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Replacing Your Rear Tail Lights
 
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Pelican Technical Article:

Replacing Your Rear Tail Lights

Nick Czerula

Time:

1 hour1 hr

Tab:

$100

Talent:

**

Tools:

Flathead screwdriver, plastic prying tool

Applicable Models:

BMW 325Ci Coupe/Conv (2001-06)
BMW 325i/xi Sedan (2001-06)
BMW 330Ci Coupe/Conv (2001-06)
BMW 330i/xi Sedan (2001-06)
BMW M3 Coupe/Conv (2001-06)

Parts Required:

Taillight assembly, taillight bulbs, taillight bulb sockets, taillight electrical connector pigtail

Hot Tip:

Use a wire brush to clean the bulb holder contacts prior to installation of the bulb

Performance Gain:

Working tail lamps

Complementary Modification:

Install new rear lenses

BMW E46 exterior bulbs are monitored by the Light Switch Center (LSZ), which also controls instrument panel dimming. LSZ is also capable of switching lighting functions in case of a fault. For example, in case of a taillight bulb failure, brake light bulbs are used as a substitute.

Bulb monitoring by LSZ is done both cold and hot (unlit or lit). In cold monitoring, LSZ sends brief current pulses to unlit bulbs to measure their resistance. The pulses are too short to illuminate bulbs but serve the purpose of evaluating whether an individual bulb or bulb circuit is defective. In hot monitoring, LSZ measures the current to individual lit bulbs to determine overload or a break in the circuit.

When dealing with bulb failures or bulb out messages, always inspect the electrical connector and taillight bulb holder. The connectors can wear over time causing heat and melting. Once the electrical connector on the harness side or the taillight socket has melted, you will have a poor connection and rear bulb faults or failures. If you find the connector is melted, you can repair it by installing a new plug pigtail and / or replacing the bulb socket assembly. See our tech article on taillight wiring and replacing.

The taillights on E46 models are split into two parts. One is mounted to the rear fender and the other in the trunk lid or tailgate. The lens in the rear fender houses the brake, turn and taillight bulbs. The lens in the trunk or tailgate houses the backup and rear fog light bulbs.

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. Never work on your vehicle if you feel the task is beyond your ability. 

Our vehicle may vary slightly from yours as models do change and evolve, as they grow older. 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.

This photo shows the taillight on E46 models: theyï¿1/2re split into two parts.
Figure 1

This photo shows the taillight on E46 models: they're split into two parts. One is mounted to the rear fender (green arrow) and the other in the trunk lid (purple arrow) or tailgate. The lens in the rear fender houses the brake, turn and taillight bulbs. The lens in the trunk or tailgate houses the backup and rear fog light bulbs.

Fender taillight:
To replace the bulb in the fender mounted lens, unclip the bulb carrier by rotating the knob (green arrow) and pulling it away from the taillight.
Figure 2

To replace the bulb in the fender mounted lens, unclip the bulb carrier by rotating the knob (green arrow) and pulling it away from the taillight.

Disconnect the electrical connector (green arrow) by squeezing the release tabs and it pulling off.
Figure 3

Disconnect the electrical connector (green arrow) by squeezing the release tabs and it pulling off. Replace the faulty bulb. Reinstall the bulb carrier and check the operation of the taillight bulbs.

This photo shows bulb locations and use for the fender mounted lens.
Figure 4

This photo shows bulb locations and use for the fender mounted lens. Taillight / brake light bulb (purple arrow). Brake light bulb (green arrow). Turn signal bulb (blue arrow)

To replace the fender mounted lens, remove the round trim piece to access the lower fastener (yellow arrow).
Figure 5

To replace the fender mounted lens, remove the round trim piece to access the lower fastener (yellow arrow). Pry it out using a flathead screwdriver, but be careful not to damage the plastic trunk trim.

Next, remove the two 10mm mounting fasteners (green arrows).
Figure 6

Next, remove the two 10mm mounting fasteners (green arrows).

Then peel back the carpet to access the third taillight mounting fastener and remove the taillight from the fender (green arrow).
Figure 7

Then peel back the carpet to access the third taillight mounting fastener and remove the taillight from the fender (green arrow). When installing the new taillight lens, check that the taillight seal is in good condition, replace if necessary. If this seal leaks, water can leak into the trunk or taillight lens.

Trunk taillight:
Remove the trunk trim panel rivets using a trim panel tool.
Figure 8

Remove the trunk trim panel rivets using a trim panel tool. You only have to remove the clips along the edge of trunk lid (green arrows).

Pry the center of rivet out using a trim panel tool and remove the rivet from the trim panel.
Figure 9

Pry the center of rivet out using a trim panel tool and remove the rivet from the trim panel.

Pull the trunk trim away from the trunk lid.
Figure 10

Pull the trunk trim away from the trunk lid. Disconnect the electrical connector (green arrow).

Then release the clip and remove the bulb carrier from the trunk lid (green arrow).
Figure 11

Then release the clip and remove the bulb carrier from the trunk lid (green arrow).

This photo shows the bulb locations and use for the trunk lid mounted lens.
Figure 12

This photo shows the bulb locations and use for the trunk lid mounted lens. Reverse light bulb (yellow arrow). Rear fog light bulb (green arrow).

To replace the trunk mounted lens, remove the mounting fastener (green arrow).
Figure 13

To replace the trunk mounted lens, remove the mounting fastener (green arrow).

Then remove the taillight lens from the trunk lid by lifting the inside of lens up and unclipping it from the outer edge of the trunk lid.
Figure 14

Then remove the taillight lens from the trunk lid by lifting the inside of lens up and unclipping it from the outer edge of the trunk lid. When installing the new taillight lens, check that the taillight seal is in good condition, replace if necessary. If this seal leaks, water can leak into the trunk or taillight lens.

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Comments and Suggestions:
cd139 Comments: Thanks for the great directions!
July 17, 2014
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: Thanks for the feedback. Glad we could help.
- Nick at Pelican Parts
 
DQ Comments: My 2001 325ci has a burned wiring connector that plugs into the tail light bulb panel. Where can I purchase a pig tail?
January 4, 2014
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: Give our BMW parts specialist a call, 888-280-7799. They can help you find the pigtail.

I would check that the socket connection is in good shape alo. Usually they melt along with the plug. - Nick at Pelican Parts
 

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Page last updated: Sun 12/11/2016 02:20:26 AM