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TripleTheta TripleTheta is offline
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Unhappy Small Amount of white smoke from exhaust, oil under oil cap looks dirty and grainy? - 01-19-2019, 12:43 PM

Hi, first post, sorry if a little lengthy.

I bought an '08 535i for my mother yesterday with 89k miles. Paid $5400, which I thought was a good deal. Now a little worried..

Test drove the car and everything is in order sound and feel wise, no over heating, or any issues on a 20 minute drive. I wanted to check the oil quality and realized that there is no dipstick. Wasn't expecting that, I used to have an e36 M3 and didn't realize they changed this. But being that the car is low miles and felt great, with no misses, unusual sounds or vibrations, and the guy seemed trustworthy.. and being able to negotiate the price well below blue book.. I bought it.

Well after driving it 2+ hours to her town, I noticed what seems to be white smoke behind the car at a stop light. It was about 50 degrees outside. I then had her follow me to watch the exhaust and when giving it some good throttle on acceleration, she said she saw some smoke coming from the *****, and also she said she thinks she saw some slight dripping (water). Upon getting back to her house and parked, I saw smoke in the rear again. This isn't plumes of smoke, but seems more than cold weather steam as well. And it's not really that cold outside anyway..

I opened the oil cap and wiped the inside of the valve cover the best I could with some white napkins, and although I can't get any liquid oil, the residue seems pretty grainy/dirty. Not seeing any milky type oil, but I haven't gotten any liquid state oil to test yet. I will jack it up today and pull the plug to get a sample.

When I was talking to the guy I bought it from, I asked him specifically twice, "Has the car ever overheated"? To which he said no, not that he's aware of at all. Today, I was able to find a phone number to the previous owner that he bought if from. And although he told me he had the car for a year, the previous owner was very nice and up front with me, telling me that he sold it to the guy 4 months ago because it "broke down" and was able to drive it about a mile or two back to his house where the coolant started leaking all over his driveway in the garage. They guy who he sold it to works at a Euroshop actually, and he sold it to him for 1200 bucks because the guy said it would cost 3-4 k to fix the cooling system, and he said that was what the guy said he was going to do.

So here I am with a car that although has low miles, HAS overheated in some way, shape, or fashion - and has had the cooling system repaired recently. It drove fine for a 2+ hour drive with no temp warnings, but is emitting white smoke on a low to moderate level, AS OF NOW. The car is sitting at her house and I'm afraid to drive it or let her drive it. But she needs a car to drive soon as her insurance rental will expire soon.

I plan on doing compression test, and getting a sample of the oil as mentioned above, sometime this weekend. (It's raining pretty hard right now)

What are you all's experienced thoughts on this situation? Possible blown head gasket? Warped head? Could it really be that bad with these miles and apparently being driven in limp mode for 1-2 miles with a coolant problem? Of course that's not a guarantee of the correct story, but the previous, previous owner was very helpful and had no incentive to lie to me. (The car was actually his wife's, who is a doctor and owned it for 5 years and maintained it at dealership - for context of the previous, previous owner)


I'm feeling pretty jipped right now, and don't want my mom's new car to blow up on her. I'm willing to do the labor myself if it's actually the head gasket, but I'm just trying to find out the facts here.. Just the facts...


Thanks all for any input, it would help out a lot. I did read a lot of posts here, but many of them say head gaskets are rare to fail on n52's and every situation is different.

Last edited by TripleTheta; 01-20-2019 at 08:35 PM..
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arkie6 arkie6 is offline
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Default 01-20-2019, 10:57 PM

Did the coolant level drop any during that 2+ hour drive? If so, how much water was needed to top it off? If not, then whatever is coming out of the tailpipe isn't coolant.

If you still suspect a coolant leak into the cylinder, get a borescope/endoscope that plugs into a smartphone (there are many available on Amazon for android and iphones for <$50) and take a look in each cylinder after the spark plugs are removed. A coolant leak into a cylinder will steam clean it and remove most if not all of the carbon deposits on the piston. If all cylinders have the same level of carbon deposits on the pistons, you likely don't have a coolant leak into a cylinder.

Also note that an '08 535i has the N54 engine, not the N52.
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TripleTheta TripleTheta is offline
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Default 01-23-2019, 02:10 AM

Thanks for the advice, didn't need to use an endoscope, but what a great idea.
I'll always remember that one.

After troubleshooting & ruling out HG, CCV & oil sensor, I'm leaning toward a seeping turbo seal into the exhaust. Will check charge air inlet to intercooler next to see if any oil is leaking on that side of the turbo.

On the bright side, I was worried I had a blown HG.



BTW, I love how Bimmers feel and handle. Been years since I had my e36 M3 and driving this car brings back memories. I'm addicted again and want to go shopping for myself now.
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arkie6 arkie6 is offline
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Default 01-23-2019, 10:34 AM

So how much coolant have you lost?
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rcpro88 rcpro88 is offline
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Default 01-23-2019, 01:58 PM

I had this problem before. The smoking will slowly get worse and worse. You can check oil level in I-Drive. The car is probably loosing a significant amount of oil daily, keep an eye on the oil level and make sure to top it up when it gets half way down.
Even with good turbos, you will still get oil in the intercooler and in the charged air components. You will want to pull the D.Ps off and I'd bet ya there is oil running down from the turbine seal.


DON'T buy VRSF D.Ps or inlets! I have them and their fitment sucks! Running their FMIC with no issues.
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