1999 BMW 5 Series 535i 3.5L V8 petrol from UK and Ireland


When working, close to motoring perfection, but let me down too many times


Three different failures of the cooling system, each one leaving me stuck at the side of the road.

Transmission required rebuilding when reverse failed.

Fuel pump failed, requiring replacement.

General Comments:

I have never owned a better car, yet I have never owned a worse car. To this day I remain conflicted about my 535.

On the plus side, the 225 bhp V8 petrol gave effortless performance. The handling was sublime, tricking you into thinking you were throwing a much smaller car into bends. Refinement was excellent, the 5-speed auto being so long geared that the engine was barely above tickover at motorway cruising speeds. When the 535 was behaving, it truly did feel like the ultimate driving machine.

Then the car would break down, and the illusion of precise German engineering would be shattered! The cooling systems of E39 5-series petrols seems to be designed to self-destruct - horrible cheap plastic everywhere that's just asking to fail. Of the five friends of mine who bought E39s, each one had some sort of cooling issue within the first six months of ownership.

I thought I was out of the woods after cooling system failure number three and a full transmission rebuild (€2,000, thank you very much!), but then the fuel pump died. I didn't dare go near a main dealer, but even a local mechanic didn't leave me with any change from €800. That was the straw that broke the donkey's back: I felt I had to get rid of the car after that.

Apart from all the breakdowns, running costs weren't what you'd call cheap. Nobody buys a 3.5-litre V8 for economy reasons, but driving in town, expect 18 mpg (UK) and plenty of visits to the petrol station. Motorway runs were better, returning 24 - 26 mpg, and one gentle run on back roads in the west of Ireland saw the on-board computer reading 32 mpg after the 90-minute trip.

If you're looking for a weekend car, or one that won't spend its life in traffic, and you can find one that's had its cooling system and transmission done already, then let your heart win out over your head and buy one. Just be prepared for the worst; that dreadful sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach when the on-board computer goes "bong" and flashes up its latest tale of failure and woe on the matrix display.

Would you buy another car from this manufacturer? No

Review Date: 2nd November, 2010

1999 BMW 5 Series 530d Touring 2.9 24v diesel from UK and Ireland


Boring to drive, but showed potential


MAF (Mass Air Flow) sensor faulty, requiring replacement.

General Comments:

I swore I'd never own another automatic, but these 5's are steptronic, so I thought I'd give another one a go.


Automatics are not for everybody (me in particular).

Engine performance showed potential (I had previous experience of the 2.8 petrol automatic, and didn't realise how big a difference moving from an auto to a manual made).

Typically uneconomical (because I'm lead footed in auto's).

Nasty judder from the back end, but I figured the wheels needed balancing (never got around to it).

Generally boring to drive (because it's an auto).

Would you buy another car from this manufacturer? Yes

Review Date: 5th May, 2010

1999 BMW 5 Series 528iT 2.8L from North America


Constant, expensive maintenance


* The cooling system failed at 80K.

* Front end needs complete overhaul at 120K.

* Rear end suspension too.

* All kinds of leaks, power steering, transmission hoses.

* All the vacuum tubes get extremely brittle and disintegrate when you touch them.

* The VANOS system failing, decreasing MPG and power.

* Automatic transmission is garbage, failed at 80K.

* The CCV system is likely shot as well, the vacuum tubes cracked. Just another example of over-engineered poor design, complexity that's not necessary and in fact detrimental.

* Camshaft position sensors.

* O2 sensors.

General Comments:

IMO, E39 doesn't age well. I would recommend getting one with reasonable miles, like 80K and one that has been well-taken care of.

The issues surrounding E39 are many and can pop-up anywhere, just to name a few.

I would say its design is not really geared towards DIY types. Often need special tools to accomplish something. There is "The BMW way". Some of it is pretty interesting and good, like the oil filter being on top of the engine, others not so good. Front end work is not that difficult.

You never know what new and interesting item will fail next. It's truly a "FORD" car after a certain mileage: Fix Or Repair Daily.

Basically it's easy to put about 5-6K into an E39 after you buy one. A high-mileage E39, meaning one with 100K miles has the reliability of a mid 1980's Ford, or worse even, with parts costing 3x as much.

I would only buy one that has been garaged, has low miles and has the majority of the above repairs done, at least the suspension and the cooling system. There are tons of these for sale now at good prices.

Basically, they are expensive to buy and expensive to keep on the road. And high price does not assure high quality and longevity. Dealership prices are absolutely insane. Think $4K to change clutch. 500 to change the transmission fluid. $12 for one spark plug. 40 for a vacuum tube. I am used to DIY to keep the ownership cost reasonable but it's not for everyone.

OTOH, there is plenty to like about E39. IMO:

The ergonomics are excellent. The seats are A+ and the heated seat is also very nice. It fits me like a glove. Everything inside is just right.

The handling is pretty good, better than X5 and for that matter, E39 Touring has more storage space than X5.

I like E39 Touring, it's just the right size. Not too big, not too small. And very practical.

The I6 motor is very nice. It's silent, has just the right amount of power IMO (but is even better with Manual)

The AC system is insane, it will chill you faster than the North Pole. On med, it's stronger than most cars on High. The heat is the same way. The high is some kind of crazy Turbo mode. When you turn heat on high, it takes high literally.

The handling is pretty good, basically 5-series E39 is a big and heavy car, cannot possibly handle as well as 3-series but the space is nice. Especially with Touring.

The ride quality is very nice. No FWD can compare. New struts make a huge difference. No regrets buying mine but does need a bit of maintenance. Find the nicest E39 you can find.

Would you buy another car from this manufacturer? No

Review Date: 19th March, 2010

26th Jul 2011, 06:49

All cars bought used are subject to the use and care of the previous owner; we aren't talking about some chunk of stone (I once had a roommate who could defile one of those as well).

My E-39 experience differs from this posting; it is a 1999 528i that had a few faults to iron out when we took possession, mainly a fuel delivery issue up front that would trip the engine light, and a communication issue with the front right door due to corrosion of pin connectors in the hardware joining the door and the body for the central computer. The first was ironed out by elimination of a few red herrings from the diagnostic code combinations and some input from BMWUSA engineering desk. The latter was attributed to private overseas carriage following European delivery. These are never as consistent in care as the dedicated vehicle transporters.

Otherwise our E-39 has been fantastic as a machine. Some of the interface equipment (buttons, switches, contact surfaces, etc.) has shown wear that the drivetrain has not. I am mostly concerned over how long this will continue to be an outstanding highway cruising machine with its silky I-6 (with a bottom end built like a bomb shelter) and a delivered 32 MPG frequently delivered.