Is Buying a Used BMW a Bad Idea?


used BMWs

Not everyone that wants a BMW is interested in paying full sticker price for one. I completely understand that, I myself have never purchased a brand new BMW, I prefer to find good deals on vehicles that have depreciated.

But there are some unique considerations when looking to purchase a used BMW because they have a reputation for having a high cost of ownership and lots of electronics problems as they age.

Given that reputation, is buying a used BMW a bad idea?

Generally no, buying a used BMW is often a pretty good idea. Buying a used BMW allows you to take advantage of depreciation, and gives you the chance to take advantage of BMW’s famed performance at a discount. However, a used BMW is a bad idea when you fail to do your research and end up with a poorly maintained, high cost of ownership vehicle.

Used BMWs are not inherently a bad idea, but you do need to do your research on the particular model and check the vehicle’s history. In this article, I will explain why buying a used BMW is generally a good idea, whether an old used BMW is a good idea, and I will also give you some ideas on the best used BMWs you can buy for under $10k.

BMW is generally a good used car to buy

BMWs are a good used car to buy because their drivetrain holds up for an extremely long time, BMWs have a long lifespan, and BMWs perform exceptionally well into their later years.

I have bought several BMWs over the years that I used as daily drivers, including a 1995 318i, 1996 328i, and a 2003 330i. Out of these three BMWs I purchased used, I have never regretted buying any one of them. They have all been excellent cars, and I would still own at least one of them today if I had not moved to Washington D.C.

Buying a used BMW means that you probably are never going to have to replace any major drivetrain components. BMWs do not have the best reputation for overall reliability, but they do have an excellent reputation for building bulletproof engines, transmissions, and differentials. I never had to replace a single drivetrain component throughout my years of BMW ownership.

You also have a wide time horizon concerning when you can purchase a used BMW. A well maintained BMW will easily last 200,000 miles. There isn’t really a point where you can no longer rely on one as a daily driver.

The caveat is that used BMW maintenance is more expensive than what you would typically find with other vehicles. Your Mechanic found that BMW maintenance is expensive compared to most other brands, and I am certainly not disputing that.

But in my experience and most others experience used BMWs are extremely reliable cars as long as they are properly maintained. You can check out an article on Why BMW Maintenance is so Expensive here.

Another great thing about buying a used BMW is that the handling and performance that these vehicles are so well known for extends well into their later years. My 3 Series BMWs continued to handle exceptionally, well past 150,000 miles.

Used BMWs are also just a great way to save money. In my article on comparing buying a used BMW to a new BMW, I note that new BMWs outpace even their German luxury peers in terms of depreciation. New BMWs depreciate significantly during the first few years of their life, and taking advantage of this is a great way to save lots of money.

So I have explained that BMWs are generally good used cars to purchase, but what about old BMWs?

Is buying an old BMW a bad idea?

Buying an old BMW can be a bad idea if it has been poorly maintained and you pay too much for the car. But if you can do repairs yourself and demand accurate maintenance records before you buy, then buying an old BMW can be a pretty good idea.

When I am referring to “ old BMWs” I am generally referring to a BMW that is at least ten years and it will typically have over 100,000 miles on it. I have owned several BMWs over the years that would fall under this category. My 90s model E36s were old as dirt even when I bought them back in 2013.

Buying an old BMW is not necessarily a bad idea but it is not the same as buying any used BMW with three or four years of wear or tear on it.

For starters, these vehicles often have minor problems that come with the car. The seats might be torn, the door handle sticks, and there are some minor leaks here and there. This is to be expected with a car that has over ten years of age on it, but you have to be careful with these vehicles. You don’t want to end up with an old BMW that is three seconds away from a head gasket blowing or the transmission going out.

That is why you should NEVER buy an old BMW without having a mechanic perform a pre-purchase inspection of the vehicle. Maintenance history becomes more and more important as these vehicles age and you need an accurate account of what has been repaired.

In addition, although there is some merit in purchasing an old BMW such as they are inexpensive and they continue to perform well, there is a major drawback. The reason why I would say old BMWs are not for everyone is because they require more maintenance than what you would typically find in a used BMW.

For example, in my 1996 328i’s last year of life, I replaced the entire coolant system, camshaft position sensor, CCV valve, climate control module, and several power seat motors. That would cost somebody several thousand dollars to replace, but since I did everything myself it only cost $300 for parts.

Several thousand dollars is a lot to put into a car that has more than 150,000 miles, and that is why I suggest that unless you can repair the car yourself, buying an old BMW is probably a bad idea.

For more information, you can also check out my article on buying BMWs with over 100k miles.

What are some good used BMWs to buy under $10k?

The best used BMWs to buy under $10k are the BMW e90 (LCI 2009-2012), and the BMW 1 Series (2008-2013). These vehicles are both extremely affordable, reliable, and fun to drive.

The BMW E90 (2009-2012)

the BMW e90 is a great car

If you have yet to check it out I suggest you take a look at my review on the BMW E90, but in a nutshell these vehicles are excellent. They are significantly faster than their E46 predecessor, the E90 has more space, more comfort, and maintenance is not exceptionally high with these vehicles.

I suggest you stick to looking at E90s between 2009-2012 because in 2009 BMW gave the E90 a LCI or “life cycle impulse”. LCI is an update that BMW gives its vehicles every three years or so, and the E90 LCI made the vehicle far more attractive than it was previously. Then headlights, taillights, and interior were all significantly improved after the E90 LCI.

The vast majority of these vehicles are now sold for around $5,000 with some of the best examples fetching a price of up to $10,000. You can comfortably find one for under $8,000 with well under 100,000 miles.

The 1 Series (2008-2013)

BMW 1 Series is a great vehicle

I never appreciated the 1 Series for what it is until I got to test drive one. They really are great cars, they are more enjoyable to drive around cities than most 3 Series BMWs I have driven and they are less expensive. Did I mention that they are cheaper to maintain? It doesn’t get any better than this, a fun car that does not break the bank.

These vehicles are often overlooked, even though they have been extremely popular with consumers that have owned one. In a way they have more in common with the smaller, more compact 3 Series BMWs of the past like the E30 and E36. 1 Series BMWs are significantly smaller than the modern 3 Series, and it makes for a more enjoyable urban driving experience.

I suggest that you stick to the 2008-2013 age range, not because there was a major difference in quality but because you are unlikely to find newer examples for under $10k. This range appears to be the sweet spot right now, with lots of vehicles in good condition with less than 100,000 miles for under $8,000.

Conclusion

Buying a used BMW is usually a great idea as long as you do your research and you are willing to pay a little more in maintenance. Old BMWs on the other hand, are a much tougher call and really turn on whether or not you are willing to do some of the repairs.

I hope you have enjoyed this article, and it was helpful in your search for a great used BMW!

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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