Does your A/C-heater blower seem like it's possessed? Does it quit working for no apparent reason, then come on again just as mysteriously? Does it run only at one speed no matter what the controls say? Does it keep running even when the car is off and the key is out of the ignition? Your problem is most likely a faulty final stage unit.
Based on what I've seen here and elsewhere, this is a chronic problem with the E39, but fortunately it's a relatively cheap and easy fix. There's a good DIY here
, but since questions about it get posted here with regular frequency, I figured it would be a good idea to post one here too. Some of the photos in this post are very large because it's very helpful to see the details if you have no idea what's going on here.
BMW calls this thing the "final stage unit;" the parts guys call it a "blower motor resistor." I'm not sure what the reason for the different terminology is, but it's the same part. The PNs have changed a couple of times over the years, but as of the date of this posting, what you want is PN 64 11 6 923 204 and there's a diagram of the system here
. As far as I can tell, the same part is used in all E39 models (but you may want to confirm this). Bavarian Autosport has them for about $70, but they're unfortunately available a lot of places, including the parts counter of your local dealership (I say "unfortunately" because it's a reflection of how often this thing fails).
For some reason, dealer service departments are notorious for not being able to recognize this issue, and may charge you for hundreds or thousands of dollars of unnecessary repairs without solving the problem. If you don't feel confident doing this yourself (i.e., you're the sort of person who is more likely to take an eye out with a screwdriver than a screw), at least bring them this information. Done properly, this is a 15-minute, ~$100 repair.
This is what you're replacing:
(Side view, with highlighter for scale)
(one end view)
(other end view)
The silver part of it is a heat sink. I'm not an electrical engineer, but I believe this thing allows the blower controls to change the speed of the blower by altering the current that passes through it. Inside is a bundle of resistors, and by sending the current through a different combination of leads, it creates the proper current to operate the blower at a desired speed. But resistors generate heat (thus the need for a heat sink), and over time, I suspect the constant heat up-cool down cycle degrades the resistors until they no longer produce the right current, and the controller can no longer send the right signals to the blower. Thus, the blower starts acting strangely despite what the controls are doing.
Now, I've read a lot of horror stories about how difficult this replacement can be, but I didn't find it that way at all. This is an extremely simple operation that took me less than 10 minutes. The hardest part was getting myself into a position where I could get at the faulty FSU.
All you need here is a Phillips screwdriver, a flashlight (the one in your glovebox will work fine) and understanding that you're working with electrical components, not mechanical ones. That means being mindful of how much force you're using. Nothing in this operation requires any great effort, so if you find yourself needing force things, you're doing something wrong.
The FSU is behind the dash in the passenger side footwell. You'll find it easier to work if you pull out the cover under the glovebox. It's not secured by anything, so just yank it out. The FSU is behind a fabric covered plastic panel on the left side:
You want to unscrew the screw (red circle), then slide the panel backward (see arrow), not out. It's also held in place by two metal clips that attach to the frame behind it:
Once you've got the panel out, lay on your back and look up at the space you've just exposed. The FSU is inside there.
Inside the space, you'll see a plug with 5 colored wires coming out of it. The FSU is the thing the plug is connected to, so you've got to get the plug out. The plug is held in place by two clips on the side, and you need to squeeze the clips to free it.
You may find the plug a bit difficult to get out; if so, just wiggle it back and forth until it comes free. Don't yank it out--you may break one of the wires loose, in which case you've just bought yourself an expensive and embarrassing trip to the dealer.
The FSU is itself held in place by another clip at the bottom. You need to push this clip down at the same time you're pulling the FSU out.
(note--plug is still in place in this photo, but take it out first. I didn't take a picture of the FSU with the plug out
Again, if you're doing it right, you should not need to force anything. Once free of the clip, the FSU should slide out easily.
You may find all of this easier if you lay on your back in the footwell to get your bearings, then sit up straight, reach under the dash, and do it "by feel."
Now, surprise, surprise, the part you've just removed won't resemble the new one exactly, since as I mentioned, the PNs have changed a couple of times:
Hmm, could this be because the original version was defective?
Now just slide the new one in the spot the old one came out of. It should slide into place with a "snap" as the clip engages it.
New FSU in place. Note orientation--it will only go in one way. If you're having trouble getting it in, you've probably got it rotated 90 or 180 degrees out of alignment.
Replace the plug, then slide the panel back in the way it came out. Be sure to get both clips into their respective slots, or it will hang loose. Replace the screw.
If you've done everything right, your blower should operate normally now. If it's not, go back in and check the connections. If everything looks right but it still doesn't work, you may have other problems.