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      11-01-2015, 09:24 PM   #1
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DIY: E92 Ambient Lighting upgrade using EL wire

I have recently completed a full EL installation on my E92 and thought I would share a few tips in case anyone is interested.

DISCLAIMER: The car in this example is a pre-LCI E92 left-hand drive manual. This project is a private DIY project, and the information contained in this post is for entertainment only. Neither the author of this article nor the administrators of this forum may be held accountable for any damage incurred as a result of or after any or all attempts to replicate any or all of the transformations displayed within.

Ambient Lighting and EL wire

EL (electo-luminescent) wire is electrical wire coated with phosphor that glows when a power runs through it. It does not flood the interior with light in the way LED lighting does, and is therefore non-distracting. Because of its supple nature, it adapts to the lines of the car and can be fitted around curved sections. You should not expect EL wire to illuminate the entire interior. It is however brighter than the original ambient lighting in the E92, which even at full power can be barely visible. The real magic happens when the original ambient lighting and the light from the EL wire and EL tapes are combined, but even without the ambient lighting option mounted the EL wire adds a really smart touch. It is hard to describe how pleasant the overall effect it.

I purchased all my EL supplies from EL wire Craft in the UK (http://elwirecraft.co.uk/) whom I can heartily recommend. They have a great selection of products and were professional and helpful at every step along the way. All the items were carefully packaged and worked out of the box after an oversea delivery.

I went for a fully reversible setup running new wires alongside the original looms and using an add-a-fuse connector to tap into the car's 12V straight from the fuse panel. It required a fair amount of work but the result is drop-dead gorgeous and no BMW wires were harmed in the making of this project.

A quicker way of doing it is to get the power straight from the car wiring. There is a video tutorial for this method available here:

I owe a great debt of gratitude to the author of the following post showing how to best run the new wires through the car: http://www.e46fanatics.com/forum/sho...d.php?t=705503

Since there is so much detail in his post, I will limit mine to an explanation of my setup, and add as many useful tricks and tips as I picked up working with EL wire and panels.

EL WIRE Basics

EL wire runs on alternating current and so to work in a car it needs to be connected to a power inverter, sometimes called a driver. You can also add different elements to the chain to achieve different effects. For example, I wanted full control over the inverter and the wire, so I opted to put a remote-controlled master switch in front of the inverter. This way when the car starts the EL wire is only switched on when I click on the remote. Of course the setup is entirely up to you. You could connect the inverter straight to the fuse circuit and run it off a fused source that is on whenever the engine runs, or when the lights are on, etc.

Specifically this is what I picked for my setup:

- Sewable EL wire (http://elwirecraft.co.uk/el-products...-3-50-a-metre/)

This type of wire has a sleeve that can be tucked in between the different elements of the car to stay in place. Five metres of wire gave me enough for the four lateral trim pieces, the two yin-yang symbols behind the speaker grills, and a little leftover.

- EL Tape (http://elwirecraft.co.uk/el-products...on-glow-strip/)

These are flexible rectangles that give more light than normal EL wire. I used one 2x25cm piece of EL tape for each footwell.

For both the EL wire and tape I opted for orange, which matches pretty much exactly the orange of the BMW dash and switches lighting.

- Remote control switch (http://elwirecraft.co.uk/el-products...switch-25m-rf/)

This plugs between the fuse panel and the power inverter to allow for remote operation of the EL assembly.

- 12V power inverter (http://elwirecraft.co.uk/el-driversinverters-new/)

This will transform the DC current from the battery into AC current. The trick is to figure out how much current the EL installation will pull, knowing that EL tape and panels draw more than EL wire. Dave at EL Wire Craft was kind enough to help me pick the right inverter based on my explanations of what I wanted. The one thing to note here is that an inverter running without anything connected to it can end up overheating and getting damaged, so you should always run tests with EL materials connected to the inverter. The inverter used in this setup is rated to power up to 15m of EL wire, which corresponds roughly to my 5m of EL wire and two EL tapes. Of course it's not critical if you run a little more or a little less, but it's best to match the elements at the planning stage for an optimized setup.

Other items and tools

- EL essentials: connectors, copper tape, end caps
- hi-fi cable (two wires, one red/positive and one black/negative/ground; 20m worked for me including waste and spare).
- electrical essentials: wire cutter/crimper, electrical tape, shrink tubing.
- cheapo multimeter (Not quite vital but definitely essential, great for testing connections, fuse behaviour, looking for grounding point, checking for the presence of voltage, etc).
- cheapo soldering station (I went for cheapo+1 which is cheapo with a variable heat knob added, worked a treat).
- soldering tin (I went for 60/40 electronics solder and made it all work, with my soldering experience limited to seeing a friend solder a wire 20 years ago).
- screwdrivers and torx bits for taking the car apart.
- trim tools for taking the car trim apart (not essential but they will make you work quicker and safer, with less risk of breaking parts or hurting yourself, definitely worth the money).
-add-a-fuse circuit and spare fuses.

Fuse Panel Setup

There are many ways of tackling this, and the final choice would depend on your preferences. I installed an add-a-fuse circuit and tapped into the cigarette lighter fuse. Keep in mind I opted to add a remote switch to the setup and didn't want the wires to light up every time the car was running. If you wanted, you could connect through a different fuse to have the wire behave differently, for example the HomeLink fuse is a popular target. To protect the EL wire installation I went for a 5A fuse after some hesitation. My local independent BMW mechanic said I should be ok with 7.5A. I went one lower knowing that the EL items don't draw much current. At this stage I cannot give you a perfect recommendation, but it's all up and running just fine this way.

Now onto an important item. EL elements require a two-wire connection, positive and negative/ground. This means that the add-a-fuse output provides the hot/positive side, and you need to secure a connection to a chassis ground. For the ground I hooked a wire onto the bolt that is accessible behind the glovebox, left of the fuse panel. The photos below will show this clearly. The connection into the first element of the EL chain (in my case the remote switch, otherwise the inverter) is through a circular jack/socket. I got a bunch of jacks from my loval electronics store and soldered a male jack connector to two strands of hi-fi wire. The red/positive wire was tinned (covered in a thin layer of solder) then crimped/squeezed into the output of the add-a-fuse, and the black/ground was twisted, the end tinned and then hooked up between the big bolt behind the glovebox and the washer just behind the bolt.

If this all sounds complicated then check the pictures and it should make sense. It's actually a very simple setup, I made it work and it was my first in-depth piece of electrical work.

- the add-a-fuse circuit is inserted into the fuse slot of your (careful) choice. The add-a-fuse block has two fuses inside it: the original fuse that was inside the slot you chose to use, and a new fuse tasked with protecting the EL-wire installation.
- cut a length of hi-fi cable and seperate the black and red strands.
- the red wire is crimped into the add-a-fuse output at one end, and soldered to the positive/short connector of the circular jack at the other.
- the black wire is hooked between the bolt and the washer behind the glovebox at one end, and soldered onto the negative/long connector of the circular jack at the other.
- the circular jack goes into the female jack of the remote switch box.
- the remote switch box is connected into the female jack of the power inverter box.
- the power inverter is connected to a six-way EL splitter
- the splitter is connected to the EL wire via the new power cables.
This way, whenever the car is powered, the EL installation is on standby and lights up whenever the remote is clicked.

Working with EL wire

I would recommend getting a decent length of EL wire and cutting it to fit. This is the only way of making sure the wire fits the trim element. This means soldering connectors onto the EL wire strands. This is a fiddly job but quite straightforward. I only messed up one out of all those I did and this was my first time working with EL wire. There are tutorials on youtube so I won't expand too much on the actual soldering. The items I brought were packed together with a neat information sheet on how to do this. Again, this is the first time I did any soldering, pretty much ever, and I was 95% successful, with the last 5% down more to my own stupidity and carelessness than anything else.

One thing to know, when it comes to soldering the negative wire onto the copper tape section of the EL wire, it can be quite a challenge getting the two parts to solder onto each other cleanly. It requires patience and care.

Some thinking is required when it comes down to the splitters and wire layout, but this is down to common sense and personal preference. I soldered EL-type connectors to the end of the power wires I laid out to make everything plug-and-play. You can make life easier with just straight soldering or joining with easy connects/electrical tape/whatever. Personally I think it was worth taking the time to make every element plug-and-play.

Running new power wires in the car

This is the hardest part. My car was built by Hans, and Hans definitely has obsessive-compulsive disorder. I am absolutely certain that he tightened ever nut, every bolt five times just to make sure. Then he would come back and tighten them again just in case. I NEVER managed to remove the dead pedal, despite having a choice of eleven trim tools and two hands. I also think that BMW have lied to the authorities, because the swear words emissions were about ten times over the limit.

I had to remove the side trim pieces, the door panels, the glovebox and therefore the cup holders, the back seat cushions, the OBD cover, the hood release lever and its panel, the door sill panels, both footwell covers, and both door hinge wire tubes. For details on these tasks do refer to the incredibly detailed post referenced above.

- I ran power cables through each side to the back of the car alongside the original looms. I used a wire coat hanger to feed/push/pull the wire through the existing plastic holders/cable managers where present and where possible.
- I ran power cables through the door hinge tubes on either side.
- I ran power cables through each door panel, to feed the EL wire under the door side trims.
- I ran a cable through the center in the empty space behind the climate controls to provide power to the left side. The right side is close enough to the fuse install that it can be hooked in directly to the main splitter.

The specifics are hard to explain so if anyone really needs it I can draw a little schematic, but it's pretty much common sense and how you chose to feed what with what. For example the wire that comes through the door hinge rubber tube follows the original wires into the door, up towards the tweeter, then down towards the center of the door. There it is split into two EL connectors, one feeding the speaker grill wire and the other one going into another wire that goes through the door panel and feeds the EL wire alongside the door trim element.

What I would recomment to make life easier is to adopt a convention such as this one: if the end of the wire points to the power source (the inverter/fuse panel) then put a female connector on it, and if it points outwards towards the EL wire then put a male connector on it. This of course is if you use EL-type connectors for these sections of wire instead of soldering/taping/whatever. I used this method because the EL tape and wire typically comes with female connectors already attached.

That's pretty much it, it does represent a lot of work but if you're careful it will make for a very clean install. More importantly it is easy to modify and upgrade. Right now I have two spare connectors in the glove box that can be used to light up anything else I feel like. I haven't touched any of the original car wiring, which is really what I wanted. Nothing needs to be cut/drilled/melted/hammered/lasered.

Final Note

This is an interesting one. When I was taking the glovebox down to gain access to the fuse panel, I noticed that there were three electrical connectors hooked into the back. One goes to the little bulb that lights up when the glovebox is opened. The other two however are plugged into nothing. They just slot into a recess in the hard plastic that makes up the back of the glovebox, but they are not actually used for anything. I meant to take some measurements but in the end I was in a rush to finish up and close it all up that I never got around to it. I suspect they would make handy connectors and I am pretty sure they are powered one way or the other. The first one has black/brown and yellow/green wires and the other has black/grey and black/purple wires. Definitely worth investigating.

Pros And Cons

There is an audible click when the remote is switched either way, which is good because it makes it easy to know if it fails.

There is an faint hum from the inverter when it is active, which tends to change frequency depending on how much EL wire it powers at the time. The humming is inaudible when the inverter is in place behind the glovebox and the car is running.

Running the inverter and wire without the engine running will drain the battery. I suspect this is due to my adding the remote switch before the inverter. Time will tell if this becomes a problem.

Putting the El wires as I did below the trim elements and not above them means they might slip down gradually over time, but it's nothing a little tape won't solve and as of now, out of all 4 sides, 3 of them haven't budged an inch and one only requires a little push up on one spot to be perfect. I suspect that if I had taken a little more care pushing in the power wires behind the trim element it would all stay perfectly in place.


EL wire and tape being tested on the workbench...

EL paraphernalia: connectors, splitters, copper tape, ...

EL inverter showing three connections: East is the female jack into through which the power will flow in, West is the on/off master switch, and North is the male EL connector that will send power to the EL wire...

EL remote switch unit that lets the driver switch the whole setup on and off at a click of the remote...

Spare fuses and fuse tap circuits; only one fuse tap unit is required but I got one of each size, mini and medium, as I was unsure of which one I would use when I started. I ended up using the mini version in fuse 8, which is the cigarette lighter circuit...

The jack used to finalize the power source assembly. They come in different sizes, too long is better than too short. A tight fit is ideal. Get a few in case you mess one up as I did...

Good old wall socket adapters/transformers, used for testing the wires and solder jobs on the workbench before assembly in the car. Only one is required but both of these worked. The Alecto unit was great, I had this one lying around since my Walkman days (Awa, you were the best!). Hadn't plugged this one in 25 years yet it worked perfectly. It has a voltage variator and a polarity switch. Note that testing with these involved stripping wires and connecting them to the terminals of the power adapter as you would to a battery, so tread very carefully there since these plug into the wall socket.
Basically any 12V or less adapter should do the trick. The black one is an old Nintendo console adapter...

Soldering the jack; the red wire is positive/hot and is crimped at the other end into the output of the add-a-fuse circuit. The black wire is negative/ground and is attached at the other end to a suitable grounding point in the car chassis...

Testing the jack on the workbench after soldering. The loose ends are tied to the positive (red wire) and negative (black wire) terminals of the 12V adapter. I said earlier the multimeter was not essential, but it's the tool that let me do all this with confidence because I was able to identify the positive and negative terminals, test for the presence of voltage, etc. So I can only recommend getting one. In fact I will change the text to say the multimeter is essential because it really is...

The other end of the jack's cables: the red wire is tinned and ready to be crimped into the output of the add-a-fuse circuit; the black wire is ready to be hooked into the grounding point of the chassis...

Looking into the fuse panel area behind the glovebox: to the left, the bolt behind which our grounding wire will be fixed, and to the right fuse #8 corresponding to the cigarette lighter where the add-a-fuse circuit will be inserted. Note that the layout of the fuse panel changes from one model to the next so be sure to identify the correct target in your car...

Searching for a grounding point with the multimeter: unscrew the bolt partly, then with the red terminal touching the test point of a fuse known to be live, move the black terminal over different areas around the bolt. I noticed that the big piece of metal or the side of the washer weren't reliable grounding points. However, with the tip of the black terminal between the washer and the bolt, I got a perfect reading, so I elected to hook the wire between the bolt and the washer behind it...

Hooking the grounding wire behind the bolt to the left of the fuse panel area. With a bit of patience you can make it so that tightening the bolt will pull the wire in nice and tight. Don't underestimate the washer's ability to make this task hell...

The add-a-fuse circuit with both the original 20A fuse and the new 5A fuse in position. Pushing those in will test the limits of your patience too. I actually had to put it against the wall and lean on it with all my weight for the fuse to go all the way in...

With the add-a-fuse in place and the jack connected to the add a fuse and to the grounding point, it is time to test the jack. Put the black terminal on the outside (sleeve) of the jack and the red terminal on the inside (tip). If everything is set you should get a reading close to 12V. In fact when I performed this test, the reading was absolutely stable, whereas when I was checking some of the fuses the reading would vary a bit. As long as it hovers around 12V you are good to go...

A useful little trick: if you have a cigarette lighter accessory with a led, you can plug it in to check that your installation doesn't negatively affect the cigarette lighter circuit...

Soldering a connector to a strand of EL wire. If you want to work with EL wire, then this step will become second nature to you. It is simple enough but has to be done carefully. For scraping the phosphor away I used the flat side of a small metal file.

Preparing the speaker grill. When it comes to connecting the speaker back to the door panel, it's a tight fight but the design of the unit means your power cable is kept out of the way by the circular enclosure around the speaker. I'm thinking of using a circular piece of EL tape and a stencil for the next design...

Testing the speaker grill lighting. I kept the foam in so the light is attenuated, except where I dug a little into the foam as can be seen at 2 o'clock on the picture...

The original pre-LCI ambient lighting LED and lightpipe. This whole DIY only exists because originally I wanted to change this LED to a more powerful one. I never did, instead I started learning about EL wire and started planning around that...

Feeding a power wire behind the dash/climate control. There's lots of space there, enough for a coat hanger and a wire at least. This part is one of the easiest...

...and the wire will come out around here somewhere, looking at the right side of the driver footwell. At this stage a 3-way splitter is connected to provide power to the EL tape in the footwell, to the wire that will run to the rear left of the car and to the wire that will light the EL wires in the door (a 2-way splitter is added behind the door panel to let that one wire power both the EL wire behind the speaker grill and the EL wire beneath the door trim)...

The driver footwell panel with the EL tape held in place with electrical tape. Run the wires around the black terminal on the left to keep them away from the pedals. Incidentally when that black connector is plugged back in any 'SOS button malfunction' error you may have will magically go away. I had that error, and I don't even have the SOS button option active in my car. The three-way splitter mentioned above is not attached yet...

The door hinge wire tube pictured after is has been popped out (door end) and unscrewed, pushed up and popped out (car end). Use something that's long, thin and sturdy, basically the equivalent of a metal or hard plastic straw. Be careful not to catch any of the existing wires when feeding it through. Be careful not to run the wire through the wrong side of the hinge so that it all gets snapped off when you close the door. Check that other post for better photos and explanations. When it comes to pushing the wire through the hole behind the OBD port, so from the footwell to the door hinge, it's a tougher job but a coat hanger, small fingers, a few cuts and a ton of cursing will do the trick. Also very important, feed some spare wire at every step of the way because once the rubber tube goes back in, there will be no more adjustments possible and you don't want to find yourself with too little wire to work with. Out of the tube, feeding the wire into the door is child's play. Yellow circles show the wire that goes out of the car through the whole behind and above the OBD port, through the rubber tube and into the door, basically following the existing wires. The blue circle shows the wire connecting the rear left side of the car in the process or being fed through to the front, eventually coming out into the footwell area where it will be connected to the three-way splitter mentioned above. I found it easier to feed that wire starting from the back of the car and towards the front...

When it comes to popping the door wire connector out of the housing to make room for the new wire, simply put a small flat head screwdriver where the side looks like a clipping point, and lever the assembly out by rotating the screwdriver to the side. Very little to no force is required...

A view looking at the rear left seat with the seat cushion removed (pull hard) and side panel removed (try not to pull it all the way out if you can, you don't need to) and showing the layout of the original wires running down the side of the car into the back. Your new wire can just follow that path, and although it is a fiddly job you can feed the wire through the existing plastic housing in most places. The green stick figure is there for orientation purpose...

The same view but the right side of the car, and it's already easier. This time I loosened the bolts holding the plastic wire casing in place just enough to make it much easier to feed the new wire through...

The coat hanger earns a bronze MVT award (Most Valued Tool) as I once again use it to feed the wire through the right side of the car...

To keep things as clean and tidy as possible close to the fuse panel I put together this foam brick out of layers of soft foam, cutting holes in it to make room for the inverter and the remote switch...

Foam Brick V2, with electrical tape and minor adjustments...

For the excess wire in the fuse panel area, I put together a foam wallet into which the excess length of wires and splitters are fed and held together in a compact, well isolated package...

Finalizing the cable management in the fuse panel area. The foam wallet will be trapped between and held in place by the back panel highlighted in green and by the removable plastic panel at the back of the glovebox that is normally removed when you need to gain access to the fuse panel. In blue, the location of the foam brick with the inverter and the remote switch...

The black plastic panel has been pushed back in and clipped into the back of the glovebox, with just the master switch of the inverter left on this side in case it needs to be switched off manually...

The two spare connectors found behind the glovebox and hooked to nothing, to be investigated as they could just be very handy. In fact these might just make my whole power installation obsolete, but half the fun was in learning, trying and building...

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      11-05-2015, 01:40 AM   #2
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Very nice write up!
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      11-05-2015, 10:42 PM   #3
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Originally Posted by Icarium View Post
Very nice write up!
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      11-15-2015, 02:09 AM   #4
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