BMW E39: Facelift Lighting

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BMW made constant changes to the E39 throughout production. I detail the majority of these changes this article. Some of the most noticeable differences are in the lighting elements. The 2001 facelift brought new headlights, fog lights, and tail lights to the E39. This article will detail the upgrade process from 1996-2000 lights to 2001+ lights.


There is a right way and a wrong way to go about this. If you use Ebay to search for E39 headlights and tail lights, you will find several significantly cheaper alternatives to what I recommend using. To anybody that knows BMWs, the cheap lights will be quickly recognized as fake and gaudy. I made the mistake of installing Depo headlights on my M5 many years ago- I didn’t know better. They had writing all over the lenses, were not proportioned correctly, and had 5 individual LEDs in each halo ring, which were clearly visible at night. The OEM lights are so much more elegant, provide a smoother, more even light, and are significantly more expensive. You get what you pay for.


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Options: Firstly, be aware that there are two types of Hella face-lift headlights that you can install: the American or European version. The American lights are recognized by their orange side-marker and orange LED inside of that marker. This was added in 2001 to meet new American DOT standards that require the vehicle be more visible from the side at night. Since we’re changing them, we can make the decision to install the European lights, which have no side-marker bulb, and have beautifully clear lenses without any orange. The choice is yours. I decided to go with the Euros, personally.


European, Xenon (S522A)

Left: 63126912435

Right: 63126912436


If you’re interested in the European xenons, E39Source can sell these lights at a much more competitive price than that listed above. Please reach out via email


American, Xenon (S522A)

Left: 63126912439

Right: 63126912440


Note that these are for cars with Xenon lights (option S522A), non-xenon cars will need different, slightly less expensive housings. If you’re facelifting xenon lights, you can re-use your existing ballasts. The new lights come with new bulbs, but not the ballasts.


Preface: Installation is fairly simple, just four 8mm bolts, and all of the wiring (disconnect all plugs before removing). If you find the signal bulbs hard to remove or unplug, you can do them as the headlight assembly starts to come out, when you have more access to them. When you remove those four 8mm bolts (two on top, two on the bottom), note that the headlight will slide out towards the front of the car, and that the small strip of body-painted trim will come with them. This trim will have to be transferred to the new light. It is held on with just a few clips.


Wiring: The original 1996-2000 lights have four plugs: low-beam, high-beam, turn signal, and the automatic-leveling connector (for xenons). The facelifts have those four, plus a fifth connection for the halos (there is one halo bulb for each headlight that illuminates both rings). The low beams will be plug and play, just move the ballasts over to the new housings, and connect everything. The turn-signal bulbs are different, since the 2000s had two-filament bulbs (one for signal, one for lights in position one/daytime running lights) and the post facelift lights use a single-filament bulb, just for signaling. So for 1996-2000, the signal plug has 1x ground, and 2x power wires in the harness. The facelifts need a signal bulb that has 1x ground and 1x power. You also need a new connector for the halo, with 1x ground 1x power. Split the ground wire from the original signal harness. Use a wire tap, and add maybe 10 inches of 16/18 gauge wire. Then determine which positive wire is for the signal, and which will control the halo. You can use a voltmeter for this to see which one pulses with the hazards on, and which one doesn’t. Extend that wire 10 inches or so to your new ground, and you have now created the power supply for the halo socket. The bright bulbs are different, but the sockets and wiring is the same. Bolt your new lights in place, and admire your work.


You can also make your own Y-harness to simplify this wiring modification. You will need (2) 63120025497 and (2) 63120025499. Follow these instructions to create the adapter.


Automatic Headlights: More changes came for the headlight system in 2002 (starting 9/2001 production); automatic headlights were now standard on the E39. These too can be retrofit on earlier models. Please see this article for more details.


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02/2000 E39 M5 with its original 2000 headlights.


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02/2000 M5 with 2001+ European-style headlights.


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Left: 2001+ headlights on a standard E39 5-series. Right: 1996-2000 headlights on a standard E39 5-series.




The taillights make nearly as much of a difference as the headlights do. They’re also quite a bit cheaper. If you source used facelift taillights and attempt to install them to your early E39, you’ll soon see that they won’t fit your car. In 2001, BMW made the tail light buckets a bit deeper to accommodate the higher-tech Celis lights. You may be able to make them fit with an extensive amount of re-forming (hammering), but there is an easier way. ECS Tuning offers a Hella Retrofit Kit of OEM Hella lights for pre-facelift cars! The retrofit kit is manufactured by Hella, and has all of the required hardware included for pre face-lift vehicle mounting. There is still some modification required for the light buckets, but it’s nothing that can’t be done in half of an afternoon with a friend. I have a very detailed install video, embedded below, of when I put these lights on my M5. Firstly, you need to disconnect and remove your old ones. After disconnecting the wiring harness, turn the tab on the back and removing the bulb-board. Now remove the four 8mm bolts on each light. Pull your lights out, and clean up the wells from debris. The new lights, since they are an LED setup, will require some ballasts to be used not only as a wiring adapter, but a voltage regulator as well in-between the car’s stock wiring and the back of the new lights. The ECS Tuning kit includes one ballast for each side, and a way to install them in the spare tire well on non-M5 E39s. If you’re doing this to an M5, just do what I did, and install them behind the folding trunk panels on either side of the trunk. I just velcroed one on my CD changer (left) and the other on the inside of the fender (right). You will need to drill two new holes, and carefully pound out some of your light buckets to make them fit well. Take your time, be precise, and start with small pilot holes. Be sure to put some paint/clear over the exposed metal in the new holes to avoid corrosion. Rubber seals are included with the lights, so as long as you don’t get too carried away, water should not be an issue. Avoid deepening the light buckets any more than absolutely necessary. Plug in the ballasts, fit the lights, and reinstall the 8mm nuts.




There is a lot of confusion around the ballasts included with the Hella Retrofit Kit. They are only required when used with the Hella retrofit kit tail lights. As I mentioned above, they serve two jobs:


  1. Adapt wiring. The 1996-2000 tail light wiring is different, and must be adapted to the 2001+ lights. The ballasts accomplish this.

  2. Regulate CELIS LED voltage. The standard (non retrofit kit) 2001+ CELIS LEDs use 12 volts, which is what the car provides. BUT, the retrofit kit 2001+ CELIS LEDs operate at 10 volts, and 12 volts will assuredly burn them out. Using ballast with non retrofit kit 2001+ lights will make the CELIS LEDs appear very dim, so the ballast are only for the retrofit kit lights.


To use the standard 2001+ lights (non retrofit kit), you will simply need the inline wiring adapters, part numbers 63120025517 (left) and 63120026771 (right). You can alternatively cut/splice in pigtails, or attach the newer style pins and socket housings.




In my experience, the lights work without errors without any coding. My experiences have been limited to 2000 model year E39 M5s, with the LCM IIIA. LCMII cars may require more. The LCM IIIA should have an option, visible in NCS Expert, called “LED TAILLIGHTS”. This should be set to active (aktiv) once the tail lights are changed.


European Style


A neat thing about this Hella retrofit kit is that they are European style tails lights. In 2001, the US tail lights incorporated four vertically arranged LEDs on the far outer edges of the tail lights to comply with the new DOT standard. Europe never got these ill-fitting LEDs.


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02/2000 M5 with its original 2000 tail lights.


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02/2000 M5 half way through the install. The 2001+ style is on the right.


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Installation completed!


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LED bars illuminated.


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No side LEDs


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BMW changed both the standard 5-series and M5 fog lights for the 2001 model year (from 9/00 production). The standard 5-series got a whole new bumper, and with that came rounded fog lights to replaced the older, square style. Facelifting the fog lights would require doing the entire bumper as well. The M5’s corrugated glass lenses were replaced with cleaner looking smooth glass lenses. The facelift M5 fogs are a direct plug-and-play install for the older cars.


E39Source Channel Update Video with Post Facelift Headlights


E39Source DIY to Facelift Headlights


E39Source DIY to Facelift Tail Lights