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Thread: some questions about recently purchased 540i-6

  1. #1

    Default some questions about recently purchased 540i-6

    Hello,

    I posted the following to the UUC digest and was made aware of this forum. For some reason I hadn't come across it in my E34 research.

    I have some questions about a 1995 540i 6-speed I purchased this past September. Apologies for the length but I've kinda got a laundry list and thought some history might be in order too.

    I saw this 540i for sale at a nearby office building and decided I *needed* a car for longer trips than might be comfortable in my M3. I kind of got carried away and bought the car without thoroughly checking it out, driving others, etc. Bad idea, I know, but I just couldn't help myself and it seemed a reasonable deal at the time.

    The seller had a long list of things that had been replaced and through some research it appeared they were the usual suspects for this car with 93,000 miles. That is, radiator, clutch, many suspension bits, block, LKM, etc. I asked him what was causing the check engine light to periodically come on - could it be oxygen sensor(s)? No, he assured me that had been checked numerous times and the gas cap was the likely culprit. I'm too trusting ... I bought the car two or three weeks after first seeing it.

    Well, of course it turned out there was nothing wrong with the gas cap and both oxygen sensors were bad. While it was in the shop it also got a service II, belts, fluid flushes, valve cover gaskets, etc. They told me the tranny didn't need fluid replaced 'cause it was 'lifetime' fluid. I don't really buy that and think I should get some new tranny fluid, probably diff too. I guess I should mention I took it to the local dealer - maybe another bad move.

    It had a bumpy-ish ride and some sad looking Borbet wheels and pretty worn-out tires so I'm thinking some round wheels and tires will fix that vibration thing and I'll be good to go. So, off to TireRack for some wheels and tires which made it a little better but the ride still isn't right. Darn.

    After driving it more I noticed it had a vague on-center feel that caused it to wander around, especially on the highway. I found on the e34.net site the how-to on tightening the nut connecting the steering shaft spline to u-joint - did that and what a difference that made! I had already taken the dash parts off to fix the electric steering column adjuster so it was real quick to get in there the second time. I also fixed the driver side headrest adjuster using e34.net resource.

    The car also seemed to dive excessively on braking, lift on acceleration, and roll on cornering. At first I just presumed that was because it was heavier and 'softer' than I was used to in the //M car. After a while I realized struts/shocks must be in order - it's a BMW after all, not a Cadillac, and shouldn't do this. After some amount of figuring out what to get I ordered some Eibach springs and Bilstein dampers - my brother and I installed them and away went all the rolling, diving, etc - the slight lowering looks pretty nifty too. We also installed new rear brakes. I was worried about the ride being too harsh but it seems ok, although the irritating vibration/bumpy thing is still there and maybe a bit more noticeable now which I kind of expected - until I fix it, which I'm determined to do.

    So far, I'm into this for a fair amount of $$$ more than I was expecting but I can't just leave it in the shape it was in.

    This is where I am at the moment. I've spent a fair amount to get some things right and still have a little (hopefully) way to go. I suppose at some point I should decide it it's worth dumping more money into - if not sell it, likely at a large loss, go find a nicer example and chalk it up to experience. I really like the car though and wouldn't mind fixing it up if it's feasible and not horribly exhorbitant.

    So, finally to my list of symptoms/questions and what's next.

    1) The ride: It's hard to explain but it feels kind of like any little bump is transmitted to the body (seat, steering wheel) from 20 mph, or less, on up. It seems to smooth out a bit at 65 or so and doesn't get worse with speed. Oddly though, it's hard to correlate the 'bumpiness' with a particular road - i.e. it might do it on what appears to be a smooth road. I'm thinking it's probably thrust arm bushings and/or some other assorted bushing(s).

    Even though thrust arms were listed among the seller's list of replaced items they didn't show up in the stack of receipts he gave me. I looked at the bushings while we had the car up doing the springs/dampers but couldn't tell much. How do I tell if they're in need of replacement? And if they are should I get the OEM arms and 750i bushings I've seen in a few places as replacements or BavAuto has some replacements with bushings installed? I don't think the dealer prices, even w/ CCA discount, are something I want to pay unless I have to.

    2) clutch: it was replaced < 20,000 miles ago but dis/engages really high. i.e. if you rest your foot on the pedal it starts to disengage. Is that right and, if not, how might it be corrected?

    3) burning rubber smell: I periodically notice a burning rubber smell but haven't been able to figure out where it's coming from nor really how to reproduce it. I think it happens when I put a pretty good load on - i.e. zooming up tight, curvy roads maybe? I had thought maybe it's the clutch but it smells more like rubber than some sort of friction material and clutch doesn't seem to be slipping - but I don't know what a burning clutch smells like on this car. Any ideas?

    4) heater core: I've started smelling coolant in the cabin recently and suspect the heater core. How do I check it and where's a good place to get one if I need to replace it? Luckily, spring is coming so I suppose can put it off for some time.

    5) transmission: the transmission (manual) seems awfully unsmooth when changing gears. It works ok when in gear but going through the gears doesn't come without some thought and making sure it's actually pushed into gear. Even moving between gears at a standstill doesn't feel right. It's hard to explain but it feels kind of sloppy and you have to push it through something to get in gear. btw, transmission mounts were replaced with clutch. I'm thinking some new tranny lube would help but maybe something's damaged?

    6) power steering: When cold (< 35 F) the steering is very stiff and doesn't return to center. It doesn't seem to improve even when the engine warms up. I've noticed I have a leak from the reservoir and got some fluid to keep it topped off until hopefully I figure out where the leak is and fix it. There was fluid in the reservoir but it didn't quite reach the cap's dipstick. It hasn't gotten cold enough since I filled the reservoir to know if that had anything to do with it. Any ideas on this one?

    I'll probably take it to the local independent shop to see about these items but would like to have some clue beforehand, plus I can do some of the work myself.

    Well, that's the saga so far. I hope it wasn't too long and greatly appreciate any ideas and/or assistance anyone may offer.

    Thanks,
    Marty
    '96 M3
    '95 540i 6sp

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Dec 2003
    Location
    around Toronto, Ontario
    Posts
    215

    Default

    Hi Marty,

    A burning clutch does smell a lot like burning rubber. If the previous owner was really bad with it, it might be time to replace it. Don't wait too long to at least get it checked out, because if you keep slipping it too much, you'll overheat and crack that expensive dual mass flywheel.

    Lifetime trans fluid only applies to autos, so that mechanic was outright lying. Definitely have it changed.

    Regarding bushings, sometimes you can't even tell there's anything wrong until you pull them out (ie the only symptoms being a vibration at highway or a little slower speed).

    The bumpy ride is thanks to your suspension upgrade. But if it's worse than your M3...then something is probably wrong (maybe wrong shocks?).

    The Getrags BMW uses have really long throws so they all have kind of a sloppy feel unless you install a short shifter (got one on my M5, world of difference, but it does take some muscle to shift quickly). The new oil will make a difference. Don't go for the fancy Redline MTL. It's too slick and makes shifting too notchy (esp 1st and 2nd). Get good ATF (like Mobil1 or Redline). The sloppy feel could be due to a worn delrin bushing on the shifter (I think that's what it's called - it's a plastic ball on the lever that the lever pivots around).

    Don't get rid of the car! Pretty much all the stuff you're describing so far is something just about everyone around here has had to go through (unless they got super lucky and bought a car from one of "us").

    Good luck,
    Dmitry

    Quote Originally Posted by mfraiser
    Hello,

    I posted the following to the UUC digest and was made aware of this forum. For some reason I hadn't come across it in my E34 research.

    I have some questions about a 1995 540i 6-speed I purchased this past September. Apologies for the length but I've kinda got a laundry list and thought some history might be in order too.

    I saw this 540i for sale at a nearby office building and decided I *needed* a car for longer trips than might be comfortable in my M3. I kind of got carried away and bought the car without thoroughly checking it out, driving others, etc. Bad idea, I know, but I just couldn't help myself and it seemed a reasonable deal at the time.

    The seller had a long list of things that had been replaced and through some research it appeared they were the usual suspects for this car with 93,000 miles. That is, radiator, clutch, many suspension bits, block, LKM, etc. I asked him what was causing the check engine light to periodically come on - could it be oxygen sensor(s)? No, he assured me that had been checked numerous times and the gas cap was the likely culprit. I'm too trusting ... I bought the car two or three weeks after first seeing it.

    Well, of course it turned out there was nothing wrong with the gas cap and both oxygen sensors were bad. While it was in the shop it also got a service II, belts, fluid flushes, valve cover gaskets, etc. They told me the tranny didn't need fluid replaced 'cause it was 'lifetime' fluid. I don't really buy that and think I should get some new tranny fluid, probably diff too. I guess I should mention I took it to the local dealer - maybe another bad move.

    It had a bumpy-ish ride and some sad looking Borbet wheels and pretty worn-out tires so I'm thinking some round wheels and tires will fix that vibration thing and I'll be good to go. So, off to TireRack for some wheels and tires which made it a little better but the ride still isn't right. Darn.

    After driving it more I noticed it had a vague on-center feel that caused it to wander around, especially on the highway. I found on the e34.net site the how-to on tightening the nut connecting the steering shaft spline to u-joint - did that and what a difference that made! I had already taken the dash parts off to fix the electric steering column adjuster so it was real quick to get in there the second time. I also fixed the driver side headrest adjuster using e34.net resource.

    The car also seemed to dive excessively on braking, lift on acceleration, and roll on cornering. At first I just presumed that was because it was heavier and 'softer' than I was used to in the //M car. After a while I realized struts/shocks must be in order - it's a BMW after all, not a Cadillac, and shouldn't do this. After some amount of figuring out what to get I ordered some Eibach springs and Bilstein dampers - my brother and I installed them and away went all the rolling, diving, etc - the slight lowering looks pretty nifty too. We also installed new rear brakes. I was worried about the ride being too harsh but it seems ok, although the irritating vibration/bumpy thing is still there and maybe a bit more noticeable now which I kind of expected - until I fix it, which I'm determined to do.

    So far, I'm into this for a fair amount of $$$ more than I was expecting but I can't just leave it in the shape it was in.

    This is where I am at the moment. I've spent a fair amount to get some things right and still have a little (hopefully) way to go. I suppose at some point I should decide it it's worth dumping more money into - if not sell it, likely at a large loss, go find a nicer example and chalk it up to experience. I really like the car though and wouldn't mind fixing it up if it's feasible and not horribly exhorbitant.

    So, finally to my list of symptoms/questions and what's next.

    1) The ride: It's hard to explain but it feels kind of like any little bump is transmitted to the body (seat, steering wheel) from 20 mph, or less, on up. It seems to smooth out a bit at 65 or so and doesn't get worse with speed. Oddly though, it's hard to correlate the 'bumpiness' with a particular road - i.e. it might do it on what appears to be a smooth road. I'm thinking it's probably thrust arm bushings and/or some other assorted bushing(s).

    Even though thrust arms were listed among the seller's list of replaced items they didn't show up in the stack of receipts he gave me. I looked at the bushings while we had the car up doing the springs/dampers but couldn't tell much. How do I tell if they're in need of replacement? And if they are should I get the OEM arms and 750i bushings I've seen in a few places as replacements or BavAuto has some replacements with bushings installed? I don't think the dealer prices, even w/ CCA discount, are something I want to pay unless I have to.

    2) clutch: it was replaced < 20,000 miles ago but dis/engages really high. i.e. if you rest your foot on the pedal it starts to disengage. Is that right and, if not, how might it be corrected?

    3) burning rubber smell: I periodically notice a burning rubber smell but haven't been able to figure out where it's coming from nor really how to reproduce it. I think it happens when I put a pretty good load on - i.e. zooming up tight, curvy roads maybe? I had thought maybe it's the clutch but it smells more like rubber than some sort of friction material and clutch doesn't seem to be slipping - but I don't know what a burning clutch smells like on this car. Any ideas?

    4) heater core: I've started smelling coolant in the cabin recently and suspect the heater core. How do I check it and where's a good place to get one if I need to replace it? Luckily, spring is coming so I suppose can put it off for some time.

    5) transmission: the transmission (manual) seems awfully unsmooth when changing gears. It works ok when in gear but going through the gears doesn't come without some thought and making sure it's actually pushed into gear. Even moving between gears at a standstill doesn't feel right. It's hard to explain but it feels kind of sloppy and you have to push it through something to get in gear. btw, transmission mounts were replaced with clutch. I'm thinking some new tranny lube would help but maybe something's damaged?

    6) power steering: When cold (< 35 F) the steering is very stiff and doesn't return to center. It doesn't seem to improve even when the engine warms up. I've noticed I have a leak from the reservoir and got some fluid to keep it topped off until hopefully I figure out where the leak is and fix it. There was fluid in the reservoir but it didn't quite reach the cap's dipstick. It hasn't gotten cold enough since I filled the reservoir to know if that had anything to do with it. Any ideas on this one?

    I'll probably take it to the local independent shop to see about these items but would like to have some clue beforehand, plus I can do some of the work myself.

    Well, that's the saga so far. I hope it wasn't too long and greatly appreciate any ideas and/or assistance anyone may offer.

    Thanks,
    Marty
    '96 M3
    '95 540i 6sp

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Dec 2003
    Location
    Kingston, Ontario, Canada
    Posts
    830

    Default

    Marty, what Dmitri said!

    I love the car!

    You are not alone...it's just a matter of time. Things were running smoothly for me until the heater core just started leaking and I lost the #2 O2 sensor a couple of weeks ago. The car needs some upkeep, but aside from my upcoming Inspection II and fixing the sensors and heater...I'm off to the races.
    That said, the "pain" is well worth the "gain". Although you aren't S-motor powered and don't have EDC, you are getting reasonably close to some /// and 5 capabillities.

    p.s. Oh yeah, I'll let you know how the Mobil 1 Synth ATF smooths out the tranny after this weekend...

    p.p.s. Consider a chip for the beast, they serve to boost low-end grunt of the big 8!

    Cheers,
    Duey

    1995 540i/6 Sport Pkg w/E.A.T. chip and Nikasil injection Duey's Gallery

  4. #4

    Default

    Hi Dmitry,

    It kind of makes sense the burning rubber smell is the clutch since it's on the verge of disengaged and if pulling hard it could very well be slipping. Just didn't smell like my idea of a burning clutch. I'll have it checked out soon. btw, the flywheel was replaced at the same time as the other clutch bits.

    The ride didn't get any worse with the new suspension bits. Dynamically it got much better but the part I'm complaining about just changed a little. The ride is nowhere near as firm as the M3 - it's just got this irritating vibration/bumpy quality to it, with the occasional clunk. My guess is I'll have to go through and replace every bushing I can find - in some order of likely culprits. I was hoping there might be a way to find 'the' problem and not have to take the shotgun approach of replacing everything. But, that seems to be a requirement anyway at about this mileage?

    Hmm, I've been looking at short shift kits for both of the Bimmers. I hear they're a quite nice upgrade. Since they come with new bushings that might fix two birds with one stone. Many people seem to rave about the UUC short-shift kits, and they look pretty impressive. Any recommendations on which brand to get?

    Thanks for your comments - this is very helpful.

    Regards,
    Marty
    '95 M3
    '96 540i-6

  5. #5

    Default

    Hi Duey,

    Thanks - my logical side was saying 'darn, I'm spending a whole lot of bread on this beast' while the other side is saying 'yea, and that's ok - what a sweet car we'll have after it's all worked out!'. I really do like the car - I drive it more often than the M3 now.

    Supposedly it does have a chip of some kind - according to the previous owner so I'll take that with a few grains of salt. Guess I'll need to take the ECU apart and find what it has. Is that the only way to tell?

    Cheers,
    Marty

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Dec 2003
    Location
    Atlanta, GA
    Posts
    236

    Default More on the suspension

    Definitely get the Lemforder parts with 750 bushings for any suspension components you buy. A lot of us buy parts from BMA (http://www.bmaparts.com/cgi-bin/home.php but I prefer to do business with them by phone) as they seem to have about the best prices overall. If you don't have receipts for when those were replaced, that is definitely a place to focus on the ride quality as suspension parts wear out on these cars. At that mileage (my 540/6 has 107k miles) it would not hurt to replace the entire front suspension, or at least whatever has not obviously already been replaced.

    The clunk could be a control arm; the "bumpy" quality could be loose links or strut collar mount or . . . keep us posted, we'll try to help you narrow it down. But it is likely more than one thing, and you should probably replace the steel, not just the bushings.

    As to short shifting, the UUC shifters look real nice, but many on this board have saved a few bucks by going with other stock BMW shift rods such as those from the Z8 and Z3. Ask about that in another post and you will get more opinions.

    Hang in there! Sounds like you just about have this car in top shape. We will be here to help you sort it all out; this board is a godsend for many.

    p.s. definitely get Mark D'Sylva's EAT chip - it will bring life to your car you didn't know it had.

    Quote Originally Posted by mfraiser
    it's just got this irritating vibration/bumpy quality to it, with the occasional clunk. My guess is I'll have to go through and replace every bushing I can find - in some order of likely culprits. I was hoping there might be a way to find 'the' problem and not have to take the shotgun approach of replacing everything. But, that seems to be a requirement anyway at about this mileage?

    Hmm, I've been looking at short shift kits for both of the Bimmers. I hear they're a quite nice upgrade. Since they come with new bushings that might fix two birds with one stone. Many people seem to rave about the UUC short-shift kits, and they look pretty impressive. Any recommendations on which brand to get?
    Last edited by G Feller; 03-03-2004 at 06:23 PM. Reason: fixed

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Dec 2003
    Location
    Atlanta, GA
    Posts
    236

    Default Yes

    Quote Originally Posted by mfraiser
    Supposedly it does have a chip of some kind - Guess I'll need to take the ECU apart and find what it has. Is that the only way to tell?
    By the way Marty, where are you located?

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Dec 2003
    Location
    around Toronto, Ontario
    Posts
    215

    Default

    Hi again Marty,

    Yeah, maybe take it to a tranny shop. Get a guy to testdrive your car, he'll tell you for sure. It's nice that the flywheel was replaced, that bit is about a grand.

    The suspension gremlins are a pain to track down on these cars. Bad front suspension bushings don't cause clunks (unless it's outright broken, then maybe, dunno). But generally a suspension arm with a dying bushing will also have a dead ball joint which is what causes clunks. Those are pretty hard to test. The car has to be under load and the wheels pretty much straight. Then you have to try to reach behind and shake the arm up and down. Otherwise the balljoint will be under load and will bind, so it will seem like the ball joint is tight. You might still be able to tell if you maybe get some sort of long lever and pry it up and down. On my 535, the left thrust arm ball joint wore out pretty badly, and it would even clunk at slower speeds when I would load and unload the front end with the brakes.

    But your mileage is relatively low. But it's getting there, where you should look at replacing suspension arms.

    How is the back end behaving? There is a pair of bushings back there which are probably the biggest pain in the arse. They are big rubber cylinders in the diff carrier which bolt up to the body. When these go bad, you hear a clunk from the rear end when you load/unload with with the clutch at slow speed (like rolling down the street in first). The car will also do some steering by the rear end (really bad ones literally steer with the rear a little, not so bad ones will make your back end jerk sideways when you go over bumps while turning because the body will hop on the diff carrier).

    I actually don't know what kind of kit is in mine, but I like it an awful lot. I don't imagine there's a lot of difference between them. There are a lot of positive opinions about the UUC, so I'd just go with that if I was you.

    I can't believe I forgot BMA. Get all of your parts for repairs from them, don't let your mechanic buy stuff for you.

    Dmitry

    Quote Originally Posted by mfraiser
    Hi Dmitry,

    It kind of makes sense the burning rubber smell is the clutch since it's on the verge of disengaged and if pulling hard it could very well be slipping. Just didn't smell like my idea of a burning clutch. I'll have it checked out soon. btw, the flywheel was replaced at the same time as the other clutch bits.

    The ride didn't get any worse with the new suspension bits. Dynamically it got much better but the part I'm complaining about just changed a little. The ride is nowhere near as firm as the M3 - it's just got this irritating vibration/bumpy quality to it, with the occasional clunk. My guess is I'll have to go through and replace every bushing I can find - in some order of likely culprits. I was hoping there might be a way to find 'the' problem and not have to take the shotgun approach of replacing everything. But, that seems to be a requirement anyway at about this mileage?

    Hmm, I've been looking at short shift kits for both of the Bimmers. I hear they're a quite nice upgrade. Since they come with new bushings that might fix two birds with one stone. Many people seem to rave about the UUC short-shift kits, and they look pretty impressive. Any recommendations on which brand to get?

    Thanks for your comments - this is very helpful.

    Regards,
    Marty
    '95 M3
    '96 540i-6
    Last edited by BigD; 03-03-2004 at 06:46 PM.

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Feb 2004
    Posts
    4,892

    Default

    1. Most likely the thrust arm... order entire unit (Lemforder=OEM) with 750iL bushing from BMA for cheap. I don't know what it is now... but I paid $160 for the set. Probably your ball joints are worn.

    2. Clutch need adjustment and Manual tranny is not lifetime fluid... try Redline

    3. Check the fan belts for proper tension... slippng belts burns. Also check to make sure no rubber coolant hose is rubbing against hot engine.

    4. Coolant smell is not heater core unless you saw physical leak of the unit... Alot of time it is coming from water pump/ thermostat housing... then after that is heater hoses.

    5. Change the fluid to Redline or which ever you prefer and see if it improves... I'd change to regular stuff first to see if it helps... that way $$$ is not in the drain if it doesn't help... then again, make sure you clutch is adjusted properly.

    6. Your tightening of the steering box is too much... which is why it doesn't return to the center... loosen it up gradually until your steering returns to center after turning.

    Any cars requires $$$ spent to get it into shape... some more than other... but once it is done reasonably... it is the most reliable car you will ever own. There is just too many bad mechanics out there.

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Dec 2003
    Location
    Kingston, Ontario, Canada
    Posts
    830

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by mfraiser
    Hi Duey,

    Thanks - my logical side was saying 'darn, I'm spending a whole lot of bread on this beast' while the other side is saying 'yea, and that's ok - what a sweet car we'll have after it's all worked out!'. I really do like the car - I drive it more often than the M3 now.

    Supposedly it does have a chip of some kind - according to the previous owner so I'll take that with a few grains of salt. Guess I'll need to take the ECU apart and find what it has. Is that the only way to tell?

    Cheers,
    Marty
    Hi Marty, yes...you will have to look at the DME and, if you go for Mark D'Sylva's EAT chip, you'll have to send him the numbers to confirm that you're A.O.K. to plug in his chip.

    Follow the instructions at Bruno's E34 site and you should likely see something like this...

    Like Greg notes earlier, unless your front suspension was "refreshed", you'll be looking at least at Thrust Arms (w/ 750i bushings) and likely ball joints and some tightening of the front struts.

    Let us know how things are going...don't give up on your second Ultimate Driving Machine!

    Cheers,
    Duey

    1995 540i/6 Sport Pkg w/E.A.T. chip and Nikasil injection Duey's Gallery

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