Looking at new BMWs and frightened by the price? You can  save significant amounts of money by investing in a used BMW. There are many of these on the market that cost much less expensive than new.

BMWs have a strong reputation for quality and innovative technology going back decades. They are known for their powerful engines and rear-wheel drive reliability. The company makes a wide range of styles, from luxury cars to sports models.


Essentials To Think About

When looking at used BMWs, it is important to research specific points. Here is a look at what you need to consider.

Costs of owning a BMW. The BMW isn’t an average car, and the cost of upkeep isn’t average either. Prices for repair, insurance and maintenance are all higher, meaning you should expect to pay about $2,000 more annually if you buy a BMW instead of a Subaru or Honda. The car requires premium fuel, superior tires, synthetic oil, as well as higher-than-normal cost for labor and parts.

Depreciation. Expect your investment to depreciate a great deal. You can see simply by comparing the price of a 3-Series BMW that is three years old, about $30,000. However, at six years it is worth about $17,000. Averaging it out, the rate of depreciation is $4,000 annually. For the used car buyer, this means buying a model that is five or six years old is probably smarter than buying a newer one.

Repairs and Servicing. You will need to take your used BMW to a shop that specializes in the brand because they have specific requirements. If you don’t have this kind of mechanic locally, it could make repairs extremely inconvenient and very expensive.

You can get the work done at a BMW dealership, but the costs are usually higher than taking it to an independent shop that specializes in German cars. Be sure to take your prospective car to one of these shops to have it inspected before you buy it.

Dependability. BMWs are reliable, but Japanese cars actually have a better track record. BMW models are officially rated “average” or “below average” by auto magazines and hobbyists. Though the company promises long intervals between servicing, the fact is that their turbocharged models often have more problems more often.

One of the most common repairs is due to the fact that BMW, as well as other European cars, use plastic in place of more dependable materials for many parts. Another problem is the complexity of the electronic system.

Next, take a look at major characteristics of specific models…

2008 to 2011 BMW 1-Series (E82 and E88)

The 2008 – 2011 BMW 1-series comes in two types: the E82, which is a two-door coupe, and the E88, which is a convertible. These models use both the 128i and 135i names. The 1-Series has rear-wheel drive, and seats four, though two people must make do with the very limited rear seating arrangement.

The 128i has 230-hp 3.0L inline-6 engine. The 135i is very similar but has a 300-hp twin-turbo 3.0L inline-6. Both weigh in at slightly above 3,000 pounds, which means the 300-hp is able to produce high speeds. According to Motortrend magazine, the 135i can go from 0 to 60 in 4.7 seconds.

Available with either an automatic or a manual transmission, the car gets reasonable gas mileage. For example, the 2009 128i coupe, both automatic and manual, has 18/28 mpg using premium gas. The 135i gets 17/25 mpg.

Consumer Reports rates the 2008 1-Series as average when it comes to reliability. Over a five–year timeframe, the cost of upkeep and repairs for the 2008 128i couple runs more than $15,000, according to Edmunds.com. The 2008 Honda Civic would cost just $5,700 for the same period, so you would be paying more than $2,000 annually on your BMW. Count on insurance premiums to be higher too.

Drivers looking for a used BMW will save money by choosing a 128i. The turbocharged 135i is known for the number of problems it has, costing you more money over the years.

1999 to 2005 BMW 3-Series (E46)

The most popular used BMW choice is the 3-series, which is known for the comfort of its driver and passenger area, sense of style, good handling and reliable performance. It comes in a choice of sedan, coupe, convertible and wagon. Buyers can select either standard rear-wheel drive or all-wheel.

The most common used model of the 3-Series is rear-wheel drive sedan in a four-door configuration with automatic transmission and an in-line 6. The 2003 325i, with automatic transmission, gets 18/26 mpg using premium fuel.

When it comes to reliability, Consumer Reports scores models in the 1999 – 2005 range of the 3-Series as at or below average. Its safety ratings varied. In crash tests conducted by the NHTSA, models in the 2002 – 2005 years got four stars for the driver, five for the passenger in front, but just three stars for side-impact crashes. It also lost points for the interior door panel, which struck the dummy driver in the pelvis during the side-impact test.

For the 1999 – 2005 models, problems that cropped up repeatedly included:

  • Minor problems with the engine
  • Cooling system difficulties
  • Electrical problems

Cooling system issues can lead to an overheated engine. With a BMW, that means expensive repairs to your engine. That’s why it is always recommended that you have each prospective used car inspected by a reputable mechanic who understands BMW idiosyncrasies.

2006 to 2011 BMW 3-Series (E90, E91, E92, E93)

After undergoing a redesign in 2006, the 3-Series was offered in a choice of sedan (E90), wagon (E91), coupe (E92) and convertible (E93). All could be bought as either rear-wheel drive or all-wheel models.

Drivers who prefer a naturally aspirated 3.0L inline-6 engine can choose the 325i, 330i and 328i. The 335i was available with a 3.0L twin-turbo engine, more powerful than the other models but also more prone to problems. The company offered a diesel model, now hard to find, with the 265-hp 3.0L turbodiesel in 2009. It gets 23/36 mpg, according to the EPA. On the other hand, the 3.0L 328i automatic using premium gasoline gets 18/28 mpg.

In the U.S. used car market for BMWs, the configuration easiest to find is a four-door sedan with automatic transmission and rear-wheel drive, using gas as fuel.

The 3-Series is known for its luxury interior and classic styling. The seats are rated highly for comfort and the materials get high marks for quality. The one downside is the slightly cramped quarters. This is also true of the trunk in these models.

Overall, this series did well in crash tests. It got four stars in front crash testing and five stars for side crashes in the years 2006 – 2010. Reliability was more varied, according to Consumer Reports. The 328i for 2009 – 2011 gets better than average ratings.

The 2006 – 2007 cars had lower ratings, especially the twin-turbo 335i, which received average to below average. Common issues include:

  • Electrical system problems
  • Slight engine difficulties
  • Cooling system problems
  • Fuel injection troubles

Overall, the 3-Series is a very drivable car that costs more than standard American cars for upkeep and repairs. For example, the G35/G37 Infiniti is a more reliable choice if you are in the market for a sporty sedan.

2004 to 2010 BMW 5-Series (E60 and E61)

BMWs 5-Series line of cars is known for high performance and ample luxury. The sedan, E60, is just behind the 3-Series as a best seller in the U.S.

The cars went through a major redesign in 2004. The 525i, 530i and 535 were offered with an inline-6 engine. Much less common, the 545i and 550i came with a V8 engine.  The wagon had all-wheel drive added as an option in 2006. A manual transmission, which is not common among luxury car models, was offered with this series.

The 5-Series for the years 2008 – 2010, the only years that the government ran tests on these models, did poorly with frontal crash tests, receiving just three stars. However, they rated five stars for side crashes.

The 2010 535i Grand Turismo achieved 19/28 mpg, placing it second in good fuel economy behind the Lexus GS 450 hybrid. But otherwise the cars in this series are not inexpensive to operate. The cost for a 2007 530i sedan over a five-year timeframe is about $59,000. Compare that to a Toyota Camry from the same year, which cots about $40,000.

When it comes to reliability, the series is average or below average in Consumer Reports ratings for 2004 – 2010. The 2009 models got the lowest ratings. The basic problems were found in electrical systems, power devices, engines and the audio system. The most common issues were leaks and electrical and engine problems. General competitors to the 5-Series are the Mercedes E-class, which has a softer ride, and the Lexus LS and the Infiniti M-class, both with greater reliability.

2002 to 2008 BMW 7-Series

If you are looking for the largest of BMWs luxury sedans, choose one of the models from the 7-Series. This still doesn’t keep them from depreciating rapidly though. During a used car price check in 2012, prices ranged from slightly below $8,000 for a 2002 car to more than $45,000 for one that came out in 2008. Yet the two cars were very comparable in all details.

Your best deal will come by choosing a model that is seven to nine years old, not three years old. The basic car will be the same, but the cost will drop dramatically.

Consumer Reports rated the 7-Series models as below average. None of them have undergone NHTSA crash tests. What they have going for them is their large size, making them s safe bet in a crash.

Gas mileage is not high. For example, the 20008 8-cylinder 750i gets 15/23 mpg. The 2008 V12 760L1 comes in at 13/20 mpg and an annual fuel bill of $4,100.

This is the most expensive series to own. For example, replacing all four tires with Michelins on a 2008 BMW 760i costs about $1,586. Though you can buy the car for under $10,000, you will probably pay more than that for insurance premiums, maintenance, repairs and gas over the course of a single year.

2004 to 2010 BMW X3

This BMW line came to North American markets in 2004. Based on the 3-Series, the X3 is a smaller size SUV with good handling and a comfortable ride. One of the more sporty looking SUVs on the road, it is available with manual transmission.

Many drivers choose it because they say it feels like driving a sports car, albeit one with lots of cargo space, a high driving position and excellent visibility. This model comfortably seats five in roomy seats with quality materials.

It has excellent headroom in both the front and back areas. Room for legs in front is large, but not so in back which is quite limited. The cargo space with the rear seats folded back amounts to 71 cu. ft. This is not an off-road vehicle. Though it comes with all-wheel drive, it is made for city streets.

The engine comes with 184-hp 2.5L or 225-hp 3.0L inline-6. That is enough power to get it from 0 – to 60 in 9.3 seconds for the 2.5L automatic and 7.9 seconds if you are driving the 3.0L automatic. It has plenty of power for towing, rated at 3500 lb.

Gas mileage for the 2004 2.5L X3 with automatic is 15/22 mpg. The 2004 3.0L X3 automatic get 14/21 mpg. The manual 3.0L gets 15/25 mpg.

The 2004 – 2007 models are rated average by Consumer Reports for reliability. The 2008 – 2010 is above average. The cost of upkeep over a five-year timeframe is about $61,000 for a 2007 X3, according to Edmunds.com. It needs premium gas and synthetic oil. Compare that to the Toyota Highlander for the same year. It costs about $45,000 over the same period.

2007 to 2012 BMW X5 (E70)

If you want a sporty feel and luxury in your SUV, the X5 is the one to get. In the 2007 – 2012 models, it has a choice of inline-6 (3.0si, xDrive30i) and V8 (4.8i, xDrive48i), as well as the xDrive35d, offered in 2009, which is diesel powered. All models are automatic transmission. The SUV has third-row seating as an option, though the seats are small.

The X5 received five stars on front crash tests for the driver and four stars for passengers in the front. It also got five stars for side crashes.

Costs are about $3,300 annually, according to Edmunds.com, on the 2007 X5. Compare that to the Toyota Highlander of the same year, which comes in at $1,600 a year. Over a five-year span, the BMW would cost the owner around $9,000 more to operate. The diesel model is less expensive when it comes to fuel, but overall it costs more for upkeep.

For reliability, it is below average according to Consumer Reports. The main problems occur in the electrical system and the cooling system for the engine. It rated even lower in the J.D. Power and Associates study, which gave the 2012 X5 just two out of five stars. This study found most problems in the electrical and cooling systems, as well as slight problems with the engine.

Basic Issues with Used BMWs

One of the most common issues occurs in the cooling system for the engine, especially coolant leaks and water pumps that stop working. Because cooling system problems lead directly to overheating, the repairs need to be done quickly. Otherwise, there is a good chance the engine will need costly repairs.

Another common complaint is difficulties with the ventilation system in the crankcase. Due to vacuum leaks, cracked hoses and intake boots, as well as CCV issues, often occur.

A burnt oil smell was reported quite often due to oil leaks. Failures of the fuel pumps and the fuel injectors are also common. This is also true of DISA valve replacement.

Most of these problems will cause the Check Engine light to go on. But it can also be triggered by electrical system problems, another familiar trouble. These are common because the cars have a number of electronic devices and control modules, all of which can develop problems.

Because problems are so common, it is easy to find Do It Yourself guides for BMW repairs.

How to Choose a Used BMW

One of the most important things to do is check all of the electronic system on a used model. This includes all the windows, climate controls, audio system, power seats, air conditioner, remotes and Bluetooth. Trust nothing, test everything.

Look for water damage and signs of corrosion and rust under the floor carpets. Do this in the trunk also. Make sure you can easily get the key into the key holder.

Do more than kick the tires. Look for hairline cracks in the alloy rims, which can cause leaks. This is a common problem, so be extra suspicious if you see tires that are low.

Check for coolant and oil leaks around and under the car and under the hood. If you smell burnt oil, assume there is a leak. In the 335i and 535i, check for problems with the fuel pump if the car takes a long time to crank and idles roughly from a cold start. When you take it for a test drive, be on the lookout for rough shifting and clunks in the drive train.

Age and mileage are less important in a used BMW that the condition of the engine and other mechanical parts. If the car was damaged in an accident, don’t buy it. Be sure to get a Carfax report or another that checks a used car’s history. Always have the car inspected thoroughly by a trained mechanic who is familiar with BMWs.

How to Treat Your Used BMW

  1. Get regular preventive maintenance done, using the factory schedule.
  2. Learn to recognize common problems. Check BMW forums, columns and books.
  3. If the car overheats or if you see leaks of coolant when you park the car, don’t hesitate. Take it in immediately to get it checked and repaired. Otherwise, you run the risk of your engine overheating and needing major repair or replacement.
  4. Check coolant levels regularly and top them up as needed.
  5. Keep tires inflated properly, especially for all-wheel drive BMWs. Check to see if the pressure recommendations differ for front tires and rear tires. You can find this information on the driver-side door jamb. If the pressure isn’t kept at the right levels, the car will develop problems like jolting on acceleration or at stops.
  6. Wipe up spills. Electronic issues can develop from coffee or water spilled on carpets.
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