Not every BMW owner wants to get down and dirty and work on their cars. I certainly get that, but I know that many BMW owners want to decrease the repair bill that they are sending to the BMW dealership every few months or some owners might have bought a project car and they want to know how difficult it’s going to be to restore.
I have been DIYing and restoring BMWs since I was sixteen. BMWs are excellent cars, they are beautiful, handle exceptionally well, and they are zippy. But BMWs also have a reputation for being expensive to maintain. When potential BMW owners realize that BMW maintenance is expensive, many consider repairing the vehicle themselves and the natural question is “how difficult are they to work on?”
Over the past fifteen years, BMWs have become more difficult to work on due to the increasing amount of sensors, computers, and electronic luxuries that new model BMWs have. However, there is still plenty of repairs that can be done by home mechanics and older model BMWs are far easier to work on.
BMWs clearly are not the easiest vehicles to work on, but not all generations of BMW are made the same. I owned several E36s and E46s and performed all of the maintenance on these cars. This article will discuss how realistic it is for BMW owners to work on their cars themselves and which models/generations are easier and which ones are more difficult.
Can you maintain a BMW yourself?
Yes and no, sure you can do a few repairs here and there on a new model F30 like an oil change, spark plug, or air filter replacement. But if you try to repair anything moderately complex you are going to have a lot of difficulty.
Newer model BMWs are not made to be “DIY friendly”
If you own a newer model BMW like an F30 3 Series than you are going to need some more advanced diagnostic equipment than you would initially expect. An OBD II cord for your laptop and software to analyze the computers on new model BMWs is essential. There are also a number of diagnostic scanners that you can buy to make your life easier, but the cost to get the right equipment can very quickly shoot through the roof.
New model BMWs like the F30 and G20 are significantly more difficult for the home mechanic to work on because they are for more complex than previous generations and they often require expensive diagnostic equipment to repair. That being said, not all repairs on these vehicles require a master level mechanic and there are plenty of DIYs available on the internet.
My advice is that if you are interested in a new model BMW, don’t expect to be able to perform most of the repairs. You should calculate the cost of ownership including the average BMW maintenance. If you can stand to pay that much a year in car maintenance, than a newer model BMW is worth it for you. You can check out a detailed article on BMW maintenance costs after the warranty period expiration here.
Older model BMWs are significantly easier to repair
Older model BMWs are a completely different beast entirely. Just for clarification, when I am referring to “older model BMWs” I am referring to the e36, e46, and e90 generation BMWs. E90s are significantly more recent, being last produced in 2011, but they are relatively DIYer friendly cars.
So what makes the older model BMWs easier to work on? They are far less complex because of their lack of new bells and whistles/electronics, and they have fewer sensors in the engine bay.
Electronic comforts can be a good thing when it comes to comfort and luxury. Everyone likes the automatic braking, lane departure warning system, iDrive system, and adaptive mode. But guess what, all of these luxuries wear out eventually and they become a huge pain to try and replace. The total lack of these comforts on older BMWs makes it far easier for DIYers to work on them.
Engine bay sensors also play a helpful role. Everybody likes it when their crankshaft or camshaft position sensor is working properly. But BMW has added dozens of sensors of questionable necessity over the years, and they tend to make diagnosis and repair considerably more challenging for the home mechanic.
That is why I stay away from BMWs newer than the E90 generation, the G20 and F30 are simply not worth my time to try and repair. Now, I am certainly not saying that older model BMWs are easy to work on, but I am confident that any DIY mechanic can get to the point where they virtually never have to take their car to the mechanic’s shop. That’s not something you can really do with newer model BMWs.
If you have ever checked out my YouTube channel and seen my replacement of an e36 interior door handle than you know that some repairs absolutely suck! Another big kink with older BMWs is starter replacement on a BMW requires a minimum of several hours of labor because it is located at the top of the transmission underneath the intake manifold.
Is maintaining your BMW even worth it?
This would be an easy question if BMWs did not require so many special tools to repair them. For any BMW, old or new, you will likely need an entirely new toolset if it’s your first car, BMW makes use of Torx bolts throughout their cars and there are also a number of repairs that require special tools.
I have had to collect a number of specialty tools over the years that are labeled and hanging on two walls in my garage. I might use one of these tools once every two or three years, or I might have used one once ten years ago. That’s just the reality of DIYing an over-engineered German car.
Most repairs also take significantly more time to complete than what they otherwise would have on an American or Japanese vehicle. 90-95% of the repairs I have done on my Ford Ranger were completed in under thirty minutes. That number decreases to around 10% of the repairs on the various BMWs I have owned. No matter what BMW you buy, it will probably be more complex and require more labor than most other vehicles.
Considering these factors, I still believe that maintaining your own BMW is worth it because of the tremendous amount of money you will save by performing your own repairs outweighs the time and tool cost. Of course, it might not be worth it for you if you have a lot of extra income but not a lot of time, but that is a personal consideration and outside the scope of this article.
Overall, most BMWs can be worked on by DIY mechanics, but the kind of repairs you can perform and the difficulty in repairing them varies depending on the BMW model and generation. I have been DIYing BMWs for many years and I enjoy maintaining these cars. You may very well find that maintaining your BMW is worth it as well, and if you do you can check out my BMW DIY Youtube Channel here.