E39 Headlights

BMW 5-series from model year 1996 through 2003, from the basic yet common 525i to the high-end 540i and finally, the legendary “E39 M5”, were all based on the E39 chassis.

E39 headlights exemplify BMW‘s instantly recognizable headlight layout: a pair of circular lenses. Although the basic design of the headlight has remained unchanged, significant changes have occurred from 1996 to 2003. The most dramatic change occurred for model year 2001 and on (post-facelift), where circular rings around each lens, the “Angel Eyes,” were added to the headlight. Post-facelift headlights also included clearer lenses and turn signal covers. They are also retrofittable to pre-facelift E39 5-series models, as the shape of the headlight housing did not change.

Daytime running lamps were added during model year 2000, and xenon (HID) bulbs were introduced as an option in model year 1999. Xenon lamps require ballasts to dissipate excess power, along with an igniter for initiating the xenon arc that serves as the light source. These extra components can be potential points of failure.

Another technology included with all E39 headlights is the self-leveling mechanism. It is important to maintain good road visibility and to avoid blinding oncoming traffic in all conditions. As a consequence the best angle at which the headlights project from the car to the ground depends on the suspension setup, driving conditions, and even whether or not the car is braking or accelerating. The self-leveling mechanism consists of a sensor that measures the correct angle, attached to the rear suspension of the car, along with an adjuster mechanism in the headlight itself. A common problem with this mechanism is that the adjuster becomes brittle with age and eventually break. This often results in loose lights that swing up and down when going over bumps and can hang at a dangerously low angle, obscuring most of the road from its light.

Finally, condensation was a common issue with E39 headlights. During rain or snow, water would usually be safely channeled through the headlights. However, if there is an especially large amount of water, it is possible for water to become stuck in the channeling system, resulting in condensation inside the headlights later on. In addition to detracting from the appearance of the car, this results in insufficient illumination, a potential hazard.

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