Jun 142010

This weekend I gave the M3 a good hand wash, and I replaced the low and high beam bulbs. If you really care about your car, you should wash it yourself. Automatic car washes use recycled water, harsh chemicals and the track your car travels through the wash can easily damage your rims.

If you’re part of the 50% of new owners who lease BMWs you probably don’t care. But if you own your car you should find the time, even on a killer humid weekend like the one we just had here in the DC area. Here’s a thread from the M3 Forum that shows how passionate many are on this topic.

Get a good quality car cleaner — Griots Garage is a great source for any car cleaning and detail need, including a hand held waxing orbital buffer that saves a lot of time and effort. Find a wheel spray that doesn’t use acid, because that will eat away at your rims. Use a lot of water and keep the car wet until ready to dry off. Drying is a lot easier and faster using something like a jelly blade, although you don’t have to pay as much as the link suggests.

My E36 M3 has black plastic moldings, which can easily fade over time. After every other wash or so I like to hit all the moldings with Mothers Back to Black. It only takes a couple of minutes to wipe on with a paper towel and keeps the trim looking minty fresh.

I also decided to change out my headlight bulbs. It had been at least four years since I did so, and supposedly halogen bulbs lose brightness slowly over time. Since I was changing them anyway, I decided to see if I noticed any difference.

The subject of BMW lighting and automotive bulbs in general is truly byzantine. When you become interested in improving the lighting on your car, you really need to do your homework before pulling the trigger on any purchase. Part of what made this effort worthwhile for me was just how crappy the headlights were that came stock on my car. They were dim, made of plastic and downright dangerous on a dark night.

In BMW’s defense, a lot of U.S. federal regulations around headlights were obsolete when this car was introduced — this was over 15 years ago after all. Not so much in BMW’s defense, the U.S.-spec headlights were a lot cheaper to make than the ellipsoid projector headlights on the European E36 M3. After reviewing my options, that’s basically what I upgraded to — I purchased the headlights my car should of had in the first place from Turner Motorsports, made by original manufacturer (OE) Hella. (the black housing shown wasn’t available a few years back, I got chrome) As you can see from the link they were not cheap, but Hella and Bosch (another OE provider) are widely recognized as the highest quality headlight manufacturers.

Stealth Auto has  a good video that clearly lays out the install, however I wouldn’t recommend the brand they are installing here:

To make the most of my investment I also looked into my bulb options. The Hellas take H7 bulbs for both low and high beams, and some came with the lights. But I found a bulb that burned brighter than typical H7s — brightness measured by Lumens — and whiter than most halogen lights — as measured by the Kelvin scale. Daniel Stern’s web site is a great resource for automotive bulb information. I like to use Osram bulbs made in Europe, Osram being the parent company of Sylvania.

In general halogen light is yellowish, with High Intensity Discharge (HID) lighting bright white trending to blue. But if the light gets too blue, the brightness actually goes down. The H7s I bought claim 2100 Lumens and just under 4000 Kelvin.

So with the Hellas ellipsoid lights and the 65w H7s I think I’m getting the best halogen has to offer, without upgrading to HID. There are options to upgrade my current Hellas to HID, but its not been high on my priority list. I’m not anxious to modify the headlights I have, even though a lot of guys on the boards have upgraded successfully and a guy I know has the HID version of my Hellas and says the output is amazing.

Swapping out the bulbs is easy. The high beams just twist to side and unplug, and the lows are held in place with two sprockets. The last picture below is a before and after shot, with the driver side bulbs replaced. It’s not dramatic, but I think you can see the beam is a little sharper and brighter than the old bulbs.

High Beams

Low Beams

Bulbs replaced on driver side, the light on the right side of this picture

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