Feb 102010

If there is one thing that working on your car instills in you, it’s a little humility. You never know when a task will be tougher and more frustrating than advertised. Such was the case earlier this month when the brake light circuit error started flashing across the display screen of my 1999 M3.

The brake lights were out, and Murphy’s Law on the timing, it was the same month I had to get my Virginia safety inspection done. The switch sits in a bracket right behind the brake pedal, turning the brake lights on and off by making contact with the pedal. This would be the third switch for the car — it was also replaced in 2006. This time I wanted to DIY it,  and I was armed with online research and some good resources like this video, courtesy of fiveightandten from www.m3forum.com – the lighting is bad but video is chock full of instructions:

So I order the brake switch from Bavarian Autosport for about $30, and set to work a couple of Saturdays ago. The driver side floor panel came off like a breeze, three screws hold it in place. In no time I was looking at the old switch in the socket, and mentally patting myself on the back for not paying someone else to do this simple swap.

And then, the old switch just would not come out. I pulled, and yanked, and abused it with needle-nosed pliers. Nothing seemed to move it at all. Daylight was fading by the time I finally was able to rip the thing out. And then, I could not insert the new switch. It simply would not snap in. No amount of force seemed to help, and then somehow I managed to break the new switch. By now the sun was down, and I called off the battle with the repair incomplete.

I had another switch delivered in two days, and decided on one more try before bringing the car into my mechanic. Well go figure, this time it goes in! What made the difference? Who knows — we’re talking BMW here. Couple of plugs reattached, footwell replaced and we’re back on the road. Well, on the road for a couple of days until the blizzard hit, anyway.

I’m glad now that the job is done, and obviously I couldn’t drive the car without brake lights for any period of time. But to be totally honest, if/when this switch goes bad in 3-4 years, I may have someone else do it, if they are reasonable and quote me an hour of labor or less. It was a real PITA.

The switch that ate my Saturday

Field of battle

The Target Bracket


Hopefully this project dispelled all my bad DIY mojo for a while. I’ve got some spring projects coming up — changing the manual transmission fluid, installing an original equipment BMW spoiler on the car, and replacing and reinforcing the rear shock mounts (RSMs), a known E36 weakness. Check this space for news on how those go.

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