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BMW Technical Article

Painting The Grille Surrounds
On The BMW E36 3 Series

Jared Fenton
Wayne R. Dempsey

Difficulty Level: 2
Difficulty scale: Adding air to your tires is level one
Rebuilding a BMW Motor is level ten

     In this tech article I will go over the steps involved in painting the grille surrounds on the BMW E36 3 Series. This is a cool little appearance trick that will make the front of your BMW Look more modern and at the same time add a personalized touch to your car. Keep in mind that this article is specific to the E36, however it applies to all models of BMW.

     The first step is to remove the grilles from the car. This is done by opening the hood and removing the upper radiator shroud. Then from inside the car, lightly tap the grilles out. They should pop out of the front of the panel with a little force.

     Now, with the grilles out of the car look at the backside of each grille. You will need to remove the chrome surround piece from the plastic vents. On the back of each grille, you will see 8 plastic tabs that hold the chrome pieces to the plastic. Carefully bend these tabs back and remove the chrome surround from the plastic. Set the plastic pieces aside in a safe place.

     Now, we will need to prep the chrome surrounds. Use some acetone or paint thinner or a rag and clean the surrounds. Ideally you want to use a solvent that contains xylene. This agent is phenomenal when prepping pieces for paint. Itís ok to use force while cleaning, you wont take the chrome off. You want to get the surrounds as clean as possible for the next step. Let the surrounds dry for at least 15 minutes before continuing.

     Next, we will have to prime the surrounds. I use Wurth brand paint products. They are a little expensive, however, this is the best spray paint I have ever used. It adheres great, dries uniformly and without ripples, and leaves an absolutely beautiful luster. Itís a good idea to practice painting on a junk piece before you begin on the surrounds. Painting takes practice. Keep in mind that spray paint usually works the best if the outside temperature is between 70 and 90 degrees F. If you use spray paint is cold temperatures, it will not cure correctly and will start to run. Whenever possible use a heat lamp. I have three heat lamps in my upstairs bathroom, so I usually paint outside, then move the pieces into the bathroom, turn on the lights and let them cure under the 80+ F. lights.

     I use Wurth Self-Etch primer first, spraying one light coat of primer first. This will help the adhesion of the final coat of primer. Then I wait 30 minutes, then go back and spray the final coat over the first coat. Now let the primer dry. Itís a good idea to put the surrounds under a heat lamp at this time. It will help the primer cure. After about 3 hours, we are ready to sand the primer. Start out with 400 grit sand paper, and very lightly sand the primer until there is a uniform smooth surface. Use progressively higher grits of sandpaper until the primer is smooth as glass.

     Now we are ready to start applying paint on the primer. I use Wurth Satin Black Trim Paint. This stuff is amazing. You can use it to black out chrome trim, paint steel or aluminum bumpers, or even vinyl! Start by applying a light first coat (sometimes called a tack coat) to the surround. This will help adhesion of the final coats. Let the tack coat dry for at least an hour before continuing. Once dry, apply a second coat and let it dry for 3 hours. Now, if you are so inclined, you can color sand the surrounds, however Iíve found that this isnít needed when using Wurth products. The paint dries almost perfectly smooth.

     Let the surrounds dry overnight before re-installing. Now, re-attach the plastic grille pieces to the surrounds, and push them back into the front panel on the car. Lastly, re-install the radiator upper shroud.

     Just a final note, any time you are painting anything, the final result is directly proportional to the time invested in prep work. Essentially, what this means is, if the prep work is good enough, you can have a $500 paint job on a car look like a $5000 job. Just be prepared to be patient, and take your time.  

     Well, there you have it - it's really not too difficult at all.  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.

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