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E39 528, underpowered and poor MPG

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E39 528, underpowered and poor MPG

Postby Symon » Thu, 19 May 2011 17:50:58 UTC

Since buying my 528 (Manual) I have been a bit dissapointed with the performance.

I wasn't expecting it to be a rocketship, but I have been struggling to keep up with the likes of 1.9 Diesel Golfs, and it is hardly faster than my Ford Puma 1.7

The MPG is also pretty poor, I usually get around 20mpg (Computer says 28mpg)

I have changed the air filter and plugs, but it hasn't made any difference.


The car revs freely enough but seems pretty gutless lower down the rev range. The car is totally standard.

One thing I have noticed is that on a cold start, the revs immediately shoot up to 2000rp, then settle back down to what they should do.

The temp gauge sits in the middle of the gauge, so it is getting up to temperature, and the car uses no oil or water.


Has anyone any ideas as to what I need to look at first?

Many Thanks. :cool:
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Re: E39 528, underpowered and poor MPG

Postby Symon » Thu, 19 May 2011 17:56:17 UTC

Forgot to say, the car has a non-nikasil engine.
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Re: E39 528, underpowered and poor MPG

Postby slim_boy_fat » Thu, 19 May 2011 19:04:48 UTC

How miles on her and what's the service history like?
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Re: E39 528, underpowered and poor MPG

Postby Symon » Thu, 19 May 2011 20:03:51 UTC

103k, with full BMW service history. I have recently done the oil an filter plus the engine sounds and runs nice and quiet.

Not sure how it is meant to compare, but my dads 330ci with an auto box is considerably faster.
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Re: E39 528, underpowered and poor MPG

Postby slim_boy_fat » Thu, 19 May 2011 20:23:27 UTC

But your e39 is a bigger, heavier body with a slightly smaller engine.
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Re: E39 528, underpowered and poor MPG

Postby gappysmeg » Thu, 19 May 2011 20:29:22 UTC

Like Slim said, it is a big old car, with less than 200bhp (when new)... although in my 528, I have never had a 1.9 Golf keep up.

I have heard people blame perished VANOS seals for reduced economy and performance... although I think the VANOS only comes into play at "extremes" of performance (high revs and/or load).

Is yours single or double VANOS?
Last edited by gappysmeg on Thu, 19 May 2011 20:32:02 UTC, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: E39 528, underpowered and poor MPG

Postby Symon » Thu, 19 May 2011 20:31:28 UTC

I was expecting it to be slower, but it is considerably slower. I would have though the Auto box in the 330 may have helped me keep up with it a bit.

Like I also said, my 1.7 Ford Puma is faster.

Maybe I need to drive another car like mine, or let someone else drive it. If it is going like it should do, I am pretty dissapointed with it.

She goes ok on the motorway, but at low and middle speeds I find it a bit sluggish.
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Re: E39 528, underpowered and poor MPG

Postby gappysmeg » Thu, 19 May 2011 20:35:12 UTC

My car does need some revs to really come alive... for example at 80 on the motorway it is at 3000rpm, and will really kick on when floored... the same cannot be said when floored at 2000rpm.

What sort of rev range are you expecting performance from?
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Re: E39 528, underpowered and poor MPG

Postby Symon » Thu, 19 May 2011 21:04:14 UTC

The car does come alive a bit at 4000rpm, but I am expecting performance from about 2500rpm upwards.

I know low rev performance won't be too great, but the car struggles to pick up speed in the upper gears if you are under 2500rpm. Considering it is a fairly big engine I would have expected a bit better.

Maybe I am expecting too much?
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Re: E39 528, underpowered and poor MPG

Postby gappysmeg » Thu, 19 May 2011 21:19:24 UTC

Its always going to be tricky to convey performance/acceleration with words... I would suggest finding a 528 for sale at a good dealership nearby, and taking it for a test drive, see how it compares... bit naughty, but if it puts your mind at rest......
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Re: E39 528, underpowered and poor MPG

Postby Symon » Thu, 19 May 2011 21:36:11 UTC

I might do that, if one comes up for sale.

Thanks for the help. :)
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Re: E39 528, underpowered and poor MPG

Postby Timbo_1975 » Fri, 20 May 2011 08:39:47 UTC

Classic symptoms of a failed MAF. Replace with a *geunine* Bosch one from the dealer. Beware there are alot of fake "Bosch" ones about too.
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Re: E39 528, underpowered and poor MPG

Postby Symon » Fri, 20 May 2011 09:12:48 UTC

Thanks Timbo, I will look into a replacement MAF.

I have owned a few Alfa's and MAF failure affects those as well.

We used to unplug the MAF, and if the car ran better in limp mode then the MAF was faulty.
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Re: E39 528, underpowered and poor MPG

Postby Dick » Sat, 21 May 2011 14:55:48 UTC

Is the performance pretty flat below about 2,500 - 3,000 rpm? Also when you start it in the morning, will it fire almost instantly, or does it take a second ortwo to fire up? If so it will be the cam sensor. I had this with my 523 auto, If teh cam sensor is playing up, the vanos doesnt work properly, which is why it picks up at higher revs. Another tip - buy a genuine sensor - not aftermarket. Getting the codes read will confirm the fault.

Another possibility would be the spark plugs, at that mileage they must be due a change.

I drove a 100,000 mile 328 auto courtesy car recently, which I was looking forward to trying, as I expected that to be quite rapid - but my own car - which has done 205,000 miles was noticeably quicker when I got it back, whether there was anything wrong with the 328 I dont know, i didnt get the chance to ask, but I was quite disappointed!!

The other possibility of course is that the engine is coked up, through the type of journeys done before you bought it - mine was mainly motorway miles until I bought it. Perhaps all it needs is a good dose of Redex or similar and a good 200 mile trip to de coke it!

Good luck

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Re: E39 528, underpowered and poor MPG

Postby Symon » Sat, 21 May 2011 15:07:01 UTC

Thanks Dick,

The performance is quite flat between 2500 and 3000rpm, but the car will pick up speed if asked, abeit pretty slowly. The car does fire up quickly when first started from cold or hot, but as I mentiond on my original post the revs shoot straight up to 2000rpm, then settle back down again when started from cold.

Would a failing cam sensor bring up a warning light on the dash? I have no warning lights present.

The plugs have been recently done by myself, the colours of them looked normal. The car is the same now as it was before they were changed.

As for being coked-up, it might be.. I suppose 103k is quite a low mileage for a 14 year old car, which would suggest it has done mostly short journeys.
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Re: E39 528, underpowered and poor MPG

Postby Dick » Sun, 22 May 2011 08:16:15 UTC

If you have changed the plugs etc , that rules out that as an issue! I dont know what age your car is, but on my 98 model - no lights for engine management faults, it has to be code read - ideally by an indy - 1/2 the price of a main dealer! the 2,000 rpm on start up is definitely not right, nor will it be good for the engine! It should fire up almost instantly and settle to a steady 600 odd rpm. I take it you dont touch the throttle when you start it - alll you should do is turn the key.
There are lots of things that could be a cause, dirty air mass meter, throttle position sensor, an air leak somewhere - or a blockage in the engine breather, injectors in need of a clean, partly blocked cat or exhaust etc.

The cam sensor doesnt cause a rev surge - just longer cranking time to start and quite lethargic performance below 2,500 revs + poor fuel consumption - mine dropped to about 20mpg when it was faulty. Mine is a single vanos M52 engine, and I find the performance is not especially rapid until you hit above 3,000 rpm - it certainly goes then!!

If it is coked up - try a can of Forte injector cleaner plus a god high speed run, it is good stuff, you may need to hunt around to find a supplier, as it is supposed to be trade only, but if you get stuck - there are a couple of places that you could try that I know stock it, or try Ebay.

Rich. (dont know why a name should be banned??)
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Re: E39 528, underpowered and poor MPG

Postby Symon » Sun, 22 May 2011 09:34:59 UTC

Thanks again Rich. My car is a 1997 single vanos model.

I didn't think the 2000rpm on startup was correct, I don't touch the throttle when starting it. It only does this 2000rpm on startup when the engine is cold however.
I may try doing the obvious things like cleaning the air mass meter and checking for air leaks.

I don't think the exhaust is blocked, as the car does pick up at higher RPM. Once I did have a car with a blcked exhaust due to a broken cat, and the performance at higher RPM was far worse than at lower rpm.

Is there any way of connecting the car to a laptop, and reading the fault codes that way? I know you can do this on quite a few cars now if you have the correct programme and cable.
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Re: E39 528, underpowered and poor MPG

Postby Symon » Sun, 22 May 2011 09:54:05 UTC

Rich, do you think one of these would do the job of reading the fault codes?

http://cgi.ebay.co.uk/BMW-Ediabas-INPA- ... 2563ef296b
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Re: E39 528, underpowered and poor MPG

Postby Blue Oval » Mon, 23 May 2011 12:50:10 UTC

Sorry if this has been mentioned already but this also sounds like classic symptoms of a set of failed VANOS seals.

Beisan Systems sell replacement seals, apparently once fixed they improve the low down torque and grunt of the engine.

I've got two cars with the 3.0 M54 engine, one of them has bag loads of low down torque, the other, none. I'm thinking of having the seals done myself...
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Re: E39 528, underpowered and poor MPG

Postby Symon » Mon, 23 May 2011 15:36:49 UTC

Thanks Blue Oval.

I carried out an experiment earlier today. I unplugged the MAF and went for a drive. The car drove pretty much the same, but with zero grunt under 1500rpm.
However now I have plugged it back in the car is much improved over what it was at the beginning.

If it stays like this I will be happy.

How difficult are Vanos seals to change just out of interest?
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