Shortly after I purchased my 2012 135i convertible, I discovered that I was unable to get the headrests on the rear seats to lower so that they were flush with the back of the seats. I was able to remove the headrests, and was able get them to latch into an up or extended position, but when I tried to lower them, there seemed to be something blocking the headrest, and it would only lower a very small distance below the latched up position. This photo shows the headrests at their lowest position:
At first I thought I was doing something wrong, but after a bit of research discovered that others were having the same problem. I assume that the same issue afflicts the 128i convertible. It appeared that something was changed in recent model cars that was preventing the headrests from being lowered. There was also speculation that BMW made the modification due to US safety regulations or to defend against a litigation-happy culture. I didn’t do any further investigation to verify the speculation, but I did find pictures of European-specification cars that indicated that those 2012 models had headrests that were able to sit flush with the seat back.
Whatever the reason, not being able to lower the headrests defied logic, messed with the aesthetics, significantly blocked visibility when the top was up, was irritating and needed to be fixed.
I was unable to find any information on a direct fix on the interwebs. The post here
described the problem and a potential workaround. I wasn’t happy with that answer though because it didn’t address the root problem – that something had been modified and was blocking the headrest. I needed to dig into it myself.
The first step was to get the rear seats out so that I could see what was going on. I removed the headrests. Next up was removing the plastic brackets that sit on top of the seat backs, and that the legs of the headrest slide into. I used a narrow slotted screwdriver to pry 4 tabs to cause them to release the brackets. Here’s a picture of the screwdriver I used:
There are 2 tabs per opening in the bracket. Insert the screwdriver at an angle so the tip is about an inch below the surface. You’ll feel the tab. Lever the screwdriver so that the tab is pried toward the middle of the opening.
There is a useful picture associated with step 4 of the Smarttop controller installation instructions found here:
I was able to get my fingers under the front edge of the plastic bracket to apply upward pressure while I was prying the tabs so that the tabs wouldn’t snap back into place once they had been released. It took a fair amount of fiddling with each of the 2 tabs in each opening to get them to release at the same time. Patience and firm but gentle prying was key. Once one opening was released, I continued to put gentle, upward pressure on that side of the bracket so that it wouldn’t reseat while I worked on the other side. Once all 4 tabs were released, the brackets pulled easily out of the seat back.
Next I removed the rear seat bench (bottom) by pulling up on the front edge. The bench is held into place via 4 clips. Here’s a photo with the bench out, so that you can easily see where the clips are located:
The rear of the bench is just slotted under the seat back, and is not held into place via anything else.
Once the bench is removed, I had access to the 2 nuts that hold the bottom of the seat back in place. I’ve placed the nuts just below the bolts in the following photo to give you a sense of where they’re located:
I then pulled the bottom of the seat back out (toward the front of the car) and then lifted the entire seat back up. The whole thing moved fairly easily out once it was around the seat belts.
With the seat out of the way, the culprit and cause of the problem was easily seen:
The bracket that holds the headrest to the frame has a stop, seen clearly here on the right-hand side. It was also very clearly an add-on; spot welded onto the original bracket, as you can see in the following photo:
Only one thing to do: Get to cutting.
But before putting your tool into a strange bracket, it’s best to practice safe cutting. Be sure to wear eye protection and wrap the valuables in plastic, because sparks are sure to fly.
I used my rotary tool (Dremel is a brand of rotary tool) and metal cutting wheel. The cutting wheel made quick work of the first leg of the stopper:
Since the other leg was closer to the side of the vehicle, I figured it was safer to use a pair of pliers to break the second leg of the stopper:
Bending the leg side-to-side did the trick, and it quickly broke free. I did the same procedure on the other side, and the nasty little things were off my car:
From there all that was left to do was reverse the process to reassemble everything, and enjoy my newly lowered convertible headrests sitting flush with the seat back – just as BMW intended them:
The headrests are perfectly functional, and can still be raised and locked into place:
As an added bonus, the lowered headrests radically improve the rearward visibility when the top is up:
Overall, the project took less than 2 hours of time, and was straightforward if you’re fairly comfortable operating a rotary cutter. Highly recommended. Good luck!