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From digest.v9.n730 Sun Dec 20 23:32:36 1998
From: Pearson-Franks Family <>
Date: Sun, 20 Dec 1998 21:57:30 -0700
Subject: <E28> Purchase/Maintenance Observations, Part 1 of 3

Fellow Digesters:

The following notes are a collection of observations and experiences with my fav Bimmers: older 5ers. My observations are just that, not necessarily the Truth (capital 'T'), but _my_ experiences and judgements, leavened with mucho experience from other Digesters. My thanks to Mssrs Anderson, Boylan, D'G, Eilenberger, Levinson, 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).

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!

I grouped the the classic E28 look-for's:

  1. Head, cam & engine
  2. Cooling system
  3. Oil (& oil leaks!)
  4. Other engine compartment stuff
  5. Tranny and clutch
  6. Driveline
  7. Suspension, steering and brakes
  8. Interior, Electrical
  9. General (catch-all)
  10. Head Gasket and other Engine Notes:
    • 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.
    • If you pull the valve cover (which I would recommend) check that the two 12mm head 'banjo bolts' that secure the oil bar to the head are snug. If these are loose this is _bad_ (refer to definition above). There is a new variety with a thread-locking feature, distinguished by a circle on the top. (somebody might drop me the correct part number - I thought I had it, but my local dealer sneezed on hearing it).
    • Check the cam rubbing surfaces: the peaks of the cam lobes should have no discernable wear (using the patented fingernail technique) and the rubbing blocks on the underside of the rocker arms should all appear the same in profile. If the banjo bolts were loose, TAKE YOUR TIME doing this part! If replacing the cam, add $300 to head job.
    • 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 for head leak problems. Cracks, or high porousity areas may not show up with a static pressure test.
    • If you are looking at an 'e' motor and do not have conclusive proof that the timing belt has been replaced in the last 5 years or 50,000 miles, just do it. Better than bent valves, etc.!
  11. Cooling System
    • It's my experience that radiators are a 8 - 10 year consumeable. The E12's have brass cores and tanks and can be rodded out. The E28's have aluminum cores with plastic tanks clipped to them with one-time-use crimps. And, the plastic ages badly, leading to broken hose connections, etc. Not worth repairing IMHO, but some Digesters have had good luck with Reseda Radiator.
    • 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.

End-o-part-1. Larry F.

Larry Franks
Issaquah, Washington
'86 535i x 2
'83 245 GLT (Swedish iron)

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