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Steering Column Switch Replacement
 
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Pelican Technical Article:

Steering Column Switch Replacement

Nick Czerula

Time:

2 hours2 hrs

Tab:

$150

Talent:

****

Tools:

Phillips & flat-head screwdrivers, trim panel tool, T25 Torx driver

Applicable Models:

BMW E46 3-Series (1999-06)

Parts Required:

Clock spring, turn signal switch, wiper switch

Hot Tip:

Be careful when working with clockspring

Performance Gain:

Repair faulty switches or clock spring

Complementary Modification:

Steering column trim panels also covered in this tech article

The BMW E46 steering wheel and steering column house a number of electrical and electronic controls. Steering wheel components include:

  • Horn button
  • Driver airbag
  • Steering wheel multifunction switches (includes radio and mobile phone control switches)
  • Steering angle sensor
  • Clock spring (electrical contact at base of steering wheel for components listed above)

Steering column components include:

  • Steering column switch cluster (includes turn signal switch, wiper & washer switch, headlight beam switch, cruise control switch, on-board computer (BC) switch (if equipped)
  • Steering column adjuster switch
  • Steering wheel heater switch (if equipped)

Repairs or replacement of steering wheel components requires that you remove the airbag and steering wheel first. When you remove the driver airbag, it is important that you disconnect the battery and wait at least 10 minutes for the system to power down. Once the airbag is removed, store it in a safe place facing up. Do not connect the vehicle battery while the airbag is removed. Fault codes will be set if you do so. If you do not have the ability to clear fault codes, you will be stuck with a warning lamp until you can have it cleared. 

The steering wheel multifunction switches, the clock spring and the steering angle sensor can be replaced once the driver airbag and steering wheel are removed. The steering wheel also has to be removed to replace the steering column switch cluster and the upper steering column trim panels.

There are two switches located on the sides of the steering column, below the steering wheel: one is responsible for operating the windshield wipers and washers; the other operates turn signals and the headlight dimmer. If one of these switches fails, the good news is that each one can be serviced individually.

The clock spring is a ribbon of flat wire used to connect electrical circuits through the steering wheel. For example, the horn, driver airbag and multi-function switches on the steering wheel. If the clock spring fails, it usually leaves you with a fault code for the driver airbag. If you suspect your clock spring is responsible for fault codes, especially an airbag fault code, have it professionally diagnosed. Once you are sure of the problem, replace the parts yourself.

In this tech article I will go over how to replace the steering column switches and the clock spring on BMW E46 vehicles.

To avoid marring the trim if you need to pry anything, work with a plastic prying tool or wrap a screwdriver tip with masking tape before prying out trim panels, switches or electrical accessories.

Keep in mind that when your car was serviced before, parts may have been replaced with different size fasteners used in the replacement. The sizes of the nuts and bolts we give may be different from what you have, so be prepared with different size sockets and wrenches. 

Protect your eyes, hands and body from fluids, dust and debris while working on your vehicle. If you are working with the electrical system, disconnect the battery before beginning. Always catch fluids in appropriate containers and properly dispose of any fluid waste. Recycle parts, packaging and fluids when possible. Do not work on your vehicle if you feel the task is beyond your ability. 

Vehicle models change and evolve, as they grow older, so the vehicle shown in our illustrations may vary slightly from yours. If something seems different, let us know and share your info to help other users. Do you have questions or want to add to the article? Leave a comment below. When leaving a comment, please leave your vehicle information.

Unlock the steering column adjuster and move the steering wheel all the way forward and as low as it will go.

Remove the driver airbag and steering wheel. See our tech article on steering wheel removal.

Working at top of steering column trim, remove plastic Phillips-head screw (green arrow).
Figure 1

Working at top of steering column trim, remove plastic Phillips-head screw (green arrow). If you unscrew the screw almost all the way, then pull up on it, you will be able to remove it and the plastic expander that locks it in place.

Press rear sides of upper steering wheel trim piece in to release.
Figure 2

Press rear sides of upper steering wheel trim piece in to release. Pull trim up and toward rear of vehicle to release.

Next you have to remove the soft trim cover from plastic trim piece.
Figure 3

Next you have to remove the soft trim cover from plastic trim piece. Squeeze and release small retaining tabs (green arrows) to release covers. Remove upper trim piece once the two are separated.

Working at trim panel above pedal cluster, remove three Phillips head screws (green arrows).
Figure 4

Working at trim panel above pedal cluster, remove three Phillips head screws (green arrows).

Using a trim panel tool, remove plastic rivet from trim panel (green arrow).
Figure 5

Using a trim panel tool, remove plastic rivet from trim panel (green arrow).

Working at back of trim panel behind brake pedal, unlock trim clip by rotating 90° counterclockwise (green arrow).
Figure 6

Working at back of trim panel behind brake pedal, unlock trim clip by rotating 90° counterclockwise (green arrow).

Lower trim panel, then remove OBD II connector by sliding locking tab and pulling out of trim panel (green arrow).
Figure 7

Lower trim panel, then remove OBD II connector by sliding locking tab and pulling out of trim panel (green arrow). Then disconnect footwell light electrical connector (purple arrow).

Working at bottom of lower steering column trim piece, use a pick to press center of plastic rivet up to release rivet (green arrow).
Figure 8

Working at bottom of lower steering column trim piece, use a pick to press center of plastic rivet up to release rivet (green arrow). Then pull trim down off steering column just enough to access fasteners on clock spring.

Working at windshield wiper switch, disconnect electrical connector by releasing retaining tab and pulling off (green arrow).
Figure 9

Working at windshield wiper switch, disconnect electrical connector by releasing retaining tab and pulling off (green arrow).

Working at turn signal switch, disconnect electrical connector by releasing retaining tab and pulling off (green arrow).
Figure 10

Working at turn signal switch, disconnect electrical connector by releasing retaining tab and pulling off (green arrow).

Then, remove four T25 Torx head screws (green arrows).
Figure 11

Then, remove four T25 Torx head screws (green arrows).

Slide switches off steering column toward rear of vehicle.
Figure 12

Slide switches off steering column toward rear of vehicle.

Working at bottom of switch assembly, disconnect electrical connector by releasing retaining tab and pulling off (green arrow).
Figure 13

Working at bottom of switch assembly, disconnect electrical connector by releasing retaining tab and pulling off (green arrow).

Green arrows point to switches and yellow arrow points to clock spring.
Figure 14

Green arrows point to switches and yellow arrow points to clock spring.

To separate switches from clock spring, squeeze retaining tabs (green arrows) and slide switch out.
Figure 15

To separate switches from clock spring, squeeze retaining tabs (green arrows) and slide switch out. Slide new switch in and confirm retaining tabs properly engage. To install switch assembly, slide onto steering column and install fasteners. Install trim pieces in reverse order of removal. Then install steering wheel and airbag. Check operation of switches and trim panel fit.

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Comments and Suggestions:
george Comments: My blinkers wont turn off by turning steaing wheel
October 26, 2016
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: The turn signal cancel switch is broken. You will need a new turn signal switch. Give The Pelican Parts parts specialists a call at 1-888-280-7799. They can figure out what part or repair kit you need.
- Nick at Pelican Parts
 
art Comments: e46 2001 325i 4 door manual
August 6, 2016
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: Thanks, got it. - Nick at Pelican Parts  
Art Comments: My signal doesn't have the computer button on it, but it doesn't reset back to center after a turn. I would like to replace it and have a tiny upgrade as well, will my column support the computer button if I get this as a replacement?
August 6, 2016
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: Good question. I am not 100% sure as I have never tried. Only way to tell, is to look at the wiring for both options, if the same, install the switch and perform the software update to activate the function. - Nick at Pelican Parts  

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Page last updated: Mon 12/5/2016 02:18:44 AM