BMW X5 buyers and owners guide by micrabits

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Firstly, I just want to make it clear...I am not slagging off these cars and this isn’t a definitive history of the X5.
It is an honest and hopefully helpful down to earth guide from someone who has worked extensively with these cars.
The X5 is basically the 4x4 version of the 5 and 6 series cars, sharing quite a few components and engines. Unlike the smaller X3, the X5 is good off road; on road, they feel pretty nippy considering their size. In my opinion, they are more nimble than the Merc ML. Although that is just my opinion!
Being a large 4x4, they are not very economical but you do not buy one of these if you worry about fuel consumption but they are no worse than other big 4x4s.

Day to day stuff.

Batteries. It takes 27 minutes for all the control units on an X5 to go to sleep. For that reason, if there is the slightest weak point in the charging system it will show up. X5s do not like to sit idle for any more than a few days or so. Either disconnect the battery (difficult to get at on earlier models) or make a point of starting it up every few days if you leave it for more than a few weeks.

Brakes. Being a big car brakes do not last too long. Pads wear out within 30,000 miles or so. Shudders through the steering wheel during braking indicate warped front discs.

Noises. As soon as you hear knocking noises from anywhere in the suspension or steering you should have them investigated because when something wears out on these cars it puts more stress on other parts and causes them to wear out faster too!

Mirrors not folding in. As the mirror motors get old they weaken and cant pull the mirrors in or push them out. Using a decent bumper vinyl dressing on the surfaces that rub together can ease this but the only real fix is to replace them. The motors that move them in are underpowered as it is and at £250, a shot I would learn to live with the fault!

Tyre warning light on. The warning light does not like ‘non approved’ tyres or aftermarket alloy wheels. Providing your tyres are not worn or flat try to ignore it. They are notoriously over sensitive.


MOT time.

Rear sub frame bushes. Large cylindrical bushes that hold the rear sub frame on. Tend to wear out faster if you ‘drive enthusiastically’ on road. Not that easy to check with the car on the road but if you jack it up on the rear sill jacking points if they have split you will be able to see it. There are 2 either side. Best to replace all 4 at the same time.

Power steering pipes. X5 are bad for this one! Look at the power steering pipes from the top of the PAS pump downwards. They are bad for leaking where the rubber and aluminium sections are crimped together. Newer models are just as prone to leak as older ones.  Pumps only really fail if you have ran it for a while with low oil and caused the pump to overheat.

Front suspension arms. As mentioned above odd knocking noises can escalate. The worst parts on these cars are the bottom suspension arms at the front. They have 2. A wishbone with a ball joint and in front of that a ‘compression’ arm with a big bush at the front. The large bushes split, not the easiest thing to see but if you grab the arm and twist it it should not move too much. If it feel slack or you get more than 4mm or so of ‘twist’ it is probably the bush. The bottom ball joints wear fast if you regularly drive on uneven surfaces. These cars have a ferocious appetite for front anti roll bar links. Knocking when driving over drain covers or potholes is usually caused by this. Best checked with car on ground. Track rod ends wear out if you have big pimp ass 20 inch wheels fitted. 

Rear wishbone bearings. Can be checked with wheel in the air by grabbing wheel top and bottom and push/pulling. They tend to wear out more on the 5 series but older or higher mileage X5s should be checked for this. Can only really be changed with the special tool (You can use the same tool that does similar bushes on BMW 3 series and Vauxhall Vectras). Not impossible but a pain in the @rse.

Front CV boots and joints. The boot clips tend to slip off before the boots split on these cars but when they do, the CV joints wear out faster than normal cars when this happens. Not difficult to change the joints but getting the end of the CV joint back thru the hub can be a pain.

Tyres. Because of their weight, these cars can wear tyres to nothing in 3000 miles if the tracking is out. Best to have all 4 wheels aligned at the same time rather than just the front. Camber slips out more with larger wheels (can adjust by taking small Allen bolt out and levering the strut top) and rear top arm bushes seize up and arms bend stopping you adjusting the rear camber properly.

Other stuff.

Oil leak at front bumper/smoking exhaust. On diesels, oil seals fail on turbocharger which in turn blows oil into the intercooler (at the front bumper) and in extreme cases into the exhaust (White smoke)
As you would expect turbos are expensive. If this happens to yours you will need to have the intercooler, inlet manifold and particulate filters cleaned out too.
If you ignore it you run the risk of a ‘runaway diesel’ where the engine starts to run on its own oil. You cannot turn it off and as it revs higher and higher you have to leave it until the engine blows up. Yes, really! Spectacular but not so enjoyable if it is our pride and joy.

Mad dials. Incorrect or unexplained readings in the instrument panel is usually the printed circuit board. Only available as a complete unit.

Air suspension. If the rear does not raise the prime suspect is usually the air bags. Easily spotted as they tend to tear right round although if the battery has recently been replaced make sure the air pipes are not trapped or pulled out in the boot.

If you replace the radio or heater control panel they will only work after they have been programmed in by the dealer.

If your transfer box, abs and tyre light all stay on at the same time it is usually caused by low or wrong grade of oil in the transfer box

There! Think that is it! Like I said it isn’t definitive and the faults I have mentioned don’t happen to every X5 but if you are X5 shopping make sure you check these things as these cars aren’t popular enough for aftermarket suppliers to make cheaper parts for so many parts are dealer only. Very expensive.

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