Buying advice BMW 7 series (E38) 1994-2001 Common Issues Engines Inspection

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Hi everyone, you are watching another buyers review.

My new video series about cars

In the next couple of months the plan is to look at modern classic cars. With modern classics I mean cars that are 20 years old and are on the verge of becoming a classic. So today we start off with a modern classic from Germany. The BMW 7 series from the 90’s, the E38.

General information

This car represent a certain era in time and seems timeless. In the previous video we looked at the w220 Mercedes, this car is from the same time frame, although the BMW is a little older than the S-class, this BMW first appeared in 1994 and was produced until 2001.

The S-class first appeared in 1998. So the Benz has more modern technology, but looking back on these cars, they can’t compete with the technology that is available on cars today obviously. Nonetheless, these cars can still be interesting, back then electronic gadgets where being introduced in the flagship series of either the Benz, Audi, BMW and Lexus.

The 7 series had more computer power then the first spaceship that put people on their journey moon. This was also highlighted by the marketing team during marketing campaigns back then. The V12 even had 2 ECU’s for each of the cylinder banks. Basically two v6 engines glued together.


The seven series was facelifted in 1998 and 2000.

The successor of this 7 series marked the beginning of a new design that was much hated by the public until this day. The new design by Chris Bengle. Anyway in this video we will focus on the E38 BMW 7 series. I am not much of a BMW fan myself but I can really appreciate the timeless design of this car, it has quite some road presence and character. It has simple but classic lines that are appreciated until this day.

It was built at a time that cars did not have a zillion sensors and milles of electrical wiring. Just old fashioned mechanics that were built to last.

Does this mean it is a reliable car ?

Well I will give you an answer to that question in a short while.

This car was featured in many movies at the time, tomorrow never dies, enemy of the state, sum of all fears and of course the first transporter movie. These cars can be picked up for around 10.000 euro or much cheaper here in Europe, but don’t think for a second this is a cheap car to maintain.


Respectable 7-series with a good service history will cost you between 10.000 to 30.000 euro. At the moment of recording i found a B12 alpina for this generation in good shape. This picture is actually from a B12 that was on sale costing just under 31000 euro. With 130000 km driven.That is 80778 miles for American viewers.

But you can pick up a 7 series relatively cheap. BMW had many engines for sale for this generation.In total 17 engines where available. 3 diesel engines and 14 petrol engines, some only available for 1 or 2 years between 1994 and 1996. The early production models the E38 still had older engines that derived from its predecessor.In total this car had two facelifts, the first one in 1998 and the second one in 2000, one year before the car went out of production.

What are some of the reasons to buy this 7 series ?

  • Image
  • Beautiful interior
  • Simple and timeless exterior
  • Comfort while still offering a pleasant and engaging drive
  • Space, it is quite a big car


Overall the E38 is a reliable car but as always there are several key areas you should check before going out for a test drive. Rust is not a big issue for these cars, but when you want to buy this car you should check for rust in the following spots. Check out the rear fenders, check the trunk around the chrome strip and the rubbers of the trunk lit, check the door sills from the back doors, check for rust on the door panels.

Transmission / gearbox

Then the automatic gearboxes, according to BMW the gearboxes are sealed for life, but if you notice that shifting does not go smooth enough, you could flush your gearbox. This will extend the lifespan of the gearbox and takes away potential problems. Since this is still a BMW, a company that promotes, freude am fahren, “driving pleasure” in English.This car is equipped with a differential. Its essential to change the oil of the diff regularly during service intervals.

Then the chassis, this car handles good mostly due to the stiff chassis. This also means that when something fails or is worn out, you will immediately feel it during driving. In other words worn out parts will affect the handling of the car. Keep that in mind. The quality of the chassis is however of good quality.


Then the engines, the early V8 engines produced until 1996, had problems with the coating of the cylinders. This was caused by gasoline that had a high percentage of sulfur. Nowadays you will rarely find that kind of gasonline, but still this depends on the continent where you are from.

The V12 engine is probably the most reliable of all engines, but realise that maintenance can be quite expensive since you literally need twice the parts of a v6 for instance.

Red dot on the tripmeter

And last but not least, if you notice a red dot on the tripmeter, walk away, then it is evident people have been messing with it. Then car has a higher mileage then the odometer shows you. This car also had xenon headlight, if these light turn pink instead of blue, this is a good indication you should replace them.

Hope this review was useful for all of you potential E38 buyers out there. This is still a very respectable car from an era that marked the peak in automotive history. Its a big spacious and luxury car from a respected brand. Prices from rare models within the E38 range are expected to rise in the coming years.


Don’t buy this car for very cheap, unless you know something of car maintenance yourself. If you want reliability spend 10000 euros or around 12000 dollars. Granted you can find 7 series for much less, but know that there is a catch in the form of repair bills.

Well documented cars with maintenance at the BMW dealer is what you should aim for. If you know how to do repairs yourself you could go for a cheaper car and try to fix potential problems yourself.

Thanks for watching, if you find these videos useful subscribe to my channel.

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