I like BMW's. I think they're fun to drive, and own two currently (E38 740i, and E46 325i), and have owned others in the past.
Universally, I consider them fantastic to drive, but total heaps of junk. You see unlike other German cars, BMW's are built in Bavaria. And each year, Bavaria has a huge celebration – its called Oktoberfest where everyone (including those currently at BMW) get horrifically and wonderfully drunk. As a celebration its great…. but should you buy a car made by a manufacturer where during a full month everything is designed in a drunken stupor?
Tavarish seems to think so and wrote a great article labeled "Four Reasons Why You Need to Buy a BMW E39 540i Right Now". So I did, and now I'm rebutting with an article with 88,000 reasons (condensed to 4 in reality) you should never own one and just buy an M5 instead.
4. It's a great value – until it breaks and costs a ton to fix
I bought a 2000 BMW 540i for a hair over $4,500. It had 88,000 miles, a minor fender bender in its history, and fairly complete maintenance records. With 282 bhp it was indeed a great value to purchase. And this particular 2000 model had the M5 bumper, 6 speed manual, M sport package, and even had heated seats. A great luxo-barge with a manual transmission – fantastic value!!!!
But slowly – over 3 months nearly everything broke. Being a handy person, I did 100% of the work myself, and there's still a torrential bill for repairing this POS.
First there started emanating a large and annoying rattling from the front of the engine. I had an E36 M3 where the hydraulic tensioner failed, and hoped for $65 and one bolt I could fix it. Until I found this in the oil pan….
Figure 1: That's not supposed to be there
Here's the short list of repairs needed in my 3 months of ownership:
- The Timing Chain Guides Failed ($3,500): The timing chain guides are made of plastic and have a tendency to suddenly shatter. A short $1,500 in parts and special tools later, I was back on the road. Now I did all of the work myself (its about a 20 hour job by the book, so count on about $2,000+ saved there).
- The Water Pump Failed ($350): The plastic water pump impeller imploded (admittedly I was lazy and cheap not to replace it when reassembling the entire front side of the engine). ($250 in parts including new seals and thermostat)
- The RADIO FAILED ($45): Then the radio kept failing as a result of the 2000 model-year amp having "bad solder joints". ($45 fix on ebay and 15 minute of headache)
- The Climate Control Pixels Failed (No Fix): The pixels in the display intermittently fail. (Don't fix, just remain annoyed)
- The Radiator Exploded ($250): Then the radiator exploded (the sides are made of …. you guessed it plastic). ($120 in parts, and I managed to swap it out in a record 23 minutes after having disassembled and reassembled this part of the engine many times).
Cost to me: ~$2,100 in total parts.
Cost to someone who can't DIY: $4,000+ by the book
3. It sounds like an exotic – until it breaks and sounds like a diesel
The V8 Sounds great. Except I didn't hear it all that often. Here's what I heard instead:
- - Large hissing Noise – just before the radiator blew apart
- - Boiling water noise- just after the radiator blew completely apart
- - Silence – after the radio amplifier failed and you're cruising on the highway
- - Diesel Truck Noise mixed with card shuffling noise – (This was when the timing chain guide broke)
2. It has few of the M5's benefits and 90% of its drawbacks
An M5 is just shy of 400 bhp, has a tightened suspension, limited slip differential, and 18" wheels and sports tires.
The 540i has 282 bhp, a floppy suspension designed for middle-management executives to feel sporty, an open differential, and 17" wheels. It is nowhere close to 90% of an M5.
It won't do a proper burnout, it powerslides terribly (LSD), its suspension is too soft for something really sporty, and the 282bhp isn't really even close to the M5 motor. Its drives more similarly to an Infiniti G35 than an M5, so maybe the original article should read "Just like an Infiniti G35, but a lot more expensive and headache prone to own".
Furthermore, 90% of the drawbacks are universal to the E39 chassis which has a ton of common "weak" points.
- - Window regulators fail all of the time
- - Suspension bushings wear out regularly
- - The cooling system was designed for 30,000 mile swap intervals
- - Critical engine components are made of plastic or are highly inaccessible
- - There are electrical gremlins galore (radio amplifiers, light-wiring looms that dry-rot, pixels frequently not working).
1. It will definitely have a catastrophic or highly annoying break
It WILL break. It WILL be expensive … and its really just not worth it. I had a 1991 Alfa Romeo 164L (and this is no exaggeration)…. it was much more reliable.
The 540i perennially and sequentially self destructs. As soon as you fix the radio, the pixel display fails. As soon as the pixel display is fixed the window regulators fail. For the same headaches, just buy an M5, at least its got some semblance of being special.