528i – Replacing the Headlight Adjusters

Since the 528i is a BMW, it’s a little overly complicated. Because it’s German. Why make it simple when you can make it complicated?

The headlights on the 528i have a auto-leveling feature. Which means that if you load the trunk full of stuff, thus lowering the rear and raising the front, the auto-leveling headlights will compensate and you won’t blind on-coming traffic.

Which is cool, I guess, but it also adds more stuff to break. And break it does.

When I was polishing the headlights I heard some rattling in the right one. So I opened it up and took out some chunks of white plastic. Since I’ve spent some time surfing the various BMW forums, I knew what that meant.

The auto-adjusting system consists of a servo motor in the bottom of the headlight and two “headlight adjusters”. The two adjusters are made of very brittle plastic (why? who knows?) and are prone to breakage. If your car is 15 years old, they are probably broken.

So I ordered up two sets.

This evening I took the headlights apart and replaced the adjusters. It was actually pretty easy.

Step one – remove the headlights from the car. Disconnect the electrical plugs (four – don’t forget the turn signal), undo the four bolts and take them out.

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Step two – remove the Xenon ballast and bracket. Unscrew the screw that holds the bracket closed. The cable disconnects from the bulb with about a 1/4 turn. You will probably have to cut the push-on nuts that hold the cable in place. I did not replace these nuts.

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Step three – remove the high-beam bulb – it unscrews with a 1/4 turn. Remember not to touch the bulb. Remove the two rubber boots. They just pull off.

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Step four remove the Xenon bulb (not strictly necessary, but I took it out just to be safe) – unscrew the three Torx screws on the retainer and carefully pry the metal clip back until you can pull the bulb out. Again, be careful not to touch the bulb.

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Step five – loosen all the clips and pull the housing apart. There are two clips on the top, three on the bottom, one around the end and one sort of hidden by the turn signal bulb. Make sure you get them all.

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Step six – this part is a little scary. It took me a few minutes to figure out how to get the bulb mount plate out of the housing. Since the two adjusters are broken, the only point of attachment is the servo. All the tutorials say to just pop it off, without much detail. I ended up placing the housing face down and just pressing on the two bulb mounts until it popped off the servo.

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The white part is the socket that the ball on the end of the servo pops into.

Step seven – remove all the busted parts. There will most likely be balls busted off in the two sockets on the bulb mount plate and parts of the adjusters still on the screws in the housings. The balls were brittle enough that I could just break them up with a dental tool to get them out. After removing all the old parts, wipe all the plastic dust out of the housing. If you want to add angel eyes (I want to, but haven’t bought them – yet) now would be a good time.

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You can see the remains of one adjuster on the left and the ball in the socket on the right.

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On the left, new hotness. On the right, old and busted (literally). The old parts just crumbled.

Step eight – screw the new adjusters into place. I screwed mine almost all the way in – people on the fourms complain about this part – it took a while but not that long.

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You can see the new adjusters in the upper left and right. The servo is lower right.

Step nine – re-mount the bulb mount plate. I thought about this for a minute, then I just set it in place on the three balls and pushed them on one at a time. The upper right was difficult to get a good push on, so I used a screwdriver handle.

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All fixed up.

Assembly of the housing is reverse. (As they like to say in the Haynes manuals. But it really is.)

The last step needs to be aiming the headlights. I need to find a good place to do this. You need a flat spot with a wall 25 feet away from the car.

Here is a procedure I found. It says they are not horizontally adjustable, but since they have been removed from the car, I bet they aren’t aligned that way either.

BMW_E39_Headlights_Adjustment

Bonus shot of a blind 528i.

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