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32 Posts
Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
I wanted to have full leather on my door panels, but also wanted to retain the muti-tone color scheme in the car (cream beige/black). Since I was also upgrading the car to have rear sunshades, I went after door panels that also allow me to install those. In case you are wondering, that means the REAR door panels will have no chrome strip at the top - since the chrome is associated with the assembly containing the window shades. This job entails doing the following:
1) Removing your door panels
2) Dremeling off how the panel inserts are attached
3) Reattaching the panels
4) Doing so without breaking stuff

Here is what the door panels look like before:

The items needed to complete this job (assuming you have removed the door panels) are:
1) Dremel with attachment flat on the end
2) Hand drill with 1/16" bit

You could use a power drill, but I don't think you'd have nearly enough control over the "feel" of how deep to drill into the plastic. All that is needed is a very shallow guide hole to get your screw started.

3) Fasteners, consisting of #4 screws 3/8", #6 flat washer, #10 Bonded washer

The bonded washers give a good snug up against the back of the door panel, and the washer in between them help makes the depth about 1/4". I also chose the bonded washer to help ensure no rattling around if something loosens up, although I will also be installing a sound deadening layer of SecondSkin over the top of these before putting them back in the car - so they will not move at all, or vibrate loose.

The pitfalls to avoid are, of course, breaking stuff we shouldn't break when taking this apart. To that end, items that need to be removed from the armrest itself are:

FIRST: Remove the window switch. Make sure that you place a cloth between the items to keep them scratch free. Make sure you are pushing up where highlighted, in the corner of the controller and then slip an old credit card under the back to help get it out.

Make sure to lift out the controller from the rear, and pulling it out backward so you don't break off the tab that seats the controller at the front

SECOND: Remove the leather arm rest panel. It was easier to get the back to come up on one side, but the key is that these are being pushed up thru the holes that secure the door panel to the car, not just trying to pull them off. Doing that may result in breaking off the plastic tab that secures them to the "bed" piece (the titanium plastic piece they sit on).

THIRD: Now we need to remove the wood trim piece. There are 5 Torx screws (#27, I think) that need to be removed. The wood piece also hides 2 screws that hold on the plastic base piece, that can't come off without those being removed as well.

The wood piece is held in by the small plastic receiver tabs here on the front, and these two metal mounts on the backing of the wood. Once these are seated, the back of the piece also has a little slot it slides into that can't be engaged until the front is properly seated. Removing it, we slide out the back of the wood first (pulling it slightly away from the panel), and then push the wood forward, parallel with the panel so the metal tabs clear the receivers.

Next, we also need to remove the light strip, and also the vent on the front of the door that acts as the conduit for air to the back seat. These have a few little tricky connectors that are easy to miss, and also break.

After unscrewing the 7 screws holding on the light strip, it needs to be tilted from the back up (the thin side), and towards the vent, so the little tabs that seat in the vent don't get broken. Now, we are pretty much ready for Dremeling off all the plastic tabs holding on the panels. Flipping over the panel, we can see that these are all heat melted fasteners that are shrunk up to the wood/fiber substrate of the door.

The black ones connect the panel insert, the gray ones hold on the base where the armrest, window switch, and wood trim are attached. We need to remove them all!! (NOTE: I was removing the plastic titanium colored base pieces because the ones on the donor cards were scratched, and the ones on my original cards were in perfect shape. You DON'T have to remove the lower base to get the inserts out, but do need to be careful when removing to not break/bend several small pins that help to align both the leather arm rest piece, and the window switch controller)

By holding the Dremel vertically (I used both hands to control the bit), just work it back and forth until all of the plastic is ground away. You want the top of the plastic to be flush with the substrate material. You know when you are going too deep if you start smelling burning wood -- you need to ease up and make sure you are only grinding away plastic since you need to have a good surface to be able to attach back in the insert. Make sure that you wear safety glasses and a long-sleeved shirt. The little, melted plastic bits will be flying around.

After all the tabs have been ground off, it looks something like this

At this point, you might be tempted to pull off the panel to look at your handy work. DON'T - Now is the perfect time to actually drill all of the pilot holes for how we are going to reattach the insert. The remaining tabs that are on the back of the insert are not deep on many of them, so using the hand drill, center up on the ground plastic where we want the screw-washer-bonded washer combo to go back in.

A few turns on the hand drill, and you're done

I transferred over the insert to the "new" door panels that are full leather. Make note that if the material isn't stitched, it's not actual leather. There are many folks selling panels that only have the insert part actually being leather, so watch out.

On the front doors, the plastic carrier has a small slot that when you are reattaching the insert, you need to make sure that the insert goes in FRONT of the plastic tab - otherwise, you will not be able to properly remount your window switch -

This is the insert piece correctly seated against that tab.

Now, the fun part of reattaching all of the screws of the panel:

There are like 30 of them, so sit down in front of a baseball/football game with a nice drink, and have at screwing them back in. You can tighten these down fairly firm, but let's not forget that these are plastic, so don't go crazy tight on them (or try to, they WILL break with too much pressure).

The finished back of the door panel will now look like this:

And the finished, all-leather door panel back on the car now looks like this:

Each door took about an hour to do, obviously, you will get better the more you do it !!


436 Posts
Great write up!

I did this about a year ago (I also retrofitted rear shades) to individualise my colour scheme in the car.

I had a slightly different approach. Rather than using a Dremel I just used a hand drill with a 8mm (I think) drill bit at very slow speed. So slow that the torque of the drill would just break the collar of the plastic rivet off or if it did drill, it would only remove the rivet collar.

Secondly, I wouldn't recommend removing the grey rivets - you don't have to do it, once the black ones are drilled out you can easily get it out without needing to do the grey ones. Also, it provides a solid mounting point as the insert slides behind it.

Lastly, and this is a preference thing, I used an epoxy resin to reattach the panels. This was a quick operation this way and I would argue as strong as before.

Here's a picture of one I'd just drilled out and a picture of the end result. Auto part
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32 Posts
Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Good point on that. The donor cards I received had some small mars on the plastic (cracks and scratches), so they were coming off anyways - since the ones on my car were spotless.

BMW's are cool
94 Posts
Sorry to bring up an older thread but rather than start a new on I'll ask here.

I too am installing rear shades in my 750li. I was able to get donor doors so I had all the parts and wires to transfer into my car. The only problem I ran into was that my car has rear side airbags in the doors while the doors with the shades did not. So I plan on switching the door panel inserts like you guys did so that I can keep the rear airbags and have the door shades and matching door panels.

Looking at this thread I see a lot of the pictures so not show up anymore.

Sabol1 is it possible to re-upload the missing pictures so I can see how to remove the inserts? I have a good idea how to remove them with the pictures that do show up however I like to be thorough with seeing your procedure.
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