BMW Cup Holder and Console LED Lights DIY (with lots of pictures)
DISCLAIMER: I did this in my 1995 318i E36 using the 1996-1999 style E36 Modular Cup holder/Storage Tray/Coin Box Console. However, the ease of the DIY makes it applicable to any other BMW from any years, as well as other brand vehicles that come with similar style cup holders and consoles. It is a monster write up for what is basically a quick, simple and cheap DIY with a highly OEM cosmetic and functional appeal.
If you ever did an extended road trip where you have long stretches of highway to cover after dark and your only passenger is a cup of coffee and you often had to fidget to place the coffee in the miniature E36 cup holders and often end up spilling some of it, then this easy and cheap DIY is for you. Even if you want an easier time finding stuff like keys, money, credit cards, etc... in your Storage Tray or Cup Holders at night whiles driving then this DIY can also work for you.
Iíve been meaning to do this for sometime now, but needed to find the time and the best method of installing cup holder lights in the console area. Originally the idea came to me a few years ago when I first discovered my car had wiring beneath the console for a Telephone, Aux Audio Input and a small filament bulb that I assumed was there to light up the console area.
Naturally, after 10+ years in the car the bulb was blown so I went to the dealership to replace it hoping that I could have use the light for my cup holder. BMW wanted $12.50 plus tax for what is nothing more than a single Christmas Tree light bulb (that you can normally buy for 99 Cents for a box of 100). I said no to them and started thinking of another way of doing it. I went online...
Over the years I found a few DIY sites showing different methods, the best was this one;
BMW E46 Illuminated Cupholder DIY
Here this guy installs two 20mm disc LEDs into each holder in his 2004 325xiT wagon. This method is very OEM and clean looking and was my first choice. Sadly, the 20mm LEDs he used proved near impossible to buy since the USA company that imports them from China no longer exist. So short of taking an airplane to Shanghai that DIY was not going to work for me. Also the guy used a Dremel Set and spent time soldering the complicated micro LED circuitry to finish off his project.
There are a few more Cup Holder LED Light DIYs at the Honda Civic and Dodge Charger Web Forums that show folks hot gluing smaller 3mm - 5mm LED bulbs (from 2 bulbs up to 10 bulbs) into tiny holes drilled into the console cup holders. And Electric-taping the wiring together under the 12V outlet. Although their techniques were sloppy, the idea of simple wiring with smaller holes and LEDs was cheaper, quicker and more flexible for me. Also messing up didnít mean having two big 20mm holes to worry about in your console.
So I went on eBay and purchased a set of twenty 3mm Orange/Amber LED complete with wiring from a Hong Kong company called Sure Electronics. They ship within 2 weeks, but their LEDs were quality and the entire set worked. (you will hear from some people that LEDs come not working) The LEDs cost $9.99 total with shipping. I also purchased 2 spools of 20 Gauge wiring in RED and BLACK colors from Radio Shack for $6, as well as Heat Shrink for $3 and wire connectors for $1.99. I already own a power drill and Crazy Glue was the only other expense.
My 1995 BMW 318i came with the older style E36 Cup Holder which sucks because not only are the cup holders extra small and useless but everything is stationary so you cannot move the coin holder and cup holders around like you can on the newer 1996-1999 style E36 Modular Cup Holder. I wanted bigger holders and a storage partition instead of an ashtray so I went back on eBay and won a brand new E36 Modular Cup Holder with Storage Partition for $50-shipped. I then managed to sell my old one on eBay for about $50. So I broke even.
Here is a Before
picture of my 1995 early E36 style Console
That said this project only cost me about $20 to $25 for the LEDs and wiring and crazy glue.
Power Drill w/ 2mm or 3mm drill bits
Small philips star point screw driver
Wiring Stripper/Crimper or Scissors
Spool of RED 20 Gauge wiring
Spool of BLACK 20 Gauge wiring
Wire Connector Clips (2 sets)
THINGS TO HAVE NEARBY:
Your Carís Battery or a 12V Battery (for testing the bulbs and connections)
Small Needle Nose Pliers
Scotch Tape or Electrical Tape (for temporarily holding the bulbs in place whiles the glue dry)
The Modular Console Base w/ Cup Holder Modules and Coin Box($99 at the dealership or $40+ on eBay-if you buy a used one off eBay just make sure the cup holder modules' 4 spring grip finger slats for holding cups are all still in place since usually they are sold with one or two broken off. If you get a broken one you can easily replace it by buying new cup holder modules which cost about $15 each at the dealership)
The Storage Partition Tray w/ Parts Number in the picture ($14-$18)
Set of 20 3mm LEDs ordered for $9.99 w/ free shipping from Sure Electronics in Hong Kong via eBay (they also sell under the eBay Seller's ID: eylane). The important thing is to make sure the LED bulbs are pre-wired with power (RED) and ground (BLACK) pigtails. Also stay away from Aftermarket Brands and Auto websites selling these exact same bulbs minus the wiring and nothing else in expensive "LED Kits" that cost $25 to $40 for 5 bulbs.
Begin by removing the two Modular Cup Holders and Storage Partition tray and The Coin Box as well. If your Modular Console came with the Ashtray then you can buy the Storage Tray on eBay (I got mine there for $14.00) or the Dealership for $18.
Find the 4 finger slats that spring-grip the cups and look at the space right below each one. Here is where you will drill your 2mm or 3mm holes. I put holes under each slat (four slats, four holes, four bulbs) to balance it out, but you can only drill less holes if you want to use less bulbs. During the project I realized that 4 bulbs may come out brighter than I wanted or stick out and be obvious, but because the 3mm bulbs are tiny and the way they are placed under the spring-grip finger slats they bulbs donít stick out and the light emitted from each bulb doesnít shine above the console-meaning it wasnít bright or harsh at all, but just right.
After drilling the 2mm holes, you can used the screw driver to widen the holes just a little bit to squeeze the 3mm LED bulb thru. Too small is okay but you donít want the hole too big. So be careful if you use a 3mm drill to not to let the hole be bigger than you want. Also the bulbís shape is similar to that of a Bowlers Hat, where the top is round and then the base of the bulb is wider with a slight brim or ledge. This is good because you can squeeze the 3mm bulb into a smaller 2mm to 2.5mm hole and not have the bulb fall thru into the cup holder.
After you do the Cup Holders you can start with the Storage Tray Partition. I only drilled one hole and used one bulb, but you can use more if you need to. Center the hole and begin drilling.