Garage Report No.6 – BMW M5

Better late...three years worth of M5 updates in one bite-sized chunk

By Tim Kendall | 31st July 2017

Garage Log

Why’s it been so long?

Regular visitors to this moth-eaten corner of the internet might have noticed it’s been three years since the last garage report. Well, I’m happy to confirm the M5 isn’t dead and I haven’t sold it. The radio silence is down to a combination of day job, house renovation and toddler, all of which monopolise my time far better than the dark art of blogging.

The last update in August 2014 struck a reasonably upbeat tone, the absence of wallet-wilting mechanical failure being reason enough for cautious optimism. In the intervening three years since the last instalment, M50 AWT has mostly sat around, having covered just over 6k miles in that time. Happily, the ‘modern classic’ phenomenon means its stock has risen. The unhelpful side effect of it being worth a moderately significant sum is that I’ve used it less for fear of the M word. Yes, mileage. I don’t want to put too many numbers on its pixelated odometer, although now it’s clicked over into six figures, does it matter?

So, to sum up my recent ownership experience; I’ve looked after it fastidiously, lavished it with more hard-earned and rewarded myself by not driving it. Right….Then there’s the reality that I can’t do a 140-mile commute in a 15-year old M5, even if it would swallow the miles more excitingly than my Passat Alltrack and provide a welcome daily diet of V8.

2002 BMW M5 E39 bodywork

A lick of paint here and there

A quick recap

At the last update in August 2014, M50 AWT had just had an ‘Inspection 2’ service at CPC Performance Engineering and was fighting quite fit, aside from the rear anti-roll bar links, which were listed on the service sheet as an advisory. The oily bits have largely behaved themselves since, and it sailed through its next MOT in April 2015, when it also had its coolant and brake fluid changes done on schedule by Oxford-based BMW specialist Mark Purcell. I also asked for an oil change, frankly overkill at 3k miles since the previous one, but such is one’s obsession with keeping it in good fettle.

BMW M5 E39

Things get frilly

So far, so ‘meh’ you might think. And when I say the oily bits have behaved, I’m conveniently ignoring the elephant in the room. A scabby, rusty elephant.

If you know this vintage of Bavarian barouche, you might be aware they can go quite frilly around the edges. Alas, rust isn’t a disease just afflicting seventies Alfas. Apparently German uber barges from the noughties which cost the thick end of £70k when new can get it too. There’s plenty out there on the internet about this, so in fairness I can’t say I wasn’t sort of prepared for it. And to add balance, BMW isn’t the only German marque to suffer, my old Mercedes C43 was riddled with it underneath. Oddly, my old ’97 E39 540 Touring was rot-free, so maybe Munich started using cheaper steel or thinner paint later in the E39 production run…. who knows.

BMW E39 rust

Not my car, but another E39 with similar rot issues around the jacking points  (pic courtesy of Bimmerpost.com)

Fortuitously (or not depending on your outlook) Mark Purcell BMW in Oxford happens to be next door to a body shop, Oxford Crash Repairs. Some internet research told me they know their onions when it comes to BMWs – the E39 M5 in particular, so I asked them to take a look at my car. Whilst outwardly very tidy, M50 AWT had a few visible scabs of rust in the common E39 weak spots. And there’s a few weak spots; the panel beneath the boot lid; the corners of the bootlid; the inside of the fuel filler aperture; the rear edges of the sills and the rear arches – all had the early signs of tin worm. More seriously, the rear jacking points lie underneath plastic covers and make an ideal trap for salty winter road crap, a more expensive and potentially terminal issue. Helpfully, mine had been comprehensively nibbled by the rot in this area.

That left me with two options; a) do nothing, but be angry at the world, or; b) grimace and brace myself for a large bill. Faced with a choice of saving it or letting it succumb to metal cancer, I settled for option b and had a cry.

In fairness, fixing it properly entailed some significant work, including fabrication of new sections for the jacking points and rear panel, not to mention dropping the fuel tank and exhaust system to get proper access to all the crevices where rust thrives and make sure all the bad stuff was removed. I also had the stone-chipped front bumper repainted whilst they were at it, along with some new bits of trim and a new M5 badge for its shiny rump. In all they repaired and repainted the bootlid, fabricated a new section of rear valance, de-rusted the fuel filler aperture, both rear wings, sills and jacking points, before sealing the underside and any new bits of metal. Meanwhile I took a deep breath, swore and handed over £2,400.

Unwanted bubbles

That was a little over two years ago and the repairs seem to be holding up well against the elements – my car lives outside come rain or shine. It had to go back for some tickling with a machine polisher, but all looks spot on now. Sadly, it’s not quite over – there are a couple of other minor bits which need sorting, including a self-inflicted dent from an argument with a wheelie bin on my own driveway. There’s also the terrible rear windscreen tint which looks like the DIY effort of a previous owner using some Halfords’ pimp-spec film and a Stanley knife. Seriously, why subject a car of this ilk to such ignominy? Predictably the tinting film has bubbled all over the place and now looks…shit. I’ve been given a tip about a local bodyshop in Wiltshire, so I’ll head their way when I’m feeling brave. And less poor.

Since then the story has, mercifully, been slightly less expensive. At the MOT in April last year it demanded some new front brake pipes and rear anti-roll bar links before getting a new ticket. And then in August it was due an Inspection 1 service, so I decided to try reputed BMW specialist, Redish Motorsport in Bristol. Having heard some praise about this lot online, I was pleasantly surprised with their….pleasantness. The oil was changed and it got a good going over with a main dealer style shopping list of nice-to-dos to bring it up to A1 standard. They did compliment me on how fit it feels to drive. They were less complimentary about the crap rear window tint. Not so great was their follow up, having attempted to get a quote out of them on several occasions to get the bits on their advisory list sorted. Not much of significance on that list, apart from a slightly dodgy auxiliary drive belt and a couple of other minor things which haven’t caused me to lose sleep. I’m still on the look out for a good BMW specialist in the South West (Bristol/Bath/ Wiltshire). Leave a comment if you have any tips….

BMW M5 E39 airbag recall

Airbag replaced under warranty in June 2017

Details, details

What else of note? Well after Santa brought me a machine polisher and an assortment of polishes, compounds and bits and bobs which would make readers of Detailing World salivate, I had a brief foray into the world of obsessive compulsive disorder. Or detailing, as sufferers call it. Trouble is, once I’d ‘decontaminated’ (cleaned) it, applied a clay bar to the bonnet and then masked it up like a pro, we were late for a BBQ and my morning’s work culminated in a polished bonnet and some odd looks from the neighbours. It looks great now, but like painting just one wall of your kitchen, it’s unfinished. I doff my hat to anyone who can find the time to detail an entire car. At the current rate of progress, I’ll have reached the boot lid by 2019, at which point the bonnet will need doing again.

BMW M5 E39 detailing

Look very carefully. One side is shinier.

BMW M5 detailing

OCD lasted only a short while…

BMW M5 E39 detailing

…before I realised life is too short

Squidgy pipes

I also got my hands dirty for the first time in ages, tackling the replacement of the oil breather pipes. The originals had been subjected to 15 years’ worth of intense heat from the S62 lump and were beginning to collapse on themselves, so after ordering replacements from Cotswold BMW in Cheltenham (£44-ish), I swapped them over. A nice, simple satisfying job, but only if you can manage to do it without dropping a jubilee clip into the fan cowling. Oops. Readers of the last instalment might also remember I had the steering wheel re-trimmed. Well, the airbag was also replaced under recall by BMW in June this year, so it all looks even more spanking new from behind the wheel. I’m genuinely impressed a 15-year old car is still on BMW UK’s radar and credit where it’s due to Dick Lovett BMW in Hungerford, who did the job so quickly I didn’t manage to sample their coffee. It’s also comforting to know that the airbag hopefully won’t fire at random into my unsuspecting visage.

BMW E39 oil breather pipes

Out with the squidgy old pipes

BMW E39 oil breather pipes

…and in with the new. Just don’t drop a jubilee clip…

Stop waffling, what’s the M5 cost to run?

And to the nub of it, what has the M5 cost to run over the last three years? Excluding tax, insurance (and fuel!), it’s had two services, three MOTs, the aforementioned bodywork, bits of trim, plus odds and sods including brake pipes and anti-roll bar links in that time. The total comes to circa £3,470, or £1,155 per year, which experience tells me is on the money for one of these. As ever though, I’m braced for the next big thing. A 15 year-old M car was never going to be cheap to run, but I take solace in the fact the value curve is at least sloping in the right direction.

By Tim Kendall
31st July 2017

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