9 Tips for Buying a Used BMW

I have never purchased a brand new BMW. I don’t have $40k to fork over for a new 3 Series, I hate the idea of paying $600-$1,200 a month for a car and I hate how much new cars drop in value after they are purchased from the dealership.  For those reasons when I buy BMW I get a used model. I have generally had nothing but excellent experiences with the vehicles. However, there are a few things that I have learned overtime from a combination of past mistakes and successes that will help you with purchasing a used BMW as well.

Tip 1: There are a ton of options to find a good deal

I love to use Craigslist, Ebay and sometimes I’ll take a look at some of the larger local used car lots in my area. From my experience I have noticed that BMWs on Ebay overall are more expensive than the ones I find on Craigslist but they also tend to be in better condition than many of the Craigslist cars.

Facebook Marketplace is also an excellent option to take a look at and it is fast approaching Craigslist if it has not surpassed it already.

I usually find the best deals on Craigslist when I search in a variety of areas that are up to two hours away. The nice thing about Craigslist is that there are a ton of filters you can use to segment and narrow down your search if you have a specific model and price range in mind. You’ll find everything on Craigslist from total junk/parts vehicles to mint condition classics. Craigslist does have its faults however, it has long been a source of scammers so be weary of deals that are “to good to be true”. Scams are usually obvious, most of them only deal in email and you receive a long response about how the guy is overseas and if you forward him a deposit he will have the car shipped to you.

I have purchased one vehicle before off of Ebay however I stick with the same limitation as Craigslist, a two hour radius. Much further than that and your potentially wasting a lot of time on a car you might not even like. Much less than that and unless your in a heavily urbanized area your not going to have too many options. Some people purchase vehicles off of Ebay without ever personally seeing the car. I’ll tell you that I don’t have that much trust in someone over the internet regardless that you have the right to refuse the vehicle if the seller neglected to inform you of a serious problem with the car. I recommend that you see every vehicle in person before purchasing and that you have it inspected.

Tip 2: Certified Pre-Owned?

Another option is to check out your local BMW dealership and buy a certified pre-owned BMW. The biggest benefit here is that they come with a warranty. As of today, CPO BMW’s come with a 1 year unlimited mileage warranty and there are additional options for extending the warranty. These vehicles are also inspected and reconditioned by BMW so you can skip the pre-purchase inspection. The negative is that you are going to pay more, sometimes significantly more for that CPO sticker from BMW. However if your not mechanically inclined or just don’t have the time to perform repairs buying from BMW is a great option!

Tip 2: Check the value

Kelley Blue Book is a good starting point for the value of the used vehicle your interested in, but remember its just a starting point! Used BMWs frequently sell for significantly more than the Kelley Blue Book value even after you control it for your immediate area.

Tip 4: Is it Advisable to Purchase a High Mileage BMW?

e36 tips to buying used bmw
bmw e36 still gorgeous

I personally don’t consider 100k + to be high mileage, I’ve owned two BMW’s that ran fine after 200k (1995 318i, 1999 M3). However, I understand that many consider 100k to be the major milemarker. BMWs are not cheap maintenance vehicles, your much better off looking at a Honda, Toyota or Hyundai article if your focused on an inexpensive maintenance car. However, BMWs are reliable if they are properly maintained and the scheduled maintenance is adhered to.

Whether or not a BMW overall is a worthy used car to buy after $100k is too general of an issue because the maintenance costs vary between models and years. The E36 and E46 is substantially less complex (older cars) and if properly maintained these cars run well into 200k mileage. The newer F30 series has generally received good reviews for their maintenance and the reviews are becoming significantly more useful because many vehicles are now past BMW’s 100k mileage warranty. The E90 series overall has also received good reviews on maintenance with the exception of the turbocharged vehicles which frequently have more significant problems.

f30 tips to buying used bmw

Overall, if you are looking to purchase a high-mileage BMW it’s not so much the model (for the most part) as it is the condition of the vehicle. If you have a car that’s been well maintained with regular oil changes, spark plug, air filter, coolant component replacement, than the vehicle will be significantly cheaper to maintain. If your buying a 3 series that was some kid’s first car for five years I would steer far away even if it’s being sold at a discount.

Tip 5: Older/Cheaper Models are often more expensive than they appear

I would also stress that simply because you have found a BMW that is older and cheaper you cannot assume that the car is in fact less expensive. E36 and E46 BMWs are old at this point and even if they don’t have 150k + miles they will require a suspension rebuild immediately if they have not already received one. My personal favorite BMW is the E36 series. This is pretty easy to tell from the looks of my garage where I have three of them. The very first thing I check with older model BMWs is the suspension. BMW’s are great but when the struts check out you might as well be training to go deep sea fishing. The best way to test is with a test-drive, and make sure you hit a bump or two and listen to what vibrates under the car.

Newer model problems vary by the model. The V8 SUV’s are known for valley pan gasket problems that are extremely expensive and annoying coolant leaks. Do a little bit of research on the specific model and check if there are any frequent problem areas.

Tip 6: Check reviews for specific models

Not all BMWs are made equally. Some of them are awesome, some are okay and some suck. Most of the BMWs I have owned I really enjoyed, but a few I did not such as the X5 4.8 liter. Research reviews on the specific model you are looking at. Edmunds.com and consumerreports.com are both solid choices, and there are a number of other notable options.

Tip 7: There’s a Reason Why BMWs depreciate so quickly

BMW’s do not have the best reputation for repairs, actually they have one of the worst. This is reflected in the vehicle’s rate of depreciation, which is significantly higher than many other brand name vehicles such as Toyota, Honda, Ford, Dodge, etc. This in my opinion is an additional reason why you should consider buying a used BMW instead of new. However the higher the mileage on the vehicle the more imperative it becomes to have a mechanic perform a thorough inspection.

Tip 8: Check the electronics

If German Luxury is known for something its excessive electronic bells and whistles. If your looking at a really old model such as an E36 this is less of a consideration but for more recent model BMWs you should be trying all of the electronics. The radio, seat controls, steering wheel controls, center console, etc. The more bells and whistles a car has the more that can go bad, and they do go bad from time to time.

Tip 9: Always Check the Convertible Top

Convertible tops are the most complicated part of your vehicle that you don’t know about. Old model E36s had two or three separate motors controlling the top, nowadays the tops are controlled by an ever-increasing array of microswitches and motors. Convertible top repairs are often expensive so make sure you test it. If the convertible top is slow and/or the ragtop has difficulty closing itself this often points to the tension ropes that run across the top or even a failing motor.

Stephen Metellus

I am a BMW enthusiast and owner of abetterbmw.com! I have been repairing, flipping, and parting out BMWs for nearly ten years. I love these vehicles and I hope you will find my articles and YouTube channel helpful for whatever BMW project you have in store!

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