RM 15k buys you the best BMW 5 Series, the E39. How much to maintain and repair?

Jason · Aug 30, 2021 09:00 AM

RM 15k buys you the best BMW 5 Series, the E39. How much to maintain and repair? 01

Picture in your head when asked this question, which is the best-looking BMW sedan ever made? Invariably, the answer would either be the E46 3 Series, or the subject of our buying guide today, the E39 BMW 5 Series.

With good reason too. The E39 5 Series is the automotive equivalent of Jennifer Aniston, because both don't seem to have aged a day, and both are a sight for sore eyes. 

While Jennifer Aniston remains a pipe dream, you can actually still own a E39 BMW 5 Series, albeit a used one. You want one, don't you? Here's what you need to know. 

Which is the best E39 BMW 5 Series variant?

RM 15k buys you the best BMW 5 Series, the E39. How much to maintain and repair? 01

Pre-facelift model pictured

When the E39 5 Series landed in Malaysia in 1996, there were two powertrain options, both from the M52 engine family. The first, in the 523i is a 2.5-litre, inline-six engine making 170 PS and 245 Nm. Then you have the 2.8-litre, inline six in the 528i (193 PS, 280 Nm). 

Yes, there was a time when BMW offered only six-cylinder engines in its model lineup, and were all the better for it. Both engines were paired to a 5-speed automatic transmission, with a Steptronic system that enabled sporty manual-style gearchanges. 

RM 15k buys you the best BMW 5 Series, the E39. How much to maintain and repair? 02

Something of note is that these early M52 engines employed a single VANOS system, with only a handful of the 2.5- and 2.8-litre M52 getting a 'technical update' in 1998 which saw it gain double VANOS. Output remained the same, thought low-end torque delivery improved.

Pre-facelift E39 BMW 5 Series engines (M52)
Engine Output Transmission
523i
2.5-litre
inline-six
170 PS, 245 Nm 5AT
528i
2.8-litre
inline-six
193 PS, 280 Nm 5AT

RM 15k buys you the best BMW 5 Series, the E39. How much to maintain and repair? 03

Facelift model pictured

In 2000, the E39 5-er received a facelift, bringing with it not only exterior updates, but also newer M54 engines to go with it. You now have a choice of three variants: 520i, 525i and 530i. 

Facelift E39 BMW 5 Series engines (M54)
Engine Output Transmission
520i
2.2-litre
inline-six
170 PS, 210 Nm 5AT
525i
2.5-litre
inline-six
192 PS, 245 Nm 5AT
530i
3.0-litre
inline-six
231 PS, 300 Nm 5AT

Frankly, all the variants are brilliant (regardless of facelifted or not), on account of their silky-smooth, inline-six engines. Prices range from RM 14k for an early, pre-facelift 528i to just under RM 40k for the facelifted, full-fat 530i.

But, if I had to choose one variant to live with, I'd plump for a pre-facelift 528i. Reason being, it blends power and smoothness into one effortless package. Road tax payments be damned! Furthermore, prices are attractive and there are less issues mechanically (more on that below).

Why would I buy one of these?

RM 15k buys you the best BMW 5 Series, the E39. How much to maintain and repair? 04

In short, your money buys you one of the most timeless-looking BMWs there will ever be. When the E39 made its global debut, it stunned the automotive world with its achingly handsome looks. It still looks so fresh to our eyes that, if BMW launched this car in 2021, it would still be well-received. 

Moreover, the E39 5-er came with BMW's finest straight-six powerplants, and possesed road manners befitting an Ultimate Driving Machine. Steering precision was also aided by the fact that the E39 employed a rack-and-pinion set up, which is superior to the recirculating-ball system used in its E34 predecessor.

RM 15k buys you the best BMW 5 Series, the E39. How much to maintain and repair? 05

Inside, the E39's cabin takes you back to a time where BMWs were really all about making the driver the star of the show. The steering wheel is the perfect size, pedals are spaced out perfectly, and the center stack is angled towards the driver. What can't modern BMWs feel this good?

Cabin materials and build quality are typically Teutonic. Which is to say it feels as solid as a bank vault. Controls and swtiches feel wonderfully tactile. Sure, it's a little bit sombre and muted (avoid the grey upholstery) in here, but the design and ergonomics are bang on flawless.

RM 15k buys you the best BMW 5 Series, the E39. How much to maintain and repair? 06

It's not just a looker though. The E39 has a practical, 4-door body that is able to seat 4 to 5 persons comfortably. With a boot space of 460 litres, this is a executive sports sedan capable of doing family duties as well. Talk about having your cake and eating it. 

Also read: Used vs New: Should you be brave to buy a used BMW 3 Series over a new Honda City?

Are E39s easy to maintain?

RM 15k buys you the best BMW 5 Series, the E39. How much to maintain and repair? 07

Seeing that the E39 5 Series is powered by relatively large-capacity, six-cylinder engines, they won't be as cheap to maintain as a Perodua Myvi. In saying that, maintenance costs are not exhorbitant either. 

E39 BMW 5 Series pre-facelift maintenance cost
Variant 523i 528i
Road tax (RM) 880 1,630
Tyres/pc (RM) 310 380
Tyre size 205/45
R17
225/45
R17
Minor 10k km
service
500 500

If there's one thing that has aged in the E39 5 Series, it's this: tyre sizes. The tyre sizes ranged from 205/65 R15 to 225/55 R16  (with 205 to 225 width!), a huge departure where 18-inchers are commonplace in cars of this segment today. 

E39 BMW 5 Series facelift maintenance cost
  520i 525i 530i
Road tax (RM) 580 880 2,130
Tyres/pc (RM) 310 320 380
Tyre size 205/45
R17
215/45
R17
225/45
R17
Minor 10k km
service
500 500 500

RM 15k buys you the best BMW 5 Series, the E39. How much to maintain and repair? 08

Factory wheel sizes were 15- or 16-inch, tyre sizes hard to source these days

As you can imagine, tyres of the aforementioned sizes are incredibly hard to source nowadays. Therefore, the compromise would be to upsize to 17-inch wheels, where there are a plethora of common tyre sizes. Here, we try to keep to the original tyre width.

What about repairs? Will it be expensive?

RM 15k buys you the best BMW 5 Series, the E39. How much to maintain and repair? 09

As for common problems in the E39 5 Series, WapCar.my sought the expertise of Mr Lai from M Dynamic once again. Who better to ask than a person that owns two E39s?

According to Lai, engine-wise, the M52s are generally less troublesome than the M54. With the M54, Lai says there are more common issues to look out for.

RM 15k buys you the best BMW 5 Series, the E39. How much to maintain and repair? 10

For starters, look out oil separator failure, which will cause unstable idling (RM 800 to fix). The transmission in the M54-equipped cars are also prone to oil pump failure, which is a RM 3,000 fix. 

Staying with the M54 engine, failure of the ABS pump module is also common, because the pump sits too close to the exhaust manifold and is exposed to a lot of heat. Budget RM 2,000 for this. The water pump is also prone to failing, costing RM 700 to replace. 

RM 15k buys you the best BMW 5 Series, the E39. How much to maintain and repair? 11

Moving to the interior, Lai shares that a common issue is the front electric seats. Over time, the cable extends and causes the forward/backward seat adjustment to be misaligned. To repair this, Lai says budget RM 500 per seat. 

Another common grouse in the interior is the digital display on the instrument panel becomes blur and unreadable. Lai says it is possible to replace just the digital display, but warns that it is a delicate job (RM 500).

RM 15k buys you the best BMW 5 Series, the E39. How much to maintain and repair? 12

Another BMW expert, Syed from Abu Classic BMW Auto Works (1, Jalan 51/201, Seksyen 51, 46050 Petaling Jaya, Selangor) also chimed in with some very handy guidance.  Among other things to look out for in the E39 are the thermostat and its housing (RM 400) plus the expansion tank (RM 300).

Water ponding in the brake pump and fuse box compartment is also something to pay attention to, as the worn rubber lining here would allow water/vapour to cause demage to the ECU in the long run. Pay similar attention to worn rear rubber lining as well because water can seep into the boot.

RM 15k buys you the best BMW 5 Series, the E39. How much to maintain and repair? 13

Seriously, there are no bad angles on the E39​​​

Syed says brake rotors are one more item that commonly needs replacement. Once they are warped, the driver will experience juddering under braking and worse still, wheel balancing issues. They cost about RM 1,000 to replace a pair.

The E39's front lower arms also something to be mindful of. Worn ones will cause tyre alignment issues. Budget about RM 1,900 to replace these. 

So, while E39 5-ers are relatively affordable to purchase now, be mindful that repair costs are still BMW-levels. But, when maintained properly, these things are gems to drive, according to both Lai and Syed. 

E39 BMW 5 Series common problems
Part Symptom Cost
(RM)
Oil separator
(M54 engine)
Unstable idling 800
Water pump
(M54 engine)
High water
temperatures
700
Thermostat
+ housing
Erratic water
temperatures
400
Expansion tank Erratic water
temperatures
300
Transmission oil
pump
(M54 engine)
Rough gearchanges 3,000
ABS pump module
(M54 engine)
ABS malfunction 2,000
Longshaft bearing
coupling & center nut
Clunking noise when 
gear is engaged
700
Front electric 
seats
Misaligned forward/backward
adjustment
500/
seat
Instrument panel Digital display
goes blur
500
Front lower
arms
Alignment problems 1,900
Brake rotors Juddering under braking/
balancing issues
1,000

Conclusion

RM 15k buys you the best BMW 5 Series, the E39. How much to maintain and repair? 14

We think many will agree with our asessment that the E39 BMW 5 Series is the best one in the lineage. This was peak-BMW, in our opinion. It had a little bit of everything that appealed to everyone.

Drivers gravitated to the velvety-smooth engine, dynamics and handling. Businessmen/women loved the executive image it brings. Families appreciated the four-door sedan shape with a volumous boot.

RM 15k buys you the best BMW 5 Series, the E39. How much to maintain and repair? 15

Plus, the E39 BMW 5 Series hits the sweet spot in depreciation vs modern, daily drive appeal. To us, it is definitely a contemporary classic.

To our eyes, there has not been a better looking BMW 5 Series compared to the E39. The latest F10 and G30 are elegant, but the E39 stands on its own, some 26 years after it was launched.

RM 15k buys you the best BMW 5 Series, the E39. How much to maintain and repair? 16

Jason

Road Test Editor

Jason's foremost passion is all things automotive, where he spent his formative working years as a Product Planner and Trainer. An Advanced Driving Instructor by training and an all-round enthusiast, Jason loves going into intricate details about driving dynamics. Will drive anything with 4 wheels and a steering.

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