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Go Back   Bimmerfest - BMW Forums > BMW Model Discussions > 5 Series > E39 (1997 - 2003)

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 04-11-2012, 07:38 AM
dj1199 dj1199 is offline
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2003 BMW 525i E39: Problems and more problems… Please advice soon!!!

Hi there…

I have a question and would be very grateful for your recommendations…

About 8 months ago I bought 2003 BMW 525i (E39) with 112,000 miles on it (Steptronic transmission)…. Car seemed to drive well and I paid my friend from whom I bought the car only $4,000 for it. I got a great deal from a friend and I was very thankful as I depend 100% on my car to commute to/from work…

Once I bought the car, I right away had replaced all four tires, breaks pads, rotors, alighnment… Changed oil – Castrol Fully Synth 5W-30 as recommended. Replaced engine filters, cabin filters… I thought the car was ready for a perfect drive! But was wrong :-(


VERY SOON I started hearing noises from engine…Discovered problem (thanks to this forum, I read a post someone was describing exact problem) - I had Alternator & Alternator belt replaced… Noises gone, all seemed good…

Very soon I had to replace Oxygen sensor…

Then… it turns out my front suspension was screwed up and needed new control arms bushings etc… So replaced front (both sides) suspension… Another expense…

I thought at this point the car was OK and I could drive without any problems…

I noticed slight oil leak and was adding about a quart or half every 2,000-3,000 miles…. Turns out (thanks to this forum and its users) -> Need valve cover gasket replaced. My mechanic confirmed.

Now - AS A LAST EFFORT, I am replacing in 2-3 days Valve gasket cover and spark plugs.

So far I’ve spent about $2,000 (including some minor cosmetic touch ups I did on my own), I’ve been shopping for parts online, etc trying to get good deals and that’s the best I could…

Replacing Valve cover gasket + spark plugs will be another $300… (Got the valve gasket cover and NGK spark plugs that you guys recommend on this forum. Thanks for the advice…). Additionally, after this, I have planned - coolant, transmission oil & filter, radiator fluid, etc serviced in May.

So far, I am quite upset with this buy…

My friends ARE INSISTING that I sell the car ASAP and not spend any further moneys on it. Right now the car has 125K miles. But the problem is that I already spent so much $$$ and I just don’t want to sell, I don’t think I’ll recover these costs I’ve spend. But this car (as nice and comfy it is) has been eating my paychecks and this does not make me happy at all… And for me $2,000 is not small amount…

Do you think I should go ahead and replace gasket, plugs, then do all coolant, radiator fluid, transmission oil changes and spend additional $700-$800 (everything total, already counted with my mechanic) or just sell the car?

Everything else seems to be working OK (so far)…

I am commuting a lot and this car is essential for me to get to work, see my friends & family, as I live in area where there is no public transportation… I just need this car to last me for another year at least…But I will be driving A LOT in summer. On my past cars (Nissan Sentra 2001, Honda Civic 1997) I’ve put up to 30K miles per year easily, as I love to drive to NY, Montreal, I’ve driven to Chicago from North-East, to Miami, etc…


Couple of things that worry me:

Question 1. Dashboard - Some letters are missing. For example CHECK BREAKS, it is missing part or whole letters, is this electric problem? Or some kind of light bulb?

Question 2. Since I needed to add oil because add oil symbol came up – does this mean some damage has been done to the engine because there was lack of oil? (I usually add right away, always carried in trunk additional Catrol 5W-30 fully synth oil).

Question 3. Should I sell it or should I not? What would you do in my situation? I already have real - $5,500 and $5,800 offers on the car from two friends who drove the car, they have seen work I put and problems this car had and they still want to buy it from me right away…

Question 4. Does spending additional $700-$800 to replace fluids, spark plugs, valve cover make sense?

Question 5. Is my car cursed or am I just out of luck?

Your advices are very helpful guys!

My apologies for such a long post…

If the world does not come to end on Dec 21, 2012 , for 2013 I’m planning and hoping to save enough $$$ for down payment and get 3-4 years used BMW 535xi model (My favorite) with a good mileage on it (Hopefully not more than 60K)…. But with the way this Bimmer has been eating my savings $$$, it just makes me scared…


P.S. Do it yourself stuff does not work for me… I have replaced batteries, filters, small parts and tires in past successfully, but that’s as far as I’ve gone (but I can build a custom PC from scratch in a heartbeat)… I just don’t like things I see inside engine… lots of parts, that do not make too much sense why they need to be there…
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  #2  
Old 04-11-2012, 08:35 AM
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doru doru is offline
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You spend 4000 for a neglected car. That sums it up.
You covered quite a few things. But: don't drive it if the oil light is on. There can be 2 things - either the car is low on oil and you have to check by pulling the dipstick, or the oil level sensor is bust. Easy to change.
If the car is loosing oil, either the oil filer housing gasket is leaking considerable amounts (not a bad DIY), or the oil pan gasket is bust (this is a hard DIY, and can be an expensive fix), or the CCV is shot. Probably a combination of the OFH gasket and a bad CCV.
The cooling system is not far behind considering you changed the belt and some pulleys. If you can DIY, there are only a few things left, and you will have a pretty solid car. But I believe you didn't fix the car yourself so far, so that will eat you and your wallet alive.

Go through the FAQ and the DIY's at the top of the main page, see what PREVENTATIVE maintenance you have to do in order to drive the car without issues.

Where I live, I cannot work on my car in the winter. As a result, I work lots on it in the summer, so I can drive it in the winter. So far, so good. And in my books, my car is quite a reliable one. Compared to some other brands I owned before, both domestic & imports.
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  #3  
Old 04-11-2012, 09:19 AM
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Fudman Fudman is offline
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It is commonly said that: Just because you can afford to buy a BMW does not mean you can afford to maintain one. You have two choices:
1. Start reading everything on this forum and then pick up a wrench and do the work.
2. Sell the car. Get a Honda or a Toyota. They may be boring but they are cheap and reliable. Cheap is never used in association with a BMW.
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  #4  
Old 04-11-2012, 09:56 AM
Qbrozen Qbrozen is offline
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I concur with the above.

If you need to rely on an inexpensive car for daily transportation, a BMW is NOT the answer!
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  #5  
Old 04-11-2012, 10:00 AM
Turbo_525 Turbo_525 is offline
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I always reccommend a Pre-Purchase inspection before buying. And $2000 isn't all that bad for first year. Note my signature is purley intentional.

As for the 3-4 year old (E60) 535 - much more problematic overall, and many teething issues that will only get worse over time.
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  • N/A 525i, 5-speed, 138+K
  • BMW's are not like other cars, they have issues and cost you real $$$ to sort.
  • Affording to Buy a BMW is not the same thing as affording to OWN a BMW.
  • Pre-Purchase Inspections by a qualifed BMW tech should be considered required PRIOR to purchase.
  • Service Records matter - a whole lot!
  • Plan to spend $2-3000+ in maintance & repairs the first year of ownership.
  • Plan on something unexpected to happen, more often than you are used to.
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  #6  
Old 04-11-2012, 10:02 AM
edjack edjack is offline
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doru is correct. The stuff you mention is pretty common at that mileage. That's probably why he sold it, to avoid the expense of upcoming repairs.

These are not low-maintenance cars. The majority of those on this forum appear to be DIYers, and that helps keep costs down.

1. This is the infamous pixel problem. E39s suffer from this. It can be repaired.

2. If you added oil AS SOON AS the light came on, I doubt there's damage.

3. Only you can make that call. Let's assume you can get $6800 for it. Take a look at what you can buy for that amount for a Japanese car. Drive said car. Compare it to the Bimmer. Make the decision.

Those on this, and other forums, laud the E39 as the last good 5-series. They are striving to "preserve" their cars, which can take on the allure of a mistress. They are fanatics. If you don't consider yourself as such, it would be much better for your stomach lining to bid farewell to it.

4. Not if you're going to sell it.

5. Given your metric, that would identify all E39s as cursed. I prefer to define it as "foibles" unique to the breed.
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  #7  
Old 04-11-2012, 10:52 AM
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Jason5driver Jason5driver is offline
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dj1199,
Clearly, you have bought the wrong car if you are complaining about the cost of some typical maintenance items for the I6 E39, and are NOT willing to do any work yourself...
That's the big catch... That you are not willing to do the work yourself....
If you were willing to do work, then your repair costs would be cut down significantly IMO.
You bought a BMW hoping to have a superior driving machine, with the reliability and maintenance costs of a Honda or Toyota.
It is NOT going to happen.
+1 to all the posts above....^^^...
These guys know what they are talking about, and have been through it, however, I can bet all of them have done most, if not ALL of the work themselves.

Regarding your questions...:
Quote:
Q1. Dashboard - Some letters are missing. For example CHECK BREAKS, it is missing part or whole letters, is this electric problem? Or some kind of light bulb?
A1. Just like what was posted above. Pixels are out... Look at the http://www.vdorepair.com/Default.aspx .

Quote:
Q2. Since I needed to add oil because add oil symbol came up – does this mean some damage has been done to the engine because there was lack of oil?
(I usually add right away, always carried in trunk additional Castrol 5W-30 fully synthetic oil).
A2. No.

Quote:
Q3. Should I sell it or should I not? What would you do in my situation?
I already have real - $5,500 and $5,800 offers on the car from two friends who drove the car, they have seen work I put and problems this car had and they still want to buy it from me right away….....
A3. It is up to you.

Quote:
Q4. Does spending additional $700-$800 to replace fluids, spark plugs, valve cover make sense?
A4. Again, it is up to you IF you are willing to do the work, and what you want out of a car.

Quote:
Q5. Is my car cursed or am I just out of luck?
A5. There is no curse. It is just typical maintenance that has NOT been done to your car, and NOW it is due.
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Last edited by Jason5driver; 04-11-2012 at 10:56 AM.
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  #8  
Old 04-11-2012, 11:22 AM
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glaz1281 glaz1281 is offline
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Ive been in your shoes, I diy'ed all you have mentioned and some. Like others have said if you dont diy it is very expensive. Ive done OFH gasket ,plugs ,CCV, vacuum problems,Cooling overhaul, ICV, Cat sensors,Brakes all around and more.. I have cluster problems, a minor thing. When I get time Ill sent it out to be done., I basically have no problems now,I bought a used car,All used cars need things, But honestly I love this car now, Try diy ,read this forum,Ive learned just about everything I have done here,The posters before me are the ones who helped me along. Thanks to them I spend my time making her pretty now. As much as you said youve put into her you should be about there , about ready to enjoy her. Why do you think people are offering to buy her. Im actually thinking of another to keep mine company in the driveway. Good Luck with any decision you come to. But the E39 IS THE CAR!!
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  #9  
Old 04-11-2012, 11:44 AM
mifesto mifesto is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by dj1199 View Post
I paid my friend from whom I bought the car only $4,000 for it. I got a great deal from a friend

(but I can build a custom PC from scratch in a heartbeat)… I just don’t like things I see inside engine… lots of parts, that do not make too much sense why they need to be there…
you didnt get raped but no you did not get a great deal. there's a reason why e39's are so cheap, used e39's aren't a good fit for average joe with average wallet size

so you know your way around a PC but dont know diddly with cars. tell you the truth, PC is alot more technical then most maintenance that you've done so far on ur e39. majority of maintenace you've done is just parts fastened on with bolts and nuts, simple as that. no need to worry about how much voltage you need for your power supply based on your needs, how much memory is "enough" for your win7 (or whats too much if you waste it on 32bit)... blah blah. majority of diy tasks are remove fasteners, install new your done!


my advice to you if you keep your e39 is to buy a high quality set of tools, open mind and to alot of reading.
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  #10  
Old 04-11-2012, 11:58 AM
rdc8118 rdc8118 is offline
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I threw down the chicken bones last night and I see a beige Toyota Corolla in your future

If I was in your shoes I'd sell. If you do the work yourself the car's not that expensive to keep. If you have to take it in to get it fixed then ask you mechanic about the automatic payroll deduction plan...
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  #11  
Old 04-11-2012, 01:20 PM
dj1199 dj1199 is offline
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Appreciate everyone's reply!

Well, it's my fault that I rushed into buying my car, assuming just because it had 112,000 miles and cost me $4,000 - there could only be minimum things that could go wrong….

Your advices make sense. I am going soon to the shop to get the tool set, I found very nice detailed DIY links here and step by step instruction on changing valve cover gasket and spark plugs. This I could do myself, it's just I've never done it before and a bit nervous not to damage anything….

I only need this car to last me another 30,000 miles, 14-16 months…. That's all! Is it too much to ask a German car to give you pleasant 30,000 mile ride without bankrupting your budget?

I will give one more try to this car – also change fluids, coolant, radiator fluids, etc... If any major problem re-occurs after this by the end of this summer, then sadly I'll just get rid of it…. Considering it is 9 year old car, it looks and drives very good, very comfy and inside everything looks and works like brand new (except losing pixels on dashboard. Thanks for the link!!!).

Should have followed an old wisdom "If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is…."

One more thing to note here: I had two different mechanics look at engine and transmission and test it, computer check the engine - everything (about 2-3 months ago), they were actively looking to find more problems, but other than ones I noted here – there's nothing wrong with the car and "this car is in great shape and condition" as I was told…. So I believe what they told me…..

RDC8118 - No way man!!! Toyota Corolla, beige color…. LOL!!! I'd rather have a bicycle….

TURBO 525 – "As for the 3-4 year old (E60) 535 - much more problematic overall, and many teething issues that will only get worse over time…." You're joking right? Even for 3-4 year old?

Fudman – Thanks! But it's not just an affordability, how can a car with 112K miles have so many things go bad, I just never thought of it….
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  #12  
Old 04-11-2012, 02:48 PM
colombianoe39 colombianoe39 is offline
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bought a 2002 525 3 weeks ago, before i bought the car i knew about the cooling problems, and dead pixels.

Already spent 1k in parts ( doing everything my self ) for cooling system overhaul, o2 sensors, filters, valve cover gasket, Vanos seals. is a must for that mileage

1) is normal on all E39, fix? send out the unit to get fix ( $190 )
3) sell it if you can't afford the maintenance

You still not done with the maintenance, you are missing the full cooling system overhaul, vanos seals, DISA re-build.
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  #13  
Old 04-11-2012, 03:27 PM
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RomanEmpire RomanEmpire is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by dj1199 View Post
My friends ARE INSISTING that I sell the car ASAP and not spend any further moneys on it.

Question 3. Should I sell it or should I not? What would you do in my situation? I already have real - $5,500 and $5,800 offers on the car from two friends who drove the car, they have seen work I put and problems this car had and they still want to buy it from me right away….
I say keep it IF you can afford it, BTW sounds like your friends really want that car….….
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Last edited by RomanEmpire; 04-11-2012 at 04:11 PM.
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Old 04-11-2012, 03:37 PM
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MikesE39 MikesE39 is offline
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what do u mean u wont get ur money back? make the car look nice and run good for a little and sell it for atleast 8k Ur talking about a 2003 BMW here not a honda or toyota... u can get ur money back easy.
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Old 04-13-2012, 08:37 AM
528iTSportWagon 528iTSportWagon is offline
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An E39 is not a Sentra or Civic, and neither one of those cars will EVER hold a candle to even a totalled out E39 or E46.

If you cannot wrench the car yourself, saving you piles of money, let it go. But I think you are braining yourself into that mindset, anyone can wrench a car that has a pulse and is willing to put in the time. Don't take this the wrong way, you might just be better suited for a Japanese car, you know the ones where the motors are installed sideways that require the replacement of a timing belt every 60,000 or 100,000 miles at a cost in the thousands of dollars, and have the drive wheels on opposite end of the vehicle.

Owning one of these cars requires a commitment and love for the marque. I have a 160,000 mile 528iT and 220,000 mile 323i E46 chassis. I do ALL of the work myself and would drive either one of them across the country if the need arises. I don't drive them as a status symbol, actually there is nothing prestigious about a station wagon but it beats the hell out of an SUV any day of the week. Neither is a show piece, they are transportation that I KNOW I can rely on because I keep them running, nothing more nothing less.

I would love to have an E61 Chassis 530Xi but can't track one down with a standard shift so I forgo the dream.

Back to the subject at hand. If this car scares you financially get rid of it for what you can get out of your buddy. If a BMW is still what you wish find someone on Bimmerfest that is near you willing to help out with the purchase of another E39 or maybe an E46, being you are accustom to the smaller Jap cars. Even then maintenance issues will arise that you are going to need addressing.

If you think this E39 525i is pounding on your pocketbook wait until you get your hands on that E60 535Xi. You haven't seen anything yet.
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  #16  
Old 04-14-2012, 04:02 AM
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gtxragtop gtxragtop is offline
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My repair folder for my 03 530 is quite thick showing so many replacement parts to date for my 4 year ownership. I bought it at 52K, now at 132K. The maintenance on these cars is quite high and frequent. On the other hand we have my 06 Toyota Highlander. It has 97K miles. The repair folder has about 3 slips in it. Rotors and pads. The E39 is a hobby.
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  #17  
Old 04-14-2012, 04:17 AM
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spydrz spydrz is offline
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I've had my '01 525 since new...the paperwork is in a four-inch binder.

I've never wanted to go through and add it up...even though most is DIY without labor...
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Old 04-14-2012, 09:04 AM
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johnstern johnstern is offline
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dj1199,

This thread is awesome reading for the new E39 buyer. I believe there are many out there who buy "cheap" used, but not maintained, BMWs, and then are surprised when they have to pay to keep a neglected vehicle on the road. A pre purchase inspection is a necessity when buying any used car, but it is especially important for a BMW.

All the guys who have responded to this thread are 'right on.'. Take their advise and move on.

Your car is one of the greatest cars on the road, period. I don't know when you'll get to the end of your maintenance 'catch up' ($), but when you do, it will be worth it IMHO. But, I am a passionate BMW enthusiast.

Good luck in you car journey.
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