An armrest is a great addition to any car. It makes driving the car much more comfortable and can be a life saver on those long journeys. The BMW E46 came with an option for an armrest, and some models came with them as standard, but if like me, you don’t have one fitted already, they are relatively simple to fit for someone who is handy with a screwdriver.
The best place to start looking for your new armrest is eBay. They seem to come up fairly often and you can get some bargain prices. The going rate at the time of writing seems to be around Â£40-50, but I managed to get a bargain buy for Â£16! Be aware that, as far as I understand, the saloon and coupe models share the same centre console & armrest setup so are interchangable, however the convertible models use a different centre console so you cannot fit a convertible armrest to a saloon/coupe or visa versa. When looking, you will also need to make sure you get getting the main centre console section as well, as the part of this where the armrest sits is different to your existing non-armrest console.
This is how my armrest setup looked when I unpacked it:
I apologise for the quality of some of these photos, as I was mad enough to fit this at 9 in the evening in winter, so it was dark and only had the interior lights (and later remembered flash on my camera).
The complete job, for someone who had never done this before, took me around 1 hour 30 minutes. Maybe a little less. The tools you require are a medium-small sized crosshead screwdriver and a 13mm ratchet. A small flathead screwdriver may come in handy but not required. I found it easiest to work from the back seat. Not sure if it is as easy in a saloon, mine is a coupe so I folded the front seats all the way forwards and sat on the back seat.
So first things first, we need to release the gearstick and handbrake gaitors. These are released simply by grabbing them and giving them a good tug. Mine didn’t give very much resistance so shouldn’t be too hard to do:
Underneath the gearstick gaitor, you will now see two crosshead screws sitting at the bottom end. Undo and remove both these screws:
Once removed, you should now be able to lift up the gearstick surround. These two screws hold the centre console section down as well as the gearstick surround:
Now we move to the back of the centre console. Open the roller cover on the ashtray and push it down so the ashtray pops up. Remove the ashtray:
You will now see two crosshead screws underneath. Undo both of these screws. There should be a small plastic/rubber bung underneath the screw. If it does not come up with the screw, you can use a small flathead screwdriver to lift these up, but not necessary.
Once these are removed, you should be able to grab this part and pull it upwards to release it. Don’t pull too hard though as there is a cable underneath!
Unplug this cable and put this to one side. You will now see another two crosshead screws. Undo both of these.
The centre console should now be loose. Start to lift this and as you do, carefully feed the handbrake gaitor through. As you lift the front end, unplug the hazard light switch from underneath:
Now that the centre console section has been removed, you will see next to the handbrake there is a pre-cut piece of carpeting:
Lift this up and put to one side. This will reveal a few more bolts and flooring. You can discard this carpeting as the armrest base will replace it:
In the front left corner, you will see there is a piece of plastic or sticky pad. This is covering a bolt hole that is used by the armrest base. Remove this to reveal the bolt hole. I used a flathead screwdriver to scrape it away:
Taking your 13mm ratchet, undo both hex bolts. One next to the handbrake, and one on the rear bracket:
On top of the handbrake, there will be a blue, brown and yellow striped cable that goes into a copper clip on the top. This cable activates the handbrake light on the dash. To fully remove the rear bracket, you will need to remove the cable temporarily as it runs through the centre of the bracket.
To remove this, push the spring up from underneath with your finger, and push down on the copper clip with your thumb as pictured. The cable should now pull out from the clip:
Once this cable has been removed, you can feed this through the bracket and discard the rear bracket. Part of the armrest base replaces this bracket. You should now be left with something that looks like this:
Place the armrest in position making sure all the bolt holes line up. You should be able to feed the handbrake cable through the bottom of the armrest base and reconnect it.
Start to replace the bolts. You may find you need longer bolts than the ones you removed already. The armrest I bought came with all the bolts so I didn’t need to find any. I’m not sure what size these bolts are, but they’re a bit longer.
There is a third bolt to fit for the armrest which is the one we removed the sticky pad cover from earlier in the front left of this section. This bolt is at an angle so can be a royal pain to actually get to, but stops any side movement so does help to be fitted.
Once all the bolts are tightened up, make sure the armrest is in the upright position and slide the console over the top. Make sure you feed the wire through at the back and plug in the hazard light switch at the front when you do this:
Reinsert the two crosshead screws at the back. These may be in a slightly different position to originally due to the new bracket layout underneath:
Plug the rear ashtray base back in, slot this into position and reinsert the two screws. You may need to reinsert the plastic/rubber bungs first to make it easier to screw down:
Re-insert the ashtray section:
Line up the gearstick surround and reinsert the two screws to hold down both the centre console section and the gearstick surround:
Reclip the gearstick and handbrake gaitors and you should now be done!
Thanks for reading!