DIY: M3 Steering Wheel Trim Vinyl Wrap

posted in: 2005 IB E46 ZCP M3 | 6

M3 Steering Wheel Trim Vinyl Wrap


It is quite well known that the Titan Shadow trim used in E46 BMWs is not very durable. As my M3 is a Competition Package, the upper and lower trim on the steering wheel is Titan Shadow. With most ZCP and CSL M3s, the Titan shadow begins to wear through at the 9, 6 and 3 o’ clock positions of the steering wheel revealing a black layer underneath that heavily detracts from the looks of the steering wheel. My trim was not in horrible shape, but it bothered me enough to do something about it. I did not want to paint the trim as it required a lot more work than vinyl wrapping and in the end vinyl is cheaper and more durable.

The Procedure

The tools that I used included a heat gun, an IR temperature gun, an X-Acto knife and paper towels with rubbing alcohol to clean the parts. I used 3M 1080 Matte Dark Gray Metallic vinyl.

After cutting a strip of vinyl, I laid the trim piece on it and cut out a rough shape in the center so it would be easier to form the vinyl to the trim.

Quite a bit of oil and dirt was removed from the trim after wiping it down which it why it is necessary to clean the part before vinyl wrapping to ensure a durable job.

After cleaning, before vinyl wrapping.

This was the first time I had ever vinyl wrapped anything so the whole thing was a learning process for me. Since the vinyl had been rolled into a tube it kept curling up. I figured out that if flipped over so it was curling down and heated with a heat gun the vinyl would flatten out.

Flattened out.

Backing removed revealing the adhesive side.

The trim piece was laid flat onto the vinyl.

And this is where everything went wrong. As I was heating, stretching and smoothing the vinyl there were a few places that needed to be pulled back from the trim piece to get rid of some wrinkles. This is completely fine when working with vinyl as it is very forgiving, but some of the paint on the trim piece lifted as it did not have very good adhesion. The vinyl had to be completely removed because of this.

Paint lifted on the left side revealing black primer underneath.

Lifted in the middle.

Very small paint lift on the right side. When I removed the vinyl I decided to figure out how to remove the M-Track button as I originally did not want to cut the vinyl around it. I succeeded in figuring it out.

I wetsanded the whole trim piece with 400 grit sandpaper to remove any loose paint.

Ready to give it another shot.

New piece of vinyl roughly cut around the trim. I did not get any pictures of the process as I never let go of the piece once I began and I wasn’t sure how the vinyl was going to turn out again. The vinyl is very forgiving and just a little heat makes it very malleable, allowing any wrinkles to easily be removed. I had read that post heating vinyl was necessary to prevent it from ever trying to return to its original shape. This is why I had the IR temperature gun. Supposedly the vinyl should be post heated to 180°F or 90°C. Whenever I began to get close to that temperature I would see little bubbles beginning to appear in the vinyl. I am not sure why this was. Possibly because the 3M 1080 vinyl is very thin. I was able to smooth out the little bubbles.

The top piece is finished, the bottom trim piece is original.

To get the vinyl around the M-Track button, I cut out the excess in the center and cut four diagonal lines going to the corners. I then used my finger to press the vinyl down into the recessed area.

Up close shot showing the difference between the matte dark gray and the Titan Shadow. If I had it to do over, I would probably have gone with my gut and used matte charcoal metallic as I feel it is a better match to Titan Shadow.

I had read that carefully heating up the M emblem would allow it to be easily removed. I did not find this to be the case. When I first heated it up, I began to pry it out with an X-Acto knife and it started to let loose but I was also damaging the trim in the process. I decided to heat the emblem up more and ended up damaging it. In hindsight, I would have drilled a small hole behind the emblem and pushed it out from the back.

The M emblem can be replaced with a new one. This specific emblem cannot be purchased, but the emblem for E30 M3 steering wheels can. It is the same size and shape, but the plastic attachment has to be removed and a piece of double sided tape added to fit the E46 M3 steering wheel trim.

The part number for this emblem is 32332226479.

I will update this post when I do this to my trim.

Emblem removed.

The lower trim almost felt like the black rubbertone trim, which should not be that way. When I began wetsanding the lower trim piece, the paint came off in big chunks. This is when I realized that the plastic was actually white and the black layer was a primer.

Backside of lower trim piece.

The same steps were followed as the upper trim piece. It was a little harder, but with time and patience I was able to get it completely smoothed out. I cut the excess vinyl from all of the edges and smoothed the vinyl over.

For the emblem area, I did the same as the area for the M-Track button. Cut out the excess vinyl from the center, cut four diagonal slits and pushed the vinyl into the recess.

Bottom trim completed.

Vinyl wrapped E46 M3 steering wheel trim.

This is the trim after being reinstalled. It looks great and feels great. I believe that the vinyl will last for many years to come. The same basic technique can also be used to wrap a multifunction button steering wheel trim.

UPDATE 4/2016

I ordered the ///M emblem for the steering wheel several months back and just got around to installing it a couple of weeks ago.

The emblem actually had some light scratches on it so I polished it with a white pad and Menzerna SF4000 followed by a coating of CQuartz UK.

This is the backing plate of the emblem. This presses into the steering wheel on E30 and E36 M3 steering wheels. The emblem is clearly the same for E46 M3 steering wheels, but without the black plastic backing plate.

I don’t have a picture of the process since I was using both hands and had to work quickly, but I used a heat gun on the low setting to carefully heat up the back of the emblem with the front of the emblem face down while holding it with an Xacto knife to keep it from blowing away. I had an Xacto handy because I originally tried to cut the plastic backing plate way which was obviously not going to work. It took a couple of passes to heat the emblem up enough so the backing plate would peel away.

I didn’t expect the backing plate to peel away as easily as it did. I figured I would have to reapply double sided tape to the emblem, but this was not the case. Part of the adhesive stretched, but it is fairly elastic and I was able to pull it back and it shrunk back into place. This can be seen on the upper left portion of the emblem.

The emblem fit perfectly and the adhesive tape held it in just fine. It was nice to have this emblem back in place and it makes the trim look like new.

The backing plate that the emblem was removed from.

If you damage or have damaged your ///M emblem removing it from the trim like I did, do not fret! Just purchase the E30 M3/E36 M3 steering wheel emblem (BMW part number 32332226479), remove it from the backing plate and install it on to your trim. It will look better than it did before.


6 Responses

  1. David

    Great work.Thanks for explaining in detail all the necessary steps needed in applying the vinyl wrap.

  2. Mikey

    You are correct that the 3M charcoal metallic is a very close match for titan shadow color.

  3. Marco

    Hi, great work. Can you explain me hot to remove the M-track Mode button?
    Best regards 😉

    • TC2

      Hello Marco, unscrew the electric module part of the switch from the back and then push the button from the front through to the back of the trim piece.

      Best regards.

  4. Marco

    Hi TC2,
    I have already tried to do it, but it seems to be locked in the middle position when I pushed it to the back from the front part of the trim 🙁

  5. Marco

    Problem solved… I have pushed with a q-tip from the back the button and it is opened in two pieces… one from the front and one from the back

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