Cars / e31 / Body & Interior / E31 Door Service and Repair

E31 Door Service and Repair

Article by: Gerry at PhoenixMotorsport

Article applies to: all e31 models.

Ok, it’s been a while since I did one of my “How To” posts and although this is going to be a fair size posting, I have NOT added anything about the window/regulator or glass alignment.

I could not justify pulling all that out just to do a post when I have already aligned it all and there is nothing wrong with my window mechanism, so apologies for that and I will concentrate on the more common issues concerning the doors and their contents.

I will be doing the posts in 3 parts, part 1 being the overhaul of the exterior handle, and whilst this has been shown before as a repair, I will try and show how you can prevent the necessary repair or expensive replacement at a later stage.

Part 2 will be the overhaul of the interior door panel trim itself and

Part 3 will show how it all goes back together again . . . hopefully.

To start with, we will take a look at that exterior door handle that has a nasty habit of breaking and only a very competent fabricator can repair. For the rest of us, its an expensive replacement.

To remove the door panel, you will need to buy, or fabricate a panel trim tool.

This is what you are looking to get . . .

and something could be simply made with a small wedge of wood with a “U” cut in the end although the tools are very cheap anyway.

You will need to remove the 3 screws holding the door panel on, one in the interior door handle cover by a small push-in cap here . . .

. . . followed by 2 behind covers inside the door handle here . . .

To Remove the door panel with the minimum risk of panel damage, use the trim panel tool around the outer edge of the panel, and locating the panel clip positions as shown in red here . . .

Now unscrew and remove the door lock button on the top rear edge of the door.

Position the “U” either side of the plastic “popper” and lever it out of the chassis of the door, NOT out of the door panel.

It is a good idea to be careful here as the board of the door panel will get weaker with age and the plastic popper harder, so it is much more favorable to break the popper, than damage the door card.

You can now pull the lower edge of the panel away from the door and you now need to detach the wiring to it.

There are connections to the door panel window/mirror control switches, the door speakers and the light at the bottom of the door panel as well as a connector to the vent illumination.

You now need to carefully pull the upper edge of the door panel away from the sliding clips shown here in yellow . . .

. . . and when free, carefully lift the panel off of the door lock pin on the rear top edge. You will see the interior door handle release cable now attached to the handle assembly which can now be unhooked.

You can now carefully remove any area of the foam insulation membrane from the inside of the door to access whatever job you wish to do.

Note that the black hi-tak adhesive used to hold it in position will now be stronger with age than the membrane, so keep calm, don’t lose your temper with it and CAREFULLY detach it where required.

Next, to remove the outer door handle, remove the small plastic “bung” in the rear shut of the door and using a straight bladed screwdriver.

Ideally with a small slot in it to prevent slippage, push the slider inside the door to release the outer handle, outer shell.

For clarity, this is what you are doing (door panel off for sake of pic).

Next, the door handle is retained by two coach bolts and 10 mm nuts.

To remove it, undo and remove the 2 nuts from inside the door and pull out the 2 coach bolts from outside the door skin.

You will now be able to get your hands inside the door to detach the multi-plugs from the door handle and the small control rod dropping down to the catch mechanism.

The exterior handle can now be lifted away followed by the rubber handle seal/gasket.

Now for the preventative medicine, recommended even if you are installing a new handle. Here you can see the pivot points of the handle and the positioning or the return spring.

The silver bar along the top is the cause of all the failures as it is manufactured from “pot” metal…..any old cheap cr@p scrap aluminum all melted together to make an inadequate casting.

Whilst this is all true, reducing any excessive load on the part due to heavy-handed use, corrosion or icing MUST help so you can lubricate the pivot points where shown to reduce the risk.

My big oval highlighting along the bottom is where the slider operates retaining the outer handle and some light oil here makes refitting much easier.

So now we get to refurbishing/checking/maintaining that very valuable interior door panel.

One of the first things to check is the condition of those pesky door poppers and its a good idea just to buy a complete set plus a few spares as they are cheap, fragile and you could well break some refitting the panels.

Check the sockets in the door frame for the remains of any broken ones as well as laying the door panel face down and checking the condition of the ones still in the panel.

Here you can see a new one compared to a damaged one which is not obviously damaged at a quick glance . . .

To replace these, they have a gap in a flange and to replace them, you need to firstly remove any of the old popper . . .


With the new popper and a clean socket, the popper is fitted at an angle as shown . . .

. . . and with the leading edge of the flange entered into its socket, it is screwed in until the inner flange is sitting behind the board of the panel.

There should be a lot of play when fitted, possible 5 mm in sideways movement to allow some degree of self alignment when refitting the panel.

The interior door handle is retained by 5 self tapping pressed nuts . . .

. . . plus a 6 mm nut where it meets the door handle reinforcement.

To access the front-most self tapper, you will need to use a small spanner in 10 mm as the ducting covers it.

We will now jump ahead to the reassembly of the door panel. The removal of the parts was simply a reversal of the refitting procedures.

The door speaker grille (mine is modified for aftermarket speaker) is refitted with 4 spire clips.

. . . with the front window vent grilles firstly inserted in the panel slot at the rear . . .

. . . and retained with a self tapping screw at the front.

Due to the weakness of the door card material, the interior door handle fixing is reinforced with a steel plate.

Originally bonded to the panel, corrosion may well have detached it, as in my case, so after cleaning and powder coating them.

I reattached them to the panel with some silicone adhesive for some light adhesion and panel damping and . . .

. . . using new stainless steel washers and lock nuts . . .

. . . reattached them back onto the panel.


The interior handles are not intended to be overhauled but they can be with care. Here we have the component parts of a stripped handle . . .

. . . and as you can see, the handle pivots through a small bronze bush inside the handle frame.

To strip it out, the pivot pin can be gently tapped through the handle as it is retained in the handle with a spline and flared end.

This can be closed up with pliers and then tapped out gently with a small pin punch.

Here you can see just how dry that pivot can become. In the pic above, you can see the master spline that indexes the pivot in the correct position.

With some cleaning, followed by light oiling, the pivot can be refitted through the handle shell and handle . . .

. . . followed by the newly lubricated bronze bush . . .

. . . and the refitted handle tested for freedom and smoothness of travel.

You then need to refit the torsion spring, seen here being done . . .

. . . and secured with a small dab of epoxy . . .

. . . after reopening the forked end that was previously compressed to originally remove it.

Procedure can be repeated for both panels but keep components separated as the two sides are not identical!!

We can now check the removed air ducting. Here we can see the mechanism for operating the door vents . . .

This section needs to be assembled after testing to the door handle prior to refitting the handle assembly by inserting fully, the forked attachment clips until they “click” into position fully.

Then, after checking the seal between the duct and its port, (which could be replaced with door draught excluding if damaged) . . .

The handle and duct assembly can be refitted with that hidden M10 self tapping nut . . .

The window duct can now be assembled inserting the duct hook into the grille slot . . .

. . . and then pulling around to seat fully on the duct.

I then used a smear of silicon as a low-tak adhesive to retain it in position . . .

. . . not only between the grille and duct, but also between the grille and outer door trim grille fascia.

The double flanged ports fit to the panel in a bayonet style, with a double flange . . .

. . . sandwiching the panel inside the first flange, and retaining it to the port with the 1/4 twist.

. . . which when made, secures the port to the duct as well as the whole lot to the door panel.

That pretty much completes the assembly of the interior door panels.

We now have the unenviable task of refitting those exterior handles and refitting the door panels.

With the exterior handle removed, you have the opportunity to clean behind and get some protective wax on the area.

Now, offering up the handle from inside the door, refit the small rod between the handle and the door catch, and making sure the “bar” pin on the handle lines up with the slot in the catch (photo impossible).

Refit the two M6 coach bolts to loosely hold the handle . . .

. . . and refit the two M6 nuts with washers.

Check that with all the fiddling, the control rod is still fitted fully into the door catch until it clicks in position.

In the above picture, you can also see the exterior handle attachment slider circled. This is where you use a screwdriver later to secure the exterior handle trim.

It is a good idea now to test the operation of the refitted handle. To do this, use a screwdriver to simulate a closed door by closing the catch . . .

. . . and seeing if the exterior handle will release it.

Doing it this way will save a lot of trouble if it doesn’t work because you would otherwise now have a closed door you couldn’t open again!!!

Next, close the catch again by screwdriver and test the door lock. Try locking the door . . .

. . . and if all is well, the exterior handle will no longer operate the catch.

If all is well, lubricate the catch . . .

. . . refit all the removed electrical connectors to the handle . . .

. . . and secure the loom correctly so it does not foul on the window glass or mechanism.

Now, refit the exterior handle gasket . . .

. . . followed by the exterior handle trim, inserting the top hooks first and then swinging the cover down at the bottom . . .

. . . and whilst pressing in the trim at the bottom, working from inside the door, slide the attaching plate towards the rear of the door to secure the trim.

Exterior handle should now be completed and fully operational.

We now need to prep the door ready for interior door card re-fitment. Make sure the interior release cable is securely attached to the door frame here by sliding the clip back . . .

. . . and then with it fully secured, feed the cable back through the panel liner.

The liner can now be refitted, making sure the screw holes in the liner still line up with the threaded clips in the door frame, shown here circled in blue.

The next job is a proper juggling act if you try and do it alone, but here’s what you need to do:

Plug in the door switches, lights for the vent and the bottom lamp, and the speaker, whilst supporting the panel slightly away from the door, then reattaching the interior handle cable!!!! Phew.

Now, lower the top of the panel over the door lock pin and then offer the top edge over the clips. Press the top edge of the panel onto the clips ONLY.

Now, working your way around the panel, gently guide the poppers into the receptacle holes in the door before pressing them home.

Getting the hump with them and knocking the door panel with your fist to secure them will probable break at least one meaning the whole panel needs removing to replace it.

Patience is definitely a virtue here.

After refitting the 2 screws behind the door handle, the 2 covers can be refitted . . .

. . . followed by similar behind the interior door release handle.

You can now congratulate yourself on some advanced maintenance, especially if everything still works.

If so, it should hopefully stay that way for a long time to come, and you may even have a quieter door, without rattles, and smoother in operation for almost no cost.

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