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If you are not the original owner of your BMW, chances are there are quite a few things amiss with your car, and you are left wondering how they got broken. There probably isn’t a place on the car with more gadgets and devices that break than the door. Not only do you have window glass and potentially leaky seals, but you have door handles, mirror switches, window regulators, door stays, and door panels—all of which are very susceptible to breakage or damage. Even if you only work on your car from time to time, there is a very good chance you will need to dive into the door to fix something that has broken. This project specifically targets the replacement of the door lock assembly, but because there are so many moving parts on the door, I’ll discuss just about everything else as well.
The first step in working on your car door is removing the door panel. (An important note: If you’re looking to remove your outside mirror, you do not need to remove the door panel; see Project 76.) Photos 1 and 2 detail the process of door panel removal. The toughest part is pulling the panel out from the door—it is attached with 11 plastic clips that can be difficult to snap out of their frames. Also, the door panel often separates as you pull it away from the frame, leaving the plastic door pockets attached. Never fear, though, these are easily glued back on at reassembly time with some 3M Super Weatherstrip glue.
With the door panel removed, you should see a foam covering glued onto the back side of the door. A black, sticky goo attaches this to the door, which can be removed and reused again if material is still pliable. Be careful not to tear the foam covering when you remove it, though.
With the panel removed, you will have access to a number of items inside the door. The door stay can simply be unbolted from the door frame and removed. The plastic door handle can easily be swapped out. The window regulator can be removed or repaired (see Project 70). Any door seals or channel guides that need renewing are accessible to you as well. If any door-mounted speakers are broken, don’t forget to replace them while you have the chance. The E36 speakers have a thin outer lip on their housing that often cracks as people bang on the door panel with their feet and knees. Unfortunately, this small lip is an integrated part of the speaker, and you must replace the entire speaker with a new one if you want to fix the broken lip.
One common failure point of the E36 BMWs is the small switch located inside the power lock assembly. These switches get a lot of use, and when they wear out, they can cause all sorts of problems. Switches that are stuck open tell the car the door is ajar all the time. The dashboard chime may ring continuously, or the gauge cluster may experience some erratic behavior. If the switch is stuck closed, then coupe and convertible owners may have a heck of a time opening and closing their doors because the window won’t roll down that 1/4-inch or so to allow you to pull it away from the car. The replacement of the lock assembly is detailed in the sequence in Photo 5.
On my 1993 E36, I had a really tough time chasing down a fault with the alarm system and door locks. I thought for sure it was related to the door switches, but in the end, the problem was related to faulty wiring in the trunk. (See Photo 2 of Project 82 for more details on this failure.)
Closing up the door panel is straightforward. I always like to use new plastic door panel clips because not only are the new ones cheap, the old ones get brittle and may break in the very near future, causing an annoying rattle. Don’t forget to install the foam covering. It’s very common to accidentally leave this on your workbench, only to discover it later on when you’re putting your tools away!
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