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Old 05-15-2010, 08:41 PM
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bluebee bluebee is offline
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Location: San Jose, California
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Mein Auto: 02 BMW 525i M54 auto 130K
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BMW owner's manuals and ETM's for downoading

Common problems you can expect with your E39 might be:
- plastic expansion tank, radiator, & thermostat housings that blow up due to faulty plastic mostly at the upper hose neck but also in the expansion tank and thermostat housing
- steel resistance-welded ABS control module power wires that break off their gold contact because of being too close to the engine
- Vanos seals made out of the wrong materials so that they harden and leak causing degrading performance
- headlight adjusters that simply crumble over time causing the lights to point downward
- fan-control (FSU/FSR) modules that are practically sure to go schizo due to poor heat-sink design
- rear vapor barrier seals that allow rain water to fill the rear footwell
- windshield & back window molding that crumbles in three years due to poor choice of materials
- jack pads that fall off the underside of the frame due to poor latch design
- cabin-filter housing design that allows small drain hoses to clog with leaves causing gym-sock smells
- roundels that wash away in the car wash over time
- a trunk loom wiring harness designed to chafe causing all sorts of light and fuse blowing and locking problems
- violent shudder upon front-wheel braking on bumps because the front suspension dies prematurely unbeknownst to the driver
- rear-window regulators that stop the windows from closing
- low mounted ambient temperature sensors practically designed to be ripped off on a parking curb
- annoying automatic door-lock mechanism that cost $100 to undo
- pixels practically guaranteed to go out on your instrument cluster and radio midi
- useless cupholders and painful front armrest consoles
- constantly wet power steering reservoirs due to poor O-ring design
- wood trim whose varnish cracks and whose cd cover doors rattle
- power steering hose clamps practically guaranteed to leak (along with an o-ring in the cap that will allow leaks)
- seat covers that don't protect the control box for the tilting steering and moving seat (and cables that fall out causing seat twist)
- windshield reservoirs prone to leaking due to

This "classic" ABS trifecta response is here so I can cut-and-paste it whenever someone asks about it.

(All this information is from teaming up with Bill (540iman) and gathering additional details from BlackBMWs, BMW_n00b13, TheStig, Edgy36-39, Max_VQ, PharoE39, freewilly, BAMF, and others).

Three solid yellow ABS/Brake/DSC lights almost always indicates a classic BMW problem:
1. Go to the first thread in the E39 forums (the VERY best of E39 Links)
2. Search for ABS (you'll find this post)
3. Click on this canonical summary in that post (in addition, see Bill's 'logic' of testing ABS sensors).
Note: The lights may come on all at once, or one at a time, and they may be intermittent, and in the beginning they may go out when you restart the car but come back; eventually they become lit solid all the time. It's all the same problem when you have the ABS Brake DSC trifecta!

Luckily, almost always, resolution is quick, simple, and reasonably inexpensive:
- Quick: In a half hour with a DMM, you'll know exactly what components failed;
- Simple: Removal of speed sensors (<$100 each) and/or the ABS control module (<$500 new) is a ten-minute job each;
- Cheap: My ABS control module rebuild cost me $150 USD, in toto, including tax & shipping (most people report successful rebuilds under $300).

In summary, the flow-chart procedure to follow (summarized from this thread) is:
a. Open the hood, disconnect the ABS control module harness & check the four wheel speed sensors with a DMM;
b. If any wheel speed sensor tests bad, doublecheck at the appropriate wheel; replace the bad one with an OE sensor (<$100, rarely more than one!);
c. If all four speed sensors are good, simply send your ABS control module to BBA/MM/ATE (recommended in that order) for a rebuild ($300-$150 in toto);
d. If the rebuilder can't repair your module (takes about 5 days overall), buy a new module ($480 from Jared at EACTuning) & have the VIN recoded at the stealer (about $120).

In almost all (if not all) ABS, Brake, & DSC light trifecta situations, it's that simple!

BTW, while your ABS control module is out of the car (about 5 days), the following anomalies may occur:
- Brake/DSC/ABS trifecta solid yellow lights (on the instrument cluster)
- Service Engine Soon (SES) solid yellow light lit (on the instrument cluster)
- No ABS (upon hard braking under low-traction conditions)
- No traction control (DSC or ASC on lateral action)
- No speedometer (use a portable GPS navigation unit if you're worried about that)
- No odometer (again, use a portable GPS unit if this bothers you)
- No tripmeter (use a portable GPS unit if it's a worry to you)
- No cruise control
- OBDII diagnostic trouble code DTC P0500, i.e., bad speed sensor (clear by driving or with an OBDII scanner)
- No possibility of passing (California at least) smog inspections (until you replace the ABS control module & clear the DTC)
- No speed-sensitive automatic door locks (if enabled at the stealer)
- No GPS (if you have navigation)
- No mileage calculations on the instrument cluster
- No fuel consumption calculations on the instrument cluster
- No range indications on the instrument cluster
- No speed-sensitive radio (if equipped)
- No speed-sensitive wipers (if equipped)
- Erratic fuel gauge (especially when near empty, so keep the tank at greater than 3/4 at all times)
- Erratic transmission shifting (if automatic; if it bothers you, switch to manual shifting)

The problem is usually a single wheel sensor goes bad (wires or the <$100 sensor), or the ABS control module goes bad (a steel resistance-welded wire lifts off its bond pad, Bill kindly ran a full autopsy here). Debugging is best done with a DMM; an OBDII scanner can ONLY find "communication errors", i.e., it cannot tell a bad speed or pressure sensor from a bad ABS control module and will often report the wrong problem because it isn't inserted BETWEEN the ABS control module and the various sensors (see extensive reports by 540iman on this). The ABS control module costs ~$150 to $300 to rebuild, ~$500 to replace; if you put anything back on other than your original ABS control module, the VIN will need to be recoded (15 minutes with a GT-1 or Autologic or similar; impossible otherwise). You'll need to clear your OBDII DTC codes after you fix everything if you plan on passing smog tests that week (ask me how I know). If you need to replace a speed sensor, don't go aftermarket; get as close to OE as possible.

Before you send your ABS control module out for rebuilding, please consider opening it up first, post pictures to Bill's ABS autopsy thread (the rebuilders say they work on previously opened ABS control modules all the time). If you fix the broken wire, post that to the thread as a success story!

Repair advice for newbies to the E39:
Nobody is less mechanically inclined than I (proof on file) yet my 2002 hasn't been serviced by the stealer or indy since the it left warranty (90K miles to date). Everything you need is here on Bimmerfest.

If you're new to the E39, my recommendations are:
a) Change all dozen fluids (to get to a nice clean starting point again)
b) Check your E39 for the top-score of common E39 problems (you'll have more than one)
c) Search in the best-links section for any requisite DIY and post a thread with your results
d) Immediately buy the Bentleys & don't ever hesitate to buy whatever tools you need when you need them
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Last edited by bluebee; 07-13-2010 at 07:20 PM.
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