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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 11-18-2012, 07:42 AM
TheBlue TheBlue is offline
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Location: Silicon Valley
Join Date: Nov 2012
Posts: 2
Mein Auto: 540i
Something lodged in ignition!

Hi All
Here's my crisis with my 2000 e39
I think a piece of lint or other debris from my pocket rode my key into the ignition keyhole and was jammed down into the mechanism. Now the key will not work. I can't turn the key at all, and the car is completely useless. The steering and auto trans are locked up.
I felt some obstruction when I inserted the key and when I pulled it out, there was a bit of lint on the end. I assume the rest of the lint is in there preventing electrical contact.
I can't see what's in there, but I've tried picking it out, but no luck so far.
I'm assuming I'll need to get it towed and then suffer an expensive cleaning/repair/replacement.
Any thoughts?
How long would it take a trained mechanic to fix this? Is it even fixable?
Anyone know of any web-based tutorials on how to disassemble the ignition? I'm by no means a mechanic, but I've done a few repairs and am willing to try to crack this thing open and take a look.

Going to the store now to buy some canned air and also will try to manufacture a mini-vac with a canned-air straw, duct tape and shop-vac.

Thanks in advance for any ideas.
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Old 11-18-2012, 08:28 AM
neonphire8604 neonphire8604 is offline
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Location: albany, ny
Join Date: Jul 2012
Posts: 49
Mein Auto: 1998 BMW 540i
The electrical contacts are in the ignition switch that is on the other side of the key barrel, so electrical contact isn't your issue. If the lint is your issue, it is probably preventing the key from going in all the way, try and suck it out with a vacuum.
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Old 11-18-2012, 11:46 AM
TheBlue TheBlue is offline
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Location: Silicon Valley
Join Date: Nov 2012
Posts: 2
Mein Auto: 540i
It seems the combination of canned-air blasting, newly-constructed micro vac and digging for an hour with a bent wire did enough for me to get the car started. It requires pushing hard on the key, and then turning, but it seems consistent enough for now.
Not sure how much I want to spend on a new ignition assembly... or how long my remedy will last.
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Old 11-19-2012, 02:13 AM
fullthrottle540's Avatar
fullthrottle540 fullthrottle540 is offline
Location: san diego
Join Date: May 2012
Posts: 165
Mein Auto: E39
wow. good luck with this one.
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Old 11-19-2012, 11:51 AM
JimLev JimLev is offline
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Location: Sundance Mesa, NM
Join Date: Dec 2003
Posts: 4,319
Mein Auto: 540/6, '16 Highlander XLE
You may want to pull the lock cylinder out and try cleaning it out with it out of the steering column. Do you know how to get it out?

2000 540/6 Slightly tweeked...everywhere
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Old 11-19-2012, 02:42 PM
edjack edjack is online now
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Location: San Jose, CA
Join Date: May 2007
Posts: 13,441
Mein Auto: '97 540i 6 speed
... and lube the tumbler with TriFlow.

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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