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View Full Version : Want to buy a ‘97 540i… anything to look out for?


Andy
11-26-2004, 09:25 AM
My wife and I are looking at a pre-owned 1997 BMW 540iA (for her). It has 77,000 miles on it, and it looks like I should be able to get it for around $17,000.

I plan to have an independent shop take a quick look over it just to make sure it hasn’t been in any major accidents. The car looks to be in really good condition!!

I’m not too familiar with the E39 540i or these engines… other then 1997 was the first year of the E39s (which scares me a little).

Is there anything I should be aware of? Are there any known problems with these engines, the drivetrain, electrical, etc. ?

Thanks in advance for any help you can provide. I hope to be the proud owner of an E39 within the next week or two.

Here she is looking pretty... :D

http://www.autobase.com/photos/large/01212493.jpg

markseven
11-26-2004, 10:20 AM
Hi Andy,

97 was the first year the E39 was available in the States. It was introduced to other markets in 96, so I think you'll be ok buying a 97, since it's not the first year of production.

Roundel says BMW (GM) autoboxes usually fail between 80k - 120k. The car you're looking at has 77k... You're getting and extended service contract, right?
Radiators and expansion tanks blow every 40k or so. (mine was replaced at 39k)
Mass Air Flow sensors are finicky (mine was replaced at 40k)
O2 sensors are finicky as well (mine was replaced under recall at 40k)
Folks have had Final Stage Resistors (mine hasn't gone out yet)
Cam Positioning Sensors have given people grief (mine hasn't gone out yet)
That's all I can think of. Mark Wong will probably chime in with a comprehensive list :)

-Mark

M.Wong
11-26-2004, 10:33 AM
That's all I can think of. Mark Wong will probably chime in with a comprehensive list :)
-Mark
:) My lists are all E38 related, I am afraid. Here are some E38 items that apply to the 5er:
Has the radiator been replaced? If so, when?
Are the pixels working in the instrument cluster display and MID?
Does the front suspension making any noises? Any work done to it?
Have the water pump/thermostat been replaced yet? If so, when?
Have the catalytic converters been replaced?
Check the function of every electrical do-dad before you buy it. They can drive you nuts and cost plenty out of warranty to get right. Seat controls and memories (and steering wheel memory modules) fail from time to time so makes sure these work. CD changers, radio, NAV.
Check window shades for noise and/or function,
Radio AM/FM good reception or not? If the windows are tinted make sure about AM reception.
Check can holders and make sure they work. Then never use them again, as they will fall apart. Buy a good aftermarket cup holder.
Plus all the normal used car stuff: brakes, engine oil leaks, power steering function and leaks, coolant leaks and running temp, AC/Heat function, tires, wheels, exhaust.

And here is a list from a guy called Kowached on another board:
1. Its door seals will “Creak like a wooden sailing ship”, unless you replace the door seals (temp fix).
2. Its Air Conditioning will have the “aroma of a used gym sock”, unless you occasionally disinfect the A/C system.
3. Its front brakes will “Squeak like a scared mouse”, unless you properly lube the brake pad attachment points.
4. Has an electrical system “as stable as MS Windows”, and most electrical glitches can be “fixed” by rebooting the system by removing the appropriate fuses, or disconnecting the battery.
5. The steering wheel will Shimmy like Anna Nicole Smith trying to get into a pair of Guess Jeans (most commonly affects 528/530s) unless you get just the right torque on the lug bolts and PSI in the tires, Maybe.
6. As pixels burn out the MID computer text will resemble the language for the blind known as braille.
7. Electric auxiliary “pusher” fan will make your car sound like a jet ready for take-off, but only if it works.
8. Rear Window Regulator will “let you down” only when it is most inconvenient for you.
9. Radiator Neck will break off with no warning (at driver side top hose)
10. Catalytic Converters will sound like they full of marbles when they are ready to fail, and are good for about 60k Miles.
11. The Camshaft Position Sensor (CPS) is so reliable that you should carry a spare in your trunk.
12. The Mass Air Flow (MAF) sensor will (need a little help here)
13. The Final Stage Resistor will have no problem varying the airflow in your car, but the problem is that it does it even when its not supposed to, until to totally quits that is, then you will have no airflow.
14. Don't even think about using the "canholders" to hold any unsealed container lest you prepare to clean your pants, the car interior, and replace any electronics that were damaged.
15. You say that you like the “Dukes of Hazard”? Well I hope so because you’ll be forced to enter and exit your car through open windows like Bo and Luke Duke when the interior door handles break off in your hand. This is the true reason that BMWs can roll the windows up and down from the key.

Don't let these long lists discourage you, the E39 is a wonderful car! Ours has had no problems. I am sure your Independent shop's buyer's inspection will be worth while and hopefully they give you the green light...

-The other Mark :)

Andy
11-26-2004, 10:46 AM
Wow, great information!! Thank you both for the detailed responses!! :thumbup:

Nah, I won’t let the long list discourage me, I know that with any used car there will be some things along that way that will break and need replaced… just wanting to make sure there is nothing major that stands out. The only thing that scares me a little is the possibility of the transmission failing between 80k to 120k.

Can you tell me a little more about the extended service contract? I’m not quite sure what that is. Does that extend the CPO program?

Thanks again!!
Andy

markseven
11-26-2004, 10:46 AM
Hi Mark,

Do you feel a compression check is necessary? If the radiator goes, and the car is driven with low coolant, how susceptible is the M62 (is that the right designation for the 4.4?) to warping?

The kowached list hilarious :rofl:

TIA,
Mark

Andy
11-26-2004, 10:54 AM
Is Mrs. Andy torque hungry? If not, would it make sense to spend the same money on a slightly better conditioned 530? It could save $$$ down the road. :dunno:

But I don't have a clue about E39's, so I could be way off. But I'm just guessing that the 540 is more expensive up front, and I think I've heard that it's more expensive to maintain. It's not worth it unless she appreciates the extra power it provides.
Actually, if truth be known… I’m the one talking her into the V8. ;) :angel:

Yeah, we thought about a 528i or a newer 530i. It’s still in consideration… but the torque of that big V8 just feels oohhh sooo nice!!

markseven
11-26-2004, 10:57 AM
Can you tell me a little more about the extended service contract? I’m not quite sure what that is. Does that extend the CPO program?
Andy,

I didn't buy my car from a BMW dealer, so it wasn't CPO; it was out of warranty as well. I bought a 'bumper-to-bumper' warranty (extended service contract) that cover's me until the odo hits 100k, or 5 years from the purchase date.

-Mark

M.Wong
11-26-2004, 11:22 AM
The only thing that scares me a little is the possibility of the transmission failing between 80k to 120k. Can you tell me a little more about the extended service contract? I’m not quite sure what that is. Does that extend the CPO program? Thanks again!! Andy
CPO extends the factory warranty to 6 years from the original in-service date, or 100K miles total. It's not as inclusive as the factory new car warranty, but is not bad. Excludes all wear items, trim items, radio, NAV, and has a $50 per visit deductible. Extended service from BMW could be as little as brakes, oil, and Inspection(s) when the dash lights come on. Not too exciting. Extended service from a private entity is a possibility, but I don't know how good those are.

The automatics in these cars have what BMW calls a 'lifetime' sealed transmission. The general thought is that means about 100K miles. (Plenty of arguments on this, but we can save that for another day. :) My thought, in a nutshell, if my car is CPOed to 100K miles, that must be the 'life' of the car to a BMW accountant...) Most people who plan to keep their automatics for a long time think a full transmission fluid flush is due in the 80-100K mile range. The fluid MUST be the correct kind, specified by BMW or ZF. Use of wrong fluid can be a major issue, and as you might expect, it's pricey. Must be liquid gold or something! Other than that fluid change, I don't think the auto transmissions are reason to be worried about this car.

No ideas about a blown radiator leading to a major problem, unless you drive on it too far after said blow out. The compression test is generally for the 1995 E38 with the Nikasil Engine Block for the V8, and the older E34 5ers.

And, even if you get a "first year E39" the E38 used the same M62 4.4 V8 engine since 1996.

ultamte
11-30-2004, 03:31 PM
I have a 1997 540/6 (production 2/97) and have had many of the problems that people have experienced with these 1st model year cars. I would definetly want to see the service records (most BMW dealers will run a history of the maintenance that has been done at BMW dealers, if not at BMW you will have to rely on them keeping a good service history/receipts). Here are some of the common problems that the 97's tend to have:

1. Cat Failure (but are covered under federal law to 80k miles)- mine went at about 47k before I bought car and were replace. If your stock ones go, they can be easily replaced w/ hi performance ones for under $500 (parts/labor)
2. Radiator- These tend to go at the worst times, but usu. between 60-80k miles. Mine went at 80k exactly on the way to a DaveZ clinic :o(.. replaced under CPO
3. CPS- Cam position Sensor- tend to go bad before 100k, cause the car to idle rough and stall. Not too expensive of a fix. (CPO fix)
4. Airbag Warning Light- usu. due to a faulty seat belt switch (driver or passenger side seat-belt latch)... or it can be the more expensive seat pad in the pass. seat. I have had all 3 go, and all 3 replaced under CPO. No one can def. tell if the air bags will still work if the light is on, my guess is NO.... (I pushed BMW on one of mine that came after the CPO ended and got that fixed free of charge also)
5. Pixels tend to go bad in the cluster. Mine was fixed under the CPO, but BMW has acknowledged the problem and will supply the part, and you only have to pay about 1 hour labor
6. Trunk actuator- Will stop working before 100k, very inexpensive fix for under $100 (check bmwtips.com) Mine went at about 75k
7. O2 sensors should be replaced every 100k miles (per owners manual) but may go before. About $100 or so each, but can easily be done by DIY.

Even with all these problems that the early E39's can experience, there is nothing like the hp/tq feel and the smile it brings to my face. Also, the 97's (at least in my experience) seem to be underrated from the factory in regard to HP/TQ numbers... they are beasts.

Good Luck w/ your purchase, and Happy Modding.... b/c once you start... You can't stop :)

Chad aka ultamte
1997 540/6 with 01 Light Conversion, Mtech Front Bumper, M5 Rear Lip Spoiler, EuroDash, CDV delete, Alpine/MB Quart upgrade, nav-tv with DVD, Euro First Aid Kit and Triangle.... 294 hp @wheels on Superflow Dyno and 280 hp and 307 Tq on Dynojet 248C at the wheels

SARAFIL
11-30-2004, 07:29 PM
Actually, if truth be known… I’m the one talking her into the V8. ;) :angel:

Yeah, we thought about a 528i or a newer 530i. It’s still in consideration… but the torque of that big V8 just feels oohhh sooo nice!!

The 540iA never inspired me in non-sport trim. The V8 is a great match to the 6-speed or more agressively geared Auto with Sport Pack. In non-sport, Auto trim, it is a bit dull (though it still has the same great engine).

For what you are looking at, I think you'd be much better off looking for '98-'00 528i's. It's be newer, have fewer "glitches", and be much easier to maintain. The 540/740 can need quite a bit of pricey repairs/maintenance at 80-100k miles, while the 6-cylinder is a bit more reasonable to keep going.

Andy
11-30-2004, 08:44 PM
The 540iA never inspired me in non-sport trim. The V8 is a great match to the 6-speed or more agressively geared Auto with Sport Pack. In non-sport, Auto trim, it is a bit dull (though it still has the same great engine).
That’s funny that you say that, because I felt the exact same way when I drove the ’97 540i. The engine felt great, but it felt like I was driving a big heavy Cadillac.. very soft, plush, heavy, and floaty is how I would describe it. Not what I’m looking for in a car. My wife felt the same way.


For what you are looking at, I think you'd be much better off looking for '98-'00 528i's. It's be newer, have fewer "glitches", and be much easier to maintain. The 540/740 can need quite a bit of pricey repairs/maintenance at 80-100k miles, while the 6-cylinder is a bit more reasonable to keep going.
It’s even funnier that you say that, because the same dealership had a CPO 2000 528i (non Sport Package) with only 56,000 miles on it in near perfect condition. I know it’s basically the exact same car minus the V8, but for some reason this car felt a lot better, lighter, more nibble, yet the ride was very soft, but this time in a good way. The car felt a lot more peppy then I thought it would feel. I took the car to a local bodyshop and they gave it great reviews. This was a one car owner and had all of the service work done at this dealership and they were able to provide me with all the service history and also the Inspection II workorder when they certified it. My wife liked this car a lot more then the 540i and I must say, so did I.

Well, to make a long story short… as of tonight I’m (I mean my wife ;) ) is the proud owner of a 2000 BMW 528i… and I got a great deal!!

This car is absolutely beautiful. The only bad thing is… now I have another car that I’ll want to start modding (wheels, tires, OEM angel eyes, clears, etc. etc. etc.).

I plan to have pics up of her soon. Thanks again for all the replies!!

Here's a sneak peek...
http://www.autobase.com/photos/large/01219615.jpg

vexed
11-30-2004, 09:17 PM
That’s funny that you say that, because I felt the exact same way when I drove the ’97 540i. The engine felt great, but it felt like I was driving a big heavy Cadillac.. very soft, plush, heavy, and floaty is how I would describe it. Not what I’m looking for in a car. My wife felt the same way.



It’s even funnier that you say that, because the same dealership had a CPO 2000 528i (non Sport Package) with only 56,000 miles on it in near perfect condition. I know it’s basically the exact same car minus the V8, but for some reason this car felt a lot better, lighter, more nibble, yet the ride was very soft, but this time in a good way. The car felt a lot more peppy then I thought it would feel. I took the car to a local bodyshop and they gave it great reviews. This was a one car owner and had all of the service work done at this dealership and they were able to provide me with all the service history and also the Inspection II workorder when they certified it. My wife liked this car a lot more then the 540i and I must say, so did I.

Well, to make a long story short… as of tonight I’m (I mean my wife ;) ) is the proud owner of a 2000 BMW 528i… and I got a great deal!!

This car is absolutely beautiful. The only bad thing is… now I have another car that I’ll want to start modding (wheels, tires, OEM angel eyes, clears, etc. etc. etc.).

I plan to have pics up of her soon. Thanks again for all the replies!!

Here's a sneak peek...
http://www.autobase.com/photos/large/01219615.jpg
:thumbup: Watch out for the mods though:eek:

flattothefloor
12-01-2004, 05:20 PM
which seem to be a common problem leaking around 80k miles
good luck to you its a great buy consider the safety factor it provides. :thumbup:

SARAFIL
12-01-2004, 06:22 PM
Well, to make a long story short… as of tonight I’m (I mean my wife ;) ) is the proud owner of a 2000 BMW 528i… and I got a great deal!

Congrats! I think you (oops... she) made a great choice! The power of the V8 sure it nice, but for normal use, the 528 is more than capable, and much easier to live with. You guys will be very happy with it.

Looks like it's well equipped, too. From the pic, I can see it has Premium Pack, Cold Weather Pack, and what look to be Xenons. :thumbup: