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I am on a quest to purchase an E39 and most of the ones I find have over 80K miles and seem to be on the original clutch. Ideally I want to find something with a little less mileage but am OK with one in this range. My question is how can I tell how much life is left from the clutch? I am thinking there probably is no real way to tell other than drive the car and check for slipage.
 

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The drive test is the best guess, unless you want to take apart the transmission and actually look at the clutch. Sometimes if the clutch release point it higher up on the pedal travel, that will give you an indication that it has worn down. Basically the closer it releases to the "top" of the travel, engaged/"rest" position, the more worn out the clutch is.
 

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You can't really tell without driving the car. Clutch wear varies widely because it is mostly dependent on how you treat the clutch. Some people report getting 150,000 miles on the original clutch (I don't know how true that is) but it is certainly possible if you never slip it and drive very conservatively or do 99% highway driving.

If you get a chance to drive the car, shift normally up to about 35-40 mph. Shift into 5th gear. Floor it. The car should not accelerate very quickly and the revs should build just as slowly as the car's speed. If the clutch is going to slip, now is the time and you'll feel it happening as the revs build faster than the car's speed.

However, even if the clutch is in great shape, if you plan on driving the car aggressively (and you probably are, why else would you buy an E39 M5 in this day and age) you will probably have to replace the clutch soon anyway. The factory clutch doesn't last too long when it's abused. Maybe 40k. My car is on it's 3rd OEM clutch at 102k miles (I bought it with 86k on it, already had the 3rd clutch in it) and this one isn't going to last much longer even though I do baby the car alot. The previous owner was pretty hard on the car so I anticipate the 4th clutch will last more like 80k miles since I won't abuse it.

Good luck with the purchase though, these are amazing cars and most of the factory hardware is pretty robust.
 

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When I purchased my M it have 78K, of course since then I have changed/replace a number of different items which you can say are "normal" for a car with that mileage. But one thing I did notice right away is that the clutch was slipping at the line or when I would down shift. So needless to say I have laid off the gas to conserve my clutch. Now the car has 103K on the same clutch, but the urge is there to drive it like it was made to, so I will be replacing it soon enough.
But I bet it could go another 20K-30K....
And when it does go,I may just put the stock clutch back in.
 

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On your test drive you can do the standing 5th gear test too. Stop the car, put her in 5th and slowly take off. . .you should stall immediately indicating that the clutch is not really slipping. Not SUPER scientific but it might give you a baseline status on the clutch.
 
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