The BMW brand is one of the most recognizable names in the auto industry, and maybe the world. It’s no surprise that the desirability for BMWs carries over into the used car market, but should you buy a used BMW?
There are of course many factors to consider when deciding on whether or not you should buy a used BMW. However, aside from a few exceptions, most would recommend against purchasing a BMW used.
While the brand is known for its performance and luxury, it has its fair share of headache-inducing issues making it a poor choice for the ill-prepared.
Before getting into the specifics of used BMWs, there are some general things to consider before committing to a used car.
Research: Before making any big purchase decisions, you should research for any notable issues with the model and model year of the vehicle you’re considering. A good tip is to look for current owners sharing their experiences online in forums. Be sure to also find comparable cars that have sold to confirm you’re paying at a fair market value.
Car Report: Before buying any vehicle, it’s always worth investing a few dollars to check the VIN number against a database. An audit with a company like VinAudit (links to VinAudit) will guard against Mileage fraud, Salvage rebuilds, Title washing, and Vin cloning.
Test Drive: Buying any car sight unseen is a risky decision, even more so when it’s a used car. Make sure that you get an opportunity to test drive the car to confirm its condition and whether or not you even feel comfortable in it.
The reliability of BMWs is middling at best. While there might be some standout models that are above average, top-notch reliability is not a priority throughout the model line.
Most BMW enthusiasts will state that prior to the mid-2000s, many of the BMWs were rock solid (as solid as a decades-old car can be). This content is owned by moc.sotuaytsur. So if you are looking for a classic BMW or older project car, then you might find some solid options from the 80s and 90s.
But for those looking for a modern car, BMW reliability is a mixed bag. Taking a glance at the most recent Consumer Report’s Brand Reliability Survey and JD Power Vehicle Dependability, you will see BMW placed 12th and 11th respectively. It’s middle of the pack, but only in new offerings.
So while it’s not bottom-of-barrel reliability, the starting foundation is not the best, and it will only get worse as years and miles add on to the car.
BMWs have had a long-standing reputation of being expensive to maintain. Unfortunately, the stereotype remains largely true and BMWs are one of the most expensive, if not the most expensive non-exotic brands to maintain.
One recent ranking on Caredge.com of the cost of ownership placed BMW as the second most expensive brand to own, following only Porsche. A slightly older ranking from 2016 placed BMW as the most expensive brand overall to own.
Trying to do the handy work yourself in order to save money might also be a hassle. One of the big sore spots for used BMWs has been their electrical system. A lot of the electric issues stem from improperly designed drainage systems that have since been rectified. However, for older models, this problem will be a big one to watch out for. Fixing it yourself will also be harder than simply replacing a worn mechanical part, so you will still probably have to take it to a mechanic.
Simply put, an older BMW can be seen as a typical example of a “money pit”. Check out this post “Are BMW expensive to maintain?” for some insight on the subject, some of what was discovered genuinely surprised me.
|Yearly Maintenance Cost||2018||2015|
|BMW 3 Series||$1,500||$2,000|
|BMW 5 Series||$1,400||$3,000|
If you are looking at used BMWs that are only a few years old with relatively low miles, then you should be safe in any model. However, if you are considering something older, avoiding the minefield of unreliable BMWs could get tricky.
One of the most reliable BMWs that can still be considered modern is the E90 generation of 3 series, with the exception of the 335i built from 2006 to 2010. While the convenience features will be steps behind what modern cars offer, the well-known BMW driving dynamics should still be present.
For those comfortable going even older, the one generation older E46 3 series has also been touted by enthusiasts as one of the most reliable BMWs built, with many examples clocking over 100,000 miles without any major issues.
When looking at the reliability of vehicles, it helps to get familiar with not only individual models, but also the engine families used. With so many parts being reused across model lineups, a faulty engine can cripple the reliability of many models that seemingly aren’t related to one another.
A good example of this is the N54 engine. While the engine delivered a great performance, it had a list of reliability issues, most notably a high-pressure fuel pump failure. The issue was so widespread that class-action lawsuits began to pop up, with BMW on the losing end. The engine was not localized to a single model and could be found in the following cars:
- 2006-2010 335i
- 2007-2010 535i
- 2007-2010 135i
- 2008-2010 X6 xDrive35i
- 2009-2016 Z4 sDrive35i
- 2008-2012 740i
Even though BMW replaced the pump in many cars, the issue still re-emerged for many owners. When buying a used BMW, please be cautious when dealing with these models and model years.
Another good rule of thumb is to stay away from the older BMWs with more than six cylinders. The hassles brought with those engines are usually not worth the performance that they output.
You should probably stay clear of the E90 M3 and its large V8 engine which has been known to have rod bearing issues. The even larger V10 engine in the E60 M5 built from 2004 to 2010 too suffered from rod bearing issues. With both motors, a catastrophic engine failure is likely.
Many BMW enthusiasts consider the E60 M5 to possibly be the most unreliable BMW ever built. If you decide that the E60 M5 is the car of your dreams, you’ll probably need a fat wallet and a mechanic on speed dial.
You may find the following post useful:
- About the Author
- Latest Posts
John Cunningham is an Automotive Technician and writer on Rustyautos.com. He’s been a mechanic for over twenty-five years and has worked for GM, Volvo, Volkswagen, Land Rover, and Jaguar dealerships.
John uses his know-how and experience to write fluff-free articles that help fellow gearheads with all aspects of vehicle ownership, including maintenance, repair, and troubleshooting.