By on December 21, 2015

2000 BMW 540i

The kids have been getting on my nerves lately, with all of their, “Santa, please bring me this toy I’ll lose by Sunday” and “Daddy, don’t forget me at soccer practice again” and all that. I’ve decided to spite them, and that I need to spend their college fund on vehicle maintenance. So I’m looking at used, high performance, family sedans this week.

If I were so inclined to spend a public-school semester tuition every year on car repairs and general upkeep, an older BMW would be at the top of my list.

(For the nice folks at child protective services that may be reading, I never forget my children anywhere. I keep them safely chained in the basement at all times.)

I’ve always admired the styling of the E39 5-series; restrained, with just the slightest hint of aggression in the wheel arches and wide alloys. The M5 certainly appeals to me, but the asking price just seems a bit much. However, I’ve been told that the 540i with the M-Sport package is a great budget alternative to the M5, so I went shopping.

This 2000 BMW 540i has the six-speed manual, always a preferred choice when possible. The M5-style 65 wheels have been fitted, which are a perfect choice over the admittedly-boring stock pieces. The seller notes a few bumper scratches and scrapes, which I don’t notice in the dozens of photos posted.

As a red blooded, pre-diabetic American, I will note that the cupholders are pathetic. I’d think that my ancestral homeland would be able to produce something worthy of a liter stein, but alas, ’tis not to be. Bottled beverages only. I’d hate to stain that gorgeous light grey leather anyway.

For those with more Carfax knowledge than I: the scanned document shows the car was imported from Mozambique to New Jersey? My first thought was a European delivery that took the owner way south, but it was registered in Minnesota with only twenty miles. I’m sure there’s a reasonable explanation. I just don’t have the imagination to come up a funny one.

This 5er is being sold with no reserve, which means we can play our “What Will It Sell For?” game with absolutely no prizes up for grabs. My guess is $6,500, which is a great value for the performance you get from this great cruiser.

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63 Comments on “Digestible Collectible: 2000 BMW 540i...”

  • avatar

    My wife’s cousin bought a similar vintage BMW wagon for $5000 after having it checked out by a BMW mechanic. In the following 12 months it ate $6000 worth of repairs. Then a drunk driver pulled out in front of her and the car was totaled.

    Used BMWs – bleagh.

    • 0 avatar

      My dad just bought a cherry-looking E39 528i a few weeks ago for what he thought was a steal. It ate its transmission a couple weeks after purchase and is now a nice-looking paperweight that he refuses to get rid of (he swears he’s going to get the tranny rebuilt).

      He didn’t get a PPI, nor have anyone look to see if the transmission was ok (a quick code pull would have told him that) or the cooling system refurbed at 100k. Part of me feels like it’s his fault for not doing his due diligence, but the other part of me says anyone who’s buying a 15+ year old, 100k+ mile BMW deserves what they get if they go in not realizing the maintenance requirements and common failure components.

      • 0 avatar

        I don’t know that the PPI would have helped much. Two of the things my wife’s cousin mentioned that had broken on their car were the transmission and the cooling system, and they had a PPI.

        • 0 avatar

          The transmission broke 2 weeks after he bought it. Some cursory research on how they work tells me it probably would have been throwing a code given its failure was that imminent.

          Even so, given the failure that close to the purchase date, I’d be much more likely to chock it up to bad luck than stupidity if he had gotten the PPI.

          • 0 avatar

            I’d imagine unscrupulous seller may have “treated” the transmission to a pint of Lucas/whateverotherliquidfix prior to selling, so it worked ok during the sales demo, but then croaked shortly thereafter.

      • 0 avatar

        Hi I have a 99 528i and my transmission went bad too but tell dad that he can get a very good transmission from Bavarian auto parts in California for about $465.00 do not rebuild replace I did and I’m enjoy this great car today. Dad keep your head up better days to come I’m out e39kenny4ken.

    • 0 avatar


  • avatar

    My parents had an slightly earlier 540i with the sport package/6 speed. It was glorious to drive but a maintenance nightmare. The cooling system puked every 30k to 45k miles. Stop the engine immediately or you will have a bad day when you get the repair estimate for overheating.

    EDIT – The 6 cylinder E39s are much cheaper to maintain. I’ll pick up a 528i or 530i some day as a daily beater.

    • 0 avatar

      You are right – the V-8’s in these are really dicey, especially the cooling system. The dreaded engine valley coolant pipe leak comes to mind. A single bad o-ring can cause thousands in repairs. BMW knew this was a problem and instead of improving the pipe to manifold seal, they simply added drain holes on the back of the engine valley pan to allow leaking coolant to run out and onto the ground. Brilliant!

      My wife’s car was also constantly eating rubber suspension parts. The OEM parts tend to wear out very quickly, so go aftermarket.

    • 0 avatar

      With a manual absolutely. The autos apparently eat themselves between 120-150k and cost $2k for a replacement of dubious sourcing or $3k for a rebuild.

    • 0 avatar

      Cooling systems on these BMW’s are just terrible. At least in Florida they just loved hanging out at the BMW dealer trying to get them from having overheating and ac issues. A coworker averaged about 1-3 mornings every other month waiting for her 3 year old BMW. She always did get a free carwash and free breakfast. Yes the dealers service waiting area was so big that they built a small diner into waiting area. Great omelets at Field BMW in Winter Park, FL.

  • avatar

    If it spent any appreciable time overseas anywhere besides Northern Europe or parts of the Pacific Rim, I would be highly skeptical of the non-smoking claim. It would certainly keep me from buying it sight unseen.

  • avatar

    Grr my computer won’t load the pics!

    The Mozambique thing is probably a clerical error in country code. I surely hope you’ll be covering some D2 S8 in your performance sedan week. It’s otherwise known as the best looking 90’s sedan.

    And some BMW apologists will be here shortly to thrash you for saying BMW’s constant appetite for diamond dust and treasury bonds is anything but necessary and expected. It’s the price you pay (constantly) for driving pleasure. You should know that suspension o-rings and camshafts and ECUs need replacing every 60k.

    • 0 avatar
      Chris Tonn

      I have another Audi lined up for this week..though there’s nothing saying I can’t do this for two weeks.

    • 0 avatar

      Nope – the V8 in this car earned it’s reputation completely honestly. It’s also why the ’03-whenever the Jag motor replaced it Range Rover has such a bad rap – same motor. There is a worse one though – the 3.0L V8 in the e34 530i. All the same issues, but without most of the power!

      That said, if you maintain them properly, they are reasonably reliable. Maintaining them properly is VERY EXPENSIVE, but cheaper than waiting for them to break.

      Get the I6 if you want one of these. It’s more than fast enough, especially with the stick. And you get rack and pinion steering.

  • avatar

    Mozambique? Thanks a lot, Obamacare!

  • avatar

    If I’m going to blow my financial brains out I’ll go with a Jaguar or Maserati.

    … maybe a V8 S80.

  • avatar

    Does anyone have a good story to tell buying a 15 year old high end German midsize sedan , I am sure some must be out there but I do not recall hearing them. maybe the best route to go is buy one as a CPO and keep it for the 15 years and hope and pray? Or just buy a Infinity or god forbid a Acura or Lexus???

    • 0 avatar
      87 Morgan

      I am starting to think a cottage industry could evolve. If one was mechanically inclined and could perfect the LS swap he/she could make some money. Set up an assembly line style shop. Send in your still loved but mechanically hated BMW along with a check for 15k (figuring junkyard drivetrains) wait three weeks and come pick up your ride. Based on what I read here, 15k would encompass your next three repairs so the amount of the swap should not be that unreasonable.

      A 5.3 fits in just about everything. The tricky part would be for the manual transmissions. Set that aside, you could get the driving dynamics and overall driving experience with stone cold reliability under the hood. I guess the next hard to measure piece would be the interior electronics.

    • 0 avatar

      If you have a decent garage, good set of tools, jack, and jackstand, and are only buying a manual transmission version, you can have a decent time with old German metal. Aside from the cooling system overhauls on BMWs or timing belt changes on Audis (around the same level of frustration and frequency), there isn’t much that’s not handled by a couple hundred bucks in parts and a basic socket set.

      Now, that said, if you walked down to the Lexus dealer and picked up a GS300 or IS300, you’ probably have a much better time. likewise with an Infiniti dealer and a G35 or M35.

      In an Acura of that vintage you’d really be better off staying away unless it’s a manual as well, since they have the same glass auto-transmission as everything V6 and Honda of that era. The issue with the Japanese ones is they’re more rust prone than the Europeans, but you’re trading one problem set for another. if you can find vehicle from somewhere without appreciable winters you’re in much better shape.

      • 0 avatar

        “If you have a decent garage, good set of tools, jack, and jackstand”

        … And free time.

        • 0 avatar

          And the passion required to pour over car-specific discussion forums trying to figure out how to troubleshoot the flaky German electrical gremlins. I’m really good at doing this myself, which makes me even more scared of cars like this one, because I know how much time it can take.

          I have my hands full keeping my 1997 Passat TDi operable (drivetrain itself is great, but it’s everything else around it that goes intermittent, gets sticky, or eventually falls off).

          To this day, I do NOT operate three out of the four power windows on the Passat, as I am never sure if they will work when going back up again (yes, I have checked for bad wiring at the door jambs – this problem has even me stumped because it is never there when I spend a day trying to find it – there is a 30-pin module inside each door BTW).

    • 0 avatar

      My daily driver is an E32 (1993 740iL). No real problems aside from wear and tear parts (intake manifold gasket, suspension bushings).

      I currently have a leaking seal on the rear differential, but 25 year old rubber parts…

      The trick really is to know what the maintenance requirements are – transmission fluid needs to be drained / refilled on a regular basis – don’t buy into that “lifetime” fluid nonsense.

      Also make sure Inspection I & II items are done on time – a good list is here:

  • avatar

    “the slightest hint of aggression in the wheel arches”

    So fenders that grow swellings to surround fat tires like clitoral hoods are aggressive?


  • avatar

    I currently live in Stuttgart, Germany (DOD)and loads of Americans who buy 10-20 year old BMWs cause of “German engineering” getting burned all the time. Folks I work with and esp. folks at the vehicle inspection and registration office on base. I talk to folks who are trying to pass inspection for the 5th or 6th time cause the BMW is just rolling repair project. One guy told me how awesome his 7 year old 3 series was cause he only spent 250-350 Euros a month on repairs.

    The auto hobby shop on base usually has a good collection of late model BMWs that folks paid $50 to get off their hands (plus towing fee) Auto transmissions do seem to explode a lot (same with old Mercedes but this is a BMW article)

    You gotta be naive, nuts or a competent mechanic to buy and BMW out of warranty…..

    • 0 avatar

      Lets be realistic – there is “out of warranty” and there is “old car”. People buy these as $5K-$10K used cars and are then horrified at the bills. But the reality is this is, was, and will always be a $50K car. Which means it is the equivalent of a $70K car today. You can do a LOT of fixing for the difference in price, but you are an idiot if you think it is going to be anything like owning a $8K used Camry. Though if you are looking at 16yo used cars and expecting them to be perfectly reliable daily drivers, I suggest not getting anything more complicated than a stickshift Corolla with windup windows.

      I have no qualms about owning either of my BMWs out of warranty. But I bought both of them new, and maintain them correctly. And neither have the worst engine BMW ever made, unlike this car.

  • avatar

    I have a real soft spot for older BMW’s. From the legendary E36 (and later E46) to the E39 and the flagship of them all E38.

    There is just some charisma these older cars have of being both “modern” and “classic”. Best of all, these cars were fun to drive and, are definetly worth the hunt. Personally, this generation of BMW is classic “German Engineering”

  • avatar

    The E39 540 is a blast to drive, although its steering isn’t as good as the 6-cylinder version. Yes, the infamous valley pan gasket, and yes the plastic coolant parts are an issue. Suspension bushings will require replacement at some point. The dot matrix dash displays will lose entire rows/columns over time.

    All these things are fixable by a motivated DIY owner, and the reward will be an satisfying car. But if you have to pay for the work, ouch.

  • avatar

    Up the creek in Mozambique, and then brought here with no apparent maintenance history – but don’t worry folks, the seller assures it has no issues. Buy it, if you have several thousand dollars laying around to take care of any deferred maintenance. These cars need frequent cooling system maintenance, front brakes about every 50K miles and rears every 75K. Depending on your driving style, they need a clutch every 80K miles. And, don’t forget to take a close look at the plastic timing chain guides. Replacing them is around $3500 at a dealer or $1500 if you do it yourself.

    That said, the 540i is a marvelous drive. You’ll be very impressed when your mechanic lets you borrow it for a few days.

  • avatar

    Wheels don’t seem right, as if they’re off something else, 7-series maybe? X5? I don’t know.

    I loved the 540i/6 until I spend a few days living with one. It wasn’t THAT much faster than 525iT and it seemed heavier. I just wasn’t in love with it, or with my wagon like I thought I would be, which was very surprising to me. Gorgeous cars tho, one of BMW’s best design.

  • avatar

    Y’know, before I bought my Dart I looked at used BMWs. In light of my issues with that car, I chose wisely.

  • avatar

    You should totally look for an e34 530i, which had a 3-liter V8 used in exactly no other North American offerings. That way, when it inevitably goes boom, you have no parts availability and have to import at great expense. You’ll run thorough that college fund in no time.

    • 0 avatar

      The e34 530i – the car that offered six cylinder performance with V8 fuel economy! BMW has long made wonderful 4s and 6s, and usually struggled with any more cylinders than that.

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    If you’re going to put up with BMW maintenance needs and expense, you might as well get one with an I6. You can get a I4 or V8 from any old fartknocker.

  • avatar

    There’s nothing more fun than spending your weekends repairing poorly engineered cars and getting to play Russian roulette every time you have to depend on your car to get you somewhere.

    No thanks. I am leery of a company that calls itself “Motor Works” that struggles to design a reliable cooling system. Every time I get the itch to look at BMWs I Google the model I like followed by the world “problems” and am brought back to reality. Shame as they have great ideas; they just can’t execute.

  • avatar

    Maybe Im just lucky with BMW’s. I had a 635 csi that I put almost 200K on with minimal problems. I currently have a 335d that has not cost me anything in repairs and it has 90K on it. 425 ft lbs in a 3 series makes for the ultimate road trip car IMHO.

  • avatar

    A friend of mine had a red 540i.

    It suffered a catastrophic engine failure.

    So yeah, I’m gonna stay away from these…

  • avatar

    Timing chain & associated component wear / rattles / sensors.

    PCV system unclogging requires intake manifold removal, driver’s side chain cover removal, and dropping the oil pan (inevitable).

    Vanos will require a rebuild or it will set CEL and you will lose mid-range power.

    As stated, water pump plastic impeller and/or bearing failure (easy repair).

    Alternator is incased in a coolant chamber, PITA to replace and expensive.

    Final stage unit, climate control nonsense, LED pixels, blah blah

    I’m with the Lexus 2JZ suggestion above, they can be had with a manual and are far more reliable.

    • 0 avatar

      Those repairs you list are all standard maintenance, obviously. Quit complaining.

      • 0 avatar

        That kind of thing happens on my 1999 Miata almost every day.


      • 0 avatar

        Corey, if you have the coin to WASTE on this type of COSTLY “standard” maintenance then I envy you. Are you hiring? I’m merely suggesting the author buy a Lexus and contemplate other uses for his spare cash. Hookers? Trips to Tahiti? How about hookers while vacationing in Tahiti?

        • 0 avatar

          My comment was sarcasm. I am by no means a fan of BMW, though I do like the old 8-Series as well as the current 6.

          I’d rather have an Audi or Mercedes if I’m spending the money.

          • 0 avatar

            My fault, I missed out on the sarcasm! I guess I would buy a 540i, if it were stupid cheap, as a candidate for an LSx swap.

            I hate Audi with a passion but agree with you on your Benz point. My problem with Benz is their lack of manual gearboxes.

            I would rather have the sedan in your avatar over any of the aforementioned!

  • avatar

    It’s a lemon. Homemade window tint. Those seats don’t look like 75K mile seats. How many times did it change hands after the lease run out? I don’t think it’s 4 “owners” but rather one or maybe two owners and then dealers in between. And the Ford dealer had it for 100 miles and got rid of it in a hurry. There is a reason for it.

  • avatar

    Personally I wouldn’t be interested in anything from BMW later than about 1986. That was about the time that mass marketing and excessive gadgetry became the ticket for BMW to sell mass quantities to yuppies, but also appears to have marked the end of the relatively reliable BMWs.

    My first pick would be a 2002 (not Ti or Tii). Second pick would be an early 80s 5-series. Early 80s 3-series were too likely to be thrashed by their sorority girl first owners (“what’s periodic maintenance mean, Daddy?”).

    Not sure if any of the early 80s 5 series BMWs still exist in non-hot-rodded form.

  • avatar

    As stated above, 540 is costlier to run than a 530 due to the engine and added weight. I have the latter, the 530iA with M-pack. M5-type skirts, aprons, M-seats, black headliner et al. Got it at 100K, now ~125K.

    To go with a E39 and not get burned, you should be able to turn wrenches, do a lot of reading to get knowledge – and choose wisely. Heaps of records, mature owners, all that. Be prepared to travel, if the good one pops out some distance away. I picked mine 400 miles away from home.

    Once you have it, fix the following (and whatever regular stuff you will find out, like front control arms, etc.)

    The dreadful OEM CCV is removed and replaced with a catch can+regular PCV valve. It pains to think how all that yellow pulp would otherwise go back into the oil pan.

    Coolant system is fixed by
    i) switching to Evans coolant. Its boiling point is nearly 2 times the standard one and hence you enjoy zero pressure. I once drove without an expansion tank cap for half a day (forgot to put it on) last summer and no problems at all.
    ii) adjusting your thermostat to run cool (mine is around 86-89degC)
    iii) Water pump should be the hi-performance Stewart with stainless steel impeller.

    Rear door leaks can be fixed easily by adding shrouds to direct water downwards, rather than on the vapour barrier that unglues with age.

    At TC slippage (I had mine fail at 115K), if addressed without delay, will set you off $400 in parts. And the gearbox guts will not suffer. Also, do change the ATF regularly – and do it right, with the running engine to get the level right.

    Other than that – there is nothing out of unusual really. Not a Lexus, but has tons more character and just drives so much nicer.

  • avatar

    The answer is take that money and buy a 2000, Lexus LS or GS. Lexi tend to be owned by older folks who have the dealer maintain their cars. Find a lower mileage car with up to date service and ride in style for cheap. No, not BMW handling, but a realllllly nice, reliable car for cheap.

  • avatar

    I’ve owned an E39 525iT for nearly 7 years and 136k miles. Mine has 215k on it now. It’s imperative that you know how to work on it yourself if you don’t want it to put you in the poor house. I spent $1800 in parts alone to replace the front control arms and struts at just over 125k. Mine being a Touring has also brought unique problems. The rear subframe bushings were completely shot at 150k ($400 for 4 new bushings) and I’ve had rust issues just below the rear window that caused water intrusion under the rear storage tray. The cooling system has been overhauled as well (of course). No tranny issues though (knocking on wood). I always wanted a 540i/6, but the additional cooling system woes, valley pan issue, and dismal fuel economy scared me off.

    That being said, it is a rewarding drive. They just don’t make cars like it anymore. It’s a modern classic now. For all of the maintenance in requires, it’s actually very easy to work on yourself. I was able to do all of the aforementioned jobs myself, no doubt saving thousands. Still, parts are pretty damn expensive for them – even more so than later models like the E60. And the overall complexity of it doesn’t help matters. Everything is over-engineered except for the plastic cooling system and cup holders. Mine is in good working order, but if/when the transmission decides to crap out it’ll be over for me.

  • avatar

    Had a 2000 528 M-Sport manual sedan for 9 years and 160k with very little issues. Ate ball joints but my fault for buying cheap Chinese replacements. Loved the car and garaged it in the winter to protect from Michigan salt. Finally got tired of it and bought 2012 A4 Avant. The Audi lacks the E39 quality, interior, and driving dynamics. But I can get my bicycle in the back. A little bit of sellers remorse. E39 is the best car I ever owned but you do need to do your own work. These are plentiful worldwide so parts are not expensive.

  • avatar

    Like the first poster’s wife’s cousin, I bought a 2000 E39 Touring a few months back for precisely $5000 So far it required both front window regulators to be replaced (the second time was much easier) and now the CEL is on with some dire panel lights. OTOH my wife’s 2000 323i has been an eminently usable daily driver for six years. Guess the jury is still out.

  • avatar

    This engine (M62TUB44) is not quite that bad. Valley pan leaks are generally very slow and can be ignored. I drove mine with a leaking valley pan gasket for 30k miles. Just kept coolant in the trunk.

    The I6 (M54B30) that everyone recommends is overrated from a maintenance standpoint. Oil pan gasket leaks requiring you to drop the sub frame to change. Oil filter housing gasket is always puking oil too. It also has a reputation for using oil. It’s always eating coils and plugs. Sometimes the misfires are actually sticking lifters (I have two of these effing engines in the garage and I suspect they both have sticky lifters).

    The M62 has its problems, but I trusted it more. We had an understanding. Not so much with the M54. I think the E39 540 is worth the hassle. I’m keeping my eye out for another.

  • avatar

    My 1998E39 with the v8/6speed was a great car to own in the 3 years that I had it. In that time I only had to change the cam position sensor, a simple job.No vanos problems or overheating, I sold it as I wanted a new E60 with the v8, unfortunately I couldn’t find a six speed manual but have gotten used to the paddle shifters that are on the car and I’m quite happy with it.

  • avatar

    As with everything else, if you buy a car at the dismal end of the depreciation curve, more likely than not the service suffered the same downward curve.

    The key to happy ownership is either buying a car someone else properly maintained because they loved it, or buying an inexpensive car in cosmetically fantastic condition with so-so mechanicals then restoring the mechanicals.

    E39s aren’t so complex as to be irreparable by a determined DIYer. The key, like with all BMWs, is to buy one with good bones and go from there.

    Nearly every nightmare car I’ve ever heard of was owned by people who simply weren’t car people- they liked cars, but they don’t understand the mechanicals and thus have no idea what true preventative maintenance is.

  • avatar

    For what it’s worth, a Cadillac dealer in Fishers, IN has a 2008 Volvo S80 with the V8 and AWD for $9,500. Two owner and a clean carfax. Yes, it ain’t a BMW, but then again, it Ain’t a BMW.

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