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Tech Article

BMW E30 3-Series Driver Door Lock Issues

Last Updated: 03/23/2017
Parts Group: Door, outboard of armrest and trim panel
I’ve spent 8 of the last 48 hours messing with the driver door on my E30 1989 BMW 325i. -- not the centralized locking, which hasn’t worked for years, nor the pretty trim panel which has been gone for years too. I was focused only on the mechanical parts. Specifically, the door hasn’t locked for years, either -- and I thought that a car that I could lock would be a nice upgrade.

Finally, after all this work, I have the problem fixed. The door locks, but I noticed I’ve put one part in the wrong way around. That part works, but it’s not an ideal situation. To fix it I’d have to take everything apart again. For now, I don’t want to. So the car is now parked safely, and locked -- for the first time in years -- until I have much, much more time.

This project underscores my premise that buying used parts is only half of the solution, and the other half is a set of REALLY good instructions, step by step, with pictures. The complete solution is where none of the previous problematic symptoms still appear, and the fix has been done to original-specification standards albeit with used parts, where viable.

I admit to feeling like a hypocrite when I arrived at the workplace in my daily-driver vehicle, a nice-enough Audi Quattro. So, why the focus on the BMW? Well, as long as I'm selling used BMW parts, I am committed to also feeling the pain of keeping a used BMW on the road, hence this project. This way, I can truly relate to what my customers experience, and what they need.

Below is a picture of the actual car -- and don't get me wrong, I like this car very much. It's been my chariot on so many of my adventures that I intend to keep it on the road no matter what.

As to this project, the main parts involved include:

- The outside lock, with weather seal
- The base on the other side of the lock hole
- A wedge plate that mates the outside lock to the base
- The lock-and-open main mechanism
- A pivot point for the pull knob
- A cover for the pivot point
- The pull knob
- A wire that connects the main mechanism to the pivot point
- A wire that connects the pivot point to the pull knob
- An actuator for the power-assisted locking
- A wire that connects the main mechanism to the actuator
- An internal pull handle with gasket
- A wire that connects the main mechanism to the internal pull handle

Each of the four wires can go in with the end hooks pointing in or out, so mathematically my chances of getting them all installed the right way was one in sixteen And, when a wire is installed the wrong way around, you can't tell immediately, but you find out when you're just about done. The fix is to take it all apart and start over.

If you think that looking at the online BMW parts documentation would help, then you’re right, but it's not perfect. To some extent, it helped me from the frying pan into the fire. That’s how I got the last wire the wrong way around. I'd figured that the official documentation was the one thing I could trust and didn’t have to validate ... bad premise.

The work occurs in the vicinity of two separate wire bundles and the vertical slide pillar for the door window ... and all of this occurs inside the door, where it’s hard to see anything and harder yet to reach it, and vastly harder to do anything productive.

The first step toward removal of the main mechanism would seem like an easy step ... three screws. Problem is, they’re massive and super-tight so without an impact driver, there’s no getting them out. Good thing I own such a tool. I’m also cynical enough to distrust my skills without ample help, so I had bought three other used BMW doors to look at and learn from, or scavenge for parts as needed. In the process I learned that, yes, there is a significant difference between the early E30 BMW door and the later one, and that looking at an early door so as to apply the knowledge to a later door wasn't a perfect idea. Some parts are the same, and some are not.

Of course, looking at another door presumes I could see inside it, which was not a good premise either, as it turned out.

The work is basically non-viable until one loosens the vertical internal window guide since that blocks the removal and replacement of the various parts. However, putting the internal window guide back imperfectly means the window can shatter on the way down. And no, that didn’t happen in this case, but only because I was extra careful.

As to the ways in which to route the two wiring bnundles relative to the vertical internal window guide, the chances of getting that right are one in four.

The actuator can be installed facing the front or the back. One way is right and the other is wrong, so the chances of getting that right are one in two.

So, by now we’re up to 127 different ways to put the major items together incorrectly, and one way of putting them together correctly. I didn't find the latter.

It’s been a very humbling project. I succeeded "kinda sorta" but it wasn’t a glorious victory. Number of times that I lost patience: zero. So, psychologically it's a victory as such, at least.

This is probably as good a time as any to mention that the outer door lock doesn’t really like the key any more -- assuming it ever did -- and the internal pull handle frame is broken too. So, I’m going to have to replace the lock cylinder and frame anyway, which means undoing and redoing everything one more time. This time, I expect I’ll get the pull wires and the wiring the right way around, all of it, and I plan to photograph and document things diligently, too. There’s no reason anyone else should go through the same struggle I just have. There must be better ways to build character.
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