At the end of last week’s piece about giving the E39 some love, I mentioned that I was leaning toward selling the X5 and putting the E39 back on the road. Sometimes there’s nothing like voicing a thought to give it reality. I immediately began mentally composing the ad for the car.
One of my adages for selling a car is that it’s always preferable to fix a problem rather than list it in the ad and have to apologize for it. Two fairly simple things immediately jumped out: the balky left front window regulator and the clangin’ and bangin’ rear wiper motor.
Like many modern BMWs, the E53 X5’s appetite for window regulators is legendary. When I bought the car, I was told that the two rear regulators were broken and their windows zip-tied into the up position, and that the driver’s-side regulator worked but wouldn’t lift the window up if you rolled it all the way down. I pulled off the driver’s door panel and found that the problem appeared to be in the metal clip that attaches the cable on the regulator to the bottom of the window. The metal clip is available as a separate part (Amazon, brand Boursin, ASIN B01GDVC1BK, twelve bucks a pair). I also ordered the notorious high-failure-rate plastic clip that attaches to this, bolting to the hole in the window and snapping around the bottom.
There are dozens of videos showing how to replace E53 window regulators or replace the plastic clips, but to my surprise, I didn’t find a single one that detailed how to replace the metal clip. It turns out that there’s a little trick to it: It’s clear that the crimped barrel needs to snap into a recess in the plastic part of the metal clip, but what isn’t clear is that the cable then needs to go behind the little plastic nub above where that recess is. It’s easy to do this if you just pull the cable out from behind the bracket, but if you do it this way, you can’t get the metal clip back on the bracket—at least I couldn’t.
Unfortunately, from this position, I couldn’t get the metal clip to slide back on the bracket. You first need to use the window power to move the cable up or down so that the little crimped barrel connector is in the round hole in the bracket of the regulator (which is where it needs to be in order to unbolt the metal and plastic clips from the window glass anyway). Then you slide the metal clip onto the bracket near the bottom (below the glass) by orienting the clip at an angle to the bracket, getting the little tangs to line up around the edge of the bracket, then rotating it flush to the bracket. Following this, you slide the clip up so it’s visible in the little round hole and line up the crimped barrel to where it needs to pop into the clip. Most important—and this is the part I didn’t read anywhere—you need to grab the cable with your fingers and hook it around the nub of the clip. Once it’s in place, the crimped barrel can be securely snapped into place within the clip.
I buttoned up the driver’s door, then began looking at the rear wiper motor, which banged and thunked so badly that it couldn’t be used. First I thought it was just an issue with the rubber grommet around the shaft, but it was soon clear that the motor itself was unsecured.
Exposing the motor was a bit of a pain, as it required pulling the plastic cover off the underside of the hatch. You remove a few Phillips screws, then unsnap it like a door panel, but the pain-in-the-butt part is that the cover wraps around the corners, so you also need to unsnap the plastic trim pieces that run around the inside vertical section and intersect with the cover’s corners. It felt like these were going to break before the clips let go, but careful prying with a plastic tool convinced them to give it up.
With the cover pulled back, I could clearly see that the motor wasn’t attached to anything. As I looked closer, I could see that all three of the plastic mounting ears had broken off.
I first tried to jury-rig the motor into staying in place with fat washers and a kluged piece of a bracket. They didn’t even stay in place for one wipe. It was clear that I had to pull the old motor out and replace it, so I needed to remove the wiper arm from the spindle. With the car’s 237,000 miles, it was on there pretty good. Fortunately I had a tie-rod separator that was exactly the right size to grab it and lift it off the splined spindle.
I looked online and learned that the dealer list for a new rear wiper motor (part number 61626927851) is about $350, available discounted down to about $250. Fortunately, there are a fair number of used E53 rear wiper motors with unbroken ears on eBay. I found one in New Jersey for $47.80 shipped, and in three days it was at my door.
I know I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: As much as I love big projects like resurrecting long-dead cars and experiencing the delayed gratification of that first drive or that first road trip, I really love these quick hit-and-run repairs, in which you take something that isn’t working, make some decision on whether to repair, buy used, or buy new (which in the grand scheme of things is a totally inconsequential decision but is your decision), spend a small amount of time and money, and voilà! Fixed.
Whenever I do something like this to a car I’m about to try to sell, and so enjoy the newly-won bit of functionality, I think, “Why didn’t I fix this before?” Ah, well. At least I am nursing the E39 back to health with the intention of keeping it and driving it again, so I’ll get to enjoy the fruits of those labors.—Rob Siegel
Rob’s new book, Resurrecting Bertha: Buying Back Our Wedding Car After 26 Years In Storage, is available on Amazon here. His other books, including his recent Just Needs a Recharge: The Hack MechanicTM Guide to Vintage Air Conditioning, are available here on Amazon. Or you can order personally-inscribed copies of all of his books through Rob’s website: www.robsiegel.com.