Gauge cluster button fix

I’ve seen this happen in a couple of cars now and I’m not sure why. Perhaps someone who is unfamiliar with how they work gets in the car and tries to set the clock by spinning the knob, or a previous owner took the cluster apart and broke the tabs? Usually both knobs are affected though only one side is supposed to twist. Here’s how to take out the cluster and assess what’s wrong. As per usual disclaimer, the following is provided for information use only — no wagering. Disconnect the battery before working on any electrical system in your car.

It helps to have the steering wheel lowered and pulled forward as far as possible to get as much space as possible to work, or in this case, remove the steering wheel. The cluster is held in place with two T-20 Torx screws.

Cluster is held in by two T-20 screws

Remove them, and gently pull the cluster forward until you can reach the electrical connectors on the rear. The connectors have lock-levers. Gently depress the lock, and slide the lever forward to remove the connector. They are different sizes so you don’t have to remember which is which. Remove the cluster and set it on a cloth.

Press down on the white wedge and pull the black arm toward the top of the cluster to release

Gently pull off the two rubber outer buttons.

Gently pull away from the face to remove

Flip the cluster over and you will see a series of T-10 Torx screws (mine was missing a few of them). Remove the screws and gently lift the back off the cluster. The plastic button plungers should stay with the instrument cluster. Avoid touching any of the circuits or the circuit board and gently lift the board from the front housing.

My cluster just had four screws. One at the top, one in the middle and one on either end. I suspect the others were lost over the years.

Remove the screens which have the icons for the various warning lights along the bottom of the cluster. (More on these later.)

This shows where the plungers fit. The one on the right twists, the one on the left does not.

Now is a good time to clean the inside of the glass on the front half of the cluster. Use a clean micro-fiber cloth and a screw driver to reach all of the areas inside the cluster. Turn our attention to the reset mechanisms.

Circle shows broken spike.

They are delicate plastic plungers with a plastic spring on one end and a T section in the middle and should have a spike which activates a small button recessed in the instrument face. When you look at the instrument face, you can see how they work. The one on the left does not twist. The T is held in place so the only action is the plunger. The one on the right is used to reset the clock. It too has a plunger action, but also twists left or right about 45 degrees to move the time forward or back. It does not spin. If the plungers are in good nick, then chances are they just came out of their slots and careful reassembly should get you working again. More than likely, however, one or both plungers have lost their spikes. You can’t buy new ones, and if you buy a used cluster for parts, chances are they will also be missing their spikes as well. Fortunately, the internet has an answer. See this post on e46fanatics. We used it to fabricate new spikes.

Following the instructions, we wrapped a paperclip around a 1/8 in drill bit, then trimmed and bent it to match the photos. (I decided to paint the windings black to better hide them when reassembled.) Slide it on the plunger (tight fit), position, and glue in place. The one on the right side needs a larger surface area to activate the recessed button from various degrees of twist.

Circle shows where the spike activates the recessed button

Use some glue to secure the winding to the plunger and then paint. Before you reassemble the cluster, you may also want to use black electrical tape to block out any annoying lights from systems you may have disabled such as the low washer fluid light if you removed the reservoir, or the seat belt light because you’re using different buckle receptacles (in my case, those from an E30 M3.)

Before reattaching the screws on the back, check that the plunger has seated in the slot.

Assembly is the reverse of removal.

When complete, the winding is barely visible.

Relocating the washer container

If you installed brake ducts in your E46 M3 track car, chances are you also removed the windshield washer reservoir (aka, “windshield cleaning container” part number 61 67 7 895 571). The container wraps around the AC dryer and sits in the path of the Hardmotorsport bumper duct inlet. If you no longer drive your car on the street, this probably makes sense. After all, a track build is all about adding lightness and removing complexity. If you still drive it on the street, it can also be about bugs. Lots of bugs. Bugs smeared on your windshield. Since I still drive this car on the street, I decided I wanted to find a way to retrofit a smaller container in the smuggler’s hold.

The compartment already has mounting points you can attach to. All you need to do is fabricate a bracket and get a small container. I got this 2 quart one from US Plastic.

You can also see the electric fan controller we installed in the same area.

Once you locate the container, then all you need is power, ground, and the hose to the spray nozzles. (I just hooked up the windshield nozzles, not the headlight washers.) Ground is easy as there are multiple grounding points close-by. For power, I ran a wire along the existing wiring harness and picked up the positive connection in the wiring loom that I disconnected from the factory container. To get to the hose, I just had to measure the run I needed, then unwrap it from the wiring harness and cut to length. All in, it’s a very clean install.

M3 at the Jeff

T13 Jeff

After a long break, we finally got back to the track in September. The weekend of 11-13 September saw the National Capital Chapter of BMW CCA back on the extended Jefferson Circuit at Summit Point. The format was a bit different with all lead-follow instruction, but the instructor run group was still a blast.

I’m still getting used to the M3 and have to remember three key differences from the MINI:

  1. It’s wider.
  2. You have to actually steer OUT of corners as you get back on the power.
  3. When the back steps out, MORE GAS is not the answer.

I also need to get used the pedals to improve my heal-toe downshifts. If I can remember that I don’t have to square every corner, I think I’ll get to be pretty quick in this car. My best lap was already 3 seconds faster on the same tires.

Remember that bit about the car being wider? Here’s a small clip from my second track session in the car and I was finally getting up to speed.

There are a few lessons to be learned here. I’m driving an unfamiliar car that’s about a foot wider than what I’m used to driving. I finally got the apex right at the previous corner and as a result, arrive at the braking zone here about 2 MPH faster than usual. I come off the brakes too soon, and as a result don’t get far enough around T13 when I have to brake again. I run out of track at the entry to turn 14. I come off the brakes as I leave the track, but still have enough brake force on the front left that I spin around the front left when 3 wheels are off. I straighten the wheel and almost pull off the 360 before heading into Pit-In. So next time, be more aware when making a step increase in speed. Adjust the brake point so I apex T13 at the same speed. And keep the last 18 inches of apron as a buffer. Oh, and know how wide your car is.

3D Printed Bracket

When I gutted the interior of the M3 I had to find a new home for the combo door lock – emergency flasher switch. I originally used some Gorilla tape and stuck it to the shifter console, but it didn’t hold up to the 90+ degree days of summer. So I decided to fabricate a bracket with my 3D printer.

I found a CAD file to hold a BMW OBD II port and resized it. It turns out this switch is 93% as wide and 150% as long as the standard OBD II port.

I attached a couple of riv-nuts to the console and bolted it up. I may need to reprint it in ABS plastic, but lets see how it holds up.

M3 Big(ger) Brake Kit

I always advise new students to not just throw money at their cars until they know how to drive it. The one exception being to address know weak points of the platform. With that in mind, I’m starting to prep my new M3. The E46 M3 stock front brakes aren’t up to extended track sessions out of the box. But they can be significantly upgraded without spending thousands of dollars on a big brake kit (though I’d be happy to sell you one.)

Here’s my take at building a bigger brake kit on a budget. This plan uses with the stock calipers, CSL caliper carriers (or a reasonable facsimile) and rotors. And the most important part, improved airflow and good pads. Brake pads of choice are PFC 08 compound.

What came on the car.

These calipers were only a few years old, but given the condition of the dust boots and unknown condition of the seals, I decided to get remanufactured ones rather than rebuilding them. Once you return the cores, remanufactured OEM calipers are only about $70 a side. Given that the rebuild kit is about $30, it was certainly worth $40 to me to have someone else do the rebuilding and cleaning of the calipers.

OEM CSL Caliper Carriers are $265 a side, but you can get a pair of ECS CSL style carriers for under $200. You have a couple of choices for rotors. Many people choose the PFC Direct Drive rotors which are about $760 a pair. I decided for this initial set-up, I’d use OEM BMW Motorsport CSL Rotors which I got from FCP Euro for about $440 for the pair. Like everything else from FCP Euro, when they’re worn out, send them back for replacement. Just pay for shipping. Bonus. Brake lines were replaced with StopTech braided stainless steel.

To improve initial bite and pad wear, I use brass bushings from ECS Tuning in replace of the stock rubber ones. Those run about $100/pair for the front and $60/pair for the rear.

All installed.

To paint or not to paint, that is the question? I’m of two minds when it comes to painting calipers. On the one hand, paint isn’t going to make you any faster. You could probably argue in fact it retains more heat. But on the other hand are aesthetics: cast iron calipers are going to rust. So why paint, besides aesthetics? Temperature sensitive ceramic paint can give you information about max temp sustained. I once had a Brembo brake engineer tell me that any time a stock caliper exceeds 550 degrees F, you need to rebuild the seals. So I use paint that discolors above 500 degrees and also use temperature strips on each caliper.

Brush paint seems to last longer.

It is easier if you paint before you install, but it is possible to paint afterwards if you take your time. I like to paint what I can with the caliper installed, then remove it to paint the back and hard to reach areas.

Improved airflow took a bit more effort. I haven’t deleted the AC yet, so I got the HardMotorsports Clubsport kit which includes the ducts that replace the fog lights, hoses, and clamps.

Between the bumper cover and the ducts, I used wire fabric to make grills.

Driver’s side with Y-pipe to the air box.

The 3-inch duct hose does restrict how far you can turn the wheel a bit. The kit ships with steering lock limiters to save your tires from rubbing the ducts.

Or just accept that you’re going to need new hose if you have to throw on some serious opposite lock. Since it turns out I can’t even back out of my driveway without contacting the hose, I decided to try a different solution. I ended up getting the hard Motorsports backing plates as well. Since you can’t get plates sized for the CSL rotors, we had to cut off the inner ring, but they still provide a good mounting point to feed air to the center of the rotor.

The final piece was the addition of the Hardmotorsports low profile brake ducts. I had to lose the Y duct to the air intake but I have another plan for that. I’m still working on the ideal location to mount them. Mount it too high and the hose hits the inside of the rim. Mount it too low and it rubs on the sway bar. I think I’ll still hit it at full steering lock, but the metal face should hold up to some abuse. At least now I can back out of my driveway without hitting it which is progress. I generally can only go to the track between March and October around here so I’ll probably just remove the hoses in the off season.