Answers, What Really Happened to the BMW 535i

It didn’t take but a week after purchasing my 2008 BMW 535i that I had a Burger Motorsport JB4 ready to be installed. I had scored one for just over $300 including the optional USB cable, and that was a major score. I took my time on the installation, which went without a hitch, and by the evening my wife and I were experiencing monster torque from the N54 engine.

The new found power was worth every penny. But it didn’t take long before it was all gone. The 535i was bound for Toronto, Ontario to visit my wife’s family. At least that was the plan. It was partially the reason why I traded in the 2015 Subaru WRX. The Subaru was fun but the 535i was better for family stuff and more comfortable for long hauls. Sure, we have a Corolla, but who wants to drive 12 hours in one of those? Certainly not I.

About a week before the trip, the car started throwing a Check Engine light when applying modest throttle. About the same amount as one may expect if ascending a hill. To the internet, this was nothing new. There were a handful of do-it-yourself fixes for this problem and it started with the ignition. Change the plugs and check the coils. Easy enough.

N54 Spark Plug Covered in Oil
In true procrastinator form I waited until the day before to swap the plugs. Off came the engine cover and what did I see? Puddles of oil, where there sure as hell shouldn’t be! I yelled and I cursed and I called up the dealer. Bring it on by, said the voice on the other end, and we’ll heal’er. Though in a less cheerful manner.

I pulled in the shop bay just a half hour before closing and the service adviser, also the used car manager, assured me they’ll fix the problem. This was just before 6 PM. The technicians pulled my car around back and I decided to take a stroll around the dealership while I waited.

BMW 535i in Service Bay

Boredom was setting in and a salesman stopped by and asked if I wanted to drive a new GTI to pass the time. Hell yeah, I do. It wasn’t my first time behind the wheel of the new GTI and knew how much fun they could be so I graciously took him up on the offer. After returning from a very spirited drive, I lounged around the lobby for roughly two hours before the manager came back out and said, “Mr. Taylor, you’re all set.” But I had my doubts and inquired about what the technicians found.

The manager informed me they found some oil around the plug valleys cleaned it up.

Wait, wait, wait. It took your team how long to do this? Besides, this was far from correcting the problem and I told him I’m not taking the car back until after they replaced the gasket or whatever it was that was causing the oil to venture where it doesn’t belong. Oh, and there is a leak from one of the lines running from bottom of the oil filter housing. Did you catch that too?

The service manager was instantly taken back. I don’t know if he was trying to play me for a fool or what, but I knew better and was not having it. My guess is that since it was not a BMW dealer they didn’t want to incur the possible costs. He recommended I take the car and drive to Toronto like I had planned and see if it happens again. Yes, this guy suggested that I take a vehicle on a trip far enough to cross out of the mileage warranty and gave me his word that if the problem persisted the dealership would cover it.

Hahaha! Yeah, right. At this point I was very annoyed and told him they’re keeping the car and I’m not taking it back until they replace the gasket and the other oil leak with BMW parts. I then called my wife informing her that we’ll need to go get a rental car.

I picked up the car 7 days later. The gaskets were replaced and the oil leak “fixed”. The odometer ticked out of warranty on the drive home.

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Fast forward a few weeks later. There was now a tick coming from the passenger side that was clearly an exhaust leak. Knowing how much of a headache installing downpipes on the 5-series can be I knew there was no way I was going to fix this in my driveway and would require the assistance of my buddy Sean. A week later we get the car up on a lift and by this time the ticking had gotten much louder and echoed through the entire parking garage at the office. Accessing the turbos under the car or from above was nearly impossible. After an hour of trying different technician tricks we were unable to pinpoint the leak but it was clearly coming from someplace close to the turbos. We also found several other oil leaks.

At this point it looked like I’d need to take it to a dealer and I knew how that was going to go. 4 hours to access the turbos. They would need to replace at least a grand worth of parts, or worse, it would need new turbos and I wouldn’t be covered by BMW’s turbo replacement because it wasn’t a waste gate issue. Oh, and 4 more hours of labor to button it back up. I didn’t like this particular 535i nearly enough to invest $2k to possibly $6k to fix.