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540 Head Gasket Question

Discussion in 'E39 (1997-2003)' started by AngryE39, Apr 13, 2010.

    • Member

    AngryE39

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    I just replaced the radiator on my 540iA ('01, 107k miles). The radiator went last weekend while I was running errands about 2 miles from my home. I shut it off as soon as I realized the radiator had blown and I never saw the temp gauge go above normal. I let it cool for 30 minutes, topped up the radiator and limped home with the heater running on full and carefully watching the temperature gauge for the 2 miles trip. (It never went beyond the "normal" running position.) I had the car towed to my indie shop the next morning and picked it up today with its new radiator and related bits (expansion tank, lower hose, thermostat, etc, etc).

    When I picked up my car today from my indie BMW shop, the tech pulled me aside and said I might want to think about trading my car soon as he "smelled coolant, saw some smoke and said it didn't want to start when they turned it over earlier today.

    I have owned the car for 18 months and I enjoy it thoroughly. I am the third owner and have all of the service records on the car. Since I have owned it, I have done any of the "normal" 100k mile stuff that the prior owner had not already done (rebuilt tranny, valley pan gasket, valve cover gaskets, front traction struts, etc.). Call me crazy, but I really do not want to sell/trade my E39. Frankly, I can't think of anything else that I can afford that I would want to drive more than this car.

    I am looking for any opinions from club members who may have experience with head gaskets and cooling system problems with 540s who can tell me whether I need to be worried about my car. I would also appreciate any suggestions for what subtle symptoms I might watch for to determine if I might have a head gasket problem festering under the hood. (I will watch for obvious white smoke from the exhaust or coolant in the engine oil.)

    Thank you in advance for any feedback.
    • Member

    fletcher

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    Did they do a compression test on the cylinders (check for head gasket failure)?
    • Member

    AngryE39

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    No, not that I was charged for. Since I didn't think the engine had overheated, I didn't ask them to run a compression check and they didn't do it.
    • Member

    Zeichen311

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    Ask your shop what they would charge to perform a compression test on all cylinders and report the results. If it's not too expensive, the diagnostic charge might be a sound investment in your peace of mind. One way or the other, you'd know.

    When the tech said "smelled coolant, saw some smoke" ... did he specifically say from the tailpipe? After a blown radiator I'd be amazed if you didn't see/smell boiling coolant for a short while after the repair, as any stray puddles in/on/around the engine evaporated. The hard-start condition does not necessarily hint at internal doom. It could be a one-time symptom of the radiator failure (e.g., coolant puddled where it doesn't belong) or something entirely unrelated.
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    bcweir

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    The M62 V8 has its flaws, but the cooling system isn't typically among them by itself

    BMW has issues with some of their cars running plastic radiators and plastic water pumps grenading themselves to bits, but no significant cooling problems related to the engine itself. The plastic in the radiators and water pumps would eventually harden and crack, then destroy themselves. This flaw is almost never related to any critical failure of the engine or the head gaskets.

    BMW did briefly have issues with the early M60 Nikasil motors, but the 2001 E39 would have long since switched to the Alusil M62 engines. You wouldn't be affected by this issue in your car at all.

    Get a compression test on your engine. While you're at it, you might want to consider getting a second opinion from another shop. Based on what you described, it seems kind of hasty that this indie mechanic wants to pronounce the kiss of death on your car before something as basic as a compression test has been done on your car. I'd have hoped a trained professional would know better before making such pronouncements without confirming the facts.
    • Member

    az3579

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    It's the other way around:

    Nikasil = BAD
    Alusil = GOOD
    • Member

    Zeichen311

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    The concern here isn't that the head gasket was the original failure, but whether the engine ran hot enough for long enough (while operating sans coolant) to warp the heads or compromise the gasket seal. For some engines, depending on operating conditions the time to failure after catastrophic coolant loss can be measured in seconds.

    From AngryE39's description of the event it sounds like he reacted properly and fast enough to avoid this, but I agree confirmation or a second opinion is in order. As for the skills of "trained professionals," never forget the old saw: 50% of all doctors graduated in the bottom half of their medical school class. ;)
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    bcweir

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    Interesting. Thanks for the correction.

    I must have some left over Nikasil in my brain! Thanks for the TU (Technical Update!). I corrected the post to reflect your information.

    I'm going to go soak my head now. :D
    • Member

    AngryE39

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    Thanks for all of the good info/suggestions. I am going to check into getting the compression test done.

    To clarify, which V8 is problematic, the M60 or the M62?

    Thank you.
    • Member

    az3579

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    The M60. I believe the problem was corrected with later M60's and completely fine in M62's.
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    AngryE39

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    Got it. Thanks. (One less thing to worry about.)
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    • Technical Service Advisor

    mooseheadm5

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    Sorry I am tardy to the party here. Have you had any issues since? Did you trade the car? You can have the coolant checked for combustion gasses if you suspect a blown HG. It could be that coolant worked its way past the plastic coil covers and got into the well causing a misfire/hard start. It could be that your car just needs intake gaskets, valve cover gaskets, and a valley pan gasket (the last one being the cause of many "smell coolant but can't find a leak" issues.)
    • Member

    AngryE39

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    So Far, So Good.

    Thanks for your follow up. I have not had any problems since my original posts. No immediate plans to trade the car. I am "up to date" on all of the gaskets you mentioned, so I am not expecting to have to do any of those again anytime soon.

    The coolant level has remained full, the oil appears to be free of any contaminants and the car is running well. Perhaps it was just the one time(?) issue with the coil covers that you mentioned.
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    x888jmo

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    540 Blown Radiator

    I experienced nearly the same situation with my 02 540 nearly 2 years ago. Lost coolant, caught it quickly, but the car did reach "red" tempature levels. Dealer said the car recorded the event in the "codes" and that they would recommend a number of "things" that added up to big bucks. Did the compression test and all cylinders were within spec so did nothing else. That was 20K miles ago and the car still performs GREAT at 115K miles. You should be fine! Happy driving!
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    Dmarque

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    Sorry for the late response and it appears that you are squared away but as a matter of discourse I thought I'd throw in my 2 cents from a couple of related personal events.

    I recently replaced the upper head gaskets and the radiator reservoir on my 2003 E-39 M-Sport (6-Spd). As we all know the radiator on these vehicles is far from BMW in quality and often needs replacement at > 80M miles due to a high % of plastic parts. So far the reservoir was the only problem. I have been told that a leak may be a leading indicator of further radiator problems. So I am watching the garage floor intently as I've crossed 90M miles.
    PS....Easily overlooked can be is a non-operational fanclutch . TIP: See if Auxillary Fans are coming on when they should not!!

    The upper head gaskets were replaced after I noticed some oil dirippings. After a supportive "dye test" we found that new gaskets were in fact needed. The work was done and the leaks have disappeared. The car runs great but I remain vigilant as I want to keep this girl forever even if at some point she isn't my daily driver. STILL Love the car!

    jeanm guest

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    What are "upper head gaskets" ? Are you talking about valve cover gaskets?
    • Member

    granthr

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    The radiator on my 03 540i Sport blew at 58K. It happened on the test drive and I still bought it. :) Temp never went above 3/4 and everything seems fine.

    I put a Zionville all aluminum radiator in it. The thing is a work of art! The old radiator was so brittle that as I was pulling the old hoses off of it, it continued to crumble in my hands!

    On a side note I got a water pump from one of our favorite BMW parts suppliers and was appalled at the lack of quality of the part and the big ole "Made in China" sticker. The quality difference was unbelievable compared to what was on the car. Need less to say I sent it back and got the part from my local dealer, which match the quality as what came off the car.

    The parts warehouse's pump's turbine was cast not machined as on the original part. The strange thing is that it was an OEM part.

    jagman212000 guest

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    Coolant test

    Check with your shop to see if they have a head gasket leak detection kit. It is basically a suction device with a chemical addititve that changes color when combustion gasses are present in the cooling system. I know you can buy then from some auto parts stores but I don't know the price. Also along with the other posts compression and leakdown test should be done. This will help you decide what to do with your baby. Hope this helps some.

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