Thursday, March 31, 2011

Watch My Tail Lights Fading (and Replaced)

While neither of the tail light units on the car were in terribly poor condition, the driver's side one had some issues, mostly with the running light lens.

1) The old d/s tail lights. I suspect this is the original assembly from 1967; the passenger side unit appears to be of newer vintage.

  Most troubling was the crack in the lower left lens.  I didn't think the damage allowed water to enter the interior of the unit and affect wiring but the lens looked, well, bad.  Besides, the lens had clouded with usage over the years due to the running light continually illuminating and heating the plastic.

I discovered from La Jolla Independent in California that BMW in Germany only had six of the USA version tail light assemblies left in stock. That's right, six.  Luckily they were all driver's side units.  So the time to act was, like, yesterday and I ordered one of the precious items immediately. (On you can readily find the Euro versions with the amber turn signal lenses but that would have meant changing both sides, very costly when one considers buying the two units and paying the shipping costs from Europe.)

I examined the rear of the car to determine what would be necessary to change the assembly.

2) The old unit as installed adjacent to the rear panel and trim

The assembly was designed with a bevel that angles inward into the chrome trim that rests over the rear panel so the tail light does not just pop out as it does in the 2002. Furthermore, the tail light has a flange that slides under the trim.  Trust BMW to overly complicate the matter.  So I looked in the trunk to see how to loosen the piece of trim and removed all the screws between both the d/s and p/s light units, including the ones that hold the white anodized aluminum and the trim underneath, and those fastening license plate bracket.

3) The trim fasteners just below the top of the trunk and below, the bolts that hold the license plate bracket, the anodized white piece, and the lower trim. Note the after-market carpet from my old 2002.  It covers the trunk floor nicely but is not an exact fit

Care was required when fiddling with the upper trim because inside is the wiring that powers the Euro-style license plate lights.

Now I checked the unit itself. Two plastic nuts hold the bulb cluster in place; an easy removal.

4) The bulb cluster set-up

5) Cluster removed

To quote James Whitmore in The Shawshank Redemption, "Easy-peasey, Japanesey!"

The unit itself is held in place by four nuts, one on each corner.  Three are visible in the photo above.  With all the fasteners on the rear panel removed, the unit slid free without difficulty.

5) The empty socket

To satisfy my curiosity as to the condition of the old tail lights I looked closely. The gasket had seen better days but because the lenses are double-paned, the unit interior was dry and intact.

6) Assembly interior.  The plants underneath don't seem to mind. On the bottom two bolts you can see the nuts which must be loosened to remove the chrome horizontal piece, which is a separate part from the tail light unit

I now took some time to polish various metal pieces that don't usually see the light of day but frankly the results were underwhelming.

Finally I unwrapped my new tail lights.  I immediately noticed some interesting stumbling blocks.  First, there was no new gasket so I was obligated to pry the old from the original lights.  More important, the assembly did not include the top chrome part of the unit - I am not sure what it is called - so I had to pry the piece off my old lights.  Forty odd years of corrosion and road glue meant that the process took nearly half an hour of gentle wiggling.  At one point I was tempted to get a hammer but I resisted the urge.

 7) Here is what the old lights looked after I removed them

8) And this is what the unit looked like after I took the top chrome bit from it - a question of loosening some nuts and a lot of patient jiggling

But finally all was ready to install the new lights. I wiggled and pushed and eventually the new unit fit snugly into the edge of the rear panel trim.  I tightened all the fasteners and the job was finished.

9) A close view of the finished work: there ain't a dry eye in the house

10) And how the rear of the car will look to other motorists behind me

The last thing I did was to go in the house for a well-deserved cup of tea.

8) Dorey the cat and Maddy the dog join me for tea

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