While it's often joked that these things don't exist on BMWs, the E30 is equipped with a variety of Lights to help you and other road users.
If you need to consult the wiring for any part of this document, check out the Wiring Diagrams.
- 1 Overview
- 2 Headlights
- 3 Rear
- 4 Indicators
- 5 Foglights
- 6 Interior
- 7 Common Upgrades
All cars by law must be equipped with a number of lights to aid navigation and to give signals. They're therefore an essential part of the yearly safety check in most countries, so it's worth taking the time to know what they all do, and how they work. Replacement bulb info is provided, and it's recommended that you carry a basic set of spares with you at all times. No special tools are needed to replace bulbs on E30s, except for the front indicators.
The quad headlights are one of the most distinctive features of the E30, and define the whole look of the front end.
While the high beam is essentially the same on all cars, three different light setups were installed on E30s during their production. The early cars featured a simple lamp setup that reflects the light from the bulb, making a dispersed glow in front of the car. Later cars were fitted with projection lenses, which focused the beam into a brighter, tighter area. They also contained a black cut-out to allow some light to shine directly down onto the road, and for this reason these later lights are known as "smileys".
For one year, 1988, a lamp was fitted that contained the projection lens but without the cutout. These lamps are known as "bullseyes".
Because of the change in these units during the production years, the plugs on the Loom differ. So while you're physically able to swap older lights for newer ones, you'll have to do chop your loom and put in new plugs to allow you to connect the lights.
Bulb: H1 55W
The main driving lights are turned on by pulling out the headlight switch. While not the most powerful candles ever fitted to a car, they should be adequate for usual night-time driving.
Bulb: H1 55W
Activated by a stalk on the steering column, the High Beams are separate lamps to the Dipped headlights, and are the inner of the two lamps on each side.
Bulb: 12V 5W capless
These little lights sit in their own section at the top of the outer lamps. Turned on by pulling out the headlight switch one click, they will do nothing to illuminate the road ahead, but will warn others of your presence if parked on a dark street.
To keep the lenses working as they should, some vehicles were equipped with a wash-wipe system at the front end. On each side of the car, two angled blades turned around one spindle motor to wipe away any road muck and spray that was making your lamps gloomy.
This was both a luxurious and experimental feature back in the Eighties, and very few of these units work properly. Learn more about headlight washers.
Possibly the most troublesome feature ever fitted to E30s was the Headlamp Adjuster system. Using 2 little hydraulic pumps, you could control the vertical aim of your lights so that you didn't dazzle other drivers when all your fat friends sit in the back.
Because of the way these things work, they gum, rust and crust up over time, and only get used when the MOT man gets his hands on them, at which point they won't work and he'll fail you. To make matters worse the hydraulic system was sealed at the factory, so there's no feasible way of repairing a broken system. If your headlamp adjusters are truly shot, either convert them to manual or learn how to convert your adjusters to motorised ones.
The rear lights are a cluster unit that incorporates brake lights, reverse lights, indicators and rear foglights if fitted. The rear board separates from the plastic lens with a simple twist of the screw-wheel, giving access to all the bulbs underneath. The cluster contains sockets for five bulbs.
Two types of rear cluster were fitted during the lifetime of the E30, with the change being part of the 1988 facelift. For this reason, not all rear clusters are interchangeable, although clusters from all body styles of the same period (facelift vs pre-facelift) can be swapped over.
The visible difference between the two types of cluster is the reverse light, which is much bigger on the older clusters. Physically, the internal arrangement of lamps and bolt holes also prevents older units being fitted to newer vehicles, and vice versa. The electrical connectors are also completely different.
The lights are held in place using simple threaded bolts, which fit into pre-drilled holes in the shell and are screwed in tightly with nuts. To seal against water, there is a rubber seal around the outside of each cluster, although this can fail over time leading to serious water in the boot, and eventually rust.
For those that find the rear cluster not to their taste, a popular aftermarket alternative is available from MHW. If you can't fork out for replacement units, learn more about tinting your own lights. You can fit Lexus lights if you like, it's your own car, but expect to be laughed at heavily if you do.
Bulb: 12V 10W
The rear lights themselves are a very simple bulb that lights up as soon as the headlights are turned on. If they don't work, check the bulb. If the bulb looks ok, then there's likely a problem with the main bulb holder. Unfortunately, BMW sourced these from a number of different places over the years, with various results in terms of quality. If you can't solve your bulb issue, it's best to just replace the entire bulb holder, but remember that newer doesn't always equal better.
These should light up as soon as the brake pedal is touched, since there's a pressure switch for them right underneath the brake pedal.
Some countries (such as Australia) require the fitting of a third brake light to meet safety requirements. If you need to tap into the brake light wiring, look for a green/red wire, either behind the existing lamps or under the rear seat.
Bear in mind that if you have a check panel fitted, then the third light needs to be connected to the green/red wire before the lamp filament monitoring module, not after it. The check panel wires for the brakes are coloured green/black.
If your brake lights are on constantly, look at this switch before you go hunting around in the Loom for bad connections. Sometimes the switch works loose from its housing, and just needs to be clipped back into place. If that's not the issue, then examine the pull rod. The pull rod goes across the car behind the heater box, between the bell crank by the pedal and the similar bell crank behind the glovebox. It is connected to the servo with a normal thread on one end and a reverse thread on the other, so turning it alters its length.
Release the locknut, and turn the bar, using a small open ended spanner on the flats on the rod near where it passes the clutch pedal, until the pedal is just clear of the upper stop for the brake pedal. Don't overdo it,or the brakes will lock on.
Bulb: 12V 21W
The reverse lights are simple white lamps that come on when Reverse gear is selected. They are turned on by a switch in the gearbox.
If you're having problems with your reverse lights, it's almost always a problem with the switch. To check:
- Pull the gearlever gaiter up from the bottom and fish out the white two pin connector from near the bottom of the gearlever.
- Short the two pins together with a piece of wire, and the reverse lights should come on with the ignition switch. If they do, the fault is with the switch.
- If they don't, look elsewhere. Check the fuse first, then the light clusters.
If you do need to change the switch, it is high up on the right hand side of the gearbox. Access is not good, but the unit simply unscrews with a 19mm spanner.
Bulb: 12V 5W Festoon
The only time they ever get attention is when the police pull you over when they stop working, at which point you realise just how rusted up the screws are, making them impossible to fix. Considering most failures are caused by internal corrosion rather than failed bulbs, and the most common solution is to smash them out and replace new ones.
If you are having issues with your rear lights as a whole, and keep blowing fuses, unscrew these lights. They are fed by the same grey/red wiring that powers the interior lights.
Bulb: 12V 21W
The orange bits at each corner of your car are there to signal your intentions to other road users. They are called Indicators, and are operated by a column stalk switch and are controlled by a flasher relay located under the lower half of the steering column shroud, just behind the steering wheel. In typical fashion, if a bulb blows then the indicator on that side will flash twice as fast as before.
Wire colours are blue/red and blue/black, with brown earths. These lights also form part of the hazards circuit, and therefore all the wires go through the Hazard light switch on their way to the lamps.
If all of your indicators stop working, then check the Hazard switch, and ensure that it is plugged in correctly. It's also worth looking at the glove box switch.
Bulb: 12V 5W capless
Certain vehicles were equipped with a third indicator light, mounted on the front wings just behind the wheel arch. While a known rot trap, some people find these lights appealing; especially if you're replacing a rotten wing with one that has the hole cut out ready for them.
If you want to fit side, repeaters, the wiring for them is installed from the factory. It goes straight across and through the inner wing just in front of and above the front loudspeakers, and terminates in small rectangular two pin plugs. The sockets for these plugs are on fairly long branches from the Loom that goes across the car behind the dashboard to the column stalks. The sockets you are looking for have blue/red and brown wires on one side and blue/black and brown the other.
Hazard lights are there to warn people of your cars presence, such as when you've parked like an idiot. They're activated by a switch in the centre console. Because they take control of all the indicator lights, all indicator wiring runs through the switch on its way to the bulbs; therefore, issues that affect all the indicators can be traced to the hazard switch.
Essential for driving in gloomy conditions, a clean set of foglights compliments the front end of the E30 perfectly, which is why all cars are capable of fitting them. They will only work if the headlight switch has already been turned on, even if it's only for the parking lights.
Even though they were an optional extra, all the wiring is in place for a plug-and-play fitting; you just need to supply the lamps complete with mounting brackets, two fuses, the relay, and a switch (the space is blanked off inside the dash). The wiring plugs are coloured grey, and are usually tucked up behind the headlights.
Bulb: H3 12V 55W
At the front, two types of foglight were fitted to the E30, and are therefore one of the easiest ways of determining the age of the car. E30s up to 1987 (pre-facelift) will have square foglights, while later vehicles have larger units with one rounded corner. The fogs have a specific plug which is part of the main loom, and the wire colours are grey and grey/blue.
The foglights are held in a plastic frame which screws into the front valance. The switch can be either two separate buttons for front and rear, or a combined "bar" switch that operates both at the same time. These switches are interchangeable.
If youwant the improved look of front fog lights, learn more about retrofitting front fog lights.
Bulb: 12V 21W
Unlike the front fogs, a Rear Fog light is required under the UK MOT, so all British cars will have at least one on the RH side. Some were fitted with two from the factory, but only the one is needed to pass the safety test.
The rear fogs don't do anything to light up the road; they're there to stop people ploughing into the back of you on misty, gloomy roads. They shine with the same brightness as brake lights, so shouldn't be used during good-weather conditions.
Wiring for the rear fog lights is built into the loom, so shouldn't need to be touched; however, the wires are coloured yellow/black and grey/violet if you're having trouble with them.
Bulb: 12V 5W Festoon
Inside the cabin of the car are some roof-mounted lights, to help you unload the shopping and find that loose change you dropped. BMW are thoughtful like that. The two main lights are located rear of the front doors, with a third mounted about the Tailgate on Tourings. An optional extra was another light mounted next to the Check Panel, for cars already equipped with that feature.
These lights are controlled by pin-switches located on the A-pillars of all cars, the C-pillars for 4-doors and Tourings, and the tailgate of the Touring. They each have their own 3-position selector switch to specify On, Off, and On When Door Open.
One of the many optional extras was a Light Delay Unit, which kept the lights on for a time after the door had closed. If you think this is a feature you need, learn more about retrofitting an Interior Light delay unit.
One of the swankiest optional extras was a Mirror Light, which consisted of two lamps built into the interior mirror. While the lights themselves are rare, the wiring for them is included in the standard vehicle loom, making it easy to fit these to your own car.
If you're feeling creative, it's possible to adapt the Mirror Lights to function along with the interior lights, so that they come on with the door opening. To make that happen, learn about upgrading the map lights.
Bulb: 12V 3W capless (cluster) 12V 1.2W capless (heater controls)
Some basic candles are fitted to all E30s to help you read your Instruments at night. These lights will glow as soon as the headlights are turned on, and their brightness can be controlled by turning the headlight knob clockwise or anti-clockwise.
The dash cluster itself is fitted with two 12V 3W bulbs to provide the glow, while a number of smaller 1.2W bulbs are wired around the centre console to light up the heater controls.
Bulb: 12V 4W capless (RHD) 12V 5W Festoon (LHD)
The glovebox light is a bit of an oddity on E30s, and seems to have been an afterthought for the interior designers.
There are two distinct versions in use, but either can be fitted with the right knowlege. LHD models have a separate light with a push-in switch mounted to the glovebox catch, RHD models have a combined switch/light with an exposed bulb.
Early facelift cars have the light on a permanently live supply from fuse 21. Later cars have an ignition switched feed from fuse 4, but the handbook was never updated.
If the RHD version of the switch/light is left without a bulb fitted, or, if the feed wires are connected the wrong way around, the unit is knocked askew, a short circuit will often occur, leading to issues with the indicators.
It is sometimes commented that the front lamps on an E30 are rather feeble compared to more modern lighting units. Online auction sites now offer a number of High-Intensity Discharge lamps to give you better night vision. If you've got your hands on one of these kits, and want to get it fitted to your E30, learn more about converting your headlights to HIDs.
LHD to RHD
In the event that you've imported a particularly tasty E30, such as a 325iX or an M3 or even the 324td, you'll need to get the headlights pointing in the right direction or you'll fail your MOT. Therefore, you'll need to learn how to convert LHD headlights to RHD. The same knowledge works for switching headlights the other way too.
For those who crave the bad boy look, there are ways to make your pearly white headlights blend in better with the black front grille. For that drug-dealer look, learn more about smoking your own headlights.
Sometimes the multicoloured cluster at the back end makes your car look like it's been attacked by Haribo. Some prefer a more uniform look to their rear lenses, to give less of a colour clash across the unit. If you think that back plastic is ugly, learn more about tinting your rear lights.