You have seen how insanely expensive new BMWs can be. A brand new 3 Series BMW bottoms out at about $40,000 MSRP, but your total cost will likely be considerably higher than that considering loan interest and additional fees associated with the initial purchase.
There are a lot of people that do not want to spend that kind of money on a vehicle and I can’t blame them because I certainly don’t either. But what if you still love the car, you just don’t want to blow that much money? Enter the world of used BMWs.
There is a huge variety of different BMWs available on the used car market, but this article will focus exclusively on BMWs with over 100,000 miles on them. Should you buy a used BMW with over 100k miles? Yes and no, the answer really depends on what type of BMW it is, how the previous owner took care of it and what kind of maintenance you want to put into the vehicle.
Type of BMW
Every time I go online on a BMW forum I see this ongoing BMW reliability debate. Are BMWs unreliable, do they just require more maintenance, is there a difference between heightened maintenance and unreliability? I am not going to get deep into this discussion because I recently addressed it in another article, but every car manufacturer no matter how good they are builds some “dud” cars and BMW is no different.
BMWs get well beyond the 100,000 mile mark everyday, and I mean EVERYDAY. I have owned three E36 BMWs and one E46, all four of them made it well beyond the 100k mile marker and one of them made it to 240,000 miles.
But just because a car CAN get beyond 100,000 miles does not mean that it’s worth it for you to buy a car with more than 100,000 miles. Some examples have been known for turbocharger failure, some for transmission issues and others have been known for premature engine failure. Here are some specific BMWs I would recommend that you stay away from at the high mileage mark.
Early Model Turbocharger E90s: Although BMW warrantied certain N54 issues specifically because of the early E90 twin turbocharger problems, the vehicles are well out of warranty at this point. The N54 commonly had turbocharger issues which would require two new turbochargers to be installed, talk about expensive!
My advice is to stay away from the N54 turbocharged 3 Series vehicles, it’s just not worth the risk of having serious trouble with the turbochargers.
Certain 3 Series E46s: The BMW E46 was an excellent car overall. Many of these vehicles, if not the majority available at this point are at or above 100,000 miles. However, there is one major problem that I have had from time to time with these vehicles, and that is the E46s with the ZF branded automatic transmission are infamous for having serious failures that either require replacement of the transmission or major transmission repair. The most common issue is the “no reverse” problem with the ZF transmissions. The easiest way to check whether you have a ZF or the more reliable GM transmission is to check your model number online.
BMW X5 4.8 liter: This one is all from personal experience of ownership. I absolutely hate this vehicle and would recommend that if you want a BMW SUV you should buy the smaller engine model and stay away from the 4.8. By the time I hit the 50,000 mile mark I had replaced the coolant reservoir three times, both valve cover gaskets, valley pan gasket, water pump, and several other minor parts.
What pissed me off the most was the sheer ridiculousness of how much BMW packed into the engine bay. It took a ridiculous amount of time just to pull the valve covers off because there was so little room to work.
There are certainly some specific model years that I am missing, but overall these are the biggest issues I have dealt with that are common on a specific number of cars.
How Did the Previous Owner Take Care of the Car?
As vehicles age it becomes more and more important that the owner took care of the maintenance and repairs on the vehicle.
High mileage BMWs can offer a ton of value to second, third and fourth owners, but once you get around that 100,000 mile marker it becomes paramount that the vehicle has been well maintained.
The last thing you want is to purchase a ten year old E90 3 Series with 120,000 miles on it and the previous owner took abysmal care of the vehicle. It WILL drain your wallet and it WILL be extremely unreliable. By the time you are finished getting one into good condition you will have spent thousands of dollars in addition to the price you paid for the car!
I have seen the enormous difference that good maintenance has on BMWs first hand. In my business sometimes I would buy 3 Series BMWs with over 100,000 miles to perform some minor repairs and then resell, and sometimes I would buy BMWs with the same amount of mileage for $500 because they were in trashed condition.
Things to Look For With High Mileage BMWs
There are a number of signs that indicate the vehicle has been poorly maintained, including: 1) dark/black oil, 2) low coolant (indicates a coolant leak), 3) valve cover gasket leak/burning smell from the exhaust manifold, 4) door panel hanging/windows not working properly.
There are a number of things you can inquire about to get a better sense of how the seller has maintained the vehicle.
1) What kind of gas does the seller use in the car?
2) How frequently does the seller change the oil/transmission fluid/coolant, etc.
If you want a more detailed guide on things to look for when buying used cars you can check out this video!
The general rule for major repairs is that if the seller does not have a receipt or maintenance history backing it up, it never happened. With high mileage BMWs it is really important to insist on maintenance history, whether that be a receipt log or Carfax, something to show you that this vehicle has been taken care of.
If you are considering a high mileage BMW and you are not a well versed DIYer/mechanic, I strongly recommend that you have the vehicle pre-purchase inspected. Pre-purchase inspections can make a world of difference for these vehicles and really determine what kind of shape the car is.
BMWs require more maintenance than your Toyota, Honda and Hyundai. This becomes even more accurate when they get into higher mileage intervals. BMW maintenance schedules typically call for a variety of larger and potentially more expensive parts to be replaced around 100,000 miles.
If you are an experienced DIYer, than maintaining your high mileage BMW may require some extra hours under the hood, but it will not require a much money. If you do not plan to maintain the vehicle yourself, you should be prepared to spend more money than you otherwise would with a lower mileage BMW.
Overall if you want a BMW and you are willing to put in a little extra work to find the right car with the right maintenance background and you are willing to pay a little extra in maintenance a high mileage BMW will make an excellent vehicle!
Two of the BMWs I owned had more than 100,000 miles at the time I bought them, and they proved to be extremely reliable for years and years. You could easily have the same experience if you follow the tips I have outlined in this article!