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The BMW convertible top is one of the most complicated systems on the car. A lot of people have problems with their convertible tops. Some problems are easy to fix, while others are much more complicated. The E36 convertible top contains a plethora of switches and sensors that tell the convertible top controller when and how to lower the top. If any of these sensors stop working, it can render your entire top inoperable.
One of these sensors checks the position and operation of the window. If your window is stuck in the up position, you won’t be able to lower your top (see Project 70). Another annoying problem that often occurs is with the trunk. The lock on the trunk is connected to the top system, and when it fails, you’ll find that you can’t lower the top when the trunk is open, or open the trunk if the top is not fully closed. If you have any problems with your trunk wiring (see Project 82), they can stop the top from lowering. In a similar manner, sometimes the headliner can get caught when you close the roof and keep the convertible top cover from closing all the way. This will prevent one of the convertible top microswitches from closing, which in turn will prevent you from opening the trunk. If you can’t get into your trunk when your roof is down, try pushing down on the convertible top cover, and it should trigger the switch.
BMW makes at least seven different repair kits that can be used to fix parts of the roof that may have worn out or become broken. Photo 1 shows six of these seven kits and what they aim to repair.
FYI, the parts system for BMW cars (known as “ETK”) is very unclear when it comes to what is included in these kits, so I ordered all of them just to see what came with each kit. All are now available from PelicanParts.com. They are displayed in Photo 1, and a brief description follows:
A: Column C Ceiling Insert Repair Kit (part number 54-31-8-211-902). Contains: Column C inserts and crimp rings. This kit contains both a left and right insert to repair the delicate piece that folds out of the way when the top is lowered. The red arrow in Photo 3 shows this plastic piece that folds into the headliner material. The small tabs on the insert piece often get caught and break off, such that the top must be lowered in steps to avoid having the headliner catch on the frame. Replacement of these pieces requires you rethread some of the rope in the top assembly.
B: Internal Headliner Repair Kit (part number 54-31-8-227-354). Contains: Screws and reinforcement clips. My own car needed this kit to repair a tear in the headliner. In Photo 1, you can see the three long, plastic rails that snap the headliner onto the convertible top. The headliner and rails can break, letting the headliner sag. These metal clips grab onto the existing plastic rails and use screws to reattach the headliner so it won’t sag anymore. One kit should cover the entire headliner. (See BMW technical bulletin 54 04 96 (091).)
C: Column C Ceiling Tension Rope Repair Kit (part number 54-31-8-189-989). Contains: Tension rope, Torx bolt, tension spring, brackets, and lead seal. This kit contains the parts necessary to repair the inner rope on one side of the Column C insert. This rope can be viewed in Photo 3, and I recommend replacing the inserts as well (repair kit A).
D: Column C Cover Tension Rope Repair Kit (part number 54-31-9-068-572). Contains 1,000 millimeters tension rope and five aluminum links. This is replacement rope for tension ropes located in the C column of the convertible roof. Follow the instructions included with the kit to repair the ropes, and be sure to melt each end of the rope to avoid fraying.
E: Repair Kit Column C Cover Insert (part number 54-31-8-209-781). Contains: Column C insert, reinforcement angle, two different sizes of rivets, blind rivet adapter. This kit is used to repair separation of the canvas top from the frame, around the outer edges. It requires the use of a rivet gun, but the repair is pretty straightforward and documented in the included instructions. (See BMW technical bulletin 54 01 95 (891).)
F: Repair Kit for Corner Bow Tension Spring (part number 54-34-8-201-077) Contains: Two tension springs, washers, Torx screws. This kit contains the parts needed to replace the tension springs shown by the light blue arrow in Photo 3. If these springs break or weaken, it can affect the ability of the roof to raise and lower itself properly. If renewing your roof, you should replace these springs.
Folding Top Frame Hinges (not shown – part number 54-31-8-220-564) Contains: Hinge set and bolts. The hinge set is expensive ($250) and is only needed if your convertible top frame hinges have been bent or damaged.
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