Tag Archives: used BMW

What to Look for When Buying a Used BMW 3 Series

Owning a BMW is a fantastic experience, but for most of us, buying a new one off the lot isn’t an option because of the cost. Luckily, plenty of used BMWs are on the market just waiting for you to pick them up. If you’re want to purchase a used BMW 3 series, what should you be on the lookout for? Here are four things.

  1. Cooling System Problems

The BMW 3 series is an excellent line of vehicles, but it’s notorious for coolant system failures between 80,000 and 100,000 miles. The 3 series has three main failure points: the expansion tank, the thermostat and the water pump.

If you’re getting a BMW that has more than 100,000 miles on the odometer, find out if the cooling system has ever been serviced, and how long ago the service happened. If it hasn’t been, expect to replace all three of those parts at the same time to prevent cooling system failure.

  1. Frame Damage

Older cars are always at risk for rust or frame damage, and 3 Series BMWs are no exception. If you’ve found a good car you’re interested in purchasing, make sure to have it inspected at a BMW shop or a shop that has a BMW specialist on staff.

It isn’t a deal-breaker — especially if you’ve found your dream BMW — but it is an expensive repair, so make sure you keep that in mind.

  1. Too Many Stickers

The fact that stickers are on the car isn’t going to be a huge deal. However, it could be a clue into how the car was handled in the past. If the car is covered with racing stickers, chances are it was at least autocrossed. Again, this may not be a bad thing if it was done right, but it could also mean the car was driven hard. If the car has a snarky “eat my dust” or middle finger bumper sticker, chances are it wasn’t driven at exactly the speed limit everywhere it went.

Don’t worry, though — with the right tools, removing decals and stickers is simple. All you need is a razor blade and an adhesive remover. Slide the razor blade under the edges of the sticker, then spray beneath it with the adhesive remover. Repeat as necessary until the label comes off, then use the adhesive remover again to get rid of any remaining residue.

  1. Car History

This is a given for any used car — you should always write down the VIN and research the car’s history before you buy it. A site like CarFax or other similar resources will help you discover how many owners the vehicle had, whether the mileage is accurate and how well past owners have maintained it over the course of its life. It will also let you know if the car has ever been damaged or totaled. If anything in the car’s history doesn’t add up, you know this is probably a car you should avoid.

Picking up a used BMW 3 Series is a fantastic way to get your feet wet, so to speak, in the vast pool that is owning a BMW. Just do your research before you sign on the dotted line to make sure you’re getting the most for your money and aren’t buying a piece of junk.

What to Look for When Buying a used BMW

Depending on who you ask, BMW either stands for the ultimate driving machine or “breaks monthly or weekly.” Ask a seasoned wrench hand their opinion of these cars and they’ll probably say the same thing they do of most cars. If you treat them well and take care of them, you shouldn’t expect more trouble with a bimmer than any other car.

What you can expect is an engaging driving experience, styling that is instantly recognizable but not obnoxious, and an interior that neatly walks the line between luxury and purpose. For many owners, nothing but a BMW will do, and these cars can be had at very accessible price ranges. So how do you make sure the car you pick is the right one?

Know What you Want

BMW is often credited with inventing the sports sedan, or at least bringing it to the masses. While smallish saloon cars and coupes remain the German automaker’s bread-and-butter, there are so many variants on the used car market it can be difficult to know where to start. You can even choose a BMW SUV, if that’s your thing.

The Three Series, BMW Iconoclast

A good place to begin your homework is with the three series, the car that made BMW what it is today. You could probably plop down for any six-cylinder three series made in the last thirty years with decent maintenance history and mileage and have a perfectly enjoyable car. They’re that good.

This is not to say that four-cylinder cars should be avoided, in particular the latest generation of small-displacement cars are very good, however with the exception of the now unicorn-status first-generation M3, most early four-pot cars were underpowered and not particularly stout.

Z cars typically fall into the 3-series bucket, and while opinions on styling vary, they don’t suffer from any outrageously different ailments than your typical 3-series, and might be described as a generally underappreciated small sports car.

The Five Series, Workaday Warrior

If the three series brought sport sedans to the masses, the five brought sports sedans to the junior executive. Offering slightly more room and plusher appointments than their smaller brethren, five series cars still offer exceptional driving dynamics.

Mid-2000s cars are subject to some questionable styling practices in the form of the notorious “bangle butt”, so if you’re in the market for a premium car, look for later models. If you’re willing to go earlier, a cozy 540i with 15 years or so of patina can be had for less than ten grand, and you get the decadence of a Bavarian-built V8. Just make sure you understand the inevitable costs of maintenance.

The five series was also the original family to launch a BMW SUV, the venerated X5. While there are 3, 4, 6 and 1-series variants out there, all of which are competent crossovers, the 5 is probably your best bet for a used BMW four-wheeler. Aside from the X models, if it’s rocking a roundel and 4wd, and wasn’t made in the last five years, purchase at your own risk.

The Seven, Like an S-Class With Handling Dynamics

About those maintenance costs, add a thirty-percent premium for BMW’s flagship land yacht, the autobahn-cruising seven. Having the best of everything, including particularly cosseting interiors that even included optional water buffalo hides on select models, comes at a price. But few cars dominate the road like a well-kept seven series.

Getting into a later model seven could be difficult as even used cars tend to be exclusively expensive or carry mileage well in excess of 100k. Stick to the V8 cars and avoid the seductive V12 unless you’re prepared to give your first born to keep it on the road. And that’s assuming it doesn’t break.

One-Offs and B-Sides

In addition to the standard three—five—seven lineup, BMW has made a huge number of unique models. In recent years, the brand has also used up just about every one of the digits with the exception of nine.

One and two series cars make a good choice if you’re looking for a compact and can afford a late-model BMW. The occasional six series is approachable these days, and there are some remnants of the old “shark nose” cars from the seventies floating around out there. Both are large, asphalt-leveling coupes on opposite ends of the price spectrum.

Speaking of big coupes, BMW’s attempt at a halo car was the early-90s eight series. Hardcore collectors love these cars, but those new to motoring or BMW should steer clear, if you even spot one, because of preventatively high maintenance costs.

M is for Motorsports

Actually, it probably stands for some German word that means motorsports. M cars are BMW’s homage to the company’s racing heritage. They offer uprated feedback and engagement, and limits that can be unreasonable to challenge without risking a ticket, or worse.

If you choose to go this route, get a full mechanic’s inspection, do your homework on the specific model, know what breaks, and be prepared to pay significant maintenance costs. Also, take comfort in knowing you’ll crack a smile every time you get behind the wheel. Just maybe keep the traction control on for the first week or so.

Take-home Lessons

These are good general pointers about what’s out there, but the best advice I can give you about purchasing a car is to do your homework about that particular car. Find out how many owners it has had, where it came from, and whether important recall work has been carried out.

If you’re buying a BMW for the first time, congratulations. Be smart and you’ll come away with a car that delivers driving pleasure not many can match.