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From digest.v7.n864 Fri Jan 2 16:28:15 1998
From: Pearson-Franks Family <>
Date: Fri, 2 Jan 1998 11:07:24 -0800
Subject: <E28> Purchase/Maintenance Observations, Part 1 of 3

Fellow Digesters:

In responding to an individual's questions about an impending E28 purchase, I found myself assembling a pretty long (page down if you don't need to hear about E28's, again!) list of things to look for (or avoid) in the acquisition or maintenance of these wonderful machines. This got big, so I am posting it in three pieces, not a WOB IMHO, but opinions may vary. Yeah, maybe I coulda populated a Web page somewhere, but I don't want to work THAT hard!

My observations are just that, not necessarily the Truth (capital 'T'), but _my_ experiences and judgements, leavened with mucho experience from other Digesters. Although not strictly observing Digest netiquette by asking in advance, my thanks posthumously for inspiration, but not quotes, from Mssrs Anderson, Boylan, D'G, Eilenberger, Lin, Stock, Tangen and of course, Welty, without whom this would all be impossible. Or at least harder!

I included wildly personal prices where I could, for ballpark info and potential purchase price negotiation. I look at them from the point of view of the DIYer, parts plus shop time (if required). If I get ambitious, I may add links to the many other, more detailed info also available.

Comments, corrections, additions all welcome. With any luck at all, this will be useful to others who enjoy these cars as much as I do!

Anyway, on to the classic E28 look-for's:

  1. Head Gasket or other work
    • Top end work a frequent 100,000ish requirement. $1500+ for parts (do all belts and hoses, too!) and shop time.
    • Compression or leak-down test very informative, look for 160+ on all cylinders, +/- 5 OK, +/- 10 marginal. If you want details on my many recorded numbers, or a rap on the leakdown test, drop me a note.
    • Easy things to look for in this department: coolant. If someone is concealing a known head gasket problem, the coolant may be clear and/or rusty, meaning they consume a lot, and have been just adding water, or the coolant may be suspiciously clean, meaning added to all the time.
    • Spark plug condition. In addition to the normal interpretation found in every Haynes manual (the color picture page), look for differences in plug color. Cylinders leaking coolant will have _very_ clean plugs. Pressure washed, if you will.
    • Coolant burners (cracked head or bad head gasket) will put out reams of white smoke (actually steam) when they are first warming up. Smells kinda sweet, not unlike coolant.
    • Coolant system pressure and leak-down useful, but not definitive.
  2. Cooling System
    • Normal water pump inspection: check the water pump by rocking the fan, both in line and 90 degrees from the pressure of the belts. Play should be small, and the same in each direction. $45 part, add $200 for all belts and hoses.
    • From underneath with a light, find the 'weep-hole' just aft of the fan clutch mount. Should have no 'tear-tracks' left from a bad bearing seal.
    • Belts and hoses should be uncracked and not bulgy, respectively.
    • Temp guage should run at 10:30 to 12 o'clock under any and all conditions. After a test drive, leave it idling for 15 minutes or so and see what it goes up to and settles at. Anything over 12 o'clock means maintenance coming up. Radiator likely, typical consumable. $240 part.
    • If suspicious of guage/sensor inaccuracy, wrap your hand around the upper radiator hose: if you can squeeze it for an indefinite amount of time, <50 C, not warmed up yet. Hold several seconds, 70 - 90 C, OK. Can't hold 1 second, >90 C, which means trouble. Or, use a candy thermometer. But hey, you probably had your hands in your pockets and NOT a thermometer!
    • Check fan clutch. Should not freewheel when spun, but have a certain resistance. Should give more resistance at temp, but this is hard to 'feel', in my experience. $30ish.
    • Heater control solenoid fails, resulting in erratic heat, or heat all the time. Easy fixes, write for details. $25 for kit which replaces innards.


Larry Franks
Issaquah, Washington
'86 535i
'86 528e - JimC'd and lovin' it!
'83 245 GLT (Swedish iron)

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