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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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  #26  
Old 01-29-2013, 07:36 PM
mda185 mda185 is online now
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Mein Auto: 95 525iT w/S52, 03 530i
Quote:
Originally Posted by knownothindave View Post
I've been searching around here and haven't found an answer--on a scale from Dodge to Bulletproof, how are the E39 auto transmissions? (I'd rather get a manual, but they're apparently very hard to find)
Based on personal experience, they are not as bad as Chrysler automatics but not a lot better. I have owned two Chrysler products and both had major auto box failures well before 100K miles. This despite the fact that I tried to preventatively change fluid and extend the life of the tranny.

E39 automatics come is several different flavors. There is an early GM designed box that is the worst performing one but probably longer lived than the later Getrag Steptronic autos. The I6 came with the GM box until 9/1999. I think the V8 always had the Getrag auto. The V8 auto is different and very expensive when it breaks. All of these are reputed to fail around 130-150K miles. I have heard of 540i automatics failing well before 100K miles. BMW had a policy of lifetime fill on the transmission fluid during the E39 years. What it meant was the fluid was good enough until the gearbox failed thus reaching end of life and enabling BMW to charge you a lot of money for a new one. If you can find a model with documented automatic tranny fluid changes at 30-50K mile intervals, you stand a decent chance of trouble free ownership. I only found that once and it was the E34 I purchased 7 years ago.

I have driven a 528i with both the GM and Steptronic automatics and they are OK in terms of performance but nothing special. The Steptronic definitely performs better but it is also a lot more money to rebuild or replace it. IMO, it is worth waiting to find a good manual. All 3 of my bimmers are manuals now and I am glad I waited to find the two that came that way - a 328iC and E39 530i sedan. I converted my E34 525i to a manual 5 speed.
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  #27  
Old 01-30-2013, 07:29 AM
vavet5308 vavet5308 is offline
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Location: Mechanicsville, VA
 
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Posts: 511
Mein Auto: 2002 525it
Don't get the wrong idea after reading the replies or this forum in general. E39s (or their transmission, shocks, or any other part) don't turn into pumpkins at 100k miles. They are mechanical beasts that require some love. They do not have the maintenance free characteristic of a Honda or Toyota. I bought my 525it about 3 months ago with just under 100k miles. I wouldn't say it was neglected, but it wasn't enthusiast owned/maintained. I've gone through it and put about $2500 into it for a valve cover gasket, front and rear end suspension (not counting shocks and struts), rubber door seals, cooling system overhaul (preventative), engine drive belts and belt tensioners (noisy), auto trans filter and fluid, and other common items. I still need a decent set of tires (I bought a set of used wheels that came with a set of heavily cupped winter tires).

I find the 525 to have adequate power. The 540 is a beast. I also looked at some Hemi Dodge Magnums which are intoxicating, but I decided I'd rather have a better handling BMW. I like driving a nice manual gearbox, but I really don't care for the manual transmissions in the E39s. They don't seem precise to me. I'm always uncertain on the engagement. Perhaps I just didn't spend enough time getting used to it, but I never had that issue with my VW Golf or my Mazdaspeed Miata. Those shifters just felt right as soon as i started driving.

One of the best things about the E39 is that community involvement for it...seriously, almost everything you might need to know has been documented through this or some other forum. Just because all you read about are the problems doesn't mean every one of these cars has a problem all the time. It's rare for someone to stop in here and post that everything on their car is doing great. Reaching that conclusion is like a doctor thinking that humans get sick a lot...it's because only the sick people come to see the doctor!
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  #28  
Old 01-30-2013, 11:45 AM
mda185 mda185 is online now
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Mein Auto: 95 525iT w/S52, 03 530i
Quote:
Originally Posted by vavet5308 View Post
Don't get the wrong idea after reading the replies or this forum in general. E39s (or their transmission, shocks, or any other part) don't turn into pumpkins at 100k miles. They are mechanical beasts that require some love. They do not have the maintenance free characteristic of a Honda or Toyota. I bought my 525it about 3 months ago with just under 100k miles. I wouldn't say it was neglected, but it wasn't enthusiast owned/maintained. I've gone through it and put about $2500 into it for a valve cover gasket, front and rear end suspension (not counting shocks and struts), rubber door seals, cooling system overhaul (preventative), engine drive belts and belt tensioners (noisy), auto trans filter and fluid, and other common items. I still need a decent set of tires (I bought a set of used wheels that came with a set of heavily cupped winter tires).

I find the 525 to have adequate power. The 540 is a beast. I also looked at some Hemi Dodge Magnums which are intoxicating, but I decided I'd rather have a better handling BMW. I like driving a nice manual gearbox, but I really don't care for the manual transmissions in the E39s. They don't seem precise to me. I'm always uncertain on the engagement. Perhaps I just didn't spend enough time getting used to it, but I never had that issue with my VW Golf or my Mazdaspeed Miata. Those shifters just felt right as soon as i started driving.

One of the best things about the E39 is that community involvement for it...seriously, almost everything you might need to know has been documented through this or some other forum. Just because all you read about are the problems doesn't mean every one of these cars has a problem all the time. It's rare for someone to stop in here and post that everything on their car is doing great. Reaching that conclusion is like a doctor thinking that humans get sick a lot...it's because only the sick people come to see the doctor!
My point is that if you buy an E39 from an owner that did not take care of the car or from a dealer that only cares about flipping his inventory as quickly as possible, you are taking a big risk of major repair bills. That is an accurate statement. No, these cars do not self destruct after 100K miles but some very important parts are worn out at this mileage. The fact that we still drive these cars speaks to the fact that we find it worth it to fix them up. I was trying to warn a noob not to assume he can buy a ~10 year old car without expecting some expensive repairs. In my 12 years of buying, fixing, and selling BMWs, this has always been the case unless I found a car owned by an enthusiast that took care of the car and kept receipts to prove it.

FWIW, I bought my E39 530i from an owner that was clearly trying to hide problems and who did not invest in any significant mechanical repairs during his 3 years of ownership. He kept the paint and interior in great condition but suspension, CCV, DISA, VANOS all needed replacement. I bought the car because it is a 530i Sport with 5 speed manual and very hard to find. Thanks to this forum, I went into the purchase eyes wide open and was able to bargain the price down to a level I found acceptable knowing that i would have to invest $3K immediately to make the car what it should be.

The manual transmission on the E39 I6 models is the same box used on the E36 M3 and it is very precise if the shift linkage is fresh. If the shift bushings are old and worn, it can be like "stirring a broom in a bucket of oatmeal". (My E39 is pretty bad in this regard.) With a good aftermarket shifter like the one from UUC, it is amazingly good. I speak from personal experience. The 3 BMWs I own now all have this gearbox and I just installed the UUC kit on my E34 with the S52 engine swap. In good condition, the BMW shifters are way more precise than any cable shifter on a FWD car can be. Not to say the VW and Mazda shifters were bad. Just saying you have not experienced a BMW manual shifter in good condition and definitely have not experienced a good aftermarket short shifter. The UUC EVO 3 model actually requires less effort than the stock one and is very precise.
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  #29  
Old 01-30-2013, 07:55 PM
knownothindave knownothindave is offline
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Location: Sacraminna
 
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Mein Auto: 1991 Toyota Land Cruiser
Well, I'm sold--Now if anyone knows of a problem free, 6cyl manual E39 wagon (1999-2002 for price reasons)...
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  #30  
Old 01-30-2013, 08:12 PM
YinD YinD is offline
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Location: Denton Texas
 
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Mein Auto: 2003 540iA M-Sport
Quote:
Originally Posted by knownothindave View Post
Hey all--I've been sneakily cruising your forums w/o registering for a few days now. I'm interested in buying a 540i wagon, but after looking at the Wiki and FAQ here, I'm kind of wondering if it's a good idea.

That is--it seems like there are so many things that go wrong with the 5-series; is it worth the buy? I own a 1991 Land Cruiser, so I'm not unfamiliar with preventative maintenance...but are these just lemons, or did I just make the mistake of reading all the "could go wrong" stuff altogether?

Short version--if I bought, say, a 2000-2002 5-series wagon (first BMW, if you haven't caught that yet), am I going to be under the hood constantly?

Thanks in advance, and congrats on an awesome forum
-D
540 and landcruiser are a great combination to own!

The landcruiser has 198000 miles and the 540 is at 136000. I am under (wrenching) the BMW more than the Toyota.

BMW is made for handling at high speeds. The trade off is durability. The landcruiser is designed to survive horrible terrain. Trade off is sluggish handling and slowwwww.

My biggest challenge has been trying to get under the BMW. I got spoiled with the ground clearance of the cruiser.

Good luck!
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1997 Toyota Landcruiser 40th anniversary edition

~split personality~
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  #31  
Old 01-31-2013, 06:36 AM
JKRIT JKRIT is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by knownothindave View Post
Well, I'm sold--Now if anyone knows of a problem free, 6cyl manual E39 wagon (1999-2002 for price reasons)...
The one I linked to you above at Concord Motorsport in NH is too far away?
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  #32  
Old 01-31-2013, 06:39 AM
knownothindave knownothindave is offline
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Location: Sacraminna
 
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Originally Posted by JKRIT View Post
The one I linked to you above at Concord Motorsport in NH is too far away?
ha. yeah--I'm in Sacramento, CA
Thanks, though!
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  #33  
Old 01-31-2013, 07:01 AM
JKRIT JKRIT is offline
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Mein Auto: '03 525i
We bought our 325it from a San Diego BMW dealer and had it shipped for about $1k. That's the only time I've ever bought a car without seeing it myself, but it worked out great for us.
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'03 525i Sapphire Blu/Grey, SP, Nav
'03 530i Sterling Gray/Blk, SP
'02 325it Orient Blu/Grey, SP, Nav
'01 M3 Laguna Seca Blu/Grey
'95 M3 Cosmos Blk/Blk
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  #34  
Old 01-31-2013, 07:34 AM
AlexandruE39 AlexandruE39 is offline
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Location: Atlanta GA
 
Join Date: Nov 2012
Posts: 37
Mein Auto: 97 E39 540i 6Speed
I recently bought my 540i and I love it to dear even though its in ok shape. It needs a lot of work done which I will do myself. It's a labor of love that I will have for a long time. I love everything about the car. It's my 1st V8 and 1st BMW purchase
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  #35  
Old 01-31-2013, 10:28 AM
mda185 mda185 is online now
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Location: NJ
 
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Posts: 472
Mein Auto: 95 525iT w/S52, 03 530i
Quote:
Originally Posted by knownothindave View Post
Well, I'm sold--Now if anyone knows of a problem free, 6cyl manual E39 wagon (1999-2002 for price reasons)...
The holy grail is the 1999-2000 528i wagon with 5 speed. The 2.8 liter engine has noticeably more torque than the later 2.5. Just make sure the dual VANOS actuator, the DISA and CCV have been replaced as this is the first generation of the dual VANOS engine in the US and these parts all will be worn out or near failure after 80-100K miles if not sooner. There are great threads on this forum that will explain the issues and how to fix. If you can't determine that these parts have been serviced adjust your offer downward. GL with the search!
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