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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 06-26-2016, 11:34 AM
bimmerlover1 bimmerlover1 is offline
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Should I buy a E39?

Hey everyone! I have not been on the forums for a long while and since then a lot has changed. I had been flip-flopping around on whether or not I wanted to trade my Jeep for a BMW and I am really considering it now. My Jeep has been having a lot of problems recently, and I feel as though they will continue. I also don't feel like putting a lot of money into my Jeep, as it's price is going to continue to sink like a stone and I won't be able to get the money I put into it back when I go to sell it. Thus, I am now considering getting a BMW. My choice has always been the E39 5-Series. I have started searching online for possible candidates to replace my current car, and I think I have found some that fit what I am looking for. But before I go in depth about them, I have some questions.

Just to note, I am pretty set on having the 540i, as my Jeep is a V8 and I don't want to go to a different car that is less powerful.

1. Is the E39 540i reliable when you buy one in good condition with no issues?
2. What are some common failures on the 540i and are the expensive to fix, or hard to DIY?
3. Is it okay to purchase one with high mileage with no issues?
4. Are they easy to DIY on?

That is all I can think of right now, but I will be sure to add some things if I think of them.

Anyway, on to the BMWs I found.
(I am getting all the info for them from the VIN decoder)

1. 2002 BMW 540iA
Price: $3900
Color:TOLEDOBLAU METALLIC
Interior STANDARDLEDER/GRAU
Production Date: 4/12/02
Mileage: 198,000

Options:
248-STEERING WHEEL HEATING
319-INTEGRATED UNIVERSAL REMOTE CONTROL
403-GLAS ROOF, ELECTRIC
456-COMFORT SEATS, ELECTRIC. ADJUSTABLE
470-CHILD SEAT ISOFIX ATTACHMENT
494-SEAT HEATING F DRIVER/FRONT PASSENGER
500-HEADLIGHT WASHER SYS/INTENSIVE CLEANING
521-RAIN SENSOR
522-XENON LIGHT
640-CAR TELEPHONE PREPARATION
650-CD PLAYER
677-HIFI SYSTEM PROFESSIONAL
694-PREPARATION FOR CD CHANGER
785-WHITE DIRECTION INDICATOR LIGHTS
818-MAIN BATTERY SWITCH
925-SHIPPING PROTECTION PACKAGE

Problems: Clearcoat is peeling on the rear bumper.
My opinion: This BMW seems to be clean overall, it has all the original paperwork (it seems) and it has some pretty cool options. The price is also pretty appealing to me.

2. 2000 BMW 540i6
Price: $5995
Color:TITANSILBER METALLIC
Interior:STANDARDLEDER/GRAU
Production Date: 10/12/99
Mileage: 150,000

Options:
339-SATIN CHROME
403-GLAS ROOF, ELECTRIC
416 SUNBLINDS
459-SEAT ADJUSTM., ELECTR. W. MEMORY
481-SPORT SEATS F DRIVER/FRONT PASSENGER
521-RAIN SENSOR
522-XENON LIGHT
640-CAR TELEPHONE PREPARATION
677-HIFI SYSTEM PROFESSIONAL
694-PREPARATION FOR CD CHANGER
704-M SPORT SUSPENSION
710-M LEATHER STEERING WHEEL
788-M LT/ALY WHEELS
818-MAIN BATTERY SWITCH
925-SHIPPING PROTECTION PACKAGE

Problems: There doesn't appear to be any problems with this one. The only thing that mildly concerns me is the fact that it doesn't have the facelifted halo headlights and the facelifted Celis taillights. These can be installed, though.
My opinion: I like this E39, but the price is pretty high for me. I really like the fact that it is manual.

3. 2002 BMW 540iA
Price: $3,999
Color: STAHLBLAU METALLIC
Interior Color:STANDARDLEDER/BEIGE E36 SANDBEIGE
Production Date: 6/7/2002
Mileage: 150,000

Options:
202-STEPTRONIC
204-DRIVE VERSION EXPORT
257-SIDE AIRBAG F RR PASSENGERS,DEACTIVATION
261-SIDE AIRBAG FOR REAR PASSENGERS
299-LT/ALY WHEELS W MIXED TYRES
319-INTEGRATED UNIVERSAL REMOTE CONTROL
403-GLAS ROOF, ELECTRIC
459-SEAT ADJUSTM., ELECTR. W. MEMORY
470-CHILD SEAT ISOFIX ATTACHMENT
481-SPORT SEATS F DRIVER/FRONT PASSENGER
494-SEAT HEATING F DRIVER/FRONT PASSENGER
500-HEADLIGHT WASHER SYS/INTENSIVE CLEANING
521-RAIN SENSOR
522-XENON LIGHT
609-NAVIGATION SYSTEM PROFESSIONAL
640-CAR TELEPHONE PREPARATION
694-PREPARATION FOR CD CHANGER
704-M SPORT SUSPENSION
710-M LEATHER STEERING WHEEL
760-INDIVIDUAL HIGH-GLOSS SATIN CHROME
785-WHITE DIRECTION INDICATOR LIGHTS
818-MAIN BATTERY SWITCH
925-SHIPPING PROTECTION PACKAGE

Problems: This BMW has been treated a bit poorly by its previous owner(s). It has had its 540i badge replaced with an ///M5 badge despite the fact that it is not a ///M car. It also has a ///M badge on the front grille. This is not a problem as they can be removed. Another thing is that the classic BMW blue roundels have been replaced with aftermarket black ones that have become significantly worn. I would replace with with OEM ones, luckily the center caps in the rims have not been altered.
My opinion: This BMW has most of the things I like, such as the navigation and the ///M steering wheel. It is also decently clean, all the issues are just cosmetic so it would be really easy for me to clean up. I also really like the color combination.

4. 1997 BMW 540i6
Price: $4500
Color: OXFORDGRUEN METALLIC
Interior Color: STANDARDLEDER/SATTELBRAUN
Production Date: 7/19/96
Mileage: 105,000

Options:
248-STEERING WHEEL HEATING
291-LT/ALY WHEELS /CROSS-SPOKE /2-PRT
403-GLAS ROOF, ELECTRIC
456-COMFORT SEATS, ELECTRIC. ADJUSTABLE
464-SKIBAG
494-SEAT HEATING F DRIVER/FRONT PASSENGER
500-HEADLIGHT WASHER SYS/INTENSIVE CLEANING
522-XENON LIGHT
555-ON-BOARD COMPUTER
640-CAR TELEPHONE PREPARATION
677-HIFI SYSTEM PROFESSIONAL
694-PREPARATION FOR CD CHANGER
704-M SPORT SUSPENSION
818-MAIN BATTERY SWITCH
838-CANADIAN VERSION
925-SHIPPING PROTECTION PACKAGE

Problems: Just like the other BMW, this one has been a bit abused. Someone decided to put the ///M badge on the back, one the opposite side of the 540i badge. I will have to remove it, which is not a big deal. Then, someone put an Apple sticker on the back, and the dealer put their sticker on the back. Lots of unnecessary stickers. Then, someone painted the ///M colors onto the grille, so I'll have to remove that. The rims on it, I am not sure if they are original or not. Even if they are, I dislike them so they'd have to be removed. Someone went wild on eBay and bought smoked fake facelift taillights, as well as some very stupid looking fake halos that I assume change colors. On the other hand, the interior is in mint condition and gorgeous. I have never seen a saddle brown E39 interior before, and this one is great.
My opinion: I love the interior, and I like the exterior color despite the fact that it could use some work. Everything else though, I like. Even the dated BMW car phone. I absolutely love the fact that not only is it unique, it has a manual transmission!

So that is about every E39 I am considering, please be honest when telling me which E39 is best E39. I am considering all of them at this point.

Also, the pictures correspond to the order they are in.

Thanks for any help!

[IMG][/IMG]

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Last edited by bimmerlover1; 06-26-2016 at 11:39 AM.
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  #2  
Old 06-26-2016, 12:07 PM
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matt540 matt540 is online now
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I would personally stick with one that has a manual transmission. The ones around 150k+ miles I would see which have had the timing chain guides replaced, have had rescent cooling system work and suspension components replaced.
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  #3  
Old 06-26-2016, 12:11 PM
bimmerlover1 bimmerlover1 is offline
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Originally Posted by matt540 View Post
I would personally stick with one that has a manual transmission. The ones around 150k+ miles I would see which have had the timing chain guides replaced, have had rescent cooling system work and suspension components replaced.
Two of them have manual transmissions, which one? LOL.
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Old 06-26-2016, 12:29 PM
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TheAngryBear TheAngryBear is online now
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You are going to have to determine which set of options and colors you want. What I wanted you might find excessive or not enough. And same for your wants. As for the maintenance: better to have records than not but no records doesn't mean it is bad, just means you might have to do more immediately. If you can get one with the guides done that might be a great thing or significantly drive up the price. Depends on what you want and have to spend.

As for the things to watch for, do a forum search for buyers guides. Pricing is off but the issues are relatively unchanged.

Two pieces of advice regardless of which you decide on: 1) get a BMW specific scanner. It will pay for itself. 2) start a specific set aside fund/account for parts and service. After you have done the requisite service then you can use the funds for mods.
Good hunting!
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Old 06-26-2016, 03:20 PM
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Wgosma Wgosma is online now
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Here's the old buyers guide....pretty decent rundown of the E39 'weak points'.

Good luck shopping!
Bill
Attached Files
File Type: pdf BMW E39 Apr 08 Buyers Guide001.pdf (2.74 MB, 42 views)
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  #6  
Old 06-26-2016, 04:34 PM
edjack edjack is offline
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The E39 is a high-maintenance vehicle, esp since all examples have substantial mileage. If you don't DIY, plan to spend $1-2k a year on repairs, if not more, esp for those examples with deferred maintenance.

If you are an accomplished automotive DIYer, you s/b able to handle most repair jobs. Buy a copy of the Bentley E39 service manual, and, as TheAngryBear suggests, a scan tool. A generic one, such as those at Harbor Freight, will serve.

When the job grows hair, a BMW scan tool will help. There are several available.
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Last edited by edjack; 06-26-2016 at 04:42 PM.
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  #7  
Old 06-26-2016, 09:56 PM
avu3 avu3 is offline
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Ed Jack pretty much said it. I would say that you might budget more like $2k to $3k so you can afford rental cars and rush charges and the like, if you don't have a backup vehicle.


1. Is the E39 540i reliable when you buy one in good condition with no issues?

Yes, as reliable as any car with age assuming its had its maintenance. Stuff is going to break. Alternators, HVAC Blowers, water pumps etc. Many on here have over 200k miles. The one big issue with the 540 is timing chains.

2. What are some common failures on the 540i and are the expensive to fix, or hard to DIY?

Timing chains are the big one. $4k+ if you pay a shop. $800ish if you buy the parts yourself, plus you need to rent some tools and time the cams... which can be intimidating depending on your tolerance. Auto trans, obviously. The water cooled alternator is expensive. $400 to $1200 depending on what you buy. The whole cooling system is $500 to $1000 in parts. Suspension arms add up.

3. Is it okay to purchase one with high mileage with no issues?

If its had it maintenance, and depending where you are in the schedule. Cooling systems and Front ends are an every 100k kind of thing. An Auto Trans needs a fluid change every 30k miles. "ok" depends on price. If you buy it knowing you are about to drop $2k into it for $2k less than market and you know that going in... or you pay a premium for meticulous service and history.

4. Are they easy to DIY on?

Depends on your experience. 1st gen Miatas or 60s Mustangs are easy to me. My 95 Lincoln and 98 Ford sucked. The BMW is in the middle. Some things are tedious - tons of parts to remove, but the awesome part is all the help on forums, from vendor DIYs and youtube videos. What I love is that, if you follow the procedure, you're generally not going to break things when disassembling them. The cars are built to be serviced.

Now, it still sucks that changing the upper timing cover gasket requires removing the fuel injectors and valve covers, or that you have to pull the intake to get to the valley pan... but its not hard, just takes time.

I would not own an e39 as my only vehicle. When they go down, you need time to work on them and to wait for parts... otherwise shop time adds up fast.

I debate getting rid of mine all the time. I am tired of working on it. Right now its down needing a cooling fan fixed (not sure if fan or wiring, haven't had time to work on it). Also needs the trans fluid changed (atx). But when I do drive it, man its really nice. I'd miss it if I got rid of it.

I wish I'd bought a Manual (but this awesome well maintained deal fell in my lap). I also wish it was an M5.
If I had to do it again, I'd have held out for an M5.

Last edited by avu3; 06-26-2016 at 09:59 PM. Reason: didn't really answer some questions
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  #8  
Old 06-26-2016, 10:32 PM
edjack edjack is offline
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Hear, hear!
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  #9  
Old 06-27-2016, 01:43 AM
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Burning2nd Burning2nd is offline
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Mein Auto: E39 540, E36 328is, E83x3
lol i like the badges


The answer is No you shouldn't buy a e39 (relax let me explain people)

If you even have to question "should i buy a e39" your not ready for it..

the correct approach was "guys i bought a e39 HELP!" or "Just bought a e39, when will it stop requesting money"
OR even "Hey i just got this e39, whats wrong with it"

but since you have already questioned your self if you should buy it... the answer is no

*6speed boy
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  #10  
Old 06-27-2016, 05:17 AM
bimmerlover1 bimmerlover1 is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by avu3 View Post
Ed Jack pretty much said it. I would say that you might budget more like $2k to $3k so you can afford rental cars and rush charges and the like, if you don't have a backup vehicle.


1. Is the E39 540i reliable when you buy one in good condition with no issues?

Yes, as reliable as any car with age assuming its had its maintenance. Stuff is going to break. Alternators, HVAC Blowers, water pumps etc. Many on here have over 200k miles. The one big issue with the 540 is timing chains.

2. What are some common failures on the 540i and are the expensive to fix, or hard to DIY?

Timing chains are the big one. $4k+ if you pay a shop. $800ish if you buy the parts yourself, plus you need to rent some tools and time the cams... which can be intimidating depending on your tolerance. Auto trans, obviously. The water cooled alternator is expensive. $400 to $1200 depending on what you buy. The whole cooling system is $500 to $1000 in parts. Suspension arms add up.

3. Is it okay to purchase one with high mileage with no issues?

If its had it maintenance, and depending where you are in the schedule. Cooling systems and Front ends are an every 100k kind of thing. An Auto Trans needs a fluid change every 30k miles. "ok" depends on price. If you buy it knowing you are about to drop $2k into it for $2k less than market and you know that going in... or you pay a premium for meticulous service and history.

4. Are they easy to DIY on?

Depends on your experience. 1st gen Miatas or 60s Mustangs are easy to me. My 95 Lincoln and 98 Ford sucked. The BMW is in the middle. Some things are tedious - tons of parts to remove, but the awesome part is all the help on forums, from vendor DIYs and youtube videos. What I love is that, if you follow the procedure, you're generally not going to break things when disassembling them. The cars are built to be serviced.

Now, it still sucks that changing the upper timing cover gasket requires removing the fuel injectors and valve covers, or that you have to pull the intake to get to the valley pan... but its not hard, just takes time.

I would not own an e39 as my only vehicle. When they go down, you need time to work on them and to wait for parts... otherwise shop time adds up fast.

I debate getting rid of mine all the time. I am tired of working on it. Right now its down needing a cooling fan fixed (not sure if fan or wiring, haven't had time to work on it). Also needs the trans fluid changed (atx). But when I do drive it, man its really nice. I'd miss it if I got rid of it.

I wish I'd bought a Manual (but this awesome well maintained deal fell in my lap). I also wish it was an M5.
If I had to do it again, I'd have held out for an M5.
Thanks so much for the detailed answers! I really appreciate it. You have added a bit more for me to consider when I look to purchase one. I will definitely look to see if any 540i I look at has had the timing chains replaced. That seems like the one thing I would not want to be stuck with, LOL.
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  #11  
Old 06-27-2016, 05:37 AM
bimmerlover1 bimmerlover1 is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Burning2nd View Post
lol i like the badges


The answer is No you shouldn't buy a e39 (relax let me explain people)

If you even have to question "should i buy a e39" your not ready for it..

the correct approach was "guys i bought a e39 HELP!" or "Just bought a e39, when will it stop requesting money"
OR even "Hey i just got this e39, whats wrong with it"

but since you have already questioned your self if you should buy it... the answer is no

*6speed boy
I haven't questioned myself on if I want to buy it, I know I want to buy it. But the problem is I am very hesitant about selling the car I currently have, due to the fact that it is in mint condition.
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  #12  
Old 06-27-2016, 05:45 AM
bimmerlover1 bimmerlover1 is offline
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I have checked the CarFax out on a few different E39s and I was wondering if the timing chains would come up if they were replaced. The only thing I can see is "drive belts".
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  #13  
Old 06-27-2016, 06:33 AM
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thumper600 thumper600 is online now
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Bimmer, until you know the car is well sorted you shouldn't sell your current car, even then a back up car is a nice peace of mind option
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Old 06-27-2016, 06:41 AM
MKJS MKJS is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by bimmerlover1 View Post
I have checked the CarFax out on a few different E39s and I was wondering if the timing chains would come up if they were replaced. The only thing I can see is "drive belts".
Drive belts are most likely the accessory belt running the steering pump, etc.

With a 540 it's not, "if the timing guides go," it's "when the guides go." They will all do it, the average mileage is round 150K.

As said, other issues are the entire cooling system, and automatic trans service issues. As BMW states, the fluid is good for the life of the transmission, but unfortunately it's not magic fluid and if you don't change it, the life it's good for will be a short one.

The 6's are also great cars with almost as much bottom end, and a better steering box. Drive both, so you can feel the difference for yourself.

For all, this is a fantastic car and a lot like potato chips, one is not enough!

Jim

Last edited by MKJS; 06-27-2016 at 08:11 AM.
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Old 06-27-2016, 06:58 AM
bimmerlover1 bimmerlover1 is offline
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Thanks for all the help and advice, guys. I appreciate it a lot! Out of curiosity, I also looked at some facelifted E38 7-Series. Do they face the same issues as the 540i?
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Old 06-27-2016, 08:14 AM
MKJS MKJS is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by bimmerlover1 View Post
Thanks for all the help and advice, guys. I appreciate it a lot! Out of curiosity, I also looked at some facelifted E38 7-Series. Do they face the same issues as the 540i?
If the motor in question is an M62, then yes, it will have chain guide issues. In addition, the 7 series are larger bodied cars and IMO, the 5 series is as big as good will have it.

Jim
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  #17  
Old 06-27-2016, 06:18 PM
EconoBox EconoBox is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by bimmerlover1 View Post
I also don't feel like putting a lot of money into my Jeep, as it's price is going to continue to sink like a stone and I won't be able to get the money I put into it back when I go to sell it. Thus, I am now considering getting a BMW.
You won't get the money you invest in repairs back for most any car. It's not just a Jeep thing. If you buy a 15 year old car, be prepared to spend some money on maintenance, just like any car.
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Old 06-27-2016, 07:10 PM
haolibird haolibird is online now
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Mein Auto: E39 540i, E39 M5, E34 535
My vote is for the older 6 speed, Oxford Green, 105k, HANDS DOWN.
Heated steering wheel?
GAME OVER!
Gotta have it.
And I live in San Diego.
$4500 ain't bad for the mileage, and you have some wiggle room on chain replacement, maybe 20k or 30k miles from now.
As it's a dealer, offer $3000.00 and go from there.

WTF is up with all the fake M sh!t?
Too funny.

Bottom line on any E39:
If you can't wrench on them yourself, or don't want to, IT's THE WRONG CAR FOR YOU.
My Brothers understand.

BTW, are there no private sellers in your neighborhood?

Good luck.
Tom
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Old 06-28-2016, 06:03 AM
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Brandon002 Brandon002 is offline
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FYI, the 530I has around the same HP as a V8 jeep.
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Old 06-28-2016, 06:19 AM
bimmerlover1 bimmerlover1 is offline
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Originally Posted by Brandon002 View Post
FYI, the 530I has around the same HP as a V8 jeep.
Its pretty close, but not exact. My Jeep has the 4.7L and is rated for 235 horsepower. The 530i has around 225.
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Old 06-28-2016, 06:26 AM
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Brandon002 Brandon002 is offline
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Its pretty close, but not exact. My Jeep has the 4.7L and is rated for 235 horsepower. The 530i has around 225.
And the 530 is probably lighter and handles a ton better seeing as,it's not lugging around 4wd.

As already stated with the 540 timing chain work can rack up a substantial repair bill of you can't confirm it's already been done.
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Old 06-28-2016, 06:32 AM
bimmerlover1 bimmerlover1 is offline
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Originally Posted by Brandon002 View Post
And the 530 is probably lighter and handles a ton better seeing as,it's not lugging around 4wd.

As already stated with the 540 timing chain work can rack up a substantial repair bill of you can't confirm it's already been done.

Is the 530 more reliable?
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Old 06-28-2016, 06:35 AM
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Brandon002 Brandon002 is offline
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In my opinion yes. I've owned a few of both and the cost of ownership has always been lower on the inline 6 cars. Any old BMW has it's common failure points, but in my opinion The 6 cylinder cars are easier and cheaper to upkeep.
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  #24  
Old 06-28-2016, 06:39 AM
bimmerlover1 bimmerlover1 is offline
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Location: Somewhere on the East Coast
 
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Mein Auto: Jeep Grand Cherokee
Quote:
Originally Posted by Brandon002 View Post
In my opinion yes. I've owned a few of both and the cost of ownership has always been lower on the inline 6 cars. Any old BMW has it's common failure points, but in my opinion The 6 cylinder cars are easier and cheaper to upkeep.
I've read up on everything and that seems to be the case in a lot of situations. I will look in to a six cylinder, but from the few searches I have done, I cannot seem to find a 530i in my price range with the options I would like.
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  #25  
Old 06-28-2016, 10:42 AM
528iAut 528iAut is offline
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Mein Auto: 528i
I only like the first one you have pictures of, but it has lots of miles on it...
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E39 528i Steptronic 1996, Comfort seats, Rear curtain, Oxford Green.
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