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'94 525i: Keep or Trade Up?

Discussion in 'E34 (1989-1995)' started by Oktoberfest, Feb 17, 2011.

    Oktoberfest guest

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    BMW Nation,

    OK don't laugh...read on...

    I recently bought a '94 525i, 240K miles, for @ $2K. Needed a car in a pinch. My first BMW. Love the way this car handles (in general). Trying to decide to go through car and repair things needing repair or sell it and get another BMW as I'm hooked.

    Bought for $2K; can't spend more than $3K additional to refresh car.

    Pros: straight body, good AC, prev. owner did have new radiator and wtr pump installed

    Needing Attention:
    1) car wanders at hwy speeds; some have said needs both upper ctrl arms. is this likely or do you suspect it'll need more?

    2) trany takes @ 3 secs to engage after shifting from park to reverse; just a delay, no slippage

    3) needs brake job and fluid replacement (@ $250 per axle in Dallas)

    4) wet under engine (oil); oil leaks from cam sensor and valve cover gasket.

    5) car does smoke (from rear exhaust pipe) minimally in cold weather (@ 20 -30 deg F) even after engine is warmed up

    6) arm rests need recovering (@ $40 each in Dallas)

    7) rear doors - inner upper trim is loose - repairable?

    8) driver side seat twist

    9) driver side headrest doesn't work

    10) rear tranny mount broken

    11) belts and rollers are noisy

    Other than that!!!! the car is fun to drive.

    Is the '94 525i a good, reliable car as far as BMW's go? Should I look for a cleaner 525i? Is there a better model? How about the 740iL series (which has more room)? I need some guidance as I am now hooked on BMW after being a Volvo lifer.

    Any guidance on this model or a late '90s 7 series would be much appreciated!
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    I think you'll find that the general consensus is to stay away from the 7s if you're on a budget. Great cars but expensive to maintain and generally require more attention than the simpler 5s or 3s. I've always been a sucker for the E34s but if your budget is really tight, and you don't do your own wrenching, you're better off looking for something newer+more reliable. I hate to say it but BMWs are not cheap to own.

    I too love Volvos (we still have an '02 S60 T5 that's not going anywhere for a while) and they have all been really good to us - but they don't drive anywhere near as nicely as BMWs do.
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    As mentioned, if on a budget, you might want to pass on the 740's, even though they're out there in droves for cheap. The engines alone might require very labor-intensive servicing, never mind the potential problems in the early V8's of the mid-90's.

    It's not unusual for E34 front suspensions to need wear components replaced. Take a look at the front suspension diagram for your car on realoem.com - various bushings, upper and lower arms, swaybar links, swaybar bushings, etc. Check bavauto.com or autohausaz.com for pricing, make sure they're quality parts (shouldn't be an issue w/ bavauto).

    Not sure what the tranny may need, but I can't tell you how long to expect it to last. It may be serviceable to some degree or another which may extend service life - my mom's 740 tranny went out last year at about 100k, automatics are expensive to replace.

    Unless you have rusted brake lines or need calipers, brake servicing shouldn't be exceptionally expensive, and isn't too hard to work on yourself if you're mechanically inclined.

    The engine smoke could be a concern, might be a sign of wear, question is, how much. Oil consumption could be an indicator. Between the engine noise and oil leaks, might need a good bit of servicing. I'm no M50 expert, but possibly have to pull the intake manifold to address leaks, do timing chain tensioners, (or the timing chain if it's too worn), plus the valve-cover gasket, and so on.

    The E34 specific sites I think have noted and documented fixes for the seat twist - something to do with the cables that needs addressing - won't get better unless addressed, as I recall.

    Here's some 5er sites - check them thoroughly, you'll find answers and considerations -


    A good reliable car as far as BMW's go? Basically, yes - the straight-6 engined BMW's are typically the best among BMW's for longevity, reliability, and ease-of-maintenance. Each generation of BMW is typically a more complex machine compared to its predecessor which is a double-edged sword. It tends to make each BMW a better vehicle than it's predecessor in a number of ways, but increasing complexity also tends to make each later model more service or labor intensive in various ways, when it comes time for servicing or troubleshooting.

    Is there a better model? Boy, is that a loaded question in these parts. I think that may depend on your priorities… BMWCCA1 (a long-time club member with extensive experience across BMW's line for the last 40 years) has offered up the opinion that the E60 5ers are the most superior in driving dynamics and handling (or something to that effect, not an exact quote) in the history of 5-series BMW's. That sounds great to me, except the kabuki-theatre inspired E60 styling leaves me cold. Welcome to the land of BMW's - yes, they're great cars, great road cars, fun-to-drive, well handling, and particularly rewarding in skilled hands. They all have their quirks, and model-specific issues, and generally, require regular maintenance, getting into somewhat more expensive stuff as the cars get into higher mileages. Particularly bushings, as there are lots of rubber bushings in these cars in the drivetrain and suspension, plus various seals and gaskets. Thus, it pays to do your homework on any particular model you have, or consider. If you do plan to tackle any work on your own, you'll find the Bentley manual for your vehicle to be an important, useful, detailed resource.

    I can't tell you whether to trade-up or keep it, but…. I woulda told you to get a 5-spd. manual! (but, that's just my preference ;)).

    Keep an eye on the trim on the bottom of the doors - the water drains out the doors into that trim, and if it can't drain out of the trim, can rust out the bottoms of the doors.
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    Difficult question. I agree with what has already been said. Another way to look at this, is A you are on a budget and B you know what is wrong with this car. If you buy a slightly newer car it IS going to need some things addressed as well, which will be unknown at time of purchase. So if this were my situation, I would probably put the money into the car I have.

    Focus on items that are critical first, then items that will improve the drive or appearance (you have to determine which is more important to you). I have an 84 318i that is basically a new car mechanically as well as the interior, but could use a new paint job. (I hope to paint it myself this year). As MGarrison mentioned, get the Bentley Repair manual for your car. If you can just do some of the work yourself, you will save a lot of money. Over time you will have a great running car!!! :D:D

    Just my 02 cents worth!
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    Brian A

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    +2 on all that has been said above.

    Anyway you look at it, $2,000 is inexpensive for a car. As said above, the biggest unknowns (they may not be problems) are the oil consumption and the slushbox and if both turn out to be "little" problems, then you have yourself one cool, inexpensive car. All the rest, you can chip away at little by little.

    A new acquistion always requires work. I bought a 1991 318i with terribly loose suspension. Two thousand dollars of parts later, I had new bushings, tie-rods, control arms, Dinan Stage 1 shocks and springs and Eibach adjustable sway bars. It is now one sweet ride. The big cost saving is that I figured out how to do the work myself; that saved me at least $2,000 labor. Shops never do exactly what you want and they charge a lot of money.

    If you are a perfectionist, an old car will drive you nuts. There are always a million things that need "attention". (I predict you will get used to the slightly crooked seat and just forget about it.) Some people spend tens of thousands fixing up an old car ... but -- given the high price of new BMWs -- they still may be ahead.

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