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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 11-12-2013, 07:22 AM
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Summary of engine cranks but won't start threads (gas air spark compression timing)

I've seen a few threads lately where the engine won't start, and, I noticed there wasn't a good thread in the bestlinks yet for the starting point for noobs.

To be sure, there are PLENTY of threads on specific starting problems (related to gas, air, spark, compression & timing), and even more on electrical problems (related to the battery, alternator, ignition switch, fuel pump, EWS system, buses, etc.) any of which would cause an engine to not start - but - there wasn't a good canonical thread for where the clueless should start when the engine cranks, but doesn't catch.

Since I don't have the problem myself, I'm not going to WRITE that canonical thread, but, the least I can do is begin to cross reference to THIS thread how OTHERS solved the problem.

I'll start with an E39-only Title-only search for keywords like "car won't start" with at least a dozen replies, and then I'll add the ones with the most replies here, separated into those that have the engine cranking and the inevitable set where the engine won't crank (which is a different problem altogether):

CRANKS but won't start:
Does not even crank:
Note: I'm not going to concentrate on those threads where the engine won't crank, but, I list them here because others may initially be confused about the difference.
Over time, I'll append recent 'car won't start' threads, particularly the ones where the engine cranks, but won't catch, so that the newbies have a good place to start.
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Last edited by bluebee; 07-09-2014 at 06:06 PM.
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  #2  
Old 11-12-2013, 07:39 AM
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WIP work in progress ... PLEASE IMPROVE!

If an engine turns over but won't catch, the goal is to list the likely causes here, so that the newbies have a starting point diagnostic tree.
As usual, I'll embarrass myself my making a first pass (please improve as this is all theoretical, since I don't have the problem myself):

Here are some of the common culprits if the engine cranks, but won't start:
  1. Gas
    • See: How does the E39 fuel injection FI system work (1) & the location of the K96 FPR fuel pump relay (1) & the location of the fuel system pressure test Schrader valve for the I6 (1) and V8 (1) (2) (3) & a quick test for fuel pump operation (1) (2) & what are the most often recommended fuel pump & fuel filter brands (1) (2) & a DIY for replacing the fuel filter (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6) (7) & a DIY for replacing the fuel pump (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) & how to service your BMW E39 fuel injectors (1) & how to replace the 7.52X3.52mm and 9.2X2.8mm fuel injector o-rings (1) & cleaning the fuel gauge sensor (1) (2) & replacing the fuel sensor (1) & resolving blown fuses due to a stuck fuel filler door solenoid (1)
  2. Air
    • See: How to locate all the vacuum hoses in the E39 engine bay (1)
    • See: How to DIY replace the engine air filter (1) & a DIY for a K&N retrofit (1) but read this about the flaws in the K & N method before deciding on any engine filter retrofit (1) (2).
  3. Spark
    • See: How to test a BMW ignition coil (1) (2)
  4. Compression
    • See: How to test compression on a BMW E39 V8 engine (1) and on the I6 engine (1)
  5. Timing
    • See: How to replace the timing chain tensioner and rail guide on the I6 (1) & on the M62 (1) & on the M62TU (1) (2) (3) (4) (5)
Note: If the engine won't even crank, that's a different issue than what I'm trying to flesh out for this thread:
  1. Charging system (e.g., battery & alternator)
  2. Starting system (e.g., starter & solenoid)
    • See: - Where is the starter motor located (1) & an M52 starter motor DIY (1) (2) & the BMW TIS (1) and an E38 740iL starter motor DIY (1) (2) & how to remove the M52 starter motor without removing the intake manifold (1) (2) & what special tools are needed (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) & where is the starter motor relay (1) (2)
  3. Electrical system (e.g., ignition switch & alarm system & fuses)
    • See: Signs of a failing ignition switch (1) (2) or ring antenna (1) & the BMW TIS for when the ignition switch spins but does not engage (1) & rebuilding a failed ignition switch (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6) (7) (8) (9) (10) & what to do if your steering wheel & key cylinder locks in place (1) (2) & the BMW training on the EWS alarm drive away protection system (pdf)
    • See: One user's attempt to locate, describe, and photograph all fuses and relays in the BMW E39 with a picture of every fuse & relay (1)
Note: If the engine runs roughly, that's also a wholly different issue:
  1. Misfires & Vacuum Leaks:
    • See: - How to diagnose a BMW E39 engine misfire (1) & a cold-engine intermittent misfire (1)
  2. Rough idle & CEL codes:
    • What to tell newbies who ask why their SES/CEL light is on but who don't have DTC scan codes or why they have a misfire or stumbling, hesitation, rough idle, etc., but who don't post codes from an OBD scanner with their question (1)
WIP work in progress ... PLEASE IMPROVE!

NOTE: The focus of this thread is that an engine with the proper gas, air, spark, compression, & timing, has to run!

So, if it's cranking well, but it's not running, the problem is almost always (if not always) one or more of those 5 items, to be tested in that order.
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Last edited by bluebee; 07-09-2014 at 06:10 PM.
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  #3  
Old 11-12-2013, 08:24 AM
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A good thread concept and this could be very helpful. I have always subscribed to the gas, air and spark triad for starting issues. I recommend starting with the simple things and the most common causes. Then once eliminated, pursue other possible causes.

While bad timing can prevent starting, this is a rare cause. For timing, there is spark timing and valve timing. These things don't typically change or fail suddenly. I am not sure timing plays a major role unless you did something to change the timing (e.g. a single Vanos seal replacement w/out locking the cams or in the old days, rotate your distributor cap).

Compression shouldn't be a major factor in starting since compression is typically related to ring or valve condition (assuming valve timing is correct). These things don't suddenly fail or degrade like spark, fuel or air. As the valves or rings wear, you will get degraded engine performance but the engine should still start.

In most cases, I recommend starting with electrical as this appears to be the most common cause for starting problems. For instance, a weak battery will allow the car to turn over but it may not start. Same with a loose battery connection.
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  #4  
Old 11-12-2013, 03:59 PM
teklord69 teklord69 is offline
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My car is still dead. Bought new relay, fuel pump, and battery. Still cranks but no start. Tested Fuel pressure at rail and got 45 psi when key is in position 2.. Pressure holds at that psi.
Fuel filter is less than a year old. There is fuel in tank. Tried cranking with gas pedal on floor but I dont think its flooded. Bought new plugs..that didn't help.
Sprayed starting fluid and car started a bit..so spark is ok. So I got air, spark, and fuel pressure.. Why won't the car start? The only thing I need to check is the fuses
under the hood.. Otherwise, what can the cause be??
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Old 11-12-2013, 04:11 PM
teklord69 teklord69 is offline
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Thanks for doing this Bluebee..I didn't realize how many "cranks but no start" issues affecting E39's until I did searching..More so on E46.
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Old 11-12-2013, 05:32 PM
Burning2nd Burning2nd is offline
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All of these problems are aproched the same way..
on every make and model
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Old 11-12-2013, 10:45 PM
teklord69 teklord69 is offline
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I want to check the fuses under here..How do I get this cap off without breaking anything?
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  #8  
Old 11-14-2013, 07:43 AM
Crutzy Crutzy is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Burning2nd View Post
All of these problems are aproched the same way..
on every make and model
What is that approach?
(I think that's why this thread was opened.)
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  #9  
Old 11-15-2013, 11:04 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by teklord69 View Post
I want to check the fuses under here..How do I get this cap off without breaking anything?
I think you put a screwdriver in that slot on the left side ...as explained here:
- One user's attempt to locate, describe, and photograph all fuses and relays in the BMW E39 with a picture of every fuse & relay (1)
Quote:
Originally Posted by pleiades View Post
You remove the fuse holder cover by sticking a comparably sized flat-head screwdriver tip into that small slot on one corner and pushing with that and with your fingers to slide the cover toward the other end, in the direction of the firewall. Some people might prefer to do this with the holder still clipped into place in the e-box bracket.

On my car, the fuse holder is fully populated but the fuse closest to the slotted corner is apparently a spare because there are no connectors underneath for it to plug into.

Going on memory here but once the cover is off, the upper part of the fuse holder lifts out with the fuses. They fall out fairly easily after that.

BTW, when you do get the cover off, would you kindly identify which is fuse EF1 versus EF5? I've been trying to get someone to identify which is which for about six months now ...
Quote:

EF1 = 30A, MAF, Cam sensor #1, DME, T-Stat, Evap emission valve (some say it's 30A - DME, Injectors, SMG Hydraulic unit)
EF2 = 30A, Fuel injectors, Both Vanos solenoids, Cam sensor #2, SAS pump electrical valve (some say it's 30A - DME, Idle control valve, Fuel tank ventilation valve, Fuel pump)
EF3 = 20A, Cam sensors, MAF, Crank Sensor, Heated O2 sensors (some say it's 30A, others say 25A - E-box fan, Transmission RPM sensor, CPS, MAF sensor, Fuel pump relay, SAP relay, A/C Compressor relay, Fuel tank leakage diagnostic module, SMG selector lever)
EF4 = 30A, DME (some say it's 30A - Oxygen sensors and oxygen sensor heater circuits)
EF5 = 30A, Unloader relay, power to coils (some say it's 30A - Fuel injector relay)
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Last edited by bluebee; 11-15-2013 at 11:07 PM.
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  #10  
Old 12-20-2013, 07:15 AM
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.
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Last edited by bluebee; 12-20-2013 at 07:18 AM.
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  #11  
Old 12-20-2013, 09:05 PM
teklord69 teklord69 is offline
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Lesson learned..if EWS is not sync'ed then the car will either start AND cranks or start but no crank.
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  #12  
Old 01-16-2014, 09:35 PM
Brad DeLoye Brad DeLoye is offline
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huh? when i unhook my ews no crank. when i plug it back in there is crank... when i take the ews out and bridge pin 1 and 3 there is crank. when i take out the bridge wire from pin 1 and pin 3 there is no crank
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  #13  
Old 02-06-2014, 11:50 PM
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See also this thread opened today:
E39 (1997 - 2003) > My BMW E39 Series crank but would't start
Quote:
Originally Posted by telewestauto View Post
It all started yesterday. got to the car to go out and all i have was a click, click click when i tried starting the engine. then i thought it was a low battery problem, i took a battery from my other car and fixed it in the E39 which eventually started the engine. then while the E39 was still running i removed the battery and placed the original battery and drove out to work.

2mins drive the engine went off, tried to start again but all i got was the click, click sound. changed the battery again but this time the engine just crank without stating.

the is fuel in the car, fuel pump is pumping fuel to the engine area. my mechanic has replace the crank sensor because he said the ignition wasn't shocking (whatever that means)

please help.
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Old 02-16-2014, 03:23 PM
josemedeiros007 josemedeiros007 is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by bluebee View Post
I think you put a screwdriver in that slot on the left side ...as explained here:
- One user's attempt to locate, describe, and photograph all fuses and relays in the BMW E39 with a picture of every fuse & relay (1)


BTW, when you do get the cover off, would you kindly identify which is fuse EF1 versus EF5? I've been trying to get someone to identify which is which for about six months now ...
Quote:
Originally Posted by bluebee View Post
I used pleiades' answer in this post today:
> E39 (1997 - 2003) > Summary of engine cranks but won't start threads (gas air spark compression timing)



Note: It would be nice if someone can confirm which end is EF1 and which end is EF5?
I have a newbie dump backyard mechanic question, how do I get the DME fuse block cover off with out breaking it? There is a clip, and it looks like I broke it when I used a screw driver to unlatch it, but I still can't take off my cover, is it holding the fuse block into a socket?

Last night my 1998 BMW E39 528i started, ran rough and then died, I started it again, and it barely started and died, now it cranks over and doesn't appear to even try start at all so I am hoping it's just a fuse or a relay and not the fuel pump. Earlier that day, and all week it was running fine, and not even missing after cleaning the grounds last week.

My 15 amp fuse for the fuel pump in the trunk is not burnt, and has power but the car all of sudden won't start. I also have no computer trouble shooting codes using my Peak Research reader. I'll jack up the car and verify if the fuel pump is pumping gas by disconnecting the filter, but I can't seem to hear it running.

I am stranded in San Luis Obispo, so any help would be very much appreciated.

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Old 03-29-2014, 03:24 PM
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For the cross record, this was opened by someone today:
> E39 (1997 - 2003) > 2003 530i e39 will not start


Quote:
Originally Posted by VOY530i View Post
My car cranks but will not start
It was sitting for few weeks and I wanted to move it in to garage for a winter. Tried to start and came very close to running but it didn't.
Changed crank shaft position sensor already- not starting.
Looks like it's getting gas -little valve on top of engine is squirting when pressed,plus spark plugs are wet when removed (Dried and checked twice).
Removed rear seat and can hear fuel pump humming when turning the key.
I think it's not getting the spark
Can anyone help what to do at this point ???
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Old 07-09-2014, 09:32 AM
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An extremely similar thread was opened today:
> E39 (1997 - 2003) > 01 530i will not start

Quote:
Originally Posted by E-clipse View Post
I realize the topic of this post will make it appear to be like a dozen others, but it's not. My problem is today after braking hard, my car died and would not resart. When I attempted to start the car, it turned over for a few seconds then died. With the key in the 3rd position there are several lights that come stay on, but since the car will not start I don't know if this is just part of the startup diagnostic or what. Is there some kind of fuel cutoff switch or is this an extreme version on limp mode? I have searched but cannot find an answer that relates to my situation. I welcome any input that might help me solve this problem.Attachment 450614
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  #17  
Old 07-09-2014, 03:13 PM
E-clipse E-clipse is offline
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Maybe this thread should become a sticky. I searched for hours to find a post with issues like mine, and I came up short. I was hesitant to post due to reading replies from annoyed members or seeing questions unanswered. Be patient with the so called noobs some of us aren't afraid to do the research, we just need a good starting point. Thanks for the info and help
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Old 07-09-2014, 06:28 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Fudman View Post
I have always subscribed to the gas, air and spark triad
Your observations are astute, and a welcome addition & clarification, which is exactly what we were looking for in this thread, to help the next person who has an engine-cranks-but-doesn't-start issue.

I agree that GAS/AIR/SPARK will be the most often found reasons for an engine cranking well, but not starting.

I think only in the case of an overheated engine will the compression be the fault (and that's easily enough tested).

I'm not sure, if, on our bimmers, ignition timing will ever be the issue (Edit: and neither do you, as I read further.)

Quote:
Originally Posted by Fudman View Post
I recommend starting with the simple things and the most common causes
Good point.
Testing the obvious will probably catch half the problems, and visual checks will likely get most of those!

For example, users can easily check the obvious for gas (e.g., are the fuel injector spraying or the fuel system leaking?), air (e.g., does a smoke test show leaks or does the engine run better without the MAF?), and spark (e.g., is a coil wire ground missing or the spark plugs fouled?), etc.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Fudman View Post
While bad timing can prevent starting, this is a rare cause.
I fully agree. I can't even think of a reason timing will go bad on our bimmers, which is why it's last in the list. (For mechanically distributed engines, it would be a more common problem.)

Quote:
Originally Posted by Fudman View Post
For timing, there is spark timing and valve timing. These things don't typically change or fail suddenly.
When I wrote timing, I meant ignition timing.
I am pretty sure valve timing would show up in compression, wouldn't it?

That is, can you think of any cases where valve timing will be so badly off that the engine won't start, yet, the compression readings would be fine?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Fudman View Post
Compression shouldn't be a major factor in starting since compression is typically related to ring or valve condition (assuming valve timing is correct). These things don't suddenly fail or degrade like spark, fuel or air. As the valves or rings wear, you will get degraded engine performance but the engine should still start.
I fully agree.

The triad, as you call it (gas, air, & spark) are the three main reasons (in that order to test) for an engine cranking well, but not starting.

Compression is there only for a damaged engine (admittedly all too frequent in the aluminum E39), and ignition timing, as we both agree, is really only there for legacy reasons (i.e., mechanical distributors).

Quote:
Originally Posted by Fudman View Post
I recommend starting with electrical as this appears to be the most common cause for starting problems. For instance, a weak battery will allow the car to turn over but it may not start. Same with a loose battery connection.
This is an important point, which, we could debate (probably forever).
As was my thought process with the valve timing always showing up as compression issues, my logic was that electrical problems will likewise always show up in gas or spark issues.

For example, if the coils lost their ground, they wouldn't spark.
Likewise, if the fuel pump relay had an electrical short or open, it wouldn't properly pump fuel.
(Of course, intermittent cases would make diagnostics much more difficult, as always.)

Still, there's absolutely nothing wrong with ruling out the alternator & battery, especially since they go south all the time:
- DIY how to test a BMW E39 battery & alternator

What do others think?
Would ALL electrical problems show up in a test of proper gas & spark? (Or, could an electrical fault occur which doesn't show up as gas/air/spark/compression/or ignition timing?)
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Last edited by bluebee; 07-09-2014 at 06:37 PM.
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  #19  
Old 08-02-2014, 07:32 AM
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Sometimes, it's the simple things:
> E39 (1997 - 2003) > head gasket replaced - smiles, dread, horror, relief and smile again in 15 min.
Quote:
Originally Posted by jzbrown View Post
Just replaced the head gasket. Car ran for 10-15 seconds, sputtered and died. Would not restart.
The back story to my horror.
6 months ago my boss bought a 03 Jag, place across the street said intake manifold gasket was bad and quoted 500 for the job. I said that I could do it for half that no problem after looking at the support sites and what it required. Figured an afternoon at best. Engine was a v6 ford.
Well I followed the instructions on the web to a tee. Only thing was he said to put a towel in the intake holes on the head to ensure that nothing fell in there. It was a deep valley and you did not want to go chasing something that fell in there. However, he never stated remove towels. Put it back together and it ran for 15 seconds at best. Had the car towed to a local indi and they smoke tested and found no intake. The instructions never said to take the towels back out. Needless to say I felt way stupid.
Fast forward to yesterday - Same thing. I went from smile to horror to depression to maybe to hope to a smile again it 10 minutes.
Car was on ramps. I look at the gauges and the fuel gauge is looking like it doesn't even work. I knew it was low when I towed it in so I put a half gallon of gas in and presto, I am smiling again. The ramps threw all the gas away from the pump I guess.
Lesson learned - do you have fuel and spark? If not nothing else matters.
Anyway, long post and I am going to put a couple of more post about my trials, tribulations, and costs to do this.
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Old 08-13-2014, 08:11 AM
Lykkan Lykkan is offline
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I'll add some decent info about fuses.
Bought car, head gasket was blown, head was cracked. Replaced head etc. Reassembled car, turned ignition forward to see if any fuel was leaking, none, so did it again to make sure fuel pump primed it well. Nothing coming out. Turned key forward and tried starting it, got a little bit of a sputter as long as I kept holding the starter for a few seconds. Gave up and checked engine; fuel was spraying out of one of the injectors. After fixing leak, I was getting no fuel pressure whatsoever? Next day, I spent chasing fuses and diagrams, pulled rear fuse for fuel pump and tested continuity between fuse, it was good. Jumped fuel relay, it was good. Visually inspected fuses in "ebox" under passenger-air filter, they all visually looked ok. Hooked up OBDII reader, wasn't communicating with ECM.

I pulled the 5-fuse-holder thing out from the "ebox" and tested each fuse for continuity. One fuse (ecm 30amp) had 30 ohms and would change when moved around. Cosmetically it appeared to be fine (this is why I don't fart around with assuming they're good.) Replaced this fuse and tried starting and she fired right up.
Keep this in mind when chasing electrical gremlins. The OEM BMW fuses they used are poorly designed IMO to have the wire exposed to oxidizing and this is a good example of why.
Good luck!

(stealing this pic from teklord69 above, to assist in explaining where the bad fuse was)


I will also reiterate that it wasn't exactly that easy to start but I could tell I had life again in the fuel system.

It was having issues starting, so I disconnected MAF, and it started right up.
Left MAF's connector disconnected, started engine and then put my hand over the air intake to try and choke the engine - didn't feel like there was any vacuum and the engine didn't chug at all. Examined and the intake boot (the one between MAF and throttle body) and it was blatantly torn. Taped up problem (until replacement part gets here) and it ran perfectly. Problem solved.
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1997 BMW 528i
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Last edited by Lykkan; 08-14-2014 at 03:34 PM.
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  #21  
Old 08-14-2014, 11:08 AM
josemedeiros007 josemedeiros007 is offline
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Location: San Jose, California
 
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Mein Auto: 1998 528i 4Dr
Thank you for updating the post, and let the list know that it was a corroded connection / loose contact for the ECM fuse. If you live back East in the U.S.A snow and salt used on the roads must wreak havoc with electrical systems on vehicles. Another common complaint is the DME / ECM ground near the passenger engine compartment fuse panel, removing it, cleaning it with Emory cloth, and re-tightening it may be worth the extra effort.

I would also clean and tighten the Engine Ground near the motor mount and Battery Ground in the trunk, on my BMW E39, the previous owner had installed a cheap harbor freight battery trickle charger eyelet plug inserted in between the battery cable ground eyelet and the body ground point that seemed to be causing arching due to less surface area.

Tighten your ground wire today
http://www.bimmerfest.com/forums/sho...=304000&page=2

http://www.bimmerfest.com/forums/sho...d.php?t=547988

BMW No-Start Diagnostic Guide DIY
http://blog.bavauto.com/3562/no-start-1989-325i-e30/
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  #22  
Old 08-14-2014, 01:28 PM
Lykkan Lykkan is offline
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Mein Auto: A hard bargain
Please delete.
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Last edited by Lykkan; 08-14-2014 at 01:48 PM.
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  #23  
Old 11-09-2014, 09:04 PM
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bluebee bluebee is offline
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Location: San Jose, California
 
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Mein Auto: 02 BMW 525i M54 auto 130K
This thread has a classic answer to the question:
> E39 (1997 - 2003) > Car cranks and is right about to turn on but doesnt


Quote:
Originally Posted by supermario0127 View Post
Ok guys. So I finally figured it out. I took valve cover off. My oil is mixed with anti-freez I blew the head gasket. That's why it had no compression. So I'm fixing it my self. Thanks foe the support if it wasn't for this forum I'd be clueless
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See also: E39 Bestlinks & How to easily find what you need
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  #24  
Old 11-10-2014, 01:17 PM
supermario0127 supermario0127 is offline
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Mein Auto:
So my next question guys. The piece that covers the timing chain what is it called ?? And how do it come off. I took off every bolt attached still something stopping it from coming off
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  #25  
Old 12-02-2014, 12:35 AM
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bluebee bluebee is offline
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Location: San Jose, California
 
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Mein Auto: 02 BMW 525i M54 auto 130K
Here's another cranks but won't start ...
> E39 (1997 - 2003) > Car not starting

Quote:
Originally Posted by TEisel View Post
Car is a 2001 530i. It is cranking, but not starting. Pulled the fuel line, no problems there.

Daughter went out to start the car this morning. Ran for a few seconds and then shut off. Now it will not start at all, just cranks.

Any suggestions on where to look next?

Thanks in advance.

Tim
Severn, MD
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