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E36 BMW Power Window Woes

The E36 3 series line of BMWs is known for aggravating problems related to the power windows. They are generally either related to sudden failure of the switches to raise or lower the windows, or related to the window coming off of the tracks, or problems with the window motor and arm. This article deals with scenarios involving the windows in your E36 BMW coupe, sedan, hatch, or covertible suddenly refusing to go up or down. Typically, this means all windows fail at once. This happened to me on the highway the other day in my 1995 325is. I'd had both windows down, and when I parked the car, neither window switch worked. First of all, if this ever happens to you, be aware that you are still able to close the windows as long as your BMW has the one-touch up/down option. To raise your windows in an emergency without the switch (and this will only work if you have electrical power from the battery), simply insert the key in the driver's side door, turn to the right to lock, and hold for 5-10 seconds. The windows will automatically raise.

Common E36 BMW power window operation failure causes are generally related to a few components. The 'neither switch' or 'none of the window switches work' scenario can be traced to one of only a couple of things. First of all, early E36 models have a circuit breaker switch on the dashboard, to the right of the steering wheel. Try restting this first. Next, pop the hood and open up the fuse box. Check to make sure fuses 11, 14, and 43 are good. Fuse 43 is the makeup/vanity mirror fuse and for some reason it takes out the power windows when it blows. Fuse 43 had a hairline crack in it that was difficult to see. Always use the correct amp rating! If all fuses are good, the final common culprit is something called the Comfort Relay. The comfort relay is located under the dash. Your Bentley repair manual will have a picture of it. To access the comfort relay, you will remove the plastic lower dash panel under the steering wheel. There are 3 screws, and you will also disconnect the 2 plugs located down near the pedal cluster. Okay, once you remove this plastic, you will see a large metal panel. You will need a 10mm socket and long extension to remove the 3 screws. This panel, which is padded on the other side, also has a metal brack that helps support it on the right side nearest the center console. Remove and set aside. You will now be faced with a large mess of wiring. There will be a plastic frame containing anywhere from 3 to 6 relays, depending on the year and option package your car has. This frame pops out and rotates down. The comfort relay is on the left, not in the 'grid' with the others. What usually happens is that this relay develops a short or the wiring falls off one of the inner posts. You can either open the relay up with a small straight slot screwdriver to attempt to find the break and resolder, or simply call the dealership with the BMW part number on it and get a new one. It's only $20. Caution: not all E36 cars have the same relay. Some have a large blue one, others a grey/green slightly smaller one. Do not simply ask the parts manager for a comfort relay without giving him your specific part number. Failing to do this, I ended up with 2 comfort relays that are the wrong ones for my car. Interestingly enough, when I discovered that fuse 43 was the culprit, the windows worked even without the relay plugged in! Another sign that the relay is faulty is when both the windows AND sunroof fail to work. Assembly is the reverse of disassembly. A 20 minute repair, tops.

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