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Is Buying a Used BMW i3 a Good or Bad Idea?

So you’re thinking of going all electric… me too

With the prices of used BMW i3 EV and used Nissan Leaf EV vehicles coming down rapidly these days, the thought of buying my first new (used) electric car is making more sense now than ever before. Leasing a new electric car is typically advised over buying a new one due to the huge depreciation hit these cars suffer from in their first 5 years.

However, buying an older used electric car outright is more appealing for several reasons: no monthly car payment, no need for expensive full insurance coverage, no hidden fees or wear fees when returning the lease car. In addition, many enthusiasts just prefer to actually own vs. feeling like you’re renting.

The most important considerations when buying an electric vehicle are the range capability and current battery condition. How well will a particular car’s electric range fit into your daily needs such as commuting to work, family trips, shopping trips. I have found that it is common for EV owners to share an i3 for commutes and short trips around town, shopping, weekend errands – but they still keep a gas powered BMW or other SUV for longer family road trips and hauling.

In reality, it isn’t yet practical in 2020 for most of us to own just one EV and get out of gasoline and oil all together, no matter how much we might want to. Before this year, renting a car for long trips or work may have made it easier to ditch our backup gasoline car. The COVID 19 crisis has put enormous pressure on ride share services like Uber and Lyft, along with other car rental services. Few people today want to share or rent for fear of health risks it now poses. The pandemic has also caused a surge in car ownership even in unlikely places like New York City.

Saying Goodbye to Gas and Oil Forever?

My current daily driver is not exactly a daily driver. You see, since 2010 I have been self-employed and working from home. Ironically, as a car enthusiast, I don’t actually need to own a car nor do I drive all that much. My trips are largely to the grocery stores which are a mere 1 to 2 miles from home. Other trip locations include the post office, UPS, or down to the beach several miles. The car I use for these simple pleasures is a 2007 335i, a car I have long lusted after since seeing one at Bavarian Autosport Show and Shine car show in the Fall of 2006. Thirteen years of depreciation later, and I could finally afford one: Click here to see a video of my car.

My 2007 335i

This twin-turbocharged E90 with 6 cylinder gas engine is such a blast to drive, with approximately 340 horsepower thanks to a modest ECU tune. It is arguably the most fun car I have ever owned and I would really hesitate to part with it. This would be a good car to garage and use strictly for pleasure or those longer road trips as a back up to the EV. I purchased it from the original owner who took incredibly detailed care of the car, with a huge stack of BMW dealer-only service records. Usually these cars are found neglected and modified by young owners with a need for speed.

My other car is a classic 1984 533i E28 which I purchased over two years ago. It’s possibly the car I’ve owned the longest in recent memory, since I typically catch and release these cars just to produce content on YouTube. This car has been driven maybe 6-700 miles in the two years I have owned it; it is now so valuable that I don’t like to leave it out in random parking lots. It is not the most practical car to own at the moment, so I do consider selling it – though I may regret it.

My 1984 533i

My 533i was purchased in July 2018 from Portland, Oregon from the long time second owner. Now in his 70’s, the second owner Mike cared for the car since July 1987. With E28 prices on the rise in the last few years, it is tempting to sell it and make back a little money to fund life’s other ventures. Though if I do this, I may not be able to afford to buy one this clean again in the future.

All of this being said, I have been thinking about giving up gas and oil for years. The amount of maintenance, repairs, time, money, oil changes, gas fill ups and combustion related issues is just stupid. It doesn’t make a lot of sense. As an enthusiast, I enjoy bringing old cars back to life with servicing, though I recognize how bad their existence is for the air quality and world health. Not to mention, I would love to never leak oil and fluids on my new driveway or street again.

Buying a used i3 BMW BEV vs. Range Extender

My first choice of electric car would probably be an all-electric BEV i3. The range extender would offer peace of mind sure, but they are known to be more troublesome. Besides, this small onboard motorcycle engine generator would require combustion servicing like tune ups, gas fill ups and oil changes, defeating the purpose of owning an EV for me personally. The upside is that the range extender greatly extends the usability of the car, and eliminates the anxiety of running out of power while my wife takes it to work.

My 2002 530i next to an i3 REX

The first year 2014-2015 i3 BEV can be found from $10,000 to $13,000 at the low end which is an incredible bargain considering the technology and build of these cars. Since this is a BMW focused blog, continuing with the BMW brand would work for my interests as well as my viewers.

What’s most impressive is the carbon neutral conditions they were produced under in Germany and the fact that the car’s frame is made entirely of carbon fiber. The only other cars with carbon fiber bodies on planet earth are million dollar super cars. Very cool. Here’s a photo of the production in Leipzig in July 2013 from BMW’s press kit i3 photos.

The i3 carbon fiber body at BMW’s Leipzig Production Plant

The i3 features active cooling for the battery which is essential to longer battery life. The Nissan leaf does not have thermal battery management. The only major downside of this car is the narrow, expensive tires which produce a bouncy ride. I do wish it featured a taller tire for a more comfortable ride. The initial purchase price of the i3 is also nearly twice that of the Nissan leaf, which can be found from $5,000 to $7,000 at the low end.

Is the first generation Nissan Leaf a better option?

While I am obviously a huge BMW enthusiast, I do enjoy many other auto makes. Specifically, Japanese autos. Japanese culture is a big part of my life and I have traveled Asia pretty extensively, including across Japan. This leads me to the Nissan Leaf.

The early leaf suffered from a poorly managed battery cooling system – it did not have thermal management for the battery packs. In 2015 I believe the battery chemistry was improved so it is now advised to choose a 2015+ for best range performance. The 2013 models also feature an efficient heat pump HVAC system which improves range, which is essential in New England winters. The initial 2011-2012 models featured an energy sucking heater setup.

One other interesting point to mention is the early model 2011-2012 are made in Japan (not the USA) and also feature aluminum body parts to reduce weight. This is really cool and obviously very expensive to manufacture. The early ’11 and ’12 models are known for very high build quality, and aluminum panels are very high-end. To cut costs, the 2013+ models featured regular steel body parts. Not cool Nissan, not cool.

Conclusions

As we roll through 2020 there are so many new electric options coming out, most notably is Volkswagen’s iD4 which looks amazing. It has the option for an AWD dual motor car and features enough battery for 250+ miles of range which is more than enough for most driver’s needs. My hope is that as the next generation of EV’s become available in 2020-2021, the first generation i3 will come down in price a bit more. For now, the leaf looks like a better buy at half the price, though I would prefer the BMW.

Which EV would you choose? The i3 or Leaf?

The Top 10 Most Common E53 X5 BMW Repairs

Top 10 Most Common E53 Repairs

So you’re the proud new owner of BMW’s first generation X5 SUV. What kinds of repairs will you encounter during your ownership journey? Well, have a look at the Bimmerzeit top ten most common repairs and failures of this model. None of these jobs are particularly difficult to repair yourself as a DIY, and you can follow all of my step by step BMW repair tutorials to help you along. To see all 83 of my X5 video repairs in a YouTube playlist, click here.

1. Exterior Door Handle Carrier Replacement

The exterior door handle carrier is made with a unique design on the E53 which features a cable and aluminum frame that pivots to actuate the door lock mechanism. Over time, the cable (like a bike brake or shifter cable) stretches and no longer actuates the latch properly. I’ve owned two X5’s and have replaced the driver and passenger front carriers on both of them. Very common failure item. To order a new carrier, buy here.

2. X5 Service Interval Light Reset

This is a really easy one, and you don’t even have to get your hands dirty. After a period of time the service interval lights will turn yellow and red on your cluster. To reset them after a service, watch this video below.

3. M54 Water pump and Thermostat Replacement DIY

At some point, every BMW will need its cooling system overhauled. The M54 6 cylinder in the 3.0i X5 is no exception. In fact, you can listen to what a failing bearing on the water pump sounds like in this video. To access the pump and perform the job, you’ll need a set of fan clutch tools like these to get started.

4. Auxiliary Audio Input Kit Installation and Retrofit

So you like driving a 15-20 year old classic; the first generation X5. But you’re not willing to miss out on connecting your phone to your radio to stream Spotify music. No worries, this genuine BMW auxiliary audio kit available here will install in 20 minutes and allow you to connect your phone to the factory X5 radio via an auxiliary input jack. This is the best method to achieve the highest audio sound quality in your SUV. Avoid bluetooth or radio frequency wireless models. This cable offers the best audio fidelity and is made by BMW, not an aftermarket third party.

5. M54 Alternator Removal and Replacement DIY

It seems to me that October is the month where BMW alternators fail. In my 17 years of driving BMWs the overarching principle is that the cold weather that rolls in during October in New England begins the decline of many a BMW charging system. Batteries and alternators meet their demise. Here’s my guide to quickly and affordably changing yours out yourself, should you find it failing this autumn.

6. E53 X5 Front Brake Rotor and Pad Removal and Replacement DIY

Sooner or later, your X5 is going to need new brake rotors and pads. Learning to do tune ups, oil changes, and brakes is the single most important group of repairs you can learn to do to save big money on owning a BMW. Brake jobs are very easy and affordable to DIY, compared to what local dealerships will charge. You can save thousands by doing it yourself. Here’s my front brake replacement guide:

I recommend using Zimmermann rotors (made in Germany) and genuine OEM BMW pads or equivalent such as Jurid and Textar. In my experience, the genuine BMW pads last longest and bite the hardest. The downside is you’ll experience greater wheel dust and dirty wheels. The commonly used ceramic pads that claim zero brake dust do just that – virtually no dust is to be found. However, the performance of the bite when braking is not inspiring, and I refuse to compromise braking power for aesthetics.

7. Transfer Case Actuator Gear Replacement

The transfer case actuator will eventually give you issues in your X5 or X3. The original plastic gear will strip it’s teeth and cause the ABS, Brake, and DSC traction light to appear which will alarm you when it first happens. Don’t let your local dealer tell you that you need a $4,000 USD transfer case replacement. Buy this little carbon fiber reinforced replacement gear here with a lifetime warranty!

8. X5 Ignition Switch Replacement

The ignition switch can cause all kinds of issues on this model. Issues that you think are something else end up leading back to this switch. The second failure of the X5 ignition switch during our 5 year ownership came along with a battery light flashing and led me down the path of replacing the battery and alternator before realizing it was once again, the switch. See that diagnosis video here.

9. X5 Xenon Light Bulb Removal and Replacement DIY

One great thing about the BMW xenon system is that one, their light output is much greater than standard halogen bulbs. The D2S bulbs themselves also last much longer than a standard halogen bulb: 7-8 years for a xenon vs. only 1-3 for a halogen type. If you find yourself with a warning “check side lights” and your headlight is out, see my tutorial here on how to replace the bulb.

10. E53 X5 Air Suspension Struts and Bags Replacement DIY

If you’re lucky enough to have a rare X5 with four corner air suspension, you may eventually run into replacement of the air struts and air springs as they fail. The rubber reservoirs age much like a tire does, and break down over time to leak. Fortunately replacements are readily available and cheap. The replacement is not too difficult either, this will save you thousands over taking it to the shop. For a demonstration of the adjustable ride height on an E53 X5 with four corner air suspension, see my video here.

So there you have it, these are the top 10 most common repairs you can expect to perform on an E53 X5, the first generation SUV from BMW. If you’re looking to buy one of these models, check out my complete buyers guide recently posted here on the blog.

Due to factors beyond the control of BIMMERZEIT, we cannot guarantee against improper use or unauthorized modifications of this information. BIMMERZEIT assumes no liability for property damage or injury incurred as a result of any of the information contained in this video. Use this information at your own risk. BIMMERZEIT recommends safe practices when working on vehicles and or with tools seen or implied in this video. Due to factors beyond the control of BIMMERZEIT no information contained in this video shall create any expressed or implied warranty or guarantee of any particular result. Any injury, damage, or loss that may result from improper use of these tools, equipment, or from the information contained in this video is the sole responsibility of the user and not BIMMERZEIT. Video and Content is owned by BIMMERZEIT © 2020

Buying a Used BMW X5?

Here’s what to look out for

So you’ve decided to buy a used BMW X5? While a Japanese make such as Lexus would bring more peace to your life, you’ve decided to eschew logical adult reasoning and take on the challenge of owning heavily depreciated German steel to enjoy all of the pleasures it will bring. The driving experience, heated surfaces, envy from the neighbors. Your idea of the spice of life is not knowing when the next water pump or window regulator failure will hit, sucking up your only free time on weekends for the foreseeable future.

All kidding aside, the X5 is a good SUV if you are an enthusiast who enjoys performing a good deal of DIY work. After all, if you’re reading this blog, you are likely a BMW enthusiast. Besides, the initial purchase price of a used X5 is going to be much less than that of a Lexus GX or some comparable Japanese suburb-crawling baby-hauler.

My best advice for owning a used X5 is as follows:

  1. You MUST own your own BMW specific diagnostic scan tool such as the one I use today, the Creator C310 available here for $55. This allows you to scan your own Service Engine Soon lights and diagnose issues without a trip to the dealer.
  2. As soon as you buy the X5, begin using maintenance parts from FCP Euro in Milford, Connecticut. Their lifetime warranty on everything they sell is 100% real and 100% awesome. I regret not purchasing parts from them from the beginning, as I would have saved a lot of money in years 4 and 5 on our X5 as items are replaced continually. Those guys are friendly, honest and I love going into their showroom parts pick-up to chat about cars and collect my goodies.
  3. Find a used example that has been kept with service records. Whether those are enthusiast owned DIY receipts for parts purchases, or extensive dealership invoices, that is what you want to see. If someone can’t find the records, or ignores your request for service records, move on. You want to find an example that has been well maintained and loved – this will save you money in the long-run.

Here’s my 5 Year Cost of Ownership on our used X5.

If you’re considering buying an E53 generation X5, check out my buyers guide here:

As we enter the beginning of year 6 of ownership this month, we are still working on some maintenance issues and engine trouble codes. The P1093 code for rich fuel bank has persisted, despite replacement of both pre-cat oxygen sensors. This may be a failed idle control valve, that may be our next replacement item.

We’re at a spot now that it might be time to consider looking into upgrading to the E70 generation X5, built from 2007-2013. The newer and greatly improved F15 X5 came later in 2014, but is still too expensive for us to consider at this time. The 2012-2013 X5 35i is what we are considering, and it looks to be a great balance of value for the money in today’s 2020 market. As soon as we can pick one up, my E70 used X5 buyer guide will be posted here. Stay tuned.

Shop BMW parts here.

Shop used BMW X5, X5 and M cars here.

X3 and X5 BMW Transfer Case Actuator Gear Replacement DIY

This one little gear will save you over $4,000 USD

The BMW X3 and X5 are known for their incredible x-drive all wheel drive systems that power through stormy winter conditions and keep you safe on the road. They’re also known for being incredibly robust, rarely having any major failure of the transfer case systems, as they are typically overbuilt by design. The X5’s ATC 500 transfer case is particularly robust.

However, one small detail was overlooked on the design by BMW mechanical engineers: the small plastic gear inside the transfer case actuator motor. This small gear typically fails between 90,000 -120,000 miles in the X3 and X5. When it does fail, it throws the car’s computer systems into disarray and will show the trifecta of lights: Brake, ABS, and 4×4 DSC lights will all illuminate on the gauge cluster.

Perhaps this is a planned failure, kind of like BMW’s version of planned obsolescence. If millions of X3 and X5 suffer this failure, that means millions of new reasons for customers to either pay heavily for dealership repair services or trade in for a new model BMW. Perhaps this is too cynical, who really knows.

Sometimes, when this gear has failed, an audible clicking may be heard from under the driver side of the car when turning the ignition off. This is the transfer case actuator trying to work but it can’t as the gear’s teeth are stripped by the metal worm drive gear that rides against it. The factory plastic wears down over time causing the failure. When the position of the actuator is no longer known, this throws off the rest of the computer systems that rely on that position as an input signal.

My Experience with my X5 transfer case failure

In 2016, shortly after purchasing our E53 X5, we experienced these warning lights, the intermittent clicking from the actuator and saw the BMW fault code 5F39 or 5F3A. We brought the car in for some inspection at a local Fairfield county Connecticut BMW dealership. Here is where we were delivered the bad news: “Sorry, you’re going to need a new transfer case, the cost is over $4,000 USD.”

This was a really stressful experience, and I was shocked that this happened to us so soon after buying our first X5. Being responsible for the car buying and repairs in my family, this was the worst car news I could deliver to my wife about her new SUV. I decided to do a little more research and more digging. First, I bought myself a BMW specific scan tool so I no longer needed the dealership for diagnostic troubleshooting work. I chose the Creator C310 here on Amazon.

As it turns out, many owners have experienced this transfer case actuator failure which throws these lights and trouble codes. I was determined to try to repair ours or at least remove the actuator for inspection – we had nothing to lose.

First, you need to diagnose the issue by scanning the car’s computers and inspecting the gear. Here’s how to diagnose a potential failure in the transfer case actuator gear system.

Once you’ve established this is likely the cause of your X3 or X5 issues, you will need to order a new updated gear. You can order a carbon fiber reinforced nylon gear which is virtually indestructible here: new transfer case gear.

(photo of gear here link to my shop)

E53 X5, E70 X5, E83 X3 Transfer Case Gear Replacement DIY

Next, you can begin replacement of your transfer case actuator gear once you receive it. You will need the following tools and special socket sizes in order to perform this job:

  1. Micro flathead screwdriver for removal of the transfer case actuator resistor harness connector plug bolted to the side of the motor.
  2. Female torx sockets size E10 for removal of 4 torx bolts holding on motor
  3. Female torx socket size E7 for unbolting transfer case resistor if necessary
  4. C-clip retaining ring removal plier for removal of circlip on gear shaft
  5. Knife for assistance in prying up small metal cover on housing of motor

Here are the steps to installing your new carbon fiber nylon transfer case gear:

  1. Remove four E10 torx bolts that secure the actuator motor to the transfer case and set them aside in a safe space.

2. Unplug the harness to the transfer case actuator. Unplug the harness to the resistor on the side of the transfer case motor.

3. Remove transfer case actuator motor from the transfer case

4. Remove c-clip on shaft of motor to allow for gear removal

5. Pry up metal housing cover and lift off motor. Use WD40 if corroded.

Complete transfer case actuator motor
Carefully remove cover from housing

6. Remove white gear and old black plastic drive gear

Separate and re-use the old white plastic guide gear

7. Clean any debris or plastic in the housing, apply molybdenum grease to points inside the gear housing as needed.

Inspect original gear for worn teeth to confirm diagnosis
Note how the metal worm drive sits on the plastic gear
Molybdenum grease applied to shaft of motor housing

8. Reassemble with new gear in actuator motor

Re-install c-clip to secure gears in place
Original worn gear (left) vs. new carbon fiber nylon gear (right)
Original gear (left) vs. new carbon fiber nylon gear (right)

9. Install metal housing cover, tap down around perimeter to secure

10. Re-install motor assembly to transfer case

11. Install the four E10 torx bolts

12. Plug in actuator harness and resistor harness

13. Celebrate! You’ve just saved $4,000 USD

Buy a new Carbon Fiber reinforced Nylon gear here.

This article contains affiliate links. If you click my custom link to purchase a product, I will earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. Win!

Disclaimer: Due to factors beyond the control of BIMMERZEIT, we cannot guarantee against improper use or unauthorized modifications of this information. BIMMERZEIT assumes no liability for property damage or injury incurred as a result of any of the information contained in this post. Use this information at your own risk. BIMMERZEIT recommends safe practices when working on vehicles and or with tools seen or implied in this post. Due to factors beyond the control of BIMMERZEIT no information contained in this video or post shall create any expressed or implied warranty or guarantee of any particular result. Any injury, damage, or loss that may result from improper use of these tools, equipment, or from the information contained in this post or video is the sole responsibility of the user and not BIMMERZEIT. Video and Content is owned by BIMMERZEIT © 2020

E53 BMW X5 Buyer’s Guide

What to look for when buying the first generation BMW X5 SUV

In 2020, even the newest E53 X5 is 14 years old. The E53 production ended in 2006 which makes BMW’s first generation SUV almost a classic. This is the SUV or “SAV” as BMW likes to call it, “Sport Activity Vehicle” that started all of BMW’s US manufacturing of SUV trucks that dominate the roads today.

In 2019, SUV’s outsold cars 2:1; meaning that for every one car sold, two SUV’s were sold. BMW is no exception as buyers have chosen to abandon cars and wagons in favor for gas-guzzling high-riding safe trucks for their commutes. BMW now makes an X1, X2, X3, X4, X5, X6 and recently launched an even larger X7 to satisfy every demand of the global consumer today.

So where does that leave BMW’s original SAV that started it all? Well, these cars still provide a great value relatively speaking, if you can handle the maintenance and repairs yourself. The 3.0i with straight six cylinder M54 engine is the best option for reliability, as the 4.4 liter V8 models are problematic and expensive to repair.

X5 Buyers Guide

In this video I outline some of the things to look for when inspecting a potential candidate for your next family hauler. The 3.0i M54 powered car is predictable and relatively easy to work on compared to V8 models and the more modern BMW motors. Parts are also much cheaper for the M54, many maintenance items are a fraction of the cost for the same item on a more modern X5. For example, the water pump. The E53’s 6-cylinder M54 water pump is $47 where the later E70 X5’s 6-cylinder N52 water pump is $275!

In fact, to get a better picture of what it takes financially to take an older X5 from 120k miles to 180k miles, check out my 5-year cost of ownership video here. This video details with spreadsheets how much repairs cost even when doing the majority of repairs myself at home for my BMW repair channel Bimmerzeit on YouTube.

Keeping your classic E53 X5 on the road

If you’re considering buying one of these first gen X5’s you’re going to need a few specific tools to keep it going. At minimum, you’ll need to buy the following to DIY repairs at home:

First, you’ll need to buy a BMW specific OBD-II scan tool so you can access fault codes and diagnostics in all of the modules and computers. Generic scan tools won’t cut it. I recommend buying the Creator C310 for BMW here.

You’ll also need to purchase a set of fan clutch tools for about $40 USD here. The fan clutch wrenches allow you to remove the viscous coupling clutch from the water pump so you can then access a myriad of other repairs that require its removal. To see how to remove a BMW viscous fan clutch, see my video here.

Apart from those tools, you’ll also need a good set of Torx bits and sockets. I recommend the Lisle brand here. Lisle stuff is so good I’ve been using the same set I bought 16 years ago. They’re made of heat-treated alloy steel and made in the USA.

Should you buy an E53 X5 as your next car? If you’re looking at an X5 for sale, send me an email here with a link to the listing and I’ll take a look at it for you and share my opinion.

Bimmerzeit

Why is My BMW AC Blowing Warm Air?

As we drive through the peak July heat of Summer, one question I’ve been hearing a lot from my subscribers is about your BMW air conditioning system issues. There are three really common issues across all BMW’s with respect to inoperative or weak AC problems:

  1. The center control knurled stratification wheel knob is poorly adjusted
  2. The electric auxiliary fan behind the front bumper has failed
  3. The AC freon leaked out and needs a recharge of 134a

The first place to start diagnosis is the easiest: check your center control knurled stratification wheel knob in the center of the dashboard. Every BMW since 1980-something has one. And it may be the most misunderstood HVAC control knob of any German car out there – even today!

Here’s a background on how this HVAC control knob works and why it could be causing you to have warm air blowing in the Summer and air too cool blowing in the Autumn and Winter.

The often overlooked stratification knurled wheel for the center vent is often the cause of heating and cooling issues. These are erroneously adjusted one way or the other until the season changes, and you forget to adjust it properly for the season.

Before taking your car in for a look at deeper HVAC issues as described in the list above, be sure to check this adjustment first.

Another extremely common reason why AC may not be cold is due to a failed auxiliary electric fan. The electric fan is responsible for pulling cool air through the air conditioning system’s condensor which is really just a mini-radiator for the AC system. When this fan fails, you may notice AC is cold only when driving at speed; this is because air flow from driving is cooling the system. When you come to a stop or idle, the AC air blows warm again. This is when the electric fan would normally kick in to aid in cooling, but since it has failed, it is not pulling in that air.

The E53, E46 and E39 generation are notorious for auxiliary or aux fan failures. Fortunately the fans are relatively easy to replace as a DIY and can be found under $200. Here is a DIY replacement I did last Summer on my E39:

Finally, the third most common reason for warm AC symptoms is due to a leak or component failure. Sometimes a system will have a micro leak that has allowed freon to leave the system. If you’re low on freon or it is empty, the air will blow warm 100% of the time. To start, you can use an inexpensive 134a kit to refill your refrigerant and begin diagnosis. It’s important to use one with a gauge and to never overfill the system beyond BMW’s pressure specifications dependent on your model.

Here is a source for 134a BMW AC refill kits: https://amzn.to/335SpYU

Questions or comments? Leave them below or reach me via instagram @BIMMERZEIT.

The Best Used BMW to Buy in 2020

So you’re in the market for a used BMW? In this post I’ll share with you what I think is an incredible undervalued buy on the used luxury German market right now. This car also happens to be one of the best BMW’s ever made: my all-time favorite BMW, the luxurious and reliable E39 530i. In this post I’ll go over why the E39 is the best used BMW to buy today in 2020.

Search for used E39’s on the eBay market here.

First, let’s chat about the glorious piece of engineering that is the E39. I have created over 100 DIY videos on this fourth generation 5 series sedan over the last five years of creating on YouTube, so it is fair to say I know them pretty well.

My E39 buyers guide here outlines exactly what to look for when considering the purchase of one of these fine machines. A midsize sedan, this five series was available in 525i, 528i, 530i, 540i and M5 configurations here in the US. Manufactured from 1995 to 2004, the model years available in the US began in 1996 and ended in 2003.

I would argue the best option for balance of power, reliability, cost of ownership and initial purchase cost is the 530i. This has the 3.0 liter gasoline M54 six cylinder engine with both manual and automatic transmission options available.

Going with the sport package over a base model gets you an M-tech sport steering wheel, M-tech sport suspension, 17” two piece BBS wheels, shadowline black exterior trim and sport seats. All together this creates a wonderful package that can be had for anywhere from $1,500 USD to $16,000 USD for the finest examples on Bring a Trailer. On average though, expect to pay $3000 to $5000 USD for a nice example.

The 525i has a smaller 2.5 liter engine which has slightly better fuel economy, but much less power. The automatic transmission on these is more troublesome and known for dropping the ability to reverse due to a defect in the design. I would avoid all 525i’s unless it is a rare 5-speed manual transmission, like the one I rescued in July 2019 here.

The 540i has the M62 V8 which is again more powerful, however maintenance is more difficult to perform and the V8’s of this generation have wear issues with the timing chain guides. It’s only a matter of when, not if, they begin to fail, requiring thousands of dollars and many hours of work to tear down the engine to repair correctly. This is not an experience you want to have. The V8 models also suffer from an antique style steering box setup with recirculating ball setup akin to the model T Ford of yesteryear. No one wants this either. However, the 530i has a wonderful rack and pinion steering that is just sublime to steer through your favorite local apex.

Search for used E39’s on the eBay market here.

The E39 build quality is also the high point in the golden era of BMW design. The doors are heavy and close like the door of a bank vault. This analogy is often mistakenly used on lesser, inferior models like 90’s and 00’s Mercedes. The slam of a closing E39 door is worthy of the bank vault analogy. Furthermore, dual sets of inner and outer door seals on each door seal out virtually all road noise and wind. Quiet conversation via hands-free phone is possible in its cocoon-like interior.

The 530i is relatively inexpensive to maintain and easy for the DIY enthusiast to repair without needing to lean on his local mechanic too much. This keeps overall repair costs low compared to newer models. The parts are 1/3 or 1/2 the cost of E90 maintenance items, for example.

For those reasons, you should be looking into buying an E39 530i right now in 2020 before they begin going up in price. Many sellers tend to be long term owners who want to trade up to a newer model, only to realize they’ve made a huge mistake and regret giving up the E39.

Search for used E39’s on the eBay market here.

The Rare Family E39 Touring Wagon

The E39 was also imported into the US in small quantities in the touring model, also known as the family wagon. Though wagons have long since lost their appeal in the US market in favor of giant SUV’s, the wagon is still very popular across Europe. This is primarily due to VAT tax structure and the very high cost of fuel abroad relative to the US.

The E39 touring model was available in 525i, 528i and 540i models. Again, the 99/00 model year 528i is the one to look for, in my opinion. This has essentially the same M54 engine (M52TU) double vanos motor with robust transmission and powerful 2.8L engine. Again, I would avoid the V8 model with the issues it would have, and same issues with the underpowered 525i with failure prone transmission.

The only downside to the early pre-2001 model year 528i touring is that it will not have facelift updates to the bumper and headlights with angel eyes. Though, the engine and transmission combo more than make up for this as headlights are easily updated to later units.

Is the E39 a good first car?

Today the youngest model E39 is at least 17 years old, which is about how old my first E30 was when I purchased it in 2003. While I wouldn’t recommend an E30 for a first car today due to lack of safety features and the amount of maintenance they need, the E39 is a great modern classic for a first car. It will fit the budget of most young people looking for a car and is relatively reliable as far as classic BMW’s are concerned.

While my first car was an E30, I would definitely suggest looking at the E39 platform for first time drivers with a lower end budget of $1,500 to $4,500 USD. You’ll find some fixer uppers at the low end, and clean daily drivers at the upper end of that price estimate. With about 230 horsepower and four doors, these cars are very versatile and have enough power to be safe getting on the modern freeway.

Many young people look to the 335i twin turbo E90 3 series for a cheap first car, but that is a bad idea for two reasons: no young person needs a 330-380 horsepower car to learn the limits of driving while decision making with an underdeveloped prefrontal cortex. As a 32 year old new dad, I can say that the need for speed does slowly fade over the years. Secondly, the complexity of repair and cost of parts in a 335i will slowly bankrupt all but the wealthiest owners who can pay for constant repairs.

So there you have it, the E39 is the golden goose for most German car enthusiasts out there, young and old. Get yours before prices start climbing; Bring a Trailer auction data suggests they’re already on the rise.

Shop for your E39 now!

How to Get FREE BMW Oil Changes for Life

Not long ago BMW offered four years or 50,000 miles of free maintenance when purchasing a new BMW, which included free oil changes. They did this in part due to the reputation their German engineering had earned over the years for being costly to maintain; with ownership came frequent trips to the local BMW dealership.

They eased this pain point and reinforced the idea that they stand behind their vehicles – reliable vehicles- so much so that four years of service was included. The most expensive BMW’s tend to be leased at a greater volume than they are purchased outright. In fact, more than half of all BMW’s sold are leases.

For high rolling BMW lessees, knowing the total monthly costs and keeping them at a fixed amount without enormous service bills popping up was a great draw. This was a strong marketing pitch for BMW to sell and lease new cars.

Sadly, BMW announced in 2016 (for 2017 model year cars) their maintenance plan was reduced to 3 years or 36,000 miles and would be named the “Ultimate Care” program. New car owners will still benefit from 3 years of free oil changes, but what about the rest of us?

You can now benefit from free replacement parts, filters, and yes even oil changes for life so long as you purchase the items for the first time from FCP Euro. This makes more sense for those of us who DIY our own BMW maintenance and repairs, but of course you could provide the parts purchased from FCP Euro to your local repair shop as well (if they accept that kind of thing).

Here’s how to get Free Oil Changes for Life:

  1. Order your oil, filter, drain plug or any other maintenance parts from FCP Euro here. The first one will not be free. You have to pay for it.
  2. The next oil change, order the same items and parts from FCP Euro again. Drain your old oil into the collection container, and fill up the new jugs with the old oil once your oil change is complete.
  3. Return oil, filter and items to FCP Euro.
  4. Receive a refund for your most recent order.
  5. Rinse and repeat, forever, or until at least FCP Euro is inevitably acquired and the program is ended.

This is not just some sneaky way of abusing a warranty program either. FCP Euro actively promotes this warranty and I was first made aware of it by the guys at the parts desk inside their Milford, Connecticut location. Great guys down there, very friendly and helpful.

One caveat to this FREE oil change for life plan is that many of you reading will have to pay for return ground shipping. I live under 10 minutes from their warehouse, so it makes sense to just drop it off in person and avoid the costly return shipping. If you do need to ship, create an account or use your employer’s business account for heavily discounted shipping. We’re talking $9 to return oil vs. $25 or more charged to the retail facing consumer.

FCP Euro marketing department promoted this Lifetime warranty including oil and filters in a July 2018 video on YouTube here.

What do you guys think? Will you be switching to ordering BMW parts and accessories from FCP Euro? Let me know in the comments.

The Correct Pronunciation of BMW

Last week while researching German to English translations and brushing up on my German I had an epiphany that took 17 years of BMW ownership to realize: the correct way to pronounce BMW is not how I’ve been saying it! That’s right, for the last seventeen years of fanatical BMW ownership I’ve been saying it completely the wrong way. In fact, the official BMW website now has a page dedicated to pronouncing their brand’s name so you don’t have to make the same mistake I did. They share video pronunciations in a variety of languages from French to Mandarin and everything in between. You can visit that page here.

While working on translations and designs for my new brand, I realized that the W in BMW is actually spoken as “Vee” in Germany. I knew that the W was pronounced as a V as part of the entire word, but hadn’t previously considered the individual letter itself or the letter as part of a name such as BMW. Therefore, everyone in Germany, Austria and most parts of Europe pronounce our favorite car maker as “Bee Em Vee”. To make sure we don’t have any embarrassing moments at the next cars and coffee, I’ve made a short video this week on how to pronounce BMW, Volkswagen, Audi and Porsche here:

So, what do you think? Should we pronounce our favorite car maker brands by their German spoken names or by the way they’re marketed to us in the US? Personally I think it would be hard to start saying “Bee Em Vee” instead of “Bee Em Double U” after all these years. Besides, we just don’t hear that pronunciation here in the US. Let me know in the comments below.