removing the front door panel

Written by the backyard hack mechanic Sean750
Document history:
# 26 Sep 2003 added comments from MikeS and Russel Draper (tnx guys)
# 24 May 2003 initial version

Problem :  Maybe you guys are thinking, when visiting our site, that Johan and I are spending most of our time with extensive repairs like changing driveshafts, tranny's and swapping engine's. That isn't the case (errr...most of the time). Sometimes smaller problems occur. My car had the same problem that happened to Johan's car, a problem with the doorlock bracket (see section 'doorlock bracket'). To get to the doorlock bracket, you have to remove the doorpanel. It took me some time to figure that one out. This was the first time I had to remove a doorpanel on a seven. It usually means BIG problems when it comes to doorpanels and their construction.

Maybe it's just me, but every time I have to remove a doorpanel on a car (and that happens very often on the dozen of old cars I owned) I am scratching the back of my head trying to figure out where those engineers put the numerous bolts, screws and clips holding the doorpanel, and how they invented to mount the armrest, door handle and window crank. A true puzzle.

Background: The doorpanel is attached to the door with a worthless, dissappointing system of white push in clips, which have a nasty tendency to break when removing the doorpanel (especially when its cold outside), no matter how careful you are. Look at this picture.....aaaaarrghhh!

This is a really stupid and very cheap system, very old fashioned (these kind of clips where already used on '60 an '70 cars I worked in the past on..which breaked too btw). I hope these words will be read by an automotive engineer, so he can learn from it.

Removing the doorpanel is an often performed operation to solve all kinds of mechanical (window/door mechanism) and electronical (window, central locking, lock heating, electrical mirrors, heated mirrors) related problems behind the doorpanel.

Mercedes Benz uses a much much better system for holding the door panels (at least, the S series does). BMW, learn from it.

Russel Draper (from the roadfly board) added this comment about the clips:
"I would like to add that my E32 had METAL clips holding the door on. Thus making it much easier to put back, and just a yank to get them off (after using a screwdriver to pop one off). I didn't have to take the door panel all the way off, as it was my window regulator that was the problem."

Let's start unbolting and removing parts:

Pry out the mirror switch gently with a flat blade screwdriver:

Disconnect the harness connector:

This is how the connector is mounted into the armrest, with 2 flexible clips:

Next step is to remove the wooden trims. How are they connected? For big wood trim, pry carefully at the left of the trim:

And remove it:

Remove the bolt behind it:

Pry the small wood trim at the right:

And remove it:

Remove the bolt behind it:

This is the one I always forget. Remove the door locking knob:

Eventually, we have to try to remove the dreadful clips. I use a small putty knife for this, wrapped with tape to prevent scrathing the paint:

Pry the putty knife between the door panel and the door perimeter, starting at the bottom left and push the knife towards you:

Work your way around the doorpanel, except above (where the doorpanel meets the window).

When you are finished, pull the upper part of the doorpanel where 5 black clips are holding the panel:

At this point the whole doorpanel is still connected 'somewhere'. This gave me the biggest headeach, where was it still connected? The secret is a big retaining clip behind the armrest. You just have to give it a firm pull towards you, using some force and the clip will come loose:

MikeS (from the roadfly board) added this comment about the 'pull like hell' method:
"The website write up is great, except for one comment. The area you are at right now. I was uncomfortable with "pull like hell" part, and found if you lift the door panel straight up about 2 inches, the plastic retainer will come up and out with the door panel. Then after the panel is off, us a pair of pliers to squeeze the metal clip, remove the plastic retainer, and put it back in its place in the door. I've removed my door panels many times with this method, and is works better than just yanking on the panel."

Don't forget to lift up the panel a bit, to release the door locking knob. Now you can look behind the panel. Disconnect the door handle release cable (arrow is pointing at it) and the harness connector of the door lighting (if applicable). Rigth next to to arrow you see the big retaining clip of the armrest:

At last, the doorpanel is loose. Unfortunately, not every retaining clip survived earlier removals of the doorpanel, as shown here (I must admit, I broke two myself...) last...the journey has ended but the story just begun:

That was about it. Fixing the doorlock bracket didn't work out (that's another story...), so I must look for a good used bracket from a salvaged BMW. In the meantime, I had to put back the doorpanel, facing the fact that I have to remove it once again when I have found a used bracket......isn't life beautiful?

Total amount of time : 1,5 hour

Skills needed/difficulty level : humanly impossible skills needed to get those %#@! clips loose without breaking

Satisfactory level after the job done : I definately prefer to overhaul an engine instead of this kind of work.

Story by Sean750.

If you would like to add any comments, remarks and/or corrections to this procedure, feel free to email Mike Oswald and we'll put it on our site. Share your experiences with us so others may benefit from it.