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Things To Consider Before Buying Old BMW Cars

1. New Cars

First, let’s talk about the BMW brand. According to BusinessWeek.com, BMW is the best automotive brand in the world. BMW is a German car, motorcycle, and engine manufacturing company. They are the world’s leading premium automotive brand. With BMW, you have the quintessential driving machine and status symbol for an affordable price. They hold their value for a long time, if you take care of it that is. It may depreciate considerably while you are driving it, but it has long-term reliability and durability. Then again, it is a luxury car with an expensive lifestyle, so ownership may be costly. When buying a BMW used, there are certain models and years which are more reliable than others. BMWs, as luxury vehicles like Mercedes and Porsche, have ridiculously high depreciation because of their reliability and the luxury car maintenance costs. This may sound good and all, having a luxury car for a good price, but if you are a used car buyer it is quite detrimental. The repair costs are the same as the cost of an average used car. I will discuss model and year specific information in another thread. In conclusion, it will depend how you look at it. People who can afford and truly appreciate these cars will love to own one. At the same time, it is really hard to let go of a luxury car once you’ve experienced it, unless the wallet is light and the head is burdened. For those who can afford it, buy a new one and drive it into the ground. [1][2][3]

1.1. Is a BMW a good car to buy used?

Yes, BMW vehicle are good to buy used. Purchasing a pre-owned automobile has numerous advantages. Many people are reluctant to purchase pre-owned vehicles as they are concerned about the quality. Used cars are not what they used to be because of the enhanced quality and manufacturing. For example, most car makers have a “certified” used car program that includes a warranty (which is similar to a new car warranty). Additionally, when a car is purchased new, the value of the automobile depreciates most within the first few years. If it is sold and then bought as a used car, much of the money lost can be regained. A BMW is a good example of this. When the price for a new 3-series is compared to a 3-series that is 3-4 years old, the savings is substantial. The quality of the car does not downgrade significantly in these few years, yet the price difference is big. After considering the savings of buying a used 3-series BMW, it's crucial to inspect different car models to ensure they meet the buyer's needs in terms of features and reliability. It is often quite possible for various individuals within all economic classes to consider a BMW as a first choice vehicle rather than an upgrade if it is purchased as a used car. Although buying a BMW that is more than ten years old is not a sound purchase since those are the years that BMW’s require a great deal of expensive maintenance. The difference in price between a new 5-series and a 5-series that is 5 years old is about 30-50%. This is a substantial savings and the car will still have a long life ahead of it. Any car that is ten or more years old is very cheap, although that probably reflects its condition. It is often said of BMW’s that you should lease new and used ones are the way to go. [4][5]

1.2. Is it Expensive to Own a BMW?

For a lot of people, the initial cost of the car and the expected depreciation is what keeps them away from buying a used luxury car. People just don’t want to accept the fact that they have to buy a car which may have cost someone else $40k for only a couple thousand dollars. However, this is a fact of life and is not just exclusive to BMW but for all luxury cars. The catch is that luxury cars still have luxury parts and they still cost luxury money. Although your car may have depreciated a substantial amount, the cost to fix and replace parts have not. In fact, used parts for luxury cars tend to be more expensive than brand new parts for a standard car. To give an example, you can buy a brand new aftermarket radiator for $150-200 bucks for a Japanese car. For BMW vehicles, you’re looking to spend anywhere from $250-400 dollars for a new one or around $150-250 for a used one. This variance in maintenance costs across different BMW vehicles can be attributed to the parts and labor involved, which can significantly impact the overall cost of ownership. This is largely because there is less demand for OEM parts for luxury cars and a less competitive market. Also, the cost of materials and engineering for European cars is still greater than that of Japanese cars. With this being said, if you’re just going to go out and buy parts from the dealership and not do any research, you will spend a lot of money if you compare choosing OEM options for both cars. [6][7][8][9][10][11][12][13]

Now some claim that Japanese cars are easy to maintain and will truly last longer than a BMW. This is a valid argument and can be quite convincing when you compare the bulletproof reliability of an older Honda compared to a BMW, but in my personal experience, I have found that BMWs are not that much more expensive to own and the satisfaction and comfort of owning a BMW outweighs the extra few thousand dollars you might spend on maintenance.

Do you know your car? Do you have to run premium fuel? What about timing belt replacement, fuel pumps, water pumps, thermostat, replacement of parts that are plastic, PCV replacement, and all the electronics? The truth is that if you run your car like BMW intended you to do through their recommended maintenance schedule at the dealership, you will spend a lot of money. You don’t have to do everything that BMW says, and I wouldn’t recommend it because many things are unnecessary. However, BMWs require more diligence and preventative maintenance than the average car owner is willing to do. If you want your car to last, essentially you have to restore everything once it’s worn out. The costs are spread out since you will do maintenance throughout the year, but it’s something to consider.

2. Used Cars

Used cars are always attractive to buyers. The idea of a lower priced BMW is very tempting, the reliability of a well cared for BMW can be very alluring. Understanding a car's history, including its service/repair history, record of breakdowns, previous owners, accidents, and water damage, is crucial for estimating its true residual value and potential repair needs in the future. The different options before a used BMW is purchased vary greatly, so it is always important to be informed about the purchase. Common problems and maintenance needs are different on every model from the E30 3 Series to the newer Z4. Anything less than an enthusiast owned vintage BMW should be purchased after detailed research. Step one to buying a used BMW is researching to find the specific model in mind. Various web forums are full of information straight from BMW owners, a great site to check is BimmerForums. Model specific reviews can also be found at Edmunds.com, a reliable resource for car information and reviews. After the specific model is decided, the car hunt begins. Patience is key when looking for a used BMW, new car lots have newer used models but expect to pay a premium. Buying from an older individual is ideal as they are more likely to have taken good care of the car. Online classified ads are a great resource too. eBayMotors, Craigslist and the classified forum on BimmerForums are frequented spots to look for used BMWs. After the car is found, getting a CARFAX report is essential. This will reveal any past accidents, title brands, and mileage discrepancies. If purchasing from a dealer the salesperson should be able to provide a free CARFAX report, if not, it’s well worth the money to order one. With a CARFAX report in hand and detailed knowledge of the car, a well informed decision can be made. [14][15][16][17][18][19]

2.1. Why Is BMW Resale Value So Low?

The first aspect is the high rate of depreciation, where buying a shiny new BMW from a showroom could mean losing up to 30% of its value within the first year. The largest chunk of this takes place within the first two to three years. This is good news for second and third owners, who may be able to pick up a three-year-old car for significantly less than a third of the price of the same car when new. However, this is definitely not good news for first owners! This massive rate of depreciation is due to German cars being over-engineered. Although this is commonly seen as being a positive aspect, such cars invariably cost more to maintain, upkeep, and repair compared to lesser engineered counterparts. Over-engineered cars don’t stand the test of time well, as they will still have the same underlying mechanical problems common with most other cars, except they will cost a lot more to fix. This can see fourth and fifth owners spending on high repair bills what they saved in the first place by not buying a brand new car. This is particularly true with 7 series and 5 series BMWs which were the most over-engineered models they produced. The second and third points are actually related, and are to do with the way the life cycle of a car model and poor reliability can affect resale value. This is particularly true of the 7 series BMW. When a new model of car is introduced, the price for a used car of the previous model will often drop significantly. Currently, up until 2008, a 2004 745i can be bought for less than half of what it was worth when it was three years old. This is because a mixture of the new model costing more to build coupled with the old model being at the end of its life cycle means that the new models aren’t actually built much better but have higher retail value. 7 series BMWs, in particular, have suffered in this way, and combined with a poor record for reliability, it is no wonder why they are so cheap to pick up used compared to the price of a new one. Additionally, hybrid and diesel models of BMWs might have different resale values and maintenance costs compared to traditional gasoline models, further complicating the depreciation factor.

2.2. What You Need to Know Before Buying a BMW

Narrowing our scope to used cars, there are definitely some things you need to know before jumping into a used BMW. We’ll attempt to cover the general idea with some very basic bits of advice, leaving the complicated or model-specific stuff for later. One blanket statement can be applied to the vast majority of used BMWs (excluding the E30 and E36 models) regardless of year and model. That statement is: be prepared to spend money on maintenance and repairs. If you are not willing to keep up with active maintenance and replacing worn-down parts, a used BMW is not a car you should consider purchasing. This is especially true for models with higher mileage and/or M series models. The same applies to typical wear items such as tires and brakes. While it’s true these items must be replaced on any car, the cost for BMW replacement parts is usually higher than domestic or Japanese cars, with the same being true for maintenance and repair. Additionally, it's advisable to inspect under the car's hood for signs of wear or damage, such as oil leaks, cracks, and battery condition, which could indicate potential issues. Before making any used car purchase, it’s important to set a budget. It’s especially important in the case of a used BMW if you’ve not owned one before, as people shopping for BMWs often find themselves behind the wheel of a car they cannot realistically afford to maintain. Be realistic about how much it is going to cost to own the specific model you are looking at. The Kelly Blue Book and NADA values often do not take into account the considerable price difference in maintaining a 7 series as compared to a 3 series. If possible, get in touch with others who own the same model you are considering and ask them how much it costs them to own the car on a monthly or yearly basis.

2.3. What Are Common Problems with BMWs?

A minor yet still frustrating issue is that of the automatic transmission. The transmission has a delay and is known to lurch when changing gears. This is more of an annoyance than anything else, but it can impact the resale value of the car. The transmission also has problems with slippage between gears.

The most problematic of the 5 Series are the 2008-2009 models. There are many issues associated with this car. First and most serious is a problem with the fuel pump. This can cause the car to stall unexpectedly, usually at high speeds and on the highway. A search on the NHTSA website for the 5 Series will show that this is, in fact, linked to many complaints of a dangerous nature. A stalled engine can make steering and braking more difficult, resulting in accidents. The most serious model year for this problem is the 2008 5 Series.

BMW Defender asserts that BMWs are robust cars with few mechanical problems; however, just the reverse has been proven in the last few years. BMW has been plagued with car problems and has several class action lawsuits pending, particularly with the 5 Series model. The problems are many and fairly serious.

2.4. Is a BMW Expensive to Fix?

"Are BMWs expensive to maintain?" is an often asked question when considering a BMW. Maintain is, in fact, platform speak for repair, and over the years, BMW has unfortunately become synonymous with expensive to fix. While it is true that BMWs are no more affordable to maintain than any other car, taking it to a BMW specialist will, in all likelihood, result in paying more for repairs than you would with an independent mechanic for a standard vehicle. BMWs are complex, and it is here that the catch 22 lies. It costs more to fix a BMW, so people take them to BMW specialists, which results in the process costing even more money. Buyers should take heed that while buying a well-maintained BMW would be fairly painless, buying a neglected one could dig a large hole in a pocket. If you are buying a BMW with the plan to maintain it for its life, buying quality maintenance and repair parts for a reduced cost from an independent may put the car within an affordable price range.

3. Cost of ownership

It's no secret that the BMW is not the most reliable car despite its impressive engineering. Generally being the most complex and electronically-loaded cars of their time, BMWs suffer from the usual array of German-car electrical problems. Repairing anything from minor window regulator replacement to major engine work can cost a small fortune, and often the only affordable solution is purchasing used parts and doing the work personally. For this reason, a BMW should never be out of warranty. If planned to be driven far beyond 100,000 miles, it may be worth purchasing a new one and keeping it for a long time, as the faster depreciation of a lease will equal the difference in resale value. With the old car as a second vehicle, money can then be put into maintaining the retired BMW to be used when time on the new car has ended.

Highly dependent on specific models, the BMW in general holds value better than many other European and domestic cars, although still not as well as comparable Japanese models. Luxury cars depreciate quickly as a rule, and The Ultimate Driving Machine is no exception to that. That being said, less expensive models such as the E46 3-series and the X3 can be found in line with the depreciation of some Hondas and Toyotas. Here is a list of BMW depreciation by model: BMW 3 series 40%, BMW 5 series 48%, BMW 7 series 53%. This means that if one is dead set on purchasing a BMW, buying a model that is old enough to have fully depreciated can save quite a bit of money in the long term. This way when it comes time to sell it, there's less of a loss. Alternatively, one can lease a newer model with high residual values, but what you save in maintenance costs due to warranty will likely be lost in high monthly lease payments. Also, BMWs that are no longer under warranty will be harder to sell, and those that have records of major repairs or accidents will be worth next to nothing, so be sure to keep the car clean and make an honest sale at a decent time.

3.1. Depreciation and resale value

This is the most obvious disadvantage of owning a luxury car. Regardless if you buy new or well below market value, every BMW owner will experience this loss. But when you buy new, the cost of depreciation is also new and thus, much higher. A new car's value drops by thousands, even tens of thousands of dollars the instant you drive it off the lot. By comparison, in the first year, a used car's depreciation rate is considerably less. And if you do your research and choose a car with a good depreciation rate, it will lose its value even more slowly than the average used car. This can work to your advantage 3-4 years later and on, should you decide to sell the car. Here are some general guidelines on BMW depreciation. Please note that these are not exact numbers, and may differ regionally or by specific models. A new BMW may lose 50% of its value within the first 3 years. From this point on, the rate of depreciation slows, but a large amount of value is lost in the first 3 years. From years 3-6, the rate may decrease to 20% in the next three years, leaving the car at 30% of its original value. At this point, most cars will then lose a constant 10-15% per 3-year period. With this in mind, buying a used BMW that is more than 3 years old is actually a very smart investment. Using rates of average depreciation, a $30,000 used BMW is estimated to lose 30% of its value over the next 3 years, leaving it at a $21,000 car. From this point, the value only drops a moderate amount. This same comparison with a new BMW would leave you with a $15,000 car in 3 years. This example best illustrates the magnitude of loss directly after purchase, a loss that can be minimized by buying used.

3.2. How To Choose A Used BMW Car?

Always consider future costs of ownership. This is not a factor that most consumers consider. Now that you are armed with information about the variety in types of used BMWs for sale, consider how to ensure that a used BMW is a worthwhile purchase.

A very low-priced BMW may seem like a bargain, but it is often a signal that there could be problems with the car. High mileage cars are significantly cheaper than low mileage cars. They are not less money for no reason. Always check the Blue Book value and compare actual prices of similar cars. This will give you an indication of the fair market value of the car. A $4000 pricing difference on similar cars is a red flag. Why is that other car worth so much more money?

Consider what is included with the price of the car before making a purchase. If you are buying a less expensive model, do not expect a free car of the same model. Some private sellers greatly set pricing expectations due to their personal attachment to the car. Free repair work can sometimes make the purchase of a higher mileage car worthwhile.

In this situation, a used BMW will be a comparable purchase to a new car with the same warranty. If you are buying from a private seller, then there will probably be no warranty, and the car will be sold "as is". A car sold "as is" often means there is something wrong with the car. It is a risky situation to purchase a car with no guarantee that it will last a month.

Buying a used BMW from an authorized dealer can come with a 1-year unlimited mileage warranty. Many BMW dealers also offer certified pre-owned cars. This means that the used BMW you purchase will be less than 5 years old, will have less than 60,000 miles, and will have been cared for by BMW's stringent pre-owned requirements.

3.3. How Many Miles Can a Used BMW Last?

The BMW has a well-deserved reputation for being a long-lasting vehicle with fewer major problems than some other car brands. The important factor to remember is that regardless of the make of the car, regular servicing is the key to long life. The hardest thing on a car is usually the way in which it is driven, not the mileage or time. Any car driven with a 'spirited' or 'enthusiastic' style is going to suffer increased wear and tear, while repeated short trips without the engine reaching full operating temperature will cause a build-up of contaminants and oil sludge in the engine, again reducing engine life. BMWs are very popular as commuter cars, and often the ability to cover long distances with reliability is the reason why many people buy a used BMW. In this case, you need to inquire about the previous owner's driving habits. High-speed cruising is the easiest load on an engine and transmission, and a well-maintained motorway miles car can be in much better mechanical condition than one with half the mileage used in stop-start city driving.

4. Are BMWs reliable cars?

An example of a less reliable car would be one that needs several repairs to the tranny in the first few years of ownership. This might not be something that many BMW owners are used to. Transmission problems have been reported to be less likely with newer BMW models. This can be an important thing for people to research as time and money invested into a luxury car is not meant to be spent on car troubles, it is meant to increase the driving experience.

First of all, think about why this question is being asked. It could be that the person looking to buy a BMW wants to make sure that their car investment will be something that can last a long time. If this is the case, then reliability could mean something along the lines of having a car that won't have many mechanical problems through the span of ownership of the vehicle. Mechanical problems can cost a lot of money and time to fix and they can also decrease the value of a vehicle, so many people want a vehicle that can potentially be a low cost investment over time.

As is the case with owning any type of vehicle, it can be very easy to get mixed feelings and thoughts. While there are many reasons to believe that owning a BMW will be very exciting, there are also times where prospective buyers will need to look at the potential downsides to owning a certain type of vehicle. One of the first things that many buyers may ask is, are BMW cars reliable? This is a loaded question with many different avenues that one could go down to answer it. Reliability can mean different things to different people, so let's try to break down some of the common questions that people may have when asking if BMW cars are reliable.

4.1. Is buying a used BMW worth it?

Yes and no - you may get a good one or a bad one. Some BMWs are solid and reliable, while others are an absolute nightmare. Reputable brands build lasting vehicles. During the first 5 years, BMWs are very reliable. As the vehicle's system starts to age, however, mechanical problems will be a common occurrence. Parts are more expensive, and it's a luxury brand, so this is to be expected. While the cost of ownership compared to a new lower-end vehicle is still higher, a used BMW will cost less to maintain than a new one, provided it has been maintained well in the past. If you're thinking about buying an older BMW, you should shoulder the stereotype and prepare to dish out plenty of cash for repairs in the long run. Avoid years 1999 and earlier, and also the years 2004-2006. These years have been marked as the most unreliable because of aging vehicles and the transition into more computer-based systems. That said, it is still possible to find a vehicle from these years that will prove to be reliable. Always research the specific model and the years you are considering before deciding on a vehicle.

4.2. Do BMWs Break Down a Lot?

Just remember though, all information needs to be put into context. BMW makes fantastic vehicles to drive that offer an unrivaled driving experience. These vehicles are unlike any other on the road and often this fact outweighs the drawbacks of the vehicle's unreliability. Take this into consideration and read further as to what to look for when buying a used BMW.

Although this is a positive initiative, it doesn't change some alarming information obtained from a survey of its members by the BMW Car Club of America. The survey discovered that 78% of BMW owners thought that their vehicle was generally unreliable. Further to this, they found that 89% of their members would not recommend a BMW to a friend as a used car.

But wait up, before you go flicking to the next webpage, all is not lost. BMW has made efforts in recent years to erase the stigma of owning a used BMW that's plagued with various issues. BMW now offers what is called a certified pre-owned program. A vehicle under this program undergoes a systematic check of the vehicle’s history and all of its systems to ensure that it meets BMW's quality standards. The vehicle is only then offered for sale with a factory-backed, limited warranty.

Alright, this is a tough one. It is worth noting that many of the vehicles that BMW manufactures are produced for the European market. Europeans are not scared by the prospect of a car that might fail occasionally. They have a philosophy that the rewards of actually driving a vehicle that is fun and rewarding to drive are worth the inconvenience of a vehicle that might fail occasionally.

4.3. What to Look for When Buying a Used BMW

Electrical: Electrical problems are among the most common problems with BMWs. To check for electrical problems, do a quick test of the accessories by turning on the headlights, climate control, radio, and wipers. Problems here are usually minor annoyances, although sometimes the cost of replacement parts can be quite high. Next, check the instrument cluster for warning lamps. It’s important to know that the instrument cluster checks are only a preliminary inspection, and it is possible for warning lamps to be on due to a minor problem or a fault in the cluster itself. Worn-out window regulator mechanisms are another common electrical problem. A thorough test to check these involves holding the window switch while opening and closing both front windows and the two rear vent windows. Be sure to have any serious or multiple electrical problems inspected by a trusted mechanic.

Mechanical: Engine, brakes, and transmission are probably the three most important mechanical aspects to look at in a used BMW. BMW engines can be expensive to rebuild, and engine replacement is often more cost-effective. As a result, many high-mileage BMWs have engine replacements, often with a lower-mileage engine. One of the best scenarios is to find a model with a certified pre-owned (CPO) warranty or a significant time/mileage on an extended warranty. This is for one good reason: if the car is certified pre-owned, it has passed a thorough inspection, and any problem areas have been restored to good-as-new condition. A car with a significant warranty will allow you to have mechanical problems fixed with minimal cost, although these cars might cost a little more initially. Before taking the car for a test drive, look under the hood and check brake fluid and transmission fluid levels, as low fluid levels are often a sign of neglected maintenance. Any burnt smells (especially burnt oil) in the engine bay after a test drive are an indication of potential problems. Always ask for service records, and have a trusted mechanic perform a thorough pre-purchase inspection. Always make sure to thoroughly test drive the car and accelerate to highway speeds, as many engine or transmission problems are not noticeable in stop-and-go driving or at lower speeds. A prospective buyer should follow similar test drive procedures for the braking system, while also testing for brake pedal fade. Remember to drive the car quickly and then immediately get out and touch the brake rotors to check for warping (it is recommended that you do not actually perform this test, as hot brake rotors can cause major burns). Additionally, inspect power windows and other electronic components for functionality and signs of water damage, as these can be costly to repair or replace if damaged.


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Things To Consider Before Buying Old BMW Cars

Before purchasing a used BMW, consider exploring these resources: