I Bought a $1,500 BMW X5, and I'm Taking it Off-Roading

I went off-roading in the Shenandoah Valley last year with some friends. We decided to go again this year, but add a Top Gear-esque “challenge” element to it.

Challenge Rules:

  • $1500 purchase price. Ish.
  • All wheel drive required
  • Vehicle may not be equipped with Low range
  • No sharing what you bought ‘til you arrive in August

Well, I’m sharing with the fine people of Oppo because I can’t contain myself. I’d been looking around and had cash burning a hole in my sock drawer. I didn’t really want a first-gen CR-V or RAV4 as those are the predictable options for the challenge. Talked to a lot of lousy sellers, looked at a few lousy cars, and this X5 popped up on Facebook Marketplace a week ago. It is uh, still kind of lousy, but it was located just 10 minutes away and I liked the paint color so that’s a start.


Anyway. It’s a 2001 X5 with the M54 3.0L I6, paired to a GM 5-speed automatic. It has 195k miles, is painted Topaz Blue and has a once-tan leather interior.

What’s Good About It?

A surprising amount, actually. I bought it from a guy who clearly flips cars on the side, but got in touch with the actual previous owners via LinkedIn. The husband was all too happy to share every detail over the phone, and it turns out they bought the X5 in 2003 and owned it all this time. He did a lot of work on it himself and in recent years, replaced the cooling system, alternator, VANOS, valve cover gasket, spark plugs, window regulators, and an O2 sensor. So, it’s been cared for to a point.

The pixels on the radio/info display died, so they replaced the unit with an Eonon Android head unit, which is delightfully cheap and terrible, but allows Bluetooth streaming from my phone.

The transmission shifts well, now that I’ve installed a MAF. The car came to me with a completely broken MAF, which made the engine run rich and sent the TCU into a tizzy. It decided “full line pressure” for every shift was the best idea. Thankfully it’s calmed down now and is super smooth given the mileage.


Some friends came together and helped me clean everything, inside and out, and it actually looks pretty decent now.


What’s Less Good?

It’s got the “trifecta” of dash lights for Brake, DSC and ABS. This is commonly attributed to the ABS computer. The previous owner claims he already had it rebuilt, but it may have been poorly done. Who knows. We fixed some wiring at the front right wheel speed sensor, and the sensor itself, and it’s still throwing the same “Inlet Valve: Front Right” error.


I was dealing with a bunch of random K-Bus issues (think Canbus, but pre-Canbus). The turn signals, high beams, and fog lights would work but not indicate in the gauge cluster. Keyless entry didn’t work but central locking did. At random times, the door ajar and seatbelt chimes/lights would sound, regardless of door and belt status.

Turns out the K-Bus issues were due to a pinched wiring harness under the handbrake. I wiggled it and now everything works. Probably need to unplug the connector and clean out some gunk in there.


The Service Engine Soon light is on for an O2 sensor and the fuel tank check valve. I’ll fix the O2 with a new Bosch unit when I have a minute, and plan on ignoring the check valve.



Our trip is over Labor Day weekend, so I still have some time to wrap things up. I drove it 70 miles yesterday and it handled the drive well. The rear turn signals stopped working last night, so once I fix those (bulbs?) I can get it through Virginia safety inspection and be actually legal on the road.


See more at Out Motorsports, a site created to not only share the pursuits of LGBT motorsports competitors, but to encourage others to get behind the wheel and participate as their full selves.

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