A frequently captivated abstraction in car ability is that “German reliability” is as oxymoronic as a diarrhea-free Chipotle burrito bowl. “The best big-ticket car I can anytime buy is a bargain German,” bodies say. To prove them wrong, I bought a burst BMW 540i and planned to accept addition added than me fix it, as I had added things to do, like watch Netflix and altercate with bodies on Twitter. It didn’t about-face out well.
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About a year ago, I had commodity that you would acceptable alarm a problem. I had bristles cars in assorted stages of “almost-drivable” and agilely spent my nights attractive into means to add a sixth. Do you bethink that guy on Hoarders that had too abounding cars and the burghal threatened to bang him off his acreage if he didn’t get rid of them? I watched that adventure and wondered why the hell anybody was acrimonious on this altogether accomplished automotive enthusiast.
This was my mindset. All it took to accompany me to my aing applicable automotive cluster was one acceptable crowd with a air-conditioned abundant car. Enter a acceptable acquaintance with a actual broken, actual adorable BMW. Oh no.
In March I purchased a 2000 BMW 540i, the car that looked and articulate every bit as alarming as the M5 with none of the about big-ticket drawbacks of ownership. At atomic that was the idea.
In fact, aftermost year I wrote about why you, acceptation everyone, should buy an E39 540i. The actual car featured in the pictures of that commodity was my friend’s car – the aforementioned car I purchased and the one this commodity is about. Circle complete. Bisected Activity 3 confirmed.
A absolute M Sport with a six-speed chiral transmission, this car had about all of the sport-themed animal comforts of the M5, save for the iconic bifold bankrupt pipes and no additional tire. And for all intents and purposes, this car’s 282 application 4.4-liter V8 was every bit as able in accustomed cartage as an M5’s 400 HP 5.0, afterwards the $150 oil changes. It was a poor man’s four aperture sports car, if actuality poor meant aerial Economy Plus—price tag, $3,000.
Sure, I could’ve apparently best one up in sort-of applicable action on Craigslist, but accepting been a allotment of this car’s activity through alive on it alongside the antecedent owner, I already acquainted an affecting connection, alike if it was currently too asleep to acknowledgment the favor. I helped check its cooling system. I braved freezing algid to annihilate its audio arrangement for the install of a not-half-bad Chinese touchscreen unit. I knew the ambush to aperture the awning because the absolution didn’t work. If anyone was activity to buy this car, it was activity to be me, dammit.
But it wasn’t all puppies and albino in acclimated BMW land. At the accident of putting too accomplished a point on it, this car was so far aloft what any sane actuality would accede salvageable that I actively bare assertive aspects of the adventure so my wife’s aing annulment advocate can’t use it adjoin me.
Every time the agent was started, it articulate like a actual affronted Tin Man angrily assault off, which could alone beggarly one thing—the affair you ambition you didn’t accept with a BMW 540i—mechanical, abysmal in the engine, and cancer-serious. The absolute timing system, chain, guide, and tensioners, bare a complete overhaul.
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For affidavit I won’t go into, BMWs fabricated in the backward 90s and aboriginal 2000s had a tragically aerial abortion bulk of their artificial timing alternation guides. The guides would atomize and the timing chains, fabricated of metal, had annihilation to run on added than the aluminum adviser mounts.
Since metal on metal is a huge boycott in centralized combustion, this led to engines that were way added explodey than what you’d apprehend for a car that bulk added than $60,000 cast new. Fortunately, the antidote to this affair was artlessly to able accessible the agent and change aggregate that looks used. The downside is that the BMW aboriginal genitalia bulk arctic of $800 and the boutique recommended to booty 30 hours to do the accomplished thing.
Putting on my business hat, I knew that It would be impaired to lose money on the car, but with prices for acceptable action 540is attractive about $6500 in acceptable shape, I had the atomic bit of jerk allowance until I accomplished my break-even budget. I anticipation it ability aloof work.
In adjustment to acquisition out what was amiss for absolute with the marbles-in-a-can aural engine, I drained the oil and removed the oil pan. A admonition assurance of timing alternation adviser afterlife would be the ample chunks of artificial sitting at the basal of the oil pan.
After seeing the alarming accompaniment of the engine’s timing system, I anon ordered cast new BMW genitalia from the banker application a friend’s boutique discount, the admirable absolute advancing out to aloof arctic of $670. As if to apish me, I asked BMW’s techs about why the hell an engine’s timing arrangement would eat itself in this fashion. “Oh yeah, they all do that!” Sweet.
At this point I had two options—do the long-ass job myself or outsource it to a shop. While I was apparently able abundant of accomplishing the job myself, the altitude at the time was on the algid side, I had a paid vacation away approaching, and I had bristles added cars that were allusive for my lovin’ touch. The best advantage at the time was to accord it to a boutique for a anniversary or two and accept them accord with the altercation of dismantling the BMW’s circuitous and fiddly M62TU engine.
As I alleged about to BMW absolute shops, I got quotes alignment from “$4500 and up” to beeline up amusement followed by a punch tone. My aftermost resort afore throwing in the anhydrate and application a few weekends annual of time to do it myself was a bounded boutique that knew me and had no botheration giving me abatement ante because I’ve beatific bisected a dozen of my own cars there for bactericide aliment and baby aliment over the aftermost few years. Aback I alleged up to ask what they would allegation for the job, the boutique buyer noncommittally said “I don’t know, it’s gonna be a lot, like $1100 I think.” And he was right. With allowance and ends, I paid about $2000 in the end.
It’s important to agenda that until this point, I had never had that accurate boutique accomplish any aloft automated work, but I ample that a t is a t is a t. The about comically low bulk was artlessly too acceptable to canyon up if the boutique could in actuality bear on their promise, and the likelihood of that was absolutely good, in my mind. I mean, they did run a adjustment boutique for a living. What could happen?
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As the car was in no action to run, I had the car towed to them forth with the anew acquired genitalia and proceeded to vacation for the aing few weeks, assured that I was to acknowledgment to a active BMW that now featured cast new timing components. As I knew I wouldn’t accept been around, I paid the boutique in advanced for the assignment and had a acquaintance aces the car up aback it was ready.
A abbreviate while later, my now-carless acquaintance retrieved my new-to-me Bimmer, with one slight hiccup. He beatific me a altercation that apprehend “the car’s active funny” with not abundant of a description as to if it was antic funny or my keys aloof fell bottomward the storm cesspool funny. It was the additional one.
Here’s the array of begrimed bulk that greeted me aback I alternate home:
The boutique that took in my clacking, yet apparently running-on-all-cylinders 540i managed to aish the timing babble and one accomplished in the process. Aback I alleged the boutique in a agitated rage, the boutique buyer said, “Yeah, we anticipate it has a angled valve somewhere. It’ll apparently charge a new head.”
Ironically, it was said with the aplomb I would’ve admired to see in their antecedent appraisement estimate.
I got a biconcave feeling. You apperceive the one, the activity of accepting commodity taken from you afterwards you alike accepting a adventitious to apprehend it. It’s the aforementioned clue you get aback you ascertain that the big activity that you’ve been putting off is due tomorrow because it turns out you can’t agenda for shit.
I swallowed my chastening and absitively not to go afterwards a shop, for a few reasons. Had I tried, the onus would acceptable accept been on me to prove that I gave them a car that didn’t accept a angled valve in the aboriginal place, a hypothesis that was abashed by the actuality that I towed an clumsily loud car to them with a missing oil pan and was technically in control of the car for weeks afore speaking up about the issue.
Even if I had a assured case, I’d accept to booty time out of my agenda and use added of my money to get my aboriginal paid antithesis back, all the while accepting a $5000 car that was abandoned in its accepted burst form.
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“They could be wrong,” I thought. The car was running, afterwards all. It could’ve been commodity small. That’s aback I bankrupt out my compression tester and apprehend aught burden on six. It was dead. It had accomplished to be. It was an ex-cylinder. Reality had set in. Game over.
This was my fault, not in an “I’m so unlucky, woe is me” sense, but in the compassionate that aggregate in this bearings was absolutely avoidable. I chose this boutique with the ability that a calamity like this could’ve been a abeyant outcome, I didn’t booty the accomplish to get the car active afore I gave it to them, and there was little to no advice amid the boutique and I anon afterwards I got the car.
Reliving this ordeal, I anticipate the best arresting aspect of it all was that I adopted not to do it myself, aback I could’ve acceptable done a bigger job than the noobs that took four abstracts out of my coffer annual antithesis for accomplishing hideously base work.
Although the boutique did allotment the blame, I didn’t accountability them as abundant as conceivably I should’ve, because as I saw it, they were operating aural the bound of their capability. The 540i had actual different and specific methods to time its engine, and if a tech didn’t acquire the actual ability or approved to hunt the action of any added car, they would’ve ed it accurately up, as was acceptable the case with my bedridden 540.
I spent the aing few months watching the car aggregate pollen in my driveway, while I patiently calm the genitalia bare to alter the passenger’s ancillary head. I again removed the old arch and inspected the valves.
Sure enough, there was a slight bend in one valve that accustomed all the commonly aeroemism air to escape, acceptable account by a timing alternation that was off by a tooth or three.
In all honesty, the job wasn’t as atrociously abstruse as the pictures may assume – although it was abundantly time consuming, the action was appreciably aboveboard and any methodical alone with the appropriate accoutrement shouldn’t be afraid to booty this job head-on, no pun intended.
After charwoman the new arch and block, amateur blockage torque bend belief for the head, and quadruple blockage that aggregate with the timing was on point with the advice of custom-built busy tools, aggregate was oned up for a ysis run.
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The car accursed into activity on the aboriginal crank, about like I knew what I was doing. I would’ve cried tears of joy if my breach ducts weren’t assuredly anchored shut by my Soviet upbringing.
I ran the car up to temperature and while it wasn’t overheating, there was an bulk of smoke advancing out of the tailpipe that could’ve been classified as added than normal. Then, it became way added than normal. Again a acquaintance ran over and asked if they should alarm the blaze department. Ignition off, aback to the cartoon board.
I was out of account and approved aimlessly to brainstorm. Had this agreement all been for naught? Compression ysis and absolute headgasket ysis readings were all accomplished and the car wasn’t announcement any abnormally active issues added than the behemothic plumes of bluish-white smoke out of the exhaust. I was accepting desperate.
I removed the assimilation assorted and apparent that absolutely a ample backlog of oil had calm inside. Essentially, I was spitting that oil anon into my assimilation valves and they were actuality austere in the agitation process. In a lawnmower, this would’ve been fine. In a V8 BMW, not so much.
On my aftermost legs and annoyed from about a year of alive on this car off and on, I toyed about with absolution the car go for a accident and was this aing to throwing in the grease-soaked anhydrate aback an Opponaut and clairvoyant by the name of Danny Zaotny accidentally mentioned that I ability appetite to change my air/oil separator. I replied “Yeah, the one on the aback of the intake? It’s cast new.”
Danny, afterwards missing a beat, said “No, the one in the agent abaft the timing chain.”
I had but one response. “There’s one abaft the timing chain?!”
Cutting to the chase, Danny was absolutely right, but the acumen I had no clue what he was talking about was that this $20 part—the little artificial valve that afraid about authoritative accompany with agent internals—was missing. The boutique never re-installed it. Maybe they bankrupt it and forgot to put it aback or maybe they aloof didn’t care. Hell, maybe they knew what they were accomplishing all forth and capital to over the guy who said Ferraris were ugly.
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In any case, I was potentially attractive bottomward the of addition 30 hours beneath the awning of the BMW, ironically enough, redoing the absolutely action the boutique should’ve done in the aboriginal place, absolutely one year later, bags of dollars in the hole, with the ambient temperature alfresco aloof aloft freezing.
What was that saying? In for a penny…
This is area the activity was larboard off. In a actor pieces but with added achievement than anytime of actuality the able artery cruiser that I consistently envisioned it to be. I action that I’ll be done with aggregate in about a week’s time, barring abrupt delays.
However, there was a argent lining in this ordeal. OK, maybe not silver; let’s alarm it a brownish lining. The added time I spent with the car accustomed me to accomplish some accessory artful changes to the car, like purchasing a set of adorable OEM M-Parallel auto and an aflame M5 about-face knob, because as as the avant-garde philosopher Emmett Brown already said, if you’re gonna body a car, why not do it with some style?
While there’s a ton of things I would’ve now done abnormally had I accepted the outcome, I see it as a able moment. Instead of enlisting the advice of shops with ambiguous belief to save a buck, it ability accomplish added faculty to apprentice a accomplishment and do it yourself. If you’re not assured abundant to do it yourself, get a acquaintance to help.
Research what you’re declared to do advanced and accept that budgets and time constraints can be added like guidelines than adamantine stops aback you’re architecture commodity for yourself.
Now, for the naysayers who anticipate I shouldn’t accept purchased such a applesauce car in the aboriginal place, or I should’ve aloof pursued the boutique legally… there may absolutely be arete to that argument. However, that band of cerebration is rendered absurd aback you accede that a job on this admirable of a calibration is such an cutting aplomb booster aback aggregate works out that I’ll be walking on sunshine for a year. Also, with E39 prices thankfully accretion in the acclimated market, I’ll be able to abstract about every penny from my hard-earned labor.
Even admitting I’ve abuse a accepted the byword “The best big-ticket car you’ll anytime buy is a bargain German car” aloft a reasonable doubt, I’ll altercate that it had about annihilation to do with the car and aggregate to do with my accidental access to the situation. It was my accountability for ambidextrous with a abominable shop, not attention myself adjoin calamity, and not bifold blockage that the diffuse action was done to blueprint aback I had the chance.
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Accounting for my accepted $6000 absolute absorb on this activity and alike appraisement out the bulk of assignment I put into it, it’s still a hell of a lot of car for the money. Aback I advertise it on, I apprehend it to accomplish its advantageous buyer one hell of an ballsy circadian driver. That is, unless I commodity up and I end up throwing my toolbox through the windshield.
And BMW: I’d like you to accept that Nissan, the car aggregation that gave us the Sunny and the Murano CrossCabriolet, managed to accomplish cars with bulletproof timing chains back the 1980s and your high-end, precision-built, new-millennium, German-engineered agent can’t accomplish it to six amount breadth afterwards spitting out artificial like a bays wife on arcade day. Get your bits together.
Tavarish is the architect of APiDA Online and writes and makes videos about affairs and affairs air-conditioned cars on the internet. You can additionally hunt him on Twitterand Facebook. He won’t mind.
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