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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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Old 02-27-2011, 01:21 PM
Josh P.'s Avatar
Josh P. Josh P. is offline
Location: Philly
Join Date: Jul 2009
Posts: 1,691
Mein Auto: 2001 530 SP/PP/CWP/Slush
Broken Seat Switch, Permanent Fix DIY

This is meant to be a supplement to this DIY, which shows how to glue the female end of the connector back together, but does not help if the whole locking lever is broken; and also to QSilver's excellent repair DIY (referenced below.)

The seat switch module controls the forward/backward movement of the seat itself; the movement of the backrest; the movement of the headrest, and the movement of the steering wheel. Because of a poor design, if the plastic trim piece that surrounds the seat becomes loose (see below), then the female and male ends of the module separate. Eventually, the female end breaks...or the locking lever breaks...or both break, and the even the slightest movement of the trim piece will pull the two ends apart.

Result: no seat or steering wheel adjustment, and no seat memory function.

In my case, since the white locking tab was broken, even when I took the whole trim piece off and stuck the two halves back together, the two ends would work their way loose.

Thus, I wanted a permanent fix that did not require replacing the connectors.

Step 1.
Remove the seat adjustment buttons. Use a wide flat blade screwdriver to pry them straight off. Or a damp cloth to pull them off.

Step 2:
Remove the two #30 Torx screws, one one the front of the trim piece and one on top (borrowing these images from QSilver's writeup on BimmerforumsDIY)

The issue with the one on top is that it's not accessible unless the seat back is reclined, which is impossible if the switch is not working. So, you may need to remove most of the trim section, press the halves of the connector together until you have power, then recline the seat back and remove the screw.

Step 3: Remove the plastic rivets, of which there are three:

Be careful to keep them intact.

Here's an image of the male end with the broken locking lever. Once this piece is broken, there's no easy way to repair it:

Here's the female end, with the standard broken part:

Step 4

I placed the broken section of the female end back where it belonged, connected the two halves, then wrapped the entire thing tightly with electrical tape:

After that, I clamped the whole thing together with a zip tie:

Step 5
In my case, I had another problem: the metal tab at the front of the trim piece that the front Torx screw held had cracked and disappeared: this was the reason the trim piece got loose in the first place and caused all the trouble:

My solution was to glue a washer on this area with Gorilla Glue and then put the Torx screw through it, then tighten it down:

I'm not totally convinced this will hold forever, but it beats buying an entire new trim panel.

Of course, my neighbors started making cracks about "fixing my fancy BMW with Gorilla Glue" but hey, whatever works!

Step 6:
Put everything back in reverse order, then press the switches back into place.

Now, even if the trim piece comes loose, the two sides of the connector should not separate; there's enough slack in the wiring for a little play, should the loose trim piece pull on it a bit.

That's it, hope this helps someone else.

Thanks to Q for the excellent write up.

2001 530 Steel Blue Metallic, purchased Dec 03
SP/PP/CWP/Slushbox (I know I know)

OEM M5 bumper, 40% Huper Optik ceramic tint, Dice Silverline Pro iPod adapter, 540SP radial spokes, Zimmerman Z-Coat rotors w/ Hawk HPS pads
"Mods": driveshaft, cooling system, Vanos, CCV, PSR, VCG, FSU, spark plugs, buncha belts-n-hoses, & other things I'd just as soon forget

BMW CCA member for 15 years

Last edited by Josh P.; 02-27-2011 at 04:38 PM.
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Old 02-27-2011, 01:39 PM
bluebee's Avatar
bluebee bluebee is offline
Seek to understand,^Value
Location: San Jose, California
Join Date: Mar 2008
Posts: 22,412
Mein Auto: 02 BMW 525i M54 auto 130K
Originally Posted by Josh P. View Post
This is meant to be a supplement to this DIY, which shows how to glue the female end of the connector back together, but does not help if the whole locking lever is broken; and also to QSilver's excellent repair DIY (referenced below.)
I recognize some of those pics as mine!

Good work!

So that every thread improves our tribal knowledge base, let's organize the best DIYs for future reference.

Here is what is currently in the VERY best of E39 Links thread:
- SEAT & STEERING WHEEL CONTROLLER BREAK OFF: seat covers that don't protect switches for both the steering wheel tilt & driver's seat control (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6) (7) (8)

Looking at each of those, and adding yours, and re-arranging in order based on utility to newbies ...

These seem to be the best, in this order, for the seat switch repair itself:
- DIY on the Notorious Seat Switch by Qsilver7
- Broken Seat Switch, Permanent Fix DIY, by Josh P.
- Tips and suggestions for replacing destroyed E39 driver seat adjustment control panel, by bluebee
- Seat Switch Repair DIY, & Driver's Seat and Steering Wheel Adjustment Gremlins..., by NoTempoLimit
- Power seat switch failure, by Prof
- How to replace the Seat Trim on an e38 (For those who love pics!), by IBHenry
- Aluminum reinforcement of plastic trim on the front seats, by DavidC

And, these seem to be of interest, being related to the seat-switch-related steering wheel anomalies:
- Calling QSilver! Which connection in the sterring column...., by Al's 540i
- telescoping steering wheel, by mmoghbelli
- Telescopic steering wheel malfunction, by shockler

So, putting it all together, in what looked like to me to be the best order, (in a keyword-rich short sentence) we get something like this (please review):
- SEAT & STEERING WHEEL CONTROLLER BREAK OFF: seat covers that don't protect the seat control switch handling both manual & automatic driver seat control (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6) (7) (8) & the related automatic steering wheel tilt (1) (2) (3)

As far as I know (please review), these are the best references for the master seat control switch DIY.
I just put 'em in the VERY best of E39 Links thread for others to benefit from in the future (as always).

Last edited by bluebee; 02-27-2011 at 02:14 PM.
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Old 02-27-2011, 03:35 PM
QSilver7's Avatar
QSilver7 QSilver7 is online now
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Location: Northeast Indiana
Join Date: Aug 2008
Posts: 6,300
Mein Auto: 1997 740iL / 2006 X5 4.4
Nice write-up. And what's really funny...I had to click the link to "my" DIY. I didn't even remember doing it...I had to click the link to see what you were referring to.

I guess because I reply to this problem and it's companion issues a lot ("my steering wheel doesn't work anymore")...I assumed you were referring to me making some comments with a couple of pic thrown in for good measure. Geez...I'm getting old...my memory is fading.
Q {BMW CCA Member #191509}
2006 E53 X5 4.4i (Sterling Gray) 12/05 mfg date <<~>> 97 740iL (Arctic Silver) 3/97 mfg date
99 540iT (Orient Blue) <<~>> 95 525IT (Alpine White)
91 735iL (Schwarz Black) <<~>> 85 325e (Bronzit)

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