Old BMWs the 540 vs the 740, advice on which to buy

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hi am looking to buy a 1994-95 BMW and dont know if there are significant differences between the 540 and the 740. Any advice?

nickyjo;I hope you just won the lottery. Both are very expensive to keep running and the parts for a 7 series are harder to get as the car ages.

A doctor friend of mine has a 740, a little older than the one you have in mind. He had a minor clllision and can’t get certain parts for it at any price.

I would say the 540 is a lesser evil, and if you live in a large metropolitan area you may be able to get salvage parts if something goes wrong with the body.

Why you are considering something that complicated and that old and made in the country with the world’s highest wages (i.e. expensive parts), is beyond me.

Both will be expensive to maintain, with cooling systems common problems for both. Figure on replacing the radiator and water pump as a matter of maintenance. You need complete records for maintenance, showing it was done ‘by the book’. The 740 will have more things to break, so the 540 would be better from that point of view.

Me, I’d get a newer 5 series with the 6, say a 2001 530i. Better car, better engine, better reliability, and you’ll probably spend less once you’ve brought it up to date on maintenance.

p.s. - these (540 and 740) are available CHEAP as used cars, because they are EXPENSIVE to maintain.

You need to “google” nikaseal and aluseal engines. BMW had tremendous problems with the engine blocks right around these years (notice I say right around because I can’t remember exaxtly where th bad started and the good started).

The cylinder blocks on these engines would wear prematurely causing loss of compression and oil consumption. BMW stated the cause was “low sulphur fuel” (I always thought that was a diesel thing) but in any case many engine blocks were exchanged. I really can’t believe there are cars out there that have the problem and not been fixed,but maybe.

This engine debacle was propably the largest,greatest problem in the history of BMW.

Manual trans 540’s were very hard on clutches or should I say the owners of manual trans 540’s were very hard on their clutches,driving a manual trans 540 hard is one of lifes little pleasures.

If you have the money my choice is for the 540,and its a easy one.Very high expensive maintiance if you want to keep the car in top form.

I’ve been a BMW owner for over 30 years – everything from a 3.0 CSi to a 540 Sport. The 5-series is a mid-size sedan and the 7-Series is a large sedan – compatible to Audi A6/A8 and MB E-Class/S-Class.

You need to test drive both to see which fits you best. If you frequently travel with three or four big adults the 7 may be the best bet. If not, down-size to the 5 series. These cars were $50,000 – $90,000 new (corrected for inflation). They are now $5,000 (or less) to buy but are still $50k - $80k cars to maintain. If you understand that the purchase price is just a “down payment” you will do OK. If not, be prepared for surprises.

I had a 1991 535i that was one of the most reliable vehicles I ever owned. The 3.5 liter straight six is much preferable to me in an older BMW sedan. They don’t cost as much to buy or maintain as the V8s.


Thanks guys for all the advice. I am looking at a couple 1995 5 series right now both with v6. Everyone has said they are expensive to maintain which is fine. I just don’t have $10,000 to drop right now on a newer used car. Its easier to spend a few grand at time. I am also looking at 1999 528 wagon with the same milage as the 95’s only slightly more expensive, is it a better bet just as a function of the age of the car?

oh and also is there anything to watch out for with a 528i vs. the 540? I am leaning toward the 528, less miles and its in better shape, I assume the 528i was a transition car but I’m not sure of the difference other than that?

Thanks again for all the help

All BMW six cylinder engines are in-line, not V6. My 1998 328i sedan has been one of my most reliable cars – only brakes, oil changes and tires for the past five years (but it cost $13k five years ago, which is not bad as it’s worth $8k now).

All of the BMWs I’ve owned have been great cars. But if I only had $5k to spend on a car, I would not be shopping for a BMW. It’s very difficult to find one in good condition at that price. $10k - $15k is a better starting point. For $5k basic transportation, I focus on later-model Japanese cars. $5k buys a very nice Hyundai Sonata.


The '99 528i is the newer series ('97-'03), so I’d recommend that over a '95. I’m not sure what you mean ‘was a transition’. The 528i/530i has always been the main, best selling 5 series, so I’d recommend it. It’ll be cheaper to run and service than a 540i. Still, it’ll need care, and the cooling system will need attention, especially the radiator.