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  1. #1
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    Member No: 6684 vincent528i is an unknown quantity at this point vincent528i's Avatar
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    98 E39 528i electrical problem - intermittent inability to restart car or lock doors

    I've owned my 1998 BMW 528i for over 10 years (125K mi) and have had this intermittent problem for roughly the past 10 months.

    Once the car has been shut down, sometimes it won't respond at all. The remote key won't unlock the car. When I put the key in the ignition and turn the key, the dashboard won't power up and the car won't start. No buttons or lights work at all (except for the red "M" button on the driver's side seat adjustment panel). I generally go to the trunk and manually open it with the key (between one and thirty times) and all of a sudden, the electricity will come back on and everything would be fine. The car starts right up without any hint of hesitation in starting.

    Every time this happens the clock needs to be reset, but the radio station presets are retained.

    The ONLY circuit that shows any sign of life when the car is "asleep" is the driver side seat memory button panel. The red "M" (memory) button glows red at all times until I try turning the key in the ignition to the start position. When I remove the key from the ignition the M button glows red again. Pressing the M button or any other seat memory or adjustment button has no effect, but the red lamp of the M button remains lit. No other lights or switches (including power door lock servos, etc.) work when the car is asleep.

    I replaced both the battery and the alternator in the past year, but neither cured the problem (and now I have alternator whine through the stereo, but that's another issue). The battery holds charge fine, and the alternator outputs a steady 13.9V.

    Early on when I thought there was a charging issue, I would try jump starting the car, and that seemed to get the car to "wake up."

    I tried changing keys from my well-worn primary key to my secondary key, but the problem persists - only on an intermittent basis so I doubt that the dealer will be able to troubleshoot it.

    I do have an aftermarket amplifer and CD changer; they have been in the car for roughly 8 years and work fine.

    Any ideas on what to check for and what this might be? I am hesitant to bring the car to the dealer since the problem is intermittent and is unlikely to occur on demand - thus likely making it difficult to troubleshoot.

    Thanks in advance.

    Vince in NC
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  2. #2
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    Member No: 17983 horse325es is on a distinguished road horse325es's Avatar
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    First check your battery connections, make sure they are clean and tight.
    Andreas
    Queens NY
    BMWCCA# 186796
    86 325es (wrecked by careless driver)
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  3. #3
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    Inner Circle ©156 since: Jul 21, 2003 edjack will become famous soon enough edjack's Avatar
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    Next time this occurs, turn on the passenger visor light. If the problem goes away, your ignition switch is worn out.


    Ed in San Jose '97 540i 6 speed aspensliber over aubergine leather. Build date 3/97. Golden Gate Chapter BMW CCA Nr 62319.
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    When you say the car does not wake up, do you mean that not even the cabin or trunk lights come on? Or is it just the position one or position 2 with the key has no effect when this intermitent issue occurs?

    If this were my car, I would follow the course that Whorse and edjack are saying. I would also replace the ignition switch even if the vanity mirror test is negative (at 125k miles, it may well be worn out).

    The battery with the car off should be about 12.6 volts, and about 14.6 with the engine running. When you clean & tighten the battery terminals, do a hard re-boot: with the cables off the battery, touch the cable ends together and turn on the ignition to position 1 and hold it for 15 seconds to make sure all the power is drained from the car's system. Then turn off the key and re-attach the cables to the battery.

    Please get back on the board and let us know how you resolve this.
    Ed CT
    1998 528i (aka, best car I ever owned!)
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  5. #5
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    I dont think its his ignition switch cause ALL power is cut even his locks that should have power all the time. Thats why the first place i would check is the battery connections. CLEAN AND TIGHT lol
    Andreas
    Queens NY
    BMWCCA# 186796
    86 325es (wrecked by careless driver)
    87 325 300k (project for life) aka 1BADETA/Christine
    89 525i 190k Winter/Drift Poutana
    00 540is 6spd 224k (daily driver) Rebuilt at 212k (Chain guide Failure) Record holder!!
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  6. #6
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    Problem solved?

    Vincent, we have the same Beemer with the same confounding problem. Have you found the solution? If so, please tell. Thanks,
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  7. #7
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    Same problem on my 01 540IT

    Hi I am having the same issue with my 540. Battery is a month old from BMW starts fine everytime. drove for 10min this morning went in a store came out 5 min later and the car is dead clicked a few times but then completely dead all locks everything. as soon as a battery boost was put on the terminal under the hood it woke the car up and everything worked. Car even started without the boost. no idea what is causing this.
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    My wife's 540 did this crap a few months ago. It was the FSU! Strange but true, acted like the battery was dead. Turning the climate control system off (once it was alive again) cured it. Replacing the FSU eliminated the problem.
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  9. #9
    Walker 7182006
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    Have the same issue

    I have the same issue. It happens once in a blue moon. While at low speed/low idle the vehicle will just shut off, then their is absolutely no electrical power/current what so ever. I did realize this last time that it happened as soon as I opened my driver door & closed it, she started right up. Which is something one of the guys said above & he pointed to the ignition switch. Next time this happens, I am going to let it sit for a second & then open the door then try to start it to see if their is any kind of difference. My question is: why is it once we "open the passenger visor or the driver door in my case" dose the electrical power resume their after?
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  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by Walker 7182006 View Post
    I have the same issue. It happens once in a blue moon. While at low speed/low idle the vehicle will just shut off, then their is absolutely no electrical power/current what so ever. I did realize this last time that it happened as soon as I opened my driver door & closed it, she started right up. Which is something one of the guys said above & he pointed to the ignition switch. Next time this happens, I am going to let it sit for a second & then open the door then try to start it to see if their is any kind of difference. My question is: why is it once we "open the passenger visor or the driver door in my case" dose the electrical power resume their after?
    The visor trick surfaced several years ago. Someone must have stumbled onto it. I've never bothered to trace the circuitry to see if this is really a valid test. However, due to the many "black boxes" in the car, there can be strange feedback paths available.

    There have been more that a few reports that this test correctly diagnosed a bad ignition switch.

    Go figure.


    Ed in San Jose '97 540i 6 speed aspensliber over aubergine leather. Build date 3/97. Golden Gate Chapter BMW CCA Nr 62319.
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