E39 M5 S62 Engine Reliability

IMG_1030A very common topic, S62 longevity.  I could write a book about this, but I’ll try not to. Firstly… I am no expert.  I’m just an owner of an E39 M5 for a little over 7 years, and 55,000 miles now.  I am fairly active in the community though, so I do feel that I can talk about this some.
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The S62 can last 300,000 miles.  The S62 can also fail at 40,000 miles.  There seem to be many more instances of higher miles than lower, however.  These are the primary weak points of the S62:

  • Rod Bearings  The bearings that surround where the 8 piston’s connecting rods attach to the crankshaft are wearable parts. No surprise, all rod bearings wear, especially with high-revving, high-output V8s. They can wear faster if you use the wrong oil, lug the engine at low RPMs, or drive the hell out of the car on a daily basis, over a long period of time. The S62 was hand built, so each engine can be different. My 2000 M5’s original engine had exactly 192,000 miles on it, with original rod bearings, and no sign of failure when I removed it. The problem with the bearings is, by the time you start to hear the knocking of failing bearings, it can often be too late to simply replace the bearings ($2,500 job or so) and then move on. The force of the pistons slamming into the crankshaft with the play can easily destroy (score) the crankshaft, at which point, the engine needs to come out and be opened up to remove and replace the crankshaft if it indeed cannot be repaired by machining. Now we might have a $5,000 – $7,000 job, or more. If the piston breaks off the crankshaft, it can go up and destroy the valves/head of the engine, at which point the engine is pretty much scrap metal, or an interesting conversation piece for your living room. While rod bearing failure is not terribly common… it happens.
  • Timing Chains  The timing chains themselves are largely bulletproof- but there are two weak points in the design of the engine’s timing. 1, the chain tensioners. There are a few hydraulic chain tensioners that resemble a hot dog inside the engine. They keep the chain tensioned, so it doesn’t slack and rattle around inside the motor. Over time (100,000 miles or so) these tensioners loose their ability to hold the timing chain tight. It’ll run about $100 and an hour’s labor to replace the main tensioner (front, lower left of engine).  When/if the tensioner fails, now the chain is slapping around- which speeds up the inevitable failure of the 2nd issue with the timing system: chain guides. The chain is guided around the front of the engine by a series of plastic timing chain guides. Why plastic, BMW, WHY!? Should the guides fail, now the chain is at risk of coming off, which can lead to the engine’s timing to advance or retard to the point of the valves colliding with the pistons, ruining the engine. Replacing the timing chains, guides, and tensioners all at once can be a $5,000 job, as the whole front of the engine has to be taken apart. At 192,000 miles, all of my timing system was original, with the exception of the primary tensioner, which I did 2 years ago at about 175,000 miles.  My setup had no chain slap at all.  The gentleman that bought my old S62 rebuilt it before putting it in his project E30.  He asked me when I did the timing guides last, noting that they looked pretty new!  I informed him that they were original; he was shocked.  You can generally tell fairly easily if your S62 (or in a car you’re considering buying) is slapping around inside the car.  With the engine at idle, slowly unscrew the oil fill cap.  Don’t remove it completely, but put an ear down near there and listen.  If any sort of a slapping noise gets way louder when you partially lift off the oil fill cap, then you probably have chain slap.  Be careful while you’re down there, hot oil can spray around a bit.
  • VANOS  The VANOS (variable valve timing for intake/exhaust valves) is also way over-hyped. The S62 doesn’t sound good at idle, period. It rattles like a diesel. This gets worse as the VANOS ages, and the splines that drive the system develop some play. Until this is really bad, there is no lack of performance or negative impacts, aside from the rattling sound. It also can make some unpleasant rattling on startup as well, but this is very common, and not really anything to worry about.  The startup rattle is caused by a lack of oil pressure in the system, so when the engine fires, the gears are running dry and clattering around until a stream of warm oil is pumped up to silent and lubricate them.  If the VANOS seals begin to fail, then timing can suffer, and it can trigger check engine lights and lower power output. Rebuilding the VANOS can be done for around $1,000 in parts (through Dr. VANOS), but the front of the engine has to come apart a good bit- although it can stay in the car.  My VANOS, at 192,000 miles, was largely original. There was no check engine light, no loss of power, but plenty of rattle. In 2006, under warranty, the dealer replaced the rubber seals in the VANOS units, that was the only service.
  • Carbon Buildup  Ignore this, it’s so over-hyped in the community. There are passages within cylinder heads that inject air from the secondary air pump into the combustion engine’s chambers on startup to lean out (over supply oxygen) to make the exhaust hotter, which then warms the catalytic converters faster.  These passages in the heads are too narrow in their design, so they get plugged up with carbon deposits (all S62s burn a bit of oil, it’s the nature of a racing-derived V8). When the passages get plugged up, it throws a code:  AA, Secondary Air System, Flow too Low.  I have a Shark tune on my ECU to disable the AA code, so I have no warning light for it. There is no loss of performance or any down-side, except the annoyance of having the light on if you don’t have a tune. The 2001-2003 engines are a little better, as they drilled the passages wider, but they can still get clogged up.
  • Normal stuff. The S62 is a complex engine. It has a lot of electronic sensors that simply need to be replaced every so often. Sensors like the Camshaft Position Sensors (CPS), oxygen sensors, throttle position sensors, spark plugs, thermostat, Mass Air Flow sensors (MAFs) need to be replaced eventually. I have done all of the aforementioned sensors in my car at some point during my ownership. If you have some basic automotive experience, and a decent set of sockets, you can these yourself. Gaskets also fail over time, commonly the valve cover gaskets, oil pan gasket, oil filter housing gasket, and the rear main seal on the S62.  Head gaskets seem to be pretty solid, though.  Mine were done at 108,000 miles in 2008 just because the engine was apart.  They were not leaking then, nor at 192,000 miles.
So, is the S62 a reliable engine?  Absolutely, yes.  But, not unlike any other engine nearing the 200,000 mile mark, they have some key areas of concern.  Which is why I purchased a 2002 E39 M5’s S62 with 122,000 miles on it for my car.  I have had new rod bearings, timing chains, guides, tensioners, rebuilt VANOS, and around eight-thousand other parts installed in this newer engine.  It was almost completely rebuilt, minus the piston rings (S62 has an alusil block and cannot be honed for new rings).  The compression on each cylinder was all in-spec as well.  A new S62 from BMW, installed, is around $30,000.  _
Find an S62 that has been taken care of and looked after over the years, continue to do the same, and it should take you 200,000 or more largely trouble free miles._
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Happy motoring,
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Ryan Schultz
E39Source
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2000 BMW E39 M5, Silverstone Metallic. 2002 BMW E46 330xi, Topaz Blue Metallic. BA Business Management, Kent State University. E39Source Owner.

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56 thoughts on “E39 M5 S62 Engine Reliability

  1. Hi Ryan. I just ran across this board when I did a quick search for S62 engine. Great stuff!

    I put my deposit down in early 1999 and picked up my M5 in early Jan 2000. I drove it lightly for first 10 years, putting only about 40,000 miles on it. Since then I decided I might as well drive it as neither of us are getting any younger, and now have 112,000. It still is very tight and the engine performs and sounds great. I receive many compliments to this day on the car.

    No major repairs, however the rear differential went out early at 30,000, but was under extended warranty fortunately. Otherwise maintenance list includes valve cover gaskets, VANOS o-rings (as I understand it), water pump, fuel pump, ABS control unit, thermostat, bunch of assorted sensors, suspension control arms and thrust arms . Some annoying non-mechanical replacements like dashboard cluster, 3 rear view mirrors, two CD players, etc. etc. I am not overly mechanical so I let my VISA card do the work, but still I have been reasonable satisfied with the maintenance cost over 17 + years.

    However, I have two looming issues/questions:
    1) you mentioned it, Secondary Air Flow system. Clogged. Dealer wants $5k to remove the heads and clean. Obviously not worth it. I live in IL so I have to pass inspection every two years. I clear the codes and let all but two systems (one being Secondary air flow) get in ready mode and that allows me to pass. However, the light is SES light is very annoying. My question re the Shark software, if you know–does it simply ignore that code or does it disable it, and what effect would that have on standard OBD re-outs??

    2) The cats are starting to lose efficiency and will after a period of time also throw a code. Any ideas re this outside of replacement? If replacement is only alternative, any suggestions on OEM vs. others? I assume the oil consumption does not help the Cat situation.

    Btw, I switched to Liqui Molly 3 years ago and love it. Seems to consume less and is probably 1/2 the cost of Castrol .

    Appreciate your thoughts.

    • Hi Lynn,

      Thanks for this message. Its very neat to find an original owner after all of these years!

      The Shark system is advertised as an “SAI Delete”. I am not sure if the system is just disabled, or the code is ignored. I know that I have passed Ohio’s “Emission Check” with the tune in place though. I know the secondary air system remains active though, my air pump still comes on on cold starts.

      My cats throw codes as well, B2 and B3, cat efficiency bank 1 and bank 2 respectively. I definitely recommend OEM for the cats though, I know many who have tried performance aftermarket sets, and they don’t last more than a few months or a few thousand miles. New ones are crazy money- but used sets exist online and through world-renown Adam Bajrak in Dayton, Maryland. He parts wrecked E39 M5s for a living, and has lots of quality parts available at great pricing. And you are correct, oil consumption only exacerbates the cat’s lack of efficiency with age.

      The Castrol stuff is much cheaper now, for whatever that is worth. I’ve been running the TWS for 7 years, and have been quite satisfied with it.

      Hope this helped!

      Ryan

      • Thx for your response Ryan. Yes, original owner…and my son 4 when I got it and has dreamed of owning it himself for years. In high school he liked to show off that he could drive a 6-speed as only a few kids can do that these days, and mostly driving jeeps. I told him he can have it if he can graduates college next year, so will see!

        Thanks for info on Shark. I may give it a try if I can get some more information about emissions and removing if needed.

        Interesting that you also are getting efficiency codes too. So far it takes quite awhile for the code to show so I will live with it for awhile, especially if clearing codes for Secondary Air Flow anyway.

        Thanks again and look forward to checking in again on this informative board.

  2. Hi Ryan,

    Just want to say thank you for taking the time to help educate us with your experiences. I’ve watched all of your YouTube videos and they are all very helpful.
    My M5 obsession began a couple of years ago with a 99′ 540i that I traded for a dirt bike. I ended up putting a used engine the 540 and then added new timing chain guides. As I was researching the 540 engine, I was immediately drawn to the s62. After some miles were put on the 540, I kept looking at the M5. The more I looked at the car, the more I fell in love with its intricacies. I searched for about a year and finally found one. 2003 carbon black, one owner (Tech geek at google), always garaged and meticulously maintained, in excellent condition..one catch though, 192000. All records came with this car and everything you have mentioned has been updated and addressed. The high mileage bothered me, but after driving this beast I was sold. I’ve had it now for 11 months and other than new o2 sensors and oil changes, it’s been perfect. I get compliments all of the time at the gas station (thirsty car) and thumbs up while cruising down the highway. I never considered myself a Beemer guy, and always saw them ripping down the road..now I know why, I’m older now, and don’t risk it like I used to, so I’m trying to give a new reputation to the Beemer driver..at least around here, but when needed, I can get on the highway with respect. Again thanks for offering your experience.

    Dave L.
    Rio vista, CA.

    • Hi Dave,

      Thanks for your feedback and kind words! It’s always great to hear someone’s story. It sounds like you’ve got a great car there, the higher mileage ones are often the best running cars. I’ve been giving the BMW driver a different reputation as well, I can’t stand how they’re all zipping around recklessly and not even using turn signals haha. Mine gets driven and used but generally pretty responsibly 🙂

      Enjoy it!

  3. Ryan,

    Thank you for the blog post. I just purchased my first M5 and it has 98K on it. PPI came back with pretty much everything you mentioned.

    TLDR;
    They recommended timing chain guide replacement for preventative maintenance.
    Replace thermostat, radiator, water pump and hoses
    These two are the top of their list.

    Everything else is normal wear and tear like the gaskets you mentioned. They also said the engine mount was sagging a bit. I’m going to attempt to do some of these myself based on what I am seeing online.

    Thanks again and love your Youtube channel.

    Peter

    • Hi Peter, congratulations on the M5! Timing chain guides are very overrated for the M5. Not to say that they don’t fail, but it’s usually a 540i thing. I would do the radiator, thermostat, hoses, fan, fan clutch, and water pump though if they are old. Enjoy it!

    • Interesting product… I would give this some more time though. It’s very early for this. Change your oil with synthetic oil every 5-8k miles, and don’t drive it hard when cold. You won’t have anything to worry about at such low miles such as 98k.

  4. I’ve had my E39 M5 for seven years. 2000 model in Silverstone blue with 145,000 miles. It had 78,000 when I bought it. I just love the car, however, I just experienced my first major engine issue. It’s started knocking. I suspect a big end bearing as it deep in the engine. I’ve started dismantling the bottom end after spending 8-9 hours removing the front subframe!! I have not removed the main sump pan, but I have exposed the oil pump. What I noticed immediately was that not much oil drained out of the pickup strainer, but when I remover the strainer, there was deluge of oil from the pump. I’ve still to fully investigate this, but I suspect that the strainer is all but clogged up. I see that BMW don’t list a strainer on it’s own, I guess they want you to replace the pump (£1000+). Does anyone know the function of the two solenoid oil diverter valves near the oil pump? I’ll keep you posted on what I find when I get deeper.

    Alex

    • Hi Alexander,

      I have had my 2000 Silverstone M5 for 7 years as well! 192k before I rebuilt the engine preventatively last winter.

      The solenoids are for the semi-dry sump lubrication system. When cornering aggressively, oil is pumped from one side of the oil pan to the other, to keep the pump submerged, and the ensure that the entire engine is being lubricated at all times.

      I am not aware of a way to replace just the strainer. You might be able to clean it out though? It sounds like the oil was not changed frequently enough, and/or it was not driven hard enough, frequently enough. You could also buy a used oil pump and switch strainers perhaps.

      Please do keep me informed, and good luck with your repair!

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