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Pelican Technical Article:

BMW E30 3-Series Gauge Face Replacement
Jared Fenton

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

     This article is the one in a series that will be released in conjunction with Wayne's upcoming book, 101 Projects for Your BMW 3-Series.  The book will be 256 pages of full color projects detailing everything from performance mods to timing the camshafts.   With more than 350+ full-color glossy photos accompanying extensive step-by-step procedures, this book should be a staple in any 3-Series owner's collection.  See The Official Book Website for more details.  The book is due out in October 2005.   


     A popular upgrade for most car owners today is to replace the stock gauge faces with custom or colored faces. In this tech article, I will go over the steps involved in replacing the stock gauge faces with aftermarket ones on the BMW E30 3 Series cars from 1984-91. This article is specific to my E30 325is; however, the procedures listed here can be applied to nearly every model of BMW. In most cases, adding different gauge faces can greatly improve the appearance of your interior. I have also seen some gauge faces out there that look pretty tacky, like having BMW roundels as the actual gauge face. But as they say, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

  The first step in replacing the faces is to disconnect the battery. This will prevent any rouge spikes from going through the electrical system, and possibly fry expensive engine controls, such as the ECU or DME. Once the battery is disconnected, Get inside the car, put the key in the ignition and turn it to the run position. This will unlock the steering wheel. We will need to remove the steering wheel in order to remove the gauge cluster from the car. The E30 used several different types of steering wheels; those from 1990 and on had an airbag incorporated into the wheel. In the case of the airbag equipped models, I recommend going to your local dealer or shop to have the system deactivated as most home mechanics will not have the correct tools to do the job right.

 Steering wheel removal is quite easy. Simply use a small flat-head screwdriver to carefully pry out the BMW roundel in the center of the wheel. It will come out quite easily; so try not to use a lot of force on it. Once removed, you will see a 22mm nut securing the wheel to the steering shaft. Remove the nut with a breaker bar, as itís torqued down relatively tight. Before you remove the steering wheel, itís a good idea to make a scribe mark or use some paint to mark the position of the wheel. This will help you to put the wheel back on correctly.

  With the steering wheel now off, look under the dash at the panel the covers the pedals. There are three plastic screws that hold this panel to the dashboard. Remove these screws and pull the lower dash panel off. Now reach up under the front of the panel directly under the gauge cluster. Feel around inside there until you feel a large knurled round nut on either side. Loosen and remove the nuts. Now you will be able to remove the panel under the gauge cluster and gain access to the screws that secure the frame to the gauge cluster. Now use a small Phillips head screwdriver to remove the screws along the bottom edge. Once all of them are removed, carefully pull the frame off the cluster.

  Now look up inside the dash above the cluster. You will see two triangular ears holding the cluster to the dash. Remove these screws and pull the cluster towards you. As you pull it towards you, rotate the cluster so that the gauges face downward. This will give you access to the various electrical connections on the back of the cluster. Itís a good idea to mark each connection to where it plugs in, or make a diagram. In most cases, the large multi-wire connectors are color-coded to the plugs on the back of the cluster. Now unplug everything and remove the cluster from the car.

  Take the cluster to a good work area and look at the back of the unit. You will see a series of Phillips head screws along the back of the cluster. Remove all of them. Next, remove the back panel of the cluster. Now is the time to use caution, as you will see the guts of the cluster. Now, look along the edges of each of the gauges. You will see a series of screws holding them in. Remove these screws and carefully pull up on each of the gauges. They will pull out of the board along with the connectors.

  Once the gauges are all out, we need to remove the Needles on the gauges. The gauge face kit will include a tool that will help you do this. I highly recommend that you not try to remove the needles without the tool, as you will most likely damage the needles. Once the needles are off, get the new gauge faces. In this case the new faces are a decal that fits over the existing face.

  To install the decals, first get a rag and soak it in soapy water. Then very carefully, wipe the surface of the existing gauge. This will keep the decal from sticking in place when you apply it. Be careful not to get any of the water on the inside of the gauge.

  Now peel off the backing on the decals and slide them onto the gauges. Youíll see how handy the soapy water is. It allows you to position the gauge face decal correctly. Just work quickly as the water will start to dry quickly. Once you have the decal in the correct position, use a squeegee or a straight edge to squeeze out any air pockets under the decal. This will secure it to the gauge. Repeat this step for all four gauges.

  Once the decals have dried and are in place, we are ready to re-install them. Before I re-install the gauges, I like to look at the terminals that plug into the cluster and check to see if they are clean. If they are dirty, use a bit of very fine emery cloth to clean them up. Be very careful when doing this, as you can damage the terminals. Once clean, simply plug the gauges back into place, and put the screws that retain the gauges back into the cluster. Now carefully place the back panel of the cluster back on and re-install the securing screws.

  Take the whole cluster back to the car and place it just in front of the dash on top of the steering column, and re-attach all the connectors and wires. Now slide the cluster back into the dash and line up the mounting brackets with the holes on the underside of the dash. Now install the screws and tighten them.

  Next, take the frame around the cluster and screw it back onto the cluster. This is a tight fit, so take your time and use very minimal force, as it is quite easy to break the plastic. Once secured, take the lower fascia dash panel and put it back in place. Thread the two knurled nuts behind the dash, but do not over tighten, as you can pull the studs out of the panel (ask me how I know, JB Weld to the rescue) now re-install the lower dash panel that covers the pedals and re-install the screws that hold it in place.

  Now re-install the steering wheel. Look at the scribe or paint mark you made earlier, and line the wheel up so that they match on both the steering shaft and the wheel. Once you have them lined up, place the washer and 22mm nut back on and torque the nut to 58 ft./lbs. Now re-install the small Roundel emblem in the center of the wheel. The last step is to re-connect the battery.

Now turn on the headlights and look at your newly installed and illuminated gauge faces!

And thatís it, youíre done!

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