A couple of years ago me and my family went on vacation in South Florida. My mother enjoyed the trip so much that she decided to bring something back with her. Unfortunately for me that something was a 2012 BMW X5. It was “like new” with only 30,000 miles on it, and the car had a variety of features and a gorgeous interior.
Little did I know that this X5 would become a major maintenance headache for me over the next few years. I hope to give you a realistic expectation of the most common problems you are likely to face owning an X5 and I will discuss my personal experience with the X5.
What is An X5?
The X5 is BMW’s full-size executive SUV model and it’s been continuously produced since 1999. The X5 has been offered as inline 6s, v8s and diesels. BMW has traditionally branded its X5s as “Sports Activity Vehicles” (SAV) instead of as “Sports Utilities Vehicles” (SUV). Why? To draw attention to their line of vehicles by distinguishing themselves, but don’t be fooled by the clever marketing these vehicles are SUVs in and out.
What Are the Common Problems?
The coolant system is kind of like “the devil you know” for BMW owners. I’m not going to discuss this part much because the coolant system is the most common and general complaint for pretty much any BMW owner regardless of the generation or model. What I will say is no matter the year most of the X5 coolant system should be replaced around the 50-60k
E53 X5 (1999-2006)
The M62 engines on the first generation X5s had plastic impellers on the water pumps which would break apart prematurely.
Crankcases in these vehicles were also a consistent problem. Condensation would build up inside of the diaphragms and then once cold weather hit the crankcase would freeze up and crack.
E70 X5 (2006-2013)
The second-generation X5s had plastic timing chain guides on the V8 engines that would go out prematurely (happened to me). They are a PITA to replace and unfortunately they rarely last beyond 150k miles.
The suspension airbags also go out eventually and they are expensive to replace.
The coolant reservoir is an absolute piece of garbage. I have owned five BMWs at this point in varying generations. I’m well aware that BMW’s coolant reservoirs don’t have the best reputation for reliability, but the E70 X5 takes the cake for the absolute worst.
First, BMW got rid of clamp style coolant hoses in favor of hoses with plastic connectors on the end. Unfortunately the hose underneath the reservoir on the 4.8-liter engine is difficult to reach, and even more difficult to disconnect because of the plastic connector.
Second, once you replace the reservoir its liable to crack again in a couple of months, leaving you questioning whether you actually bought the replacement reservoir from BMW. You buy another one, this time you make sure it’s from the BMW dealership, and a few months later the reservoir cracks again. This happened to me, it will probably happen to you.
Valley Pan Leaks
This is a common issue on V8 E70 X5s and it is a costly job to pay someone for.
Coolant Transfer Pipe
The thought of the coolant transfer pipe going out is enough to strike fear into the hearts of most X5 owners. This pipe in located internally inside the engine and costs several thousand dollars to replace!
Other common issues include the upper timing cover gaskets, valve cover gaskets, and valve stem seals.
F15 X5 (2013-2018)
The F15 is well known for being the more reliable of the various X5 generations. Some owners have complained about a rear trunk rattle and that the steering column adjustment stops working.
Main concerns past 100k miles are typically unrelated to the drivetrain and focused on the enormous amount of electronics that BMW has packed into these vehicles.
Other issues such as the seat leather cracking even with low mileage, panoramic sunroof issues, and premature lower control arm wear are not unheard of.
Overall the F15 has been given better reliability ratings by third parties and by owners than the previous X5 generations. Many of the major problems with the E70 such as the coolant transfer pipe, valley pan gasket and valve stem seals are non-existent with the F15.
My X5 Experience
You can get ten owners of the same vehicle together, and they will all have different opinions on its reliability. I don’t share my personal experience with the X5 to prove to you that they are unreliable, I share it to highlight what many other owners have experienced with owning an X5.
The vehicle my family owned was a 2012 (E70) BMW X5 4.8 liter V8. We bought with low mileage, only about 30,000. For the first 20-30,000 miles the car was great, very minor issues if any, and it ran wonderfully. Once the 50k mile marker hit I knew it was time to start changing coolant components are risk a problem down the road.
Our X5 sped up the coolant system replacement when the reservoir cracked, and the car proceeded to leave a puddle of coolant on my garage floor. The replacement was more of a PITA then I expected it to be but the job was completed in under two hours.
I thought I was in the clear regarding the coolant system, but within three months I had an additional leak. I was dumbfounded to discover that the NEW reservoir was now leaking. Fine, bought an overpriced one from BMW and replaced it again.
Two months go by until the next problem arises. The driver’s side valve cover gasket begins leaking heavily. No big deal, valve cover gaskets are one of the simplest repairs you can do on most vehicles. Turns out it’s not so simple on a V8 X5 because BMW (in all their wisdom) packed the engine so tightly in the engine bay that there is absolutely NO ROOM to remove the ignition coils toward the back of the engine.
After fighting with the coils for about an hour I finally got them out, only to realize that BMW didn’t give you much room to remove the valve cover gaskets either. Long story short, this valve cover gasket replacement took four hours to complete.
To top off the maintenance on this vehicle the valve stem seals went out. This is a huge job and was the subject of a class-action lawsuit against BMW concerning oil consumption. I cannot believe how lucky I ended up with this replacement, I was planning on contacting BMW and inquiring whether this issue was covered under the recalls until someone hit me on the highway. The insurance totaled the vehicle and I walked away from my most repair-riddled BMW yet.
If you are interested in an X5 BMW, my recommendation is that you stay away from E53 and E70 V8 engines. Yes they have considerably more power than the inline sixes, but the V8s just are not worth the additional reliability problems. The F15 V8 on the other hand has been branded as considerably more reliable and I concur.
That being said, always do your research on the specific year and engine of the X5 you are interested in. Don’t forget that with higher mileage BMWs it’s more important that the owner maintained the vehicle well than the vehicle’s overall reputation for reliability.