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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 01-08-2013, 07:16 PM
mhobryan mhobryan is offline
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wrenching on an e39 vs other makes..your take?

I've owned nearly 40 different vehicles over the past 26 years as a DIY'er. Although the e39 is more complicated (e.g. typically more stuff to remove/pull out of the way, etc) I find it rather enjoyable to work on ... I never have one of those "WTF was that engineer thinking!" moments.... as I have had working on a chevy, ford, etc. Parts are also of higher quality. It is definitely my most enjoyable car to drive which makes the additional time wrenching more palatable.

I've owned a few Saabs, and I think they were a very nice compromise between wrenching ease, comfort, and performance - as a reliable DD they may have an edge...however, the e39 gives me more per mile.

What are your folks' thoughts?
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  #2  
Old 01-08-2013, 07:22 PM
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Fudman Fudman is offline
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I agree. Every car has its design flaws. The SAP and the CCV come to mind. But the driving pleasure is incomparable, whether you drive fast or not. And the maintenance is not bad at all, especially with all the help this forum provides!
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  #3  
Old 01-08-2013, 07:38 PM
edjack edjack is offline
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Gotta admire German engineering, except for their choice of gasket material!
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  #4  
Old 01-08-2013, 07:40 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by edjack View Post
Gotta admire German engineering, except for their choice of gasket and plastic material!
Fixed
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  #5  
Old 01-08-2013, 07:44 PM
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not a fan of the fuel injector clips for the v8
other than that, I love it.
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  #6  
Old 01-08-2013, 08:05 PM
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TemporarySanity TemporarySanity is offline
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I love it but I wish the quality of the air/oil separator was just a bit better. I had to change mine and it took two days. Other than that, no complaints.
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  #7  
Old 01-09-2013, 12:54 PM
Mikes530 Mikes530 is offline
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Every car I've DIY'd has had niggly design flaws but the E39 has fewer than any I've owned. The quality of the materials is excellent which usually makes wrenching a rewarding experience. You're not left looking at new parts bolted onto junk.

One of the worst design flaws I've come across was on a Taurus SHO I owned for about 8 years (a jewel of an engine sitting in a pile of crap). The emergency brake cable terminated at the rear wheels with the opening of the cable sleeve pointing upwards. This ensured that any moisture that entered the sleeve stayed there. The net result was a full cable replacement every couple of years, this was a truly nasty job needing a torch because all of the fasteners corroded in a few months (I live in the rust belt).

Compared to this kind of stuff the E39 is a dream (except for the Fred Flintstone electronics). Then there's the joy of driving it......
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  #8  
Old 01-09-2013, 02:21 PM
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Im about to puke from being sick of requiring a $300 special tool everytime i change out a $5 piece of rubber.
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  #9  
Old 01-09-2013, 03:17 PM
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All my TOyota and Honda cars ive ever owned had been and still continues to be - by far -
the simplest and easiest cars to work on.

Take for example the starter. On bmw, it's hidden underneath the intake manifold. YOu can't even get to the bolts unless you go from behind the transmission w/ a 3' long socket extension. The time it takes to R&R a starter is 2-4 hrs

On my toyota camry, the bolts are visible the moment you open the hood. It's right there, as clear as the dipstick. you can put a socket and ratchet to the two bolts w/ot even having to go underneath the car. Time=30-45 minutes tops.
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  #10  
Old 01-09-2013, 03:45 PM
edjack edjack is offline
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Too bad your Camry is a front-wheel-drive, a crime against nature.
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  #11  
Old 01-10-2013, 01:41 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by edjack View Post
Gotta admire German engineering, except for their choice of gasket material!
The Germans know how to make components but they have no idea how to make systems.

For example, engine:bulletpoof, suspension:superb cooling system:garbage window regulators:more garbage DISA valve:more garbage
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  #12  
Old 01-10-2013, 05:38 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by bluebee View Post
The Germans know how to make components but they have no idea how to make systems.

For example, engine:bulletpoof, suspension:superb cooling system:garbage window regulators:more garbage DISA valve:more garbage
BB: I think your first statement is backwards but I do not disagree with your examples of flawed components. Being an engineer but not being German, I feel the need to defend my German "cousins".

I agree that the suspension is an excellent example of superior system engineering. It provides a rare, nearly unmatched combination of great handling and ride quality. All the components combine to yield a great driving experience. It's almost more art than engineering. Why can't the Japanese or Americans do that?

The I6 is another great example. While everyone else abandoned inline 6s, BMW chose to continue to improve the I6 by adding things like the Vanos and DISA. The only other company to cling to an archaic engine design is Porsche (boxer engine layout). Both of these engines represent years of continuous refinement and optimization. Does this say something about German engineers? Maybe so.

I think "garbage" is a bit strong of a characterization. So why do the Germans have such lower quality components (CCV, DISA, SAP, Vanos seals, etc.) on such a great engine design? It is certainly not intentional. The primary flaw in these component designs is poor reliability or a short operating life. They all perform exactly as designed when new. However, they require maintenance far sooner than their Japanese counterparts. I think this is due to BMW's emphasis or priority on performance ("the ultimate driving machine") over reliability. Because these attributes are not priorities, they don't get the attention they deserve. Who knows, maybe it's as simple as the senior engineers get to work on the suspension and engine while the junior newbies get stuck with the SAP and the CCV? WRT e39 maintainability, I have seen better and worse. However, I am beginning to think this may be one of the last cars that a DIYer can work on.

For me, even with all the issues, I would rather wrench on the e39 to be able to drive it rather than drive a milquetoast car that requires me to do nothing. Life is too short to have to accept a mediocre driving experience.
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  #13  
Old 01-10-2013, 06:52 AM
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I must say, the quality of the parts that that commonly break usually make it to at least 100,000 mi. The engines are well packed in the bay so all plastic components are subject to high heat which causes them to break down sooner. The tiny Japanese engines with a lot of engine bay room don't seem to have those issues but are nowhere as fun to drive.
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  #14  
Old 01-10-2013, 07:35 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Topaz540i View Post
Im about to puke from being sick of requiring a $300 special tool everytime i change out a $5 piece of rubber.
Lol, I feel the same way. For me, I just enjoy working on cars. Hondas are easy, BMW, you always learning something new and I work on cummins buses for living.
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  #15  
Old 01-10-2013, 02:16 PM
Mikes530 Mikes530 is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by bluebee View Post
cooling system:garbage window regulators:more garbage DISA valve:more garbage
Strong words BB but my experience after 10yrs and 110K mi driven from new - cooling system original: never a problem, w regulators original: never a problem, DISA original, removed and checked: like new.

There may be some evidence that these systems are Achilles heels but in my case (and I'm sure many others) "garbage" doesn't even come close to being an accurate description. Fingers crossed that I don't have to eat my words any time soon.
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  #16  
Old 01-10-2013, 02:18 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mikes530 View Post
Strong words BB but my experience after 10yrs and 110K mi driven from new - cooling system original: never a problem, w regulators original: never a problem, DISA original, removed and checked: like new.

There may be some evidence that these systems are Achilles heels but in my case (and I'm sure many others) "garbage" doesn't even come close to being an accurate description. Fingers crossed that I don't have to eat my words any time soon.
you should do a cooling system overhaul, it will fail soon
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  #17  
Old 01-10-2013, 02:55 PM
Mikes530 Mikes530 is offline
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you should do a cooling system overhaul, it will fail soon
Perhaps, but I've also seen posts where people have had their original cooling systems last much, much longer. Then there's the issue of crappy replacement expansion tanks failing. I'll take my chances. Maybe I'll regret it, maybe not.

My repair experience with this car excluding normal wear and maintenance items: disappearing pixels on the radio (not bad enough to fix yet), FSA, aux fan and windshield washer pump. A grand total of $353 and 5 hrs of my time. Despite the dire warnings of imminent armageddon, it's still running strong as my DD. This is by far the cheapest car, in terms of repair bills ($35/yr), that I've owned. Trusting it stays that way for a while longer.

Last edited by Mikes530; 01-10-2013 at 02:59 PM.
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  #18  
Old 01-10-2013, 03:25 PM
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After ~ 30 years of wrenching on American & JDM cars I found the E39 good to work on (with this forum's help) Yes, a little intimidating, and different than the systems I'm familiar with, but not too crazy.
Well worth the driving experience - I didn't know what I was missing.
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Old 01-10-2013, 04:48 PM
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Studawg Studawg is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Fudman View Post
Life is too short to have to accept a mediocre driving experience.
THIS is the key! I agree 100%. If you dont enjoy driving, a BMW is really not for you. If you actually take the time to enjoy the drive, you have an easier time accepting the fact you have to fix it or its in the shop all the time.
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Old 01-10-2013, 04:59 PM
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champaign777 champaign777 is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mikes530 View Post
Strong words BB but my experience after 10yrs and 110K mi driven from new - cooling system original: never a problem, w regulators original: never a problem, DISA original, removed and checked: like new.

There may be some evidence that these systems are Achilles heels but in my case (and I'm sure many others) "garbage" doesn't even come close to being an accurate description. Fingers crossed that I don't have to eat my words any time soon.
agree
just because it failed more doesn't mean its a garbage
if you replace some parts every 7-10 years it is normal for high end cars
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Old 01-10-2013, 06:27 PM
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Trusting it stays that way for a while longer.
A great man once said "Trust... but verify." Preventive maintenance is the best way to verify on an e39.
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  #22  
Old 01-10-2013, 06:42 PM
s-thetikz s-thetikz is offline
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i worked mostly on bmws and rx-7's, and i must say- german components feel more sturdy! despite all the silly boots ripping on e39's and plastics cracking, most other things are pretty tippy toppy compared to what ive run into with domestic or japanese cars. especially the door cards on th e39 compared to older mazdas. no comparison
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  #23  
Old 01-10-2013, 07:19 PM
Mikes530 Mikes530 is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Fudman View Post
A great man once said "Trust... but verify." Preventive maintenance is the best way to verify on an e39.
Completely agree with the "maintenance" part but if the "preventative" part means replacing perfectly functional components just because someone else had a problem then absolutely not. I verify weekly that my fluid levels are stable, change the oil twice a year, did the tranny/diff/power steering fluid change, change the coolant and brake fluid every 2 years, go hog wild lubing everything that can be lubed. Then I just enjoy the car, hopefully leaving paranoia at home with my Bentley manual.
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  #24  
Old 01-10-2013, 07:47 PM
brc5 brc5 is offline
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I recently got drafted in to pick some friends up from the airport. So I took the E39. Part way back, after advising them to fold down the rear-seat armrest, they commented that it was probably the most comfortable car they had ever ridden in.

These are people who never keep a new car longer than 3 years, but always buy base-level cars. And they're riding in the back of a 15 year old car and commenting how nice it is. I commented that it was nice, but you get what you pay for. I neglected to point out to them that they have lost more money in depreciation in the last 3 years than I ever will spend in maintenance and upgrades on my car. Buying a good quality used BMW (or Merc, I will grant) and then looking after it is about the best motoring spend going. But not for people who don't like to ever get dirt under their fingernails.
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  #25  
Old 01-11-2013, 06:20 AM
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bluebee bluebee is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Fudman View Post
I think your first statement is backward
I understand what you mean, and I see the words can be interpreted either way, depending on what we mean by a component and a system.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Fudman View Post
the suspension is an excellent example of superior system engineering....Why can't the Japanese or Americans do that?
It is amazing how good the handling is, which tells me that the Germans 'can' engineer something good if they want to.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Fudman View Post
The I6 is another great example.
The Germans do the hard things well, that's for sure. Clearly the German engineers see the engine and the suspension as the essence of the vehicle.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Fudman View Post
So why do the Germans have such lower quality components (CCV, DISA, SAP, Vanos seals, etc.) on such a great engine design?
That's the German enigma that frustrates me the most!

Certainly they 'can' engineer better reliability into their cars (My LS400 was far far far far more reliable - so it 'can' be done).

Quote:
Originally Posted by Fudman View Post
They all perform exactly as designed when new.
I don't doubt that all these perform as designed, when new:
Quote:
Originally Posted by Fudman View Post
However, they require maintenance far sooner than their Japanese counterparts.
See proof above!

Quote:
Originally Posted by Fudman View Post
I think this is due to BMW's emphasis or priority on performance
Maybe. I don't know and will always say this is the enigma.
How can they design a component (i.e., the suspension or the engine) so well, yet the entire system (the vehicle itself) is so badly designed, as a whole.

It's as if the guys who designed the engine had no input whatsoever on the cooling system for that engine - nor the materials used in the gaskets for that engine.

BMW clearly has no clue when it comes to designing a 'car', but they certainly can design (better than anyone on earth!) a component of that car!

Of course, it may be that they have a clue - but - that they just don't care if the car falls apart after the warranty period ends. To me, that would simply mean they don't care one bit about quality, and, since they have to KNOW about these problems, yet they don't ever fix many of them ... I have to conclude they don't care.

Or ...

Their customers don't care!
(which is more sinister)

Where the fault lies is the frustrating enigma, to me.
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