Classic Car Weekly (UK) - - Buying & Selling -


The Nikasil cylin­der bore is­sues and cylin­der head gas­ket fail­ures that af­flicted early petrol ex­am­ples should have been sorted long ago. Watch for top-end oil leaks, in­let air leaks and split breather hoses, failed ig­ni­tion coils, and hot start­ing is­sues caused by air mass sen­sor fail­ure. Rat­tling VANOS units can be re­built by spe­cial­ists, but check for leak­ing wa­ter pumps and ra­di­a­tors.


Var­i­ous E39s were sub­jected to some of­fi­cial re­calls – with is­sues par­tic­u­larly in­volv­ing the cool­ing fan, front sus­pen­sion, and air-bag sys­tem, among oth­ers – so en­sure that the car you’re look­ing at didn’t slip through the net. Be­fore you buy, be sure to ask an of­fi­cial BMW dealer to check the chas­sis num­ber, and get the work done im­me­di­ately if it’s out­stand­ing.


Ex­te­rior mir­rors and light units will need check­ing for dam­age, and the lat­ter can suf­fer from bro­ken ad­justers. New ones are pricey, so sec­ond­hand ones off the in­ter­net are the way to go. And if you’re tempted by the more prac­ti­cal Tourer, make sure that the tail­gate op­er­ates as it should. Sup­port struts fail and can be awk­ward to change, and check that the re­lease mech­a­nisms for the sep­a­rate glass sec­tion and main tail­gate are still work­ing prop­erly.


Check for the on­set of rust – it’s be­gin­ning to sur­face on early ex­am­ples. It crops up around the whee­larches and fuel filler, but you should also scru­ti­nise the jack­ing points and the sills – check the seams and the rear of the sill ahead of the rear whee­larches. Also keep an eye out for paint mis­matches and signs of clumsy dam­age re­pairs, along with the usual dings and scratches that point to a hard life. Dam­aged bumpers aren’t un­com­mon, but used re­place­ments are plen­ti­ful.


Trans­mis­sions don’t suf­fer from in­her­ent is­sues, but both ben­e­fit from reg­u­lar fluid changes (even the sup­pos­edly ‘sealed for life’ auto). Check that a man­ual gear­box isn’t suf­fer­ing from a notchy shift – clutches should last up to 90,000 miles un­less abused – and en­sure that the Step­tronic shift func­tion on the auto still works as in­tended. There shouldn’t be any rear axle is­sues but lis­ten for grum­bles from the op­tional lim­ited-slip dif­fer­en­tial.


Brakes suf­fer from ne­glect and pen­nypinch­ing own­ers so check the state of pads and discs, and look for cor­roded brake pipes. En­sure that ABS/sta­bil­ity con­trol lights il­lu­mi­nate and ex­tin­guish cor­rectly, too. Check for wear in front sus­pen­sion arm and rear sub­frame bushes and rear axle lower ball joints. Steer­ing wheel wob­ble is usu­ally worn steer­ing arm bushes.


Heater con­trol pan­els fail – eas­ily sourced via the in­ter­net – as does the heater re­sis­tor ‘hedge­hog’, which costs around £30. The wiring loom into the boot can break, so look for faulty locks, lights and wipers. Look also for miss­ing dash­board dis­play pix­els – a spe­cial­ist fix is needed., though a failed light con­trol mod­ule is a cheap sec­ond­hand fix. A trick­ier is­sue is the oc­cu­pancy sen­sor mat for the pas­sen­ger air-bag – re­place­ment in­volves strip­ping the seat.


On diesels, check for ex­ces­sive ex­haust smoke and signs that the fuel in­jec­tors or turbo are ail­ing as re­place­ments are costly. A blocked cam cover breather can cause ex­pen­sive tur­bocharger is­sues, so ask whether it’s been up­graded to the later, more ef­fi­cient ‘vor­tex’ type. 2001-on diesels also fea­tured swirl flaps in the in­let manifold and bits break­ing off will be cat­a­strophic – fixes are avail­able, though. Cam chains are bul­let-proof as long as oil changes are reg­u­lar.

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