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Buying E34 - What to Watch Out For...

Discussion in 'E34 (1989-1995)' started by JDiazAmador, Nov 28, 2009.

    • Member

    JDiazAmador

    Post Count: 91
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    Hey Guys,

    I've been searching for a nice used BMW (preference for an E36 M3) for a while now. I have noticed that well maintained 5 Spd non-convertible E36 M3's are not that easy to find. I'm located in Miami (the Sandbar on the Swamp) which makes things worse.

    It's easier to find a 2008 M3 for sale here than a 1995 (unless you want one with a garish paint job, 22" chrome rims and 18 inch woofers, then you might be OK).

    Seriously... there was an turbo'd E36 M3 for sale here with a two-tone paint job, and it's claim to fame was "This car was actually in The Fast and the Furious".

    I've noticed that the E34 are reputed to be among the most (if not the) most reliable BMW's ever made, and I've always liked the design. I need to buy a car within the next 30 days, I'd definitely be open to a well maintaned E34 especially a 5-speed 525i/535i or 530/540i.

    The idea of the 3.0L V8 with a manual is particularly appealing.

    What are the problem areas of the E34 that you would look at closely if inspecting a used car for purchase?

    BTW, are all E34's 50-state cars? I need I can I can register in CA without too much trouble.

    Thanks for the help...

    -Jorge
    from the Sandbar (and soon to be from LA ;-)

    ***
    UPDATE:

    I just noticed further down in the forum that someone had asked a nearly identical question and got a good answer with links.

    So let me ask this:

    Which are more reliable, the E34 straight-6 engines, or the E34 V8's?
    • Member

    az3579

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    Get the straight 6. Besides, finding a 530i with a manual is going to be harder to find than a "decent" '95 E36 M3. Don't be afraid to look out of state for the ideal car; you'd be surprised how nice of a trip it can be to pick up a "new" car. :D
    • Member

    eam3

    Post Count: 324
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    E34s are great cars but I think the title for most reliable still goes to the venerable E30s.

    Without question go for the 6 cylinder if you want long term reliability.
    • Member

    JDiazAmador

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    Believe it or not I've seen more than one 530i manual for sale online right now. The scary thing is, no way to know if it's Nikasil until you put the car up on a lift.

    I've been thinking the same thing about out of state purchases. But how does one go about it? Can I get a temporary registration and then bring the car back to Florida with a temp plate? Will I have to pay sales tax in the state I purchase in if I am taking the car immediately out of state?

    I've got a FL tag for the car, but I couldn't put it on until I bring the car to FL and transfer the registration.
    • Member

    eam3

    Post Count: 324
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    We recently sold a 325i to a buyer from out of state. All we did was go to the DMV where they provide a temporary tag (just like the dealer does) that expires after 14 days or so. Then when the buyer got home, he went to the DMV at his state and registered the car there. That way he could drive it home and everything was on the up and up.
    • Member

    JDiazAmador

    Post Count: 91
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    Ed,

    Thanks for the info. I'm guessing you must be in Florida since you're in the Everglades chapter. So I guess the procedure you describe is the one in FL.

    I'm located in Miami but I will be relocating to LA this coming January.

    BTW, I've noticed in looking at a *ton* of used BMW ads, that the E34 straight-six cars are the only ones I see for sale with over 250K miles. That says a lot.

    trevortheleper guest

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    530i V8

    I have a 1995 530iT and Love it. but it will nickel and dime you to death over a Inline 6. At 14-18 years old just about everything under the hood gets brittle and every gasket leaks. Electric motors and actuators in the doors will go out if they have not already gone out. Having said that its still a great car. Overall I have Spent around $5,000 on repairs in almost 3 years. about $2,500 on the engine rest was bits and pieces on the body electrics ETC.

    Johan guest

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    I bought a 95 540i a couple of years ago. It had the motor replaced by the dealer due to the Niksil/ Alusil thing.
    I dont know but I was under the impression that the motor thing was a 540 V8 thing. I'm by no means the last word on this subject. It is easy to find out which one it has though. There are number in the block on the passengers side you can see most of them from under the car. If you get all of them you can see I can either send you a link to check on it or I can check it out for you. I love my 540. I have installed a 6 speed, eibach pro springs, and things like water pump, valve cover gaskets, motor mounts and other things. They are a bit harder to work on but I really love the car and the way it drives. The sixes are a wonderful motor as I have had several of them also but the V8 what a kick.
    Johan
    • Member

    BMWCCA1

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    Both the 4.0L and the 3.0L have the same Nikasil problem, and for that matter the same problems in general attributed to the V8. At least in the 4.0 you get some oomph to go with it. Not to take anything away from happy 530i V8 owners, but the 3.0 was a downgrade in performance from the 535i 6-cylinder. Ofter referred to now as the gutless wonder, the stock performance got even worse under the campaign to lessen the sulfur problems before the engines were just replaced. I'd much rather have a 525i M50TU 5-speed than a 530i V8 5-speed. I've had both, sold both since they were new, and still today get thanks from those I sold '94 and '95 525i 5-speeds to who tell me it's the best car they ever owned. And I currently own a '95 525i 5-speed. :)

    Stick with a 6-cylinder stick-shift if you want to enjoy the well-earned reputation for reliability that the E34 has. The newer the better, with '95s being the hands-down favorite for reliability and appearance. For all E34s, look for rust in the door bottoms where the lower trim clips to the door skin, worn bushings on the front and rear suspensions, including the shock mounts at the top in the rear. Shocks probably will need replacing. Door upholstery may be pulling loose. The VANOS seal may be shot. Few of the problems are major. If you shop outside Florida you can also find AST traction-control for no extra expense. Believe me, you want it.

    On early cars check for overheating, and head damage from it. Check the plastic radiators, especially on the V8s, and just factor in replacing the radiator if you can't determine when it was last done, and replace the plastic thermostat housing on the M50TU with an after-market metal part. Early M50 sixes had a slew of bad water pumps but the later cars are no less reliable in that aspect than any other model. If you want the reliability of an E30 then stick with the '89-90 525i and you can have that same hamster-cage-like belt-driven camshaft and leaking head-gaskets that sort of poke a finger in the eye of anyone claiming M20 reliability over the M50TU. ;)

    My '95 just turned 170,000 miles and about all I ever do is put gas in it, change the oil, and replace the (17") tires.

    Good luck with your search. It's important not to buy to a deadline. Take your time and find the right car.
    • Member

    JDiazAmador

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    Thanks BMWCCA1, great info!

    I have a fondness for the straight-6 engine, so I could be happy with a 525i. I've noticed that finding a manual transmission 525i can be tough.

    I'm definitely interested in stability control. Despite being a skilled driver (two racing schools including Skip Barber), I lost the back end of my '97 Toyota 4Runner in a Miami rainstorm (at about 35 mph on I-195) and could not recover from the spin (each recovery led to a bigger swing to the other side). Fortunately I didn't hit anybody (but I hit the guard rail and banged up the front bumper).

    Strange thing is, the 4Runner is totally stable. I tried to recreate the problem in wet parking lots, etc and the back end wouldn't break loose. Perhaps it was oil or some such thing. But I just couln't react fast enough.
    • Member

    VA_John

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    My Opinion as an owner

    The 1995 540i or the 1991 M5 would my pick. I am driving the best maintained 1994 530i V8 you've ever seen. And no you can't have it. It's an auto anyway(Ewww- Ruun!). But no, this auto is virgin clean and virgin tight. Mein auto Auto ist gut.

    As far as maintenance/reliability goes, I honestly am not sure what you guys are talking about. Really. My engine was replaced by BMW at 30K miles in around '96. My current engine has 110K miles on it. I have a oxford green exterior, tan and burlwood interior automatic February 1994 530i. I will be making the assumption that you are buying a non-alusil engine. Because.. no reason not to.

    The only difference I've seen between my car and the straight 6 E34's(manual or auto) is that my engine mounts and possibly the flex disk(guibo) fail faster(8 years instead of 10) due to the massive weight of the V8. Other than that and having to replace a few more spark plugs and one more fuel filter regularly, I don't see the difference. I haven't tuned a damn thing on this engine and it just runs, and has done so for the 5 years that I've owned it.

    But all BS aside, the small bore 530i V8 is not an efficient design. You could get more power with the same amount of gas from the 540i. The thing I noticed with the 530i V8 is that it is smooth and stable. Not alot of noise, and no burning donuts in the road, but it will pull your *** to 60 mph faster than you can clinch your sphincter(at least with a Conforti/Dinan chip). It isn't prone to failure if normal maintenance is followed.

    I find the engine is quite reliable and stable. It ain't really doing a whole lot. It's a small bore engine with a crapload of valves. You can rev it past the redline and it just looks at me and says "Yea.. whatever jackhole- Bored now..".

    So my "opinion" since I own the thing is that maintenance and reliability isn't the issue with this engine(if it's a non-alusil). The issue is that the 540 E34 is better. Among the E34's.. if I could get any E34 in the world, it would be the E34 Alpina B10 Bi-Turbo with left hand drive. But damn those limey's. They have'm all.

    The E34 is the best looking recent BMW style in my opinion. Suicide hood. ****ed off grill. Stacked Teutonic ***, and not a hint of the fruitcake "Banglized" and "Ooo look I'm a Camry" japanime blinky eyed bumper.

    The E30 is nice and follows the 2002 vintage style. All props given to it. It is classic, but I still prefer the hybrid of the modern and the classical- but still undoubtedly BMW. So I understand why you're jones'n for a E34. I'm currently having a hard time finding a new car that makes me wanna love it. I kinda like the E39(and it's power) but I don't love it aesthetically. It's like your first love. You always remember her and in the back of your mind you're still comparing the new chic to her.

    Anyhow, if I were in your shoes I'd look at the 1995 540i or the 1991 M5- manual and non-alusil(540) of course. I'm seeing them every so often on ebay. The real problem you have to worry about is that some of these guys think spinner rims, black shades over the headlight, and 2 cm's off the ground makes it look cool and retain it's value. It don't.

    Good luck sir.
    • Member

    eam3

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    The real Alpina B10s are LHD. The RHD models were modified (for Alpina) by Sytner in London.

    Besides the ones imported to Canada in the last few years due to the 15 year rule, there are a handful in mainland Europe. The red B10 Bi-turbo photographed next to the Concorde for Alpina's brochure was left hand drive too (see the 4th picture taken in 2006 in Germany).
    • Member

    VA_John

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    My mistake about the right hand vs left hand drive, sorta. Wasn't really what I was getting at. The only one's for sale seem to be in Europe/UK. If you own one in North America feel free to sell it to me.

    Those pictures are awesome by the way. I think I saw an alpina come up for sale in north america about 5 years ago, but nothing since. If you find anything around give us a holler. It's much appreciated.
    • Member

    eam3

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    trevortheleper guest

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    Buying An E34

    Now a return tothe Original question. 530i or 540i Check to make sure it has alusil block, The 92 or later 525i has a slightly better Engine . the 535i for a more purist approach. the 535i is a lot cheaper to work on than the V8s. But Most of all you're looking at what the previous owners have done in the last 15-20 years. Id want to see a stack of receipts. Good hunting
    • Member

    152531

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    Some 4-liter M60 issues

    Oil leaks at the valve cover: long-term neglect can lead to oil pooling in the spark plug wells, causing misfiring and possibly wrecking the rubber boots on the coil packs.

    Intake gasket leaks: produce lean running. Fairly easy fix.

    PCV oil separator failure: can come on fairly suddenly, sending oil into the intake and producing a smokescreen out the tailpipe. Mounted on the back of the intake manifold. If it looks original, replace it while you have the manifold off to fix the intake leaks.

    Power steering leaks: The car uses Pentosin CH11, so these can get pricey. The return tubing has short lengths of hose (are there one or two? Can't remember at the moment) that can leak badly when they age. The easiest way to get at the leak is to remove the front headlight.

    Other fun jobs: motor mounts, voltage regulator, water pump. If you like to DIY, the V8 doesn't offer a lot of working room.

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