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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 11-16-2012, 08:29 AM
AsymMetric5 AsymMetric5 is offline
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Location: Austin
Join Date: May 2011
Posts: 18
Mein Auto: 1997 528i
Changed that oil pan! Now this...

So I successfully swapped my old, cracked oil pan for a $70 junkyard find that was in great shape. The fix took me about a week if you include research time, hours of head-scratching, and more hours of cursing, teeth-gritting and inner sobbing.

I had most of the tools required for the job. Even though I spent a year in trade school(autobody) many years ago, I am NOT a mechanic. I'm just not intimidated by a challenging repair. This is one repair, however, that I should have let a pro handle.

My ex-wife bought the car over a year ago for an ok price. We know it had some issues that needed to be addressed. I took it to two different specialty shops for diagnostics and estimates of the more obvious problems. Soon, I replaced a bad wheel bearing, parking brake pads just to name a few. My first oil change revealed a sheared oil pan bolt that had been gasket-sealed back in place. That's right... someone was too much of a cheap ass(or coward) to buy another $4 bolt. Instead, they attempted to hide their blunder by screwing what was left of the bolt(about a thread and a half) back onto the pan with some type of gasket sealer. I didn't learn until after I got the old pan off that they even left the threaded end of the bolt INSIDE the pan! I replaced the bolt, but the OTHER damage was already done.


These metals pieces were just dying to get sucked into the engine.

junkyard replacement after cleaning.

What “other” damage you ask? Well, the stress to the oil pan itself! I was only able to perform one other oil change(with torque wrench) before a hairline stress crack appeared at the rear of the inner threading. Saddest thing about it was that, over the next few days, I couldn't really tell where the leak was coming from so, I periodically kept tightening...

The next issue:
After my initial research on the repair, I was sick – wishing I had a 540 instead. But, I simply didn't have the $$$ to hand to a shop. Now, that it's all done and the leak had been irradicated, I have another – more pressing issue that I know is a direct result of this recent repair. The car made some strange noises on the first and second start-ups and it idled kinda rough, then smoothed out. I was able to drive it about 10 miles before the Check Engine light came on and it REALLY started to sputter and hesitate. I got within 2 miles of home when I knew it was serious. It sputtered to a stop at an intersection. I restarted it and limped the last mile at about 5mph back to the garage.

The first thing I did was check the battery voltage. It was down to 3V. I did this because I had a similar problem with my integra when the alternator went out. I doubt the alternator is the prolem in this case, but I'm thinking the belt isn't tight enough. Yea, I had some trouble getting it back on. The tension pulley it still not seated perfectly. I mean, the little ball/tab is not set right. I also left the airbox out to expedite post-repair testing. I doubt a missing air box/filter would cause this bad a reaction either.

Remember.. I am not a mechanic. But, I can take on an older “project” car. A check engine light never scared me so much though. I'm looking at buying a diagnostic tool right now. I already missed 2 days of class. Gotta get my machine running right again even if I need to submit take it to a shop. I'd appreciate any input from you guys on what you think the problem might be. -and I know I'm leaving myself open, but..
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Old 11-16-2012, 08:42 AM
bkgreene39's Avatar
bkgreene39 bkgreene39 is offline
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Location: Brooklyn
Join Date: Aug 2011
Posts: 464
Mein Auto: 1998 BMW 528i
Get the code read for the check engine light that came on. Personally I would not drive my car without an air filter. You are dealing with a relic of an e39, I'm in the same boat. The older they get(any vehicle for that matter) the more crap your gonna deal with. So good luck with the repair. Let the forum know what you find.
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Old 11-17-2012, 07:13 AM
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540iman 540iman is offline
resident, old fart
Location: N.W. Indiana
Join Date: Sep 2008
Posts: 1,873
Mein Auto: 2002 540i sport
probably sucking air into the oil pan. Still not sure what bolt was snapped. An oil pan bolt or the drain plug? PO had no business removing pan unless he had issue or wanted to check for T/C guide pieces. None of these bolts should have been hard to rermove. Not sure how over-torquing caused hairline crack. Should not be anywhere near that much torque...that's what gasket is for. Slow down and you will get it.

BTW, I doubt your 3V reading as you can would have quit by about 9V. keep us posted.
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Old 11-17-2012, 11:52 AM
AsymMetric5 AsymMetric5 is offline
Registered User
Location: Austin
Join Date: May 2011
Posts: 18
Mein Auto: 1997 528i
Found the problem! I took a brain break then re-traced my steps - starting with the battery voltage. I originally checked it at night(in the dark) so I had trouble getting good contact giving me an incorrect reading. A daylight reading with proper contact read 12.29 volts. Which meant the battery and alternator were fine. I did a bit more forum reading and noticed that several of the similar issues were caused by vacuum leaks. I didn't remember touching anything vacuum related except for the intake airbox. I then remembered that smaller box that was connected to the airbox by two screws. This box was attached to the underside of the intake plenum. I guess I hastily(and incorrectly) reattached that little box because it somehow dropped off of the bottom of the plenum. It took me a minute or two to properly reattach the box. I was then able to start the car and listen gleefully as it continued to run smoothly with no roughness or sputtering. All I have to do now is get a scan tool to clear that code!

Personally I would not drive my car without an air filter.
- good point bkgreene39!

540iman - It was the oil pan plug that was snapped - AND THEN put back in place by some fool!

Thank you guys for the input.
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Old 11-17-2012, 12:52 PM
edjack edjack is offline
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Location: San Jose, CA
Join Date: May 2007
Posts: 13,353
Mein Auto: '97 540i 6 speed
12.29V = 50% charge. The alt should produce 13.5-14 V at 1000 RPM.

Ed in San Jose '97 540i 6 speed aspensilber over aubergine leather. Build date 3/97. Golden Gate Chapter BMW CCA Nr 62319.
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Old 11-17-2012, 02:34 PM
poolman poolman is offline
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Location: martinsville va
Join Date: Nov 2005
Posts: 4,855
Mein Auto: 525i station wagon
He was reading with the engine off--not running---As to the air box and all--these cars are very finicky on vac leaks--if you have any they will show up in all kinds of ways. Do a search called Vacuum leaks revisited and have a good read--Hope that helps
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