Pelican Technical Article:
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
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]
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
PelicanParts.com. They are displayed in Photo 1, and a brief description
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
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).)
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
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
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).)
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
(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.
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Shown here is a
sampling of the repair kits described in the main text.
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).
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.
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.
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!
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).
Looking for more photos?
Click to see bonus pictures for this project.