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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 09-24-2012, 10:27 PM
ndncdntxn ndncdntxn is offline
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Low coolant and possible Radiator leak

Hi All,
I noticed this morning on my drive to work that I had a low coolant message show up on my dash. Checked when I got back in the evening and saw it was low and figured I would wait for the engine to cool off and I would top it off. Came back after 2 hours and noticed something was leaking. I backed the car up and noticed there was a huge patch of brownish liquid. It didn't look like oil. Could it possibly be old coolant (is blue when I pour it in)?
I then topped off and drove the car around for 10 minutes to get it circulating. When I got back I popped the hood and noticed a leak right by the radiator (see pic). Looked like coolant was spraying out at a very small rate. Does this look like a crack in the radiator or in the hose? Anyone seen something similar?

Thanks in advance,
Vik
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  #2  
Old 09-25-2012, 03:13 AM
AH673000 AH673000 is offline
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Obviously a radiator leak..... Park your car until repaired..... Check your radiator manufacture date on the radiator (passenger side ) tag . If original , you probably need a total cooling water system rebuild . Search the forum for the wealth of information on your failure .... Very common .... And very deadly if ignored.
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  #3  
Old 09-25-2012, 04:45 AM
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Fudman Fudman is online now
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+1. If you are above 100K miles, you should replace the ENTIRE cooling system. Driving in Texas heat has probably accelerated cooling system aging. To try and save a few $$ and replacing only what breaks means you MUST drive with one eye on the temperature gage ALWAYS. 5 minutes of inattention can cause you to need a new engine as the M54 engine has an aluminum block which will warp when overheated. $700 in parts and one days labor will allow you to drive with complete confidence that your car will remain driveable for another 100K.
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  #4  
Old 09-25-2012, 08:10 AM
ndncdntxn ndncdntxn is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Fudman View Post
+1. If you are above 100K miles, you should replace the ENTIRE cooling system. Driving in Texas heat has probably accelerated cooling system aging. To try and save a few $$ and replacing only what breaks means you MUST drive with one eye on the temperature gage ALWAYS. 5 minutes of inattention can cause you to need a new engine as the M54 engine has an aluminum block which will warp when overheated. $700 in parts and one days labor will allow you to drive with complete confidence that your car will remain driveable for another 100K.
Thanks Fudman. I actually just moved up to Milwaukee so traded in the heat for the cold but either won't do me good with this leak.
I've noticed the temp has stayed pretty steady while driving but I'm going to take it somewhere today and have it checked.
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  #5  
Old 09-25-2012, 08:20 AM
cn90 cn90 is offline
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Ground the car immediately otherwise you will regret very quickly.
Search for M54 cooling overhaul from a to z.
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  #6  
Old 09-25-2012, 08:29 AM
ndncdntxn ndncdntxn is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by cn90 View Post
Ground the car immediately otherwise you will regret very quickly.
Search for M54 cooling overhaul from a to z.
Thanks cn90.
Based on Fudman's post should I be looking at around $700 for parts plus labor?
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  #7  
Old 09-25-2012, 10:14 AM
cn90 cn90 is offline
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Yes, about $700.

Believe it or not, many BMW dealers now sell parts online at very good price.

Get the PNs of all items and price it out at this BMW dealer:

http://www.bmwmercedesparts.com/part...?siteid=215771
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  #8  
Old 09-25-2012, 11:10 AM
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$700 for the parts PLUS the labor. Free labor, if you DIY! Do some searching on cooling systems DIY and parts selection. Blue has done an excelent job in linking many threads on this topic. Parts selection is critical. The expansion tank must be a Behr bought from a dealer. Some will argue otherwise but many regard the best value radiator as a Nissens. Even more opinions on water pumps but Hepu offers pretty good value. Get the brass expansion tank plug.

Now that you are in the north country, if you drive short distances on a cold engine, prepare to replace your CCV. Short drives in cold weather cause condensation of oil vapors and clogging of the CCV. A very common problem.

Try www.furiousmethod.com to get the best pricing on parts from common online vendors. The dealer that I recommend is Bill Dodge BMW in Westbrook ME. They offer 20%-30% off OEM parts. Their contact info is on a DISA valve group buy thread
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  #9  
Old 09-25-2012, 11:51 AM
ndncdntxn ndncdntxn is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Fudman View Post
$700 for the parts PLUS the labor. Free labor, if you DIY! Do some searching on cooling systems DIY and parts selection. Blue has done an excelent job in linking many threads on this topic. Parts selection is critical. The expansion tank must be a Behr bought from a dealer. Some will argue otherwise but many regard the best value radiator as a Nissens. Even more opinions on water pumps but Hepu offers pretty good value. Get the brass expansion tank plug.

Now that you are in the north country, if you drive short distances on a cold engine, prepare to replace your CCV. Short drives in cold weather cause condensation of oil vapors and clogging of the CCV. A very common problem.

Try www.furiousmethod.com to get the best pricing on parts from common online vendors. The dealer that I recommend is Bill Dodge BMW in Westbrook ME. They offer 20%-30% off OEM parts. Their contact info is on a DISA valve group buy thread
Thanks again Fudman. I found an independent guy nearby that works on European cars and swung by at lunch. He gave me an estimate of around $800 for the parts. This includes replacing the radiator ($640) and doing a coolant flush ($150). I would do it myself if I was back in Texas
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  #10  
Old 09-25-2012, 04:18 PM
RichDeezy RichDeezy is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ndncdntxn View Post
Thanks again Fudman. I found an independent guy nearby that works on European cars and swung by at lunch. He gave me an estimate of around $800 for the parts. This includes replacing the radiator ($640) and doing a coolant flush ($150). I would do it myself if I was back in Texas
^^ that doesnt sound too bad, im going to try and DIY

quick question, i never see a LOW COOLANT message, and never overheat but when i check my coolant on morning before running engine it seems to be nearly empty and the bobber doesnt "bob" but after i fill it a bit and run the car it then later seems to be floating anf "bobbing" too high after the engin has warmed up and cooled down, am i missing sumthing. could i be overfilling and its "burping" out the excess and making it seem low?
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Last edited by RichDeezy; 09-25-2012 at 04:21 PM. Reason: read wrong
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  #11  
Old 09-25-2012, 04:50 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by RichDeezy View Post
it seems to be nearly empty and the bobber doesnt "bob"
The message doesn't come from the bob itself; it comes from the float below the bob interacting with a reed switch on the bottom.

Sometimes they separate (ask me how I know).

See details in the expansion tank autopsy:
- Behr radiator and Behr expansion (aka surge) tank autopsy (1) (2) & request for another autopsy (1)

Or in the bob threads:
- Expansion tank floating mechanical coolant level sensor height (1) (2)

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Each repair should invariably add to our knowledge base by the process of inexorable incrementalism.
Your job, in return, is to read the suggested threads, where the best people will always add value to those threads, either by pictures or by descriptions, so the next person with the same problem stands on your shoulders.
See also: E39 Bestlinks & How to easily find what you need

Last edited by bluebee; 09-25-2012 at 04:59 PM. Reason: Added pic
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  #12  
Old 09-25-2012, 04:52 PM
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bluebee bluebee is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ndncdntxn View Post
Anyone seen something similar?
Very common spot.

Look here for details:
- Pictorial look at typical E39 cooling system failure modes (1)

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Your job, in return, is to read the suggested threads, where the best people will always add value to those threads, either by pictures or by descriptions, so the next person with the same problem stands on your shoulders.
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Last edited by bluebee; 09-25-2012 at 04:53 PM.
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  #13  
Old 09-25-2012, 04:57 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Fudman View Post
The expansion tank must be a Behr bought from a dealer.
At the moment, I'm gonna agree with the illustrious Fudman on this one.

I bought from Max, a well known and respected supplier to the forum members - but even 'my' Behr started leaking in just under two years of pretty tame use!

Quote:
Originally Posted by bluebee View Post
Well, it's 'my' turn again!

I noticed a puddle on my driveway today ...


So I started looking for the telltale white spots:

And, watching for a while, I found the culprit!


Note: I last replaced my Behr expansion tank in 2010 as noted by the markings on the side.
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Each repair should invariably add to our knowledge base by the process of inexorable incrementalism.
Your job, in return, is to read the suggested threads, where the best people will always add value to those threads, either by pictures or by descriptions, so the next person with the same problem stands on your shoulders.
See also: E39 Bestlinks & How to easily find what you need
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  #14  
Old 09-25-2012, 05:19 PM
RichDeezy RichDeezy is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by bluebee View Post
The message doesn't come from the bob itself; it comes from the float below the bob interacting with a reed switch on the bottom.

Sometimes they separate (ask me how I know).

See details in the expansion tank autopsy:
- Behr radiator and Behr expansion (aka surge) tank autopsy (1) (2) & request for another autopsy (1)

Or in the bob threads:
- Expansion tank floating mechanical coolant level sensor height (1) (2)

ive read those threads a few times prior, but i still wonder whats going on, it seems low but after things heat up a bit the bobber seems to be too high so i know its not broken, supposed to fill while cold engine though right? if so what would make it seem to be overfilled once engine is heated up a bit?
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  #15  
Old 09-25-2012, 05:51 PM
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bluebee bluebee is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by RichDeezy View Post
if so what would make it seem to be overfilled once engine is heated up a bit?
Hmmm... Bleeding would have the opposite effect so I'm not sure.

But, I do know that the little white float can easily get stuck, so, I'd ask what happens when you do this:

0. Open radiator cap (standard scald warning applies)
1. Notice the position of the bobber
2. Then tap (gently) the top of the bobber to make it go down a bit
3. Notice the (perhaps new) position of the bobber

If that's happening, then the white float with the magnet inside is sticking on the crude plastic center guide.
__________________
Each repair should invariably add to our knowledge base by the process of inexorable incrementalism.
Your job, in return, is to read the suggested threads, where the best people will always add value to those threads, either by pictures or by descriptions, so the next person with the same problem stands on your shoulders.
See also: E39 Bestlinks & How to easily find what you need
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  #16  
Old 09-25-2012, 07:08 PM
RichDeezy RichDeezy is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by bluebee View Post
Hmmm... Bleeding would have the opposite effect so I'm not sure.

But, I do know that the little white float can easily get stuck, so, I'd ask what happens when you do this:

0. Open radiator cap (standard scald warning applies)
1. Notice the position of the bobber
2. Then tap (gently) the top of the bobber to make it go down a bit
3. Notice the (perhaps new) position of the bobber

If that's happening, then the white float with the magnet inside is sticking on the crude plastic center guide.
when the engine is complete cool this morning:
i opened cap, the floater (mine is red, and beleive to be new expansion tank) was at the bottom and pushed down there was no movement to it as if it was empty, so i filled to the point floater is even with top, later, after car heated up and ran then cooled back down i opened it and it flew up above the rim.
although now it cooled more and/or leaked it is not at the bottom but when i push it, it bounces and comes back to just below the brim of expansion cap.

i can see white residue as if coolant is spraying, but wonder if its just overfilled and "burping" the excess... i dont know radiator seems and looks to be new also so im thinking maybe a t-stat leak
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  #17  
Old 09-26-2012, 04:49 AM
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bluebee bluebee is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by RichDeezy View Post
i opened cap, the floater (mine is red, and beleive to be new expansion tank)
Good observation. See also:
- Cooling system date stickers & radiator date codes & markings (1) (2)


Quote:
Originally Posted by RichDeezy View Post
cooled back down i opened it and it flew up above the rim.
Bobber seems to be working.

Most of us can find the leak without resorting to a pressure test - but you might need one to find the leak.
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Each repair should invariably add to our knowledge base by the process of inexorable incrementalism.
Your job, in return, is to read the suggested threads, where the best people will always add value to those threads, either by pictures or by descriptions, so the next person with the same problem stands on your shoulders.
See also: E39 Bestlinks & How to easily find what you need
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