Tuesday 22 February 2011

E39 Audio: On/Off Switch for the Amp/Subs

The system remote shuts off with the ignition [see: Getting a Remote Signal for the Amp], so I've no worry about getting a flat battery, but it would be nice to have a manual On/Off switch inside the cabin so I can mute the subs while driving if I need to, without having to cut out the rest of the speakers.

While I had the back seats out I ran a wire through the bulkhead into the o/s rear footwell [see: Adding an On/Off Switch], so I got hold of a beacon-switch from a tipper at work to fit inside the cabin. The plan was to run the wires out from the middle of the seat and under the carpet on the transmission-tunnel, then fit the switch inside the armrest-compartment. Neither of these panned out. Running the wires under the carpet is doable, but to lift the carpet [and the sponge backing] up enough involves completely removing the armrest console, as well as all the side trim and clips, so I've taken a shortcut for now and run the wires under the trim below the o/s door, then under the driver's seat and through a gap in the side of the console. The wires are exposed, but they're well hidden and I've made sure to keep them well away from the seat-runners.

As for the placement of the switch, which is over an inch deep with the wire terminals on, it turns out there's just no room for it inside the centre-console. The base of the armrest-console is a solid steel tray with an electronics-module right under it and the storage-tray below the armrest angles up to fit flush with it too. I don't want to go further forward on the dash and mess up the wood so I've fitted it in the storage-slot under the rear air-vents. The plastic slot was missing anyway and the vents were hanging loose, so at least it looks complete now even if it's a pain to reach. Not a problem for people in the back though and that might not be such a bad thing if one is screaming we've missed our turn-off and we can't hear over the drum and bass. I just used a piece of thin plywood for the panel, covered in the leftover vinyl wrap from my ScoobyLab stickers. It's a bit shiny, but the vinyl gives it more of a trim look than black paint.

Sunday 20 February 2011

E39: Amp Swap

With the RCA-feed splitting off the rear-speakers there's no separate controls for the amp on the head-unit. I can turn the Bass up and down in the Tone settings, but its making the rest of the speakers tinny and not lowering the subs enough, so they're just overpowering the sound. They're getting the entire frequency band too, most head-unit sub controls have a lo-pass filter as standard, so I'm getting a lot of unfamiliar hums and wobbles.

My awesome Alpine V12, which matches my Alpine R subs, is a straight mono-block amp and has no controls for volume and filtering either, so I've been forced to make the decision to devolve back to my old, less good Toxic Audio amp. It's not a pretty amp, but it still kicks out 1000w like the Alpine and it has a host more features - 2, 3 or 4 channels with separate volume knobs for each and tunable lo-pass + hi-pass filters. The answer to all my prayers, or so I thought. You can tell the drive of the sound is of a lower quality straight away and it doesn't feel as thumping as the Alpine even turned up loud. The lo-pass filter is also crap and cuts off everything above the low-end rumble, so I've switched it off anyway.

At least the volume of the subs is better matched to the rest of the system now so the speakers are sounding natural again. We'll give it a week while I mess with the settings, but I can't help thinking the Alpine just sounds better. A solution is at hand though - I've found separate sub-crossover units on eBay for less than £10 that have vol. for each channel and great looking filters. It's something else to draw power, but it seems this is the only way left to get this system sounding as good as it could.

Monday 14 February 2011

E39: Fitted Subs/Amp and kept BMW Head-Unit...

* The Full How-To Guide is on this page: Audio: Wiring Amp/Subs into Standard Head-Unit

The standard BMW Business stereo is a masterpiece and takes up half the dash, but sadly it lacks the RCA-output and remote-signal that are essential when fitting an amp. A fascia-converter is about £10 and a wiring-adaptor about £7, so it's not expensive to throw in any after-market head-unit, but if I do that then I lose my CD-changer, tape-deck and the excellent steering-wheel remote. The cheapest remote-adaptor for Pioneer I can find is £85! and there's no way of knowing if it'll fit my dinosaur model. Worst of all the new fascia would ruin the teutonic look of the dash.

I started checking the forums and found a few people who managed to splice an RCA-cable from the rear-speaker wires, so I thought I'd give it a go. It turned out to be one hell of an involved process. The back seats / parcel shelf have to come out, the speaker-wiring is perplexing and I eventually found a way to get a remote 'on' signal for the amp from a parking-sensor relay. The remote-input on the amp will take any signal up to 12v, so you could just wire it from the battery and have a manual off switch, but at least the fiddlier way means it goes off with the ignition - no flat batteries in the morning. The battery is in the boot too, so there's no need to touch anything up front or run cables under carpets.

The system works brilliantly, there's a LOT of bass there, which I'm quite surprised about with the RCA audio-signal coming off from the rear-speakers, but they are still working fine too. As you can see above, I've also set the subs facing inwards this time so I can make use of the magnificent boot - I'm sure the bass is being stifled a bit this way, the back seats are vibrating like crazy, but it's plenty loud enough either way. The only downside is no separate controls for the subs, so they pump out at the master volume, can't be turned off and receive a completely un-filtered audio-signal - there's some nasty higher frequencies creeping in. My 1000w Alpine V12 amp is a solid mono-block and has no controls either, which is a disaster really because it's the matching unit to my 12" Alpine R subs, but it'll have to make way for a lesser 1k watt Toxic Audio one soon that came with my old Subaru. It's not a pretty amp, but it's got a volume-knob, lo-pass filter to single out the bass and 2 channels, so I can give each sub its own terminal instead of twisting the two wires together. Everything I need basically, but I'll miss that blue-glow screen...

This is where I'd normally put the 'How-To Guide', but the process is too intricate to throw on the wall, so I've given it a page of its own, split into five sections, linked below:

Thursday 10 February 2011

E39 530d: New Drivers Window Switch

Re: my post last week - 'Gotta have a teething problem - Drivers Windows Switch', the problem is now resolved, thanks to a whole new switch module. Well a used one, but advertised as "perfect condition" by nerijusnerka on eBay and it lives up to the hype thankfully, seeing as the unit was a little pricey @ £25 delivered, but not bank-breaking to have my driver's window back in action.

It's a piece of cake to get the old unit out and plug in the new one and as soon I tried the switch all functionality had returned - I tested each window and the child locks, all now working fine, so I'm glad my deduction was right and it's not the computer... I also noticed a chip on the edge of the broken unit where someone has obviously had a go at fixing it before, so it's nice to give the car a blemish-free interior again - I can't spot a single other mark in there!


1. Fold a cloth over the end of a flat-screwdriver and gently prize it down under the edge of the switch-panel. Lift the edge of the panel up with the screwdriver a few millimeters and continue around the panel until it is proud enough to be lifted out by hand.

2. Starting with the rear one, unplug the two slim upper clips from the panel by depressing the button in the centre until the latch can be lowered. Lowering the latch completely lifts the plug clear of its socket.

3. Slide a flat-screwdriver down the gap on the rear-face of the large lower clip and lever the base of the clip outwards about 1cm until the wiring-clip slides freely out of the socket.

4. Reverse the process to install the new switch-panel.

Sunday 6 February 2011

E39: Fitting CCFL 'Angel Eye' Headlights

Always wanted to get a set of these for my old 3 Series, but never managed in the end, so it seems like a worthy first mod for the 5. I'm sure you've seen the Angel Eye rings on modern BMWs and for older models without them you can buy whole replacement light clusters [£100+], or CCFL kits, which are rings that fit into you're existing headlight lenses. The latter are much cheaper, but they're fiddly to fit. They are approved by BMW though and are European E-Marked, so they're totally road legal. They were about £50 when I had my E36, so I'm glad to see they've nearly halved in a couple of years and I scooped mine from lightspeed_123 on eBay for £27.99 delivered! A bargain for the high-quality and finish of the kit - even the packaging was posh.

The kit didn't include any instructions though and it gets quite tricky fitting them, so after a lot of web trawling I managed to find some instructions for a similar kit fitted on a 3 Series, but with only limited references to the E39 5 Series. It served as a starting point, but with no dedicated guide for E39 readily available I've decided to jump straight out of the ScoobyLab into the fire, with my own How-To guide.


1. Remove the 5 wiring-loom sockets from the back of each headlight.

2. Remove the 4 screws holding the light-cluster in place, located on the slam-panel and down the back of the cluster, using an 8mm wrench.

3. Pull the light-cluster forward from the inner side until the lug on the outer corner can be slid out and the cluster removed.

4. Slide off the strip of body-coloured trim and rubber seal from the bottom of the headlight.


5. Remove the back of the headlight to expose the lenses by lifting the 6 clips with a screwdriver - 3 along the bottom, 2 on top and 1 on the inner edge, the last one is between the outer edge and the back of the corner-indicator - then gently prize the headlight apart.

6. Place the CCFL rings into the front part of the headlight and secure them with tape temporarily. Apply a blob of clear silicone-sealant to each end of the rings and another at the bottom. [If you're rings are one-sided, like ours, make sure the metal side is facing inwards.]

7. Connect the rings to the inverter by clipping the wires together.

8. Using glue, or sticky-pads if they come with your kit, secure the inverter box into the gap at the inner end of the headlight.

9. Run the 4 wires along the top of the glass and loop the rest round in the gap with the inverter until nothing is overhanging, then secure them with tape.

10. When the sealant has dried, remove the tape holding the rings and clip the back of the headlight back into place. Run the Red/Black wires from the inverter box through the drain plug on the inside corner of the headlight back, by removing the rubber drain spout, feeding the wires through the hole and then the spout as you replace it.

11. Replace the rubber seal and strip of body-coloured trim.


12. Cut the wires to the sidelight socket and strip the ends. This is the plug with 2 round female sockets - the wires are Brown (-) and Grey (+) w/ a Blue stripe on O/S, Brown stripe N/S.

13. You'll need about 8" of wire reach from the drain-spout, so if necessary extend the Red/Black wires. [I just added two lengths of Blue/Brown 240v wire, used blue crimp-connectors to join them and sealed them with heat-shrink tube.]

14. Slide the two wires from the headlight through the 3mm hole on the edge of the radiator nearest the top and reverse the headlight removal procedure. Pull the wires from the inverter tight through the hole as the headlight is slid into its mount.

15. Connect the wires from the inverters to the sidelight wires using crimp-connectors or solder, then seal them with heat-shrink tube or electrical-tape. Plug the 4 remaining sockets back into the headlight and cover the old sidelight socket on the headlight with elec.- tape.

** It'll take about 60 seconds for the rings to reach full brightness the first time they're switched on.

Phew, a long process then, but worth it for the looks and the age it takes off the car I'm sure you'll agree!

Saturday 5 February 2011

E39 530d: Engine Tuning thoughts...

I've no intention of fiddling with the engine any time soon, but a work colleague has recently had his 320d chipped by Peco, a small firm in nearby Birkenhead, Wirral, who you probably know best for their exhausts and it's food for thought. The chip costs £300 and my colleague claims that the car feels much quicker, without having a noticeable effect on economy.

Hmm, sounds too good to be true really and it would be a shame to stifle the 5's superb fuel consumption, but if I do decide to up the power of the 184bhp diesel in future it seems that the chip is where to start so I'll be asking Peco soon about their 530d module.

If the mood takes me though I'd love to try out a couple more subtle mods to make sure power goes way past the 200bhp mark. A K&N panel air-filter for starters. I don't fancy a full on induction-kit, it's not a Scooby after all. Then for the main course installing a larger intercooler further forward in the bumper. The OEM i/c is very small, so it wouldn't take much to find one a bit larger, a Ford Transit i/c would be an ideal donor to fit into the front-bumper, then fab up custom extensions for the pipes. With the chip installed and mapped-in after this lot we should see a nice power gain.

Watch this space.

Friday 4 February 2011

E39 530d: Gotta have a teething problem - Drivers Windows Switch

The car has been better than good so far. It drives superbly, is quiet and refined, swift and economical - the 3.0 litre diesel engine is incredible, managing 184bhp and still getting me comfortably over 40mpg for my work runs! A far cry from topping up the Scooby tank by at least £40 every week, but not a world away from the horse-power... go figure.

The only fault I have to report though is a faulty driver's window switch unit. It worked fine for the first few days, then became sporadic and finally stopped working altogether. I tried it on my way home from work this evening and to my surprise it went down. Unfortunately it wouldn't come up again so I was forced to figure the problem out tonight. I drove around for a while in the hope that it would reactivate, but the window didn't budge an inch. I used up half a roll of black-tape sticking a bag over the open window on the windiest night of the year, only to then discover that the windows can operated from the remote key-fob. A genius feature of the techy BMW is that holding down the lock button will close any open windows and turn any electrics off. Holding the boot-release button causes all four windows to go down. I am impressed and very relieved!

The likely culprit was the switch-unit, but I prized it off to find 3 separate wiring harnesses leading to it - one each for the front 2 windows, rear 2 windows and the rear child-lock, so I became worried that the problem was elsewhere is the electronics system. The door-hinge wiring harness was a possibility - apparently they're prone to splitting and getting corroded - or worse still the car's brain - the GM5 computer, which controls the ABS, door-locks, windows, air-con, basically every electronic gadget and these are pricey to replace.

Luckily though, the drivers window responded immediately to the key-fob trick so the GM5 is sending/receiving signals just fine and the door-hinge wiring is still sound. Phew, this means it can only be the window switch-unit - when one circuit in it breaks it must kill all the buttons, regardless of which loom they plug into.

I've found a load of E39 switch-units on eBay around the £25-40 mark so I'll have to get one when I can and see if that puts the window problem to bed. It'll have to wait now though, as my new Angel Eye headlights have just arrived. Get in.