Long-term update – BMW M5

My third instalment of life with a decade-old E39 BMW M5. It's not been cheap, but it's finally got under my skin

By Tim Kendall | 4th December 2012

Garage Log

It’s probably been exacerbated by the onset of wintery weather, but the E39 has never had the slickest gear shift around – it needs a bit of effort until the vital fluids are warm.

Actually, that’s an understatement. Stirring the E39’s spindly stick around the gate when the temperature plummets is much like trying to pass a cold knife through frozen butter – the shift from 1st to 2nd in particular giving the impression that you’re going to bend some metal. If ever a car needed some mechanical warmth to come alive, it’s the E39 M5. If you need proof just look at that rev counter which glares at you in severe, Germanic orange before allowing you the privilege of piling on some revs.

E39 M5 gearstick

BMW don’t spec a transmission oil service in the maintenance schedule for the E39 M5, but word on the street (or the internet forums) is that changing it can make things a bit more pliable.

Refreshing a car’s vital fluids is something of a no-brainer – the costs aren’t huge and somehow the newly lubed mechanical bits always make it feel fitter and quicker afterwards. So off it went to Mark Purcell – a BMW specialist based near the MINI plant in Cowley, Oxford. As well as the tranny fluid, I also tasked them with changing the engine oil and filter, coolant and differential oil.

BMW M5 E39

Preventative maintenance or paranoia? Well the diff definitely required a once-over as my bat sense had detected the faintest of whines – and Dick Lovett BMW in Hungerford indentified a slight ‘weep’ (just residue around the drain plug as it happens). The original diff oil has now been swapped for OEM branded stuff containing a ‘friction modifier’ – something BMW have long been sticking in E46s and E39s with vocal diffs, apparently. Along with other assorted filters and a new bonnet switch to cure the midnight false alarms, the total bill was just shy of £400. And yes, it feels particularly quick and smooth now. It’s all in the head, I know.

BMW M5 E39

A wash may be in order

If you own an older M car, it’s worth noting BMW dealers are running an ‘M-Value’ service programme to try and grapple some trade back from the crop of independents who deal with the lion’s share of older E46 M3s and E39 M5s. It’s a step in the right direction, but by my reckoning still a sight pricier than using a good independent, many of whom are happy to entertain the kind of tightwads who like to supply their own oil to save money. Tightwads like me.

Shopping around for oil proved a worthwhile exercise – after entering a discount code, Euro Car Parts had 8 litres of BMW M-spec Castrol Edge TWS on my doorstep for half the dealer price. Every little helps.

And in terms of expenditure, that’s not all folks. Since my last report in May, the M5 has had a few thousand miles of ‘shake down’ testing in my expert hands. Thanks to steering which, under light braking had a tendency to wriggle about like Louie Spence on speed, my inner engineer concluded something was a bit ‘kaput’ in the vicinity of the car’s frontal area. I wasn’t wrong.

That  shimmy under braking which led me to believe the front wheels were trying to escape from the hubs turned out to be caused by split brake reaction arm bushes. New reaction arms were duly fitted, but a slight vibration was still there – so on went a set of new discs and pads in a bid to banish the bothersome wobbles. I’m happy to report it now steers with a delightfully meaty heft, whilst there’s not even a suggestion of judder when tapping the middle pedal. The only wobbles now come from my bank balance, which was lightened to the tune of £843 following the aforementioned fettling.

BMW M5 E39 dash

Nicht so schnell! Obey ze proper warm-up procedure.

So there’s been a fair bit of work needed to bring  it back to something resembling the £60k performance flagship that rumbled off the line at Dingolfing in 2002. The onset of winter and salty roads mean the wheel refurishment is going to wait until next year, but ironically now it feels properly fit to drive, I’ve bonded with the big Beemer and I’m gagging to use it more.

By Tim Kendall
4th December 2012


  1. Lee says:

    Love your blog. I’m in the US. So it’s interesting and a light challenge comprehending some of the text. Were all gearheads (petrolheads) so there are few language barriers.
    I have owned multiple E38 740i Sport, and a Benz 500E (totaled). I now have a 95 E420, which is fast and dependable, but as exciting as watching paint dry.

    Currently considering both your choices, E39 M5, and C43. Every car owned before the last 3 (BMW, MB) were manuals. Maybe its time to row my own boat again?
    Keep up the great work.

    • Tim Kendall says:

      Thanks for dropping by – great to hear I’ve found an international fan. A 500E is on my dream garage list – what a shame yours was totalled – they are so rare. As for your car choice – the C43 AMG is a lovely thing – it gets under your skin – but gives nothing like the involvement of an E39 M5. They are chalk and cheese really, but go into both purchases with your eyes open – otherwise they’ll ruin you financially! Oh and at least you’re less likely in the US to encounter the number one C43 enemy – rust.

Got an opinion? Don't be shy....