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E36 BMW Headliner Repair and Replacement

Thousands of older BMWs remain reliable daily drivers. Many of these cars also have droopy, sagging, ripped, torn, unglued, or crumbling headliners. Do a google search for a phrase like "E36 BMW headliner repair" and you will see many BMW enthusiasts looking to address this unsightly problem. At 175k, the headliner on my 1995 325is (E36 coupe) began to pull away from around the sunroof and sag. It was touching my hair and annoying. I initially put off the repair because I worried that this would be an expensive fix. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the BMW dealer only charges $189 for a complete E36 headliner (this includes the cloth, the foam backing, and the fiberglass-woven cardboard shell). Simply removing and replacing your entire headliner assembly this way is certainly one option, especially since most auto upholstery shops are charging $300+.

This advice applies to more than E36 BMW owners, of coure. E30, E28, E34, E39 etc

  • bimmer drivers will no doubt face the same headliner repair, but E36 cars in particular have come in for criticism with regard to interior materials quality and assembly.

    The *other* choice is to repair the headliner yourself. No, this does not mean using staples, thumbtacks, or simply spraying adhesive between the foam and fabric. This means removing the headliner from the vehicle, removing the fabric, removing the dried out foam, cleaning the fiberglass woven head liner shell, and rebuilding it yourself! Most fabric stores can match up a sample for you, but there are also lots of auto parts retailers online that sell headliner repair kits for around $30.

    To remove the headliner from your E36, simply follow the instructions below:

  • The sun visors have two screws holding them in place and then you just have to pull the cable spade out of the back. This is there to turn the lights on when you open the mirror slide.
  • The sun visor catch each has two screws holding it in place. The newer cars have plastic screw cover caps you have to remove first. These also have wires going into the back of them that you have to pull out. These are there so that the light in the visor turns off even if the mirror is open when you close it.
  • Remove the three grap handles. They each have 2 screws holding them in place. They have small plastic covers over the screws. You have to carefully pull them out and down. There are small plastic guide pins that can easily break if you pull them out too quickly or if you rotate them out.
  • The lights above the visors are easily removed by getting ahold of one side, creating a little slack and then pulling down and removing the wiring harness.
  • Remove the a and c pillar covers. The b pillars are tough to remove and you could avoid removing these if you want.
  • Pull off the door seals and rear window vent seals to allow the headliner to drop down.
  • The sunroof switch panel is easily removed by pushing to one side and then carefully pulling down.
  • You can remove the map light by prying it out.
  • Remove the seal around the sunroof.

    You can remove the headliner with the seats in but you need to recline them all the way back. It is much easier with the seats out. It is also easier to remove with two people to maneuver the headliner. It is very fragile and you have to be careful not to bend it. You have to slide it out the door at an angle.

    Wear latex gloves when scraping or pulling old foam off of the headliner shell so you don't get fiberglass strands stuck in your skin (ow!). I used the 3m "super 77" spray adhesive. The stuff is great, it only tacks at first, so you can move stuff around for a few seconds, but once it dries, it's nigh impossible to remove.
    I'd definitely recommend doing several test-pieces though, so you can get an idea how the spray comes out and how much you can put on there before it starts to soak through the fabric.

    Also, make sure you have a lot of latex gloves on hand, because you don't want to touch the new cloth with your glue-covered fingers.
    Remember, you have enough fabric to do the little trim parts (sunroof switch and A and C pillar covers) a lot of times, but only enough to do the headliner once. Start with the smallest part (sunroof switch) and work your way up.

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