An Illuminating Project – Front Light Install
It’s a kind tradition in the BMW world to replace your orange blinkers with white lenses. I’m not sure where this tradition came from. Perhaps it’s just a way of selling more aftermarket parts, but it certainly makes the car look cooler!
I succumbed to white light fever a while ago when I replaced everything except the front lighting pods following the instructions on this article. The new clear rear lights looked really great. The effect of the white lights was not so much as an addition of anything, but more of a subtraction of an annoying other aspect of the car. On a black car like the Manx, it really helped to smooth out the lines. But there was still something wrong — the white lights looked great, but there were still those annoying orange ones in the front pod. They became even more annoying when I switched to yellow fog lights. Too many colors. However, at the time, the cost of replacing the front pods would have been close to $600. For that, I could live with a little annoyance.
But then things changed when BMW released the Y2k Z3’s. White lights were now standard on all Y2K Z3’s. In addition, they have decided to make the white lights available for all US models. This brought the price down to $500. Let’s see, 20% BMWCCA discount and we’re at $400. Hmmmmmmm. May be a possibility…. The final straw was when Zeroster posted that a Circle BMW was running a sale on the white lights at $344. $344! For that price I could not resist. A quick phone call and the lights were on their way to me.
The lights came about a week later. The interesting thing was that they included not only the main headlamp units, but also the various side markers (which I had already, but they’re not very expensive, so it didn’t matter — now I have spares). The lights came complete with bulbs as well, all-in-all a very good deal. Of course, you also get those cool multi-lingual instructions which are really, really helpful (honestly, it amazes me that BMW has not figured out that it’s main market being the US, the main language (the one which accompanies the pictures) should be English.
It’s quite easy to remove the lights. All you need to do is remove four screws. the problem is the re-installation of the lights. That’s where it gets tricky.
First of all, start with the driver’s side of the car. The passenger side is harder to remove because of the washer fluid reservoir. You should remove the the top two screws first. However, there’s a special precaution to take: The screws do not go into metal. BMW have developed an incredibly Rube-Goldberg-esque system for attaching the lights to the body which also serve as aiming devices: the enclosures the screws fit into actually screw and unscrew themselves into the body of the car. If you unscrew the screw-sheath, you can move the light. Before attempting to unscrew, place a wrench on the screw-sheath to stabilize it. The wrench will hold it in place, preventing you from seriously changing the alignment of the lights as you remove them. This works well on the two front screws, for those in back, you need to get a bit more creative. I used the flat blade of a small screwdriver to stabilize them, but even then I could feel them moving.
Once the lights are removed, you can simply reach behind them and unplug all the bulbs. You then position the new white lights and reverse the process. If you have not changed the positions of the screw-sheaths, everything will be pretty much aligned and you’ll be ready to go. Before you do, however, try this simple test: Take a small piece of cardboard and run it under the lights. If you encounter any resistance (like the light is resting on the body of the car) you will need to take them out again and realign the screw-sheaths in the back. Once you are done, close the hood and make sure the edge of the lights line up with all the body parts. Sometimes, you just need to play around with it until you get it right. The first time I did it, I removed and reinstalled the lights in about five minutes. When I noticed they were not aimed properly, I did the procedure again and it took me about 30 minutes per side, but the alignment is perfect.
Another tip – when you get to the passenger side you’ll need to complete the install with one last screw down the back. The problem is that the screw need to be positioned before you can tighten it and there’s no way to get back there because of the reservoir of washer fluid. I solved the problem by taping the screw to the driver using the handy-man’s secret weapon: duct tape. This allowed me to position the screw and complete the install.
The final results is exquisite! The White lights look great — for only $344 I’ve completely removed that annoying orange from the front of the car. The replacement lights are BMW OEM, but there were some differences. The new lights did not have the cool liquid/bubble level and it seems to be missing a vestigal gear. The purpose of this gear seems to be to mount to a motor in the car. Many european cars actually allow you to change the aiming of the headlights from inside the car. They allow you to raise and lower the lights depending on your load. This is particularly critical in soft-sprung French cars, but somewhat wasted in the firmer German builds.