BMW 525i -- April 25th, 2005

Every day, I check for cheap BMWs.

Why don't I check eBay, you might ask? Somehow, I don't quite understand the appeal. You see, in every auction, you've got three sets of people: (1) the seller, who's delighted to make a ludicrous gob of cash for something that otherwise would have been binned; (2) the folks who lost the auction, who are now heaving great sighs of relief as they realise they don't have to pay a ludicrous gob of cash for something that otherwise would have been binned; and finally (3) the buyer, who has now achieved the enviable position of being the one and only person on the planet willing to pay more than anyone and everyone else to acquire something that otherwise would have been binned. I don't get it. Gimme a classified ad any day -- where I can dicker with the seller and drive the price down to near zero through the sheer force of my personality.

Now then. All the pundits tell you to only buy a BMW with a full service history and never, never, ever buy one in bad shape because it will cost you waaaay too much and it will never run right and it takes a trained expert to fix these very expensive premium sports saloons.

Nonsense. That's just falling for the BMW propaganda, isn't it? First of all, while a BMW is kinda premium in North America, here in the UK a BMW is just a car. Not the worst thing you can buy, but not the best, either, though the E34 series -- of which this one of the early models -- is noted for its reliability and longevity.

If you're from the USA or Canada, think "Oldsmobile". BMW occupies the same niche over here.

And about the trained expert thing: Yeah, whatever. It may surprise you to learn that a BMW is assembled with bolts and nuts like anything else, and can be repaired with tools, manuals, and common sense like everything else. What, do you think BMW repairfolk are specially imbued with special and rare brilliance in the car repair department? Do you think it takes a PhD in engineering to change spark plugs?

Of course not.

Anyway, yesterday I did my usual search for "cheapest 5-series BMW in the land", and it happened to be in Derby, a mere 11 miles away! So I bought it and here it is, a minute or two after arriving in my driveway:

I apologise for the profound underexposedness of the picture. Naturally, the car doesn't run (much), so I wasn't able to maneuver it -- as I normally would -- into a position ideal for a shot. The previous owner was kind enough to deliver it and that's where he left it. Sweet. We'll get to why it doesn't run (much) in a bit.

At this point, you might be wondering why I'd purchase a non-running car that I've freely admitted is roughly equivalent to an Oldsmobile. Like, how many of you would purchase a dead 1991 Olds 98 and drag it into the yard, as if you wanted to join (or more fully entrench) your position in the ranks of trailer trash? Not many, I'll bet. Look, everyone needs a hobby. This is mine.

Let's see what we've got, before I clean anything or start messing with it, and thereby destroy the pristine nature of its crapitude. Here's a view of the passenger side front wheel, and the only mudflap on the entire car. Note the nifty BMW logo/roundel thingee in the hub.

Here's the passenger side rear. Note the absence of the nifty BMW logo/roundel thingee in the hub. But other than that it's perfect, I tell you, perfect.

Shall we go for a ride? Say, backward and forward three inches with me pushing? Sure, why not. You get in the passenger side:

Note the location of the glove box. Try not to get your feet in that, eh? I'm trying to keep it clean.

Here's the passenger door. Looks pretty good, doesn't it? It is pretty good. I don't want you to think the car's a wreck.

Let's check the map tray:

Miscellaneous trash. How nice! If I'm not mistaken, one of the glovebox hinges is in there.

Here's the antenna:

It's a power antenna. I've never had one that worked for long. Ever. I think the longest I've ever had one work properly -- like, go all the way up and all the way down on demand, without sticking half way or going hmmmmmmmmmmclickclickclick forever -- was a week. Fortunately, this one is broken already so I don't have to endure the disappointment of watching it work for a week before it jams.

Here's a rear view. I don't know what to think of that funky spoiler. It's a factory item, apparently, and it rattles irritatingly when the boot (or trunk, for you North 'Mericans) is shut.

Note the cleverly engineered ventilation system on the right rear taillight lens. Apparently, this is designed to prevent the bulb from overheating. The similarity to "breakage" is purely coincidental.

I crawled underneath, as you do, and discovered it'll need a new rear silencer before long. I should point out that the average BMW exhaust consists of a nearly uncountable string of oddly shaped mufflers arranged like a pearl necklace from exhaust manifold to tailpipe.

Anyway, whilst poking about in the under regions, I found this party balloon wrapped around the passenger side rear axle. What past joyous occasion did it celebrate? What fond dreams, now deflated, does it symbolise? Such philosophical questions a new car raises! I weep gently, but openly.

Now let's work our way from the back, and come back around to the driver's side. On our way, let's note a bit of peeling trim. There's a special glue for fixing such things. Tomorrow, I'm going to buy the largest jar of it they make.

Here we have a factory BMW fire extinguisher. Cool! I feel safer already, and I'm sure it will come in handy the next time I drop burning high explosives on my lap whilst driving down the M4.

Here's the driver's side map pocket. Yay! It comes with a spare chip fork!

Bleh. The driver's seat is a bit ripped. Sadly, this is characteristic of the E34 models.

There's a nice, pre-wired, empty slot for a CD player. Above it, you can see the switch for the fog lights and the knob for adjusting the instrument brightness. Isn't that the most fascinating thing in the universe?

Have a look at the steering wheel:

Now let's take a peek in the rear passenger area. If the car had air conditioning -- which it doesn't -- this would be a vent of some kind, I think. As the car doesn't have air conditioning, it's seems to have been a storage area for the previous owner's candy wrappers.

Now up front again, we note that the driver's side door panel has a hideous wound! Gotta fix that.

Here's the headlight switch on the right, the headlight height adjustment on the left, and a peculiar socket in the middle. I'm led to believe this was part of an aftermarket security system which has since been upgraded. Apparently, at one time the car could only have been started by briefly plugging a special key into this slot to activate the electrical system, and then using the regular key to start the engine.

The centre console...

...can be opened to reveal cassette storage. How retro!

Oooh, nasty bubble on the front fender. It appears to have been repaired at some time in the past. Looks like yrs trly gets to engage in some bodywork.

I just love the way the E34 hood (er, bonnet) opens. Once you release the catch, the front comes up a bit -- like to fool you into thinking it's a normal hood...

...then it opens at the back! That's how a hood should work. Won't have that flipping up at 70mph on the motorway, will we?

Here's a view of the motor. It's the twelve valve M20 engine.

See that coolant hose? It's burst, but that's an effect, not a cause. There's oil in the water and water in the oil, which means it's eaten a head gasket. And that's why it doesn't run (much). I can start it, of course, but running it for any length of time with no coolant in the passages and the lubricating fluids liberally diluted with water? No. Best not.

As with all cars, replacing a head gasket is very easy. You simply unbolt everything that isn't the head gasket, get the nice man at the cylinder head rebuilders to "shave the head" a few mils, plop a new head gasket in the place where you found the old one, and then bolt everything back together -- keeping in mind that a torque wrench is your best friend. Who needs a Haynes manual to do that?

This sticker, found on the ECU cover, indicates the cam belt was replaced at 60,629 kilometres. While it was probably actually replaced at 60,629 miles, I have no evidence that it's been replaced in the 80,000 miles since then. I'll replace it when I replace the head gasket. By the way, 140,000 miles on a bimmer means it's barely broken in.

This is a TOAD Ai606 alarm and immobiliser. It works, as I discovered when I accidently set it off about ten times between 10 and 11pm. My neighbors love me.

This is the fuse and relay box. Note the jumper between fuse number 10 and fuse number 11. This has something to do with the headlights. Brilliant.

Why is there a piece of red tape around the brake fluid level sensor?

Why is there a wee wire attached to this hood switch?

Here's the battery. It's on the battery charger right now, but I don't hold out much hope for its long term survival. These big bimmers like their watts, to the point that the alternator has its own special grill-mounted fresh air intake duct to ram cool air through the field windings.

Here's yer tamper proof tax disc. Expired.

Ah, the ubiquitous pine tree air freshener, known world wide for its unique ability to mingle with musty old-car smell and create a peculiar eye-watering pong that says "one wheel in the junkyard" like nothing else on the planet.

Here's another view of the stereo wiring, just in case you didn't get enough of it the first time. I'm going to leave it like that, and hide the CD and MP3 player somewhere else. Take that, thieves!

And while we're on second views of stuff, get another gander at that glovebox. I think the floor is a great place for it. No more fumbling for the latch!

Here, I was trying to get a snap of the pool of motor oil in the water pump. You can't see that at all, but you can see a bent bracket beside the water pump. The bracket supports a metal coolant pipe. How or why it got bent, I can't even begin to imagine. I'd have to work really, really hard to bend the bracket the way it's bent, yet someone or something seems to have done it easily. I marvel at things like this.

This is the front portion of the valve cover, with the oil filler cap and the distributor guard clearly visible. The popped coolant hose would normally be routed under that cover. I took this picture to point out that the distributor is mounted on the end of the camshaft, which is exactly where it belongs. Why don't all cars do this?

Argh. A scratch in the paint:

And some reddish scuffs:

And yet more scratches:

Enough scratches, already!

Okay, here's a bubble of rust, just above the trim piece on the left:

Oooh! Almost forgot -- the boot, or trunk. Note the water bottle. That's the only thing that was in the trunk. Why? I don't know either.

Look! A nice little tub of spare lightbulbs and bits:

Right! That's it for now.