Removing BMW E46 M3 Rear Headrests

M3 rear headrest

Ever set out on a task that should be easy and you quickly find out it isn’t? This was one of those. For most BMW headrests up until about 2008 you just had to pull straight up to remove them from the seat backs. At least that’s how it always worked on the front head rests.

Things got more complicated with the facelift E90 seats as they contained a charge that moved the headrest forward in a collision. For those head rests, you have to remove the back of the seat and unplug the wire before you can pull it free. So when I’m working on this 2004 M3, I’m thinking, easy-peasy, I’ll just pull up, no worries.

Then when that didn’t work, I turn to the trusty interwebs for sage advice and I’m told not to pull straight up, but cup your hands together on one side, and pull diagonally, one side at a time (which does work oddly enough.) But I got to thinking there had to be a more logical reason why this was so difficult.

Remove the two circled clips.

And if you lift the covering on the rear parcel shelf you can see it. There are actually two clips holding each head rest. The two hand method just twisted them to spring them free. Easier is to just reach in with long needle nose pliers and pull them free. Then the head rests just pull out, easy-peasy. You’re welcome inter webs.

MINI Front Seats Deconstructed

We break down a set of 2004 MINI front seats so you don’t have to. Besides wearing out the covers, the five most common failures, in no particular order are: Seat heaters stop working; tilt-slide doesn’t slide; seat height adjustment spring (gas pressurized spring 52107069970) fails; seat-back adjustment spring fails; and the seat cushion spring (52107129253) or seat back spring (52107053175) fails. The seat we deconstructed had four of five of these failures and we’ll show you what it looks like so you can decide if you want to take on the repair.

seatback springA broken seat-back adjustment spring requires a new frame so you’re better off just replacing the seat. The tilt-slide mechanism is built into the seat rail and not available as a separate part. Both of those failures are annoying, but do not affect the safety of the seat. The height adjustment is also just annoying, but it’s an easy repair. Seat cushion springs are an easy repair; seat back springs are a little harder. Seat heaters are also not available as individual parts. They require purchase of the entire cushion and cover.  In 2002-2004 cars the heaters were glued to the cover.  In 2005-2006 cars it is a separate mat and can be salvaged from another seat. The good news is that the connectors are the same.

First a word of caution: MINI seats have side bolster airbags. Any time you are working an airbag you want to take precautions so you don’t set it off.

  1. Disconnect the battery and wait 15 minutes to let the system discharge completely.  As long as you do not turn the ignition key with a set removed, you will not get an airbag light when you put everything back together again.
  2. Slide the seat forward and remove the two rear Torx bolts.
  3. Slide the seat back and remove the two front Torx bolts.
  4. Tilt the seat to the inside so you can unplug the connectors (set belt chime; seat belt pre-tensioner; airbag; heaters (if equipped); and passenger occupancy sensor (2005-2006 passenger seats.) The connectors are uniquely shaped and/or color-coded so you don’t have to worry about keeping track of which is which.
  5. Carefully lift the seat to remove it from the car. (It’s heavier than you think.)
  6. Before disassembly, raise the seat to full height before disassembly and inspect the under side of the seat. Can you see breaks in the springs? Are the two springs connected? Is the wire out of the tension reel broken (tilt slide return cable)? Was your Side viewset height adjustment spring failing? If your problem was seat springs or the adjustment spring, then you can make those repairs without further disassembly. Inspect the seat bottom springs.  The wires should be continuous and there should be a small connector in the middle connecting the two springs.  If your seat bottom was saggy, the springs may have been broken or that small connector missing.
  7. The seat we’re deconstructing already had the set belt buckle removed since it was moved to the replacement seat.  If you are just repairing the cushions or springs, you do not need to remove it.
  8. Remove the seat height adjustment lever by removing the cover and screws.
  9. Remove the levers by removing the cover and screws.
  10. Pull from frontSide cover backsideRemove the side trim by first removing the round plastic fastener in the rear, then pull straight forward from the front and straight out from the side.  There are two main catches you need to release. With the seat back in the normal up position, the trim slides up and away from the hinge. Repeat on the other side.
  11. Now you can see how the seat covering attaches. cushion catchThere are a couple of places where it is just pulled over a catch in the frame.  One the sides, there is a small plastic catch at is very brittle. Carefully free the plastic plug and that catch on each side. No move to the rear and carefully release the long plastic catch that is also very brittle. Pull the cover through to the front and start to pull the cushion off of the frame. With the tension relieved, release the curved catch on the front and the cushion and cover will lift off.
  12. To remove the seat sliders start in the back and work forward. There is increasingly less room for your ratchet as you move forward (that’s why we raised the seats before beginning.) tilt to get to back boltsOnce you get to the last bolt you may have to twist the rail to get the bolt into a position to remove.
  13. Seat backs are a little harder to take a part.  seat back coverSpend some time studying where the connectors are for the rear cover before you start prying them off. A combination of careful prying and pulling will release the back without breaking any of the elements.
  14. If you’re replacing the springs, no need to go any further. Inspect the spring continuity and that it’s connected to the frame at all of the appropriate locations. normal seat back spring broken seat back springThe photo on the left shows a good spring and the one on the right is broken in several places. This would feel like a failed lumbar support.
  15. With the back off, carefully release the airbag tether.
  16. Release the catches on either side and release the metal loop holding the top of the cover.
  17. pull overPull the cushion and cover up over the top of the seat. Carefully pull the cushion and cover off of the headrest guides. Remove the headrest guides by relieving pressure on either side and pulling up. Inspect the rear spring and look for breaks.
  18. If you’ve salvaged seat heaters from a 2005-2006 seat and want to install them, separate the cover from the cushion.  For early seats the two are glued together. For later seats (especially leather seats) you may have to cut and replace hog rings (see this post.)
  19. slide up to releaseIf you need to replace the seat height adjustment spring, remove the old spring by prying up on the catch on both ends and pull straight off. These are the same type of connectors as the hatch or hood.
  20. If you need to repair the net on the back of your seat, you might be able to drill it out, fix the net, and then secure it with screws, but you’re probably better off just buying a new seat back.  We tried it to figure out if it was possible (it is), but decided not worth doing (you’re welcome). img_3113drilled net support

 

The remaining photos show the bare frame and extra detail that may help you better understand the construction of the seat.

 

Seat frameseat frame rearheadrest supportseat back spring 2airbag tetherseat back springseat airbagtilt slide cableconnect springsslidersseatbackseatbottom