The Truth About Cars » BMW 5 Series The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Wed, 16 Apr 2014 17:39:31 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » BMW 5 Series Ur-Turn: Congratulations, You’ve Been Upgraded Mon, 14 Apr 2014 11:00:01 +0000 IMG_20140405_144902

Friend of TTAC Anand Ram writes about getting more than he bargained for at the Avis counter.

There’s an explosive truth I want to share: We writers don’t make a lot of money. While you gather yourself from the recoil of that bullet, here’s another: It doesn’t really stop us from wanting nice things.

Perhaps, then, the choice for this young writer’s first ever rental car makes little sense: Luxury.

Well, “luxury.” I’m not a car guy. I can name several pricey models, but I’ve driven around in my dad’s Toyota Corolla for most of my life. I know how a BMW 328i differs from a 335i in literal terms, but not on the road.

So my latest vacation to Florida was an opportunity to try something a little fancier. After a few clicks around rental sites, I decided on Avis. I reserved a “Lincoln MKS or similar” for 5 days, amounting to $459 with a discount. My wife, to her credit, only called my purchase ridiculous and unnecessary. Most husbands would call that a victory.

One turbulent plane ride later, we landed in Orlando fairly late at night. Tired and cranky, we made our way down to the Avis booth. There, the cheerful, young woman behind the counter chatted us up. Eventually I realized it was an upsell.

“You like convertibles?”

I don’t fault her–hustling is a valuable skill, but I was not in the mood. To be frank, I’m also not a convertible guy. I prefer, as I said, luxury. Quiet, smooth, comfortable. Politely–as Canadian as I could be at 11:30 PM–I told her as much. She left and came back with some keys.

“Okay, you’re in a Lincoln Navigator and–” I looked at my wife with wide eyes and turned.
“Sorry, the SUV?” I interjected. “I thought I rented a car?”
“We don’t have that model right now.”

That wouldn’t do. Alongside my father’s Corolla, I had also driven his Toyota Sienna for a number of years. That heavy beast turned me off the concept of big SUVs and vans. Also, driving on unknown roads in a monster like a Navigator didn’t interest me – never mind the gas bills I’d be facing. So our friendly Avis associate went off to see what she could do. She came back with more unexpected news.

“Okay, so you’re in a BMW.”

Did I mention I have the lousiest poker face in the wold?

“Sorry, what…uh…what model was that?” A question you’d call nonchalant, because of how obvious it was.
“5 series.”

The only thing that made this Indian writer happier was that the upgrade came at no extra charge. You can reserve a BMW 528i from Avis, but it costs twice what I paid–as does the Navigator. But there it was: A freshly washed white example.


A thousand thoughts through my head, but what really stood out was how it excited me. I was smiling as I got in. Coming from a Corolla, the 528i may as well have been a space shuttle.

Of course, it only took a minute to shake all that off and actually get to driving the thing. I couldn’t tell you what that 2.0 liter engine was doing or how it did it (I may not know a lot about cars, but I remember when the letters on the back represented the size of the engine), but the end result was a very enjoyable ride.

The leather-wrapped wheel didn’t have the heavy German feel that I was expecting. Neither the brakes nor the throttle were overly sensitive. The trunk was more than adequate for our suitcases and carry-ons. The seats had more adjustment positions than I knew what to do with. I was finding reasons to call this the car my wife and I should buy–even going so far as to say it was the practical choice.

Although I my flight ended in Orlando, I still had to make my way to Tampa. Normally, any drives longer than 45 minutes make me sleepy. In the BMW, a two hour drive felt like nothing. Quiet, smooth and comfortable. The world rarely gives you what you ask for.

Florida’s roads, seemingly wider than what we see here in Toronto, were perfect. Even the Sunshine State’s states of no sunshine–the occasional torrential downpours–didn’t feel as scary. The car held its own in 30 to 40 minutes of zero visibility rain, never a lost sense of control.

The only strange part was the Start-Stop system, something I had never experienced before. Every time the car stopped, the entire engine cut out, in an effort to save fuel. A strange feature, considering I rarely stopped for that long, and even if I was down for a little bit, the engine would come back to life to power the A/C. Eventually, I chose to disable that function and enjoyed the experience a lot more.

Now, if I gush about how the car felt to drive, it’s because I, admittedly, know very little about good cars. But when it comes to good consumer technology, I’m in my wheelhouse.

Which is why I found the navigation system a mixed bag. The screen was quite large and easy to read, with a useful split-screen function. It wasn’t a touchscreen, though, and that’s just something that a tech guy like me expects –  especially since so many affordable cars now have them.


It was controlled by a dial next to the gear shifter, with buttons to directly switch between radio, phone, navigation and menus. Depress the dial in to select, move to the left to go to a previous menu, turn it to scrub up and down options. This was the spaceship part–but the tedium in plotting a course made me realize how few cars get navigation right.

The actual route guidance was fantastic, with flawless turn-by-turn directions. Another helpful element was a distance and direction display next to the speedometer, in case my eyes wandered. The voice input, however, was garbage. Trying to speak out an address in Orlando gave me a suggestion in California.

But as nice as the 5-Series was, I couldn’t make heads or tails of the secondary controls. In that rainstorm, I was constantly frustrated with trying to figure out the wiper speed controls or how to turn them off. The handbrake pushed up, down and also had an auto function. And the most frustrating of all: the bloody indicators.

Push up to turn right, push down to turn left. Actually, push slightly up to flash to the right twice. Push harder up to keep them flashing, then pull down slightly to cancel it. I was lucky I didn’t get pulled over for confusing traffic behind me. There are certain things that don’t need improving.


Despite the minor gripes, I loved driving that car. It made me feel like a big shot. I told my mother to pretend I was the doctor she thought I’d be at one point. Of course, being Florida, there are Jags and Lamborghinis around to really remind you of the small fish you are. That didn’t change how I felt. I was still smiling.

But starting at $51,000, it will never be more than a vacation for me.

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New Or Used? : No One Loves My Bimmer Edition Wed, 06 Nov 2013 13:00:42 +0000 bmw


A reader writes:

Steve –

So glad to see you back at TTAC.  I’ve learned so much more about auctions to go along with what you and I discussed a year-and-a-half (!) ago.

I have a question of a personal nature. Well, it’s still car-related, but it has to do with MY car, so I guess that’s what makes it personal.

I am approaching the end of my CPO on my 2008 BMW 535i sedan.  I have kept it in excellent repair (in fact, I’ve had about $7k in warranty claims since July – oil cooler, oil filter housing, both turbos, water pump failure, and, just last week, a new valve cover gasket).  The tires are 10 months old.  It’s never been smoked in, and it’s optioned to the hilt (just missing rear air bags, the fancy window shades, and HUD).

I’m looking to get rid of it before CPO expires on Nov. 27, and jump into a 2014 Mazda 3.  Trouble is, I’m not having much luck in finding what seems to be a fair price for the BMW.

This week, I had it appraised at a Carmax in Houston, and a BMW dealer not far away (a second BMW dealer would not even look at it, on account of it having 82k on the clock).  The appraisals came in at $13.1 and $14k, respectively.  That’s way way way under what Edmunds ($16.2) and KBB ($17k) say is the trade-in value.

Perhaps Carmax and Momentum BMW gave me low numbers because I wasn’t looking to buy another vehicle from either place (and I’m assuming either one would just wholesale my car).  I dunno. I am quite baffled over the discrepancy between their offers and what Edmunds and KBB say.  Is there another online source I should check out?  Should I ask someone at my bank (Chase) to look at something I’ve heard called “Manheim” (which,  as I understand, is a super-secret set of numbers dealers often use to arrive a trade/sell prices).

As an aside – one thing that both Carmax and the BMW dealer mentioned when they gave me the disappointing bids was a re-spray job on the trunk and driver’s rear quarter panel.  I told them both that was done to repair some vandalism that occurred last year in NOLA.. and pointed out that they would have deducted even more had I left the scratches, etc. as is.  Also, I had the work performed at a body/paint shop that is owned by the same company as the BMW dealer, so there.

I would sincerely appreciate any advice you have to offer.  And, thanks in advance for taking time out of what I’m sure is a busy day to help.

Steve Says:

The trick to keeping the German machinery is to get the ones that have the most common powertrains with the fewest bells and whistles possible. Avoid 4matics and other all-wheel-drive systems. Cross out the active suspensions, dual turbos and navigation screens as well, and you are generally fine.

Unfortunately, your car represents the exact opposite of fine. Sell it.

How do you do that?

Forget about selling it to a re-seller. That’s like paying someone $1500 for a repair that costs maybe $200. Oh wait, you almost did that a few times this year. See, that CPO warranty saved your ass, and now it’s time to park this Barnacle Bitch of a car, and haul your ass to a less costly ride.

Sell it on Autotrader,, Craigslist, and especially… local enthusiast forums. This vehicle received the very best of care for the time you owned it. An honest guy like you deserves to be saved from the, “lowballers r’ us”  brigade.

When you advertise it, emphasize the CPO history and all the repair work that was recently put into it. I know it sounds strange. But telling people you recently replaced the turbos in an under-engineered piece of shit car like this with a new factory unit is a big plus. It’s akin to the early 2000′s Chrysler minivan buyer finding out that your ride has a new factory transmission. Or an old Mark IV Jetta buyer finding out all four window regulators have been placed.

They won’t be surprised. They will be relieved. Your CPO warranty bit the bullets that the buyer wants to dodge. So let em’ know about it.

This is the time of year when people don’t have much money. There are no holiday bonuses. No tax returns, and no commercials that show oversized bows on overpriced cars. The used car market dies out a bit in October and November,  so don’t be surprised if it sits for a bit.

As for pricing, I would recommend you average out the three most common mainstream pricing sites for “good to very good condition”; KBB, Edmunds, and NADA. Deduct maybe 5% for the accident and the fact that you want to get this car out of your life, and let the laws of economics take their course. Manheim offers a wholesale pricing guide called the Manheim Market Report. It’s useless for retail. You want retail prices and those three do a fairly good job at pricing the market.

Stay positive and make em’ pay retail because, let’s face it, that’s how you bought this son-of-a-bitch.

Consider this to be a golden opportunity to shape up on your picture taking and writing skills. Tell some stories and post 12 to 27 high res pics. Offer some healthy links that highlight owner based reviews for your audience. If you revel in providing better advertising than those lazy retail establishments then maybe, just maybe, you’ll get a multi-thousand dollar return on your time.

It’s a risk I would take.   So sell it straight and when it goes down the road, count your blessings… and your Benjamins.


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Junkyard Find: 1979 BMW 528i Mon, 09 Jan 2012 14:00:57 +0000 I’ve seen quite a few BMW E12s in wrecking yards over the last couple of decades, but they haven’t really quite caught my eye the way Detroit and Japanese cars of the same era tend to do. But what other Middle Malaise Era machine gave you rear-wheel-drive, independent rear suspension, a manual transmission, and a fuel-injected overhead-cam six-cylinder engine making close to 170 horsepower?
There were some flaws with the US-market version of the ’79 E12, starting with the eye-gougingly horrible bumpers.
The four-speed transmission might have been getting a bit old-fashioned by 1979; BMW replaced it with a 5-speed the next year.
This one, which I found in a Denver self-service yard last week, has a little rust, but overall it’s fairly clean and in good shape. With only 163,000 miles on the clock, it probably led a sheltered life (or spent a decade or two in a garage, awaiting expensive repairs).
169 horsepower doesn’t sound like terribly impressive these days, but getting that much power from an engine displacing only 170 cubic inches was pretty impressive at a time when Ford was dropping 159-horsepower 400s in the Lincoln Mark V, and the most powerful Corvette came with 225 horsepower.
Of course, the 528i wasn’t exactly cheap. List price for the ’79 was $15,505, or $48,315 in 2011 dollars. Luxury-minded car shoppers in 1979 could get a Cadillac Sedan DeVille for $11,493 or a Chrysler New Yorker for $8,631; those sedan shoppers who prized speed over luxury could pick up a Datsun 810 for $8,129… and those who wanted both might have found themselves handing over $11,599 to the Toyota dealer for a Cressida. Sure, the E12 was quite comfy and would eat up all those cars in any sort of race… but times were hard in 1979, and only the most successful dentists and lawyers could afford the price of admission to Big BMW Status.

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And the Winner Is… Mon, 05 Dec 2011 03:14:02 +0000 We’ve seen a BMW 5 Series take the overall win at a LeMons race before, but that was about 50 races back. Today, the If It’s Not Punk It’s Junk 525i put a big BMW back into the winner’s circle.
The members of IINPIJ paid their dues for race after race, adding a little skill and climbing a little higher in the standings each time. Last night, in keeping with the traditions of Le Mans of the mid-60s, they stayed up until 5:00 AM drinking Jack-and-Cokes and slam-dancing to the sounds of the old-school punk band they brought with them. This morning, they dragged their hungover asses out of their trailer and proceeded to maintain a two-to-three-lap lead over the field for the entire day. No black flags, no mechanical problems, all in all a perfect performance. Congratulations, If It’s Not Punk It’s Junk!

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Arse Freeze-a-Palooza LeMons Day One: E34 Leads, E30 and SE-R Close Behind Sun, 04 Dec 2011 06:09:04 +0000 The checkered flag waved, the sun went down, the traditional delivery of lost bumpers and mufflers got dumped off the safety truck in front of LeMons HQ, and the Buttonwillow paddock went into the usual LeMons Saturday Night party mode. With the top five teams all grouped into a three-lap spread, there’ll be a long night of beer-fueled bench racing ahead.
At the moment, the If It’s Not Punk It’s Junk BMW 5 Series has a two-lap edge over the P2 car. This team has been climbing the ranks of LeMons contenders for a long time, and they came tantalizingly close to taking the overall win at the Skankaway Anti-Toe-Fungal 500 at Infineon Raceway. All they need to do to get the win tomorrow is avoid making even a single mistake.
If the Punks do make a mistake, the always-menacing POSRacing “F’ed Up Express” BMW E30 (which won the ’10 Arse Freeze-a-Palooza) will be right there to make them pay.
A single lap behind the F’ed Up Express, the Lipstick On a Pig Nissan Sentra SE-R will take advantage if one or both of the BMWs catches a black flag or bobbles a pit stop. This veteran team has been in the hunt many times in the past, but never this close to the lead after the first day’s race session.
The battle for the Index of Effluency seems wide open, with the four Class C machines of Spank’s “IOE Onslaught” (Austin America, Mini Moke, Turbo Mini, Simca 1204) making a real statement.
The IOE favorite when the green flag waved this morning, the B-Team’s Chevy-powered Lotus Elite, didn’t have a great day. In fact, the Chotus managed just two very smoky laps. At the time of this writing, they have their 350 scattered all over their pit space, hoping to solve the catastrophic oil-burning problem.
As for the Class C favorite, a Quad 4-powered Oldsmobile… well, it turns out that all those stories about Quad 4 reliability/wrenching-difficulty issues are true; the cylinder head got nuked after a dozen or so practice laps on Friday and the team spent all day today chasing parts and spinning wrenches. They swear they’ll be hitting the track tomorrow, so perhaps we’ll get to enjoy the sight of a Chevy-ized Lotus dicing with a crazily torque-steering Oldsmobile.

But that’s tomorrow. Right now, there’s live music in the paddock, courtesy of If It’s Not Punk It’s Junk and their friends The Mice.

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Skankaway Anti-Toe-Fungal 500 Day One: BMW E34 Leads, Model T GT Close Behind Sun, 23 Oct 2011 05:26:01 +0000 It was a long, hot, crazy, metal-crunching day at Infineon Raceway today, with cars bashing into walls and each other, shooting rods through hoods, catching on fire, and generally reducing the world’s stock of sub-$500 beaters. Still, some of the 171 Skankaway Anti-Toe-Fungal 500 24 Hours of LeMons teams managed to keep running, and when the session ended we had some familiar faces in the top five.
Leading the race by the thinnest whisker-width margin is the If It’s Not Punk It’s Junk GP BMW 525i. This team has looked pretty good in recent races, but this is the first time they’ve ever managed to finish a Saturday session on top.
I dropped by If It’s Not Punk It’s Junk HQ tonight and found that they were listening to Deep Purple, of all things, as they wrenched on their BMW. So much for their image! They promised they’d switch to the Dead Kennedys as soon as their “party mix” ended.
Pretty much glued right to the E34′s bumper is the Model T GT. This team has the advantage of being stacked with a bunch of ringers (some of the top Spec Miata drivers on the West Coast), but the massive disadvantage of the fragile T5 transmission. We’ve seen the T GT take an intimidating lead in race after race, only to barf T5 parts all over the track with hours to go. It’s got V8 power and killer driving talent… but you need a transmission to finish a race. Actually, the T GT would be leading the race right now if not for the 3 BS-inspection penalty laps we gave it as part of the “handicap the perennial contenders” program we inaugurated yesterday.
Speaking of teams being held back by penalty laps, Eyesore Racing also got hit with the 3-lap handicap, and that puts them four laps back of the leader instead of just one. That doesn’t mean a whole lot at this point, however; Eyesore is known for making a big move in the late hours of a LeMons race.
If I were an If It’s Not Punk It’s Junk driver, however, I’d be most worried about this car. POSRacing, aka the F’ed-Up Express aka Spin-N-Out Burgers E30, has been running its usual invisible, trouble-free race. This team rarely makes mistakes, and their car manages to avoid the usual LeMons E30 electrical-system and wheel-bearing woes. POSRacing is seven laps back of the E34, instead of the four-lap margin they’d be facing if they hadn’t been zapped with the 3-lap BS handicap.
Here’s something you don’t see very often at a LeMons race: a BMW 2002 in the top five. Team Hurling Moss has been around for years, and they’ve done quite well— though not this well— in the past. They’re a serious long shot for the overall win, with lap times 5-8 seconds off the other leaders’ best times, but you just never know what will happen at a LeMons race.
Meanwhile, the LeMons Supreme Court will be doing our best to keep miscreant drivers from putting each other into the many walls at Sears Point. Check in tomorrow to see how it all sorts out.

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And the Winner Is… Mon, 27 Jun 2011 05:31:34 +0000
A BMW has taken the overall win at the Pacific Northworst 24 Hours of LeMons, but it wasn’t yet another dime-a-dozen E30. Nope, the winner this time was the bigger and more dignified E28 5 Series.
An El Camino-ized E28 won the notorious “demolition derby LeMons” at Altamont in ’07, and quite a few E28s have contended for a LeMons win on laps since that time. Finally, a long-overdue E28 victory. Now it’s the E23‘s turn!

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BMW 535 Judgemobile Works Great, Except For Entire Electrical System Fri, 20 May 2011 05:53:20 +0000
When I rolled into Camden, South Carolina, in preparation for judging at the third annual 24 Hours of LeMons South Spring race, my friend Walker Canada handed me the keys to his rough-but-functional ’87 BMW E28. “Go ahead and use it as your Judgemobile!” he offered. The dash lights and most of the gauges didn’t work, but I only had to drive 20 miles to the track. The engine sounded great, the suspension was still tight, and Foghat’s “Slow Ride” was on the radio. What could possibly go wrong?

Then additional electrical systems began fritzing out, culminating in loss of the headlights. Two-lane blacktop road in rural South Carolina, late at night. No problem– I used to drive British Leyland product every day. Put the hazards on and keep going!

When I got to Carolina Motorsports Park at about 11:00 PM, all the action in the paddock was centered around the car the Tunachuckers got to replace their totalled Volvo Amazon: a 1975 Ford LTD Landau.

Two tons, flip-up headlights, and a 400-cubic-inch engine rated at a mighty 153 horsepower. Excellent race car choice, I say.

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