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DIY - E36 window switch retrofit

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    DIY - E36 window switch retrofit

    Retrofitting E36 window switches into your E30 - By Josh Anderson and Andrew Bird.

    Since this is becoming a very popular mod, I decided I would chonicle the retrofitting of E36 window switches into my E30. This modification requires a decent knowledge of basic wiring, soldering, and using a test light. If you are not comfortable doing these things, find a friend that is and knows wiring, or turn back now. I accept NO RESPONSIBILITY if you do any damage to your car. Wiring is no simple matter, and it's very easy to cause permanent damage to your car. Also, keep in mind during this procedure that I am using a different color base switches than is normally used. If you find a set with a BLUE base, then great! You can follow this write-up word for word. If not, there are only minor differences.

    Ok, now that all that pseudo-legal crap is out of the way, here's what you'll need

    Parts and tools needed:

    - 2 WHITE or BLUE base E36 window switches
    - 2 flat E36 window switch bezels
    - Test light (for identifying which wires do what)
    - Dremel or a few different size files (to slightly enlarge the E30 window switch holes)
    - Soldering Iron & solder
    - Third-hand tool or a friend (for holding the wires together while you solder)
    - Wire cutters and a wire stripper
    - Heat shrink tubing
    - Lighter

    Ideally, you want the E36 switches with the WHITE base. Mine have a BLUE base, but are essentially the same, the only difference being that they came from the backseat of a 4-door E36. Now there are 2 different WHITE base switches. You are going to want the ones that have the LARGE base, not the smaller base (for one-touch switches), shown in this picture. The one-touch switches have completely different wiring, and will not work. Switches with the GREEN base are also for one-touch windows, and I do not know if these will work, so it's best to stick with the WHITE or BLUE.

    Alright, now that THAT'S out of the way, let's get to the nuts and bolts of this swap.

    These are the switches I will be using, along with the new flat bezels I ordered:

    You are going to want to use the flat bezels, meant for use in the E36 for the rear seats and the sunroof switch. The reason for this is because the shift console of the E36 is slightly rounded, as are the bezels for the front window switches. These will not sit flat on the E30 shift console, so if you're OCD about this kind of thing like me, order 2 of the flat bezels.

    Shown here are the differences of the switch bezels. #5 in the image is the bezel for the E36 shift console, #4 is the flat bezel that you will want.

    The part number is: 61 - 31 - 1 - 387 - 996

    They will run about $2.25 each from the dealer, however KenCopperwheat said that he got them from BMA for about $1.80 each.

    PREPARATION : : . .

    Start by removing your shift boot, and setting it aside. This will give you lots of room to work with the wiring. If you want, remove the entire shift console, and give yourself plenty of room, and you also won't have to worry about messing up your console. We left it in.

    Pop the E30 window switches out, and disconnect them from their harnesses. Snip the wires just below the stock E30 harnesses, and throw the harnesses away. Strip the covering off of each of the wires at the end about 1/4 - 1/2 an inch, do the same with the wires of the E36 switches. The E30 switches will still be perfectly useable, save them in case someone wants to buy them.


    As you've no doubt noticed, the E36 switch bezels are larger than the E30 ones, and don't fit in the holes. There's not really anything more to this step then cutting / filing the holes large enough to get the bezels to fit.

    I would reccomend using files over a Dremel, since the amount of material that needs to be removed is not an overly large amount, and a Dremel may be too much, but it's up to you.

    From this point on, it's just a back and forth process of filing material off of the console, and test fitting the bezels. Be careful at this step, because you want to make sure that you don't enlarge the holes too much, you want the switches to fit nice and snug, so they don't come out.

    Once you've gotten the opening large enough, snap the switches into the bezels, and insert the switches into the holes, feeding the wiring through first, and then snapping the whole assembly into place. You want to make sure that the bezels fit in very snug, so they don't come out.


    If you don't know a lot about wiring, I've included 3 short documents on testin the wiring and wiring diagrams, written by NitroRusterDriver (Andrew).

    Write-up on testing switch wiring:
    Wiring diagram of the stock E30 switch wiring:
    Wiring diagram of the BLUE base switch wiring:

    After you've determined which wires are for what in the car and on the E36 switches, test them in the car. Twist the exposed ends of the E36 swtich wires and the stock E30 wires together, be sure that none of them are touching other wires, and turn on your key. Test to make sure that the windows go up and down, and that everything functions normally. If all has gone right, and your windows operate, now it's time to solder them.

    Get your heat shrink tubing, and cut 10 lengths about 1-2 inches long. Slide one peice on each of the stock E30 wires, and leave them for when you are done soldering.

    Before soldering the wires together, you'll want to tin the end of each wire, which is essentially just getting a small amount of solder on the end of each wire. After you've tinned all the wires, get your third hand tool or friend, and begin matching up which wires go together. It's good at this point to have your notes ready and with you, so you know which wires go together. Use only enough solder to effectively bond the wiring together, you don't want to use too much, since you still have to slide the heat shrink tubing over the exposed ends.

    Once you've completed one switch, turn the key on again and double check that the windows still go up and down. Solder the other switch wires together, and do the same for the other side. Now, get your lighter, and slide the peices of heat shrink tubing over the soldered connections of the switch wiring. GENTLY heat the tubing so that it shrinks down nice and tight. The wiring is done.

    Go through your car, and pick up all the little bits of wiring, and vacuum all the dust from modifying your console. Reinstall your shift boot, straighen everything up, and you're done.

    The images and information contained in this procedure are the property of Josh Anderson and Andrew Bird. Duplication or unauthorized use of the information or images are striclty prohibited.

    thanks, looking forward to a good write up. (FINALLY!)


      pimp titties. I've been wanting to see a writeup on this for some time. Too bad nobody can find the old one. Thanks Josh!

      RIP e30 (brilliantrot '91 325i) 11/17/06 Byebye: 8/21/07
      Welcome e30 (brilliantrot '90 325is) 12/23/06
      DaveCN = Old Man
      My signature picture was taken by ME! Not by anyone else!

      Originally posted by george graves
      If people keep quoting me in their sig, I'm going to burn this motherfucker down.


        You guys are so funny, it can't be THAT hard. :)

        But - with that - Josh, can't wait to see the finished write up. Glad I found out I need large white bases before I bought the small ones.
        - Sean Hayes


          whats the deal with the one touch e36 buttons? Is the one touch feature built into the buttons? My guess is that it's a pain in the ass to get the one touch feature work in e30's.


            Originally posted by LikeCDoos
            whats the deal with the one touch e36 buttons? Is the one touch feature built into the buttons? My guess is that it's a pain in the ass to get the one touch feature work in e30's.
            You have to have the one-touch module to go with the switches in order for them to work. I've heard of maybe one person doing it, and I'm told the wiring was a NIGHTMARE.


              thanks dude... writeups take time... thats a great one.. and looks flawless; factory approved.
              PNW Crew
              90 m3
              06 m5


                thanks josh, you da man!


                  Fucking nice work Josh, all you guys should do this swap.
                  Classic BMW Specialists
                  Santa Clarita, CA



                    Josh do you have PN's for the Blue and/or White based e36 switches?


                      Originally posted by MR 325
                      Fucking nice work Josh, all you guys should do this swap.
                      I like forcing my bodyweight down on a button to get it to work; I don't know what you're talking about. ;)

                      I'm already planning on doing this swap soon. Thanks for the awesome writeup!
                      The BMW 318 is back. With a vengeance.


                        Originally posted by LikeCDoos
                        Josh do you have PN's for the Blue and/or White based e36 switches?
                        WHITE: 61 31 1 387 916

                        BLUE: 61 31 1 393 361

                        If you're going to buy them new, get the blue base ones, then you can follow the write-up step for step. The switches new are JUST the switch, and don't come with the full base that has the wiring though, so you're better off getting them used, or pulling them from a junkyard car.


                          Damn I'm good at soldering. :) ;)


                            Just thought I would add in here really quick that my window switches are in fact NOT lighted. This may be because either the bulbs are no good, or because the blue base switches may not be lighted to begin with, I don't know. It's of no difference to me, I know where my swtiches are, but for those of you who want them lighted, you may want to in fact go with the white base switches, which for sure are lighted.


                              My white base ones are lighted, well 1 is, and 1 is burnt out, damn it
                              Classic BMW Specialists
                              Santa Clarita, CA