After some fifteen years of being blessed with company cars, I found myself leaving my employment with the knock on effect of losing my company car. Over the years I’ve been lucky enough to own a couple of MX-5’s, a couple of fast diesel’s and a constantly broken Ford Focus.
During this time I have been cosseted and living in a fluffy world where car servicing and repairs simply didn’t exist to me. Servicing, a call or click away, new tires came from a man in a van who would come to my house and fit them for me. All paid for by my lease company, no bother no fuss just click or call and it gets done.
After all this time I found myself out in the harsh real world of used cars and the associated pitfalls. I will admit to not knowing how to even tax a car of my own anymore, let alone obtain insurance on the thing.
Then there is the most important question, what car to choose. There was only one choice for me, a car that I had yearned after for many years, the BMW 5-Series E39.
The E39 5-Series to me is one of the greatest looking cars that BMW has ever produced. It looks better now than it did in the late 1990’s. To me, it is vastly better looking than the E60 that came after it.
Now for the toughest car related task I have ever faced, finding an E39 that was not a complete shit-show of overspray and years of mechanical negligence.
2003 BMW 525i Touring M-Sport ‘The Shed’
This was an 87k mile example with 3 owners and described by the dealer as ‘in excellent condition with a full-service history’. It was also not too far from where I live so win-win or so I thought. Myself and my mechanically wise (and very tall) friend Andy went to view this shitbox and were greeted with a shed of a car covered in overspray.
Also evident was poorly repaired damage to both sides of the car from impacts, this coupled with visibly weak efforts to mask off the bonnet during repainting meant all of the red flags were flashing like the warning lights on a dashboard. During this viewing, I had to ask myself ‘how hard can it be to mask off the wheels of a car during repainting’ as clearly the person who was tasked with repainting this shitbox must have missed this lesson as one of the wheels was pretty much a matching color to the car.
It was so bad we didn’t even bother lifting the bonnet. The asking price for this shitshow, £3,000 of your English pounds, please. Yeah right.
2001 BMW 525i Saloon SE ‘The 525i With No Idea’
After running away from the touring as quick my legs would carry me (wise mechanic Andy was far quicker due to being far taller) I happened upon a one owner example of a manual boxed 525i SE in Birmingham.
This E39 had covered a mere 108,000 miles in its much-loved life. For all intents and purposes, it appeared to be a minter. This allowed me to overlook the fact of the dark green paint and cream leather combo that wouldn’t look out of place in your great granddad’s games room.
At this time my mechanically wise friend Andy would contact me on an almost daily basis to check I was still alive as he was worried if I hadn’t called him to discuss some shitbox of a 5-series that I might be dead.
To avoid wasting both mine and my own and my tall mechanically wise friends time I thought it would be a good idea to get as much background as possible before heading to the toilet known as Birmingham.
From the Auto Trader pictures, I was able to confirm where the car had its 97,000-mile service. This was fairly easy, call the BMW service center and ask them to confirm. Indeed they confirmed the fact that the 97k mile service was indeed a brake fluid change only. No plugs, no oil or anything.
They also kindly confirmed that this 525i was indeed purchased from them back in 2001 and had been serviced by them through its entire life. From here, however, it all began to get a bit crappy.
Upon enquiring if the car had ever had a clutch fitted, the resounding answer was a firm no, had the gearbox oil ever been changed, again a firm no.
At this point, I decided to be brave and call the seller who wanted a mere £1,600 for this seemingly pristine example with a full-service history.
Once the pleasantries of confirming there was an actual car for sale and that it was, in fact, a green BMW 525i the conversation quickly went to shit from there:
Seller: The car has a full-service history mate, all the stamps in the book are from the main dealer.
Me: Has the car ever had a clutch fitted.
Seller: It has a full-service history, all stamps in the book.
Me: So, has the car ever had a clutch and when was the last service and what was done?
Seller: It has a full-service history, all stamps in the book (getting irate with me), the last service was at 97,000 miles.
Me: I confirmed with the dealer, that was a brake fluid service only, so has it been serviced since as that was in late 2015.
Seller: It has a full-service history, all stamps in the book (getting more irate)
Me: Are you saying this car has not had a proper service for almost 18,000 miles?
Seller: It has a full-service history, all stamps in the book (getting very very irate)
Seller: Puts the phone down.
To the used car sellers of the world, if you’re trying to sell a car it pays to show a little bit of knowledge about what you’re selling you f**king idiots.
At 16 years old, not servicing a car for 18,000 miles is a no brainer, it’s not good at all and is likely to lead to one place. The land of massive f**king repair bills and misery. Oddly enough this car is still for sale today.
2002 BMW 530i SE ‘I won’t sell it you to unless your a nice person’
I happened upon this 2002 530i, again not too far from where I live. A three owner car with 67k miles originally owned by the seller’s late father. Now, I have total respect for the family connection and what it means to the seller.
After seeing this example up for sale for almost two months with various price drops I decided to try my luck with an offer as the seller stated the old classic line of ‘leaving the country soon’
Nothing says to be wary of a seller like they are upping sticks and moving countries, it just raises red flags everywhere. An even bigger red flag is when the seller is a little overbearing with his inquiries into my personal situation as you will see:
Come on, is the seller for real? Apparently yes they were for real and not just testing me. I fear that if the conversation had continued he would have been asking if I voted for Brexit and if I prefer men, women or both. This would have been met with some harsh words along the line of ‘None of your f***ing business’
I get it, the car has a family connection and means something to the seller but when you start asking all sorts of questions and not even bothering to read my responses then I have to walk away.
Again this 530i remains unsold and has just been relisted at £200 over my cash offer.
There you have it, how hard is it to buy a used E39 in decent shape, pretty damn difficult if I’m honest.
The story does end happily however as I am now the proud owner of a 2000 523i with 82k miles in original condition. A two owner car that has actually been cared for and maintained to a very high standard. Words will be here soon in regards to this new arrival.