One of the common gripes about BMWs is that they have more problems and require more maintenance than other brands. Admittedly, every automotive brand has there share of issues, but when do BMWs tend to start having problems?
Most BMWs start having more problems and require more maintenance after 80,000-100,000 miles. However, the frequency and cost of problems vary considerably depending on the year and model of BMW that you own. The early model v8 X5s began to breakdown as early as 60,000 miles, whereas the E90 3 Series had significantly few issues throughout its lifespan.
Although 80-100,000 miles is a number to be aware of with BMW, there are a lot of other factors to consider in determining when your BMW is likely to start having problems. In this article, I will explain why 80-100,000 miles is the general number and what factors contribute to your car having fewer or more problems than the average.
Why do problems start building up after 80,000-100,000 miles?
BMWs are luxury performance cars. They move fast, perform well, and they often contain top of the market electronics and comfort accessories. Unfortunately, the more complex and high performance a car, the more components that can break. BMWs require more maintenance than the vast majority of other vehicle brands and without a minimum level of maintenance, you will quickly discover that a BMW can become a money pit.
Owners like to drive them hard
BMW owners often like to drive these vehicles hard. Their handling is superb, they are traditionally rear-wheel drive, and many BMWs are relatively quick. BMWs are built to be driven aggressively, but just know that aggressive and fast drivers wear out their cars faster. This is true for any vehicle, including BMW.
BMWs are often not properly maintained
If you do not put in the level of maintenance required by a performance car then you will have far more problems than you expected. There is no getting around the fact that BMWs require more maintenance at a higher cost than many other car models. According to Consumer Reports: the least expensive car to maintain over ten years (Toyota) is more than $10,000 less to maintain than a BMW. According to the survey, BMW owners on average fork over an astounding $17,800 in maintenance fees over a ten year period of ownership.
Many owners do not like forking over this kind of money just for regular maintenance. So they take a “fix it if it breaks” attitude. This kind of attitude is fine with a Ford Ranger, but it results in catastrophic failures and costly repairs on BMWs.
What problems appear around 100,000 miles?
Experienced BMW owners know that there are a few issues that pretty much universally begin becoming problematic on BMWs around 100,000 miles.
Coolant system failure
If you have not replaced your water pump, thermostat, reservoir, and radiator hoses by 100,000 miles you should do so, fast! I refer to this as a “problem” because although every car you will ever own will require a coolant system replace at some point, there are very few vehicles that are as unforgiving as BMW.
You should replace these critical coolant components on your BMW before 100,000 miles. BMWs have aluminum cylinder heads and the engines tend to be packed in the engine bay tightly. This means that heat dissipation in BMWs is not great at the best of times, but if a water pump or a radiator hose starts leaking, the engine can very quickly overheat. Suddenly you can have a head gasket replacement job on your hands and this will cost thousands of dollars.
BMW makes superb engines, but they have had some significant duds in the past and their engines due tend to suffer from a few specific oil leaks. Valve cover gasket leaks are the most common oil leak you will find on a BMW but you will most likely need to replace one well before 100,000 miles.
The most common oil leak you will spot in higher mileage BMWs is the oil filter gasket. I have had to replace a number of them on my E36s and E46s. They tend to start leaking around 100,000 miles. Luckily they are not very difficult to replace on 3 Series BMWs, but they are notorious for being hard to pinpoint until the leak has become a flood.
The v8 BMW engines have more significant problems with oil leaks. Some common ones include valley pan gasket, upper timing cover, and valve cover. The valley pan gasket is extremely expensive to repair and if you want to do it yourself it is a thankless job. BMW left very little space for mechanics to repair their v8 engines, and it makes maintenance on these engines expensive and difficult.
Broken electric windows is one of the most common complaints that high mileage BMW owners have. The regulator will bend and break or the electric motor will fail. Regardless of which one breaks, you should replace both of them at the same time. If one of them breaks, the other one will follow it shortly.
Not every BMW I have owned has had a door handle problem. However, every single BMW E36 and E46 has, and they are far more difficult to replace than they should be. BMWs don’t tend to have door handle issues until they hit higher mileage and by far the most common problem is the exterior driver’s side door handle. Typically the handle will lift up like normal, but the door will not open. This is an extremely annoying occurrence and usually requires door handle replacement.
An annoying aspect about the interior leather door handles on newer model BMWs is that I have seen the adhesive around the interior handle melt and create a sticky black goo which sticks to your fingers.
BMW problems cause fast depreciation
The fact that BMWs are luxury vehicles is too often overlooked by would-be buyers. Many of these cars are bought on the used car market after a few years of usage for a fraction of the price. Most buyers can’t believe the deal that they get on these vehicles compared to what they sold for as new.
You can see what I mean by fast BMW depreciation with a quick scan of your local Facebook Marketplace or Craigslist. Hondas and Toyotas hold their value for an extremely long time. In fact, it can feel frustrating trying to get a decent deal on a Honda Civic because they seem to hardly drop in value even with a decent amount of mileage. Fords and Dodges don’t hold their value as well, but they depreciate less than a BMW.
In 2018 RoadandTrack named the BMW 7 Series, 6 Series and 5 Series all in its top 10 worst depreciating cars. Autoblog named the 5 Series in its top 10 worst depreciating cars. But to be fair, BMWs depreciation is often matched or even exceed by Mercedes Benz and Jaguar.
BMWs depreciate so quickly because the cost of maintenance on average skyrockets after several years and 100,000 miles.
Do these problems make BMW unreliable?
It’s true that BMWs have more problems as they age than most other car brands. But I do not believe that this makes them unreliable cars. In fact, in terms of drivetrain reliability, BMW is one of the most reliable vehicles you will ever own.
From personal experience, I can tell you that although BMWs may have more problems with non-critical components than other brands, the critically important parts that get you from Point A to Point B are quite reliable. Electronics and plastic components may create quite an annoyance in a BMW’s later years, but as long as you take care of the vehicle’s critical maintenance it will run well late into its life.
What can I do to lessen these problems?
There are a few things a BMW owner can do to help ensure the longevity of their vehicle. You should do your best to stick relatively close to the maintenance schedule and find a good mechanic. Regular maintenance is all about reducing the cost and likelihood of future problems. BMWs are expensive enough without having to worry about extremely expensive repairs later in their life.
Have your coolant system rebuilt every 80,000 miles. Do not wait until your car starts overheating and you have white smoke coming out of the engine bay. By then it might be too late and your head gasket might be blown.
Keep your BMW stored in a garage, especially if it is a convertible. If you have ever checked out my YouTube channel and saw one of my E36 convertibles you will know what I mean. Convertible interiors wear faster than hard tops, and they will wear even faster if you do not store them in a garage.
BMWs are certainly not the most problem-free vehicle brands in the car industry. They are relatively reliable but they do begin to have more significant and expensive problems after 80-100,000 miles. Luckily, for most BMW owners (including myself) their speed, handling, and quality outweigh their heightened maintenance costs.
Hopefully, this article helped anyone who is considering purchasing a BMW or wants to know more about what the costs of them really are.