May 192014

This weekend I replaced the High Intensity Discharge (HID, also known as Xenon) headlight bulbs in my 2002 M5. My old bulbs still worked, but my amazing wife had bought me replacement bulbs reputed to be the best on the market.

She purchased them from TheRetroFitSource, a great resource for auto lighting needs. The bulbs are the Osram Xenarc Cool Blue Intense, a bulb that claims to be both whiter and brighter than my stock bulbs. This is rare — when a bulb gives off whiter light (higher Kelvin temperature scale), it almost always drops in overall brightness (as measured in lumens).

The bulbs were expensive, but less than half of what it would have cost for lesser bulbs from the dealer. I also could have bought a pair of original equipment (OE) Phillips bulbs from TheRetroFitSource for $95, less than a quarter of the $400+ BMW would have charged.

As I talked about last year, HID/Xenon bulbs are a prime example of how much you can save with just a little education and online searching. You can easily find brand name and/or OE quality bulbs for far less, and avoid the $120+ labor charge (estimated one hour) most dealers would charge.

I was greatly aided in the installation by a thorough DIY thread from Bimmerfest forum member nyclad. Replacing BMW HID headlight bulbs isn’t as simple as replacing regular bulbs, but it requires no special knowledge or tools. This job is a great DIY candidate for any owner.

My install was slightly complicated by the tight engine bay of the E39 M5 due to its large eight cylinder engine. The M5 also has two air filter compartments while other E39s have one. I needed to disconnect and move aside the air filter assemblies for more room, which only requires removing one 10mm bolt and loosening two screw clamps. This removal may not be necessary on other E39s.

I’d recommend being patient with the main electrical connector, it did not come loose for me right away. It took some gentle twisting, be patient and it will come free. The rubber shroud was surprisingly easy to put back on after removal.

I had read that the plastic locking ring that holds the bulb in the headlight assembly was easy to break, so I had a replacement on hand. But I had no problems with it. When you unlock  the ring, you need to make sure you are also holding the back of the old bulb, or it could fall into the headlight assembly. Both connector and locking ring are counter-clockwise to unlock, clockwise to relock.

My headlights definitely seem stronger and brighter, though I have no way to quantify. The light cut off line seems much more distinct. Whether that’s simply because the bulbs are new or because they are the Osram CBIs I can’t say.

See some install pictures below. Besides nyclad’s thread, I didn’t find anything online that showed exactly how to replace BMW HID headlight bulbs on the E39. So I hope this piece is helpful for other owners.

When your BMW HID headlight bulbs go dark, consider doing the replacement yourself. It’s a relatively easy project that will save you hundreds and deliver solid DIY satisfaction.

Replacement bulbs and locking ring

Replacement bulbs and extra locking ring I didn’t need

Not enough room

Not enough room for my hands

Air Filter Moved Aside

Plenty of room with air filter assembly moved aside

Connector Detached

Connector detached

Rubber shroud removed -- see back of bulb and locking ring

Rubber shroud removed — see back of bulb and locking ring


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