Hirsch Installation Adventures of a Non-Mechanic

In my years before attending high school: my parents promised that they would make me take a course in automotive maintenance and repair.  As much of my youth was spent dabbling with programming languages: I had little interest in reminding them of that promise.  And oddly enough, my interest in cars didn’t go much beyond the large Lamborghini Contach posters adorning  the walls of my bedroom.  Don’t get me wrong: all that time spent learning software stuff has served me well.

But if I had known that 17 years later, I’d find myself with a pile of car parts, waiting to be installed into my Saab 9-3, maybe I’d take that automotive mechanic course.  Of course, this “pile of car parts” is by no means just any “pile” that you’d find at your local spare parts retailer.  It’s a complete Hirsch carbon-leather interior upgrade package, including aluminum pedals.  Long-time readers may point out that this sounds awfully familiar: well, there is a good reason for that.

Of course, the first time: I was only installing the door-handles, smart-slot trim and hand brake handle.  That proved to be a surprisingly time-consuming endeavor, but turned out to be nothing compared to the journey I was about to embark upon.  Granted, I could have left this up to the professionals to perform the install, but that would mean I’d be missing out on a great learning opportunity.  So, starting on a late Saturday, with the help of my wife, Jessie, we started with the first step: replacing the stock dash-board with Hirsch upgrade (Shown to the left).

For those you who are considering performing the upgrade yourself, watching the videos here is an absolute prerequisite.  And expect to watch them repeatedly, paying special attention to the proper use of the screw-driver and plastic trim removal tool to remove the various components.  First up: the central A/C vent.  After spending 30 minutes and making negligible progress: it quickly became obvious that this was going to be a long process.  Since we are talking about plastic components, that are snuggly snapped into place, one must rely on the small amount of elasticity of the material to slide the trim-removal tool behind the front-face of the component, and probe for the clips holding it in-place.

Removing the central A/C vent required sliding the tool towards the clips and pulling back on the vent.  What makes the A/C vent so tricky to remove is that you have to find these clips and loosen them one at-a-time.  To make matters more difficult, you will also want to avoid loosening the clips holding the A/C vent together.  We actually failed to do this (which led to me getting a good look inside the Vent).  Once all of them were removed (which took over an hour of fiddling) the vent needs to be rocked left and right a bit as it is extracted.  Once the vent is removed, put it in a safe place.  For us, we had to reassemble the vent, and since it was getting dark: we took it into our apartment to put it back together.

The next morning, I woke up bright and early:  setting out to complete the dashboard upgrade.  The first task of the day was to remove the driver-side A/C vent.  After removing the first vent, I had the expectation that this would be a piece of cake — it was not.  While the general process to remove it was the same, the fact that this vent is smaller and there are fewer clips holding it in-place, means there was a bit less flex in the vent.  Furthermore, each clip had more load on it, making it a bit more difficult to release them.  getting the trim tool wedged behind the front-face of this vent proved to be a challenge and it wasn’t until I released the first clip that I would start making progress in pulling it loose.

Thankfully it was easier to avoid separation on this vent.  I was actually rather close to having it separate, but was able to push it back together without incident.  Once this vent was removed, the next step was to unscrew a few torx screws above the infotainment unit, so that it can be removed.  Removing this part was actually one of the easiest of all steps.  After it is “popped” loose, you only need to slide it straight out and remove the data and power connectors.  As you might guess, this will cause the clock to reset to “12:00” (actually “0:00” if yours is configured for the 24-hour time format), so be prepared to adjust the clock after you have finished putting all of the components back.

Once the infotainment system is removed, and put in a safe place.  Next, you will want to remove the button block (which contains the night-panel, traction control and light brightness buttons).  This step was also pretty straight-forward.  Then you have some screws to remove.  It turns out that every single one of the screws that need to be removed for the Hirsch upgrade are T25 Torx screws.

For most of the places a ratchet handle will work just fine, but you will also need to find a single piece T25 torx driver, as the the socket wrench is too bulky for when it is time to install the door trim.  Another extremely useful tool to have is a telescoping screw magnet.  Basically the tool looks like a telescoping antenna that someone pulled off a portable radio, except there is a strong magnet at the other end.  This is useful to extract a screw that has been completely loosened, prevent a screw from falling somewhere that would be painfully difficult to reach or actually grab a screw that has mistakenly fallen somewhere that you can’t reach by hand.

So, be sure to have one of these with you and keep it nearby so you can grab it quickly.  Once you have removed the necessary screws, the dashboard can be removed with little effort.  Just be sure the steering wheel is adjusted as far down and back as possible (as the video explains).  There are some screw pieces on the old dash-board that need to be transferred to the new one, so take note of those.  There is actually a clip that I forgot to transfer, but thankfully it isn’t totally necessary but the screw pieces

above the infotainment unit definitely must be transferred to ensure that it can be screwed back in place.  By the time I put the new dashboard on: it was about time for lunch, so I took a break.  Immediately after getting back, I reinserted the screws and tightened them.  Next I reinserted the infotainment, button block and vent components in reverse order of their removal.  This step proved to be very rewarding.

Everything just snaps back together so nicely, and it is at this point that you begin to see your efforts bear some fruit.  You start feel proud of your work and are motivated to continue on.  The next phase turned out to be the absolute easiest piece of trim to replace: the gear shifter plate.  This would only be slightly more difficult if your car has a manual transmission (since you have a “boot” to latch onto the new shifter plate).  But, as my car has an automatic gearbox, this step took just a few minutes.

There are new screws involved, and no vigorous use of the trim removal tools.  in fact, you can easily replace the shifter plate by-hand.  Once this was finished, we were approaching mid-afternoon.  I knew that I would probably need to save the door trim installation for later (which turned out to be a very good call).  But, watching the video, it appeared that the glove-box trim should be too bad.  Well once again: the devil is in the details.  The first step is to remove all of the contents of the glove-compartment, because it needs to be removed entirely.  After emptying its contents and removing the necessary screws, Pulling the glove compartment out was fairly easy, although the wire connections required some fiddling to detach.  Now for the hard part: in order to remove the glove box trim there is a screw directly behind the glove box “open” button, that needs to be unscrewed.

In order to do this, you will need a T25 ratchet, as there is very little space to unscrew it.  In order to be able to see what I was doing, I literally had to climb into the passenger-side footwell, laying on my back, with the legs sticking out the front passenger side door.   That’s right, being a contortionist is almost required to complete this particular step (unless if can manage to lean forward and reach behind with the ratchet and loosen it entirely by touch — which I tried and failed to do).  One thing to be aware of is that you will be operating very close to the front passenger-side airbag, so be proceed with caution!   Honestly, I am not sure how much risk there was to actually cause the airbag to deploy, by accident, but I worked with care and made sure not to whack any of the airbag components.

The picture to the left shows how it looks where I was removing the glove-box trim.  that yellow cable leads to the airbag, and the black plastic component with the barcode on it, is the airbag.  Once the screw is out, you just need to use the trim tool to pull the trim loose, which turned out to be pretty easy.  When placing the new trim, be sure not to forget the spring inside the button (like I did).  Of course, I think it works fine without the spring, but you might be annoyed by it without so try not to forget this step, because removing it a second time would not be fun.  Screwing the new one back in place is just as hard as removing it, since you have to become a contortionist, once again.  After replacing the glove box trim.  It was approaching the early evening.  It wouldn’t be until the following weekend that I would embark on the last and final phase of the Hirsch interior upgrade: which would be replacing the door trim.  But at least in the meantime, I had the pleasure of admiring my work in progress during my commutes.

Before I knew it: a new weekend was upon me and it was time to finish what I started.  As involved as my previous weekend’s worth of work turned out to be, this last and final phase of the installation had me rife with concern.  Sure, removing the door panels looked easy enough, but the very thought of taking a power drill to these door panels had me rather anxious.  Strangely enough, I had completely backwards: removing the panels, and reinstalling them was the hard part.  First you will need to remove the handle covers (which is easier if you’ve already installed the Hirsch handles) and unscrew the main screw holding the door panel in place.  You will not be able to use the ratchet for this, as it will be too large. fit in the hole leading to the screw.  When removing the panels is that a fair amount of force is actually required to pull the panels loose from the plastic fasteners.  The second thing to realize is that you want the fasteners to stay attached to the panel, upon removal.

And the third to realize: some of the fasteners will not stay attached to the panel upon removal.  Those fasteners will be a source of extreme annoyance, as they remain anchored into the door, so be prepared.  But, once a door panel is released, before you deal with the fasteners, some careful fiddling is required to disconnect all the wires from the panel.  For this step: you might want to have a beer handy — because you are going to be standing in an rather surprisingly uncomfortable position holding the panel to avoid putting tension on electrical cables connected to it, as you are trying to disconnect them. When all connections are disconnected, you will have to use a flat-head screwdriver to pry the plastic fasteners out of the door (hopefully there aren’t too many).

This is bound to cause the fasteners to be stretched and a bit worn, but don’t worry – as they are quite strong and once you put everything back together, everything should hold very firmly in-place.  As the fasteners are taken out of the door, slide them back into the panel.  Once the panel is off, you can work on the panels in the comfort of your home, just have a vacuum cleaner handy to clean-up all the plastic shavings).  It turns out that the step when dealing with the panels is one of the best explained parts of the process in the videos.  Keep in mind that you want to clear all extra plastic that is “drilled out” by scraping the holes with some type of tool (such as a screw-driver).

Also, do not try to save the old door trim strips: expect that they must destroyed to remove them.  But don’t let that bother you.  While the wood trim is quite nice, in my opinion: the understated beauty of the carbon-fiber leather trim will blow your mind.  Both front door panels have fewer plastic welds to drill, but you will want to do the driver-side door last (as the security mechanism in your car will be disabled once the electrical connections are removed from that door).  And don’t forget to melt the plastic tabs that poke through the panel.  I used a soldering iron to achieve this.

Now, it was time to complete the final step of the Hirsch installation: placing the door panels back on the doors.   As it was getting dark outside, It was convenient that I happened to have an LED light head-band to do this (you might notice Jessie wearing this in the second picture of this article).  If you are planning to do this outside, and there is any change that you will be working into the evening hours: you will want one of these, as you won’t have a hand free to hold a flash-light. 

Putting the panels back is slightly more time-consuming than removing them because after making all the connections, you will want to test all the buttons on the door and see if the locking mechanism is still working as expected, before snapping the panel back in-place.  Once all this has been verified, carefully slip the door lock peg back in the panel hole and hang the panel in the slot just in front of the door window.

Once it is in position it should feel as if it is hanging snugly over the door.  At this point you will want to push the panel in place, re-engaging each fastener, one at a time.  After this is done, screw back the door handles and put the door handle covers back on.  For me, the last panel was for the driver-side door.  And after adding this panel, I was overcome by a massive sense of relief.  Yes, this project had it’s pleasurable moments, and given how much I learned (and how much money in labor costs I saved) — given a second chance, I certainly would do it again.

But, the feeling of accomplishment makes the end result of my hard work that much more rewarding.  Now, there was one part that I didn’t install: the aluminum pedals.  Instead of installing these myself, I opted to leave that one up to the professionals.  This is not something I wanted to mess with: after all, it would be pretty bad if one of the pedals came loose, while driving at highway speed.  As expected, the mechanic did a great job of it, and the new pedals look very stylish and sporty.  The picture below shows a good overall view of the Hirsch components, in-place. The fit-and finish is superb and gives the interior cabin a decidedly up-scale look and feel.  Having upgraded my 9-3’s interior has given Lars-Erik a truly special look and my friends continue to compliment its appearance.

10 thoughts on “Hirsch Installation Adventures of a Non-Mechanic”

  1. It looks fantastic and doing it yourself must have given you a terrific sense of achievement. But your description of the process yet again confirms to me the general maxim that hiring a professional tradesman will usually mean that the job will get done twice as well in half the time.

    • half the time: possibly.
      twice as well: I’m not sure how it could have been done any *better* honestly. All the pieces fit firmly and everything looks great.

      I think it comes down to being up for the challenge, and willing to put in the extra time. If you are patient and decently mechanically-inclined — you can usually pull it off. But you are right jond that this process isn’t for the timid.

  2. After my accident I went to the tow yard to collect my belongings and even though I was in a intense amount of pain, I took my KA-Bar Knife and gutted all the vents within 15 seconds then took a torx and got the dash off in less than 1 minute.

    I knew I wasn’t coming back to the car and the car wasnt coming back to me so I needed to get everything I could!

  3. Looking great, I would say the door handels and parking-brake handle should been standard on the Aeros. The dashboard is also a “must have” if you ask me. I have bought the dashboard, but still need a car to put it in :s

  4. Looks fantastic Ryan. Maybe in lieu of an installer, you’d be willing to take on some dash installation consultative work for other Bay Area Saabers? 😉

    • 🙂 One idea is that if we had a meetup of some bay area Saab fans to install upgrades for our cars. I have to admit that finding the time would be very difficult for me though.

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