The BMW 5 series is one of the nicest medium sized 5 seat sedans you can buy as a used car.
From the E34 onwards the 5 series has been a bargain second-hand for those who learn how to select the right car. Many can be bought optioned up to the hilt. Wealthy buyers who did not mind putting out a few more grand for the executive model or other option packages were a big slice of the market for these cars for many years and across several series. Many of these cars
are still in pristine condition because the car has been on a maintenance contract or at least had regular dealership services performed on time throughout it's life.
There is a valid reason for this.
BMW options are well made and assembled, unlike many after-market accessory packs from other makers. The big question is which model of the 5 series to buy and why?
Many luxury model 5 and 7 series have electric seats and other comforts such as heated steering wheel and mirrors, massage and or heated seats and many more options.
The BMW 5 series has always been a well made car, despite having a few design faults that BMW have sprinkled fairly evenly across the whole range of their models, but I tell you about them on another BMW hub I have written, and will repeat them here or use a link as I develop this post.
Some very basic truths about the 5 series.
The steel alloys and metallurgy are brilliantly good in all engine and drive-train components. The drive-train has always been better engineered and smoother than most of the competition with few exceptions such as Porsche.
When purchased new the 5 series has always carried a premium price tag. (apart from the base model price in some countries in Europe where they have always been remarkably well priced against other European contenders.)
Compared to new price, a used BMW is a great bargain especially if you buy a highly optioned 5 series.
Many of the 5 series came with big motors, performance, safety and comfort options, yet earlier used cars that have every option available are priced the same or similar to their much cheaper models that looked like a European Taxi inside, with cloth seats and no wood trim, electric seats, or full onboard computer.
There are plenty of highly optioned 5 series for sale, as the options were remarkably useful and desirable to the many well heeled new BMW buyers.
Many of the luxury models that are for sale have an impeccable service record plus the computer service record to back it up.
The sheer quality of the used BMW 5 series is a great reason to buy one. You will rarely see one with a worn motor or transmission as they will, if properly maintained, do a very high mileage without showing signs of engine or transmission wear.
They also drop their guts at incredibly low mileage by both engine and transmission failure because of faults that were not repaired by recall.
The reason you can buy an immaculate high performance peace of superb engineering so damn cheap, is that people are terrified of all these failures.
The problems associated with the BMW range can be found to originate at the dealership in many cases. Most BMW dealerships notified their customers of all recalls, then carried out the replacement of faulty parts free and efficiently.
Others were out of their depth when it came to replacing cylinder heads on the sixes, and rebuilding the very complex gearbox on the 5 series, resulting in a cycle of problems that resulted in the car being repaired many more times before the problem is solved to the owners satisfaction. Other owners with legitimate problems have run in to a brick wall and got no help at all.
Why a 5 series?
From the early box shaped BMW 5 onwards the 5 series BMW has always been a drivers car. No matter how ordinary the early model looked, it went well, which is surprising considering it's weight!
In later models BMW put a lot more effort in to losing weight in some areas such as suspension by moving to more sophisticated alloys in components, only to add most of it again with more airbags and assisted driving devices like ABS, steering assist and a locked differential.
Heavy sound insulation materials are used extensively across the engine firewall and hood, the carpets are very good quality as are the door linings, dashboard and roof lining. They also have larger protrusion bars in the doors, with heavy glass to maintain the edge in driver and passenger pleasure and safety in many of the later models.
So despite being a bit heavy the 5 series is a fine package of established engineering excellence.
By the time the E34 body style with the rounded "Bertone" look came out, the world knew that BMW had made a real winner, with it's understated aerodynamic shape and tight fitting panels, it was , not unlike the Alfa Romeo Veloce styled by Bertone, ageless.
The E34 beauty can still be seen in all BMW shapes right up to the latest model and even on their 4WD vehicles.
You should be able to buy a top class BMW 5 series without anything more than your good common sense and the little bit you learn here.
The rules to remember when buying a used 5 series BMW.
- Only buy used 5 series with impeccable service records
- Without accident damage.
- With very low mileage.
Why? Because you can! There are plenty of good cars to choose from in this market. If you ignore this rule you will most likely buy one of the thousands of lemons floating around the market, being sold time after time, every owner wasting thousands on what is a very bad motor vehicle, and a complex one at that.
What to look out for.
- The engine must be totally clean and free from any oily marks. The underside of the engine and transmission bone dry and dusty.
If it isn't don't ask why, just move on to the next car. This one has not been sorted during recalls and will have problems with many other components in all likelihood. It may need a head gasket or rocker cover gasket, but either problem results in oil loss between services and is not only a sign of bad maintenance but also that it missed the recall.
This vehicle will need a new motor, not a cylinder head.
At some time it will have run low on oil, as once the problem of leaking was not solved when the vehicle was recalled or it missed the recall.
The motor should be clean enough to eat off. Again if it is simply a leak from the brake master cylinder reserve, or the power steering pump reservoir this still indicates that proper servicing has not taken place so the rule is, don't try to be an expert when there is no need to be, simply leave it alone.
The transmission and drive train must be completely vibration free, as tail-shaft balancer units are expensive to repair and this will usually be the problem with the early models if you find a slight vibration from about 40 mph onwards. Expensive to repair and difficult to get right as a unit, leave it for someone else to try and fix it, you may not get it right, many haven't even after spending $1,700 on parts alone.
The engine should idle smoothly enough to balance a coin on edge without it falling on the later model motors and all but those early motors which had hot cams.
Any rough running at idle even when dead cold is a sign of something a lot more expensive than a tune up in many cases. This is a complex area, and you may be told it only needs a tune up. Don't believe it. If the thing is less than pristine, leave it there, as the market is full of good one owner low mileage gems. I have a good friend of long standing who specialises in high end used BMW car sales, Start any of his many cars and you can balance a coin on the running engine of all of them.
The transmission should drive like a new car, with no backlash or "clunk" from 1st to reverse when stationary. A well serviced and maintained drive train will still be smooth even with very high mileage. If the drive train has been maintained BMWs do not show transmission backlash and should not "pull" excessively in either direction when you change the auto or manual from drive quickly through neutral to reverse and back, even if the car has done over 300,000 miles. The ones that are worn are down to bad preventative maintenance. For example the manual may have been crunched in to gear after some fool has worn the clutch out prematurely and the gearbox winds up wearing all the clutch problem. No matter how good a clutch is, if it is misused long enough it will curl up and die.
(A friend has a much loved 1992 5 series he purchased new. It is a 535 with the works, and with 630,000 miles on the clock, drives like a new car. He has a great dealership and has never missed a recall or a service.)
All electrics should be in perfect order including electric windows (can be expensive to repair) Bad electrics or slow window motors indicate poor servicing, as the motors are well up to the job providing the window slide rails are kept perfectly aligned and lubricated.
Watch out for body damage if just one electric window is slow to wind. It may indicate that the car has been hit in that door and the window guide rails do not line up properly.
Take a look along the sides of the car in sunlight to ensure the panels fit perfectly and that there is no "orange peel" appearance of the paint.
Service books detailed must be complete, detailed and up to date.