Checking out your first BMW and enthralled with the millions of features that BMW packs into their cars? Wandering whether there are some differences in basic maintenance in a BMW versus a Honda? BMWs are the best of the best in the luxury/performance market and for good reason. These cars are truly a joy for the driver and the passengers. There are a few important things to be aware of if you are a new BMW owner, especially if you are coming from owning a non-luxury vehicle. These tips for first time bmw owners will help you save money on maintenance, and enjoy your vehicle to the fullest!
Modern BMWs have used two different systems for tire pressure maintenance. The older system is the FTM and the newer system is the TPMS sytem.
The FTM system uses the ABS to measure the rolling diameter of all four tires. Based on this it will make a comparison to identify if there is one that has less pressure than the others. The only issue with this system is that when the temperature decreases during the winter, tires typically lose some pressure. This will throw the system off if all four tires have lost some air pressure. This means you will still have to manually check the tire pressure from time to time.
Newer model vehicles have the TPMS System, which has tire pressure sensors in all four tires. Each tire gives you an accurate measurement of your tire pressure. The issue with this system is that you have to change your sensors from time to time as they do go bad eventually. They typically run at about $40 a sensor.
Gas & Oil
When you hear that BMW’s only take premium gas, please listen. Don’t buy a BMW and then go cheap on fuel, you will pay for it. 91 is the absolute minimum for most BMWs, but you should not be putting 91 in your vehicle. Even BMW warns that 91 can cause knocking noises from the engine.
There is a difference in quality depending on what gas station you fill up at. Most gas stations have 93 available, but it varies in quality depending on the company. In the South we have Sheetz, which is pretty much a nice store with really cheap gas compared to other stations. The problem is Sheetz sells lower quality gas, and I have had issues from time to time with misfires right after buying gas from there. Notable top-tier gas companies include BP, Chevron, Shell and Exxon.
Any BMW I’ve ever seen including older models requires full synthetic oil. The oil weight will vary depending on the model, although I have noticed newer models are requiring thinner and thinner oil.
If you elect to have someone do your oil changes be wary of 20 minute oil change shops. Typically they will not have the correct oil filter in stock, and won’t have the correct premium oil that your vehicle requires. You can save money on oil changes by taking your vehicle to European automotive shops instead of the dealership, and you can save even more money by electing to perform oil changes yourself.
In terms of what weight and brand of oil to use, the weight will typically be specified on the owner’s manual and probably on the oil filler cap. I have been using Castrol for all of my family’s BMWs for years and I absolutely love it. Castrol has a European Formula Brand that meets BMW’s long life oil certification, and it is excellent. There are other brands of oil that come highly recommended for BMW such as Pentosin, Mobil 1, and Royal Purple.
Depending on whether you bought a new vehicle and whether you purchased a repair warranty you might not have to consider this bit of advice. BMWs are notoriously costly to repair when something goes wrong. This varies tremendously depending on the year and model you purchased, but I highly recommend doing as many of the repairs as you’re comfortable with on your vehicle.
If you elect to perform a lot of the maintenance yourself, I highly recommending purchasing a model specific BMW repair manual. These manuals are worth there weight in gold, and it will more than pay for itself during the first DIY repair.
There are tons of helpful sources and forums online nowadays that can assist you with maintenance. You’ll learn that having a BMW means that many small repair shops will not want to touch your car simply because it’s European. Even worse, many car repair shops simply can’t perform work on your vehicle, because of the equipment required for newer model BMWs.
If your car is out of warranty find a good independent BMW mechanic. These guys usually specialize in European vehicles, thus I call them European Auto Mechanics. The chief reason to find one is that they have lower labor rates than the dealership, and their work is typically just as good or better.
My mother had her Z4 towed to the dealership because the car wouldn’t start. The mechanic guessed that it was the starter and changed it. Afterwards, the car still wouldn’t start and the mechanic decided that it was the battery. The battery was changed, and the system still wouldn’t hold a charge. Finally, the mechanic realized that it had been the alternator the entire time, and he changed the alternator. Turns out that the old battery was fine and the old starter was fine. The dealership then tried to charge for the starter, battery and alternator replacement. My mother threatened to sue, and they compromised on her paying for only the alternator replacement, and the cost of the battery.
At the end of the day the lesson I learned after hearing about this is that either BMW Dealerships hire some really crappy mechanics or they were intentionally misdiagnosing to raise the repair bill. I don’t care which it is, the dealership will never receive another dime for auto repairs from my family. Especially when we have an independent European shop that does great work at a better price.
BMW’s arguably have the best brakes in the business. One of the reasons for this is that BMW uses softer brake pads than most other vehicles. This does have a downside however, as they wear faster than most other vehicles (especially if you drive like me). BMW brake rotors are meant to wear with the brake pads, and should be changed during brake pad replacement or at least every other brake pad replacement. If you want to save some $$$, buy the pads and rotors online.
Something else to know about BMW brake pads is that because they are so soft they tend to generate a lot of brake dust. It’s common to have plenty of brake dust mere hours after cleaning your rims. Seriously, it’s an unwinnable battle to keep your rims clean for any period of time, might as well throw in the towel now.
BMW Diagnostic Scan Tool
This is probably the single most important investment you can make in your BMW. Skip on the cheap generic scanners, and get one that is BMW specific, you won’t be sorry. There are some really high quality scanners online that you can pick up for under $200. They can read anything on your car, check engine codes, transmission, ABS, and more. There are some really cool ones out now that can sync to your smartphone and laptop.
Most car enthusiasts buy a car and then immediately want to do everything under the sun to get every last drop of extra horsepower out of their engine. What you should know about BMWs is that they are very well tuned out of the factory. It’s very difficult and expensive to get more than a couple of points of horsepower out of a modern BMW with upgrades such as headers, chips, cold air intakes, and exhaust upgrades. It’s simply not worth the cost to try and raise the horsepower in your BMW.
Now if you have an older BMW (pre-2000), than there are a lot more options for potential modifications. If not, forget modifications and enjoy your car the way it was built.
Be prepared to deal with some stigma that comes with owning a shiny BMW. People will want to race you, and others will think you’re a Lawyer. I’m a very private person and I still get annoyed when someone asks me how much I paid for my BMW. Just ignore the nosy people and enjoy your car.
Quick Things to Know
BMW batteries are located in the trunk, and there is a positive terminal in the front for jump-starting.
If your searching for the dipstick and thinking that it must be the most well-hidden you’ve ever seen, your right. It’s the most well-hidden in that they don’t exist on many modern models. You can check your oil on the display screen, but unfortunately that’s pretty much the only way to do it.
The BMW Car Club of America costs $40 a year, and it has an awesome monthly magazine called the Roundel. Some dealers give discounts to Roundel members, and if you’ve been a member for more than a year you can receive a rebate for some new BMW models.
There are a million features that go into modern BMW entertainment systems. The best thing to do is check out the owner’s manual in order to identify how everything works. I had to play with the X5’s radio for more than ten minutes until I figured out how to change the station, it was sad.
These cars are awesome and a joy to drive. Most owner fall in love as soon as they drive it off the lot. If these vehicles are properly maintained and cared for, you will have an all-around excellent vehicle for many years to come.