A while back my wife had a craving for a BMW. We looked around, browsed through Craigslist, but couldn’t find anything reasonable that wasn’t either super high mileage or in need of a LOT of work. It was fun to look at all of the cool cars out there, but eventually we basically gave up. From time to time I would stalk the car section of Craigslist to see what was out there. I’d actually started to fall back on one of my long-time desires searching for an early ’90s Honda CR-X Si or HF model that I could restore. (and modify to add a little extra muscle) I’d found almost everything I would need when one night I came across a BMW with acceptable mileage and a decent price. This wasn’t the 3-series cars we’d looked at before, it was a 5-series and a 530i with the M-Sport package to boot! We decided to take a look at it as soon as we could. Upon inspection it was a little rough around the edges, but nearly every issue with it was cosmetic. Needless to say, we were hooked.
The first thing I did was to pop the hood, detail the engine bay and give everything a thorough inspection. Once that was finished I spent another morning detailing the exterior. A good wash and wax job had the car looking pretty good. Then it was on to the real work.
The car had been out in the sun, from the look of it, it’s entire life. I later found out that the car started it’s journey in Miami. Being a blacked-out M-Sport, I can only imagine the temperatures this poor German car had to endure. As a result, there was a lot of sun and heat-related damage to take care of. Many of the plastic and rubber parts, especially those exposed to direct sunlight were in various stages of decomposition. The leather was dry and worn, but thankfully not cracked. I set out to scour the internet for good deals on replacement parts. I found most of what i needed and began the process of restoring the car to it’s former glory.
The first thing to go was the rotted out front window moulding. The pic above left is what was left of the original moulding. What you see is actually the metal skeleton with a few scraps of rubber still clinging to it. Taking care of these window mouldings is important as it keeps water & debris from collecting under the edges of the window pane and damaging the seal. I also replaced a few other cosmetic items including both the front/rear roundels (BMW logo), kick panels (they call them sill covers), plus some miscellaneous nuts & retaining clips to lock down a few panels and trim pieces that had worked themselves loose over the years. I did a lot of research before buying these parts and found almost everything I needed at eeuroparts.com.
Moving to the interior, I started cleaning and conditioning the leather. Most of the leather cleaned up really well. It was so dry in most places that it took several applications of conditioner. Almost immediately I noticed that the front seats were in worse condition that I’d originally thought. I wasn’t sure how to go about fixing this so I asked around and eventually got a local expert to come repair it for about $200. As it turns out, almost all automotive leather is painted to get the color and to protect the hyde. Thankfully most of the damage was to the paint on the surface and not the leather. After the leather I used some Elmers fabric spray glue to reattach the fabric to trim panels on the pillars. (below the headliner) The constant sun exposure had caused the glue to dry out and disintegrate allowing the fabric to peel away from these panels near the exposed edges. This repair seems to have worked better on the center pillars between the front/rear doors than the others. (probably due to less exposure) I’ll need to redo this at some point in the near future, but at least it’s better than it was.
The next project I decided to tackle was removing the rotted windshield cowl. Like the other rubber pieces, this one (a rubber/plastic hybrid) had lost most of the seal and was allowing water & debris to get under it and sit on the frame. This job was a lot more difficult than the moulding as it required removal of the wiper arms and disassembly/removal of the cabin air intake/filter boxes. This proved rather difficult as the nuts to which the wiper arms were attached were nearly frozen to the splines/bolts. The one on the drivers side required a bit of WD40, a gear puller tool and a lot of patience. Before you spend hours cursing the engineers who made the car this way, spray some WD40 on the area where the nut and bolt are attached. Then leave for a few hours while it seeps into the cracks. After that, come back and try using a gear puller to break it free. (that’s what worked for me and was a lot safer than most of the redneck solutions out there on DIY forums) Somehow I managed to put it all back together and aligned properly. While I was in there I also replaced the disintegrating hose that feeds the washer nozzles. I used 5/16″ ID Thermoid tubing I found at AutoZone. While definitely not stock, it fits and works well. (and should be able to stand up to the searing heat in the engine bay, unlike the crappy stock tubing)
As bad as it sounds, I’ve actually fixed a few things on this car with tie straps. I tie strapped the front bumper cover on the drivers side as the mounting clips had cracked and wouldn’t hold. (drilled a couple of holes in the base of the clip and strapped it to the frame where the attach point was) I also reattached the alternator cooling hose this way and tied up a few of the underbody plastics that had been damaged. I’ll eventually replace some of these parts and fix it properly, but the tie straps are cheap and get the job done.
Lately I’ve turned my attention to some of the electronic systems. I bought a OBDII (onboard diagnostic port) interface cable from a guy in Romania for about $35 which has allowed me to get the BMW diagnostic & programming software stack up and running on my computer. I was able to successfully diagnose and address a problem with some cylinder misfires. At
this point first this seemed to be due to dirty injectors that I’ve been treating with Lucas injector cleaner from AutoZone. You just dump a bottle of it in your gas tank after a fill up and let it work. Later the misfires returned. update 4/23/2013: After more diagnostics that involved computer testing and swapping the order of the spark coils, I was able to determine that it was most likely the spark plugs themselves that were giving out. Of course these weren’t just plain old spark plugs, but top of the line, expensive 4-pronged NGK BKR6EQUP plugs. I haven’t had a single misfire since replacing them and the car seems to run better as well.
12/2012: Another issue with the car was the onboard computer displays in the gauge cluster. BMW uses these to present the driver with a lot of information and is the primary interface for most of the computer functions. Mine just happen to be mostly dead. This is apparently a common issue and can be fixed by a company called VDO Repair in California for about $250 +shipping. This is a pretty good deal and I may do it, (a new one from the dealer is $800) but for now I’m attempting another solution.
I recently took a trip down to one of the local salvage yards, LKQ Auto Parts and found a couple of 5-series E39 chassis I was able to extract some good components from. I got a gauge cluster and bezel from a slightly older 540 and some slide rails from a 528i to replace the broken ones in my car’s sunroof. (yet another failure due to poor plastic) I took another trip over there to grab the sunroof motors from both and got the VIN from the 540 which I may need to reprogram the cluster module. Before I do that I’m going to see if the dealer can reprogram it without the VIN. I’m having the clutch replaced anyway, so it’s a good time to ask. (I’d do the clutch myself, but it’d be at least an 8-hour job for me and I’m not sure my back could handle it.) **update** The dealers don’t seem to have the ability to reprogram some used parts like the gauge cluster/OBC. Seeing as it stores the odometer information, it’s not that surprising. BMW doesn’t want to encourage people to spend their money elsewhere either. update: 4/2013: Sadly, I haven’t had any luck reprogramming the cluster I salvaged from the 540i. It’s in better shape than mine, but during the last few attempts at programming it, I’ve seen the same failing pixel symptoms happening to its display as well. I’m not giving up yet, but it’s starting to look like paying VDO repair $250 to fix the original unit is the best option.
4/2013: Lately I’ve turned my attention to the car’s suspension. My wife took a long-distance trip recently and as I was checking the car and prepping it to go, I discovered the windshield washer pump has suddenly failed. (it had worked just fine only days before) In a mad scramble I called up a couple of parts stores around town and found a replacement at one about 15 min. from my house. With just that much time before they closed, I convinced them to hold the part for me while I rushed over. I made it a few minutes late, but thankfully a very nice guy working that night kept the place open waiting on me. Thanks to him I got the part installed and working that night and my wife had an event free trip. So how does this relate to the suspension? In the course of the washer pump repair, I noticed that the ball joints on some of the linkages were clearly rotted through. (the rubber parts that keep dirt and water out and lubricant in) As a result the joints were deteriorating. After my wife’s trip, I jacked up the car and did a visual inspection of the front and rear suspension. It was obvious that all of the components with ball joints had rotted/missing rubber seals. (not good)
I found a great deal on replacement suspension parts from Pelican Parts and placed an order for what I thought I needed. (front and rear sway bar links, and a set of control arms for the rear) It wasn’t until I had the car up on jacks and the wheels removed that I could see I’d missed a set of control arms that were also worn out. I went ahead
and did the job and ordered the missing parts later. I also had to make an emergency run to Lowes to get a couple of tool sizes I didn’t have in my collection. (combo wrenches in 16mm & 18mm and 1 ea. 16mm, 18mm and 22mm sockets) The sway bar links were relatively easy. If the whole job had gone as easy as the front end, I would’ve been done in only a few hours. As it turned out, the ball joint bolt (what comes out of the connection to the right of center in the pic to the left) that connects to the hub was frozen in place. It took literally hours of banging and pulling, WD-40 and the application of a heat gun to get both of them to come loose. Eventually though, they did come loose and I was able to replace the old worn out parts with new ones.
Hopefully the other 2 control arms will be delivered soon and I can finish the job. The new forward rear control arms came in and with a couple of hours work and a trip to the dealer to get the alignment set, this job was done
10/2013: In the last few months I’ve fixed a few more issues that have either been nagging me, or have cropped back up. I sent the gauge cluster/OBC module off to VDO in California to have the displays fixed. I have to say that they did an amazing job. The job was done on time and looks factory perfect. (finally I can read the display and I actually have a service interval display!) I also finally got around to replacing the auxiliary cooling fan for the A/C system. The fan hadn’t worked since we bought the car, but had failed in such a way that the A/C still worked. I installed a 3rd party after-market fan that seems to be holding up well. (and costs roughly 1/3 of the OEM part) The cylinder misfire problem also came back unfortunately. I tried replacing the spark plug boots that carry the charge from the coil to the plug, but that made only a minor improvement. I ordered some cheap (relatively) spark coils off of Amazon that seem to be working well so far. Considering how much OEM coils cost, I’ll take the risk on these after-market coils. Hopefully that will kill the misfire problem for good.