'94 BMW back-up lights don't go on

Hello all,

I have a '94 BMW 525i w/145,000 miles (probably should have sold it at 100k). After 100,000 miles the electrical system decided it had its own way of doing things.

My main problem is that the back-up lights don’t go on in reverse gear. The bulbs and sockets are good. My research and mechanic tell me that the switch is inaccessible and is actually inside the transmission. In my infinite wisdom, I had the windows tinted years ago so when backing up at night, looking forward does as much good as trying to look backwards.

It seems the only reasonable way to remedy the problem is to run a wire from the lights to the dash board and install a toggle switch to turn them on manually.

Ideas anyone?

Thank you!

Hal McMillen, Menlo Park, S.F. Bay Area

Your idea makes very good sense, I would caution that a vehicle modifed as described may not pass a safety inspection.

The problem with the adding a toggle switch is that you might forget to turn the back-up lights off which may cause other drivers on the road problems. I once thought a cr was coming toward me in my lane when it was a car traveling the same direction I was headed with its back-up lights on. If you do this, you may want to install a pilot light inside the cabin to go on with the back-up lights.

I don’t know if your car is a manual shift or an automatic. If it is an automatic, a transmission shop may be able to remove the transmission pan without removing the transmission and replace the switch.

I’d check with the state inspection authority.

I believe that a manual switch is okay but it must be an illuminated switch i.e. has a light bulb in it that comes on when the switch is on.

Thank you for the prompt replies. I hadn’t thought of a light at the switch to warn when the back-ups are on.

I also hadn’t thought of a transmission shop. I will check that out, as replacing the original switch would be my preference. It’s been a while since I researched it, but I seem to remember that the switch is up high on the tranny and not inside the pan. I will report back.

Thanks again!

The backup light switch is located on the right side of the transmission. Not internal of the transmission.


Your solution is exactly what I did when the backup light switch on my '74 Volvo failed.
Since I had already invested enough in that car to equal the Gross National Product of Guatemala, when my mechanic suggested a toggle switch, rather than dropping the transmission, I agreed to this plan.

Think of the advantages of having your backup lights operated by a toggle switch:

If you are loading or unloading the trunk at night, this will give you added illumination.


The absolute best part is the use of them when someone is tailgating you or if someone is driving in back of you with their high beam headlights on!

Yes, it is probably illegal to do what I just suggested, and I would never do something like that.

Unless things have changed, California does smog inspections, but doesn’t do periodic safety inspections.

It seems the only reasonable way to remedy the problem is to run a wire from the lights to the dash board and install a toggle switch to turn them on manually.

Conceptually you could rig a switch on the shift lever that turns on when you shift into reverse and off when you shift out. In practice, you’d probably need a couple of days of tinkering to get it working right, and it might not stay working right. But if you have a friend or mechanic that is skilled at that sort of thing, it might be straightforward.

Is there a light on the console that goes on when the car goes into reverse and does it work? If so your mechanic could possibly wire a relay across it that powers the backup lights when it is on.

The safety inspection I am thinking of is one done on the side of the road by a guy with a ticket book in hand.