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Installing Colored Gauge Faces on Your BMW

Pelican Technical Article:

Installing Colored Gauge Faces on Your BMW


1-2 hours






13mm wrench, T15 Torx stubby driver, plastic trim pry tool or old credit card, T9 Torx, flatblade screwdriver

Applicable Models:

BMW E30 3-Series (1984-93)
BMW E36 3-Series (1992-99)

Parts Required:

White faced gauges (other colors are more than $20), indiglo faced gauges

Performance Gain:

Gives a custom look to your gauge cluster

Complementary Modification:

Replace burnt out gauge cluster light bulbs
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One of the coolest upgrades you can do to your BMW is installing white gauge faces. One notch even higher on the cool scale is the addition of indiglo faces. These faces are manufactured out of a material that glows when electricity runs through it. You can alter the brightness and even change the color with the controller that comes with it. Installation is a bit above the beginner level, but the end result is definitely worth it.

Begin by removing the gauge cluster from your car (see Project 90). When the gauge cluster is removed, bring it over to your workbench. Photo 3 of Project 90 shows the five Torx screws that must be removed to separate the two cluster halves (shown by the yellow arrows). Pull the cluster apart after carefully peeling back the BMW certification sticker. With the cluster open, the gauge halves should resemble what is shown in Photo 1. Now separate the actual gauges from the clear plastic housing by rotating the white part of the locking mechanism about 180 degrees. You will probably need a pair of pliers or a small screwdriver for this task. Once these are rotated out of the way, the gauges should be able to be pulled from the housing.

With the gauge cluster removed (Photo 2), pull out the miles-per-gallon (mpg) gauge from the back of the cluster (inset of Photo 1). Each of the needles on all five gauges needs to be removed in order to perform the face swap. Take a small soft pencil or light marker and mark on each of the white faces where the fuel and temp needles lay prior to removing them. The mpg, rpm, and mph needles do not need to be marked because they rest against the stops when they're off. The needles themselves are easily removed by using two screwdrivers to wedge them off (Photo 2). A common household fork works as an excellent pry tool as well. Be aware that the needle may suddenly fly off, so make sure you know where it goes when it flies through the air (safety goggles are a good idea here, too). At this point, you will probably want to paint the needles, as shown in the inset of Photo 3.

With all the needles removed, install the gauge faces on top of the old ones. There should be some double-sided-tape templates included with the kit. Cut these, and place them on the back of the new gauge faces. It's important that the new face overlays do not start to unstick and back off of the original faces, as the new face overlay will then push up against the backs of the needles and make them stick. This is actually a common problem with the original black face overlays, which can also delaminate and make the needles stick.

Begin the needle replacement by pushing on the fuel and temp needles first. Line them up with the marks you made previously, and push them on gently, leaving a small gap between them and the new face overlay. For the mph, mpg, and rpm needles, place them on the gauges so they are just touching the resting stop. Do not wind them back so they are preloaded on the resting stop--they should simply rest against the needle. Push the needle down, leaving a small gap between the needle and the overlay. When all of the needles have been installed, carefully swing them through their range of motion to make sure they won't get stuck on some high point of the gauge overlay.

Reinstall the mpg gauge, and insert the gauges back into the clear plastic housing. Route the cable as shown in Photo 4. Here's a tip: I clipped a small piece of plastic out of the housing so the wires could be routed out the bottom of the cluster. This spot should give you enough clearance to reinstall the cluster into the car. If you have problems with the wires getting pinched, you can route them through the back of the cluster by routing them through an unused bulb holder. However, to accomplish this, you need to clip off and resolder the connectors to the harness.

Now close up the housing (replacing any burned out bulbs you may have along the way), and reinstall the cluster into the car.

The electrical wiring for indiglo gauges varies significantly according to which car you have. The main wire harness that powers the unit requires 12 volts that are live when the ignition switch is turned on. You can usually tap into the dimmer switch wires or the headlamp switch; use a multimeter and some trial and error to figure out which wire is hot when the ignition is on. Or, if you know which wire powers the radio circuit, you can tap into that as well. The indiglo gauges have an adjuster that can be placed on the dashboard or just behind it. Most people adjust their gauges once or twice and never mess with it again.

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Figure 1

Shown here is the gauge cluster, after being removed and separated. The top part shows the actual gauges and actuators; the bottom is the circuit board that drives the gauges. The red arrows point to the three plastic fasteners that hold the gauge cluster to the clear plastic housing. To separate the gauge cluster from the housing, carefully rotate the white plastic holder on the fastener post so that it no longer holds the gauges in place. A close look at these fasteners will instantly reveal in clearer detail how they work. The mpg mini-gauge is snapped into place on the back of the cluster. Carefully pry back the tabs, and the mini-gauge should pop out (inset photo).

Figure 2

Shown here is the original gauge cluster removed from its housing. The trickiest part of this process is the removal and reinstallation of the needles. Some may require more effort than others. Use two small screwdrivers on either side of the needle to apply pressure evenly, back and forth. The needle is mounted on a fragile metal post that can easily be bent, so be careful during this removal step. While you're installing the new faces, you may also be interested in adding chrome outer gauge rings (inset, lower left).

Figure 3

With the needles removed, place the gauge faces on top of the old faces. There should be some circular-cut double-sided sticky tape included with the kit. Carefully remove the tape and apply it to the old gauge faces. The new faces should lie down on top perfectly, but test-fit them first to make sure. Since your stock needles are white, you won't be able to see them with white gauge faces. I chose to use some Testors neon orange paint to apply some color to the needles. (As you can see from Photo 5, the results were fantastic!)

Figure 4

Route the cable inside the cluster so it doesn't interfere with any of the gauges or the clear areas that pass light through. To route the cable outside of the cluster, I cut a small notch all the way on the side of the cluster with a pair of clippers (yellow). Place your notch far off to the side so that it won't interfere with the other light-blue half of the gauge cluster when reassembled.

Figure 5

Shown here is the finished product. The top shows how the gauges look in daylight. White backgrounds with the orange needles really stand out a lot more than the standard black-and-white of the stock gauges. The bottom photos show the gauges at night. Since the actual gauge material lights up, the illumination is even and very clear. On this set of indiglo gauge faces, you could adjust the brightness level and also change the color of the illuminated faces from blue to green. After driving with these for one day, you'll think all other gauge clusters are boring!

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Page last updated: Fri 1/19/2018 02:06:03 AM