By on August 12, 2013

Will writes:

Sajeev:

I was recently greeted with the warm, orange glow of a check engine light on my 2002 BMW 530iA with 93,000 miles. I took the car to AutoZone and had the code read. It’s a P0741, which indicates a failing torque converter. This is apparently a common issue on E39s with the ZF 5 speed automatic, as the seals in the torque converters tend to deteriorate.

Although it could also indicate other problems, I think this code probably means I have a transmission problem, as I’ve been experiencing some strange lock up behavior, especially on the interstate where the car will lurch and the revs will jump when I accelerate in fifth gear. I have an appointment at a local independent mechanic in a few days, but I’m not looking forward to hearing the diagnosis. Here’s the question: should I bite the bullet and spend $1200-$1800+ for a new/rebuilt torque converter to be installed, or do I sell the car and spend ten grand or so on a mid 2000s Honda with 80,000-100,000 miles?

I do like the Bimmer quite a bit, but it’s an expensive car to maintain, and I’m not totally enamored with the idea of spending so much time at the mechanic in the future. I’d be perfectly happy with a less luxurious Honda, but I would take a hit on the money I’ve put into this car already (new cooling system, some new suspension components, new MAF sensor, etc.)

Sajeev answers:

Can it really indicate other problems?  I always thought P0741 is about ye olde torque converter…or a bad circuit between the lock up solenoid and engine computer. Plus, your “strange lock up behavior” on the highway proves my point.

Odds are you need a new converter, maybe the solenoid plus miscellaneous bits your mechanic will spot when the E39 is on the lift. And since you aren’t especially thrilled with owning a fantastic car with Germanic levels of wallet molesting…well…

Enjoy your new Honda. You’ll be far better off, even if us car peeps wish you’d keep the E39.

 

Send your queries to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

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173 Comments on “Piston Slap: Not Totally Enamored with E39 Upkeep?...”


  • avatar
    Lie2me

    I had a 2002 535i, without a doubt the finest sedan I’ve every had, but I always had the gnawing feeling that once the warranty was up this near-perfect sedan could easily become my worst nightmare. At the end of the lease I happily turned it in and have nothing but good memories of my time with it. My experiences since since have reinforced the fact that I made a wise decision. Get rid of the car and keep your good memories.

    • 0 avatar
      BMWnut

      In my experience an E46 is even worse than the E39.

      • 0 avatar
        Sam P

        E46 owner. Not in my experience. But then again, I bought the stick shift and do pre-emptive maintenance.

        • 0 avatar
          dswilly

          Our E46 w manual was bulletproof to 120k when it got rear-ended and totaled. Preventative maintenance was simple and cheap, a true DYI car. We miss it. My rule for BMW’s is if its a stick your likely to be in good shape.

          • 0 avatar
            CanuckGreg

            Knock on wood, but my ’04 330i with 6 speed manual (now with 90k miles on it) has been great. Other than consumables, I’ve spent maybe $1500 over the last 50k miles. And it’s the easiest car to DIY that I’ve ever owned.

          • 0 avatar

            My 03 330i (stick) has 298,700 miles. I do “old school” maintenance. Alternators, fuel pumps, all the outboard, non bmw stuff (bosch, koff, bosch) lasts 120-180k, so I’m on third alternator, second set of window regulators, second set of 02 sensors, etc. I’m on the Orig. Clutch….

            Third set of shocks. (100k or so per set…)

            Best built car I’ve ever had. What drives me nuts is the $8 oil filter housing seal under 3 hours work, or the $25 busted intake hose behind two hours work. If I didn’t diy….

            At 300k, I will change the gearbox oil again, and the diff oil. Stuff wears out, and the question is, is the rest of the car worth it.

          • 0 avatar
            hihosilver

            Definitely +1 on the Manual Transmission + Preventative maintenance (Cooling sys at 100k, changing oils and hoses/belts regularly, and all the rest)= reliable e46.

            Currently, I have a ’99 e46 with 160k miles, no major issues apart from the above. It is different/more expensive owning a BMW than a Honda/Toyota but it is on the whole worth it for me since I love to drive.

      • 0 avatar
        burgersandbeer

        Owned an E39 540 6-speed for about 5 years, now have an E46 330 6-speed (owned for 6 mos). So far I agree about the E46 being worse. It’s at least equally terrible. Maybe it will settle down and I can take my preferred mechanic out of my speed dial, but I’m off to a really rough start with the E46.

    • 0 avatar
      Reino

      I’ll never understand why new car buyers/leasers believe that the dollars spent in a purchase/lease premium and dollars spent fixing an older car are somehow different sets of paper with dead presidents on them.

      ALL cars with over 100k are going to need more repairs than new cars. But they are far cheaper to purchase. So what is the difference, whether you spend it up front or in repairs?

      • 0 avatar
        Lie2me

        Repairs to a BWM are usually more frequent and a hell of a lot more costly.

        • 0 avatar
          vvk

          > Repairs to a BWM are usually more frequent and a hell of a lot more costly.

          That is a lie. BMW are reliable and durable cars. They drive and feel brand new with over 100k miles on the clock. They are also exceedingly cheap and easy to maintain and repair. Documentation and online help is plentiful and of high quality (try to ask a question on a Honda forum, see what you get from those morons.) Most fittings stay rust free, unlike lesser cars. Replacement parts are plentiful and of very high quality.

          • 0 avatar
            LectroByte

            Cheap to repair? LOL. Get back to us after you replace the torque converter. LOL some more.

            Why pick on Honda? I don’t currently drive or own any Honda products, but two I did have with automatics made it to well over 150K with tourque converters and most everything else intact. As have about every other brand of car with an automatic I’ve kept that long.

          • 0 avatar
            Lie2me

            Really? It would be foolish for you to say that is a lie when it’s easy to prove. Here is one example and there are many…

            2008 BMW 535i purchase price $ 17, 246.00
            5 year total cost of ownership $55, 396.00

            2008 Lexus ES350 purchase price $18, 262.00
            5 year total cost of ownership $43, 214.00

            Cost of ownership Based on a 5-year estimate with 15,000 miles driven per year.

            Per Edmunds dot com

            Don’t let your mouth write checks your ass can’t cash

          • 0 avatar
            tuffjuff

            @Lie2me

            Bravo.

          • 0 avatar
            AustinOski

            Depends on the part.

            I was amazed to find out the new starter at the dealer, for our 530xi wagon was $79.95 for the part. Seriously.

            But, then there was the $4,000 transfer case replacement (at about 50k miles) and the $2,000 cost to replace the motor that raises the electric rear hatch (at about 60k miles).

            Cheap and durable? Not so much for that car.

          • 0 avatar
            ellomdian

            I really don’t like that Edmunds uses dealer shop estimates on T&L to do a TCO – it isn’t necessarily wrong, but I do feel it contributes to a savagely inflated number.

            I also don’t know why we are discussing the TCO of an ’08 when the original question was about an ’02, a generation (and facelift) older than your example. For that matter, the e39 in question has more in common with a ’99 than with an ’03… I did an engine replacement on a ’00 e38 (same architecture in a 7) in my garage, something I would never imagine trying on a e60 without professional help.

            Major repairs to a late 90’s/early 00 BMW are no more common than on comparable cars of that vintage. They are like any manufacturer, there are weak spots and strengths across the board. It’s the minor repairs that add up quickly – you either learn to live with your cup-holder being non-functional and hot air only blowing out of the center vents, or you spend a significant amount of time (or money) fixing the annoyances.

            Speaking specifically to the OP, I was expecting to open up the article and see someone talking about the expense of maintaining a e39 540 (that V8… /sigh) and I was surprised to see that it’s a relatively straightforward drivetrain issue. Get the diagnosis before you make a decision, make sure to include the tranny issues so you get a total estimate, and decide if you would rather invest in someone else’s heap of mystery problems or your own.

          • 0 avatar
            hihosilver

            I think when you compare a BMW to a VW or Audi, then this statement is true.

            However a Honda and Toyota are clearly more reliable than most all other cars generally.

        • 0 avatar
          Lie2me

          I was using the 2008 example because it’s hard to find data on anything older. Using Edmunds wasn’t a preference as much as their data was simple and laid out easily, so if I needed to I could link to the info. It sounds like you’re a good guy to know if someone owns a BMW out of warranty

      • 0 avatar
        bumpy ii

        If your time diagnosing, parts chasing, and repairing is valued at $0, and you don’t care about being able to get to work on time every day…

        • 0 avatar
          Reino

          But whether your car is in-lease or out-of-lease, it could break down at any time. So your time value spent dropping it off at the shop is the same either way. And the money out-of-pocket either occurs in your monthly lease payment, or in the repair bill.

          Scenario A: Pay $5,000 down on a 5-series lease, plus $500/month for 36 months. All repairs covered under warranty. Total cost = $23,000

          Scenario B: Buy pre-owned 5-series with 100k for $15,000. Drive for 36 months. Make repairs for $XXX. Sell for $10,000. Total cost = $5,000 + $XXX.

          So even if repairs cost you $10,000 in three years, you still spent $8,000 less than the new one. Granted you don’t get a new car, but you’re not paying the same price for it, either.

        • 0 avatar
          SoCalMikester

          if you want to drive as cheap as possible, youd better get to know OBD2 and how to turn a wrench to save a few bucks.

      • 0 avatar
        tuffjuff

        @Reino

        My viewpoint on the topic is if you’re going to spend the kind of cash to maintain something like a BMW you’re better off leasing, because at least when you spend your however many grand a year (that you would’ve likely spent on repairs to your finicky, expensive BMW) at least you concurrently have a new car, with new technology and ever-improving interior, exterior, safety features, etc to show for it.

        When I buy a luxury SUV in the next year or two, I’m going with an Acura MDX. I was going to look at a BMW X5, but I just can’t afford to fix the BMW with how much more often it will probably take to repair than the Acura. The MDX is a fancied up Odessey/Pilot, and these are easy and cheap to repair, and they presumably won’t break all the freakin time. I’m not one for sterotypes, especially for cars, but in this case I’ve heard too many bad things about German reliability and too many good things about Japanese reliability to want to test my luck. This is coming from a guy who’s almost always bought American, too.

        • 0 avatar
          hubcap

          @tuffjuff

          Allow me to sing the praises of the MDX. We have a 2001 with 205,000+ miles on it. Besides routine maintenance, the only problems we’ve had we’re:

          1. egr valve- known problem and warranty was extended to 120,000 miles. I’ve since learned how to clean the intake and replace the valve if need be.

          2. A/C blower for the rear passenger seats went out. Again, not an uncommon problem, but one that was easily fixed with a fifty cent fuse, some research on the forums and about half an hour of my time.

          3. CD player stopped working. No biggie. Really didn’t listen to many CDs.

          4. Radio back light went out.

          That’s it. It’s been a very solid vehicle and I’m seriously contemplating purchasing a 2010-2012 TL SH-AWD 6MT.

          • 0 avatar
            tuffjuff

            Amazing vehicle, especially for the price. That it would cost $10k+ more for a similarly equipped X5 or M class is mind-boggling to me because of the German’s lack of value, and validating as to the stigma of how great of a value Japanese luxury vehicles are, all at the same time.

            I was going to go used, but I think for the extra $5-7k I’ll go new and drive one for a decade. I don’t think I’ve ever looked at a new vehicle, given the 20-25k miles per years I put on, and decided this idea might work, before the MDX.

          • 0 avatar
            SoCalMikester

            and you could probably get an OEM working plug-n-play CD unit for about $100 to take care of 2 of those issues.

        • 0 avatar

          WRONG !!!!

          I have had way less problems with my BMW than my MDX. Worse, the BMW dealer in my area is good. The Acura dealer is horrible. YMMV on this one, but BMW sold me a “less defective” car than Acura, by a large margin, and did a better job after the sale. When the torque converter puked and was TSB’ed, the Acura dealer tried to get me to pay the $2400 for it until I cited the TSB by number. They then had to do the job twice because they forgot a seal between trans and transfer case, and left the car a shambles. Loose intake hoses, fittings missing. A nightmare by guys ‘beating the book’ with power tools and a total lack of caring….avoid Bedford NY Acura.

          The MDX is not comparable in terms of build quality. I’d rather take wrench to my 2003 e46 than my 2008 MDX. The MDX will fight you every step of the way, with frozen bolts, etc. Spend some time on your back looking at the undersides, the size of the sway bar fittings, etc, and it just does not compare. The MDX drives nicely, but is basically a Pilot tuned to sorta X5 specs. I’ve come to the conclusion this Canadian built car is a typical GM with a Honda transaxle.

          Acura parts aren’t cheap-the dealer is wannabe BMW and so is the service department billing. There is ZERO aftermarket for the Acura (trust me on this-I just found for shocks OE or KYB or Monroe-no Koni, Bilstein, etc). There’s a lot for Honda in general, but ZERO for the MDX.

          BMW is way, way better supported in the aftermarket. I can fix my e46 for less money than the Acura MDX.

          I regret not going the extra bit for the X5, now, six years out.

          • 0 avatar
            tuffjuff

            Well, lucky for me I a) don’t need to mod my vehicle with aftermarket parts and b) don’t fix my own cars, so if the MDX does happen to have some random thing happen, likely much less often than the $15,000 more expensive X5, my local dealership will happily fix it.

            Did I mention the MDX was $15,000 less than a comparably equipped X5?

            The MDX is a bit more spacious, it has much better fuel economy, more standard equipment, isn’t finicky and German, and did I mention it was fifteen THOSUAND dollars less?

            Sorry, I didn’t mean to turn this into a comparo thread, but come on. I’m coming from a 2013 Chevy Equinox with remote start, rearview camera and infotaintment system, and that’s it. I don’t need or want anything BMW has to offer me, and I couldn’t afford to FIX IT if I did.

          • 0 avatar
            hihosilver

            the X5 is a total money pit. Can’t even compare that to an e46 in terms of BMW reliability.

      • 0 avatar
        mkirk

        In my case it wasn’t so much the money as my lack of weekends. The only way they are cheap to work on is DIY and frankly my time is worth more to me after two deployments than the measley check I write. My car was 20 years old though. My wife’s Hyundai would be fine for me though and it is right at 80k and 6 years old so maybe that is the happy medium.

  • avatar
    lowsodium

    This is why you buy a manual

    • 0 avatar
      BMWnut

      I have a manual 2002 530i, but with higher mileage. There are enough other things to break on an E39. First order of business are the cooling system issues, lots of them. As described by Will. I have also had some suspension bits replaced, and some more are due for attention. Or maybe it is just the same ones as last time.

      There are other issues. The ABS controller will die eventually, no thanks to it being mounted right above the exhaust manifold. In between big repairs there are little ones to kep you amused. The ventilation fan resistor pack will fail. The trunk lid wiring loom will chafe through. An auto box just takes it right over the top.

      The oil in Will’s gearbox has probably never been changed, as per factory instructions. It is good for life, they say. Yeah sure, the shortened life of the gearbox. The actual reason for this relaxed maintenance regimen is down to the maintenance plan sold with the car and the profit motive.

      The dead tree car magazines and the big budget TV shows do not tell you these things. They like the advertising revenue, test cars and lavish launches too much and so they just tell you how well engineered this month’s shiny new thing on wheels is. So one buys into this, thinking that the splendid engineering will also yield years of trouble-free travelling. Sadly the reality is very different.

      • 0 avatar
        carrya1911

        Well said. BMW’s are fun to drive…but once the warranty runs out they aren’t nearly as much fun to live with.

      • 0 avatar
        Battles

        Yes, the “sealed for life” in-joke that most German manufacturers share with each other.
        It used to be said that a used Benz or Beemer with an oil change recorded in the service history was one to avoid, now it’s the opposite accoding to the my friendly local German car specialist.
        He says that broadly the same tranny with the same fluid was used on the last of the W124s and first of the W210s with the notable difference of no removable filter and no dipstick. Nice try…

        • 0 avatar
          CoreyDL

          I have to explain this to uninformed German car owners sometimes, when they say “Oh so and so told me it was sealed for life. That’s good!”

          My first point is to get them to consider what a transmission DOES – move gears. What does it use for lubrication – the fluid. What happens when a fluid is used constantly – it degrades.

          By the time I’m done they realize their mistake. But they still love that BMW symbol.

        • 0 avatar
          dswilly

          There seems to be a fairly decent argument out there to not flush/change transmission fluid due to releasing of particulates that then go on to clog or disrupt the internals. This is not BMW specific but applies to many auto-boxes across all manufactures. I’m guessing its case by case issue. I know when we had a mechanic offer to flush our Honda transmission at 110k and I mentioned this, he hesitated and then offered to do a partial flush/ fluid change. It was as if he realized I was too informed and changed his tune. This is what scares me about the modern automatics, service them = potential trouble, don’t = potential trouble. Not like an old C6 or Turbo 350 than went forever, even after sitting in a cornfield for twenty years.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            I think the biggest issue is with the filter. You simply cannot use a filter forever, that’s not how they work.

            I think one key I’ve read in various places is NOT to flush it. Flushing shoves particles everywhere! You want to drop the pain and drain/refill and change the filter.

            I had mine done at 107K for the first time (I believe) in the car’s life. (Might’ve been done at 60K when it came off lease, but I can’t be sure). Had them do a change of the fluid and filter, but not a flush. Cost me a little less than $200, just had it done with an oil change and tire rotation at my independent. No problems, and I feel much better about the whole thing. I had it done because it had downshifted hard a couple of times, and because the fluid had been in there probably 10 years.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            “I think one key I’ve read in various places is NOT to flush it. Flushing shoves particles everywhere! You want to drop the pain and drain/refill and change the filter.”

            I’ve heard this multiple times from old timer mechanics and the owner of an AAMCO franchise.

          • 0 avatar
            hubcap

            I’ve heard similar regarding not flushing the transmission fluid because it can drudge up sediment that you’d rather have remain where it is.

            We (meaning I) just changed the tranny fluid on our Acura MDX a couple months ago.

          • 0 avatar
            mies

            Drain and fill good. Flush bad.

            My ’05 LeSabre’s transmission was fine until I had a cooler line replaced and the shop power flushed the transmission afterward. About a week later, the transmission would start to up shift extremely hard. Shifting sounded like I was hitting a pothole at high speed. Turning the car off for 20 minutes would usually fix it for about a month, then it would happen again. I never had that happen with just a plain old drop the pan, change the filter, and replace the fluid change. It didn’t shift hard all the time, but I was always afraid that it would start doing it, beat itself up, and leave me stranded.

            I’m not going to let the shop power flush the transmission on my Honda. I can live with a drain and refill. I’ll gladly live with a little bit of old fluid if it means the transmission doesn’t take a dump prematurely.

      • 0 avatar
        Ryoku75

        Sealed 4 Life Transmissions are becoming a bit more common with even Chryslers using them, unless if the “life” of the transmissions are reasonably long theres no good reason for this.

        Yes it saves money on dipsticks and filters, but “cost cutting” and “German Engineering” don’t belong together.

        • 0 avatar
          kmoney

          Agree with the above on the filled-for-life transmissions. The stupidestg thing about this is that for many of them the fluid specification didn’t change at all from before the change and in many cases the units themselves didn’t change (looking at you MB), yet suddenly they now qualify for no fluid changes.

          As a former tech, I have seen transmission flushes work well, the problem is that many people think, or shops improperly sell them, as a fixer and not preventer of problems. If the unit has already began to come appart then flushing is just a waste of time as it will either spread debris inside everywhere or will cause the unit to slip shortly after as the friction material that had come off and was formerly suspended in the fluid is now gone. The place i worked at would never do a flush even if requested on units that were not 100%.

        • 0 avatar
          indi500fan

          One of the (lesser known) impetus of sealed automatics is ease of vehicle assembly. The assembly plants wanted to get rid of the cumbersome and messy ATF fill on the line.

          With quick disconnect fittings, the trans oil level can be set on the hot test at the trans factory and just plugged into the vehicle on the line. The extra volume for the external circuit is included.

          Not a great deal for maintenance, but a great deal for the assembly plants.

      • 0 avatar
        mkirk

        Good for life = good for the duration of the original owner’s lease.

      • 0 avatar
        burgersandbeer

        I’m sure this story has plenty of responses insulting automatics and talking up manuals, but let’s not forget the reverse and 5th gear locking pin bearing bushings in the manual. In English, the stick won’t return to neutral from either reverse or 5th, and the whole thing feels extremely sloppy. The car remains technically driveable, but I can’t imagine paying BMW costs and tolerating that issue. It’s a common issue too.

  • avatar
    TR4

    You might want to try changing the transmission fluid if this has not been done recently. I have been skeptical about this procedure, but it recently worked for wifey’s Chrysler 300 and it’s cheap to try.

    • 0 avatar
      Battles

      Sounds like chummy has decided to ditch the E39 so it’s probably not worth it. Whoever buys it from him is probably going to get a decent car for the cash (under a hundred K miles, needs some basic maintenance and a relatively well understood torque converter fix).

    • 0 avatar
      jhefner

      This. Also add a single quart of Penzoil high mileage transmission fluid. I did not change the transmission fluid in the wagon until 140,000 miles. When I did, having clean fluid with fresh detergent in it allowed the torque converter bearing to leak like sieve; I was adding a quart of fluid a week while it left trails of fluid down the driveway when the temperatures soared into the 90s and above.

      After I added that quart, very little fluid loss; maybe a quart a month. And the torque converter rarely acts up anymore.

  • avatar
    rpol35

    It’s worth hearing what the independent guy has to say.

    I had a similar thing occur on my 2003 Dodge Durango when it had about 160,000 miles on it. Turns out something had gotten up under the car and chewed (no $hit, I am completely serious) on the wiring harness that goes into the transmission and conveys all things electronic. The independent mechanic in my case assumed it was a squirrel but who knows. Once the harness was repaired and the code reset, all has been fine and that was at least 15,000 miles ago.

    If your problem is worse and you need a converter, I’d ditch that car in a New York minute. A 530i has an unsavory reputation for reliability and maintenance expense.

  • avatar

    I understand that people need to make financial decisions that make sense for their pocket…

    …but I completely fail to see any logic – and REFUSE to purchase a car with over 30,000 miles on it – ESPECIALLY a used German car.

    If I was desperate to drive, I’d get a brand new base model car under $16,000 to have $200 a month payments (or lease).

    On a side note, I just bought a 2014 Jeep SRT and I’ll be at SRT track Experience this week in NJ.

    • 0 avatar
      brenschluss

      Econoboxes these days are reliable enough that, if well taken care of, one with 30k can still be for all practical intents and purposes a new car.

      Years ago, I wanted something small, that would provide no surprises, and ended up with a 36k mile CPO Civic. It drove like a brand new car, and the underbody, engine compartment, interior &c all looked brand new as well. A better car for me than say, a Versa or Fit at the same price. It’s given me no more trouble than a new car would, i.e. none. The car was lucky to have a responsible previous owner.

      I would absolutely agree on a German car though. I would be reluctant to do anything but lease a new BMW.

      Congrats on the new SRT.

    • 0 avatar
      tooloud10

      And likewise, some of us could never understand why anyone would pay $60k for a vehicle with 0 miles on it when you can buy the same vehicle in three years with 35k miles for the mid-$30s. Assuming that I’m going to drive the vehicle exactly 30k miles longer than you, do you think I’ll come close to paying $25k more in repairs than you?

      I can’t even think of a single argument for buying a new car unless you completely ignore the price.

      • 0 avatar
        LectroByte

        There is something to be said for buying it new and knowing how it was driven from day one and how it was maintained. Peace of mind. Warranty. When it gets older, I tended to trust the ones I’d bought new more. But yeah, if I was only looking to keep something for 3 or 4 years, used might be the way to go, but I tend to keep them at least 10 years or 150k.

        • 0 avatar
          jbltg

          Could not agree more. I have done this more than a few times and never regretted it. You just never know what problems you are buying with someone else’s used car.

          I have no need to waste money on frequent car changes.

    • 0 avatar
      glwillia

      Because E39s are awesome, and fairly cost-effective if you can DIY.

  • avatar
    Slave2anMG

    My buddy the European repair shop owner says BMW = Bring Mama’s Wallet.

    • 0 avatar
      LeMansteve

      Also:

      Break My Wallet
      Bring My Wallet

    • 0 avatar

      Big Money Waster

      I should start video recording every BMW I see break down in the middle of the street and make a montage. The sad thing is, the used car dealers here love giving subprime loans to 1st time car buyers who are desperate to have a German car so they can “prove” to their neighborhoods that they are “movers and shakers”. And God forbid you try to talk em out of buying a used German car and into a brand new car with a full warranty for half the cost…

      I just let em go right ahead and find out the hard way.

      I refused to keep my S550 when that thing went off warranty. Repairs for that thing woulda’ been like buying a new car. Jaguar XJ-L hasn’t given me any trouble yet, but as soon as the warranty is over IT’S GOING BACK. PERIOD.

      • 0 avatar
        LeMansteve

        In my opinion, used, out of warranty BMW owners fall into 2 camps:

        1. Those who skimp on maintenance or otherwise don’t recognize the car requires more than a basic level of attention. Can’t see past the badge. These are the breakdowns.
        2. Enthusiasts who don’t skimp on maintenance. They turn their own wrench and/or know their mechanic very well. Breakdowns are rare.

      • 0 avatar
        tuffjuff

        BTS – I’ve seen some videos of your XJL. Gorgeous machine.

  • avatar
    E46M3_333

    If your budget only allows spending 10 grand on a car, you should not be driving an old high mileage BMW.

  • avatar
    AustinOski

    Our 2006 E61 (530xi wagon) had $13k of repair work between 39k and 70k miles. We bought it at the 39K mark, luckily bought it with a warranty.

    Sold it before warranty expired, of course.

  • avatar
    fredtal

    sounds like everyone is saying dull and boring Camry’s is the way to go.

    • 0 avatar
      Battles

      I know, depressing isn’t it?
      If I wanted the Depressing Truth About Cars I wouldn’t be coming here.

    • 0 avatar
      AustinOski

      Or, do what we did, buy used with a warranty. We didn’t pay $10k to buy it, but we did pay 40% of the original MSRP for a 3yo car with 39k miles.

      However, aside from the $13k in warranty repairs, we did also spend another $2k or $3k in maintenance (e.g., having the dreaded sunroof drain holes unplugged, battery, service, etc.). That was over a 3 year period.

      Your mileage may vary.

      • 0 avatar
        hubcap

        “…we did pay 40% of the original MSRP for a 3yo car with 39k miles.”

        IMO, that’s the way to do it. I wonder what the depreciation on the F-Type will look like. A cliff, possibly?

    • 0 avatar
      Lie2me

      Are those the only choices?

    • 0 avatar
      WaftableTorque

      Don’t know what you’re talking about fredtal. Every Camry I’ve driven has been a fun to drive, refined, and exciting car to drive. I think the problem is that car snobs often call themselves car enthusiasts. I consider the former to be exclusionary, and the latter to be inclusive. A Camry hardly counts as a badge of shame.

      • 0 avatar
        brenschluss

        The Camry is a car designed to fade into the background, and simply carry out its basic duties without making itself known as a complex machine. It does this very well.

        How is this conducive to enthusiasm though? I understand the hypermilers, the donk guys, these are all people trying to express either themselves or their ideals through their cars. A Camry says that the buyer thought the Corolla was too small, but no more. It is the car for the person who wants to express nothing through their choice.

        • 0 avatar
          84Cressida

          These responses are completely ridiculous. Why don’t you spout off this garbage to the people who bought an Accord, Malibu, or Galant. Or are those cars somehow so good that owners don’t need to justify those purchases to enthusiast scum simply because they weren’t sheep and bought a Toyota.

          This analysis and hatred for Camrys and the stereotypes from “enthusiasts” almost mirrors racism.

          • 0 avatar
            brenschluss

            Calm down buddy. There was no hatred in what I said.

            All of those cars serve the same purpose. An Accord certainly handles better than the Camry at least in the LE spec I’ve driven, but I can’t speak to the others. My statement can apply to all of them. We happen to be talking about the Camry, and if you want to argue that it’s a flashy car that makes a statement about its owner, you can do so and be wrong all you’d like.

            Your raving love for someone else’s international conglomerate is worrying.

          • 0 avatar
            brenschluss

            I see you edited this to include a comparison to racism.

            I think that says all that need to be said.

            Try loving a woman sometime, rather than a company. It’s more rewarding.

          • 0 avatar
            danio3834

            “This analysis and hatred for Camrys and the stereotypes from “enthusiasts” almost mirrors racism.”

            Hahaha, yeah he went there. Disliking a Camry is almost equal to being racist.

            That should shut up all the haters.

          • 0 avatar
            Kenmore

            Nah.. I try to stay current in my racism and I loves my Camry.

      • 0 avatar
        fredtal

        WaftableTorque, I actually like the Camry for what it is, but your requirements for being fun and refined are a lot lower than mine.

        • 0 avatar
          brenschluss

          It does beg the question, if the Camry is fun to drive, and an exciting car to drive, what isn’t?

          • 0 avatar
            84Cressida

            Malibu, Impala, Cruze, CRV, Pilot, Odyssey, Express, Traverse, Escape, Fusion, Spark, Sonic, Altima, Sentra, Versa, Suburban, Equinox, Murano, and more.

            All cars that drive the same or worse than a Camry, yet dirt bag “enthusiasts” and Honda & Driver don’t waste people’s time moaning about how un-fun they are like they do for seemingly every single Toyota they talk about.

        • 0 avatar
          WaftableTorque

          That’s fair enough. My frame of reference though are cars from the 1970’s, which I endured. I remember just how awful our Mercury Comet and Pontiac Grand Prix were as transportation. Even then, there were some aspects of those cars’ shortcomings that I’m still nostalgic about. A modern Camry since 1992 has been a precision instrument in comparison.

      • 0 avatar
        carlisimo

        Is the Camry the only car you’ve driven? It’s improved (a LOT, from terrible to decent) in the last two generations, but it still lacks any sort of steering feel, and the suspension doesn’t handle sweeping curves at highway speeds well at all.

        The Accord doesn’t offer much more feel and feedback, but has a more composed suspension. The Mazda6 does give you more feel and feedback, and handles even better. The Camry still has strengths of its own, but they don’t include being fun to drive or exciting. I wouldn’t even call the suspension refined, until they improve its aforementioned behavior.

        • 0 avatar
          tuffjuff

          My future father in law has a 2011 Camry as a “spare car” for his college-aged kid to use, and what a waste of space it is. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the last-gen Camry was losing comparos within the year it came out, that’s how uncompetitive it’s been. The new one seems no better.

          • 0 avatar
            84Cressida

            You have no clue. It won several comparison and even won one in 2010 when it had been on the market for nearly 4 years in a MT compare. My father’s 2007 Hybrid has 90,000 and has had zero problems and I’ve gotten 44 MPG out of it.

          • 0 avatar
            tuffjuff

            If I had the time, and were so inclined, I’d post more, but the very first google search result of “2007 mid-sized sedan comparison test” gives me this:

            http://www.edmunds.com/honda/accord/2008/comparison-test1.html

            Anyway, the previous Camry really was over-rated, especially considering how many sales the thing had. The dash is offensive, the car is cramped in the front (perhaps my 6’5 frame just doesn’t play nicely, but my previous car was a subcompact Ford Focus, so if anything I blame this on seat adjustment), it never stood out for real-world fuel consumption, at least in the non-hybrid model – and to be fair, the hybrid were a new enough concept when the last gen Camry came out that how would they NOT win in that category? It was expensive, and about the only praise I’ve heard is the V6 was deceptively quick. Otherwise, the last gen Malibu, Fusion, etc are all just as nice if not nicer.

      • 0 avatar
        rickyc

        Anyone who calls a camry “fun to drive” has been in a basement most of their lives or an idiot.

        • 0 avatar
          WaftableTorque

          Rickyc, you obviously delight TTAC with your insight, wit, and forcefully well thought out arguments. From your above post and others through the years, please continue to show the Best and Brightest how invaluable you are to this community. You’ve reflectively framed your reply, and fall far above trolling. You are a credit to the BMW brand and all it stands for.

        • 0 avatar
          84Cressida

          How cute you are with your little sweeping argument. With all that free time you have, what with having a BMW in the shop, you might want to find a new hobby.

        • 0 avatar
          afedaken

          My last Camry was a hoot to drive. But it had the 3.0L V6, 5MT, a 2 inch drop and a race clutch.

          :-)

          Debadged, it made a great sleeper.

      • 0 avatar
        Brian P

        Numb steering that you can turn with a pinkie finger … no feedback. It’s pretty tough for a car to be entertaining to drive if it gives no indication back to the driver of what is happening where the tires meet the ground. Your idea of “exciting” is different from mine.

        For someone who needs reliable transportation and does not care about anything else, they are fine. But fun and exciting, they are not.

  • avatar
    Thos Ranney

    Well, I say. My 1997 E39 (July ’96 build Euro Delivery) is not perfect but aside from a couple of $39 thermostats and the stray window regulator, trunk actuator, etc., it’s been relatively harmless. Engine (last of the cast iron blocks)is still a work of art, smoother than my N52 3 series and it gets 31.5 mpg on the interstate at 74 mph while the ’06 325i only gets 30.5. Both manuals. The variance of repairs on German makes seems enormous.
    Yours.

    • 0 avatar
      barcodescanner

      I have the exact same car, but with the automatic. It’s got 101k and I’m with you – aside from a new thermostat and housing (preventative, for the record), I haven’t spent a dime on actual repairs. I did have to remove a wheel sensor and clean it, but even if I had to replace it, the part is $25 (new) on ebay. I realize I will start having to replace things like window switches and the final stage regulator for the A/C fan, but this car has been FAR more reliable than the ’97 Camry I reluctantly owned. My only complaints are the cup holders (good lord…) and the lack of manual transmission (my fault).

  • avatar
    Toad

    Exciting = Expensive

    Exciting cars, women, adventures, etc are all fun, but often the excitement turns into aggravation, frustration, and expenses that no longer seem to be worth the hassles.

    Virtually everybody I know that is a thrill chaser after age 30 has a lot of problems to go along with it (divorce, drugs, heavier than average drinking, money problems, etc). Not all of them, but most.

    Pouring money into an aging BMW is guaranteed aggravation and possible poverty, and might lead to binge drinking or drug use…

    • 0 avatar
      hubcap

      Are you saying you can’t have a fun, exciting time with a less expensive car? Perhaps a Focus ST or something similar?

      And what exactly is a “thrill chaser”?

      I harbor no ill will but from what you wrote your definition and my definition of a good time are just about polar opposites. All I can say is better you than me.

  • avatar
    j3studio

    Wow, is it really that bad in BMW land, or do folks just have a lower tolerance for aging over there?

    I know that when our beloved 2003 Corvette (about the same age as the 5 series vehicles being mentioned – my favorites of the 5s, by the way) went out of warranty coverage, that’s all that happened – it no longer had warranty coverage. There have been couple of repairs since, but _nothing_ that has made me re-evaluate the decisions to a) keep the car and b) not buy the extended warranty.

    “Grace” celebrated her 10th birthday with a big party (don’t ask) in April. She’s a fairly complex car – heads-up display, magnetic ride, etc. – but I feel that I’ll deal with issues as they arise. Is my calibration off?

    • 0 avatar
      Hummer

      People can say what they want about American quality with GM in particular, but I’ll take acres of cheap plastic and tried and true engineering that isn’t considered “modern” to know that what I have will be fairly reliable and cheap when repairs are needed.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    Mid 00’s Audi vs. Mid 00’s BMW – Maintenance costs. Go!

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      Dude, my calculator broke.

    • 0 avatar
      mypoint02

      Having owned two B5 Audis (a 1.8T and a 2.8 for good measure) and an ’01 E39, I’d have to say it’s a tossup on costs. The Audis were definitely less reliable overall. More small issues to worry about (window regulators, climate control problems, MAF, O2 sensors, coil packs, ABS controller and sensors, etc). All of that stuff added up pretty quickly. On the other hand, from my experiance the BMW has fewer nagging issues but a better chance of breaking your wallet with a large repair: a complete suspension overhaul is $2000 or more just in parts. Cooling system replacement is easily $1000 parts and labor. I’d give the advantage to BMW because you can perform most work and maintenance yourself whereas on an Audi, nearly everything is buried and most jobs are a huge PITA to do yourself.

  • avatar
    linkpin

    My daily is a 2000 540i. I bought it 6 years ago with 70K, it’s now at 115K. It’s been an awesome car. Sure, there have been a few failures here and there (water pump, secondary air pump), but overall it’s been a really solid car. If you have a good mechanic for big stuff and can turn a wrench yourself on smaller stuff, buy and enjoy.

    And choosing between my 540i and a Camry ain’t no kind of choice at all…I’d rather walk.

    • 0 avatar
      Dan

      Putting on 7500 miles a year is a great way to run into only about half as many problems as the average driver.

      They really are great cars when they’re running. From the E39 to the look-at-me disposables BMW sells now, why did they go so wrong?

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    And for the love of God, if you buy a mid-2000 Honda, don’t get a V6 with a 5-speed automatic, unless you want to replace that transmission too. (same goes for Acura

  • avatar
    jmo

    “spend ten grand or so on a mid 2000s Honda with 80,000-100,000 miles?”

    Prices are sky high for that type of vehicle. You’d be much better off buying new.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      I agree.

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      This is what everyone “wants” to buy. My advice – go bit older and luxury, or bit newer with less miles but pick something not everyone considers.

      Also, think about this – 05 and 06 were huge years for replacement of models. So you can go 04 and save some money, but when you’re in 05 or 06 territory you’re dealing with first years of new-gen models, and are likely to experience higher ownership costs, as well as purchasing.

      • 0 avatar
        Dan

        Fed up with expensive repair bills? Go older and luxury!

        • 0 avatar
          CoreyDL

          I should have clarified as NON-GERMAN and luxury. As in Lexus/Infiniti/Acura. They hold their value less than their standard brand counterparts. Especially in the $10K range. Not sought after like Cam-Cord options.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            Where do you think you are?

            “Older and luxury” = Panther, in TTAC land.

          • 0 avatar
            Lie2me

            What about Buicks?

          • 0 avatar
            AustinOski

            Lexus hold their values less than their more common counterparts?

            What luxury cars are more common than Lexus? Lexus was top luxury brand (by units)in US 11 of last 12 years.

            Did you really mean to include Lexus with Infiniti/Acura?

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            Something with a 3800 in Buick format would be okay – but I doubt the OP is looking in that segment if he’s coming off a 5-Series. A well kept, <05 luxury Japanese would be a good option.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            @Corey

            Excluding the glass transmission Acuras prior to 2005. Buick 3800 is a no brainer (Park Ave esp) but the platforms around them have their own issues.

            @Austin

            I’ll take almost any Lex from the 90s, after 2000 they impress me less and less. LS and GS would be my only choices post MY2000.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            Woot woot +1 on post 00 GS :)

            The Park Ave has so many sensor and electrics issues that nickel-dime you, I’d be hesitant. I DO like the Park Ave as a car, as far as looks and sheer size go.

          • 0 avatar
            APaGttH

            Ya, an older Acura – say a 2005 with a 5-speed automatic…wait a minute

          • 0 avatar
            hubcap

            “Did you really mean to include Lexus with Infiniti/Acura?”

            I believe Acuras hold their value better than any luxury/near luxury brand.

            I may be wrong. It has been know to happen. Occasionally.

  • avatar
    slance66

    Ditching this car is the right move. That being said, the constant strain of noise on this site about BMWs breaking down is just silly. I’m glad I ignored it. My E90 has required nothing but oil changes, which are easy to do, if expensive with the right oil.

    My supposedly bulletproof Lexus RX, ate a battery early on, chews through front brake pads like mad, required a new rear strut (and I think the right front will need one soon too), new wheel bearing and has a shimmy in the steering wheel at above 65 MPH that Lexus can’t fix (not wheel balancing or alignment).

    • 0 avatar
      Ubermensch

      “Ditching this car is the right move. That being said, the constant strain of noise on this site about BMWs breaking down is just silly. I’m glad I ignored it. My E90 has required nothing but oil changes, which are easy to do, if expensive with the right oil.”

      Funny how cars will run like a top right up to the moment that they don’t.

    • 0 avatar
      E46M3_333

      I agree. I’ve owned six BMWs–all out of warranty and I’ve never had a major system break. (I’m knocking on wood now.) Having said that, I only drive 5K miles per year, and I drive like a grandma most of the time.

  • avatar

    I dunno, i look at overall cost versus what you’re spending repairing it. Is your 530ia paid off? Do you think the cost of occasional repairs will be greater than the monthly cost of a car payment on a Versa?

    I bought my 97 328i with 161k miles. It’s at 196k now. In that time, the following stuff has broken (approx cost included, in order of wallet-ouch.)

    Driveshaft/Guibo/CSB: $410 after core refund, did it in my garage. Non-serviceable u-joints are a bitch, but this is the most expensive thing that *broke.* with 161k. Rear u-joint had about 25 degrees of play radially…
    Main belt tensioner failed: somewhere around $300 in parts from BMW, since they don’t make the spring tensioner any more, and you have to convert the whole assembly to a hydraulic. Did it in the driveway.
    front lower control arm bushings: $60+1hr labor ($80) – I don’t have a press. Worth it.
    Blower motor final stage resistor: $42 shipped, did in driveway.
    Intake boot split: $50. did in driveway.
    Idle control valve: $50 used, off ebay, cleaned and checked, works fine now. Did in driveway.
    Driver window regulator: Hmm… I think this was something like $60, pain in the ass, but did it in the driveway.
    Steering wheel snap ring: $40 on ebay, took 10 minutes.
    Clutch master cylinder: Umm, I broke this, so it’s not really fair to classify it as a failure but that’s like $50.

    other maintenance items that I took care of, not necessarily broken stuff…
    Coolant system: replaced water pump with metal impeller unit, replaced plastic t-stat housing with aluminum, new t-stat, new upper and lower hoses, new expansion tank, new pressure cap: about $180 in parts. Piece of mind.
    Brakes: Surprisingly cheap, $85 for front rotors, $60 for front pads, $70 for rear rotors, $45 for rear pads.
    Gauge cluster: odo was failing on my 328i cluster, grabbed a lower-mileage OBD2 M3 cluster, swapped over, performed the match mileage procedure to get the tamper dot to go out. I paid $100 for the cluster which was probably too much, but hey now I have an 8,000rpm tach for when I get that Conforti tune and S52 cams…
    tires: that doesn’t count.
    1 wheel: hit a huge pothole, bent an alloy enough to feel it. 15×6.5″ BMW alloy in great shape, $60 with free shipping off ebay.
    trans fluid and rear diff fluid: had to buy $12 worth of sockets to service the rear diff, maybe $30 in fluids total for both of these.
    Other stuff: Plugs (6x$6=36), brake fluid flushed ($8), clutch fluid flushed ($8), various fuses and lightbulbs (let’s say 15), etc.

    To make it more fair to the new car, I’ll throw in modifications too.

    Custom exhaust that sucks but whatever: $350
    UUC street density trans bushings + reinforcer cups: $70
    RE adjustable clutch stop and clutch arm bushings: $40
    tinted corner/side markers, rear tail lights: $40?

    This is off the top of my head, but some simple math here. I paid $5,000 cash for the car (yes, too much).

    Repairs total: $1252 in 2 years and 30k miles
    Maintenance total: $697
    Modifications/Upgrades: $500

    Add the car, repairs, maintenance, modifications together and you’re looking at $310/month over 24 months. Sure the car has almost 200k, but no remaining mechanical issues, no car payment, just put in gas and change oil.

    I’d personally rather have a stick-shift old BMW for 310 a month than a Nissan versa. But that’s just me ;-)

    • 0 avatar
      Quentin

      Is your time worth $0/hr?

    • 0 avatar
      AustinOski

      1. You can lease a lot of decent cars for less than $310/mo. with nothing down.
      2. What would the cost have been if you didn’t DIY? $410/mo.? $510/Mo? More?

      • 0 avatar
        Russycle

        1. For that $310/mo, he owns the Beamer after 24 months. After a 24 month lease, you own squat, so it’s not really a valid comparison.

        2. No question, if you can’t do a fair amount of wrenching yourself, an old luxury car is not a value proposition.

        • 0 avatar
          AustinOski

          1a. If you spend exactly $310/mo. on the lease, you’re a DIY and spend no more than he did on repairs and maintenance. Spend less and/or not do it yourself and lease looks pretty good. And, how much will he get for a ’97 with 200k+ miles on it? Also, factor in the your time spent on dealing with repairs, dealing with selling the car, etc.

          I’ve purchased cars for 32 years for the reasons you stated in your #1. But, I just leased my first for the reasons I stated. I think in many cases, when you are considering a high maintenance car (i.e., German), leasing can be or will be a wash. And, if it’s new and you’re not going to

          Lastly, keep in mind we’re comparing leasing new to buying 16 years old. That can cut both way depending on who you are and what you want to drive.

          Our lease is a 2013, but the newest of our owned cars is a 1994 by choice (we could buy newer, if we wanted to).

    • 0 avatar
      greaseyknight

      Looks like 240 a month all in, and that includes the price of the car, which still has some value. Or 30 bucks a month in repair parts, the only thing I find unusual on that list for a car with 150+k is the instrument cluster.

      Labor time? Its worth about 50-100 bucks an hour to me, plus the peace of mind that some random dude is not messing around with my car and messing things up. The only shop time my vehicles have seen so far is for alignments.

    • 0 avatar
      jacob_coulter

      I do most of the maintenance on my cars, but I’ve always thought it’s an absurd argument to say something like “these cars are reliable” and then to list the amount of service that would cost almost as much as you paid for the car if you had it done at an actual shop.

      In the above example, the OP lists about $5,000 worth of parts and labor at a BMW dealership for 2 years of ownership.

      And people think that’s a good experience? Most people would rather lease something like an Accord, Camry, Sonata, VW, etc for $199 a month since that’s less than owning a BMW for 2 years. Not saying that’s my preference, but most people don’t enjoy spending their weekends being forced to fix their daily mode of transportation.

      • 0 avatar
        Quentin

        I’m OK with spending a weekend working on my weekend or fun car. That is a choice. I have far better things to do with my time than spending a weekend keeping my daily driver on the road. This is why my daily drivers are reasonably newish Toyotas and my fun, weekend car is a MINI. When the MINI goes down, I don’t have to immediately drop all my plans to repair it. I’m also not at the mercy of the shop that can get it in the quickest; I have the option to shop around for parts and service. Now that I have a kid, I’m less willing to spend my time wrenching. Between work and family, I already have precious little time on my bikes or playing soccer. Spending 5 hrs in the garage on a Saturday working on a BMW-only failure isn’t worth the time. If my wife weren’t so attached to the MINI, and if it weren’t as reliable as it has been (’05 with 70k miles), I’d probably sell it while it doesn’t have any problems and pick up an MX-5 instead.

    • 0 avatar
      baggins

      Funny, to me you just made an argument for the a new car at 310 a month, which would be more like an accord than a Versa.

      If you like wrenching, then more power to you. If you dont,, you’ve described a less than pleasant two year ownership experience.

  • avatar
    Lightspeed

    The correct answer is 2002 Lexus LS430 base model without the air-ride suspension. Less performance but more luxury and far better reliability.

    • 0 avatar
      DeadWeight

      Bro, this 10x over.

      I will forever regret not buying a black 2005 LS430 w/28,000 gentle miles on it back in 2009 – one owner, perfect condition, maintained by the book, for 20k.

      It was a neighbor of my parents, who had to move overseas ASAP, and I actually used to cut his lawn when I was 14.

      That car had the solid feel of the good, older, proper Mercedes S Class sedans, with a super serene ride.

  • avatar
    bikephil

    BMW’s suck. It seems all I ever hear about them is that they are fun to drive but unbelievably expensive to own. That would suck all the fun out of it for me. Is it really worth it just to tell your snobby friends “I own a BMW”??

    • 0 avatar
      jeano

      Sad to disappoint you, my 2008 M3 has been utterly,boringly reliable, as has every other BMW i’ve owned. Can’t say the same about the Audi S4 or the string of domestic trucks we’ve owned (and still own)

      • 0 avatar
        hubcap

        E9x M3s we’re the stoutest BMW of that generation and the S65 is virtually bullet proof. Sure, labor and part prices are higher, but all in all it’s a tradeoff I’d gladly make.

    • 0 avatar
      AustinOski

      My ’84 733i never had a single problem when I owned it. I drove it for something like 50k miles and it had 80k miles on it when I bought it. I loved that car!

      I sold it to my dad for $.25 on the $1.00 He got hit and was “totaled”. He bought it back from the insurance company, had it painted with what look like a gloss primer grey. Not sure it was even auto paint. He then tried to sell it back to me for much more than I sold it to him for (with a straight face).

    • 0 avatar
      rgil627il

      umiru bolno.

  • avatar
    carguy

    Car forums seem to have a never ending supply of folks that will warn you about the reliability of BMWs, even though most have probably never owned one.

    As for the case of this E39, you’d really need to find out what is wrong before making a decision. If its just the torque converter then get it fixed and keep driving it. It is certainly cheaper than the cost of selling it and buying another vehicle. Sure, more might go wrong but that is the case with any used car of any brand. If you’re going to sell any used vehicle just because it needs a repair then you probably shouldn’t buy used in the first place.

    • 0 avatar
      AustinOski

      “Car forums seem to have a never ending supply of folks that will warn you about the reliability of BMWs, even though most have probably never owned one.”

      Or, have. Like I said, above, $13k of repairs in just over 30k miles. Dealer serviced and maintained from new, not abused. I’ve had others, some good, some not. My parents had 3.0’s. Not so reliable…

      • 0 avatar
        tooloud10

        Of course your BMW cost you $13k in repairs in 30k miles–it was “dealer serviced and maintained from new.” The A/C compressor just went out of my E70 and my trusted independent mechanic did the whole job ($1150) for significantly less than the dealer wanted just for the part ($1300). Before that it was an air supension problem (fixed for $200, dealer wanted $550) and an exhaust problem (fixed for $45, dealer wanted $600).

        My E70 has 85k miles on it, and has every option, which seems to make it one of the most complicated vehicles on the road. It’s definitely a paranoid car, displaying various messages for the slightest thing that could ever go wrong, but it always starts and most of the problems seem to be software-related, because the messages usually disappear as quickly as they arrive. Doesn’t scare me in the least, though, since I paid about 2/3 less than the poor sap that bought it new, and for all purposes, is identical to the ’13 model.

        That said, I’d rather drive this SUV than almost anything else on the road, so I’m willing to put up with a few more problems than most. Also, I’ve got a pretty good headstart on the price of buying one new, so a few $$$ in repairs isn’t going to get me down.

  • avatar

    To the OP:

    Regardless of whether you want to keep the E39 or not, I recommend that you get the torque converter fixed. It’s generally difficult to sell a malfunctioning car without a hefty discount. Once it’s repaired, you can spin your sales advertisement along the lines “See, I’ve already fixed everything that should go wrong – here are my recent bills.”

    Of course, that spin isn’t entirely true because there’s always more to go wrong with an E39 (or any older BMW), including the VANOS, ABS unit and more suspension components. This may lead you to believe that I’m not a fan of BMWs, but I actually really do appreciate them. But they are high maintenance beasts as they age.

  • avatar
    kincaid

    I have a 2000 MY E39 and it is easily the finest driving car that I have ever owned. At 155K miles it runs great, gets 30 mpg, the engine is supremely smooth and torquey and the interior is elegant without a single squeak. Mine is a manual trans and still has not had its first clutch replacement. Having put over 100k miles on this car the depreciation is about 10 cents per mile. I have had Hondas, Toyotas and Chevrolets and they are soulless. Other than boxes full of replacement suspension links and wheel speed sensors, nothing has ever gone wrong with this car. I would rather drive a used piece of excellence than a new piece of crap any day.

  • avatar
    vvk

    > I’d be perfectly happy with a less luxurious Honda

    If you think that BMWs are luxurious and you would be perfectly happy with a Honda, I would absolutely advise you to get a Honda.

  • avatar
    jkross22

    I owned a ’99 E39 for 8 years and sold it with 110k miles on it. Great car for the first six years, but when window regulators crapped out and an electrical drain couldn’t be figured out, I sold it for cheap.

    BMW’s are great cars, but if you are just beginning spending money to maintain it beyond the normal consumables, you have to ask yourself, “Do I feel lucky?”

    BTW, it didn’t stop me from getting another one, but it did help me understand when to sell the next one.

    All cars are like this – our XC90 had a difficult to diagnose electrical problem that wound up costing $700 to fix out of warranty. Lesson is that every 5+ year old car has a point of diminishing returns. The trick is figuring out where that point is for your car and selling just before then.

  • avatar
    jimbob457

    Imo, you just have to decide if your tranny problem is unique, or the beginning of a long series of problems. My son had a BMW 3 series of your vintage that was good for about 150k miles mechanically.

    Not all cars, even of a given type, are the same, even when new. Old joke among Fiat 124 Spider owners: “My car was made on a Monday the day after the big Communist Party rally”.

    If your vehicle has never been hit, if it still seems tight, if no niggling mechanical or electrical problems, if the paint and interior still look OK, then fix it for sure. You should get most of your money back even if you decide to sell it shortly, esp. if you are frugal in your repair costs – a well-selected indy mechanic who knows BMW and maybe even a used or rebuilt transmission.

    Drive it a while. Then make a second decision to keep or not to keep. Changing out cars is not cheap at best. You are selling wholesale and buying retail. Selling a vehicle with an obvious mechanical problem is a no no unless it is clearly a POS.

    • 0 avatar
      Fordson

      This is an excellent take on the situation. The idea that a Honda of the same vintage and mileage as the guy’s present BMW is going to be the holy grail of car ownership…come on.

      Other than the fact of selling at wholesale and buying the replacement car at retail…how about the concept of knowing how your present car has been treated and maintained, and having no idea how your replacement Honda has acquired its 90,000 miles – ?

      You’re not buying a brand, buddy…you’re buying a specific car – a car with 90,000 miles on it. And really, that’s all you know about it.

  • avatar
    10AE

    Add another to the list of “Had good luck with the car because I wrench it myself and do not defer maintenance”. I had a 1998 540i 6-speed from mileage 85K to 145K. I bought it for $12.7K and sold it a year ago for $7500. I loved the car tons and had good luck with it. The cars are very well built with the exception of the aforementioned plastic in key areas (radiator).

    The only part that failed unexpectedly was the fan clutch which was a $237 dealer visit.

    That being said, the cars ARE expensive to maintain if you choose to maintain them correctly. Suspension bushings and shocks are 50K-mile wear items and the good (OEM) parts are not cheap, but it takes a lot of sophisticated machinery to make a 3800 lb car handle the curves yet ride like a dream. I changed the shocks and bushings myself and enjoy working on cars so I don’t consider time spent wrenching as costly. Also, aggressive alignments will eat tires quickly.

    I sold it because my life priorities had changed but I would not hesitate to get another enthusiast-owned E39. I know it will cost more than a Camry to operate. I’m OK with that.

  • avatar
    Jacob

    Have a good look at the rest of your car. If its running strong and TC is the only problem, get a quote for transmission rebuild and decide for yourself if its worth it. Spending 2-3K on a rebuild is not much if the car gives you years of trouble free service after that.

  • avatar
    SkidRo

    I had a 96 M3 with 120k on the clock. I NEVER had any horror stories about maintenance with my car nor did it being German and am M3 mean every single part or service was going to clean out my wallet. The key to any BMW and, for that matter, any car is to always perform the scheduled maintenance on the car at the given intervals. I have owned three BMW’s and drove the first two to over 200k and 178K respectively and then sold them as DD cars. The M3 was totaled in the prime of its life.

    There are the other things like clutches and water pumps that WILL WEAR out. Be smart and know your car so when the water pump has reached the end of its life put a new radiator in it also as well as the serpentine belts. The mechanic (you or the professional) is already in there so it’s only a few more dollars for labor (if any) plus the parts. For a clutch, make sure you have the guibos checked and replaced – the transmission is out so what else can/should be fixed? Do it while it’s apart. This E39 would last forever if the OP actually took care of the car instead of waiting for things to break and then decide to throw it away for a Honda.

  • avatar
    George B

    A BMW 5 series and a 7th gen. Honda Accord (or Acura TL) are not comparable cars so I don’t understand the choice. At 90k miles both will face some maintenance/repair issues in about a year. The difference is the Honda parts will be less expensive and in stock. How about splitting the difference and looking at the Infiniti G sedan and Cadillac CTS instead? Both are less refined than the BMW, but they’re RWD sedans with with some luxury and performance for a greatly depreciated price. Nissan and General Motors

  • avatar
    jacob_coulter

    The BMW fanboys almost always have the same combination of
    “No, BMW’s are super reliable and I enjoy spending every weekend wrenching on them anyway” and “they’re super reliable, it’s just everybody who owns one never does the preventative maintenance”.

    I don’t buy either excuse, and a modern BMW with over 100k miles is the 2nd biggest money pit in European sedans. Audi being number 1.

    They’re cars made to be leased and dumped. The overwhelming majority of new BMW purchases are leased, so it makes sense.

  • avatar
    CGHill

    My son owns an E39, and he says that at any given moment it needs $1800 worth of work.

    Then again, he’s never called me to say he was stranded.

  • avatar
    Car Ramrod

    I as well am only semi-convinced that the honda/acura route is cheaper than keeping the e39, all costs considered. As for the myth that a used Japanese entry luxury car is somehow a bargain to run, I dont think its that clear cut. Last year I traded my ’04 Acura TL with manual trans that I dutifully maintained from new to just under 100k. It was dead reliable, but maintenence was by no means a bargain new front brakes every 20k, new CV joints at 55k, new clutch at 85k, ttiming belt and the associated labor, and TONS of tires (60/40 weight distribution has to take its toll somewhere).

    I traded that perfectly good TL for an E39 M5. At the end of the day this could be a HUGE mistake, but when something goes wrong, the online forums are far better for the BMW than for Hondas and Acuras. Its hard to do the math and justify making payments on a new A4 instead anyway. Also, maybe its just a reflection of the owners more than the cars, but its been a while since i saw a 10 year old honda product without a very worn, cracked, or faded dash, or faded/ peeling paint from the Florida sun.

  • avatar
    Scribe39

    It strikes me there are an unusually high number of posts on here that take one anecdotal case and try to make it fit the overall scheme of things. “Mine was good, therefore they are all good, etc.”

  • avatar
    mypoint02

    I sympathize. I wrestle with the same dilemma as the OP. I have an E39 525iaT with 206k on the clock. While it doesn’t set the street ablaze, it’s a highly engaging drive and there’s simply nothing else like it that’ll replace it in the future. Despite a few costly run ins (front suspension and cooling system overhauls), mine still runs great and the transmission shifts fine (although I have the earlier GM unit, not the ZF).

    It’s tempting to think of getting a low maintenance Camcord to replace it and forgoing some of the maintenance needs, but if it were me and it was a matter of spending $1500 on the torque converter or dropping $10k on a Honda, it’s a no brainer: I’d fix the Bimmer. Knowing how to and having the time to maintain these cars is imperative, but they are actually quite easy to work on. The E39 and E46 are the last fully user serviceable BMWs. Far fewer finicky electronics than the later E6x and E9x. It sounds like he has pretty low mileage and has already done the cooling system and suspension, so he should be good on those until around 200k. Assuming it has been maintained properly otherwise, there shouldn’t be much else to worry about once the transmission is taken care of. I’d ride it out as long as possible before parting ways.

  • avatar
    Dsemaj

    My experiences have been good. I think any extra costs are outweighted by having a far superior machine. And my costs haven’t been that bad either. Most Euro car would have similar costs at the sort of mileage that I had.

    As they say, your mileage may vary. Keep in mind that I’m in Australia.

    I owed a E39 530i Sport for about 18 months from 93k kms until 120k kms, and I did the following apart from normal servicing from a very fastidious indie mechanic;

    $900 – Entire cooling system – E39 achilles heal, especially in Australia! (rad, hoses and waterpump)
    $800 – Fixing oil leaks from oil filter housing, leaking sump screws.
    $250 – Getting a new MAF hose
    $1100 – New brakes and ceramic dustless pads

    Apart from normal servicing with oil changes, I had no real big issues. I budgeted the cooling system issues, but I didn’t expect the oil leaks to be so stubborn! The oil filter housing is meant to be another E39 bug bear.

    I wasn’t really that shocked with the bills as I bought the car in a maintenance intensive time when consumables tend to wear out.

    The upside? When I went to sell my car about 3 months, I sold it for thousands more than everything else because everything was right.

    I only sold it because I was bored shitless of having an automatic. It was an awesome car, soothing and quiet on the road, handled beautifully and I was intoxicated every time I revved the engine up. Even though the manual override was pretty intuitive (say what you will about up/down being reversed, I liked it that way!), it still couldn’t satisfy my undying need for a third pedal.

  • avatar
    burgersandbeer

    I think the OP should either fix the E39 or buy a new C-segment car like a Focus or check out the new Mazda 3 when it is available. That class of car certainly isn’t as nice as an E39, but they aren’t penalty boxes either. I also think running costs on a sub $25k new car are in the ballpark with maintaining an E39.

    I’m not sure a mid 2000s $10k CamCord with 80-100k miles exists. In the Bay Area people ask obscene amounts for those cars. As others have pointed out, everything needs some work by 100k (suspension, waterpump, timing belt in the case of many 4 cylinder CamCords). It’s a terrible value to me. When an E46 or E39 costs almost the same as a civic of the same vintage with similar miles, I will deal with the repairs.

  • avatar
    MRL325i

    Have you checked the battery? My e46 (203 bought new, 104k on the odo) starts to throw weird codes, trip lights, etc when the battery is getting towards the end of its life.


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