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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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Old 08-06-2012, 07:49 AM
TANGO! TANGO! is offline
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Location: Middletown, CT
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Mein Auto: 2003 530i
Talking My Black Beauty (HD Pics inside)

After lots of very intensive searching, I finally found my car! It is a 1997 528i, and though it has a bunch of miles (153K) they're not that many for her age, and she was babied through most of her life. I've already started taking care of her, but there are quite a few things that need attention. I think I will make sure she runs beautifully, the way she is supposed to, before working on cosmetic issues. . I am ordering a Bentley manual and will be taking care of the cooling system; I'm on the fence about whether I should just fix the parts that went bad or do a complete overhaul. I also got her aligned and balanced, and a slight shimmy when applying the brakes at highway speeds makes me suspect that she will need new calipers.

Please feel free to share advice on anything! This is my first Bimmer, and I really really like her. As soon as I arrived home with her (I had to drive her back from Jersey) my wife asked me "Why are you grinning so much, after a 4 hour drive???" It's hard to explain, I'm afraid. She just feels the way every car should. Here are some pictures I just took of her with my Nikon

A classic beauty for excellence.

One of the headlights is brand new. The other one really, really needs to be cleaned. I saw a nice post on headlight restoration, and just ordered an EZ1 kit to do the same. Maybe in the future I'll put some sort of angel eyes... I'm thinking Umnitza, but I'm not sure about it.

The taillights are in great shape, and I think there is a certain charm to their classic look, with all that orange; on the other hand, something with clear plastic might look nicer. I have mechanical issues to deal with anyway, so I have plenty of time to think about this.

Right after I bought her I took her to service the AC. After they filled her up with freon, the system overheated and the freon was released; turns out that the pusher (auxiliary?) fan had seized, so this will be the first thing I have to work on. I took her later to get aligned and balanced, and they discovered two more things: there was a bees nest in the bumper (!!! - she had been sitting for a while, eh?), which they removed, and there was no coolant.

They topped it after balancing and alignment, and now I'm keeping a close eye on it. It's a little below the 'cold' mark, so I am afraid there might be a small leak. So, like I said, I'm trying to decide if I should do a complete overhaul of the cooling system or just fix the parts that went bad.

Last edited by TANGO!; 08-06-2012 at 08:25 AM.
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Old 08-06-2012, 08:10 AM
JimLev JimLev is offline
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If your shimmy isn't the front suspension arms it's the rotors, not the calipers.
Next mod for you is to use those wheels for your winter tires and get some new summer wheels.
Nice looking car for a 15 year old car with 152K.

2000 540/6 Slightly tweeked...everywhere
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Old 08-06-2012, 08:35 AM
TANGO! TANGO! is offline
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Location: Middletown, CT
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Mein Auto: 2003 530i
Thanks for the advice! I'll definitely take a look at it. It overall feels like a braking issue, so I'll focus on the rotors. Here are more pics:

Broken cupholders??? Imagine that! I just ordered a part from ebay; the kind that has different diameters, and goes fixed in there.

Also bad. I'm thinking about getting that storage compartment there, and remove these. Then maybe get cupholders in the doors for the passengers. Anybody know of a better solution?

This is broken; I got the new knob, but I can't figure out how to put it in place. I'm afraid there were some plastic arms that should hold it in place that were broken. I'll have to keep researching how to fix it.

Somebody took off the stock knob and put this fugly one instead. The shifter also feels a bit loose; I don't know if it's the way it's supposed to feel, or if I'm too used to Nissan and Infiniti shifters, which are usually very tight. I'm trying to decide what knob to get to replace this. I saw a nice one on Amazon.com; anybody have this?

it is missing the flashlight. Already ordered a replacement from ebay.

Last edited by TANGO!; 08-06-2012 at 08:36 AM.
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Old 08-06-2012, 08:39 AM
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AnotherGeezer AnotherGeezer is offline
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Mein Auto: 2003 530i/5
And so the adventure begins....
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Old 08-06-2012, 08:42 AM
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Fudman Fudman is offline
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Originally Posted by JimLev View Post
If your shimmy isn't the front suspension arms it's the rotors, not the calipers.
+1, check your front thrust arms (the control arms with the slight curve) first. Look for signs of leakage in the bushings. The bushings tend to leak after 75K. At 153K, if these are original, I'd recommend replacing the thrust arms with Lemforder (OEM) w/ Meyle HD bushings to avoid this issue in the future. Available at EACEuro. Do a search on this topic.
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Old 08-08-2012, 03:39 PM
TANGO! TANGO! is offline
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Thanks a lot for the advice, guys; I am avidly reading the forum for this problem, and will definitely check those thrust arms, as well as the rotors, but I want to wait until my Bentley manual arrives in the mail, so that I can read the documentation and follow all the proper procedures, since I'm new to working on brakes.

Talking about the mail, my new cupholders arrived today! Here is the very first upgrade I do to my car. I do a lot of night driving, especially when I'm coming back from dancing, so it is important to me to have somewhere to put my coffee. As you can see in this pic, the fit and finish is quite good (especially for a $14 part)

They have a bit of glue in the bottom, so they stay attached once you install them

Somebody in one of the 'cupholders' thread had suggested to magnetize the scewdriver so the screws don't fall inside the dashboard. I've had similar experiences before, so I attached my screw retriever tool to the screwdriver while I took them out (the retriever itself wouldn't fit in there)

I read somewhere that you could only take this part out by destroying it. I filmed myself during the very first try: it only took a little bit of determination and patience, as you can see:

Here are the new cupholders installed... sorry about the pic's quality, this and the one before were taken with my phone.
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Old 08-08-2012, 06:10 PM
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Coochie_Bandit Coochie_Bandit is offline
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Good Stuff. I love to see early e39's taken proper care of.. Most in my area are badly neglected.
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Old 08-08-2012, 06:35 PM
Bwood1 Bwood1 is offline
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Mein Auto: 1999 528i, 2002 540i
Welcome aboard Tango. I have a 199 528i with 218k that I have had since 105k

I did my headlights with the Sylvania kit sold at Advance Auto for about $20 - fantastic.. They look new.

Where did you get the cupholder? I have looked on ebay and did not find one like that.
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Old 08-08-2012, 06:37 PM
Bwood1 Bwood1 is offline
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Sorry - just found the cup holder. Depends how you enter the search
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Old 08-09-2012, 07:44 AM
TANGO! TANGO! is offline
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a search for "e39 cupholder" should show it on the first page

@Fudman, after reading around several things on the web and especially here in the forum, it really sounds like it must be the thrust arms as you said. I suppose this should be my number one priority now, since it's probably more important than the auxiliary fan. I will order the parts and they should be at my place after the bentley manual arrives, so that should give me some time to read there, here in the forum, and anywhere else to make sure I do the job right.

About the fan, I am thinking that it must be just stuck with crap, because I can't even make it move with my hand; I would guess that if the motor was really bad, it would at least spin, right? In any case, I will try taking it apart over the weekend and see if I can just fix it without getting a new part. It seems like the coolant hasn't leaked; it might have evaporated before, or who knows... the poor car was sitting in a parking lot for a while before it was sold.

Please keep the advice coming! I am a newbie, and it helps me a lot. I will keep sharing my experiences as well, in case it helps others in the future.
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Old 08-09-2012, 07:48 AM
TANGO! TANGO! is offline
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One more thing, just out of curiosity: Why Lemforder and not TRW? TRW are a bit cheaper. EACeuroparts sells both with the Meyle bushings.

Last edited by TANGO!; 08-09-2012 at 07:54 AM.
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Old 08-09-2012, 08:05 AM
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Al's540i Al's540i is offline
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Originally Posted by TANGO! View Post
One more thing, just out of curiosity: Why Lemforder and not TRW? TRW are a bit cheaper. EACeuroparts sells both with the Meyle bushings.
From experience; when changing out suspension parts ALWAYS stick with OEM. Remember, you get what you pay for.

2012 Audi A4 S-Line
2011 BMW X5
2000 BMW 540i

2010 Mercedes ML350
1998 Audi A6 Quattro
2002 Lexus IS250
1988 Honda Prelude
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Old 08-16-2012, 03:27 PM
TANGO! TANGO! is offline
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I got some goodies in the mail! The ez1 kit for restoring the headlights and the bmw original flashlight (it was missing in the glovebox) arrived:

So while I decided to get started with the light restoration (and put the flashlight in its place). I did a lot of scrubbing, and after a while I was able to see the lights:

After a lot more scrubbing I started to get disappointed every time I cleaned it up with a microfiber cloth (as they instruct) because I had thought the second product was only meant to protect the results, but it turns out that the second product clears them out a lot; it ended up looking almost like the new one:

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Old 08-16-2012, 03:44 PM
TANGO! TANGO! is offline
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Then even more goodies came in the mail! My car has an airbag light on, so I ordered the Peake SRS tool (after reading a bunch of posts here). Since I was at it, I also ordered an OBD scan tool, and I also got this:

It's a box in a box! Surrounded by little bags! Inside there were my Bentley repair manuals. Very heavy and pretty books!

I have been reading them quite a bit, so I decided to go for the first 'real' repair: The auxiliary fan. My strategy was to go to a local Autozone, which is in an area surrounded by other autoparts store, because I know a lot of these fasteners would come appart, bolts and nuts would be corroded, etc.; also, If I couldn't make the motor work after cleaning it, I could try to buy a replacement from Autozone or one of the other stores. Big mistake. After removing the bumper at the Autozone parking lot, and when I was in the middle of taking the fan appart, I raised my head to see a random dude who was drinking a beer with one hand and holding a bottle of some other alcoholic beverage covered in a brown bag in the other. He started being extra friendly and trying to strike up a conversation with me, and after a little while of pissing me off he offered to watch over my tools and car while I went to get the replacement part.

Since I'm not an idiot, I just put the thing together with only the most important bolts and came back home, driving without an aux. fan in there. Before doing that, after locking everything in the car, I asked in Autozone if they had the motor; they didn't, they could only order the fan for me, for about $400. I ordered one from ebay; not an OEM, but an alternative brand part, for about $120. I couldn't find just the motor anywhere. Since the OEM part was so poorly made and already failed, I decided to try this other cheaper replacement. We'll see how it goes. I also ordered the Thrust arms with HD bushings from EAC autoparts, which arrived today:

I'm doing a lot of reading to make sure I can handle this right before I start tackling it, but I'm also looking forward to this challenge. Please wish me luck! The adventure has begun, indeed...

Last edited by TANGO!; 08-16-2012 at 03:46 PM.
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Old 08-16-2012, 11:32 PM
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acoste acoste is offline
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Mein Auto: 2010 550i MT

I have a 10/1997 528i 155k. I know what you mean about enjoying the car. It is just so peaceful and solid. But still has sporty characters.
I would like to share some of my experience so you might gain something.

I recommend you to clean the air intake to the alternator (back side) under the plastic cover, this was almost clogged on mine. Easy thing to protect the alternator. Oil filter housing is there, check for oil leaks under it. Easy and cheap fix. Sometimes the oil pipe above the oil filter housing leaks too.

nice job on the headlights!
Regarding the taillights. I think clear signals look very good on silver cars, but not on dark colors. I would go with smoked signals if I would have to, but as you mentioned I also like the classic look.

Apply some silicone spray or dashboard shine (which contains silicone) onto the black plastics outside, that will make them darker.

The original shifter knob has wooden trim. You feel the shifter loose because of worn shifter bushings. Cheap fix but lot's of labor.

Regarding the suspension. All the ball joints were good when I replaced them at 140k. The thrust arm bushing was weak but not broken. I recommend that to replace. I have replaced the ball joints, control arms on the rear and that has made a big difference.

If your key buttons are shabby you can buy the buttons only on the ebay for cheap.

Cooling system:
I think you have a metal impeller on the water pump (mine did have that) so if the bearings are o.k., no need to replace it. Early E39s seems to have a better plastic components on the cooling system. My one looks very good. I check all the plastics every 5k and no issues so far. I only had to replace the thermostat cover due to a small leak (which was visible under it but I have had no significant coolant losses).

Enjoy you car!
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Old 08-17-2012, 01:21 AM
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crowz crowz is online now
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Grats on the car and it looks like your getting along nicely on restoring it.

I bought my wife a 97 528i burnt red this past tuesday and basically doing the same repairs to it your doing to yours interior wise. I got lucky on the suspension as it seems all new parts were installed fairly recently it seems as struts, bushings etc are perfect.
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Old 08-17-2012, 08:39 AM
nsogiba nsogiba is offline
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Nice write up and congrats on the car! I give you credit for having the balls to take the front end of your car off in an Autozone parking lot. I hate doing work on cars in any place but the comfort/safety of my own garage. Good luck with everything!
6.0L LSx/T56 Swap

2001 BMW 540i/6 Sport, under the knife
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Old 08-23-2012, 12:32 PM
mostwanted16 mostwanted16 is offline
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Mein Auto: 1997 540i 6speed
Congrats on the car! I just got myself a 1997 540i about 1 month ago. I am ordering a completed cooling system.
•Radiator By Nissens Part# 17 11 1 702 969

•Waterpump By Saleri /Graf Part# 11 51 0 393 340

•Thermostat By Behr OEM Part# 11 53 1 437 526

•Upper Radiator Hose By Rein / Conti Part# 11 53 1 745 595
•Lower Radiator Hose By Rein / Conti Part# 11 53 1 741 409

•Expansion Tank By Meyle Part# 17 11 1 741 167

•Expansion Tank Cap OEM Part# 17 11 1 742 231

•Waterpump Belt By Conti OEM
•A/C Belt By Conti OEM

It is gonna be fun!!!

I got the parts from
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Old 01-08-2013, 02:04 PM
Wheat7588 Wheat7588 is offline
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Congrats on the car!

If you haven't yet read the FAQ that is at the beginning of this forum! There's a really good bit on the cooling system and its overhaul. A good idea to look at some parts that you know will not let you down!

I really like those new cup holders! thinking of getting some myself.

That's strange that Autozone didn't have the Auxiliary fan motor, I had just read a thread about them having the same one as OEM with a part number and everything. Believe a link to that thread is also in the FAQ.

Let me know how the thrust arm work goes please! I also have a shimmy when I brake and I always assumed it was the rotors, but if the shaking goes away when you fix it then that will probably be the next thing on my list of stuff for the 5er!

2000 BMW 540i M Sport
6 Speed Manual
Clear Side Markers
Black Kidney Grills
Cellis LED Taillights

Others coming soon!
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Old 01-08-2013, 05:52 PM
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TemporarySanity TemporarySanity is offline
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Welcome and good luck on keeping up with the maintenance. I see you are taking it seriously by buying manuals, code readers and asking for advice on the forum. I have the same cup holder that you bought and I like it. I also put in one of those pockets which replace the rear one. These cars may seem like a maintenance nightmare but they are so enjoyable to drive, it makes up for it. I have an e34, e39, and an e60 and must say that the e39 is still my favorite to drive. I'm very close to 300,000 miles on it now without any major overhaul so you still have plenty of life left in yours.

I discovered I scream the same way whether I'm about to be eaten by a great white shark or if a piece of seaweed touches my foot.
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Old 05-10-2013, 01:20 PM
TANGO! TANGO! is offline
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I'm back!

A long time has passed, and I have been too busy to update my post. It seems like when you become a parent time goes by much more quickly, for some reason! A lot of things have happened to the car since my last post, so I'll try to be brief but it will take more than one post.

Thanks again for all your comments and suggestions. Everything helps, and is much appreciated. Acoste: those are some awesome tips, thanks! I got new keys+buttons, so I think I'm gonna just move the new buttons to the old keys (getting new keys cut at a locksmith is about $50 per key). The silicon tip is pretty awesome as well. Wheat7588: a very short and quick answer is no, it was the rear rotors that were warped and messed up. But the thrust arms do help a bit. I'll explain more later. TemporarySanity: I couldn't have said it better. Of anything I've driven before (including some expensive infinitis) this car is my absolute favorite one. I guess I'll just deal with the maintenance.

Now on to where we left off: I installed the cheap $120 fan easily, and it's been working like a champ ever since. I had been given an estimate of $700 for that job at the shop (a chain store) where I got the car aligned after buying it. So, that was a pretty good move and I highly recommend fixing it that way.

The thrust arms in my car were the original parts from 1997; the bushings had leaked a while ago, and the ball joints were loose. What's worse, they had become "intimate friends" with other parts through many years of New England weather and rust. I replaced the driver's side after much struggling and a close encounter with a little skunk who came to say hello late at night, when I was working in my driveway. We both got startled when we saw each other, I stood up and we both started walking backwards very slowly... so no harm was done. I had originally bought the cheapest ball joint remover I could find from ebay, a $10 tool that broke in my first attempt to use it. The tool that did the job was one I bought from Napa, and it really startled me because I had left it on pressing the joint and moved away to take a break when it suddenly snapped with a loud bang.

I had to saw the tip of the arms' screw, so that it would fit in the ball joint remover

This cheapo piece of crap from ebay snapped of at the first try. Do not waste time or money on anything like this.
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Last edited by TANGO!; 05-10-2013 at 01:22 PM.
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Old 05-10-2013, 01:53 PM
TANGO! TANGO! is offline
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I started trying to change the passenger side, but the skunk showed up again, which made me go back inside to wait until he would leave. Then as I was trying to get the job done, it started raining. And later, the police showed up because someone called them as I was banging on the steering knuckle with a hammer to get it down... they were very polite and found it very funny, and just asked me to please stop banging on things. So, I decided to stop trying to do it and either try to find a DIY shop or take it to a mechanic.

Later, during a trip to NYC, I noticed the temperature needle not getting to the 12 O’clock position, running instead to just one quarter of the gauge. Did some reading on the forums and decided it was definitely the thermostat that got stuck open and was making the car run cold. I took it to a chain store near my place to confirm (the one that begins with “Mon” and ends with “ro”, hehehe) and the dude who was in charge told me, very confidently, that a thermostat can not get stuck open and if the car was running cold, it was actually good for the engine. I swear, he said that.

I asked here in the forums if somebody knew of a place for DIY mechanic work, and was given a few links; I didn’t find a place to do the job myself, but at least I found an independent BMW mechanic with a pretty good reputation, so I decided to give him a try. His name is Mark Aunger, and his shop is Northeast Motor Werks, in Middletown:


Mark is a very good mechanic, and if you can afford him I would definitely recommend him. He looked at my car and found quite a few things; I had ordered a new thermostat and bleeder screw, and he graciously accepted to use my parts, which he doesn’t usually do. He installed the other thrust arm, replaced the thermostat, found a leak in the expansion tank and replaced it, replaced a belt (I can’t remember exactly which one it was, not a very important one I suppose, but it was very worn out) and a rubber gasket, the one next to the air filter.

The new thrust arms made steering and braking feel a little better, but there was still a shimmy and a pretty strong pulse when braking. For this Mark recommended changing the brake hoses and replacing all the rear suspension main parts (the two upper arms, integral links and lower ball joints and sway bar links). He also gave me a quote for replacing shifter bushings and installing a short shifter, and recommended that I change the steering tie rods, which he found loose. All together, the remaining work -even not counting the short shifter and bushings- was a lot of money, which I could not afford. So, things were looking pretty bleak...
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Old 05-10-2013, 03:27 PM
mda185 mda185 is offline
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If cost is an issue, do the tie rod ends now and let the rear suspension work wait. Remaining shimmy is most likely the tie rods.

Is the problem with working in your driveway that there are neighborhood rules prohibiting it? That would suck. I was very careful when home shopping to make sure there was no homeowner's association that could impose rules on me like that.

Your shifter is sloppy because the plastic cup the shift lever sits in is worn and there are some other bushings in the linkage that also contribute to slop. If you have looked at realoem, you know what I am talking about. This is all pretty easy to change if you have sufficient clearance to work under the car. On your back in your driveway is going to be difficult but doable.

I have not worked on the rear suspension of my E39 yet and can't comment on that. It does look a little more complicated than the E34's I have been working on for 10 years.

I am curious. Where in NJ did you buy your 528i? I looked at one just like that near Burlington, NJ on a dealer's lot last year around the time you started this thread. I ended up buying my 530i Sport 5 spd from a guy further south in NJ. There were not many black 5 speeds on the market at that time.

Last edited by mda185; 05-10-2013 at 03:28 PM.
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Old 05-10-2013, 07:56 PM
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diggyd357 diggyd357 is offline
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Re: My Black Beauty (HD Pics inside)

Definitely a nice car if maintained... I have the exact same car.... Bought it with 216k and now have 223k. I've had to do a lot of the same things... Front and rear suspension, vcg, ofhs, sap, ccv, etc... But you are correct, once you drive it you can't get rid of it. It's worth every drop of all the blood, sweat, and tears put into it. Enjoy!!!!

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Old 05-13-2013, 10:50 AM
TANGO! TANGO! is offline
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I actually did take care of tie rods first of all; they were making steering loose, especially on the highway, but weren't the cause of the shimmy. The problem with working on my driveway is that I rent an appartment, and it says on my current lease that mechanical work is forbidden. I'll be moving soon, though. I bought a couple bushings for the shifter, including some nice polyetilene ones, but I'm afraid this job might be too hard for me to do without a lift, so I guess I'll leave to a real mechanic.

I bought my car from a guy in Princeton, the owner must have had it for sale for a while... I paid very little, but as you can read from my thread, maintenance had been badly neglected in several areas. It was posted on Craigslist. it's how I found it; I was having a hard time finding a manual transmission, which is what I cared about most.

Continuing with my story, things were looking pretty bad and I was trying to think what would be the way to go with this ton of repairs that would cost a small fortune (for me, at this point in my life, anyway). Then something super awesome happened! As I was watching YouTube videos on my phone, the app recommended a video from someone with a "#ProjectE39" list:


I started watching videos in his channel, and realized he was driving around Hartford with his friends, so I contacted him; his name is Gareth Foley, and as you can see in his youtube channel he's made some awesome DIY videos, from a Zionsville cooling upgrade to neat angel eyes, and all kinds of other goodies.

I asked Gareth for help to find a DIY shop, and he and a friend of his (a very good mechanic who works as a technician for a Nissan dealership) helped me install new tie rods, and most of the rear suspension parts. Gareth works for a car parts company, FCP Euro; I got Meyle parts from them -they don't have liquid filled bushings and they seem to be pretty well made. I got a full rear end kit and tie rods, as well as E-brake pads (my E-brake was completely busted). I also got an e-brake hardware kit and a new emblem (in the meantime, mine had chipped away and was looking like a silvery round piece of plastic). While we were installing stuff Gareth looked at my rear rotors and discovered a pretty big "lip", where the pads had been wearing unevenly and leaving chunks of dark stuff. They were also warped, so much that I think I could see the warp when I spun it with my hand.

After those fixes, I ordered some nice Brembo rotors from FCP, and Meyle pads. Gareth graciously helped me install them (again), and that took care of all vibration and Shimmy, for good. Yep, in the end, it was mostly warped rear rotors. But the ****ty rear suspension must have contributed to that, so better to have decent suspension so that this doesn't happen again immediately.

Gareth's youtube channel is called "TheCarLife" and has a corresponding facebook page; he works for FCP Groton doing product design, . I highly recommend subscribing to his playlists, as well as subscribing to the FCP youtube channel, as they are adding tons of awesomely awesome DIY videos for a lot of cars, BMWs included.

these are links to the FCP sites:

This is their YouTube channel:

Browse through their site and you'll see that it's very nice and usable, and they offer great prices. If you contact them directly they will likely give you a 10 percent discount, and/or match or give you better prices than many competitors. I simple couldn't recommend FCP enough; they're absolutely great.

More soon!

Last edited by TANGO!; 05-13-2013 at 10:53 AM.
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