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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 10-19-2012, 08:02 PM
mrpumpk1n mrpumpk1n is offline
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Mein Auto: 540i 1997
E39 vs A4 or A6 in terms of ownership experience.

My wife has been wanting an Audi, either an A4 or an A6, between the 98-2004 year ranges. I was wondering if anyone here owns both an e39 and an A4 or A6 from those year ranges and know how it is compared to the e39 in terms of reliability, ease of diy work on the car, repair costs, common issues. Im obviously not looking for what problems will arise in those cars as I would look up Audi forums for that. I just want a general comparison between the e39 and the Audi. My e39 had been a pain to keep up, it wasnt in the greatest of conditions when I got it. However, it was worth every bit of pain (thus far) to keep this car and I dont think it will be the same for an Audi. What are your inputs?
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  #2  
Old 10-19-2012, 11:00 PM
bschmidt25 bschmidt25 is offline
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Mein Auto: '07 530xi, '01 525iT
I currently have a '01 E39 Touring and an '01 A4 2.8Q. Prior to the A4 2.8, I had a '00 A4 1.8TQ. The '00 was in the family from day 1 until May of this year when I sold it with 234k on the clock. The '01 A4 has 169k and my E39 has 188k. I've put 100k on the E39 in just about 4 years and picked up the '01 from a family member when the '00 was sold. I've put about 15k on that one so far. As you can see, I have extensive experience with both the E39 and Audis .

I can't say that it's really a cut and dry answer as far as maintenance and costs to keep them running. Overall, we had very few problems with the '00 over it's lifetime. The problems we did have were annoying though. It liked to eat rear wheel bearings. Each side needed to be replaced every 25-30k while the fronts never went out. That was $200 each every time. I also had to replace 3 of the 4 window regulators - did those myself but what a PITA. Two winters ago I didn't have any heat. Apparently the old style coolant (no longer being used) causes corrosion in the cooling system and the sediment settles in the bottom of the heater core. VERY common issue on the B5 A4s. I was able to resolve that myself as well. On the plus side, cooling system issues are rare (unlike the E39). The car never overheated once over those 234k miles. I also had to replace a half shaft ($200 parts and labor) and starter ($500). Even with the miles, the 1.8T ran great, didn't consume unusual amounts of oil, and didn't give me any turbo/boost issues.

The 2.8 has required more service and can get expensive to fix. With the added weight of the V6, the front suspension doesn't hold up as well and replacing all the control arms can be well over $1000 with parts and labor. Oil leaks are common (usually cam seals) and can be expensive as well. I had the same clogged heater core issue that I did on my 1.8. The 2.8 is not particularly fuel efficient - I only get around 24 on the highway. But it is a durable motor and it's smooth and quiet.

Both motors use timing belts that need to be changed every 90k. Very annoying and about $1000 or more each time. If you buy one, make sure you know when the belt was changed. If it snaps it's time for a new motor. The Audis aren't very easy to work on. Everything seems to be buried. So while parts cost about the same as they do for the E39, it's more expensive if you need to have a shop do the work. One thing I can't overstate is how great quattro AWD is in the winter. If you have snow tires you can get through anything. It'll plow through over a foot of snow like it's nothing.

My E39 has had fewer issues, but they've been much more expensive. Overhauling the entire front suspension was $2400 and the cooling system was $1400. I had both of those jobs done professionally. I also had to replace the rear (touring) subframe bushings ($400), smog pump ($400), and auxiliary cooling fan ($300) but did those jobs myself. I'm now having ongoing cooling system issues, a year and a half after the whole system was replaced. Not sure what I'm in for on that. Compared to an A4, the E39 is extremely easy to work on though. Mine gets great mileage (nearly 30 on the hwy) and drives and handles like a dream. The M54 aside from cooling issues is damn near bulletproof. I wouldn't hesitate to buy another one.

Bottom line... I prefer the E39. Don't get me wrong, the Audis are nice. But there is a definite step up to an E39. The later A4s (2002 and up) are very nice as well though and have fewer issues than the B5s up to 2001. It'll come down to what you prefer though. They're very different cars. Drive an A4 or A6 and you'll know right away whether you like it or not. Quattroworld.com is a great online resource for Audis.

Hope this helps. Feel free to bounce any questions you have off of me. Good luck!

Last edited by bschmidt25; 10-19-2012 at 11:10 PM.
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  #3  
Old 10-20-2012, 08:33 PM
mrpumpk1n mrpumpk1n is offline
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First off, I would like to thank you for your input. If it were a choice between an e39 or an Audi and if it was upto me, I would definitely buy another e39. I'm not selling my e39, the new car is going to be for my wife and she seems hell bent on the Audi. From what you are saying the maintenance costs for the car doesnt seem to be so bad. Things that im liking based on your input is that it will be great for winter driving and that would be great for my wife as she is a relatively new driver and the baby travels on her car a lot. I know the e39 can be hell to drive in the winter as ive spun out in mine and I never turn off the traction control. I was also wondering how safe the car is in terms of safety. I consider the e39 a tank in terms of safety and would like something very close to that. Something that does put me back though is the timing belt. I dont like to have the thought of a self destruct timer waiting in the engine. Are the A6 engines the same as the 2.8 A4 engines? I havent seen a 4 cylinder engine for the A6. All in all, would you say your Audis gave you satisfaction? Also, was it worth the money to keep it going?
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  #4  
Old 10-21-2012, 10:39 AM
edjack edjack is offline
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Mein Auto: '97 540i 6 speed
My friend has an A4 V6. In order to change the timing belt, one must remove the front bumper and the radiator.
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  #5  
Old 10-21-2012, 10:11 PM
bschmidt25 bschmidt25 is offline
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Mein Auto: '07 530xi, '01 525iT
Quote:
Originally Posted by mrpumpk1n View Post
First off, I would like to thank you for your input. If it were a choice between an e39 or an Audi and if it was upto me, I would definitely buy another e39. I'm not selling my e39, the new car is going to be for my wife and she seems hell bent on the Audi. From what you are saying the maintenance costs for the car doesnt seem to be so bad. Things that im liking based on your input is that it will be great for winter driving and that would be great for my wife as she is a relatively new driver and the baby travels on her car a lot. I know the e39 can be hell to drive in the winter as ive spun out in mine and I never turn off the traction control. I was also wondering how safe the car is in terms of safety. I consider the e39 a tank in terms of safety and would like something very close to that. Something that does put me back though is the timing belt. I dont like to have the thought of a self destruct timer waiting in the engine. Are the A6 engines the same as the 2.8 A4 engines? I havent seen a 4 cylinder engine for the A6. All in all, would you say your Audis gave you satisfaction? Also, was it worth the money to keep it going?
In my opinion, they're unbeatable in the winter with snow tires. It's why I've kept one on hand even after buying another vehicle. I actually look forward to it snowing sometimes . My A4 is really only a commuter car now. I drive 130 miles a day round trip to work and back, so I need something that can get through almost anything and is a good highway cruiser. The Audi definitely fits the bill for that. As far as safety goes, I think they are pretty safe cars. The E39 is more tank like and larger so it's probably a bit safer, but the Audi still feels safe. Mine has front and rear side curtain airbags, which wasn't very common back in the early 2000s. I think you have to get a 2002+ to get the LATCH system (just like the E39). The A6 uses the same 2.8 as the A4 for its base motor. There was no 4 banger offered in the A6. The other options were a 2.7 twin turbo V6 (through 2004) and a 4.2 V8. All have timing belts unfortunately. If you go that route, I would definitely stay away from the 2.7T. It's much less reliable than the others and a real PITA to work on. I hear the V8 is actually pretty reliable, albeit thirsty. Unfortunately, you can only get a manual (6 speed) in the 2.7T in the A6. You can get a 5 speed with both the 1.8T and 2.8 in the A4.

I know what you're saying about the timing belt. I replaced mine every 90k on the 1.8T, so I guess $1k every 90k isn't really that bad. It did make me nervous once I got closer to its replacement interval though. The job can be done yourself with the right tools (parts are only about $200), but it's just one of those things I'd rather not take a chance with. I believe the later Audis no longer use them, and for good reason.

To me, it's been worth the upkeep to have an extra car and to have a decent commuter car. Like I said before, I might look at the B6 A4s (2002-06) if I were you. I think they resolved some issues in that generation and they are quite a bit nicer on the inside. I always liked the looks of the 2000-2004 A6 as well. Like the E39, I think you can do just fine with an Audi as long as it was maintained properly. Hope this helps. Feel free to keep the questions coming!

Last edited by bschmidt25; 10-21-2012 at 10:13 PM.
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