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Learning vinyl wrap

One thing I really don’t like on the E90 3 Series cars is the “soft touch” plastic coating used on the interior plastic bits. It should have been called “don’t touch” for how easily it is damaged.

I wanted to fix the steering wheel trim which looked like this:

So I ordered some 3M vinyl wrap and went to the junk yard to get something for practice. I found a good candidate from a 2006 325i.

It was in much worse shape than ours. Perfect. I took off the thumb switches and ran it under hot water to remove the rest of the coating. After much rubbing, it looked like this:

Once dry, I placed it on a piece of vinyl and started to stretch and shape it before wrapping the edges and heating it with the heat gun.

The vinyl film is fairly forgiving and as long as you don’t catch a sharp corner, you can really stretch and manipulate it for a good fit. This type of film is applied dry and the adhesive isn’t activated until pressure is applied.

I was really happy with the results so I went ahead and pulled the piece on our car. Start by carefully removing the airbag. I used a Torx 20 screw driver to release the springs on both sides. And set the airbag out of the way. (Don’t unplug it unless you’ve disconnected the battery for at least 15 minutes.)

The panel can now be removed by first removing the three T-20 screws from the back of the steering wheel, and then the two T-20 screws holding the thumb switches in place.

If you have the sport steering wheel, you also need to remove the silver trim by removing four more T-20 screws and carefully undoing the catches. I then used the water method to remove the coating.

Vinyl was applied the same way, only this one was much quicker having done it before. Then the trim was reattached. Installation is the reverse of removal.

It looks great and there’s no more peeling paint by the thumb switches. (And yes, it was raining when I took the picture so the spots you see are rain drops….)

The vinyl wrap was $16 on Amazon for a 1×5 foot roll. The test trim piece was $4 at Crazy Rays. I had wrap left over so i covered an old trim piece that goes around the shift selector too.

So what did I learn? If the soft touch paint is peeling, it will probabably wash off—you don’t need to sand or use solvents to get it off. If you plan ahead and keep things clean, vinyl is pretty easy to work with. I can see how an extra set of hands would help with larger pieces. Heat can be your friend, but don’t over stretch.

Carbon Fauxber DIY

I’m not generally a big fan of carbon fiber trim, but this stuff may very well change my position.
As I was preparing for the recent JCW steering wheel installation project, I thought it might be a great opportunity to get rid of some of the silver trim I don’t like in the MINI. I have tried unsuccessfully to paint small trim pieces in the past, but it was very difficult to get a really high quality finish on small plastic parts using only rattle-can paint. I was looking on ebay to see how much carbon fiber trim pieces cost for the JCW wheel and all three pieces would still cost $240 or more which is ridiculous. Just replacing the existing plastic pieces is $120. Then I found this carbon fiber fabric from Psyspeed.
stretch fabric
I bought a yard (36×55 inches) of the glossy black carbon fiber fabric. It is very stretchy and has a really nice texture. (Remember “Pat the Bunny“? Kind of like that.)
All you need is a good pair of scissors, a good automotive contact adhesive, and a clean surface to work. Keep in mind the angle of the weave as you lay out your pieces.
Wearing gloves, spray two coats of adhesive on the parts to be covered (front and back edges) and let sit for 2-3 minutes before starting to work.
Stretch the cloth evenly over the first piece and work the material until it covers evenly and smoothly. Stretch to wrap the edges.
Trim the material so that you can overlap the back by about half an inch. Make small cuts in the edges and pull the material taught, making sure you don’t change the tension on the front.
complex shapes
If you are patient, you can work the material to cover some very complex shapes. You just have to decide when you want to stop. The single yard is probably enough to cover most car interiors.

Starting with this:
And ending with this:

Just don’t go crazy with your new found power, or else you might find yourself covering everything with the stuff…
covered door

Making it Blow Again

A common fault with older E30s is that the heater blower often only works on the highest setting. You should be happy that it works at all because it is much easier to repair/replace the resistor that controls the speed, than it is to replace the entire blower. This project isn’t very complicated. Give yourself about an hour to complete it. As usual, these instructions are provided for your entertainment only. Use at your own risk: No wagering.

You’ll need some electrical contact cleaner, 6mm and 9mm sockets, phillips screwdriver, and a varied assortment of socket extensions for this project. You may need to also replace some zip ties as well. If you’re an optimist, you can hope all you’ll need is to clean the resistor once you get to it. If you’re a pessimist, go ahead and buy the resistor before you start. You can get it at your BMW parts counter or from Bavarian Autosport.

First off, double check that your blower still works on the highest setting, then disconnect the battery.

The panel you’ll need to remove first is at the back of the engine compartment. Remove the gasket that runs along the top. You’ll have to remove 4 bolts to free up the panel. The top two are easily visible, but the lower two are hard to get to. If you have a strut bar like I do, you’ll want to remove the wire bundle that is attached to this panel so you have some room to maneuver. That involves removing two screws and possibly removing some zip ties.


Once the first panel is removed, you’ll see the blower in the middle. There are two white straps holding on the blower cover. You’ll need to carefully open these and remove the panel by sliding it down and pulling it out. Be careful not to break the cover or the tie straps. Now you’ll see the exposed blower.


At the bottom of the blower, in the middle is the resistor module. Yours will probably be brown and quite dirty. In the photo you see the new light blue replacement. Remove the module by gently pulling it from the arms that extend down. Pull directly toward you. With the module removed, clean the electrical contacts on the blower. Be careful not to drip contact cleaner down into the heater. (At this point, if you were to reconnect the power, your blower would still work on the highest setting. If you want to test that, be careful not to damage the exposed fins of the blower. Remember to disconnect the power when you are done.)


You can either attempt to clean and replace your existing module, or simply plug in the new one. I tried to clean mine first, but ended up buying a new one when that didn’t work. Make sure the model is seated and reconnect the power. Then test if it works.


Reverse your steps by first replacing the blower cover and reconnecting the tie straps. Be careful working the top of the cover in first, then slide down into place.

Replace the outer cover and put the gasket back in place. Replace your wire bundle if you moved it and replace any zip ties you cut.

Enjoy multi-speed ventilation again.

BMW Convertible Interior

New Shifter

The carpet replacement project proved a bit more complicated than I had anticipated. Once I got the seats out and pulled out the various console pieces, I pulled up the old carpet and found that the rear passenger-side footwell had started to rust.

Rust in footwell

Thank goodness for POR and fiberglass repair kits.


I was also amazed at the amout of junk under the consoles. I think the car was parked outside with the top up for quite a while at some point.


New Interior