BMWs have a reputation for being expensive to own and unreliable over the long-haul. This reputation is not entirely deserved, but it’s true that the cost of maintenance and repairs for BMW owners is significantly higher than for “A to B” car owners. In recent years this high-cost maintenance trend has grown considerably worse with several surveys ranking BMW as the “highest maintenance cost” car brand. Here is some tips on maintenance that you can do yourself, even on the newest model BMWs, and it will save you a lot of money!
There’s more than one way to save
Whether you recently purchased a brand new BMW or whether you own a used model will greatly effect maintenance costs. If you bought your BMW used or your new BMW has fallen outside of BMW’s Maintenance Program than you are probably spending more than you would like to on maintenance and repairs. The good news is that you don’t have to be a gearhead to be able to save some money on basic maintenance and repairs that can easily be done by a Greenhorn DIYer.
Oil changes and air filters are a tie in my mind for being the most common maintenance procedures that owners begin doing themselves. If you have never done an oil change on a BMW you will likely be surprised by the large amount of oil they take when compared to American and Japanese cars. Changing your oil at home can save you at least $50 an oil change because the oil is priced at a markup at the dealership. The dealer will also want to use BMW brand motor oil which can cost considerably more than Castrol or Mobil 1. I have been using both of these brands in my BMW for years and they are excellent. You can also save money on the oil filter by heading to your local auto parts store or Walmart, instead of picking it up from the dealership.
I always thought it was insane that luxury car owners would take their vehicles to the dealership because a headlight was out, but hey I guess some people are just to busy to change a light bulb. Well if you have the time to change a bulb than do it yourself. Dealerships tend to overcharge for headlight bulbs, when they could be picked up for as little as $10 at an auto parts store (unless you have HIDs of course). Replacement usually takes no more than ten minutes on a BMW. If it looks like a bulb replacement requires you to move around a few parts you can check out YouTube, it contains a million DIY headlight replacements.
Get a Sun Shade
Live in the Southeast? Or anywhere else that’s really hot and sunny in the summer and the spring? The summer heat does not just make it unbearably hot when you get inside your car after leaving it in the sun for hours, it also damages your car’s leather interior. Overtime, heat will speed up the deterioration process of whatever leather you have in your vehicle, leaving you with torn up seats. A sun shade can help slow down this process, and therefore save you money.
Other General Maintenance
How much you want to save will really depend on how involved you feel like getting with automotive repair. Most BMW owners don’t want to get too involved, but basic maintenance such as spark plug, air filter and coolant flushes are easy to do and you will save a lot of money doing these things yourself. These repairs can be performed without the need of a lift or other serious equipment that would potentially harm the cost to benefit ratio.
If you are interested in performing more advanced maintenance on your vehicle I would recommend purchasing a repair manual for your Series BMW. They can be very helpful in giving direction, and YouTube is also an excellent guide for lots of DIY repairs.
An additional tool I recommend to purchase for more advanced maintenance is a code scanner. You do not have to spend tons of money on a scan tool, but I highly recommend that you purchase a BMW specific scan tool. They are extremely easy to use even if you have never owned one before. I paid $120 for mine, and it has gotten consistent use over the past few years.
Things Not to Do to Save Money on Maintenance
Do not put regular gasoline in your BMW. I know this is an obvious one but I have seen too many drivers complaining about how their car is running and it turned out to be something as simple as cheap gasoline. There are real differences between the Octane levels, high performance motors like BMW are not meant to run on 87, they need higher octane fuel for slower detonation. Although modern engine sensors will usually prevent engine damage, cheap gas will still cause the vehicle to run poorly and potentially cause problems down the road.
Do not buy cheap quality oil. Buying good oil that happens to be cheaper than the dealership’s oil is one thing, but buying O’Reillys brand synthetic because it’s on discount just wont cut it. Stick with the good stuff such as Castrol, Mobil 1 and Royal Purple, and stick with the oil viscosity that BMW recommends.
Stay away from dirt cheap $30 scan tools off of Ebay, they are usually garbage and even if they work they will not be BMW specific.
Where Are You Taking Your Car?
Hourly rates can vary considerably between dealer and independent shops. Even a short, minor job like a brake pad replacement can vary between different shops so its worth it to make a few phone calls and scope prices before you decide where to take your vehicle.
Mechanics are a lot like doctors in my mind though, once you find a good primary care physician you don’t like going to other people if you can avoid it. Once someone finds a mechanic that does good work for a reasonable price most people will stick with that mechanic. Remember that the cheapest mechanic is not necessarily your best option, very often the opposite is true. You would not get eye surgery solely based on whichever doctor is offering it at the lowest price, and the same logic applies to mechanics.
I encourage you to find independent German automotive mechanics. There are plenty of them and they will typically advertise their business as being independent foreign car mechanics. The reason being is that you want to save some money by not going to the dealership, but you also want somebody that’s bread and butter is BMW repair. Mechanics that only work on BMWs every once and a while are unlikely to be very knowledgeable of your vehicle and are likely to take longer repairing it.
If you buy parts from the dealer every time you get a repair done that is okay, and you are unlikely to have a serious quality issue from them. On the other hand I cannot remember the last time I bought a part from BMW, because their prices are so inflated. I swear you would think those guys were selling you 24 carat gold for what a part costs. It is a complete falsehood that aftermarket parts are lower quality than OEM parts. It’s true that some manufacturers make junk aftermarket parts, but it is relatively easy to avoid a poor quality part pitfall. The rule of thumb is to stick with well known aftermarket brands that are reputable.
Why would you take the risk with aftermarket when you can have guaranteed OE parts from the dealer? Because aftermarket parts are frequently half the price if not even less than that of an OE part. I buy parts from a wide range of places including: O’Reilly, Autozone, RockAuto, and Bimmerworld, among others. The rule of thumb for aftermarket parts is: if it seems to be too cheap, than it is.
Brand new BMWs come with a BMW Maintenance Program which lasts for three years or 36,000 miles. So for you owners that have a BMW that is still within that timeframe you do not have to worry very much about maintenance cost savings until the warranty expires. BMW provides an excellent warranty on their vehicles for those three years and will virtually cover any issue that comes up. However be weary because maintenance problems start to appear after that 50,000 mile mark.
BMWs overall are excellent quality cars, that’s why I have owned three BMWs over the years. But every good car has a fault somewhere, and with BMW it is the higher price tag maintenance. With these tips hopefully you can cut down that maintenance price tag and save a lot of money.