From digest.v6.n229 Sun Feb 16 22:41:10 1997
From: Don Eilenberger <>
Date: Sun, 16 Feb 1997 16:44:32 -0500
Subject: RE: Buying hints for 535i <E28>

Tom asks (could somebody add this to a FAQ somewhere.. I'm gettin' tired of typing it - and will prolly forget something over time):

>From: Tom Lamb <>
>Date: Sun, 16 Feb 1997 08:56:05 -0500
>Subject: buying hints for 535i
>I just found a 1986 535i and am considering buying it for my general purpose
>vehicle around town and the occasional trip.
>It seems to be in decent shape without laying down in the snow and crawling
>underneath it.
>What are some of the problem areas to look/listen for?
>Any rust areas to watch out for?
>Any transmission or motor problems to watch for?
>I personally am not bothered by cars with 150,000 miles on them if they seem
>to have been taken care of. But most of my experience with high mileage
>cars has been with (dare I say it on this list) Hondas.
>Also, this is in Ohio and what are typical prices for these cars and how
>much further depreciation would be likely in the next 2-3 years on the car?
>Any help would be greatly appreciated.
>Tom Lamb
>91 ITA 1985 Honda CRX

I'll try to take it in order..

I'm assuming this one has 150k miles on it? You didn't mention auto/manual tranny - I'll assume automatic since about 80% were sold that way:

  1. Engine - no specific problem areas - BUT - the bolts holding the oil spray rail down (and feeding the oil) will loosen up if they haven't been converted to the new style. The new style are indicated by a machined groove in the head of the bolt - if you can see the bolt - it is obvious. If not - assume this should be done. Parts are about $10 - labor is next time the valves need adjusting - do it. The rest of the engine is pretty much bulletproof if given any care at all (regular oil changes, an occassional tuneup). Uses a timing chain - life unknown, only heard of one giving anyone trouble - probably due to general engine neglect.
  2. Cooling system - water pump is 50k mile item, fan clutch 100k mile item. Assume the clutch has been replaced once, but the water pump may need doing. Not a big or expensive job. Check car by letting idle for a while - temp gauge shouldn't cross 1/2 way mark by much - if it does, figure radiator may be gunked up.
  3. Tranny - the '86 uses the ZF 4HP22E - an electronically controlled 4 speed with lockup torque converter tranny. Although some DO go beyond 125k miles - most do not. Are there any records that it has been rebuilt or replaced? Replacement with a good rebuilt (BMW or ZF) is gonna be around $3k or so..

Make sure it shifts smoothly (no bangs or klunks), put it in neutral after running it a ways - take foot off brake, make sure it doesn't creep (sure sign of one specific problem with them) forwards.

Ask about tranny oil/filter changes - when/how often? More is better..

4. Driveshaft - the E28 (and lots of other BMW's) use driveshafts with swaged in universals - meaning that they are not made to be rebuilt if a universal goes south. This can be expensive.. But - there are places which DO rebuild them. Have no personal experience, but have heard OK things about these places. Figure ~$1k for factory driveshaft - ~ $400 for a rebuilt. They are a PITA to get at (exhaust has to be dropped). Also - BMW used 3 different driveshaft designs on this model - one has a rubber flex disk at the front of the shaft (attachment point to tranny) called a 'GUIBO' - these go bad.

Drive it - if there are vibrations that can't be explained by unbalanced wheels - figure driveshaft.

5. Brakes - problem area with E28 - drive at 60mph, apply brakes gently - there should be no vibration in steering wheel. If there is - you'll need pads/rotors for front. Cost about $200 for parts.. labor isn't too bad.

6. Suspension - the shocks/struts are wonderfully long lived.. but there are a number of bushings in the front end which can add to vibration problems in the front end. If there is no record of these being done - figure it's gotta happen - about $400 for all of 'em.

Good FAQ's available for the above two items..

7. Rust - few spots to look: Around the license plate lights in the rear (remove panel inside trunk to check). While there, lift floor cover and make sure the spare-tire well isn't rusted.. this model has aging problems with the taillight gaskets that leads to water in the trunk.. cheap to fix if you find it early. Also - bend down and poke around the jacking points (4 of'em in front of rear wheels and behind front wheels on the rocker panel). There is evidence that actually using them cracks the rustproofing and rust will form around these points.. other than that - not a noted ruster..

8. Heating/AC - make sure it all works - expensive to fix mostly 'cause it's a PITA to work on.

9. Tires - if it has the stock TRX tires - figure on about $600 for rims and real size tires. These puppies are now going for around $180 each, and getting harder to get - plus they are a 20 year old technology.

10. Fuel system - fill the tank completely and then park it so the filler side is slightly lower than the driver side. Check for any dripping down the side of the tank. The tanks rust out around where the filler neck goes into it. Figure around $400 or so to replace it.

General running - this car will not always idle perfectly smoothly (sorta lopes or misses once in a while) - but it should idle at a constant speed (around 650 RPM) - without fluctuating.. if the idle speed changes - it has about a $300 problem. Most of them have been fixed by now. Other than that - it should pull smoothly from idle to redline without hesitation or pauses. It should not ping, and there should be no strange noises from the engine compartment. Try to listen to it when it just starts up with a cold engine - some of them have loose elements inside the cat-converter which will make a rattle like a loose exhaust component. Check the exhaust system - stock in good condition is best - aftermarket is chancey.. stock system can be expensive to replace (~$600) - but seems to last about 60-80k miles. Good FAQ's available on the idle problems.

Other stuff - check all the electronics on it, windows, power seats, On-Board-Computer, the oil-service lights in the center of the dash, and all instruments, lights, etc. There are some little gremlins lurking on this model that are fairly common.. OH, and the power headrests probably don't work - but the fix is $0.00 and takes about 15 minutes per side (there is a FAQ on this).

Run the wiper - on intermittent make sure it is smooth in action.. if jerky (common) - again fix is $0.00 - but a bit of a PITA to do (there is also a FAQ on this).

The above is worst case - and it's better when bargaining to go forwarned.. if the car has 150k on it and it feels good, chances are most of the above items have been taken care of. Some are periodic items (water pump, fan clutch, mebbe driveshaft, probably the automatic tranny) - others are more or less one-time per lifetime of the car.

If in doubt about checking any of the items, or questions about what IS going on underneath - paying someone to put it up on a lift and check is very cheap compared to missing an item..

Hope this helps - and could someone PLEASE add this to a FAQ repository somewhere?? I don't keep it from each time it's asked, and since I don't own an E28 any more, I'm likely to forget it over time.

As far as price - well, hard to say. I traded in BOHICA, an '87 535i(a) with 135k miles on it for $5,000.. the dealer without doing anything to it was asking $9k at first, later dropped it to $8,500. If the dealer did everything it needed, it would have cost them about $3k in parts/labor.. this is in NJ - BOHICA looked very nice, and drove well, but the rust was starting around two jack points, the tranny was doing some odd things (2nd one in the car), and the catalytic was rattling.. the engine was just a strong (and used NO oil) as when the car was new, and all the electronic's worked.. but I'd stuck the TRX's back on it - and it needed a set of 4..

As far as depreciation - the 535i holds it's value quite well.. this car cost about $40k or so new (depends on options), but after the initial hit - they seem to settle out at between $5k and $12k depending on year/model/milage and more or less stay there.

This was in NJ.. your local price may vary, but it sounds like you're in the rustbelt (snow & ohio is a giveaway) so I'd guess $$$ are gonna be close.


Don Eilenberger
Spring Lk Hts, NJ, USA
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