I had a better grasp of what that entailed. I of course forgive BMW for jamming such a large engine into such a small space that the back of the headlights can’t be easily reached. I’m not a mechanical newbie, but I am still a little hesitant to take things apart on my “baby”. Hopefully this will simplify the process for others like me.

Step 1 – Bulb Trimmnig

The first step, as mentioned above, is to trim the center tab on the mounting flange of each new bulb. Basically you need the little tabs around the edges to fit properly into the lamp socket so that you can twist it into place. I dug some toe nail clippers out of the bottom of my wife’s drawer, and they worked liked a charm. A very detailed and photographed explanation can be found here. If you buy them from Max, he makes it very easy by painting the small sections you need to trim off with white nail polish. He cannot legally trim them himself before selling them. I unfortunately forgot to photograph my painted bulbs before trimming, but it’s just a small section off of only one of the 3 tabs on each bulb. I recommend leaving the bulb in it’s foam shipping tube to do this as the bulb glass should never be touched by bare hands if you want it to work as well and as long as it should.

Step 2 – Passenger Side

Next you need to remove the old bulbs (after gaining access to them). Some of this should apply to S52 M Coupes as well, but my experience and photos will deal mainly with my S54. I’ve heard the S52 coupes have easier access to the driver side though.

First the easy side (passenger side). If you have small hands, you may be able to contort them enough to avoid moving the washer fluid reservoir, but I could not. There’s just one large plastic nut holding the washer fluid reservoir into place. It’s hidden behind some wires that you can move far enough out of the way to get a screw driver behind them. Once removed, the washer fluid reservoir can be slid up and towards the side of the car (the bottom of it slips into a little pocket along the sheet metal). Once the headlight sockets are exposed, you’ll see the low-beam towards the outside of the car and the high-beam towards the inside. When locked in place, the tail of the high beam should face down and the low beam face up. Turn both 90 degrees clockwise to unlock then pull them straight out to remove. The bulbs are attached to the wires with small clips that pop off easily

S54 M Coupe Washer Fluid Reservoir

Washer Fluid Reservoir

S54 M Coupe Washer Fluid Reservoir Detail

Washer Fluid Reservoir Nut

Step 3 – Driver Side

S54 M Coupe Airbox

Now to the driver-side and the removal of the airbox. It’s actually much easier than I initially made it out to be. The first step is to detach the MAF sensor. (be sure not to start the car when it is detached or you’ll get a check engine light). It removes by squeezing the plastic tabs on either side and pulling straight off. Next pop out the hose from the clip on top of the airbox. It’s a rubber hose, so there’s plenty of give to get it out of the way without detaching the ends of it. Now you can loosen the 10mm mounting nut on the right side of the airbox and the 10mm bolt holding it to the metal heat shield on the left side. Finally, use a screw driver to loosen the hose clamp then slide the airbox out of the rubber gasket (it’s easier if you use the screwdriver to gently break the seal between the gasket and airbox). Now it will be completely free, and you’ll be able to access the back of the headlights. On the driver side, each bulb has a plastic cover with the wiring running through it. These just slide into place and are easily removable. You can then remove the bulbs by turning them clockwise.

S54 M Coupe MAF Sensor

MAF Sensor

S54 M Coupe Airbox Mounting Nut

Mounting Nut

S54 M Coupe Airbox Heatshield Bolt

Heatshield Bolt

S54 M Coupe Airbox Hose Clamp

Hose Clamp

Step 4

Once you have the old bulbs out, simply attach the new bulbs to the wires. Place them in the sockets 90 degrees counter-clockwise from their final position (high beam with the tail to the right, and low beams with the tails to the left) and twist 1/4 turn to lock them in. Replace the plastic covers on the driver side.

S54 M Coupe Headlight Bulb

Passenger Side Low-Beam

S54 M Coupe Headlight Bulb Cover

Driver Side Low Beam Cover

You can then reinstall the airbox making sure to place it directly on the small knob that centers it on the bottom (you’ll see what I mean). You can then pull the gasket back over and tighten the hose clamp. Tighten the mounting nut and re-install the heat shield bolt. Then reattach the small hose to the clip and pop the MAF sensor back in. Then go to the passenger side to slide the washer fluid reservoir securely into place and reattach the plastic nut. Finally, wait for nightfall, start it up, and try them out.

Initial Impressions

It was actually almost a week before I had a chance to get the coupe out at night. I forgot about the bulbs for the first couple miles of well lit streets. On the way home I took an unlit back road and thought, “I haven’t complained about my headlights yet tonight”. I then realized I no longer had anything to complain about. To be honest, they still do not compare to my Audi’s xenons, but I’d say their closer in light output to them than they are to the stock bulbs. The light is also much less yellow and almost completely white (not blue tinted either). For the first time driving at night in my coupe I thought, “I can see!”. The true test will come next week when I drive 1200 miles to California.

Update: I’ve heard these may not be setup for running at 30% intensity for day time running lights. If you live in Canada or have the DRL module added to your car, they may not be the best option as it sounds like they burn out a lot faster in that circumstance.

Upgrading Your Auto Dimming Rearview Mirror

March 9th, 2011 14 comments

Auto-Dimming Rearview Mirror

One of the weak spots of the M Coupes and Roadsters (as well as some M3s) is undoubtedly their auto dimming rear view mirrors. No one knows the exact cause of the issue as it can occur at any age or mileage of vehicle, but most problems seem to occur following long term sun exposure. The dimming fluid within the mirror can start to bubble giving you a two-tone rearview mirror that is always halfway dim. This is the state I found my mirror in when my coupe arrived. It was not that way when it left the dealer, but I have no doubt sitting on the back of an open truck for 3.5 weeks after having been sheltered the rest of it’s life was the cause of the problem. Once the mirror is removed and you can turn it, it’s almost lava lamp-ish :). Just for fun I took a little video showing the interesting phenomenon. While entertaining, it’s not very practical.

Looking into the problem more, I came across a handful of stories of people detailing how the dimming fluid actually leaked from their mirror days after the issue first occurred, splashed on their dash, and stained it. Feeling fortunate that it had not yet happened to me but fearing the worse, I started wrapping my mirror with a gallon-size Ziploc bag whenever it was parked. It was not the impressive look I was hoping to present with my M Coupe :).

Out of curiosity, I asked the dealer what a new one would cost and was not surprised at the astronomical reply of $599. I then started keeping my eye out on Craigslist and Ebay. I saw a couple listed but always for $250+. They were also the more common black rimmed mirrors rather than the chrome rimmed one found only on the 2001 and 2002 S54 models. With either of those options, the same issue could always occur again someday. What I need was a fix. Some had suggested just prying open the mirror and draining the fluid. This would solve the issue, but I would lose the auto dimming functionality I was not willing to give up.

Then I found the answer; the original equipment manufacture of the mirror had at some point admitted the fault in the mirrors and would retrofit a new dimming system into existing mirrors for ~$100. While not as good as a recall, it was far cheaper than my other options and would provide the piece of mind of knowing it would never happen again. I contacted Sybesma’s Electronics of Holland, MI at 616.392.6911 or 800.456.4265 (tollfree). The receptionist asked me what model car I had, said they could fix it, and told me to remove my mirror and ship it to:

Sybesma’s Electronics
581 Ottawa Ave. Suite 100
Holland, MI 49423

She said she would call back once they received it for a payment of $95 (which includes return shipping). As this was hundreds of dollars cheaper than I had ever seen a nice used one priced for, this sounded pretty good to me. In the past Sybesma’s had a stock of mirrors they could ship right out and would then require you to send your broken one back in. They no longer offer this service, so it now requires a few days down time of your car. As it was the middle of winter here in Colorado, this was no big deal to me. I also was more than happy to keep my original mirror as I’m just like that.

BMW M Coupe Rearview Mirror Removal InstructionsThe process to remove the mirror was surprisingly simple and literally takes just a couple minutes. I tracked down the official BMW Rearview Mirror Removal Instructions, but it makes the process more confusing if anything. Here are the cliff notes:

  1. Aim the mirror down and away from you to give you greater access to the neck of the mirror.
  2. Pop off the little plastic cover on the neck of the mirror by pushing the front side of it downward with your thumb.
  3. Disconnect the plug connection
  4. Twist the neck of the mirror 45° counter-clockwise (this is the part that made me nervous, but it worked very easily)
  5. Once the mirror has been rotated it will slide right off into your hand.

A few days was quite literally all it took them. I shipped my broken mirror via USPS First Class on Saturday afternoon, she called for payment on Monday, and it was back on my door step, as good as new Wednesday morning. I was very impressed by the entire process, the fantastic results, and the amazing speed. Re-installation went very smoothly simply following the steps above in reverse. I now have my original mirror, still auto-dimming, looking as good as new, with no fear of further problems down the line. Now that is $95 well spent.