Newbie to used BMW ownership: Realities and falsehoods of buying and owning a used BMW.

I did it, I took the plunge and jumped from domestics and "economy brands" to full on BMW ownership.  I don't make brand new BMW kind of income, so I am one of those icky dirty plebs that buy used,  and not even "Certified Preowned" used, but Under $12 Grand high mileage used.   That's right I bought a 8 year old over 100,000 mile AS-IS BMW.   I can already hear people screaming out there in the internet as to the error of my ways,  and all of them are completely wrong.

First let's get some facts about buying a used BMW.   First,  Carfax is 100% worthless for anything in a premium brand.  BMW does not report anything to Carfax, and from what I learned, neither does Audi, Mercedes, VW, etc..  In fact it seems that Carfax is pretty darn useless outside of showing if the car was completely totaled.  So do not waste your time with a carfax....  the BMW dealerships do have a full service history on the car,  but they do not want to give it to you.  Used car buyers are the bane of BMW and they will use some BS like "protecting the security of the previous owner" for the reason to not tell you what was done to the car.  You have a better chance of getting the information after you buy it, but no way in hell is any BMW dealer going to give you any of that information before you buy a car.  BMW dealers hate used car buyers, so get used to being treated like a 3rd class citizen when you go to one. If you are very lucky you live near an honest dealer and you will find someone to work with.

So you need to do one of two things.   either pay to have the car fully  inspected at a BMW dealer, About $450.00 or if you are actually skilled at vehicle maintenance and repair look it over yourself or with a friend that is very good at cars.   BMW cars are not magical unicorns, they are 100% identical in the important parts to a ford, toyota, honda.  The engine has pistons that go up and down, they have a transmission that is pretty much the same as all other car's transmissions, and they have electrical systems with undersized wires compared to american cars.  But are identical to Japanese cars.   when you look at the different systems they are not special, just a little different and need some different tools.   Even the computer system can be managed by a home shade-tree mechanic if you are willing to learn.  Lastly BMW makes service interval claims that are outlandish.  15,000 miles for oil changes are fine for a 3 year old car coming off lease.  7500 miles are more realistic.  BMW service intervals are set to lower costs for dealerships as the first 4 years all service is "free".

Your next stop is edmunds and kelly blue book.  Look up the car's year and mileage with condition.  THAT is what you should pay,  any cars listed higher than that price should be showroom new condition or ultra rare like a 1982 M1.  Sadly a lot of sellers do not want to admit do the depreciation BMW has, walk away from those people with their car listed with a high selling price.

So listen to the car,  when started cold what does it do?  is there any engine ticks that go away after it warms up?   a high mileage engine may have those noises and the ticks that disappear are fine.  Ticks that do NOT go away are a worry.  how does the exhaust smell? gas? oil?  get an ODB-II code reader and read the codes, both stored and pending.  is there any?  etc...  Brake fluid, does it look clean and new?  this one is highly important.   Coolant is it a clean clear blue or is it grey?   Oil color and condition is harder as there is no dipstick anymore on BMW engines. you can open the filter housing on top but you might cause a leak if you do as the o-ring should be replaced every time it's opened.  Be wary if they don't have proof of recent service like oil changes. But also look at the rest of the car how was it maintained?  s it full of dents as if the owner did not care and let it get knocked around?  this is a red flag that the previous owners did not care about the car so may have missed service.  does the interior look new or is it ragged and dirty?  again a red flag that the car was not cared about.  The car is going to have some wear, the leather in the drivers seat will not be perfect,  dirty carpet, etc.  BMW Steering wheel plastic pieces are coated with a very low grade rubberized plastic that shows wear fast. So those are normal to see a lot of wear on.  Are all the tools in the tool slots or tool kit? is the spare still there (if the car has a spare) Look for the jack is it the real jack? Don't go looking for the BMW first aid kit or safety kit.  Those are removed before importing due to US regulations.  Do not be afraid to ask the seller to lower the price for anything wrong.  BMW's lose value rapidly.  My 2007 X3 sold new for $49,900  It's now worth $11,500 and anything wrong like AC not working you need to instantly remove $2500-$3000 from the selling price as that is how much it will take to have it fixed.  Also do not be afraid of walking away from it. there are 10,000 more just like it out there. Dont fall in love with a specific car as that will be your doom. If anything just does not feel right to you, walk away from that car there are many many more out there in better shape, everything working, or with full service proof in hand.   One last thing I check that is a tell tale that the frontend had some major work.  Check the headlight alignment.  if they are aiming very low, someone had the frontend completely disassembled or had to replace the headlamps, this is a HUGE red flag if they don't admit it was in a major accident and had the front end repaired.  Also a 120,000 mile car with no stone chips in the hood is a telltale of front end repairs unless the owner has proof they had a shop do paint repair, some shops are really good and can fix stone chips to nearly invisible.

You also need to hit the forums and learn what the common failures are.  My BMW X3 the water pump will fail by 100,000 miles.  It's so guaranteed of a failure that BMW even has it as a item on the suggested replacement schedule.   For example all BMW 4WD/AWD vehicles will have the plastic gear strip out on the Transfer case that selects power transfer.  BMW does not sell this tiny $30.00 gear, instead they will sell you a $1200 transfer case selector assembly, this is another guaranteed failure.   Panoramic sunroofs fail a lot due to another plastic gear and nobody actually cleaning and lubricating the sunroof mechanisms yearly.  Learn what to expect as common failures on the BMW you are looking at, look at the solutions as well.  Also remember that only the people that complain will post,  the people that have perfect running cars that ran trouble free for 500,000 miles will not post on the forums about problems.  BMW actually has a reputation for being very reliable, their inline 6cyl engines are known to be indestructible if they are taken care of.  Little things like the power seats, heated steering wheels, auto dim mirrors, radios and navigation fail all the time, those are no big deal as a dead radio will not leave you stranded.

Lastly do not believe that you have to use special BMW fluids for your car. BMW simply relabeled common products that meet the standards they  were looking for.   Castrol 0W30 synthetic  is the BMW special 5W30 needed for many of their cars, places like rock auto can get you BMW filters for significantly less than the dealership, so if you want to change your oil yourself, you can do it in your driveway for $45.00 instead of the $165.00 the dealership charges.  And that is where BMW get's its reputation for being expensive.  The dealerships charge close to $300 an hour for labor because most BMW owners will not bat an eye at anything under $2000 for service on their cars. As a Poor BMW enthusiast  you have to do most of your own work. By learning skills, getting the manuals and getting the tools needed you can save tens of thousands of dollars and actually afford to drive a car that really is the "ultimate driving machine".


  1. Very nicely written insights into buying and owning BMW's. Sadly true that the Dealer will treat you like crap if didn't buy a new car from them.


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