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E39 (1997 - 2003)
The BMW 5-Series (E39 chassis) was introduced in the United States as a 1997 model year car and lasted until the 2004 when the E60 chassis was released. The United States saw several variations including the 525i, 528i, 530i and 540i. -- View the E39 Wiki

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  #1  
Old 12-06-2009, 09:41 PM
ArmandCA ArmandCA is offline
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540i 6-spd Reliability / Maintenance Items

Hey Everyone,

First post here so thanks in advance for helping me out. I'm a longtime BMW fan looking to buy a 540i Sport, 6 speed. I've owned a '96 328 manual, 00' 330i auto, and an '88 535i manual (the last two were my old man's, the 535i now has +280K miles on it! ).

Cutting to the chase...I'm considering an '02 540i 6spd, sport package with 44K miles on it. It's only $14.5K which to me seems like a great deal but this post made me think twice:
http://forums.bimmerforums.com/forum....php?t=1048151

Good discussion. It starts off with someone like me asking about the reliability about the car and he gets some wildly different answers. Some say that there are minor fixes to be done and others make claims that the e39 falls apart every 1K miles. (one guy definitely sounds like he got a lemon, I don't think my '65 Mustang was that unreliable) The common problems seem to be cooling/radiator, misc suspension, head gasket (?), and some cite electrical problems. My question to you all is:

With a ~50K mile car, what can I reasonably expect to spend now on maintenance/repairs, and what can I expect to spend over the next 3-5 years? What would you recommend DIY, and what must be done by a pro?

Thanks again.

-Armand
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  #2  
Old 12-06-2009, 09:46 PM
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Mr AAPL Mr AAPL is offline
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The thing I've heard with the M62 engines has always been the head gasket issues.
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  #3  
Old 12-07-2009, 12:19 AM
firehawk618 firehawk618 is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mr AAPL View Post
The thing I've heard with the M62 engines has always been the head gasket issues.
I've been reading throught the E39 section for a week and have yet to see of a single head gasket failure.

Cooling system, timing chain tensioner, ignition switch, dead pixels.....but no head gasket failure, or really any major engine failures.
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  #4  
Old 12-07-2009, 07:49 AM
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bmw_n00b13 bmw_n00b13 is offline
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Cooling system, valley pan gasket, ABS+DSC, and suspension are the big repairs. I think it's possible to go about 100k miles, though, between major preventative maintenance. You need at least $1000 in your pocket as a safeguard at all times, though.

Most can be done DIY. There's a lot of FUD thanks to dealers, but if you're a reasonably decent weekend wrencher, you're limited by tools and time. Most repairs don't really require anything too special, and time depends entirely on your pace and schedule.
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  #5  
Old 12-07-2009, 09:45 PM
edjack edjack is offline
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The V8 has not had a history of head gasket failures. I've not heard of even one, and I am active on three BMW forums.

The peripheral stuff is what fails. It's very important to change the oil at reasonable intervals, 3k for dino, 7.5k for "synthetic".

Replace the coolant and brake fluid (clutch circuit, too) every two years, the trans and diff lube every 30k (use RedLine stuff).

The car you seek is a bodacious machine, and it will thrill you every time you drive it. The maintenance cost, IMHO, is cheap, compared to the cost of a mistress.
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  #6  
Old 12-11-2009, 09:53 AM
JoeFromPA JoeFromPA is offline
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I budgeted it out vs. an M5 previously and here's what I came up with:

Worst case scenario (except the rare lemon) is $1400 per year including maintenance and repairs, on average.

That's for 20-25k miles of driving per year, and includes the following:

Clutch every 60-80k miles
Set of tires every 25-30k miles
Front brakes every 50k (full set including pads/rotors/sensors and a fluid flush)
Rear brakes every 75k (full set)
Full cooling system overhaul every 75k (unless you go Zionsville)
Oil changes & tune-up stuff
Miscellaneous sensors & suspension pieces

I basically averaged this up for a ~2002-2003 540i 6-speed driving it from 60k miles to 160k miles over 5 years and then amortized the cost evenly over each year.

You can definitely be cheaper, but I think it's a reasonable expectation. For comparison, my 2006 Civic SI (now at 78k miles) was costing me $800-900 a year between 30-70k for tires, fluid changes, and regular maintenance (granted I eat tires for lunch).

For comparison, the M5 rated out at $2000-2100 per year

If you buy an 02 540i with 50k, expect the following within 30k miles (plan for it, not that you'll necessarily need it):

Full cooling system overhaul ($500-1200 depending on who does the work and what parts you use, more if you go with the Zionsville kit)
Clutch job ($1200 assuming you pay someone to do it and get the clutch and flywheel done)
Random stuff - $500-1000 for sensors and suspension components and such

Depending on how you look at it and how much you do yourself, expect to drop $1500-3000 in your first year getting it to rock solid territory.

If that makes you blanche, I'd consider looking elsewhere. But please bear in mind that most 6 year old $50-60k cars will encounter the the exact same (or worse) cost of ownership.

The benefit you get, besides an outstanding vehicle, is that these cars have almost fully depreciated. You'll drop 7k in maintenance and repairs over 5 years and, say, $15k on the car originally....but that's $22k to own a car for 5 years, it'll still be worth maybe 7-9k, so your cost over 5 years is $13-15k.

For comparison, the cost of ownership of my (bought new) 2006 Civic SI has been $10k in depreciation + $750/year in maintenance.....over 5 years, which would you rather own?

Anyway, just some thoughts.

Joe

P.s. Granted the Civic SI pretty much never has a problem in almost 80k of driving and gets 29mpg despite my constant abuse of it.....but still
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  #7  
Old 12-11-2009, 09:54 AM
JoeFromPA JoeFromPA is offline
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P.s. Do your best to determine if the cooling system is original or replaced and, if replaced, if the car overheated first. One big benefit to getting an original cooling system is the knowledge that it most likely has never even slightly overheated.
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  #8  
Old 12-12-2009, 08:12 AM
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QSilver7 QSilver7 is offline
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Here's an E39 Buyers Guide

If you're looking to buy an e39...here's a E39 Buyers Guide that has most of the questions & answers condensed down into one article. It's also a nice reference to have for existing e39 owners, too.

The only thing to really skip over is the market info...the article was written in 2005 (after e39 production had ended) so prices aren't going to be relevent...but all the other info is.

Feel free to download this PDF and save it to your CPU so that you can refer back to it in the future...also give it a few seconds to download...the file is approx 4 MB:

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2006 E53 X5 4.4i (Sterling Gray) 12/05 mfg date <<~>> 97 740iL (Arctic Silver) 3/97 mfg date
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99 540iT (Orient Blue) <<~>> 95 525IT (Alpine White)
91 735iL (Schwarz Black) <<~>> 85 325e (Bronzit)

http://imageshack.com/scaled/grid240/822/e38e532ndsigpic.jpg
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  #9  
Old 12-12-2009, 02:03 PM
ArmandCA ArmandCA is offline
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Great replies

Wow, great posts guys. And what an awesome "buyer's guide!"

It's funny that the other car I'm considering is actually a '07 Civic Si. I test drove a 2000 540i/6 last week and WOW. I was expecting them to be quick, but not a hot rod!

Having driven numerous Chevy V8s (mostly in work trucks) I was expecting an unresponsive, noisy, torque monster...but that power curve is completely flat from idle to top end. This one dropped off a little at +6000 rpm, but it had 88K miles and definitely wasn't cared for.

Question for Joe. How has the Civic been so far in terms of rattles? I've heard complaints of interior finish on other forums. Also, fun car to drive compared to a 3-series?

Just to complete my story. I'm shying away from the 540i a bit as I most likely won't be needing such a driver's car for the next couple of years. I've often got a two year old in the carseat and by the time I'm done with work (Real Estate), I'm usually too fried to drive hard. (then again, I currently own the anti-driving machine '07 Prius so maybe I'll get the bug again - that's why I'm selling it, although I'll miss 42MPG)

I'm actually checking out a 528i tonight that my longtime mechanic buddy says is impeccable. For $6500, if I get the classic e39 lines and impeccable interior, I just might be able to justify passing on a Japanese commuter. (most people can't tell the difference from a '97 to a '04, right?) And if it goes down to $3K in a few years, who cares!

Thanks again and take care.
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  #10  
Old 12-13-2009, 08:19 PM
JoeFromPA JoeFromPA is offline
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Hey Armand,

The interior fit and finish is poor compared to, say, my 08 Subaru Legacy or just about any german car. The overall interior noise (from rattles and such) in an 06+ Civic is also loud. I've had numerous rattles that I just ignore with volume

It's a completely different type of drive than a 3-series or 5-series. It's more like, say, a twitchy M3. It constantly wants to be revved out. It's a tad loud and obnoxious. It doesn't really have all that much power, even when you give it some from 3000 rpms it's still just a faster version of a regular honda civic. You have to be willing and able to cain this car from 6000 to 8000 rpms repeatedly to get the joy out of it.

That being said, it's extremely engaging. Great steering, shifter, and the overall driver placement in the car. The way the car responds to you. I step into my wife's Subaru Legacy GT and it's far less engaging to drive, though that's supposed to be a driver's car.

I'd say only go with the civic SI if you don't mind the downsides i mentioned, your budget is more civic-ish, and you want rock solid reliability no matter how badly you beat on her

Me? I've been dreaming about an e39 for over 2 years now.
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  #11  
Old 12-14-2009, 02:52 PM
Cosmos55 Cosmos55 is offline
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99 540i 6Speed MSport

Here is a spreadsheet on my repairs and costs. All work was 100% dealer serviced so depending on where you go for service your results will vary. I still own the car and it runs like new. I just can't part with it.
Attached Files
File Type: pdf 99540i Sheet1.pdf (25.2 KB, 1003 views)
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  #12  
Old 12-15-2009, 07:36 AM
JoeFromPA JoeFromPA is offline
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That document shows what I would consider to be a nightmare scenario. I converted it all into a columned excel spreadsheet and then sorted by mileage.

If I did everything right, then you spent $9782 between 84,702 miles and 96,139 miles. Since the mileage numbers are different, it appears you had a total of 17 seperate events during that period of time.

I did an estimate of what the same level of service would cost for shade tree mechanic + buying parts personally + having a good indy mechanic nearby for things like the clutch. My estimated total for the same work and parts is: $5,450.

Still a very hefty sum. I left tires the same, $1500 in for a clutch job, cyl & valve cover gaskets, and inspection II with some work being done personally, and a single time fee of $1200 for a total cooling system overhaul (which is what the dealership should have done) for all new hoses, water pump, thermostat, expansion tank, and radiator.

I'd say, in my mind, that is a worst case scenario (outside of a total lemon) for a 540i to be maintained between 70k-100k miles.

Joe
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  #13  
Old 06-07-2013, 08:28 PM
williamsboi williamsboi is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by JoeFromPA View Post
P.s. Do your best to determine if the cooling system is original or replaced and, if replaced, if the car overheated first. One big benefit to getting an original cooling system is the knowledge that it most likely has never even slightly overheated.
Hey Joe, how can I tell if the car overheated? I'm looking at a 2002 540i-6 with 127k miles and a 2001 740i Sport with 112k miles. The 540i had the radiator replaced at 60k, the water pump and thermostat at 100k, and the radiator again at 127k. The 740i had the water pump and thermostat replaced within the last few thousand miles (not sure what all was replaced before then). Does that service history indicate any likely overheating? If not, is there a way I can tell for sure by inspecting the car? I'm going to have a BMW Master Tech do a pre-purchase inspection on both vehicles. What should I be asking him to look for to check for potential past overheating?
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  #14  
Old 06-08-2013, 12:32 AM
aspensilver540 aspensilver540 is offline
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Thread is 3 yrs old will!

The V8 stands up to overheating pretty well compared to some of the I6s. I wouldn't worry about that as long as it drives fine, just be prepared to sock away $150-200/month for repairs if you are farming things out and you want the car to stay in top condition.

Joe bought an M5 btw, and can be found on M5board.
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  #15  
Old 06-09-2013, 09:25 AM
bobdmac bobdmac is offline
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Even though this is an old thread, the question about overheating is worth discussing. From what I've read, the shorter heads on the V-8's aren't as susceptible to head damage from overheating as the long heads on the in-line 6's. I think you'll find very little discussion here of that problem with the V-8's. Mine actually had overheated before I bought it, and it had to be towed, but the only thing that needed attention was the cooling system, and 60,000 miles later, the engine is still sound, no head work required.

To me, the biggest unknown and biggest potential problem is the plastic timing chain guides, which get brittle, wear, and break, sometimes with catastrophic results. I'm holding my breath during my current road trip, which I estimate will cover 10-12,000 miles, and I have 162,000 on the clock already. I'll be posting periodic reports of my trip here, including any maintenance issues that crop up.
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  #16  
Old 06-09-2013, 08:35 PM
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$15k and its a good deal 540i 6 speeds are super reliable BTW
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Old 06-09-2013, 08:38 PM
aspensilver540 aspensilver540 is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by hh3uunp View Post
$15k and its a good deal 540i 6 speeds are super reliable BTW

its 3 years old, lol for the 2nd time
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  #18  
Old 06-09-2013, 08:40 PM
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hh3uunp hh3uunp is offline
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Originally Posted by aspensilver540 View Post
its 3 years old, lol for the 2nd time
how is a 2002 3 years old. ,I'm not Albert Einstein but it doesn't add up
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Last edited by hh3uunp; 06-09-2013 at 08:41 PM.
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  #19  
Old 06-09-2013, 08:42 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by hh3uunp View Post
how is a 2002 3 years old. ,I'm not Albert Einstein but it doesn't add up
Thread = 2009....
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  #20  
Old 06-09-2013, 08:47 PM
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Originally Posted by rrtec View Post
Thread = 2009....
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  #21  
Old 06-09-2013, 09:02 PM
aspensilver540 aspensilver540 is offline
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I can confirm, no einstein
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