Unexpected mechanical problems - Mick's Tips 434

By: Mick McCrudden

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bmw 540 e39 engine bay bmw 540 e39 engine bay

Sometimes you have to accept the unlikely is now likely

What we're going to talk about today is the unexpected. Ed Guido’s E39 BMW 540 Sport arrived on a tilt tray the other day, with a chewed-out serpentine belt. He assumed it was a seized tensioner pulley – you just can’t see in there without stripping out parts – and his Soarer had done exactly that the week before. Anyway, he was being optimistic.

In the end it turned out to be a problem I’ve not seen on these engines before: the cast mounting lugs for the power steering pump had snapped, which in turn tossed the belt. So the engine ran, but the power steering and alternator had gone to lunch.

That meant getting a replacement pump, which turned out to be surprisingly difficult. There are a fair number of those 4.4lt V8s getting around, so you would think parts supply wouldn’t be an issue, and normally it isn’t. New and reconditioned pumps could be found in the USA – at great expense once you worked out the exchange rate.


However they’re like the proverbial hen’s teeth locally, which kind of highlighted that this was a rare problem. Presumably if this was a common breakdown, there would be local replacements on hand. In the end, the Ed and I had a race to see who could find a good used unit first. I won by about 30 seconds and advised him to buy the other one as a spare. It might end up being one of those situations where he’ll never need it. Given how hard they are to find, it seemed worth punting a few hundred bucks to have a spare.

With a replacement pump and new serpentine belt installed, all was right with the world and Mrs Ed (she’s the one who usually drives the 540) could play with her favourite car again.

What all this got me thinking about is every now and then you will strike a one-off problem that challenges your view of how things work. I try not to worry about it – just find the cause, fix it and move on.


But it’s also worth remembering these things can happen. My favourite is when someone fits a new part – let’s say a distributor, for example – and is crushed when the car won’t run. They chase their tails trying to find the cause, driving themselves and their partners crazy in the process.

Here’s my advice. When this situation occurs, always start with what you were just working on. Sure it was a brand new distributor and the chances of it not working are miniscule – but it’s still a possibility until you prove otherwise. Like I say, stuff happens…

Note: Mick runs Glenlyon Motors in Brunswick, Vic. Tel (03) 9380 5082.

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