E39 M-Sport Steering Wheel

Prepared by VietSB
Contributions by Bob B and KrispyCreme
Modified 07.18.03

NOTE: Perform these steps at your own risk. All P/N's listed are a "best guess", so please double-check with your local dealer. These mods and repairs were performed on my US-spec 1997 540iA (11/96 prod date, M62 engine) but there is no guarantee they will work on other E39's. These instructions are provided for entertainment purposes only!

BACKGROUND: My original 4-spoke Multi-Function (MF) steering wheel was in excellent condition, but my desire for a better-padded and slightly smaller diameter wheel got the best of me...and my pocketbook. I looked into the Victor replacement wheel, which reuses the existing MF airbag and button pods, but at $1K+ for the wheel only, I decided to stick with the OEM M-Sport 3-spoke wheel. (Update: Victor seems to be available for ~$550 now - check E39 Classified Ads) My research has resulted in a fairly accurate list of P/N's based on production year. Consult a knowledgeable dealer parts counter prior to purchase since most won't allow returns on airbags and will charge restocking fees on steering wheels. Due to the high amount of confusion involved, some dealers such as Pacific BMW no longer sell these components to consumers (at least not via mail-order). Since the steering wheel and airbag are critical safety components, I can't stress enough that all readers heed my NOTE above and consider having a dealer perform the installation.

There are two drawbacks besides the price and hurdles above. You will lose the handy-dandy air recirculation button currently on the MF wheel and there is no heated M-Sport wheel that I've run across.

I have almost no install experience with 03/99+ wheels, so I'll highlight possible alternate instructions in blue. If you have a newer MF wheel (maybe 09/99+?), you might want to measure it against some of the specs I've listed below, since I hear in stock form, it's already a smaller diameter and better padded wheel versus my older MF wheel. BMW saved you a $900 upgrade!

Warning for early production (pre-09/96) owners!!!
The steering wheel-mounted buttons on your car transmit analog signals to an intermediate communications processor that then hooks into the I-Bus. 09/96+ cars have button pods that speak I-Bus natively, so the intermediate processor isn't necessary. Theoretically, you could buy the appropriate newer wheel (just not dual-stage airbag) and assuming the wiring is available and you can figure out how to bypass the communications module and go directly to I-Bus, it might work. Unfortunately, that's an $850+ gamble that nobody I've heard from has successfully taken yet. Your best option would probably be to invest less money and get the Victor wheel.

Due to my lack of first-hand experience with every part listed below, check this site before ordering as other owners will be adding their comments and updating incorrect info.

Required Parts:







Required Tools:

Recommended Tools:

1. Take one last look and feel...

Turn the steering wheel to the center, straight-wheels position. Extend the steering column outwards and driver's seat back for ease of access.

2. Be absolutely sure the battery is disconnected. Use the 13mm socket to remove the negative lead from the battery.

3. Loosen the (2) T-30 Torx bolts until the airbag is free. The 2nd pic is inaccurate since the wheel is not in the center position. Things might need to be adjusted like this to facilitate loosening of the bolts.

4. While supporting the airbag, unplug the horn line, button pod connector (top red arrows), and airbag connector (bottom red arrow) to free the airbag completely. Be sure to pull the airbag connector straight out to avoid breakage. Always handle the airbag very carefully and store it with the face (BMW emblem) pointing upwards and nothing lying on top of it. In the event of an accidental deployment, you don't want it flying to the ceiling or launching a screwdriver at you.
03/99+ airbags have a wires leading from the airbag and button pods to connectors in the hub-area. Simply unplug these connectors and remove the airbag. Removing an M-Sport airbag is slightly different since the button pods are integrated into the steering wheel and not the airbag.

5. Remove the 17mm center bolt (see yellow arrow). KrispyCreme required an air-powered wrench for this step, but most early-model owners found it loosened easily with a breaker bar.

6. My car had an engraving on the steering shaft that lined up perfectly with an engraving in the steering wheel hub (see arrow). If yours doesn't have this, mark the shaft to ensure the new wheel is aligned properly before removing the wheel. Note the white plastic latch at the 7:30 position in this pic. This keeps the slip-ring from turning when the wheel is removed.
03/99+ wheels don't have the slip-ring attached to the back of the wheel and therefore don't have the white latch.

7. Remove the plastic Phillips-head screw under the steering column.
This step is probably unnecessary for 03/99+ vehicles.

8. Pull straight out to partially remove the wheel. Enhance access to the steering column connectors by pressing the upper column cover to release the tabs (see arrows) and lower the bottom cover. These wires go to the slip-ring which is used to maintain electrical contact to the wheel-mounted buttons and devices while it is being turned.
On 03/99+ vehicles, I believe the slip-ring is incorporated into the steering column, so unplug the remaining connector if removing an M-Sport wheel and simply pull the wheel straight off. 03/99+ MF wheels should have no remaining connections, and can be pulled right off.

9. While still supporting the wheel, carefully unplug the two connectors by pulling straight out to free the wheel. Use the flat-headed screwdriver to assist with the connectors if needed. Don't let the steering wheel hang by the wires prior to removal because the slip-ring tends to come apart easily.
This step is probably unnecessary for 03/99+ vehicles.

10. Take a moment to compare the two wheels side-by-side.

11. Press the white latch on the new steering wheel and spin the slip-ring carefully in both directions to determine the center point which is ~2.5 turns from either end-point. It's critical that the wheels were straight prior to steering wheel removal and the slip-ring is dead-center during re-installation, or the ribbon cable inside the slip ring will tear and detach which will be a major inconvenience and added expense.
On 03/99+ vehicles, if the wheels were straightened in Step 1, the slip-ring should already be centered.
12. While supporting the new wheel, plug the two slip-ring wiring connectors back into the steering column and align+snap the column covers back together. Install the new wheel by aligning and placing it onto the splined shaft. There is a retaining pin that fits into a small notch on the back of the slip-ring to ensure alignment. Torque the 17mm center bolt to 80Nm. I reused the original center bolt, but a new bolt might be recommended. Re-install the plastic screw into the bottom of the steering column with minimal force to avoid stripping.
On 03/99+ wheels, simply align and place the wheel on the splined shaft while checking to be sure the two guide pins at 4:30 and 11:30 seat properly, torque the 17mm center bolt to 80Nm, and plug in the hub connector for the button pods and horn.

13. There's a metal hook (see red arrow) that prevents the airbag connector from being inserted the wrong direction. My plug installed with the wires pointing downwards (bottom yellow arrow). Plug in the horn wire (top yellow arrow), place the airbag in the appropriate location in the wheel, and proceed to torque the airbag Torx bolts to 8Nm for single-stage, and 2Nm for dual-stage airbags.
03/99+ dual-stage airbags have one keyed connector running from the airbag to the hub area, so there is no metal hook necessary on the back. Simply plug in the connector and torque the Torx bolts to 2Nm.

14. Reconnect the battery and check for functionality. In some instances, I've read the airbag light will illuminate until a dealer resets it. Bob B and I had no such issues. Any warning lights should be taken seriously and investigated immediately. Early-model E39's had the cruise control on/off button on the dashboard instead of using the wheel mounted button. Mine still functions in this manner.

There are numerous structural, SRS control, and safety concerns with trying to mount or adapt dual-stage airbags and wheels onto vehicles designed for the single-stage system. As much as I would have loved to see my pre-03/99 airbag mated to the 09/99+ wheel, the slip-ring location, wiring connectors, and guide pin differences helped me decide to play it safe. The two pics below clearly illustrate some of these differences. Top pic is my wheel, bottom pic is the smaller new-style wheel.

If you are like me, and are considering selling your old MF wheel and airbag, keep in mind that the airbag contains a gas-generator and must be handled carefully. Before shipping, ask the carrier if they have any rules regarding this type of freight. Most do and will not ship these items depending on their hazardous materials policy.

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