BMW Z3 Wacky Gas Gauge

One of the most consistent failures in the BMW Z3 is the gas gauge. I’ve heard different excuses as to why the gas gauge fails, but rather than pretend to be an engineer or parts inspector let me just share with you some observations I have made regarding my wacky gas gauge.

Let me start by saying I never had a problem during my first year of ownership. But others were having problems during that time so I heard a lot of speculation regarding what caused the failure and I got to see what BMW’s fix was for those under warranty. I can almost pin-point the exact time mine started acting up. I was refueling and for some reason, when the gas pumped stopped I squeezed the pump trigger one more time. I don’t know why I did it, I had been warned not to yet for some reason I did it.

It was long afterwards I saw the gas gauge do its first flip-flop dance between empty and full. The error was initially intermittent, but over time it has become very consistent. Now mine always (and I do mean always) does its dance between empty and full right after I refuel. This will continue until I travel roughly 30 miles, I’ve never noticed the problem beyond the first 30 miles of a tank. Couple months ago I decided to try an experiment, instead of refilling until the pump clicks off I started buying my gas in $10 increments (never filling the tank all the way). The gas gauge never did its dance during the 4 or 5 tanks that I did the $10 thing. So at least in my case, these observations seem to back up the theory that the failure is related to the sending unit. I’ve learned to live with it, but learn from my experiences and resist the urge to squeeze that gas pump trigger again once it clicks off.

I have made the decision to live with it rather than have it fixed because I am not comfortable with the “fix”. To get to the sending unit BMW has to cut the carpet behind the passenger seat. Then they have to hook a hose and drain the gas tank (hopefully without leaving your interior smelling like gasoline). If you look behind the right hand seat you can see a seam in the carpet, this is where they will make the cut. Once the sending unit is replaced the carpet is glued back down. Sounds simple enough but I have seen more than one Z3 after this fix where the carpet flap has come unglued and ends up looking like a bad toupee. It also appears the new sending units are not necessarily any more reliable than the original ones.

I’ve owned my M roadster over four years now and my refueling habits are fairly consistent. I’ll usually refuel before the low fuel light comes on, if I push it and the low fuel light comes on then pull off at the next available gas station. I use my trip odometer to measure distance on a tankful, and on average it usually says around 240 miles since my last refueling and it will take around 12 gallons to fill the tank back up.

One day after work I pushed it a too far, the engine sputtered then quit. I zig-zagged a little and got another second or two of runtime before it quit for good. Luckily I was going downhill at the time so I managed to coast into the gas station and right up to the pump. I got lucky, and this provided me with an opportunity. I now know it takes 13.3 gallons to fill a completely empty tank. I started taking notes after that and refilling at different points on my gas gauge. It takes 8.9 gallons to fill a tank that my gauge indicates is half empty. 12.3 gallons to fill a tank right after the low fuel light comes on. I will continue to take measurements at various points on my fuel gauge and update this page.

One last final note: Remember that my fuel gauge has problems so my measurements may not be typical of most Z3s.

Install VDO Oil Pressure Gauge in BMW Z3 M Coupe or M Roadster

The BMW M coupe comes with a warning light for oil pressure, as well as an oil temperature gauge in the center console. I’d like to know if my oil pressure drops below normal without waiting for the oil warning light to come on at 7 PSI, so I decided to install a VDO oil pressure gauge. This project involves interior trim removal and modification, wiring, and replacement of the oil sender (this last one requires you to drain the oil, so you might as well schedule this project when it’s time for an oil/filter change). As usual, Ron Stygar was a big help on this project. Thanks, Ron! His original post in the bimmer.org archives is here.

Parts Selection

The oil pressure gauge that almost matches the existing coupe gauges is a VDO Vision gauge. I say “almost” because standard Vision gauges come in all black, but the gauges in the coupe’s center console are chrome ringed. If you don’t care about the chrome you can buy a Vision gauge anywhere, but to match the existing gauges I went to Jon Maddux at LeatherZ (www.leatherz.com). Jon sells the 0-80 PSI oil pressure gauge ($79.00) that you need for the coupe, and supplies various colored bulb covers. The orange cover makes the gauge light a very close color match to the existing gauges. For this job you’ll also replace the stock sender with a VDO dual sender with angled mounting adapter that provides both the warning light and pressure reading, and Jon offers these too ($67.00). You’ll be running four wires for the electrical connections – one for power, one for dimming power, one for ground, and one for the sender. I purchased four 10-foot lengths of stranded wire in various colors and this was more than enough length. You need #14 wire for the sender wire to give the circuit the correct impedance; the other wires can be smaller gauge. You’ll also need four crimp-on female wire connectors to make the connections to the gauge and two crimp-on O connectors for the sender connections.

Some coupe owners choose to put their oil pressure gauges in the center console, replacing the analog clock. I didn’t want to give up the clock so opted to put the gauge on the A-pillar. The gauge mounts to the A-pillar, or more accurately to the A-pillar trim cover, in a plastic housing called a “pod”. I bought a single gauge A-pillar pod from egauges (www.egauges.com), part # 240-347 ($31.13). They also sell a dual pod in case you want to add a second gauge such as outside temperature.

Getting Started

NOTE: all directions (forward/rear, left/right) are in reference to the driver’s seated position.

Place the pod on the A pillar trim cover and slide it up or down until you get it approximately where you want it. Mark the location of the pod on the trim cover, then remove the cover by wedging your fingertips between it and the windshield and pulling it away from the windshield. The trim cover is held onto the A-pillar with two snap-in connectors. Once the connectors pop loose, slide the bottom edge of the trim cover out from the crevice formed by the A-pillar and the dash.

Cut a hole (I used a Dremel tool with a carbide abrasive tip) in the A pillar trim cover corresponding to the opening in back of the pod.

This hole is used to route wires and to give you access to the back of the gauge for changing the bulb. If your gauge ended up right over one of the trim cover’s snap-in connectors, you may have to adjust the pod position slightly.

Insert the gauge into the pod, orient it so that it will be straight as viewed from the driver’s position, and secure it by screwing the gauge nut onto the back.

To mount the pod to the trim cover, I drilled pilot holes and used the supplied plastic ribbed pins (screws).

Wiring

For power, dimming power, and ground wires, you need a sufficient length of wire to run from the gauge to the footwell area. For the sender wire, you need enough wire to run from the gauge to the footwell area, through the firewall, and on to the front of the engine compartment. Leave plenty of extra length on the wires at this point. Terminate one end of the wires with the crimp-on female wire connectors and, using the instructions with the gauge, mount each wire to the proper connector on the back of the gauge. Tape the wires to the back of the A pillar trim cover to keep them in place. Note which color wire you used for each connection.

Disconnect the battery before proceeding!

You’ll need to remove the lower dash panel just above the pedals, loosen or remove the upper dash panel under the steering wheel, and remove the driver’s kick panel with dead pedal.

Run the wires from the back of the gauge through the crack at the bottom of the A-pillar.

They will come out at the left bottom of the dash.

Re-install the trim cover/pod assembly onto the A-pillar.

Editors Note: The silver metal part with the messy looking ends is an interesting safety feature. Somewhat like a pillow, it’s a soft/thin metal with foam filling. Designed to protect your knees in an accident.

Leave some wire slack under the upper dash panel in case you need to remove the trim cover at some later date. Continue routing the wires down into the footwell area. Locate a violet/any color wire for power, and a gray/red wire for dimming power, from the existing wires in the footwell. You will probably have to release wire bundles by cutting wire ties in order to locate the colors you need. The dimming power wire allows you to control the lighting level of your new gauge by twisting the headlight button, the same way you adjust the other instrumentation.

Cut off any excess on your power and dimming power wires and splice them into the selected wires. I soldered the splices and coated them with some Star Brite liquid electrical tape. Connect the ground wire to the grounding nut, forward of the kick panel speaker. (Ground wires are solid brown in the coupe.)

Resecure all wires with wire ties. You can do a power and dimming test at this point by reconnecting the battery; just don’t forget to disconnect it again!

OK, three wires down and one to go! Take the lid off the fuse box (left rear of engine compartment) then unscrew the four #10 torx screws that hold the fuse box onto the wiring box below it. The right rear screw is somewhat obscured by the hood release cable. Just push the cable out of the way enough to loosen the screw. Disconnect the two black wire junction pods, the large red wire, and the green connector that are fastened to the right side of the fuse box and lift up that side of the box.

This will give you sufficient access to wiring box so you can see and grab the sender wire as you feed it through. You’ll see where the main wiring bundle comes through the firewall and into the wiring box. You can try to get your sender wire through the same hole but it’s already pretty well jammed with wires, so I just drilled a small hole nearby and ran the sender wire through it. Drill another hole in the right side of the wiring box; the sender wire exits the wiring box through this hole. Put a dab of silicon sealer on the hole to keep nasties out of your wiring box, and then reassemble the fuse box.

Route the sender wire along the back of the engine compartment, underneath the intake manifold, and to the oil filter, attaching it to the existing wire looms with wire ties.

Sender Replacement

Now it’s time to drain your oil and remove the old filter insert. Remove the air intake box to allow room to reach the oil sender. Unscrew the old sender from just below the oil filter and cut the wire attached to it, leaving as much length as possible. Terminate it, and the new sender wire, with O-connectors.

Mount the new sender to the angle adapter. Hand-tighten the sender to the adapter until snug but don’t over-tighten. The sender has tapered threads that do not require excessive torque to achieve a good seal. Align the sender so that the connector posts on the top are perpendicular to the engine-mounting hole on the adapter. Install the adapter/sender assembly in place of the old sender. Caution – improper installation of the oil adapter can damage your engine and cause oil leaks. Tighten the adapter bolt to 35-40 NM.

Connect the old (alarm) wire and the new (pressure) wire to the correct posts as marked on the top of the sender.

Finishing Up

Replace your filter insert and oil, reconnect your battery, start your car, and check out your new gauge. Under normal operation you’ll see a range of around 15 PSI at idle to 58 PSI. Assuming everything works, replace your interior panels, and you’re done!

Black Wood Dash Kit

Pros: Looks good, matches Larry’s steel gray/black Z3
Cons: Evaluation kit, product canceled and is not available
Cost: Unknown, Product Unavailable

To my knowledge this is the only black wood dash kit made for the BMW Z3. It is an evaluation kit made my a company in Korea. However just after developing this evaluation kit the model year 2000 Z3s showed up and it was apparent that this kit was already out of date so the manufacturer decided to cancel the project.

Even though the project was canceled I thought owners would like to see what a black wood dash kit would look like in a Z3. The carbon fiber shift knob was added later and is a nice (matching) addition to the looks. Hopefully another dash kit maker will consider adding black wood to their collection for those looking for something a little different.

Update:

Even though this particular black wood dash kit is not available, MG Racing has a black wood dash kit. If you are looking for a very unique dash kit that looks really good with black interior this may be what you have been looking for.

Finding Power in your Center Console

Note: This article is for the 1996 and 1997 model year BMW Z3, I’ve had vague reports that on 99 models (and perhaps some 98 models) the connector has changed.

Do you need power in your center console?

There are several reasons why you might need access to a switched or unswitched power in the Z3 center console. I needed to install a hands-free kit for my Nokia phone. As luck would have it, BMW prewired the Z3 for their cell phone kit. Part of this prewiring is a connector providing switched and unswitched power (as well as radio mute).

To find the connector, lift up the shifter boot. There are 4 tabs (two on each side) that snap it down. Squeeze the side on either side and then lift once it’s loose. Once you’ve lifted the boot, you’ll see several bundles of cables:

1 bundle for each window switch

1 bundle for the hazard light switch

1 bundle terminating in a 2-pin female connector (purpose unknown)

1 bundle terminating in an 8-pin female connector (circled in red and seen in the close up picture below)

The bundle terminating in the 8-pin connector has what you’re looking for. It is a little hard to find! The connector is buried underneath a layer of carpet just to the left of the hazard switch. Just look for a bundle of 5 wires and follow it. I assume this was done so that while floating about it didn’t touch anything and short out the battery (it has fairly exposed 12V and ground connections). It may also be hidden under the emergency break boot (look for a square cut-out in the carpet).

Using the numbering in the picture to the right, Here’s the pinout:

Pin 1 – 12 volts, unswitched

Pin 2 – Ground

Pin 3 – Unknown — if anyone can identify it, let me know.

Pin 4 – Not connected

Pin 5 – 12 volts, switched

Pin 6 – Radio Mute

Pin 7 – Not connected

Pin 8 – Not connected

Now the bad news. The pins required for the connector are odd-sized. They’re 0.098 inch pins. The common 0.093 inch pins won’t stay in. The good news. You can get the correct size pins and even the mating connector free from AMP. Call (800) 522-6752 ask for some engineering samples. Ask for part numbers 1-828737-1 (the mating connector) and 927797-2 (the pin). I asked for 5 connectors and 20 pins, and they didn’t bat an eye.

Interestingly enough, you’re not allowed to buy the connector unless you are a BMW contractor. But ask for free ones, and there’s no problem. I love the way the world works!

Digital Temperature Gauge

In my old 1.9 Z3, I had the on-board computer which told all sorts of interesting things such as estimated range, average speed, and outside temperature. Call me strange, but with my new M roadster I miss that. I miss the 400 mile trips during winter in the dead of night with the top down, watching the temperature fall to below freezing, with the reassurance that yes, I was out of my mind.

On the Euro-spec M roadsters, they get an outside temperature gauge. According to rumor, it doesn’t work that well. Besides, to add that to my US-spec M roadster would cost more than $200, which I don’t have. I finally found a digital temperature gauge that met most of my needs, RadioShack part number 63-1023. They offer 2 different temperature gauges for cars, this is the better one (and more expensive, about $20).

The good things about this gauge are that it displays both the inside and outside temperature at the same time, it records the highest and lowest temperature, and it has a nice electro-luminescent backlight. On the down side, the LCD is hard to see from some angles, the backlight only stays on for 3 seconds when the button is pressed, and it uses batteries instead of car power. But altogether, it’s the best one I’ve seen anywhere.

The first thing I did was add a black sticker to the front that covers up the “RadioShack” name. It’s a small thing, but call me anal-retentive. Next, I went out and bought a radar detector windshield mount. I decided the best place for me to put the gauge was above the rear-view mirror, on the driver’s side. I had to be careful about the angle I placed the gauge at, since from some angles it’s hard to see. Once I had the angle figured out, I had to cut the detector mount down to the right size.

Next, it’s time to do something destructive. Cut the lead for the external probe halfway between the display unit and the probe itself. You will need to attach some extra wire to make things work. The place I placed the probe was up in the front bumper, behind where the front license plate goes. I took the black mounting bracket that comes with the gauge, removed the rubber piece, and superglued the mounting bracket in place. Next, I connected some more wire to the probe piece and ran them into the passenger compartment.

In the cockpit on the passenger side, underneath the glove compartment there is a piece of plastic held in place by 3 plastic screws. Remove this piece of plastic by turning the screws a half turn and removing them, then the plastic piece slides out. You should be able to see a rubber grommet by the speaker grill.

On the inside of the engine compartment you should be able to see the other side of it. Run the wires for the temperature probe through this hole, you should be able to push the rubber grommet aside enough to get the wires through. I then attached one side of a plastic 2-lead connector to the wires I ran through the hole. Don’t forget to use lots of nylon wire wraps to hold things in place in the engine compartment.

You can see (kind of) how I ran the wires along the passenger side of the engine compartment. Now it’s time to remove the plastic covering the inside of the pillars. To remove the side coverings, simply “pop” them off. I would recommend using a screwdriver with the tip covered by a towel (to prevent marring the surface) and wedge it in the top, then pull down. These should come off with a nice “pop”. You need to do both sides. Next, you need to remove the top frame covering. The clear plastic around the dome light gets scratched very easily, so please be careful (it’s white plastic under the paint, so it really shows when it’s marked up. The clear plastic pops off, try prying from the drivers side – that side is supposed to come off first. Then remove the light bulb assembly, it also pops out. Once again, be careful not to mark up the paint. Next, remove both visors, you will need a torx screwdriver. Then remove the one remaining torx screw that holds the top piece in place, it’s behind where the light assembly was. Last, just pull up to remove the covering.

Now it’s time to start placing things where they go. Use some superglue to attach the gauge to the radar mount, and be sure to let it dry thoroughly. Place it on the windshield in the proper location, and run the wires where they would need to go (you will have to attach more wire, the gauge only comes with 10 feet of wire and much more than that is needed. You will be running it along the top of the pillar and down the sides, next to the glove compartment. Once down there, attach the other end of the nylon 2-lead connector.

Now, just plug the connector in, replace the plastic piece below the glove compartment and put the molding back in place along the pillar and you are all set! Not quite as good as a factory installation but it does the job.

Discuss this article and other Convenience upgrades in the

///MZ3.Net discussion forum.

BMW Volt Meter

BMW Part Number: 62-13-2-695-215
Maker: VDO
Cost: $0 for US M roadster owners

After waiting a long time, BMW finally delivers something to fill in the blank gauge location on the dash.

Thanks to persistent questioning and a fantastic dealership it is my understanding that you are looking at one of, if not the first, dealer installed volt meter gauge in the US.

Behind the dash an unused wiring harness was waiting for the simple volt meter to be plugged in. The BMW technician that installed it (Larry Nissen of Moritz BMW) tells me it was quite easy to install, getting behind the dash to find the wiring harness was the only time consuming part of the task.

I’m not claiming to really understand what is happening to make a volt meter read high or low. To me it’s most important feature is the fact that it fills the once blank plate in the dash. However now that I’ve watched the needle move around for a couple weeks I’ve noticed where it usually resides. If I turn the key far enough to engage the electrical system but not far enough to start the engine the gauge usually reads just right of straight up (about 12.5 volts). Once I start the car the needle usually swings way right and climbs to 14 volts. After the car has been running awhile I notice the gauge slowly sneaking back towards 13 volts. So now that I notice a regular pattern, if I ever see the gauge breaking from this pattern I’ll probably freak out and over-react (which might be the goal of a volt meter). But like I said before To me it’s most important feature is the fact that it fills the once blank plate in the dash.

M roadster owners should be receiving this volt meter via USPS Priority Mail. Along with the volt meter (part number 62-13-2-695-215) is a letter from BMW apologizing for the inconvenience. The letter states that you can schedule an appointment with your local BMW center to have the volt meter installed free of charge. However they also attach installation instructions (which don’t look that difficult) so you could install it yourself if you want to.

In-Dash Garage Door Opener

I was going to hard wire power to my radar detector following the instructions in Robert Leidy’s Power for your Radar Detector article. I decided at the same time I would add a pushbutton to my dash to activate my garage door opener. I was tired of having a big remote taking up space in my Z3.

What you will need:

Garage door opener you don’t mind taking apart

Momentary pushbutton switch (I used Radio Shack #275-644 because it fit with the interior of the Z3 nicely)

Wire (I used 20-gauge stranded wire)

Drill or Dremel-type tool

Solder and soldering iron (optional but highly recommended)

Electrical tape

Phillips screwdriver

First, take your garage door opener apart and figure out how the button on the outside of it activates the switch inside. You should be able to activate the opener by bypassing the switch with a piece of wire. Verify you can do this by using a short piece of wire to touch the contacts at either side of the switch, and see if it activates your garage door.

Second, follow Richard Carlson’s Cutting the Cord article and Robert Leidy’s Power for your Radar Detector article to remove the plastic plate over the pedals and also the one under the steering wheel. You don’t want to solder a switch to your garage door opener or drill a hole in a dash panel until you know you can take all the appropriate pieces apart, and also that you can bypass the switch in your garage door opener.

On U.S.-spec Z3s, to the right of the steering wheel there is a little blank plate in the same position that there is the fog light switch to the left of the steering wheel. Use your fingernail, pocketknife, or thin-bladed screwdriver to pop this out–it should come out easily.

Using a drill or a Dremel tool, drill a hole in the center of it. Note that I did not have a vise–if you drill it and hold it by hand like I did, be very careful!

Then, use a cone-shaped sanding bit to slowly enlarge the hole until the switch will fit through it. Note that the switch has a back piece that screws on to it. You push the switch through the hole from the front, and then screw the back piece on to secure the switch in the hole.

For the next step, you may leave the switch in the little plastic panel or you may take it back out if you are afraid of melting the panel with the soldering iron.

Cut two 3-feet long pieces of wire and strip about a half-inch from each end. Loop one end of one of the pieces of wire through the little hole in one of the leads coming out of the switch. Solder the wire in place. Repeat with one end of the other piece of wire. Just to be safe, wrap electrical tape around both soldered connections.

If you removed the switch from the plastic plate for the above step, it is now time to feed the wires through the hole in the switch and to fasten the switch to the plate. Now, feed the wires through the hole in your dash out of which you popped the panel. You should be able to push the panel and switch into place flush with the dash for a clean “factory” appearance. You now have the two 3-feet long pieces of wire hanging down below the dash.

Be very careful at this point. It is good if you have a helper too. Sit in the driver’s seat of the car with some sort of tray or disposable plate in your lap. You will be soldering the wires to your garage door remote in your lap in a moment, and you don’t want to take any chance of burning yourself or your Z3. Before permanently attaching the wires to your remote, hold each wire on the contacts on either side of the internal switch in your garage door opener, and ask your helper to push the button in the dash. If everything is connected correctly, your garage door should be activated.

You will have to decide the best way to affix the wires to the contacts in your remote. For me, the best way was to solder them to the bottom of the remote circuit board on either side of where the garage door remote switch was. Be careful not to melt the circuit board with the soldering iron. Also be careful not to bridge any contacts with melted solder, thereby causing the garage door opener to be active 100% of the time!

After permanently affixing the wires to the garage door opener, again verify that the pushbutton in the dash will operate your garage door. Then, use electrical tape to secure the garage door opener somewhere under your dash, keeping in mind that you will need to reinstall all plastic panels which you removed.

Finally, reassemble your dash, admire the clean “factory” look of the button you installed, and drink a celebratory beverage to congratulate yourself.

Aluminum Gauges

Pros: Dramatic change in the dash appearance for not much money
Cons: Semi-hard to install, light color dials and white needles make reading the dials more difficult
Cost: $179

Available Colors: White, Yellow, Parchment, Aluminum*

Replaces: Speedometer, Tachometer, Fuel Gauge, Temperature Gauge

Sold By:

NR Automobile Accessories

www.nrauto.com

(800) 225-3498

Backlighting

During the day, the gauge face will have the specified color (white, aluminum, yellow, etc.) with black numerals. At night, the gauge face will be black and the numerals reverse to be the color of the face during the day. For example, when a white face gauge inverts at night, the face becomes black and the numbers become white.

Needles

If faces are front lit, needles can be colored with a very light coat of spray paint or magic marker. Backlit gauge faces will require needles to be painted with a translucent or clear paint. However, because needles are 3 dimensional, you should not have problem seeing them against the face.

Cluster Removal

Removal will require some mechanical aptitude. You can refer to a shop repair manual for your car to determine the best method. The clear cover usually attaches to the cluster with clips which can be depressed with a flat bladed screw driver. Removal of the needles and faces can be done at this time.

Recalibration

This is accomplished by using tool provided to remove needles and then replacing in the same position after new face is installed as per instructions provided.

Installation

Can be done with a little mechanical inclination. If you are comfortable working with your hands and have a certain amount of patience, installation is relatively simple. We provide basic installation instructions and a tool to help you remove the gauge needles; however, you need to know how to take your cluster out of the dash. Most of our customers do their own installations but we recommend professional installation if you are not comfortable doing this kind of work. Mechanics, speedometer shops and stereo shops also do installation of these gauge faces.

Chrome Rings in the Instrument Pod

Pros: Looks really good
Cons: Cost
Cost: $200

This is definitely not a do-it-yourself project. Your local BMW parts department can take your VIN number and order you a replacement dash pod for around $200 (yes, you will need to get an entirely new dash pod). The BMW dealership can then swap the dash pods for you for roughly two hours of labor. This is something you might be able to do yourself, but I highly recommend you let a dealership do the swap for several reasons.

1. Well documented that the dash pod was switched (in case there is any odometer questions later on).

2. Lots of electronics in this dash pod. The dealership will probably set off a few sensors (mine did) and resetting the sensors is something you can’t do at home. So you would probably end up back at the dealer anyway.

I got lucky; my original dash pod had a scratched fog light indicator lens in it. I was going to get a new dash pod under warranty. The service advisor was kind enough to order the chrome ringed dash pod upon my request (no extra charge). So consider this if you ever have warranty work done on your dash.

Robert’s Wood Dash Saga

Pros: Wood looks good with tan interior
Cons: Still looks “stuck on” in places
Cost: $240

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

Short Version:

One day I was gawking at a green and tan Z3 with a wood dash, it looked so incredibly good I decided I had to look into a wood dash kit for my Z3. I went back and forth trying to decide what dash kit would look good in my silver/black/gray Z3. While contemplating this my wife decided a dark walnut wood dash would look good in her 318i. I ordered her a kit from New England Wood Dash and it was horrible (for further details see “The Bad”). I ended up returning that kit, and purchased a kit from Auto Designs (for further details see “The Good”). The Auto Designs kit fit like a glove and looked great. The looks were so good I finally talked myself into purchasing a carbon fiber kit for my Z3. Well, that kit also fit perfect, unfortunately I didn’t care for the look of the “real” carbon fiber (for further details see “The Ugly”).

Update: Apparently AutoDesigns has gone out of business since the creation of this article. ///MZ3.Net recommends HMS wood dash kits as well as those from MG Racing.

Long Version:

# The Good:After my horrible experience with New England Wood Dash I was pretty soured on any wood dash kit. Thankfully, Jonathan Gentry of Auto Designs contacted me (he saw a post I had made on the message board about my ill fitting wood dash), we exchanged e-mail a couple of times, and I sent him the pictures I had taken of the New England Wood Dash. He assured me his kits were of a higher quality and I eventually ordered a wood dash from him for my wife’s 318i.

The kit promptly arrived two days later. Still a little leery I tested (dry fit) each piece and was elated to see how precise the entire kit fit. After a final go-ahead from the boss (my wife), I started applying each piece. The kit was very easy to install (and kinda fun). About 30 minutes later it was all done. My only complaint about this kit was that I wished it had more pieces. Unfortunately the 318i kit doesn’t cover as many areas as a Z3 kit does. That small complaint aside, I was very pleased with the end result.

I highly recommend Auto Designs to those of you considering wood dashes. The product is precise and the wood is beautiful. I even received a unsolicited e-mail from Auto Designs asking if everything went well after the sale (pro-active customer service, kinda rare). (return to top)

# The Bad:When the New England Wood Dash kit arrived for my wife’s 318i, one of the first things I noticed was that they sent the wrong instructions (the instructions were for a 2 door convertible). So I started looking at each piece and trying to figure out where it would go. I tried the pieces, starting with the center armrest. On the armrest the pieces fit okay, but not perfect. The biggest flaw made a cup holder slightly smaller in diameter. I go ahead and install these pieces on the center console and was fairly pleased with the results. It was late that night so I stopped for the evening.

The next evening I tried the piece around the gear shift. This piece just did not fit at all. The geometry was off and I started to think that maybe New England sent me the wrong kit. This theory was further backed up when I discovered that the four door panel pieces couldn’t be installed because where the wood was to lay down, there was cloth fabric on the door (they would never stick for longer than a week). The final blow was the wood piece for a rounded coin holder, the piece was square. At that point I gave up and tried to resolve these issues with New England Wood Dash.

At first I called them and ended up talking to an “Eddie”. Eddie confirmed that I had received the correct kit, so I started addressing the individual flaws. I got the impression that Eddie either didn’t understand me, didn’t believe me, or that he thought I was an idiot. After not getting anywhere I told him I would write him an e-mail describing the problems I was having and attach a bunch of digital pictures and e-mail them to him at New England Wood Dash.

Two days passed, no response. So I called Eddie again, he said the e-mail showed up but no pictures (he didn’t say why he had not responded). I sent the e-mail again, this time actually sending several separate e-mails each with it’s own picture. Two days passed and once again no response.

Needless to say at this point I’m a little upset with New England Wood Dash and call them once again. “Eddie is not here can I take a message?” I leave a message but Eddie never calls back. The next day I try again, this time catching him while he’s in the office. I hardly get a word in as Eddie boldly tells me (paraphrased) “You don’t like any of the pieces, something must be different with your 318i, it would cost me too much money to make a kit just for your car, return the kit for a full refund”. I ask him about the pieces that are already installed, he said it was my fault for not testing (dry fitting) the entire kit first. He said to return the pieces I had not installed for a full refund. This left me with a wood arm rest and nothing else (Eddie didn’t care).

I packaged the remaining 17 pieces up and send them back. Nearly two weeks pass before I see the credit on my VISA card. And when the credit finally shows up it was $180 (I purchased the kit for $198) Eddie shorts me $18 despite his claim of a full refund.

In my opinion you should avoid doing business with New England Wood Dash. I have only dealt with them this one time but my opinion is that their product is flawed, their support is evasive, and their ethics are questionable. (return to top)

# The Ugly:After dealing with Auto Designs for my wife’s 318i, my impressions of wood dash kits was once again very high. I talked myself into ordering a carbon fiber kit for my Z3. (When I purchased my car alarm the little plastic clicker thing was carbon fiber and I liked the looks of the black and gray pattern). When I was placing the order with Auto Designs, I was asked “do you want real or synthetic carbon fiber”. Not knowing that there were two different kinds of carbon fiber, I decided on the more expensive “real” carbon fiber (only the best for my Z3). The kit promptly arrived two days later. I tested (dry fit) every piece and once again the kit fit precisely. However the look of the carbon fiber was not what I was expecting. Apparently there is a big difference between real and simulated carbon fiber. The real stuff is reflective, kinda like a hologram. This is pretty neat but very distractive. It also surprised me because it wasn’t black and gray (like my little plastic car alarm remote). It was black and hologram like. The color depended on what kind of light you were under. In direct sunlight the dash looked black and bluish white (kinda cool). However, in the shade it picked up a yellow/green tint. In my garage, it had a nasty burnt yellow tint. After showing some of the pieces to a couple other Z3 owners, we all agreed (Yuck!). So this kit got returned, in the end I decided to stick with the stock black plastic dash. (return to top)