BMW E39 challenges - Our Shed

By: Guy Allen

e39 bmw The E39 540i Sport is a nicely-packaged beast e39 bmw
e39 bmw dash e39 bmw dash
e39 bmw engine bay e39 bmw engine bay
e39 bmw interior e39 bmw interior

Ed Guido's BMW E39 has been having a bit of a parts-spit

Is it possible for a car to have a mid-life crisis? If so, the mighty 2003 BMW 540i Sport has just had one at 20 years and 200,000km.

To recap, we bought it from the first owner back in 2015, with 120,000km on the odo. At the time it was in great shape and cost $17,000, compared to the $160k (?!) handed over when new.

The 4.4lt V8 claims somewhere around 290 horses (216kW) and is tied to a five-speed auto. It’s not going to flatten your eyeballs when you sink the slipper, but it’s certainly quick enough to get your attention. Plus it handles nicely while providing a pretty good ride.
All up, it’s a well-balanced ride/performance/handling package that works on long trips, particularly if there’s the odd twisty mountain road involved.


The 4.4lt V8 does its job with a bit of sparkle and a nice spread of power

Up until recently, it’s demanded no more than straightforward servicing, with the odd set of brakes or other consumables thrown in.

Then there was the day a serpentine belt let go and took out the radiator. That was ugly but turned out to be an issue caused by human error (an incorrectly tensioned pulley) rather than design. We’ve since been very careful to let only two shops we trust deal with the car: Mick at Glenlyon Motors and Rhys at RPM Autotech.

You’ll no doubt be well aware that age has its challenges for all of us, including humans and cars, and so it is with the Bimmer. First issue was the handling was going downhill. The steering had lost some of its sharpness and there were hints of wheel shake in certain situations, not to forget the odd ‘clunk’ that really shouldn’t be there.


Wall-to-wall leather is the theme, though the ancillaries are now dated

In the end, we timed a front-end rebuild with a brake replacement, with the former including tie rod ends, caster arms, sway bar links – you name it. That made the world of difference.

Next item to wave the proverbial white flag was the alternator, which is (for reasons that escape me) liquid-cooled. That also means it’s expensive, and I seem to recall $1500 changing hands.

What else goes with age? Rubbers. So at the 200,000km service, we got the rocker cover gaskets and some suspect-looking power steering hoses changed over.


And here come the alarms and electronic freak outs!

Then came the next surprise, when the dash lit up with all sorts of weird signals. First it said the transmission had gone into fail-safe mode, then the ABS warning lit up, as did the airbag alert. Oh, and then most of the instruments would go to lunch. What the…?! This was a Rhys job, and he patiently nutted out the issue, isolating it to the ABS controller. BMW wanted $5000 for a replacement and with prices like that may wish to change its corporate logo to a skull and crossbones. In the end we tracked down a reputable alternative for $2000.

The last six months or so have been somewhat traumatic for the wallet. However I’m not too alarmed. When you buy into a high-end car – even a second-hand one – you have to expect the occasional wallop to the finances. And, really, when you add up all the costs including the purchase price, it still stacks up as good value.

So for the time being it stays in the shed and we’ll (hopefully) get several more years of fun out of it.

From Unique Cars #478, May 2023


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