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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 07-02-2011, 01:04 AM
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DIY: How to remove the center brake light (3rd brake light) bulb in the 2002 525i E39

This thread is opened in response to questions posed in this thread today:
- E39 (1997 - 2003) > fog lights and center brake light

Basically, I couldn't comprehend the "just release the bulb cover" instructions that were provided in that thread when someone asked how to access the third brakelight bulb.

Apparently, I'm not the only one befuddled by the simplistic instructions:
- E39 (1997 - 2003) > Rear Center Brake Light
  1. Quote:
    Is it really necessary to completely take apart the back of the car to replace the center brake bulb?
  2. Quote:
    No, just open your trunk. You just need to slide the cover off and remove/insert bulb.
  3. Quote:
    I can undo the small screw and the cover comes loose, but it doesn't slide out. Is there a trick?
    • After which, the OP clarifies his confusion with the question, rephrased as:
    • Quote:
      Directly below the bulb is a small black wedge shaped cover, held in place with a single small phillips screw. I undo the screw the cover slides around, but does not appear to have any way to come out. What am I missing?
  4. At which point, the thread just ends.
Likewise with this thread:
- E39 (1997 - 2003) > How do I replace the center brake light bulb in the rear window?

The OP asks how to access the 3rd brakelight - and - the response is ... absolutely nothing.

The confusion is also apparent in this thread:
- E39 (1997 - 2003) > Check Rear Lights?????

Where, one poster, after looking, still asks:
Quote:
Any ideas on how to change the ones in the back window....I can see the door but dose that fixture just drop out the bottom?
And, yet another poster, also after looking, similarly asks:
Quote:
Just looked and mine's a solid piece from the inside. This has to be done from inside the trunk....is that right?
It turns out, just as with the license plate light, accessing the center brakelight bulb assembly is embarrassingly 'obvious' only after you've actually done it:
- Replacing/fixing/removing the rear license plate light

So, to add value to the tribal knowledge in this forum, below is a more-detailed-than-probably-necessary DIY to remove and replace your BMW E39 third (center) brake light bulb & bulb socket (which apparently is often melted by the time you access it).

As always, please improve the value by adding details.

EDIT: For example, given that this socket apparently frequently melts, and that BMW has superceded the bulb part number more than once, it's imperative that we clarify the exact part number (often said to be a Sylvania Osram #7506 halogen bulb - and always said to be silver-based rather than brass - so - the bulb choice might actually be the problem with the melted sockets).
- Q: There are three bulb part numbers in Realoem, only one which was superceded. What's the proper bulb part number?
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Last edited by bluebee; 07-02-2011 at 04:10 AM.
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  #2  
Old 07-02-2011, 01:13 AM
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The first step, as always, is to do a bit of research (specifically to see if a step-by-step DIY already exists on Bimmerfest or elsewhere).

Unfortunately, there was nothing in the VERY best of E39 Links so I did the typical Bimmerfest search which revealed some potentially confusing "details", e.g.,
- Some BMWs force you to remove the parcel shelf to access the 3rd brakelight
- Many threads caution against brass bulb bases in favor of "silvered" (yet, mine is clearly encased in plastic - or maybe MELTED in plastic as the case may be)
- Most DIYs intimate the bulb removal is trivial; but - it wasn't immediate obvious to me (nor to many of the equally clueless posters).

Here are, for the record, the results from my initial Bimmerfest searches:

Quote:
Searching Bimmerfest for "E39 Center Brake Light" & "3rd Brake Light", I find a lot of chaff, e.g.:
- Check brake lights ***
- which bulb is burnt out
- Rear Center Brake Light
- 3rd Brake Light Problem E39
- center brake light
- Check Rear Lights?????
- Rear Brake light icon came on today...
- Rear lamp warning display is on in my BMW 528i

None of which were DIYs but this one gave a cryptic warning:
- Check Brake Light
"If you bought the bulbs from Autozone, make sure they're the one's with the silver color base, not the copper color."

I wondered why "silver" and not "copper" color - so I kept searching 'till I found this:
- E39 (1997 - 2003) > How to turn off stoplight out warning on dash?
"do not use the brass based bulbs"

Still, that explained nothing until I saw this from chiefwej in that same thread:
"the resistance reading can be so sensitive that you have to clean the contacts and you can't use a brass based bulb. On my 03 I get a "check brake light" warning if I don't use a stainless based bulb"Googling, I find in the other forum:
- E39 Replacing center/rear brake light (where you access from the trunk)
- E36 DIY: Removing the third brake light (where you remove the parcel shelf)
- E39 How do I replace the center brake light bulb in the rear window?

Where QSilver7 says to look in the owners manual and others say it's in the trunk and easy to access (I had never looked before). People have said it's hard to get out (you don't know when to stop turning).

Unfortunately, most of the pictures in those bimmerforums threads are locked to non registered users ... so I guess I'll just post my own here.

Here is one unlocked picture from QSilver7's post in that forum:
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Last edited by bluebee; 07-02-2011 at 01:15 AM.
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  #3  
Old 07-02-2011, 01:18 AM
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Then, of course, I went to the on-line owners manual.

In my case, I located the page reference comparing the cluster warning message with the PDF located at this thread:
- List of all possible BMW E39 instrument cluster text warnings & text messages

Specifically, the reference was:
Quote:
CHECK BRAKE LIGHTS = P2 = A lamp has failed or the electrical circuit has a fault. Refer to pages 126 & 132 of the owners manual
Unfortunately, while the owners manual is correct, unless you've done it before, I would say that the picture and description is, shall we say, somewhat lacking in clarity.

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  #4  
Old 07-02-2011, 01:20 AM
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The next step was to open the trunk, crawl inside, head first, feet in the air, back on the trunk flooring, to look upward, not in the lid itself but in the part of the car underneath the rear window and rear parcel shelf, to see the black plastic "cover" under the third rear brake light itself.

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Last edited by bluebee; 07-02-2011 at 01:29 AM.
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  #5  
Old 07-02-2011, 01:21 AM
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Getting the lay of the land, at first, I couldn't figure out HOW to remove the cover plate. (Mistakenly, as it turns out), I held the entire black rectangular housing in my hands and couldn't budge it downward. I thought that was weird.

So, I (again mistakenly) removed the nut shown in this picture.

Alas, that nut merely allows you to slide the brake light assembly an inch or so forward or backward, apparently to align it with the rear window, so, in this (idealized) DIY, you would not remove that nut.

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Last edited by bluebee; 07-02-2011 at 01:37 AM.
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  #6  
Old 07-02-2011, 01:44 AM
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As with all things obvious in hindsight, the simple "trick" to accessing the center rear brake light bulb is simply to insert a 1/4 inch screwdriver (or your fingernail) into the rearward-facing slot built into the rectangular plastic assembly.

Then, you simply twist the screwdriver 90 to disengage the thin plastic bottom plate from the larger mass of the black rectangular plastic assembly.

This separates the friction fit plate from the assembly, and the plate will fall to the trunk floor by gravity.

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Last edited by bluebee; 07-02-2011 at 04:11 AM.
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  #7  
Old 07-02-2011, 01:44 AM
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You will see the bottom of the brake light bulb assembly once that thin cover plate is pried off.

You twist a quarter turn (normal counter-clockwise direction) to free the bulb assembly from the holder.

The bulb assembly, still clipped to the harness, will then fall downward by gravity as shown in the photo below.

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Last edited by bluebee; 07-02-2011 at 01:58 AM.
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  #8  
Old 07-02-2011, 01:45 AM
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Reading the numbers stamped on the black plastic bulb surrounds, we find a date wheel with "01" in the center and the arrow pointing to the number "4", probably indicating it's the original bulb holder, manufactured in April 2001 for this November 2001 build date 2002 BMW 525i.

Also, we see "BMW8364780", "178 056", "32CP", "P21W", which probably correspond to the part number, candlepower, and wattage.

I unclipped the harness connector by squeezing at the outside of the "ears" and pulling apart the brake light assembly from the harness connector.

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Last edited by bluebee; 07-02-2011 at 02:13 AM.
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Old 07-02-2011, 01:45 AM
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Comparing those numbers to Realoem (Lighting => Third stoplamp), we find that the bulb and the "bulb socket" are separate parts (even though mine seem to be melted as one):
Quote:
03 Longlife bulb 12V 21W 1 63217160790 $2.38
04 Bulb socket 1 63258375599 $5.40
Interestingly, no number matches "BMW8364780"; but googling reveals Crevier BMW posts in other forums which intimate it's the part number for the socket (even though Realoem lists a different part number for the socket).

Notice that BMW superceded the original bulb part number (07509063574) at least once (63216926920) and maybe even twice (63217160790) - which may be due to the melting you see in my bulb housing (63258375599).

Do we know why BMW changed bulb part numbers & what the differences may be between them?

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Last edited by bluebee; 07-02-2011 at 07:34 AM.
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Old 07-02-2011, 02:16 AM
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What you're left with, after you unclip the rabbit-eared harness connector is the bulb and bulb assembly (in my case, melted together) in your hand, and the harness clip dangling from the vehicle.

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Last edited by bluebee; 07-02-2011 at 02:52 AM.
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  #11  
Old 07-02-2011, 02:16 AM
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Try as I might, I wasn't able to disengage the 3rd brakelight bulb from the plastic bulb socket (for example, to determine if it's brass or silvered).

I can wiggle it. But the bulb won't come out of the melted bulb socket.

Can someone without a melted socket tell me what's the bulb removal method from the bulb socket?

Is it a press and twist? Is it a pull-straight-out?

(I read all the DIYs quoted and none seem to say how to remove the bulb itself from the surrounding bulb socket - and - the realoem picture offers no clues.)


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Last edited by bluebee; 07-02-2011 at 03:00 AM.
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Old 07-02-2011, 07:33 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by bluebee View Post
Try as I might, I wasn't able to disengage the 3rd brakelight bulb from the plastic bulb socket (for example, to determine if it's brass or silvered).
This thread intimates the bulb part number is SYLVANIA/OSRAM #7506:
- E39 (1997 - 2003) > Rear Brake light icon came on today...

Looking up that well-known bulb, I see it's the push-down-and-twist-to-the-side type bulb.

I'm assuming that isn't working for me because of the melted bulb socket.

The main unanswered question is WHY is the bulb socket melting (it seems to melt on quite a few people).

Coupled with the fact that BMW superceded the bulb part number numerous times, I wonder if the Sylvania 7506 is really the right bulb or not.

Do we know 'why' the center brake light bulb socket tends to melt?

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  #13  
Old 07-04-2011, 07:12 PM
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In response to the CHECK BRAKE LIGHTS cue on my instrument cluster yesterday, I checked and found that this 3rd brake lamp was in fact the culprit. Proceeding to open the rear deck trap door and extracting the bulb, I found EXACTLY WHAT YOU HAVE POSTED ABOVE!!!
The bulb was melted into the base of the socket. I did not have the visible melting at the top edge as shown here, but the bulb was clearly fused into the base of the socket. So I too will be ordering a new socket.

Thanks for these helpful photos; I felt better knowing it wasn't unique to my car.
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Old 07-04-2011, 08:39 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ZeroDfx View Post
I found EXACTLY WHAT YOU HAVE POSTED ABOVE!!! The bulb was melted into the base of the socket.
Thanks for replying. I was wondering why nobody answered my request for why the bulb sockets are melting when the correct (in my case the OEM) bulbs are in the socket.

It's not like there's any way we can over-use the brakes; so, it must be a design flaw of some magnitude.

Do you have a picture of your melted socket?

I think it's time we started collecting them, as this isn't listed in the top-30 common repair items in the BMW E39, but, it seems, from the prevalence, that it should be.
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Old 07-04-2011, 11:12 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by bluebee View Post
Thanks for replying. I was wondering why nobody answered my request for why the bulb sockets are melting when the correct (in my case the OEM) bulbs are in the socket.

It's not like there's any way we can over-use the brakes; so, it must be a design flaw of some magnitude.

Do you have a picture of your melted socket?

I think it's time we started collecting them, as this isn't listed in the top-30 common repair items in the BMW E39, but, it seems, from the prevalence, that it should be.

I replaced my 3rd brake light bulb a few months ago and it was melted too. I ended up removing the old bulb by bashing the old bulb glass with a hammer, then using needlenose pliers to twist/rip apart the metal part of the old bulb. I didn't take a photo at the time, but I probably can in the morning. I assume these are cheap parts to replace?

I think that maybe part of the problem is the high heat from both sitting in the sun (the rest of the lights are not in the cabin and more vertical in nature) and maybe difference in plastics. The side stop lights are made of whitish plastic, while the 3rd one is made in black, which probably absorbs heat better?

Last edited by nyclad; 07-04-2011 at 11:13 PM.
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Old 07-05-2011, 06:10 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by nyclad View Post
part of the problem is the high heat from both sitting in the sun ... and maybe difference in plastics.
In the absence of a better reason, let's go with that.

Of course, the high heat and need for thermoplastic should have been obvious to the BMW engineers.

I wonder why they changed the bulb specification two or three times.
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Old 07-05-2011, 06:19 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by bluebee View Post
the high heat and need for thermoplastic should have been obvious to the BMW engineers
For some, it looks like the high heat might have destroyed the entire assembly:
- E39 (1997 - 2003) > center brake light

Quote:
Originally Posted by Freestyler View Post
...you need to remove the rear deck to get to the brake light.
To remove the rear deck, you need to remove the C-pillar covers.
To remove the covers, you need to remove the rear seat back.
To remove the rear seat back, you need to remove the lower seat.
To remove the lower seat, you need to remove the door seals.
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Old 07-05-2011, 10:18 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by bluebee View Post
Do you have a picture of your melted socket? .
I will take a picture and post it this evening. I also had to break the bulb but was unable to extract the metal casing from the socket even with needle nose pliers. The metal base of the bulb proceeded to disintegrate piece by piece as i attempted to twist it and pull it out. I will definitely need a new socket.
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Old 07-05-2011, 05:10 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ZeroDfx View Post
I will definitely need a new socket.
My experience also.

Please 'do' snap a picture for us, as we need to get to the bottom of this.

As for the socket, let us know where you buy it and how much so we can start a new database - but - more importantly - what bulb you used (and if you can ever figure out what bulb 'was' in there, that would be important).

The reason I focus on the bulb is:
  1. These things are burning up for 'some' reason
  2. BMW has ENDED the first bulb (at shown by Realoem for my car)
  3. BMW listed two more bulbs (confusingly, both apparently active)
  4. Many use the Sylvania 7506 (Osram 7506) instead of BMW OEM
  5. Many report problems with brass-base bulbs
So, it seems to me, either the socket is just poorly designed, period.

Or, that the socket is VERY SENSITIVE to the bulb!

Therefore, it behooves us to figure out, anecdotally, WHICH BULBS are failing; and, we need to know which bulbs to buy.
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Old 07-05-2011, 07:30 PM
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No need to spend inordinate amounts of time on this....simply use the correct 7506 bulb (which has the correct nickel plating), and if the socket is melted, get the latest version from the dealer (why even bother trying to remove the bulb or reused the melted socket?). You have little choice in what bulb to use, as the LCM will show a "brake light out" displayed on the gauge cluster if you use a brass based bulb, or one of a different wattage than specified. So use the correct bulb specified, and replace the socket if damaged....end of story.

(btw, the problem is mostly likely the socket...too much resistance causes heat, and the subsequent melting...I suspect the contacts are simply too small and BMW probably corrected it in later versions, as show by the newer part numbers)

I personally, have never had this problem with my car, and I have replaced the third brake light bulb a couple times over the 161k miles my 2001 540 has...

Now I HAVE had a few melted front turn signal bulbs...not the socket mind you, but the yellow bulbs plastic base. Obviously caused by the crappy bulb and socket design. The dealer says when it happens, it is best to replace the socket, as well as the bulb....which I have followed, but it continues to happen....not often...it actually takes YEARS until it melts. I have replaced the left side socket a couple times over 10 years of ownership, and the right side once. Not something I really worry much about, but I do keep a spare front turn signal socket handy in my spare parts collection, along with a spare drain bolt, oil filter rubber mounts, and oil filter o-ring, and copper drain bolt washers...
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Old 07-05-2011, 10:42 PM
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Here's the melted socket with the base of the bulb still stuck inside it.
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Old 07-06-2011, 06:08 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ZeroDfx View Post
Here's the melted socket with the base of the bulb still stuck inside it.
That's very interesting. Are you sure it was the right bulb? (It probably was, but, it's something we should check.)

Methinks, if it's the right bulb, then even the 'right' bulb is drawing too much current (based on anecdotal evidence).

This Autozone site says the bulb draws 1.9 amps.

I wonder if we put a resistor inline, to drop the current draw to, say, 1 amp, whether it would still work or not. What do you think?

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Old 07-06-2011, 06:30 PM
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I can't confirm whether it was the right bulb or not as i wasn't the one who installed it. But I received the new socket today and I'm ready to get replacement bulbs, so do I go w/ the 7506's or not?
I will likely check to see what I have in the primary brake lights; since they come as a pair, I will install the two new lights in the main lights, and take one of the removals for the 3rd brake light, assuming they are all the correct bulb.
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  #24  
Old 07-07-2011, 03:36 AM
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bluebee bluebee is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by 540 M-Sport View Post
simply use the correct 7506 bulb (which has the correct nickel plating)
My question, since a LOT of people apparently have melted sockets, and, since there are multiple 21 watt bulbs listed in Realoem, only one of which was ENDED, is whether or not the 7506 'really' is the correct replacement bulb (especially since the 7506 is reputed to be 20% higher wattage than the BMW bulb).

Quote:
Originally Posted by 540 M-Sport View Post
if the socket is melted, get the latest version from the dealer
That won't work.

The problem with that is that the "latest version" is apparently the same design as the one that melted. That is, I see no ENDED part numbers for the bulb socket; only for the bulb itself.

So, replacing the socket just pushes the tin can down the road. Solves nothing but time.

Quote:
Originally Posted by 540 M-Sport View Post
(why even bother trying to remove the bulb or reused the melted socket?).
Forensics. Knowledge. Truth.

We're trying to get to the bottom of this. It's all about forensics.

If, for example, we autopsy every future burned bulb socket, and we find that it's always the 7506 bulb (hypothetically), then, that would be an indication that the bulb is the culprit. Likewise if the bulb was always a Sylvania bulb (again, hypothetically), the culprit would be the Sylvania brand.

Just as we're trying to get to the bottom of which FSUs fail most often, it's a useful endeavor to simply identify which bulbs were found in the melted sockets.

Point is, we're NOT just trying to fix the problem. That takes no brains, and almost no effort (i.e., you just buy a new bulb and socket and you're done, as you said).

No. That's not what we're trying to do here. Here, we're trying to figure out WHY so many rear brake light sockets are melted.

That's going to be a team effort. We need data from everyone that experiences this problem, particularly what bulb is it that's melted in there. (I, for one, haven't figured out what bulb I had in there; but I suspect it's the original bulb.)

Quote:
Originally Posted by 540 M-Sport View Post
You have little choice in what bulb to use, as the LCM will show a "brake light out" displayed on the gauge cluster if you use a brass based bulb, or one of a different wattage than specified.
That's not exactly true. It's clear, since there are so many burned sockets, that we have little choice IF (and that's the problem) ... if we actually KNEW which was the 'right' bulb.

But, as far as I see, nobody knows what's the right bulb (at least nobody has proven to me they know).

Why do I say that?
- Because there are TWO different part numbers in Realoem (in addition to the ENDED number), all of which are the same wattage - so 'which bulb' is it?
  • 2002 525i --> 07509063574 12 volt, 21 watts, ENDED
  • 2002 525i --> 63216926920 12 volt, 21 watts, UP TO 12/2004
  • 2002 525i --> 63217160790 12 volt, 21 watts, no further information
- Note that the 7506, apparently, is a different wattage than specified. The 7506, according to the information above, is a 25 watt bulb - but BMW seems to specify (in Realoem) a 21 watt bulb.

That's about a 20% difference in wattage between the BMW bulb and the 7506!

Quote:
Originally Posted by 540 M-Sport View Post
So use the correct bulb specified, and replace the socket if damaged....end of story.
Not so fast. What's the correct bulb?
  • 07509063574 12 volt, 21 watts <-- it's not this 'cuz it was ENDED
  • 63216926920 12 volt, 21 watts <-- it could be this
  • 63217160790 12 volt, 21 watts <-- it could be this
  • 7506 13.5 volt, 25 watts <-- the specs don't sound right to be this
Quote:
Originally Posted by 540 M-Sport View Post
the problem is mostly likely the socket...too much resistance causes heat, and the subsequent melting...I suspect the contacts are simply too small and BMW probably corrected it in later versions, as show by the newer part numbers)
I'm not saying it's not the socket, but ... the otherwise-reasonable argument you showed doesn't seem to make sense (to me) simply because I see no evidence that BMW superseded the part number for the socket.

That is, the socket does NOT show any ENDED or newer part numbers!

In summary:
  1. It's not clear (to me, anyway) what is the cause of the problem.
  2. It's not clear (to me) what is the right bulb to purchase.
  3. It is clear that the socket needs to be replaced (with the same one).
We definitely need tribal help to narrow this enigma down to the root cause & solution.

Last edited by bluebee; 07-07-2011 at 03:55 AM.
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  #25  
Old 07-07-2011, 03:43 AM
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bluebee bluebee is offline
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Location: San Jose, California
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ZeroDfx View Post
I received the new socket today
I haven't ordered mine yet. Where did you get it from, and how much (if I may ask)?

Quote:
Originally Posted by ZeroDfx View Post
do I go w/ the 7506's or not?
From the information provided so far, the 7506 is 20% higher wattage than the BMW bulb (P/N 63216926920 or 63217160790).

So, at this point in time, it seems (based only on the data in this thread) that the 7506 is the WRONG bulb for this application. (But, we need more data to confirm or disprove that hypothesis).

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Last edited by bluebee; 07-07-2011 at 04:03 AM.
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