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Pelican Technical Article:

BMW Convertible Top
Adjustment and Repair

Difficulty Level: 8
Difficulty scale: Adding air to your tires is level one
Rebuilding a BMW Motor is level ten


This article is one in a series that have been released in conjunction with Wayne's new book, 101 Performance Projects for Your BMW 3 Series. The book contains 272 pages of full color projects detailing everything from performance mods to timing the camshafts. With more than 650+ full-color glossy photos accompanying extensive step-by-step procedures, this book is required reading in any 3 Series owner's collection. The book was released in August 2006, and is available for ordering now. See The Official Book Website for more details.

[click to enlarge]


BMW E36 (1992-2000)

Convertible Top Retaining Rails


BMW E30 (1982-1991)

Convertible Tops
(Manual Opening)

Convertible Tops
(With Electric Opening)

Convertible Top Flap Mouldings

Convertible Top Flap Shocks

Convertible Top Flap Release Cables

Convertible Top Drives/Motors


   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 wonít 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, youíll find that you canít 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 canít 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 ďETKĒ) 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 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 wonít 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 Ė 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.

     If you would like to see more technical articles like this one, please continue to support Pelican Parts with all your parts needs.  If you like what you see here, then please visit our online BMW catalog and help support the collection and creating of new and informative technical articles like this one.  Your continued support directly affects the expansion and existence of this site and technical articles like this one.  As always, if you have any questions or comments about this helpful article, please drop us a line.

Figure 1
Shown here is a sampling of the repair kits described in the main text.
Figure 2
This photo shows the convertible motor linkage, which is located under the large, hinged convertible top cover. You can access this area by pressing the top-down switch and letting the cover rise up all the way. The blue arrow points to the cam that drives the bottom part of the convertible top. This is the part that lifts up so the convertible top cover can be raised. If the convertible top cover hits the edge of the top when the roof is being lowered, you can adjust the linkage to push the bottom part of the cover back further (green arrow). While youíre in this area, check to make sure your convertible top motor screws are tight (they were loose on my car when I checked them; yellow arrows).
Figure 3
The left side of this photo shows the right-side latching mechanism for the convertible top cover. The yellow arrow shows one of the springs that often wear out after many years of useóunfortunately, itís not a part you can order separately, so head to a good hardware store for a replacement. The green arrow points to one of the infamous microswitches, which should be checked first if you have unexplained problems raising or lowering your top, or opening your trunk. On the right are two areas commonly repaired using the kits in Photo 1. The Column C inserts are shown with the red arrow, and one of the bow tension springs is shown with the blue arrow.
Figure 4
With the convertible top cover raised, you can also see the bow mechanism located toward the front of the car. The yellow arrow shows one of the finicky microswitches that should be tested first when having unexplained problems. If the roof is not lowering or raising the proper amount, you can adjust this by turning the adjustment turnbuckle shown by the green arrow.
Figure 5
This is the handle of last resort. Many convertible owners donít know this, but there is an emergency roof release handle located underneath the rear seat. Usually, you can fish around and pull out the red strap, but if you canít, simply pull up on the rear seat, and it will pop right out. Pull on the handle to disconnect the roof mechanism and cables from the two motors. You should then be able to manually raise the roof with your hands. Donít lower the roof if the cables are disconnectedóthe convertible roof top cover can catch the wind and fly open while youíre driving!
Figure 6
One of my favorite options for convertible owners is the color-matched hardtop. This top fits on your car with the top down and turns it as close to a coupe as you can get. The top is perfect for people who love convertibles but have to drive a significant number of miles in cold and inclement weather where top-down motoring just isnít practical. The tops are quite heavy and not that easy to install on the car, so plan on using two people and spending several minutes getting it installed. New tops are about $2,300 from BMW (color-matched to your car), but you can usually find a used one if you look around. If your car didnít come with one originally, youíll need the factory installation kit (part number 54-21-8-163-061).
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Comments and Suggestions:
keith l Comments: where do i find the tech bulletin on convertible top reset? i sae it once under this heading BMW 328iC E36 Convertible Top Reset- i typed this into search box but no result. pls help
September 10, 2015
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: In BMW repair information. Either electronic or paper. It would be available through BMW. - Nick at Pelican Parts  

Got more questions?  Join us in our BMW Technical Forum Message Board, and ask a question to one of our many automotive experts.
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