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How to Remove Your Headlights
 
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Pelican Technical Article:

How to Remove Your Headlights

Nick Czerula

Time:

1 hour1 hr

Tab:

$300

Talent:

*

Tools:

Phillips & flathead screwdriver, plastic prying tool, 8mm nut driver.

Applicable Models:

BMW E46 3-Series (1999-06)

Parts Required:

Headlight assembly, headlight bulb

Hot Tip:

Be gentle with the assembly

Performance Gain:

Repair damaged headlight assembly, replace faulty headlight bulb

Complementary Modification:

Upgrade to Xenon headlamps

BMW E46 models are equipped with one of three different headlight systems:

  • Standard headlights use halogen bulbs for both high and low beam. The bulbs are enclosed in a plastic housing with a separate plastic cover.
  • High intensity discharge (HID) or xenon headlights use a xenon bulb for low beam for maximum illumination and good side-to-side lighting. The bulbs are enclosed in a plastic housing with a separate plastic cover. An ignition element for the xenon bulb is enclosed in each headlight assembly. Cars with HID headlights feature automatic headlight aim control (LWR) for varying passenger and cargo loads. This is necessary because the extra illumination from xenon low beans can be blinding to oncoming traffic if the rear of the vehicle is weighed down and the headlights point upward.
  • Adaptive headlights with bi-xenon bulbs (optional in 2002 models and later) use mirrors and shutters to actively aim the headlights, directing low beams in the same direction as high beams. 

Headlight assembly seals can wear out over time resulting in water leaks and repeat bulb failures. This article will show you how to remove your E46 headlights.

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.

Headlight Bulb Replacing:
Working at rear of headlight assembly, unplug the headlight bulb electrical connector by squeezing the release tab and pulling it off.
Figure 1

Working at rear of headlight assembly, unplug the headlight bulb electrical connector by squeezing the release tab and pulling it off. Low beam bulb (green arrow) High beam bulb (purple arrow).

Next, rotate headlight bulb holder counterclockwise and remove (green arrow).
Figure 2

Next, rotate headlight bulb holder counterclockwise and remove (green arrow).

Pull the headlight bulb (green arrow) out of the bulb holder (purple arrow).
Figure 3

Pull the headlight bulb (green arrow) out of the bulb holder (purple arrow). Install the new headlight bulb into the holder and install the holder into the headlight assembly. Connect the electrical connector and check the bulb operation.

Headlight assembly replacing:
Disconnect the headlight's electrical connectors (green arrows).
Figure 4

Disconnect the headlight's electrical connectors (green arrows).

Models with headlight washers: Next, remove the headlight washers.
Figure 5

Models with headlight washers: Next, remove the headlight washers. To do this, use a plastic prying tool and lever washer out.

Models with headlight washers: Then grab and pull straight out of headlight.
Figure 6

Models with headlight washers: Then grab and pull straight out of headlight. When nozzle is pulled out a small squirt of washer fluid is ejected.

Working at top corner of fender, insert a Phillips screwdriver into the hole and remove the turn signal lens fastener: SME models do not have a screw, they will have a retaining tab instead.
Figure 7

Working at top corner of fender, insert a Phillips screwdriver into the hole and remove the turn signal lens fastener: SOME models do not have a screw, they will have a retaining tab instead. To release this style, insert a flathead screwdriver into the same hole, and release the tab while levering the turn signal lens out.

Slide the turn signal lens out of the fender, disconnect the electrical connector and remove the turn signal lens from the vehicle.
Figure 8

Slide the turn signal lens out of the fender, disconnect the electrical connector and remove the turn signal lens from the vehicle.

Pull out and remove the lower headlight trim.
Figure 9

Pull out and remove the lower headlight trim. You can release the retaining tabs by hand or using a small flathead screwdriver.

Remove the three 8mm headlight mounting fasteners (green arrows) then remove the headlight from the vehicle by pulling it straight out toward front of vehicle.
Figure 10

Remove the three 8mm headlight mounting fasteners (green arrows) then remove the headlight from the vehicle by pulling it straight out toward front of vehicle.  SOME MODELS may have a fourth fastener on the rear of the headlight assembly down low beside the radiator.



Install the new headlight assembly and tighten the fasteners. Install the headlight trim and snap it into place. Install the turn signal lens and connect all the electrical connectors.
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Comments and Suggestions:
Skiddz Comments: Follow up to my earlier question: Found a video that explains how to do the HID bulbs:

https://youtu.be/LXqkFytdg98

FWIW, the "locking ring" on my passenger side took a LOT of grunt to get to pop loose. I suggest wearing some mechanics gloves as I lost some skin in the process. :
April 8, 2017
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: Thanks for the follow up.  
Skiddz Comments: Anybody got a quick How-To for an '06 325Ci with HID lights? Can't see how the bulbs are secured in the headlight housing.
April 8, 2017
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: The large module at the rear of the bulb is rotated to unlock the connector and remove. Then the bulb holder is rotated to unlock and release the bulb.

We don't currently have that tech article. If we get a chance to perform the procedure, we will be sure to document it.

I would grab a repair manual. It will have the procedure, special tools and torque specs - Nick at Pelican Parts
 
rluser Comments: There is a fourth fastener on the headlight assembly. It is low and inside, adjacent to the radiator. You can remove it with a long shafted 8mm driver or T25 driver inserted between the headlight and the front panel supporting the radiator. The lower rear fastener is also likely to be T25 in addition to 8mm hex.
March 21, 2017
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: Correct, some models will have a fourth fastener. I will have a note added. - Nick at Pelican Parts  
no nick name Comments: Wow! The process is entirely external? That's a surprise but I'll give it a try. Thanks.
November 4, 2015
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: Thanks for the feedback. Glad we could help.
- Nick at Pelican Parts
 
no nick name Comments: Well, my car isn't a US delivered vehicle but I'm sure it has its equivalent over there, being a 2003 330ci. I have attached at photo to show the relevant headlight assembly, which I note seems to be among the parts in your listings. I was looking for advice on how to replace the high-beam globes so they would color match the xenon low beams the high beams are more yellow.
November 4, 2015
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: The photo helps, thanks. The design on that style light a bit different, but removal is similar. Minus the side marker lens, as it is now part of the assembly. To remove, first lever out and remove the washer nozzle, once out pull it straight off to remove. Then lever out the plastic trim, then remove headlight fasteners and connectors. - Nick at Pelican Parts  
no nick name Comments: Thanks for your reply but how hard would it be to give the model and year of your subject car? Wanting to know more about headlight maintenance I have noticed how many variants there seem to be of the E46 in sedan and coupe form and often the headlights are indeed also different.
November 2, 2015
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: When the articles are created, we use repair information along side our subject vehicle. If the repair information matches our vehicle, we assume it matches all the years that info applies to. Without feedback from users, we wouldn't always be able to tell when and where the changes occur. If your vehicle is a US model, I would be interested in hearing more about it, or seeing photos. - Nick at Pelican Parts  
no nick name Comments: E46 3 series 99-06 covers a lot of cars. The first image immediately showed that the subject headlight assembly bore no resemblance to that of my 03 330 ci. The topic title should be more specific.
October 31, 2015
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: Our model is from the US and may vary from your own. As we used one subject vehicle. I would grab a repair manual. It will have the procedure, special tools and torque specs.

Give our parts specialists a call at 1-888-280-7799. - Nick at Pelican Parts
 

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Page last updated: Sat 10/21/2017 02:22:31 AM