By on May 11, 2015

 

coloribus.com

Except Invincibility! (photo courtesy: coloribus.com)

TTAC commentator nutbags writes:

Hi Sajeev,
I have been a long time reader and occasional commenter and thought I might write in for once. How many other readers have experienced this? I know you have Panther love in your system for many good reasons. Have you experienced this? Does this detract from the love?

Now for the real question: I am a middle-aged guy with a wife and two teenaged kids. Recently the owner of my company, who knows my love of most things automotive and has been paying my auto lease (provided I keep the payment below about $350/month) for about 18 years, gave me a proposition.

He stated that I could lease another new vehicle with the same dollar limit or buy a used vehicle with a limit of about $15,000. The one catch is the used car has to last about 5 years and be my daily driver; I’m not sure why but that is his stipulation. My leases during this time have been some decent rides (’00 Passat 1.8T 5MT, ’03 Accord SE-L 5MT, ’06 Accord V6 6MT, and currently ’12 GLI 6MT) but now it is time for my next vehicle.

The only used car that really interests me is the E39 BMW 5-series. Decent ones seem well within the budget, but would this car make it the 5 years without a huge outlay of cash to keep it running? Or should I just stick to leasing new? New considerations are: GTI, GLI, Focus ST, Mazda3 (5-door), or Mazda6. All can be had with a manual transmission and all have received good reviews. So what are your thoughts, B&B?

Thanks and keep up the great work,
Nutbags

Sajeev answers:

First question: That link refers to the 3V motors, which were never installed in Panthers due to Ford’s insistence on letting this platform rot in neglect. I changed spark plugs on 2V 4.6’s that supposedly strip out their threads, but I didn’t screw them up. My trusted, local wrench agrees, suggesting the motors were “unforgiving to sloppy labor” instead of being a guaranteed fail. I’m changing the plugs in my father’s 2006 Town Car this week, so I’ll report back if I screw it up this time.

Second: you got some nerve to even consider an E39 as a daily for the next 5 years. Job security and any needy 15-ish year old premium car is a contradiction, considering repair costs, service complexity and availability of E39 parts. Because this isn’t even a 2000 Lexus ES, much less a new one.

Granted the E39 (M5 or 540i 6-spd Sport Package) is one of the few sedans from the last 20 years I’d love to own AND look respectable; mostly because a used Panther won’t pass muster with friends, co-workers/customers and random judgmental onlookers. Well, except for the Mercury Marauder.

Whatever: start test driving the future leased vehicle of your dreams. I reckon you’ll get either the GLI or the Mazda6.

They are E39-ish. They will do. Go have fun!

Send your queries to [email protected]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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103 Comments on “Piston Slap: E39 Perfection or Unloved Lockstep Leasing?...”


  • avatar
    seth1065

    Gotta pass on the BMW, really to much headaches involved, they cost cash to maintain , 5 years is a long time , I assume your on three years leases so the outlay of repairs are pretty small, Enjoy the great perk you get, I am in the same boat and love having a car allowance , do not kill the golden goose you have. I would get the Mazda 6 and see how that is for 36 months.

  • avatar
    Quentin

    Do you get to keep the $15k car and sell it at the end of the term? Does the company keep it? If you keep the car, can you combine with some of your own cash to get out of that $15k window? I guess I don’t see the reasoning here.

  • avatar
    segfault

    Ha! I traded an E39 540i M-sport for a 2013 GLI a couple of years ago, due solely to the endless list of repairs on the BMW. They don’t age gracefully. One of that vintage is insane to consider as a daily driver.

    • 0 avatar

      Is the GLI close enough to the E39 experience?

      • 0 avatar
        segfault

        It gives up the V8 grunt and replaces it with mild turbo lag. Funny, one of the irritations with the E39 was the second gear start on the automatic, which is a lot like turbo lag. The GLI feels a little breathless above 60 MPH compared to the 4.4 liter V8. It’s a very enjoyable car to drive. The seats are comfortable, the ride is smooth considering how well it handles. It’s a great road trip car. Dealer service has been spotty, and the dealer body repair experience also left a lot to be desired.

        Unfortunately, after the incident which precipitated the need for the body repair, and the toll it took and continues to take on me, I’m looking for a daily driver with a higher ride height and heavier curb weight.

  • avatar

    The only thing crazier than buying a 15 year old E39 for a company car, is buying a 15 year old E39 and doing an LS motor swap.

  • avatar
    danio3834

    Don’t do the E39 if this is going to be your new daily for 5 years. Repairs are frequent and expensive on these. The extra baggage of someone else paying for the car only complicates matters.

    Re-up on the lease deal.

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    Mmmm thats a real shame about the E39s. I thought they were relatively robust. If he is considering little cars like the FoST and Mazda 3 what about a used 3 series? A pristine E46 ZHP or E90 N52 equipped car can be had for $15K all day. Again though the reliability issue……

    • 0 avatar
      danio3834

      At this point they’re fairly old vehicles, so they will require significantly more maintenance than a late model vehicle no matter how robust.

      The ones I’ve encountered recently have had all manners of issues from very expensive like shredded timing chain guides (somewhat common issue), to more minor problems like cooling system leaks, failed starter motors and window regulator problems. The more minor things might be financially tolerable, even if parts seem unfairly expensive, but the frequency at which they will occur will likely make a serial leasee lose his mind.

      • 0 avatar

        I seriously looked at either an E38 740i Sport or E39 540i as a daily driver. Both can be had for under $10K in reasonable condition. But the constant and expensive maintenance scared me off.

      • 0 avatar

        I’ve heard the coolant problem (V8 intakes) turn into engine damage from neglect, and it can be hard to initially spot in a used car.

        Don’t forget the infuriating pixel problems on the dash. From what I’ve seen on E38s, even rebuilt clusters can fail again.

        Love these cars, but they are so hard to keep 100% functional.

        • 0 avatar
          danio3834

          “Don’t forget the infuriating pixel problems on the dash.”

          You’re right, most of them look like they have the language switched to read in Predator.

        • 0 avatar
          krhodes1

          It’s not hard at all. Buy the car, then go through it from front to back and fix the issues (and potential issues). They are all well-known, 20 minutes on the appropriate forum will give you the list. Then the car will be like new. But it costs money and/or time, so no one does it. Cars are generally only unreliable when you wait for them to break.

          This was how I got away with almost perfect reliability from my sundry $5K used European cars. Buy it, spend the time and the money to sort it out, then drive and enjoy until boredom set in. Rinse and repeat.

          • 0 avatar

            This sorta works if you have a second car, and enjoy DIY. My 300k 3-er is a good example. All is good now, but I had to wait for winter to end to replace some blown shock mounts. Having another car for Mama to take to work is vital….(the headache car will always be “yours”)

            At some point, any old car becomes “a collection of parts flying in formation”, and you run up against the design life of each bit. Am I mad my 3 is on the third alternator or second fuel pump or second PS pump ? No, they last 100-150k each…. Of course, each car is different. I’ve the orig radiator, which is impossible according to the forums…but I’m on the third expansion tank. Easy DIY or $1500 day with towing and maybe tweaked engine, depending on owner. Each time, a different part number, too.

            If this is your only car, and you require 100 % uptime, pass and lease again.

            Oh, and as to the plastic…I’ve read BMW went to a recycled plastic. I know plastic eventually dries out and dies, but the plastic under the nose of my 2003 is utter crap.

      • 0 avatar
        sportyaccordy

        I don’t understand why Germans have such trouble making robust simple parts. Cooling system leaks? Starter motors? Window regulators? There are 20 year old Hondas with zero issues on any of these things. They should just buy one of those and copy all the designs for their troublesome parts.

        • 0 avatar
          psarhjinian

          Window regulators I truly don’t understand. I’ve almost never seen a Honda or Toyota with a partially-opened window that won’t roll up, but the Germans have real problems with them.

          Even crank windows are an issue. Yeesh

          From having replaced the regulators on my E46, as well as looking at the issues with the cooling system, and assuming this is the same issue that afflicts VW, I think the Germans haven’t figured out how to handle things like plastic aging and either going brittle or wearing out with use.

          The regulator clips are a good example: they’re just these little plastic tabs that give out and either allow the window to drop, and/or allow the motor to burn out trying to lift half a window twice as hard. I’m generally okay with plastic, but you do need to consider how a part will wear with age and I don’t think the Germans do this.

          If I were to hazard a guess as to why, I expect it’s because, in the European domestic market, people don’t put the kinds of miles on their cars that would cause this kind of wear, and inspections and licensing are harsh enough to get older cars off the road.

          What’s odd is that Japan is similarly a) urban and b) strict. I guess the Japanese OEMs just try harder.

          • 0 avatar
            Willyam

            Interesting thought. When the rear windows of my ’00 Focus fell into the doors, I discovered nylon parts as the culprit. I remember thinking at the time, “how VW”. They didn’t do this until 110k miles, but aside from my VW/Audi experiences, no other car has these little plastic part problems (LPPP?)

          • 0 avatar
            George B

            Some insight into Honda window regulators. They definitely wear out, but usually fail in a fairly benign way where the window rolls up most of the way. Horrible wind noise until you replace the worn window regulator using parts in stock at any auto parts store.

            My theory on why Toyota and Honda have been able to make relatively reliable cars for the US market is that the US is a primary important market for them with about 30 years of experience manufacturing cars here. Their domestic Japanese market is small. Over time they learn what works in the US and what doesn’t.

          • 0 avatar

            I forgot how many window regulators my 1997 Jetta VR6 went through. I’d probably cry if I remembered.

          • 0 avatar
            ellomdian

            Keep in mind that most German manufacturers had issues with plastics in the late 90’s/very early 00’s. This is the time of biodegradable MB wiring harnesses.

            BMW plastics from this timeframe, especially underhood, are a special kind of nightmare. Between my e38’s and my brother’s e39, I’ve had parts shatter like glass before.

        • 0 avatar
          wsn

          “I don’t understand why Germans have such trouble making robust simple parts. Cooling system leaks? Starter motors? Window regulators? There are 20 year old Hondas with zero issues on any of these things. They should just buy one of those and copy all the designs for their troublesome parts.”

          Why make it more robust if it cost $10 more and the buyers don’t care?

          I have heard of people having to repair their VWs often but still praise them to be good cars.

          I have to say, most German car buyers base their purchase decision solely on perception. They believe that the entire German people must be racially superior than Japanese. That’s not my opinion, but I can feel it from many.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      If you’re willing to work on the car yourself and scour eBay and bone-yards for parts the E39 isn’t too bad to keep up, assuming you:

      * Get an example that’s had certain things done (CCV and the cooling systems comes to mind)
      * Get an I6. Do not even think about the V8 versions.

      The DIY community for these BMWs is quite comprehensive and the cars are not hard to work on.

      But it will not be a Toyota. Not even close.

    • 0 avatar
      KevinC

      Best bet would be a 530i, manual tranny. Pretty solid mechanicals, none of the V8 headaches.

      • 0 avatar
        NoGoYo

        Is there a German V8 that isn’t a headache?

        If there is, it’s probably fitted to a heavy duty truck or something.

        • 0 avatar
          CoreyDL

          The Audi 4.2 V8 is a great engine, and is pretty reliable. It’s the electronics, sensors and hoses attached to it that have the issues. The engine itself is great. Smooth and powerful, and extremely quiet. It can pull around a Quattro A8L and get 23MPG.

          It’s more efficient than any VQ35 V6, if you can believe that.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      They are extremely robust. They are also averaging 15 years old! And most people neglect their cars. Though even with that said, there is the question of WHICH e39. There is a yawning chasm between the maintenance costs of a basic 528i and a 540i, and then the M5 is on another plane altogether.

      A non-turbo e9X is an extremely safe bet for a nice car that won’t bankrupt you over the next five years if you want a BMW. It won’t be a Corolla, but on the other hand it is not a Corolla. You get what you pay for.

      But that said, if the choice was between a $15K used car and a $350/mo lease of a new car, sign me up for the new one. Heck, kick in another $150/mo yourself and you can get something really fun!

      • 0 avatar
        psarhjinian

        “It won’t be a Corolla, but on the other hand it is not a Corolla. You get what you pay for”

        I would buy that argument, were it not for the Lexus IS, GS and LS’s existence.

        • 0 avatar
          krhodes1

          The Corollas of premium cars, in both the good and the bad ways, IMHO. And in my experience, the RWD Lexi are more on the BMW side of things in long term costs than the Corolla side, having a chunk of my family that loves the things. The ES and RX have Camry-like running costs for the obvious reason that they ARE Camrys, the higher end Lexi are a different story.

  • avatar
    an innocent man

    Is he messing with you? Is this some kind of business truth-or-dare? I don’t get it?

  • avatar
    Volt 230

    The ultimate breakdown machine. Get a Lexus instead

  • avatar
    PeriSoft

    But, but, Tavarish SAYS that *everyone* should be driving 20-year-old Mercedes S-classes! It’s EASY! You just do a little thing with the thing and the electronics and it’s FINE, no worries! The only problem is that then the disgusting poor people will harass you! But there’s no reason not to do it! Really! It’s easy!

    Ahem. Enjoy the 6; I hear it’s a great car.

    • 0 avatar
      bball40dtw

      Instead of taking advice from Tavarish, people should listen to the wisdom of The Humungus, The Lord Humungus, The Warrior of the Wastelan, The Ayatollah of Rock and Rolla:

      “Just walk away”

    • 0 avatar

      I think Tavarish’ advice is tailored toward someone who could feasibly afford to drive a 10-year-old European flagship luxury car (read: cash in the bank), who isn’t squeamish about doing his own maintenance, and who knows better than to expect it to behave like an Accord. It is *not* tailored toward the person who is on a tight budget and who genuinely needs a reliable daily-driver. I don’t remember Tavarish ever advocating that someone go out on a limb for one of those cars if he/she isn’t mentally and financially prepared for it, and most people aren’t…even enthusiasts. I’ve talked myself out of getting a W12 Phaeton *as a second car* at least three times this month…which is good, because I just don’t have the kind of time to work on such a thing, and the first instance in which something broke, the car would be out of commission for three or four months.

      Besides, Tavarish knows that if *everyone* drove a V12-powered S-Class, it wouldn’t be as cool…

      • 0 avatar
        bball40dtw

        Tavarish’s advice is tailored towards people who like to throw money into a pit of dispair.

      • 0 avatar
        seth1065

        Or maybe somebody who can have a Mazda ^ as a company car so he could go to work everyday and drive the s on the weekends

      • 0 avatar
        krhodes1

        @Kyree

        Exactly this. In the big picture, he is absolutely correct. The first year depreciation alone of a new S-class will cover the repairs on a 10yo one for eons. But you are correct, if all you can afford is the price of entry, you need a car with a warranty. Where I think he takes it to a ridiculous extreme is his love of the crazy top-end versions. An S420 is still a super nice car, and a whole lot less expensive to deal with than a V12 AMG. There is a happy medium in there. But if you have half a brain these cars do not need to be so expensive.

        Here is this week’s example from Kevin’s Garage: My Range Rover needed the aux air pump replaced. 150K, it’s time, starting to sound like a police siren and cause CELs. Got one with 50K on it from an online junkyard for $50. New from LR is $500+. it mounts with three little rubber doohickeys that have a bolt sticking out of each end. New used pump didn’t come with them, old pump has one broken and two about to. LR dealer wants $26 each for these things. Uh, no. I recall that they look an awful lot like Bosch fuel pump mounts. Check Alfa supplier where I last bought some – $5 each + shipping. Not bad, but let’s take 30 seconds and try NAPA. $2.07, in stock 2 miles from the house. ~5 minute job to swap the pump. Dealer would have been $150min (1hr minimum charge) for labor, $500+ for the pump, and another $78 for the mounts. Cost me $60, the used pump is silent and will last far longer than I will own this truck in all likelihood. This is how you run an $80K car on a budget. But if you don’t have the time, skill, or inclination, stick to new with a warranty.

        Having a garage that only fits a comfortable max of 4 cars keeps me from buying a Phaeton as well. I just don’t have enough reason to have one, but I sure do want one! Just the basic V8 for me, more than fast enough. My Rover serves as the “we are all going out to dinner” car well enough to make a big sedan superfluous.

  • avatar
    gtemnykh

    If I were your boss and found out that you bought an old E39 as your work-paid-for commuter, I’d start second guessing your judgement!

    Easy mode: lease an Accord Sport 6spd manual, done deal.

    • 0 avatar
      Nick 2012

      I love my 6MT Accord. If the OP can make 2 doors work, get the manual V6 coupe.

      Fate, however, schedule me to fill up next to an out-of-towner driving a black 2015 Chevrolet SS with the 6MT. Mine may be for sale soon.

      • 0 avatar
        ciscokidinsf

        Whuuttt? You really have seen, with your own eyes, a Chevy SS with the Manual Tranny?? This was not a dream right? Must be the only one out there, not even most car reviewers have it.

      • 0 avatar
        Nick 2012

        I indeed have seen the glory and heard the thunder. Autotrader shows about 15-20 Mt 15-20 around the US. I thought it was any old SS (like that is common anyways) but heard him slipping the clutch as he eased into the pump. I promptly bought some lotto tickets given my luck.

        The needle in the stack of needles would be the 6mt with that ungodly beautiful royal peacock green. Road and track had one in their last issue facing off an E39 M5. If one is for sale I will buy it on the spot.

    • 0 avatar
      DrGastro997

      Very well said!

  • avatar

    An E39 M5 is a fun car to have but not as a primary work vehicle. I recommend the Infiniti Q40 as they are phasing them out and you can get well equipped lease deals around $300 a month

    http://slickdeals.net/f/7814835-excellent-lease-deal-infiniti-q40-200-to-300-month-for-12k-yr-well-equpped?v=1&src=SiteSearch

  • avatar
    DenverMike

    Take the cash but rent the cheap car while you build the LSx swapped BMW of your dreams.

  • avatar
    SteveMar

    I’ve driven old Euro performance vehicles as daily drivers – most recently, a 1996 Volvo 850R – and, despite my love, basically have sworn off them if I need dependable transportation. I love the E39 Bimmer too and would drive one in a heartbeat, as long as someone else was paying for the car AND the maintenance AND the loaner I would need while it was laid up. But, frankly, from one middle aged professional business guy to another, who needs this kind of drama in your life?

    I would get one of the enjoyable drivers you mentioned – especially since it’s a lease and you’re off the hook on anything because of the warranty. If you insist on something used and luxurious, you can join me – I actually bought a 2000 Lexus ES 300 and, while not fun in the Euro sense of the word, I have huge respect for how well built the thing is 15 years later. But an E39 it ain’t. But then it starts pretty much every morning without fail. Take your pick.

    • 0 avatar
      DenverMike

      Because of $15,000. I know he’s not throwing in his 19 year old daughter too, but still. He’s offering the man an escape from boredom, OK? How many times does someone hand you a bag with $15K without risking prison rape??

      AN ES 300 is just boredom with better leather.

  • avatar

    As an E39 530i owner, my advice is to run away from the E39 and to take the leasing option. The GTI is pretty good, and if you really want the BMW experience, a manual 320i isn’t bad.

    Just don’t get the E39. It’s a world of hurt, especially when it comes to maintenance. To this day, I question why Consumer Reports named the E39 530i their “Best Car Tested.” It’s a fantastic car half the year and during the other half you’ll be questioning why you still have it.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      `To this day, I question why Consumer Reports named the E39 530i their “Best Car Tested.”`

      This is a common misunderstanding of CR’s rating system. Or rather, “systems” (plural): CR has two ratings scales: one for performance, one for reliability. You can top the former and anchor the bottom of the latter, or vice-versa.

      The E39 530i topped the Performance scale because it really is an excellent car in terms of ride quality, safety, performance, etc. It just isn’t reliable.

      The mirror-image example is the Toyota Yaris: it’s mean, miserable, slow, cramped and a little bit soggy to drive. But it is very cheap to own and utterly un-killable.

      • 0 avatar

        I’m sure it tested tremendously well, but you’d have to think CR would factor reliability into the final calculation, especially since BMW constantly advertised the “Best Car Tested” thing.

        Also, if someone gave me the choice between a brand-new Yaris and keeping the 530i, I’d take the Yaris. Replacing the E39’s cooling system (which is leaking less than one month later!) didn’t help my view of things. Still fantastic to drive, but it’s probably going away by the end of the year. I wouldn’t be surprised if I replaced it with an old Lexus or Toyota.

        • 0 avatar
          Acubra

          Switch to Evans coolant and enjoy the peace of mind. I did a year ago and love it.

        • 0 avatar
          psarhjinian

          “I’m sure it tested tremendously well, but you’d have to think CR would factor reliability into the final calculation, especially since BMW constantly advertised the “Best Car Tested” thing.”

          They do. Vehicles that aren’t at least of average reliability don’t get a “Recommended” sticker.

          As for the “best car tested” being advertised by BMW. I doubt that: CR doesn’t let OEMs use their rankings in promotional material. Dealers might mention it, but the OEM cannot

    • 0 avatar

      Indeed. A 320i won’t have that glorious heritage straight-six at the helm, but it will probably be the same size and weight as an E39, and someone else will foot the repair bills. How much is a lease on a $35K “Jalopnik Edition” 320i (Sport Package + 6-Speed Manual Gearbox)? I know it’s certainly under $400/month. I’d tell you to take advantage of the upcoming 2016 facelift to take advantage of a leftover 2015 model and get an even cheaper lease, but you’d probably have to special order a sparsely-equipped variant like that, anyway.

      • 0 avatar

        I don’t know. Some of the lease deals I’m coming across on those cars are insane thanks to BMW’s tendency to “grease” their number of deliveries upwards. Dealers are advertising some low leases thanks to cars that have already been booked as “delivered” cars.

        Plus, 3-Series inventory is fairly high, especially in Northern California.

  • avatar
    Car Ramrod

    I am the insane person who went the E39 route. Bought a 2002 M5 with 61K on it in 2012. I have covered 40K miles in 30 months, and have had to do the following repairs to stay on the road:
    – Blower fan (requires taking the dash panel off)
    – Thrust arms
    – fuel pump
    – 1 coil pack
    – Lots of tires
    – 4 new struts
    – valve seal replacements
    – repairing broken headlight levelers
    – more than 1 attemt at fixing an interior leak through the bottom of a rear door card
    Next up: tie rod ends.

    Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing I’d rather have, but budget a few K a year.

    • 0 avatar

      Just wait until the cooling system goes.

      • 0 avatar
        Car Ramrod

        I forgot the thermostat…and one of the MAF sensors.

      • 0 avatar
        Acubra

        M5 does not have this problem. It is “cold” engine and the system is not nearly as high pressure as the civil M54 and M62/

      • 0 avatar
        Kevin Jaeger

        I own a first generation Miata, which I and everyone else on the internet love. But you know what? The plastic end tanks on the Miata radiator get brittle and it needs to be replaced. The hoses deteriorate and everyone replaces the water pump every timing belt change. The only part of my cooling system that is original is the heater core in the dash?

        Why do Miata owners cheerfully do this expected maintenance without whining about it while BMW owners whine about what nightmares their cars are because 15 to 20 year old cooling systems need maintenance?

  • avatar
    Waftable Torque aka Daniel Ho

    I don’t know why the boss is capping the lease at $350. If the OP wants to pay more out of his pocket, let him. Even if he pays an extra $350 per month, that’ll get him into any 3 series except the M3, and even the 535i is within reach.

    BTW, the BMW USA site is infuriating. It doesn’t let you sort by manual transmissions…unless they don’t sell them anymore?

  • avatar
    Nick 2012

    Thinking out of the box, lease an S65 AMG from Tavarish but make him responsible for all repairs other than oil changes and tires.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    Agree, go with the lease, it’s more value for you overall anyway. And the fix-anything-broken money will be included and not out of your pocket. It would be silly to accept a used something for $15,000 versus $21,000 in the same time span for a lease allowance.

  • avatar
    gasser

    $350/month X 60 months (five years) = $21000. How is this parity with $15,000 outlay for 5 years?? Ask your boss and get fired, or just take the lease cash, find a new toy and whistle zippidee do dah.
    Having owned BMWs, I would run away from an old used one like it had leprosy. If the E39 were free, the $15K would just about cover the 5 year maintenance costs.

    • 0 avatar
      Toad

      If the $15k BMW ends up in the shop repeatedly (which it probably will) how will this affect your relationship with your boss? He/she is going to think you flushed company money down the drain on a unreliable toy. One way or another you will end up paying (far more) for that decision financially and at a cost to your reputation within the company.

      Lease a reliable new car and keep rolling. If you want something fun pay for the lease upgrade out of pocket.

    • 0 avatar
      wsn

      Not that simple.

      Suppose the OP used the 15k and bought a new Corolla. By the end of this 5 year term, the Corolla is still worth, say, $8k. It’s money in the pocket for the OP, at the cost having to drive an inferior car as compared to lease. It may just be the right deal for some people.

  • avatar
    Zykotec

    I have a collegue that claims he can keep his E39 running for only about $1000-1500a year in parts. Granted, it is a 520 manual touring with no gadgets at all, and he does all the work himself, but he wouldn’t trade it for anything else in that class. (he has to get himself a family hauler now though)
    As for me, the only reason I can see for buyin an E39 is that they are a lot cheaper and easier to find than a rust-free E34 (the ‘real’ last real BMW)…And I’ve owned a rusted out E34, and hated owning it (driving it wasn’t so bad, but it happened too rarely)
    The only thing ‘better’ with the E39 has to be the aerodynamics. But I can understand why some people choose to call it ‘the last real BMW’

  • avatar
    glwillia

    You people are ridiculous. Reading this site and Jalopnik, you’d think Hondas/Toyotas never break and BMWs are in the shop every week.

    My only car is a 2002 330Ci (not an E39, but same powertrain), and while it needs some work from time to time, I’d definitely trust it to be a daily driver. If you replace the water pump+t-stat every 75k miles, there’s really nothing catastrophic and sudden that’ll cause your car to stop running or not turn on. My 67-year-old mom’s only car is a 2002 325i, and it’s never refused to start or left her stranded, unlike her previous ’89 Corolla.

    • 0 avatar
      bball40dtw

      “If you replace the water pump+t-stat every 75k miles”

      What’s this you say? Every 75K miles I have to replace what and why?!?!?

    • 0 avatar
      ktm

      It’s not the major “wear” items that people are talking about. It is the small, infuriating items that seem to fail on German cars.

      In the early 2000’s I owned a 2002 325Ci manual and a 2002 Audi B5 S4. Both were brilliant to drive, and both were maintenance nightmares. I am not talking water pumps and t-stats, but dead pixels, HVAC systems, window regulators, one ECU/PCM on the BMW, one transmission TCU on the B5 S4, etc. The dealership experience kept me from unloading them early, but every day I got into the cars I would mutter, “What is going to fail today and please don’t let it strand my ass” as a prayer.

      • 0 avatar
        glwillia

        The window regulators and dead pixels (and cup holders) are definitely annoying, but they won’t prevent you from getting to work, and “dependable daily driver” does not necessarily mean “nothing ever goes wrong, ever”. The E46 and I6 E39 in particular make up for being somewhat needy in terms of trim and accessories by being really easy to work on, with a large community and knowledge base and easy availability of parts. If the OP really doesn’t ever want to deal with replacing a window regulator (or paying someone else to do it), then he answered his own question and should just lease a Mazda3 or Focus ST.

    • 0 avatar
      wsn

      “You people are ridiculous. Reading this site and Jalopnik, you’d think Hondas/Toyotas never break and BMWs are in the shop every week.”

      Or maybe we are just better educated and understand the difference between anecdote evidence and actual study. There could be 10,000 perfectly robust BMWs out there. I believe it. But that doesn’t make BMW a reliable brand.

      • 0 avatar

        Yea anecdotes. My Acura is a poorly engineered POS compared to my VW. I fully get that is a very minority opinion.

        n=1

      • 0 avatar
        glwillia

        I guarantee you I’m better educated than you and understand prob/stat better (PhD in physics, currently a data scientist). You completely misunderstood my point, which is that an E39 or E46 won’t break down and leave you stranded if you pay attention to the few items the drivetrain and suspension require. I never said they didn’t require more maintenance and repairs, or that the window regulators were reliable.

  • avatar
    JEFFSHADOW

    B M W

    Break My Wallet

    End of Story!

  • avatar
    Acubra

    Ok, I have a 02 530iA which I bought with 160,000 km (100K in US money). Now, 20,000 km of daily and all-weather driving later I have to say this.
    1.
    If you look at mobile.de and other European websites similar to autotrader, you will see plenty of E39’s with mileages close or even well exceeding 300,000 miles. So the basic recipe should not be too shabby.
    2.
    Owning a E39 can be (and for me IS) affordable, if you a) thoroughly educate yourself, b) are capable of some basic wrenching with understanding of what you are doing, c) are prepared to invest time and effort into looking after your car. d) have a few hundred in cash as a reserve fund.
    If you are none of these – then forget about it, the old BMW ownership will wear you out emotionally and financially in no time.
    If you are – then find yourself a decent and clean 530 and enjoy it.
    3.
    One should accept the fact that the impeccable German engineering is a myth. And be open to field-proven changes to the original design that allow you to enjoy your car so much longer – and at drastically less cost.
    Some examples:

    Cooling system – it is a given that it will fail sooner or later. Switch to Evans coolant and never have these problems again. I did and once even drove with my expansion tank open for a day (forgot to put it back on the day before) – without any problems.

    CCV – remove the damn thing and replace it with an oil catch can + normal PCV. Especially in winter you will be surprised seeing how much crap this CCV thing dumps in your engine oil – before it stops working, plugs the pipes and blows your seals out.

    Engine temperatures – M54 and especially M62 are way too hot. For the sake of emissions in city cycles. This wears all seals, burns oil, overwhelms coolant system and does many other nasty things to your engine that shortens its life. Cold thermostat fixes that. My engine now runs in 83-92degC interval 95% of the time.

    OK, too many words already, so I rest my case.

  • avatar
    CapVandal

    Daily Driver
    Daily Driver
    Daily Driver

    I live a vanilla daily driver. The kind of commutes I have had involve driving straight ahead. No need for even an above average engine. I like quiet. A manual on a commute? Is that really fun? As much as I would like it to drive it like I stole it — get real. Acceleration between you and the next bumper is it. As odd as it might sound, I think it is very questionable whether great brakes is even an advantage since they are an invitation to get rear ended.

    I had the fantasy that a more sports oriented vehicle is what I wanted, but never got around to buying one. New cars are simply better than old ones. I always wondered why all these people used to die when they would hit a tree or pole. Seeing the offset test films.

    This is me. A different point of view. Real car people want more/different. Do what you want. Screw all advice. How many more cars do you realistically have in your life? Take a chance. The opposite of the first part of this comment.
    Nothing you can do will ruin your life. Budget for repairs. A couple or three hundred a month.

    This is a different point of view.

  • avatar
    DearS

    My 99 E39 has been parked for 7 months. I don’t have time to work on it anymore. 167, 000 miles, 31000 of which I put on it. It was not easy to get to those 31k. I wanted to get it running well, but its one thing after the other. My 12 year old accord has been running fine after 15,000+ miles in 7 months, just need to change the brakes ($100). :)

  • avatar
    Sigivald

    “How many other readers have experienced this?” (Plug breakage on a 3V Triton)

    Me. Half the plugs on my 5.4L in my SuperDuty broke during replacement.

    It’s a one-time issue, since the replacements are single piece and don’t break.

    Of course, the 5.4L Triton is also a time-bomb in general.

    (And now I have a Jasper rebuild that SHOULDN’T be a time-bomb, at an expense that was a large portion of the cost of the [used at 120kmi] truck in the first place…)

  • avatar
    Zykotec

    I feel like I have to step in and defend German cars again here. I’m not a huge fan of them, but at least I can understand why german cars can not achieve the reliability that the typical US customer is used to. Production costs for most modern mass produced automobiles are hilariously low. But then I’m only talking about the material and labour that goes into it. The more hours you put into assembling a car, the more expensive it gets, so the more options you have, and the more parts you have will increase costs a lot. So most ‘premium’ cars will already cost a litte more to build than your average Civic or Camry.
    But, the biggest cost (if we don’t inlcude management, but that’s just something all manufacturers have to deal with)is R&D.
    When Honda develops a Civic, they are more or less only developing one car, with a few minor differences between models, and (especially for the US market) it really only has to do a few things well, reliability,safety, power, and size. (not counting looks/design, as they are also factors everyone has to deal with)
    When building your typical german premium car, you have to develop a whole set of massively different cars in comparison. And you have to make sure it handles ‘perfect’ in every version. European manufacturers probably have yearly interior R&D budgets higher than the whole budget for the latest Camry facelift. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that they have to cut corners somewhere to make sure their shareholders are happy. Especially nowadays when shareholders are their most important customer. And, their models need to always be kept updated to keep people interested, again to keep shareholders happy. So, they have to compromise on certain parts.
    With Honda reliability always comes first, even if that means having to use fake wood in the interior (’cause it lasts longer) or that the window regulators are more noisy, and their wheels look to small in the wheelarch. BMW can not afford to make such ‘mistakes’ on their cars. So they choose to make a car that keeps the journalists happy, and try their best to keep the new car buyer happy.
    Here in Norway BMW and Toyota usually scores very high on customer satisfaction, because both brands deliver exactly what the customer wants and epects from that brand. BMW may not have great reliability, but no one has asked them to have it either. And no one would buy them if they looked like ‘Lexarses’ anyway…
    Rant over.
    TL-DR; don’t buy a BMW if that isn’t what you really want.

  • avatar
    IllTakeAn8WithThatV

    I owned a 2001 540i M-Sport 6MT from 2008-2011. It was a beauty to behold, and a gem to drive. It also cost gems to repair, many gems. Thing was a nightmare to fix – scarce, expensive parts and constant cooling system problems. If you’re looking at an E39, and really you shouldn’t be for a DD with the expectation that it won’t cost an arm and maybe a leg to maintain, then go for the I6 versions (probably the 530i since 186 bhp in that thing ain’t cuttin’ it!)

  • avatar

    I have owned a 2000 528iA for 11 years and have never had a major problem with it. I’m thinking I should get another vehicle to supplement it but I am loathe to replace it entirely because it is a fantastic car, one of the best BMWs ever made.

    I think turn-of-the century BMWs if bought carefully are outstanding bargains mostly because buyers do not understand that 75000 is break-in mileage for them. Keep up the myth of finicky, expensive-to-run Bimmers and you are helping to assure my future supply of bargain used BMWS so thank you.

  • avatar
    CGHill

    All I can tell you about the E39 is what my son said of his ’03 530i: “At any given moment it needs $1800 worth of work.”

  • avatar
    Maymar

    In your market, how much Pontiac G8 will that $15k buy you? As I remember, they were lauded as a decent BMW competitor, but the more common powertrains might make for an easier ownership experience (mind you, only two years of limited production might make some of the Holden bits trickier to find).

  • avatar
    mypoint02

    I have a ’01 E39 Touring with 212,000 miles on it. I put 125k on it. Was my wife’s daily driver first, now mine. The big expenses I’ve experienced were the front thrust and control arms and struts needing to be replaced at around 125k ($1800 just in parts) and the cooling system at around 145k (~$1100). I realized afterwards that I probably could have done the cooling system myself. Dare I say that after that though, it’s been routine maintenance for the most part (brakes, tires, plugs, filters, diff oil, cooling system flush, etc). The most recent non-maintenance repairs I’ve had to do on it was the oil filter housing gasket ($3 part replaced myself), O2 sensor ($45 on Amazon, replaced myself), and one of the ABS speed sensors ($40, replaced myself).

    The question you have to ask yourself is if you are able and willing to work on the damn thing yourself. If not, move on. It’ll bankrupt you if you take it in every time. But they are pretty easy to work on and I6 parts aren’t any more expensive than what parts for my GTI and A4 1.8T cost when I had them. Not many cars drive like the E39. Just a question if you have the right lifestyle and willingness to wrench on it yourself. I would steer clear if I were the OP and had a car allowance though…

  • avatar

    I’ve noticed a lot of comments about the admittedly notorious cooling systems on BMWs. Back in the day guys used to upgrade their 2002s w the larger “tropical” fan (it had an extra blade.) The guy who maintains the 330Cic I use in AZ for 6 months of the year claims these concerns are out-dated. Perhaps he is correct but on the advice of BMWCCA’s tech guru I replaced the radiator, hoses, water pump and thermostat at 100K on my 528i (about $700 at indy specialist) even though I’d never had the least bit of trouble w cooling.

    It seems to have worked just fine, still no trouble almost 70K miles later.

  • avatar
    Stumpaster

    I want the complete story. What is it that you do that keeps you on this job? $350 today is not $350 18 years ago. So you are effectively losing your benefits year over year for the last 18 years. Worse yet, now the owner is trying to “trick” you into agreeing to a $250 monthly outlay, which is what $15K/5 years means. Worse yet, whereas a leased car may need an oil change or two and maybe a set of tires, he now wants you to bear the burden of fixing a shitbox for 5 years, all the while not missing work because your car broke down. You are probably a rep of some sort doing rounds in this car, so putting decent miles on it.

    The owner is trying to stiff you, if my message is not yet clear.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    MY10-12 Lincoln MK Zephyr can be had for around 15 clean, pay any difference from your own pocket and ditch E39 ideas.


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