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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 06-03-2010, 06:42 AM
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bluebee bluebee is offline
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Do we have hydraulic or mechanical serpentine polyribbed drive belt tensioners?

How do I know if I have a 2002 6-cylinder engine with hydraulic belt tensioners or a 6-cylinder engine with spring-loaded belt tensioners?

On page 020-17, the Bentley manual shows an incomprehensibly grainy picture of both polyribbed serpentine drive belt systems - which is bad enough; but it's worse because you can't easily "see" the various pulleys and tensioners inside the actual engine compartment.

Since the Bentley does not say WHICH cars have hydraulic vs spring-loaded belt tensioners - and since I don't know what to look for (or even if it's possibly to "see" them from above - I ask ...

How do we know whether we have hydraulic or mechanical drive belt tensioners on our BMW E39 engines?

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Last edited by bluebee; 06-06-2010 at 02:59 PM.
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  #2  
Old 06-03-2010, 07:56 AM
jfive96 jfive96 is offline
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  #3  
Old 06-03-2010, 08:05 AM
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doru doru is offline
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The hydraulic tensioner superseeds the mechanical ones. I don't think you can find a mechanical one for sale anymore.
The new hydraulic tensioner p/n you will have to order is 11287838797 (this is for a 2002 525). I am not sure if car ever had a mechanical tensioner, but if it had one, the new design will not ressemble with the old one (mechanical vs hydraulic)
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  #4  
Old 06-03-2010, 10:07 AM
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bluebee bluebee is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by doru View Post
The hydraulic tensioner superseeds the mechanical ones
So do I assume mine are hydraulic from that?
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  #5  
Old 06-03-2010, 10:38 AM
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doru doru is offline
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Originally Posted by bluebee View Post
So do I assume mine are hydraulic from that?
No, you will have to look at your part closely. Also, I checked Autohausaz, and they re-stocked the mechanical one. Link. Check the last item - you will see that actually the mechanical was dropped. There were a few months, you could not buy the mechanical anymore.
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  #6  
Old 06-03-2010, 10:59 AM
E4Development E4Development is offline
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So if you have a car with a mechanical, could you install the hydraulic if no one carried the mechanicals anymore?
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  #7  
Old 06-03-2010, 04:26 PM
ElwoodBlues ElwoodBlues is offline
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I think you can (or could a few months ago) still get the mechanical ones from NAPA.

Pics here: http://www.bimmerfest.com/forums/sho...038&highlight=

I have around 3000 miles on my replacement so far with no complaints. I believe you can convert from mechanical to hydraulic, but IIRC the cost for the kit was much more.
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  #8  
Old 06-03-2010, 07:38 PM
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All I wanna know is what I have so I can see if I need to order them ahead of time because I don't want to take the whole thing apart twice.
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  #9  
Old 06-03-2010, 08:21 PM
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GSA1 GSA1 is offline
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try inputting your vin to realoem. see if only hydraulic comes up for your car.
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  #10  
Old 06-03-2010, 08:38 PM
cn90 cn90 is offline
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A mirror and flashlight with the hood open at noon on a sunny day will answer all these questions.
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  #11  
Old 06-03-2010, 09:17 PM
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Jason5driver Jason5driver is offline
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Doru is correct.
The hydraulic tensioner supercedes the mechanical tensioner.
There were too many failures with the mechanical tensioners, so BMW went back to the hydraulic tensioners.
And, yes, if you have a mechanical tensioner, you can install the hydraulic tensioner.
I had my mechanical tensioner replaced with another mechanical one.
Two months later, I had to replace it again, but this time with a hydraulic tensioner.
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  #12  
Old 06-04-2010, 09:04 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jason5driver View Post
if you have a mechanical tensioner, you can install the hydraulic tensioner
Well, if they're interchangeable, they must look similar, at least in outline where bolts attach. That would make visual identification problematic.

Looking at realoem, it's still very confusing because BOTH mechanical and hydraulic belt tensioners are shown for the same serial number!

How confusing is that! Here's a screenshot of realoem's $70 (nominal) hydraulic tensioners and the mechanical tensioner. If they're interchangeable, they certainly look different! I guess that's why folks say to just look.

At least now I know a bit more of what to look for, but, as stated, it's pretty packed in there; but with these diagrams, I have yet another nugget of information to look for.

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Last edited by bluebee; 06-04-2010 at 10:51 AM.
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  #13  
Old 06-04-2010, 09:08 AM
jayee_2003 jayee_2003 is offline
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I used this post for the conversion. Different car but same I6. It has links to realoem of the two. Should give a good idea what look for when under the hood.
http://forum.e46fanatics.com/showthread.php?t=410372

Ohh - you already found it.
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  #14  
Old 06-04-2010, 10:50 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jayee_2003 View Post
I used this post for the conversion
Wow, that E46 post for Changing from Mechanical tensioner to Hydraulic tensioner is a great example of a wonderfully photographically detailed DIY. I'll add it to the VERY best of E39 Links so others benefit also.

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  #15  
Old 06-04-2010, 10:53 AM
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Realoem didn't provide any clear idea whether I have hydraulic or mechanical serpentine drive belt tensioners; but the consensus is much closer to hydraulic than mechanical.

Now that I have a much clearer picture of the different look of the hydraulic versus the mechanical, I might now be able to look inside the engine to see if I can tuck my camera down there amongst the belts to confirm which is what I have.

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  #16  
Old 06-04-2010, 11:26 AM
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Jason5driver Jason5driver is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by bluebee View Post
Well, if they're interchangeable, they must look similar, at least in outline where bolts attach. That would make visual identification problematic.

Looking at realoem, it's still very confusing because BOTH mechanical and hydraulic belt tensioners are shown for the same serial number!

How confusing is that! Here's a screenshot of realoem's $70 (nominal) hydraulic tensioners and the mechanical tensioner. If they're interchangeable, they certainly look different! I guess that's why folks say to just look.

At least now I know a bit more of what to look for, but, as stated, it's pretty packed in there; but with these diagrams, I have yet another nugget of information to look for.
You need the conversion kit to install the hydraulic tensioner.
Look here:
http://www.eactuning.com/parts/produ...ails/090434001

Here for the tensioner:
http://www.eactuning.com/parts/produ...ls/11287838797
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Last edited by Jason5driver; 06-04-2010 at 11:29 AM.
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  #17  
Old 06-04-2010, 09:00 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jason5driver View Post
You need the conversion kit to install the hydraulic tensioner

Thanks, but I don't actually wanna convert anything. All I wanna know is what I have.

I suspect most of us have hydraulic tensioners; so, from a statistical standpoint, that's likely what I have.

But that's a lousy way to determine what I have so now that I know what each looks like (no thanks to my $100 Bentleys! ) ... I can peek to identify by shape which ones I have.

Thanks.
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  #18  
Old 06-06-2010, 09:42 AM
jayee_2003 jayee_2003 is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by bluebee View Post
I suspect most of us have hydraulic tensioners; so, from a statistical standpoint, that's likely what I have.
Hmm. I've had a few cars with this series of engine. They all had the mechanical tensioner. Guess I buy outside the curve.
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  #19  
Old 06-06-2010, 11:23 AM
Rjim Rjim is offline
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Just replaced entire cooling system on my '03 530 and found I had the mechanical tensioners. Once the shroud, fan/clutch and radiator are removed it's possible to see what you have. I ordered both types from Pelican with the understanding I could return the unused new part, which I did without problem. The fact that Pelican could not tell me which type I had leads me to believe both types were used on M54 engines in '03 and maybe other years too.
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  #20  
Old 06-06-2010, 02:55 PM
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The consensus seems to be that it's a crap shoot whether we have hydraulic or mechanical tensioners, which makes it harder to order parts ahead of time.

We just have to look and see. Here's what the two parts look like side by side.

Based on information in this thread, it might be that one system has one fewer idler pulley than the other system (needs to be confirmed) so a good test would be the number of "round things" (not all of which are pulleys).


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  #21  
Old 06-06-2010, 09:43 PM
gibo27 gibo27 is offline
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mechanical tensioner

Pretty sure all is the same except the tensioners themselves, both types will have an idler pulley, as mentioned you need a "kit" to change from mechanical to hydraulic, I have mechanical on my 02 530i, will be changing them with mechanical when I do the cooling, you can get them from oembimmerparts (site sponsor).
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  #22  
Old 06-07-2010, 09:42 AM
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paferri paferri is offline
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Blue, I had the same issue before doing my major overhaul as well. RealOem will show both because they used both, and their is no VIN# or year to go by in determining what they put in your car that day.

The only true way to be sure is to look as indicated by CN90, if you can get the car on a lift and remove the engine guard, it makes it much easier to see. Both the hydraulic and mechanical bolt on the same way

I had mechanical and ordered new mechanical tensioners. for those who are unsure, you can order the complete upgrade kit to Hydraulic as mentioned, although it will cost a bit more.
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  #23  
Old 06-07-2010, 09:52 AM
jayee_2003 jayee_2003 is offline
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Bluebee,

I know I should have posted here but see if what I posted in this thread might help you.
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Last edited by jayee_2003; 06-08-2010 at 09:01 AM.
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  #24  
Old 06-07-2010, 10:10 AM
IkeRay IkeRay is offline
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Originally Posted by paferri View Post
Blue, I had the same issue before doing my major overhaul as well. RealOem will show both because they used both, and their is no VIN# or year to go by in determining what they put in your car that day.

The only true way to be sure is to look as indicated by CN90, if you can get the car on a lift and remove the engine guard, it makes it much easier to see. Both the hydraulic and mechanical bolt on the same way

I had mechanical and ordered new mechanical tensioners. for those who are unsure, you can order the complete upgrade kit to Hydraulic as mentioned, although it will cost a bit more.
its really not that hard to determine. you don't even have to jack up/lift the front end, you just remove the engine guard and peer up at the a/c belt. you'll see a hydraulic tensioner or you won't.


pardon the cruddy pictures, I was doing it blind as I didn't want to open the garage door (its raining)

Last edited by IkeRay; 06-07-2010 at 10:43 AM.
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  #25  
Old 06-07-2010, 12:12 PM
Mark@EAC Mark@EAC is offline
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The only way to know what you have for sure is to look on the e39s. I have 2 1998 528i cars in the family, built a month apart from each other. One has mechanical AC tensioner, the other hydraulic. Both have a mechanical tensioner for the main belt. One has over 170k miles and is smooth and quiet, the other was changed at 120k when it got squeaky.

I've had excellent luck with both types of tensioners. I actually am fond of the simplicity of the mechanical tensioner myself.
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