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E36 BMW Rear Brake and Emergency Brake Problems

I last replaced the rear brake pads and rotors on my 1995 BMW 325is back in early 2003. I've since put 100k on the car and figured that it might be time to do this job again. Of course, front brakes don't last nearly as long...but that is because that's where the majority of the braking energy/force comes from. Recently, a metallic rattling noise had been coming from the back of the car somewhere. Given E36 BMW models' propensity for worn subframe, rear trailing arm and other bushings, I thought it might be best for some process of eliminating type preventative maintenance. After jacking up the car and removing the rear wheel, I removed the 2 15mm caliper bracket bolts and slid the brake caliper off of the car. I was shocked to see that the brake pads appeared to be only about half worn! The rotor itself looked a little worn, but was still smooth and straight. I confess to not measuring the thickness to see if it was within spec. Besides, I was already in there...might as well do the job anyway.

E36 BMWs can be maintained relatively inexpensively by experienced do-it-yourself/shade tree mechanics, especially if you know where to look for deals on parts. I bought ATE oem replacement rear brake rotors and PBR metalmaster rear brake pads on ebay for about $100 total. Using an allen wrench, I removed the rotor locating screw, and pulled on the rotor, which remained steadfastly stuck in place. Figuring corrosion to be the culprit, I tapped the rotor on each side with a rubber mallet. One side came free, the other side refused to move, like something was holding it on there. Out came a real mallet - old rotor be damned! It STILL wouldn't come free. Turns out that the locating pins for the emergency brake assembly had both pulled their mounts on the brake dust shield backing plate, also referred to as the brake protection plate. This in turn allowed the e brake shoes to expand outward and move around, holding the rotor in place.

T0 repair this, I'll need a new brake shield plate. According to the realoem BMW digital microfiche, suggested retail is only something like $18.94. I'm sure my local stealership has marked it up 2 or 3 times that, as they have done for many other pieces. For a temporary repair, I simply removed the entire emergency brake assembly from the passenger side of the car. The anchor-like cable ending must be removed as well, or it will rub against the hub and or rotor. Ask me how I know. It simply pushes out using a hammer and punch. I ended up installing the new rotor and leaving the old pads on for the time being. A week or two like this won't hurt anything, and the driver's side e brake still works.

Tip: Wire brush dirt and corrosion off all bolts prior to re-assembly and lightly coat threads and mating surfaces with some kind of anti-seize compound such as Permatex Never Seize. I also put a little of this on the hub and the front of the rotor. Some people use white lithium grease. I cannot comment on this.

PS: While the broken and floating e-brake assembly was indeed rattling around, removing it failed to cure the rear end rattles audible over bumps. I'm puzzled.

E36 Brake Light Failure OBC Message: Causes and Cures

Another infamous E36 BMW minor malady is the display of messages such as 'Brake Light Failure" or "Brake Circuit Failure' by the OBC. Sometimes you'll get '1 Brake Light Fail' as well. There are a few basic reasons why this happens, and how you can fix these problems. First of all, if your E36 OBC is displaying 'Brake Circuit Failure' this means that the electrical brake circuit switch is no longer operating.

To fix, you need get one from the dealer. Figure about $8-30 dollars dependign on how bad the markup is at your local stealership.

The brake circuit switch (and there are 2 on some cars...check yours) is located up under the dash under the steering column. Remove the ~4 screws holding the cover panel on. The brake light switch is under the top of the brake pedal arm, under the dash.

Make sure you press the red tab down to lock the switch in place. Use pliers to break the red tab off the old switch and pull out. Push the braked pedal all the way down to get the old swtuch out. Pop the new switch in and reconnect the wiring harness, but again be sure you've pressed the red tab to lock the circuit switch in place.

Now, if you are NOT getting a 'brake circuit' related error code on your E36's OBC, but rather a 'brake light failure' this means it is either a bad bulb, loose bulb, bad bulb socket, or dirty/corroded electrical contact somewhere where the bulb or socket tabs are. Any Auto Zone, Pep Boys, NAPA or wherever should have the correct brake light and high mount stop light bulbs. They are either # 7528 or 7506 depending on the year and model BMW, I believe (please double check and do not take this as gospel). Use emory paper and electrical contact cleaner to make sure the taillight electrical contacts for the bulb socket, and the bulb socket contacts themselves, are clean. Test the socket with an electrical meter. Tip: replacing your E36 rear taillight and brakelight bulbs at the dealer includes the socket for each bulb, and the price is usually under $15.

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