I am Teh Edumacator.
Join Date: May 2005
Location: ATL, London, and Barcelona
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In general, 3's are more reliable than 5's which are more reliable than 7's.
In general, six cylinders are more reliable than 8.
It sounds to me like what you need is probably a 2001-2003 530 with under 100K, which is easily accomplishable on your budget.
I would recommend a manual transmission over an automatic if you can find one. Having maintenance records is good too.
Good news for you--prices on these cars have dropped a lot.
In the for sale section of this forum, there is a very well-kept 540 for sale that you'd almost certainly love. It has been maintained by an enthusiast, so you're more likely to get a great car.
If you want info on common maintenance items, just use the search functions--there are threads entirely dedicated just to that topic.
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1999 E39 540i/6-VF Stage 1 S/C, Dinan exhaust, Dinan strut+shock braces, Dinan ltwt flywheel + clutch, Dinan Brembo BBK, Dinan monoball, H&R Springs, Koni Yellows, M5 sways, Dinan forged 18" wheels, &c.
1995 E38 740i. Highly modded. Faster than you.
Sold 2-28-07: 1997 E36 M3/4, 8-30-05 RIP 1997 528i
Lindsay fan club member.