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E39 (1997 - 2003)
The BMW 5-Series (E39 chassis) was introduced in the United States as a 1997 model year car and lasted until the 2004 when the E60 chassis was released. The United States saw several variations including the 525i, 528i, 530i and 540i. -- View the E39 Wiki

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  #1  
Old 08-25-2005, 10:22 AM
Bob Michaels Bob Michaels is offline
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AM Radio Reception Diagnostics..

A few weeks ago my AM reception went from good to very weak. I have the stock "Business" radio (no DSP) and no aftermarket window tinting. FM reception is fine, showing 10-15 in diagnostic mode whereas AM displays 0-2. [Of course the one station that comes in good now is the one I have no use for....]

Thus far I've done the following:

- Removed the head unit and tape player. Checked connections for the two coax cables (one small (RG 74 ish) and one large) disconnet & reconnected them. Didn't notice much (if any) improvement.

- Accessed the antenna amp. in rear pillar (528i Touring). Wiggled on/off coax connectors - to no avail. Removed the 2-wire connector that leads to the left-rear window antenna and reconnected it. I did notice improvement in reception as I manipulated these two wires - probably due to the fact that I was acting as the antenna. Replaced everything and reception is still weak.

I am suspicious of the actual AM window antenna. If I place my hand on the glass, over some sections of the AM antenna, the reception improves noticeably. This coupled with the fact that there are a couple of areas in the antenna "trace" that appear to have delaminated (they aren't completely "open", but look damaged). There has been no trauma to the window recently, that is to say in the time frame that the reception went south.

I suppose the amp could still be the culprit if the diversity system is able to get a strong FM signal from the other (rear window) antenna.

Does anyone know of any other tests, or solutions. Is there any way to repair a damaged window antenna. BTW, I have a Phatbox installed, replacing the stock CD-changer - but AM worked good for several months after I installed it.

Any and all suggestions would be appreciated.


1999 528iT
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  #2  
Old 08-25-2005, 11:10 AM
rtw_travel rtw_travel is offline
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Have you checked continuity of the AM coax cable? I have exactly the same problem and have followed the same steps a few weeks ago.

I did discover that my AM reception dropped to zero if I disconnected the FM coax from the head unit. i.ie. no signal whatsoever was coming in on the AM coax - the FM coax was doing everything.

The next thing I was going to do is check continuity from the head unit to the antenna amplifier. I wonder if the AM signal cable has broken or (more likely) the connectors need to be remade.

I stopped there because I ran out of time... since then, the only AM radio station I listen to (CBC Vancouver) has gone on strike, so I've stopped fiddling. I'll get back to it one of these days.

Let me know what you find.
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  #3  
Old 08-25-2005, 11:12 AM
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There have been several posts on this issue. No solution found that I know of. BMWs are notorious for lousy AM reception. If anyone knows a solution please let us know.
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  #4  
Old 08-25-2005, 12:19 PM
Bob Michaels Bob Michaels is offline
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Is the thinner coax the AM one? I haven't worked with anything but cable TV / Internet coax for some time - hence no tools or supplies.

I have read various threads discussing overall poor AM reception, but in my case I had no problems whatsoever until recently - so I can't help but believe it can be corrected.

Thanks
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  #5  
Old 08-25-2005, 12:32 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bob Michaels
in my case I had no problems whatsoever until recently - so I can't help but believe it can be corrected.
I've read that tinted windows could be a culprit, but my AM reception problem started several months after I tinted the windows. I agree it should correctable.
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  #6  
Old 09-06-2005, 11:41 AM
ChocolateLab ChocolateLab is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bob Michaels
Is the thinner coax the AM one? I haven't worked with anything but cable TV / Internet coax for some time - hence no tools or supplies.

I have read various threads discussing overall poor AM reception, but in my case I had no problems whatsoever until recently - so I can't help but believe it can be corrected.

Thanks
Bob, have you had any luck?

My 2000 323i did the same thing about a week ago. I think it happened when I had my fan and spark plugs replaced, but I'm not sure... All I know is that sometime in the last week or two, AM noise increased markedly to the point that it's now unlistenable on all but strong local stations. Sensitivity seems worse as well, but it's hard to tell... Maybe all the noise is just overpowering it. (FM seems fine, as it always has been.)

I drove a 2005 GMC Yukon a few days ago and reception was so much better it was sad.

I do listen to a lot of ballgames on AM, and I'd really like to get this fixed -- especially with football season starting this week.
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  #7  
Old 09-06-2005, 12:09 PM
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540 M-Sport 540 M-Sport is offline
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Had a similar problem, AM reception went to crap, FM worked fine. Dealer replaced radio under warranty. AM reception has been just fine ever since. Part # 65 12 6 916 242

I have the DSP system with CD changer and CD player in dash.

Last edited by 540 M-Sport; 09-06-2005 at 12:16 PM.
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  #8  
Old 09-06-2005, 12:41 PM
ChocolateLab ChocolateLab is offline
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I'm way past warranty, though...

I have the Business CD model, by the way.

Is it hard to get inside the C-pillar or wherever the AM antenna is? It seems like it would be, but I've never tried anything like that.

I'd consider replacing the entire stereo, but I've never seen anything that looks decent and/or that matches the BMW interior at all. But then, I'm not much of a car stereo guy at all. I'd really just like my existing radio to get better reception.

Has anyone ever tried adding an aftermarket antenna? It wouldn't look too great, but maybe one of the glass-mount versions would at least allow you to remove it if it didn't improve things.
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  #9  
Old 09-06-2005, 02:05 PM
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540 M-Sport 540 M-Sport is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ChocolateLab
I'm way past warranty, though...

I have the Business CD model, by the way.

Is it hard to get inside the C-pillar or wherever the AM antenna is? It seems like it would be, but I've never tried anything like that.

I'd consider replacing the entire stereo, but I've never seen anything that looks decent and/or that matches the BMW interior at all. But then, I'm not much of a car stereo guy at all. I'd really just like my existing radio to get better reception.

Has anyone ever tried adding an aftermarket antenna? It wouldn't look too great, but maybe one of the glass-mount versions would at least allow you to remove it if it didn't improve things.
Why would you want to "band aid" a fix, when it worked fine before? Obviously either there is a component failure or bad connection. I would fix it...either yourself or pay someone. YMMV
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  #10  
Old 09-08-2005, 02:31 PM
ChocolateLab ChocolateLab is offline
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You're right, I would at least like to get it back to the way it was before it went bad before I think about improving it further.

Can anyone tell me how to access the am antenna, and/or where certain connections are that I should check?
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  #11  
Old 09-23-2005, 07:36 PM
Bob Michaels Bob Michaels is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ChocolateLab
You're right, I would at least like to get it back to the way it was before it went bad before I think about improving it further.

Can anyone tell me how to access the am antenna, and/or where certain connections are that I should check?
It sounds like we're in the same boat, err auto. My AM reception was very good until it "went south". As you stated, FM was and continues to be great.

There is an antenna amplifier module that, as I understand it, processes the second FM (diversity) antenna, the antenna for remote access, and the AM antenna. This is the component I suspect has failed. The side window antenna feeds this module with two wires, then the coax cables exit the module to the radio. My 528i is a touring, and access is very simple. I had to simply remove the plastic trim piece that is in the rear driver's side corner. The amplifier module is adjacent to the rear side window. I think a replacement module runs in the $250 range. BTW -The Bentley manual describes locations, part numbers and how to remove the radio/head unit (very easy - just need a small torx or hex wrench).

I'd be interested in knowing if anyone can confirm that this module does indeed amplify the AM signal - and if it has been known to cause these symptoms.
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  #12  
Old 09-29-2005, 02:55 PM
ChocolateLab ChocolateLab is offline
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Thanks, Bob... Since I posted this, I found some PDF files on openbmw.com that show what to do:

http://www.openbmw.com/downloads/65%...0Reception.pdf

Actually, this was the first pdf I saw, and when I tried to remove the panel, it wasn't so easy. I gave up pretty quickly for fear of breaking something.

Then later, I saw another bulletin that showed in more detail how to remove the panel. Seems that you have to take off the light first and remove some screws inside, which was probably my problem before. I haven't tried it yet, but I think I will this afternoon.

Maybe I'll get lucky and be able to just tighten those coax connections, but the part may have failed like you say. And something you said got my attention: That this also controls keyless remote reception. Both my keys have failed and although they're old, they shouldn't have stopped working completely. I wonder if this is the reason.
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  #13  
Old 09-29-2005, 03:38 PM
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540 M-Sport 540 M-Sport is offline
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Details on c-pillar trim removal:

7. Remove the lamp units in each C pillar panel by pulling from the top of the lamp assembly. Disconnect the wiring and remove completely.
8. Remove each c pillar panel (the grey/tan panels) by pulling out above the light hole and pull towards the inside of the car. You will notice small plastic tabs along the upper edge that have to go back into the slots on the window frame when you reinstall.
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  #14  
Old 09-30-2005, 10:21 AM
Bob Michaels Bob Michaels is offline
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I have a few more bits of "data".

While driving, listening to a marginal AM station - I had a few occasions when the signal improved briefly then reverted back to as it had been. Each time this occurred, there was a strong static/scratchy noise - just like if there is a bad connection somewhere. Perhaps the previously mentioned continuity test on the AM coax is in order. I may also check the amplifier unit, if it can be opened up I will look for some bad solder joints. I'm like you guys, I don't really like removing trim pieces for fear that something will break. Probably be best to work with the plastic while it's still relatively warm outside....

I'm wondering if using a walkman with good AM along with one of those FM transmitters (for IPOD etc.) might be a cheaper/easier alternative to replacing the amplifier module.

Bob
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  #15  
Old 09-30-2005, 10:36 AM
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540 M-Sport 540 M-Sport is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bob Michaels
I'm wondering if using a walkman with good AM along with one of those FM transmitters (for IPOD etc.) might be a cheaper/easier alternative to replacing the amplifier module.

Bob
Bob,
That is incredibly cheap in my book....but pretty foolish too. So, rather than actually fix your radio, you rather have two other battery operated devices placed; I don't know, on the passenger seat? You are going to reach around and find this Walkman to change the channel or surf?

Maybe I'm a sucker, but I would just take the car to the dealer, get it fixed and take my lumps ($$$). (You most likely just need a new radio) That way I can get on with other things and start enjoying my car once again.

PS: I've had the c-pillars off when I was performing the "M-Audio Upgrade" on my car, they are not at all difficult to remove or install. FWIW

Last edited by 540 M-Sport; 09-30-2005 at 10:39 AM.
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  #16  
Old 09-30-2005, 02:28 PM
Bob Michaels Bob Michaels is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ChocolateLab
Thanks, Bob... Since I posted this, I found some PDF files on openbmw.com that show what to do:

http://www.openbmw.com/downloads/65%...0Reception.pdf

Actually, this was the first pdf I saw, and when I tried to remove the panel, it wasn't so easy. I gave up pretty quickly for fear of breaking something.

Then later, I saw another bulletin that showed in more detail how to remove the panel. Seems that you have to take off the light first and remove some screws inside, which was probably my problem before. I haven't tried it yet, but I think I will this afternoon.

Maybe I'll get lucky and be able to just tighten those coax connections, but the part may have failed like you say. And something you said got my attention: That this also controls keyless remote reception. Both my keys have failed and although they're old, they shouldn't have stopped working completely. I wonder if this is the reason.
Thanks for the link to openbmw - some interesting stuff there.

The loss of AM signal AND remote makes the amplifier module a prime suspect. Since the FM uses two antennas (hence, "diversity") the rear window antenna may be getting good enough reception that you wouldn't notice loss of the side antenna. Hopefully it's just a loosened wire.

I managed to check the coax cables from the head unit to the antenna module - they seem to be OK.

If you end up replacing the amplifier module, could you post what the price was - I seem to remember $200-300 range for the part. I'm sure my local dealer would round up to $500...
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  #17  
Old 10-18-2005, 11:22 PM
Aussie528i Aussie528i is offline
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Similar problem in reverse

I'm a newby to this forum and pretty new to BMW's too. My problem, and hence my searching forums like this one, is similar to this one but not quite - my AM reception is fine, it's FM that's a problem. On FM, my reception keeps cutting in and out - either precluded by crackling and static noise then just dropping out all together. Starting the car might mean reception is fine from the outset, then drop out or no reception whatsoever.

Any clues?
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  #18  
Old 10-19-2005, 04:54 AM
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chivas chivas is offline
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the kick in the teeth with my AM reception is that i get ground noise.. yep, that RPM related whine when i'm in the lower deck of the bridges. hard static and ground noise. i'm actually inclined to tap into the AM reception line and use the car's chassis as an antenna by "wiring" them together.
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  #19  
Old 10-19-2005, 07:58 AM
ChocolateLab ChocolateLab is offline
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Well, I finally worked up the nerve to really try to get that c-pillar panel off so I could get access to the amplifier. I simply pried harder on the lamp housing and then the panel itself, and it popped right off. I was just afraid to break something before, and was being too gentle.

But I guess I got lucky, because when I got access to the amp and tighteted the coax, I turned on the radio to hear how I was affecting reception, and my AM was perfect. No noise at all and reception was dramatically improved. I'm not a big AM listener, but I'm pretty sure I was picking up more stations than I ever got before. (I did also take the trim around my radio off and blow some compressed air back there, but I didn't actually unscrew and move the radio at all, so I doubt that's what did it.)

I know a little something about radio, and I'm shocked that this made such a difference. The noise before was truly awful, like something you'd use to get information out of a captured terrorist. Now, by slightly jostling the amp or the coax or whatever I did, it's gone from that torture to absolutely fine. If the antenna had lost connection, I wouldn't have much signal, but I don't see why all that noise was there before.

And I'm still wondering if I wouldn't get even better reception with an aftermarket radio.

I hope you guys get your problems worked out. I'll still be checking this thread because I think this is a fairly common problem that doesn't seem to get a lot of discussion.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bob Michaels
Thanks for the link to openbmw - some interesting stuff there.

The loss of AM signal AND remote makes the amplifier module a prime suspect. Since the FM uses two antennas (hence, "diversity") the rear window antenna may be getting good enough reception that you wouldn't notice loss of the side antenna. Hopefully it's just a loosened wire.

I managed to check the coax cables from the head unit to the antenna module - they seem to be OK.

If you end up replacing the amplifier module, could you post what the price was - I seem to remember $200-300 range for the part. I'm sure my local dealer would round up to $500...
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  #20  
Old 10-19-2005, 10:32 AM
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540 M-Sport 540 M-Sport is offline
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Thanks for the follow up post!
A great product I have used for the past few years for improving and enhancing electrical connections is Stabilant 22A. It is widely used by car manufacturers, and was not surprised to learn my local BMW dealer uses it as well. It can be purchased at any VW dealer or NAPA store, though I find that most will have to order it, as they don't normally stock it. Expensive...tiny bottle is about $50! But is a great product.

Here is one online source:
http://ricambiamerica.com/product_in...2ef811ec47a579

They have a cheesy website, but here it is:
http://www.stabilant.com/

Treating connections could prevent them from becoming "intermittent" in the future. Great for use in hard to access locations.
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  #21  
Old 11-10-2005, 09:22 AM
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Problem fixed! Give me a cigar

Quote:
Originally Posted by ChocolateLab
Thanks, Bob... Since I posted this, I found some PDF files on openbmw.com that show what to do:

http://www.openbmw.com/downloads/65%...0Reception.pdf

Actually, this was the first pdf I saw, and when I tried to remove the panel, it wasn't so easy. I gave up pretty quickly for fear of breaking something.

Then later, I saw another bulletin that showed in more detail how to remove the panel. Seems that you have to take off the light first and remove some screws inside, which was probably my problem before. I haven't tried it yet, but I think I will this afternoon.

Maybe I'll get lucky and be able to just tighten those coax connections, but the part may have failed like you say. And something you said got my attention: That this also controls keyless remote reception. Both my keys have failed and although they're old, they shouldn't have stopped working completely. I wonder if this is the reason.


OK, let me just say this was the second best advice I have ever received--after, "Yes. you should marry Valerie"

A problem that had been plaguing me for 9 months was fixed in 10 minutes of my lunch hour, at no cost and using no tools other than my fingers. I can finally get decent AM reception w/out interference.

Thanks for including the "don't be afraid to yank on it" direction--I certainly would have stopped short if you hadn't said that.

My own experience on my 2001 325xi is that the lamp doesn't have to be removed before taking out the C-Pillar, but, once the C-Pillar is removed the lamp does have to be disconnected in order to get room to manuver to the cable. Mine wasn't loose by much--I barely tightened it--but the difference in reception is dramatic.

Thanks again for the post!

Sean
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  #22  
Old 11-10-2005, 01:09 PM
ChocolateLab ChocolateLab is offline
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Great, Sean, glad I could contribute.

I've posted the same fix on other boards and gotten similar reactions there, so this must be a fairly common problem. Isn't it odd that a threaded cable which is screwed in like that could lose connection over time just from typical road bumps?
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  #23  
Old 10-19-2006, 11:21 PM
RedOctober RedOctober is offline
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same deal

Hi, I've got a 1999 bmw e46 and I had the EXACT same problem. BAD static that made me want to cry, pitch increased with accelleration, only local AM stations etc etc. I ran across this forum on bimmerforums and there were some sketchy answers and scattered details but nothing like the link posted about half way up from here. That link is my new God, I worship it! I lay the printed pdf papers on the ground and bow to them while facing east. This is a common BMW problem, which is SHOCKING! German engineers are supposed to be the best in the world, c'mon guys, lets fix this bug! I hope everyone here got the same success that I did with a little research and a little (lot) of hard work trying to figure this whole thing out. My AM reception is repaired and I am a happy camper. No more accelleration noise and no more static on stations that used to come in crystal clear. Im getting San Francisco stations IN San Francisco again lol! YAY! Thank you all! *bows and kisses everyones feet*
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  #24  
Old 10-20-2006, 09:29 AM
Bradleyjs Bradleyjs is offline
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My AM sucks - and that's all that I listen too (Talk Radio/Sports). The dealer wouldn't fix it under the CPO so I've been dealing with it for almost 5 years now.

It's good one day and bad the next and it's not even station unique.

My Equipment: In-dash Tape/AM/FM - 6 CD Changer in the trunk.
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Old 09-22-2007, 09:21 AM
ItsMe ItsMe is offline
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I just performed the Connection Wiggle/ReConnect procedure and my noise and squeal (it was like a siren (not necessarily related to RPM's)) have been almost eliminated...I can still hear a very light low hum on a certain station if I listen very closely but it seems to settle to almost non existant if not non existant and that might even reduce/go away over time. My AM is listenable! Great tips everyone! Thanks!

I cant imagine how the deler would charge so much for labor in replacing that AM antenna amplifier. It takes only minutes to remove the pillar unhook the connections and unscrew the screws holding the amplifier in (providing you have the star wrench or whatever bit would work for those screws) and swap it out and reassmble. Then if its something you have already done like a dealer would have probably, it shoudl be even faster. Why would this not be a 15 minute labor charge max?

I did not have to change out my amplifier but I did watch for the suspect connection. In my case, it seemed to be the second coax connector (there are two coax cables that plug into the bottom) the one that was closest to the window/Rear. I think it may have been a gray cable but couodnt guarantee it...Should have paid more attention. When I even loosened the connection, the squealing began and increased. When it was off...If I remember correctly...I think I lost the signal...but not the squeal. In any case, tightening that up has made so much difference and it was not even sloppy loose in the first place. I did not disconnect my battery when I played with this...I dont know if that was a good idea as some people have suggested you should disconnect the negative terminal whenever doing anything with these connections...I hope I didnt damage anything

By the way, getting the pillar off was simple in my case. I have a 2000 528i. This is how I did it...It may not be the correct or best way but it was easy for me...

I was able to reach behind the pillar from the top and push the light section out from the rear and disconnect it. The light on my car had friction lever type clips on top that push off and angled clips on the bottom...It rocks on the angle clips on the bottom and pushes on and pulls off from the top. If you do this (reaching behind the top of the pillar) try to be careful that you dont bend your pillar though...I did not damage mine this way however I would not guarantee it could not be damaged doing this way if not careful I guess. Then with the light out its easier to release the 2 clips that hold it on. There are some angle clips in the rear that kind of rock into their respective channels and the black strip in the front (That goes around the rear side window) that fits over the edge. Once its off you have pretty easy access to all the connections. Reassembly was not bad either...just try to make sure all the wires are routed ok and all the clips/connections/strips all go back into place properly.

This was so easy, I did the same to the other side...I think that has the trap in it (whataver that is)?

Thanks again for the info everyone!
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