Apr 202013

This morning I fixed a small issue that could have caused me a large problem. My E36 M3 spoiler brake light wasn’t working consistently. Sometimes the light came on when I applied the brake pedal, sometimes it did not.

In addition to being a potential problem while driving at night, my car needed to pass the annual Virginia vehicle safety inspection this month. Having a centered, third brake light has been mandatory on cars sold in the U.S. since the late 1980s. If the light doesn’t work, that is enough to cause the vehicle to fail the inspection.

Of course I didn’t want to go through that hassle, so I took a look. Two small screws hold the light assembly in place and are easily removed. Right off the bat, the fact the brake light assembly sometimes worked indicated the problem probably wasn’t fuse or bulb related. If it was, the lights would never come on.

After further examination, I discovered that the wires in the connector between the plug and the light assembly had become loose. All I did was push back the rubber enclosure and put a small amount of duct tape around the wiring. Since I had the unit apart, I also sprayed some contact cleaner on both the connector and the inside of the light assembly.

I reinstalled, the spoiler brake light worked perfectly and I got the new annual safety sticker. Initially I wasn’t going to write a piece on this repair, since it was so easy and required absolutely zero mechanical ability. But then I thought a simple task like this is a great example of exactly why DIY’ing can be so valuable.

Let’s picture the alternative. Wasting a lot of time during the work week making an appointment to take the car in to a dealer or an independent mechanic. Then running the risk of a misdiagnosis of the problem, and the recommendation of unnecessary parts – along the lines of  “You know, that light assembly is old, you should probably replace it.” Finally, a labor charge as high as an hour for removing two screws.

So take a look for yourself before you go through that process. If your E36 spoiler brake light goes bad, I hope this story and the pictures help.

E36 M3 Spoiler brake light

Light assembly removed


E36 spoiler brake light

The culprit – arrow shows wires that needed to be taped down


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