Smoked Tailed Lights

Here are some pictures of my 1996 BMW Z3 with smoked tailights.

“Clear” Turn Signal Blubs

In case you have ever wanted to make your turn signals completely clear rather than seeing the tinge of amber from the turn signal bulbs, there are two ways to do it. First and most expensive is to find the Philips Silvervision bulbs usually sold in Europe. These are amber bulbs with a translucent silver outer finish. When off they appear clear, when on they appear amber.

The second method is to make them yourself at home by painting your bulbs with a light coat of Rustoleum High Temperature silver spray paint, sold at Home Depot for less than $5. This process is well documented on the BMW M5 messageboard. I did this for my M5, and now have done it for my M Roadster. The picture to the right shows the left lamp after treatment and the right as original:

I think you’ll agree that the 10 minutes or so required for the job is well worth it. It’s also possible to treat the front turn signals this way if you like. Enjoy.

City Lights Project

Pros: Lights up your highbeams when your parking lights are turned on. “Rounds out” the light display on the front of the car when the low beams are turned on. Inexpensive parts.
Cons: Pretty worthless for anything other than display purposes. Not an easy install.
Cost: ~ $25,00

Ever look inside your high-beam? If you do, here’s what you’ll see: See that black spot? It’s actually a hole in the reflector. You may ask yourself “Why is there a black hole in my light?”. The answer is “Manufacturing Efficiency”.

Basically, that black spot is where a small light, called a European City Light, would go if you happened to live in Europe and owned a 1.8 Z3. “What’s a 1.8?”, I hear you asking, “don’t you mean 1.9?”. Nope. I mean 1.8. The most inexpensive Z ever produced. The base model we never got here. The 1.8 was an 8 valve version of the euro 1.9 engine. The cars were produced as inexpensively as possible. In order to cut down on cost. As part of this cost reduction, there are no front bumper lights (hey! saved close to $40).

In Europe, the front marker lights work differently from the US. When we turn on our “parking” lights, the amber corner lights and the amber bumper lights come on. In Europe it’s illegal to have amber lights in the front, so they replace the amber bumper lights with white ones and they make it so the corner lights don’t come on. The corner lights are used only as turn signals. On the 1.8, instead of putting bumper lights on the car, they elected to mount the lights inside the high-beam enclosure producing a forward-facing white light. Here in the US, the City Lights were never used. However, because the 1.8 needed them, every Z has the vestigial hole in the reflector (note: so do other bimmers).

The hole is plugged at the back by a kind of “blank” on the back of the light. If you could peer inside, however, you would see that they do include the molding required to seat the socket. I decided I liked the idea of City Lights because I thought they would look good, showing off the entire light housing on low-beam and when the parking lights were turned on. The job looked easy, although I knew I would have to remove and remount the lights.

First thing I did was to find the part numbers:

The parts I was interested in were those labeled “8” and “9” in the diagram shown above. #8 is the socket (63-12-8-389-744 “Lamp Socket”), #9 is the bulb. #3, by the way is another European feature which allows you to aim your headlights from inside the car. This power is considered far too dangerous by the DOT for Americans to have access to, but that’s another story.

I called my local dealer (Herb Chambers) and ordered the parts ($17.03). It took about two days to get them. I was very happy until I actually saw the parts:

The socket connects via two very small pins. The problem is that I know of almost no connectors to mate to this to provide the power. I checked the diagram and, sure enough, there is a special connector, but it’s part of the European wire harness. I’d have to buy the whole harness in order to get the two connectors. Rather than shell out these kinds of bucks, I went in search of other possibilities. I checked the Boat Store and the Car Store before remembering good, old You-Do-It Electronics. Sure enough, YDI actually had a part which, with some significant modifications, would work.

They are called Molex .093 Connectors. They are basically a nylon housing around a set of connectors. I also bought some 1/2″ screw-size (5/8″ Chassis hole size) Vinyl Grommets (more on this later). In addition, I had a couple of wire-taps, some wire and a couple of grounding connectors. The next step was to fabricate the connections.

I did this by wrapping a grommet around the “Male” Molex connector. I then inserted it, “backwards”, wrapped in Saran Wrap into the lamp socket and used epoxy to fill in the spaces around the grommet (the Saran Wrap keeps the whole thing from getting stuck to the lamp socket). Once these were set, I attached the wire to the metal “female” inserts which would grip the two prongs on the inside of the socket. I inserted them into the holes (once again, backwards, it takes a little muscle) and once again used epoxy to seal them up.

The result, although still looking home-made, is actually pretty good. The Grommet makes a good seal on the wires and good seal on the lamp socket. The female molex connectors require a little bit of muscle to force them onto the pins, but once there they stay stuck on, further reinforcing the seal. The next step was to remove the lights from the car. See this article for more information on how to do this.

Once the lights were off the car, it was time to drill the holes. I used a Dermal tool to make the holes. Looking at the light socket, you can see two “wings” which are clearly meant to secure it when it is inserted intot eh light. I had a few hint’s from mod-god Ron Stygar who has also installed these. He sent me a picture of the inside of the “plug” (left – don’t ask me how he took this – I suspect one of those “Mission Impossible” microcameras or a team of miniaturized technicians helped). Judging from the picture, the big “wing” goes on top, the little “wing” goes on the bottom. I used the Dermal tool very slowly, while holding a vacuum hose near the work to suck out any small pieces.

Although the work was a little rough, the socket fit in fine and stayed in when I twisted it to the right. After drilling out both lights, I completed the job with the wiring:

I got power by tapping into the connectors for the side marker and connected to a convenient ground. On my car the positive lead was the light gray wire, but I suggest you check with a multi-meter on your car. Note that I have connected it “downstream” of a BMW connector. This way, if I ever need to remove the city lights, I can simply replace the pigtail which goes down to the marker bulb (I actually happen to have a couple of spares anyway). This ensures there’s no issue with dealer support on an electrical issue.

I put the lights back into the car, cursing BMW designers the whole way (would it have killed them to leave an inch or so slack in the wires going to the bulbs?).

On a scale of 1 to 10 I would give this project a 7 or an 8 in terms of difficulty, mostly because of the need to remove and remount the lights and the necessity to fabricate the connector part. Overall I’m happy with it. It took me about four hours to do and the total cost was about $25.

Update: I got an email from Greg Paul who wrote me to say that he had also been looking for the connector for about a year with no success. He had bought replacement lights from Circle BMW and they gave him Euro Lights with the City Lights already installed. Unfortunately, no connectors. He had asked the dealer and even went so far as calling the factory to see if anyone knew which connector they were… No luck… He then had an unfortunate incident — he smashed a fog light.

When they went to replace the fogger, he noticed that the connector looked familiar, in fact it was the same as the City Light! He looked up the parts and was able to find the socket and pigtails to connect the fogger to the car. He ordered extra parts and was able to also connect the city-lights.

That’s the good news (and special thanks to Greg for writing me to let me know about the part). Bad news is the price of the connectors: About $25 each (list). Using the BMW connectors just about doubles the cost of the project:

You’ll need 2 each of 61138352390’s (Sockets $20.48 each) and 4 each of 61130007569’s (pigtails $2.85 each). The pigtails need to be inserted into the socket to form the entire connector, but it’s real easy. (see cl1.jpg)

After inserting the pigtails, you need to lock them in. You do this by inserting a small screwdriver and pushing the black locking collar as indicated. (cl2.jpg)

Once this is done, you have your connectors and you can hook them up as described earlier in this article.

Philips Bluevision and Allweather Bulbs

I replaced the stock bulbs in my 1999 M Roadster with Philips Bluevision and Allweather bulbs. The entire process took about 15 minutes.

The part numbers are:

Philips 9006 55W Bluevision (low beam) $34.95 per pair

Philips 9005 65W Allweather (high beam) $34.95 per pair

I recommended the Allweather for the high beams for mixed weather driving.

Clear/White Front Light Replacement

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.

BMW Fog Light Kit for the 2.3 Z3

When I bought my ’99 2.3 in March from dealer stock there was one option missing that I would’ve ordered – fog lights. I had considered after market PIAA’s. But when BMW came out with a retrofit kit, I ordered one right away. And the installation is pretty easy, since the car is pre-wired from the fog light connectors all the way to the switch connection behind the dash.

The part # for both 1999 and 2000 Z3s is 99 00 0 001 658. The suggested retail is $229, but they are available from Circle BMW for about $161 plus shipping (www.circlebmw.com)

The kit comes with easy to follow instructions that are well illustrated. The only tools required are simple hand tools, but a hook awl is handy to remove the existing fog light mount covers. I’m not very handy with tools around the house or cars. I usually have to be retrained each time I remove or replace my Stonegards. So I got a friend to help me, and I’m glad I did. Despite interruptions for picture taking and running into a glitch or two, it took about 50 minutes from unpack to drive away.

The preparatory instructions called for disconnecting the battery ground cable, but we decided against it to keep from reprogramming the anti-theft radio.

I began by removing the plastic fog light mount covers with a small pick bent to form a hook awl. They pull out easily.

Install the silver Tinnerman clips over the fog light mount as shown with the smooth surface facing you. (LH light opening shown.)

The RH fog light connector is located behind the bumper adjacent to the receiver dryer. Pull up on the wiring harness to cut the tape holding the connector to the harness. The instructions said to secure any other connectors that were loose with cable ties (not provided) to prevent wire chaffing or interference with the A/C compressor pulley. This did not appear to be a problem so we skipped it. Then pull the connector through the opening and push the RH fog light connector into the RH fog light assembly.

Position the RH fog light assembly in the opening and press the assembly flush against the Tinnerman clips. Then secure with two of the 4.2x16mm hex head screws provided.

The LH fog light is installed in the same manner, except there was no need to secure any wires with cable ties.

To access the fog light switch connector you have to drop the driver’s side lower trim panel (knee bolster). With a small screw driver, pop off the caps that cover five M6x12 hex head bolts and remove the bolts and washers. Then push out the oval knock out panel from the alcove where the switch will be mounted just left of the steering column. The fog light switch is easy to find behind the panel and is larger than the oval knockout opening. Now came the only tricky part of the installation. I couldn’t reach the connector and hold it up against the oval opening in order to push in the fog light switch to connect it. So we strung a wire around the connector and pulled it flush with the back of the oval opening and held it while we pushed the switch in. The round switch button should be positioned on the left.

Next, reassemble the knee bolster and lower trim panel.

Under the hood, remove the cover from the power distribution box and plug in the provided relay in position K47. There should also be a 5 Amp fuse in position 22. If missing, use a spare fuse. Mine was already in place.

Functional check of fog lights is next

Turn ignition to position 2 and switch low beams on. Switch fog light switch on the green fog light indicator on instrument cluster should illuminate when fog lights are on. Then select high beams – fog lights and indicator should go out. There is a screw adjustment on each light assembly to adjust the vertical beam – no adjustment available to side.

Last step is press in the black plastic covers supplied to fill in the opening.

Note: Two things are different from the factory fog lights:

The lens is crystal clear instead of a ribbed surface. Personally I like the appearance better.

The fog lights will only come on with the low beams, period. You can’t turn them on with only the parking lights selected as the factory installation allows. That I don’t like. I suspect the relay is the problem. My service rep promised to get me an answer about this oddity. Maybe the relays are defective or maybe the factory relay can be substituted. I’ll provide an answer as soon as I find out.

In summary

This was an easy installation that any 1999 or 2000 2.3 driver could do in 45-50 minutes. You’ll save $100 over the factory lights and have a unique set of fog lights. Now, go out and shine your light!

///M Roadster Foglight Installation

Pros: Increased visibility, looks
Cons: none?
Cost: Less than $200 installed

As we all know, ///M Roadsters do NOT come with factory foglights as either standard or optional equipment. In order to obtain them, we must look to aftermarket suppliers. The decision as to whether or not I needed them was made for me by virtue of the fact that I live on Cape Cod, which just may be the Fog Capital of the Eastern Seaboard. After seeing Walter’s at the Escape to the Cape Drive this year, I know I would be purchasing a similar model. Walter had chosen PIAA 1400’s in Amber. I opted for the same lights but picked the clear lens version, as they are a bit brighter. I purchased them for $149.95 from 4 Wheel Parts Wholesalers (800-421-1050) as they had the best price.

When they arrived, the only question in my mind was where to mount them. Walter mounted his in the engine intake and they look quite good there. I, however, being the Contrarian that I am, decided to mount them in the outer (brake cooling) intakes. Please note that these lights are very small and should not seriously impede the airflow to the disc brakes.

Wiring these lights was easy, I mean REALLY easy. It should take about 1.5 hours for most anyone.

Step #1 – The switch wires and switch:

The first step is to unravel the wiring harness provided with the foglights. I decided to mount the relay (included) and the fuse holder (also included) in the factory fuse box. This would keep the electronics centrally located and dry. Cut the 2 wires that run to the switch plug about 24 inches from the switch plug itself.

Snake the cut wires through the large grommet already in the firewall on the driver’s side.

Unscrew the fuse holder (remove 2 front screws and loosen 2 read screws) so that you may lift it up.

This will allow some additional access to feed the wires up and through the factory hole in the bottom of the fuse holder.

Once that is done, attach a female spade connector to the input side of the switch wire and (using a fuse tap) connect to the switched side of fuse #44 (note: this photo shows the wire tapped into fuse #33 which is not switched). Attaching the wire to this location will allow the foglights to be turned on whenever the ignition is on. Some locations may require that they be wired in such a way that they may only be turned on when the low beams are on. If this is this case in your area, then you may want to tie this wire into your low beam power wire.

The switch itself was mounted to the knockout panel to the left of the steering wheel where the factory switch is located. I simply trimmed the back of the switch to allow the wire to run straight off the back and I drilled a small hole in the knockout panel. The switch was attached with 2 sided tape. Finally, ground the switch to one of the 4 brass bolts under the driver’s side of the dash (I think they are 7 mm).

Step #2 – The rest of the wiring:

Remember that the entire wiring harness is complete when you buy the kit so the only connections that have to be made are power, ground and any wires you cut during the installation itself.

Re-attached the switch wires that you cut. Run all the ground leads down through the fuse holder and out the front (via the rubber grommet there). Route them towards the factory ground point on the front left fenderwall. They may all be grounded here.

Run the wires for the lights out the same rubber grommet and down towards the front grill. The wires may be hidden in the factory wire-loom. This picture shows the foglight wires hidden inside the factory wire-loom and the ground wires grounded at the factory ground point. At this point, the last wire to connect will be the power wire. It can be connected to the hot side of the fuse box (passenger’s side) below the fuses. You will see a nut than can be unscrewed and the power lead attached. I couldn’t get a good shot of this but you will see what I mean. This is an adequate source of power as the foglight kit has it’s own in-line fuse. Once connected, you may screw the 4 screws back in place that hold the fuse box down.

At this point, all you need to do is wire-tie the relay, in-line fuse and extra wiring neatly together and put the top back on the fuse box.

Step #3 – Mounting the foglights:

Run the foglight wires so that they are just to the driver’s side of their respective brake air intakes. Then, carefully cut a small slice in the plastic (about 8” inside the intake) and pull the wire through. The foglights are attached using 2 sided tape and screws (optional). The 2 sided tape is really strong and should be enough to hold them in place. Plug the foglights into the wiring harness and turn them on. If you installed them correctly, they should work. Turn them off again so they don’t get too hot to handle. Unscrew the mounting plates but don’t remove them. Stick the 2 sided tape to the mounting plate and hold the light in the brake intake duct. With the lights (low beams too) on and shining at a wall, aim the foglights where you want them.

Only concern yourself with the left-to-right angle at this time. When they are pointing where you want them, stick them to the roof of the intake. At this point, you have just mounted the mounting plates. Remove the foglights only and ensure that the mounting plates are firmly attached. If you wish, you may at this time use the screws included with the kit. Re-attach the foglight to the mounting plate and adjust the up-and-down angle before tightening completely. Repeat for the other side and it should look like this.

Step #4 – Enjoy!

They greatly increase your visibility off to the sides of the road as well as in the fog without blinding oncoming traffic. I’m quite pleased with the results – for safety as well as aesthetic reasons.