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Are BMWs Reliable? A Complete Breakdown

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Silver BMW

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Are BMWs reliable? It’s a question that is asked countless times. And the truth is there’s no easy answer. You’ll find examples of notoriously problematic BMWs that have a trouble-free background. At the same time, it’s not too hard to come across supposedly reliable BMW models that are headache-inducing nightmares. 

So, the easiest way to approach the “are BMWs reliable?” question is to favor the odds, an essential strategy if you’re shopping for a used BMW. In other words, look for BMWs that are least likely to have problems. This involves a two-step process of checking an individual car’s history and looking at specific models that have a generally good reputation for reliability. We’ll first review what’s involved with checking a car’s background and then dive into some suggestions for reliable BMW models.

Individual Car History: What To Look For

The first step in considering any used BMW is learning about its history. The good news is that services like CARFAX and AutoCheck can help you spot any red flags such as accidents, a salvaged vehicle title, or a discrepancy with odometer information. This information isn’t perfect, but it goes a long way in helping you weed out potential problems at the beginning. 

Next, look for ownership history. The idea here is that the fewer owners, the better, with the holy grail being a single-owner BMW. A one-owner car is more likely to have been well-maintained and pampered. On the contrary, a six-year-old BMW with three owners indicates that something may be wrong with the vehicle. A vehicle history report usually will have ownership details.

Additionally, review the vehicle’s maintenance records whenever possible. The CARFAX or AutoCheck report may have these specifics, but it’s not unusual for a BMW owner to have a trail of this information. For more than 25 years, new BMWs have received up to four years of free factory maintenance so that the paperwork may begin here. Even subsequent owners may keep service records to confirm routine work and repairs. Any mechanic will tell you that regular maintenance and the evidence to prove it are preferred traits for a used car.


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Importantly, service records will help confirm if the BMW you’re considering (or any car) has been repaired under any manufacturer recall (which can also be reviewed in an NHTSA database). What government records won’t tell you, service reports will if the vehicle has ever been worked on under an automaker’s technical service bulletin (TSB). Often called a hidden or secret recall, a TSB is a manufacturer’s way of advising service shops that a car may have a specific problem. However, the problem isn’t sufficiently widespread to warrant a full recall. Further, an ignored TSB can lead to more mechanical troubles caused by an uncorrected system or failed component. It all goes back to proper maintenance.

Lastly, always have a prospective BMW inspected by a professional mechanic who can look beyond history reports and repair records. For $100-$200, a pre-purchase inspection is cheap peace of mind. A mechanic can check for unreported damage, confirm if recalls and TSB repairs have been fixed, and look for potential problem areas.

Most Reliable BMW Models

Here’s a brief overview of some BMW models that get good marks for reliability from enthusiasts, car reliability websites, and related resources. Remember that just because a particular BMW model is on this list, don’t assume that every one of these cars will be perfect and trouble-free. Be sure to follow the steps we outlined above as you ask, “are BMWs reliable?“ 

2002 to 2008 BMW 7 Series

While BMW’s largest sedan, the 7-Series, is often the first to receive the company’s latest technological advances and accompanying headaches, 2002-2008 get a reliability thumbs up. While the fourth generation can be found with a powerful 12-cylinder engine, skip the temptation and stick with still-decent 8-cylinder power. Not only will you save on gas, but repairs (if they happen) will be less wallet-draining. The most frequently reported problem for this car is coolant system issues, so check repair records to see if this has ever occurred.


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2008-2010 BMW X3

The first-generation BMW X3 may not be as sleek and stylish as current SUVs in the automaker’s lineup, but it gets good grades for staying out of the repair shop. We suggest bypassing the very first few years (2003-2005) of the model to avoid “teething problems” that appeared in early X3s. The X3 received a new engine in 2006, so we recommend moving ahead to the 2008-2010 editions. These newer X3s seem to avoid the engine time chain problem that occasionally pops up with ‘07 models.

2006-2011 BMW 3 Series

Used BMW 3 Series enjoy an almost cult-like following among enthusiasts. High up on this list is the 2006-2011 models. Available in sedan, coupe, wagon, and convertible form, these spirited compacts enjoy BMW’s legendary driving dynamics and a rock-solid reputation for reliability. Look for the 325i, 328i, or 330i models. These skip the turbocharger and avoid the engine problems that can plague the more powerful 335i (and its twin-turbo 3.0-liter six-cylinder engine). Remember a simple rule when buying a used BMW. When given a choice, always select the model that has less complicated components. There’s less to go wrong.

2008-2011 BMW 1 Series

As we talked about, when it comes to BMWs, less is more. And the short-lived (in the U.S.) 1 Series is a perfect example. Available as either a 128i or 135i (in either coupe or convertible form), these smallest Bimmers were all about simplicity. Rear-wheel drive is the only configuration, and the rear seats are barely useable. The trade-off is reliability and an authentic BMW driving experience that will put a smile on your face. The 135i does have a twin-turbo six-cylinder, so consider the non-turbo six found in the 128i.


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2004 to 2010 BMW 5-Series

The last example in our “Are BMWs Reliable” review is the 2004-2010 BMW 5 Series, the brand’s mid-tier sedan. The bulbous exterior may appear dated by today’s standards, but the advantage is a larger four-door without too much bad history. Focus on the 525i or 530i, which have the simpler inline six-cylinder engine. As tempting as it might be, skip the models with the eight-cylinder or twin-turbo six-cylinder engines.



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