BMW Buying Guide

BMWs are luxurious and sporty. Find out what you need to know about buying one with this BMW car buying guide.
Written by Jason Tushinski
Reviewed by Carrie Adkins
Whether or not BMWs live up to the brand’s reputation as "The Ultimate Driving Machine" is for you to decide. This guide will give you the lowdown on the German carmaker’s models and costs, the best and worst model to buy, overall reliability, and which model is right for you.
Whichever ride you purchase, you’ll have to buy something equally as important—
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How much does a BMW cost?

BMW is a luxury automobile brand with offerings that range from affordable to extremely expensive
On the lower end, you’ve got the 2-series base model—the 230i coupe—that starts at just over $37,000. In contrast, the 7-series Alpina B7 sedan starts at a whopping $143,200.
But the cost of the vehicle is more than the price tag alone. The real cost of owning a BMW includes maintenance fees, insurance premiums, and lease or financing payments.
To give buyers an idea of BMW price ranges, let’s compare three models.

BMW 230i sDrive coupe

The 230i sDrive coupe is the 2 series’ base model with an MSRP of $37,345. It’s a sporty, quick, rear-wheel-drive subcompact commonly regarded as the brand’s entry-level vehicle. The 230i comes with a turbocharged, 2.0 liter-inline four-cylinder engine with 255 horsepower. Bigger wheels, grippier tires, more powerful brakes, and other goodies can be added as options.
The average cost to maintain a 230i can range from $100 to $2000, depending on the problem and its severity. Here are three of the most common maintenance needs associated with the 230i:
  • Rear brake shoe replacement
  • Headlight bulb replacement
  • Car starter repair
As a luxury vehicle (even an entry-level one), insurance for a 230i will be on the pricier side.
Key Takeaway While the car you drive will impact your insurance premium, your driver profile is equally as significant in determining your rate.

BMW X3 sDrive30i

The X3 is BMW’s best-selling vehicle and its mid-range MSRP of $44,695 makes it a luxury SUV that’s accessible to the masses. It offers the look of a traditional SUV with slick handling and lots of power.
The average cost to maintain an X3 can range from $95 to $4823, depending on the nature and depth of the problem. Here are three of the most common issues you might encounter with an X3:
  • Brake rotors/disc replacement
  • Shock absorber replacement
  • Oil pressure sensor
As a luxury, imported SUV, insuring your X3 will be costlier than insuring the average car. Your driver profile will have a significant impact on your insurance premium—the cleaner your driving record, the lower your premium will be.

BMW 840i coupe

BMW’s 8 Series is not for the faint of heart, nor the faint of wallet! The MSRP for the base 840i coupe is $85,995. For that, you get supreme luxury, a ridiculously smooth ride, generous power, and nimble handling.
The average cost to maintain an 840i ranges from $95 to $645, depending on the issue. Here are three of the most common maintenance issues with the 840i, all of which BMW has issued recalls for:
  • Electrical system
  • Hydraulic brakes
  • Rear camera
Insurance for an 840i won’t be cheap—this is a powerful, luxurious vehicle, so your insurer will likely charge you a pretty penny in case the car is totaled and they need to pay to replace it.

What makes BMW better than its competitors?

This is The Ultimate Driving Machine we’re talking about—and here are some of the things it’s best known for:
  • Performance and driving excellence
  • Ideal blend of style, power, and luxury
  • Great driver-assistance technology
  • Exceptional craftsmanship
BMW’s line has expanded over the years to include something for everyone from its entry-level offerings to its high-end lines—coupes, sedans, convertibles, SUVs, and even electric hybrids.
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How reliable is BMW?

BMW gets a middling 2.5/5 reliability grade from RepairPal, due largely to common issues like electrical problems, oil leaks, and problems with the cooling system. Here’s the data underlying RepairPal’s grade for the average BMW:
  • Average repair cost/year: $968 (both scheduled and unscheduled repairs)
  • Average repair visits/year: 0.9 (average for all car models is 0.4)
  • Percentage of repairs considered severe: 15% (compared to 12% for all car models)

What problems does BMW have?

Despite being performance-oriented machines, all that vehicular muscularity can come with a cost—BMW vehicles’ bigger brakes, wider wheels and tires, and more rugged suspensions can take a toll.
Here’s a breakdown of the most common issues you may encounter with a BMW:
Electrical issues
BMWs can suffer electrical issues, especially luxury models that are crammed full of technology. The most common parts affected include:
  • Door lock actuators
  • Driver or passenger restraint systems
  • Window regulators
  • Tire pressure monitor system
Oil leaks
Leaking oil can be an issue for BMWs and can crop up after about 50,000 miles—though they’re more likely after 100,000 miles.
Periodically pop your BMW’s hood and look for any signs of oil leakage. Be aware of leaks on hot engine parts, such as exhaust manifolds and turbochargers. Hot oil landing on pulleys or belts can cause the part to wear down and fail prematurely.
Cooling system issues
Issues with BMW cooling systems typically occur after 100,000 miles. Watch the following areas:
  • Water pump (the pump plastic can crack and fail)
  • Coolant hoses (can become brittle over time)
  • Cooling fan (can fail prematurely)
Key Takeaway BMW’s reliability is average, with common electrical system problems, oil leaks, and cooling system issues.

What areas does BMW rarely fail?

BMW takes its safety cues from the European Union, where safety standards are more stringent. It isn’t surprising that BMW applies its engineering prowess to meet rigorous safety standards.
Even with such powerful engines, BMW has worked hard to improve the fuel efficiency in its vehicles. Most BMW 4-cylinder vehicles are much more fuel efficient and offer better acceleration and power than the average 4-cylinder car.
Finally, BMW’s electronic interface, Connected Drive, offers a slew of information to keep drivers aware of their vehicles’ most important functions, metrics, and the car’s overall condition.

What is the best BMW?

The X3 is the German automaker’s top option—no wonder it's currently the brand’s top-selling vehicle. It has a base MSRP of $43,000.
The X3 has more of a traditional SUV look to it, with plenty of room for the kids (and dogs!), plus plenty of speed and power. The X3 M boasts 473 horsepower, boosted to a road-gobbling 503 horses if you add BMW’s Competition Package.

What is the worst BMW?

Performance wise, the 1 series just doesn’t measure up to the rest of the BMW lineup.
It’s considered a 4-seater, but the interior is far too tight to comfortably seat four adults. And there are reliability issues that bring into question the high base MSRP of $37,000.
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Should I buy a BMW new or used?

Ultimately, whether you purchase a new or used BMW will depend on what you’re looking for and how much money you want to spend.
Benefits of buying a new BMW include:
  • Manufacturer’s warranty for 3, 5, or 7 years (up to between 60,000 and 100,000 miles)
  • Less likelihood of serious problems
  • Better fuel efficiency on newer models
  • Option to choose the specs and trims you want
Benefits of buying a used BMW include:
  • More affordable and (potentially) a better bang for your buck
  • Slower depreciation than new models
  • Good reliability if well maintained
  • Low mileage if you can buy a demo
  • Lower insurance costs than new models
Key Takeaway Buying a used vehicle doesn’t necessarily mean lower quality. If you can find a well-maintained used car, seize the opportunity to own your preferred brand at a lower cost.

How do I decide what car to buy?

Deciding which BMW to buy is a personal decision—consider your lifestyle, whether you’re looking for a practical set of wheels or a more sporty ride, the features you want, and the climate you live in.
Are you a busy parent?
If you’re hauling kids and animals around all day, an SUV like the X3 or larger X5 might be a good choice. Both models give you plenty of seating and cargo space, and the driving experience will still be fun.
Are you a single person or an empty nester?
If you’re on your own and you’ve got money to spare, treat yourself to a BMW that's a bit more focused on performance and fun than practicality—maybe a quick 2 series coupe or the Z4 roadster.
Where do you live?
As much as BMW is renowned for its rear-wheel drive, it’s not a system that lends itself well to winter weather.
If you’re in a winter climate, consider one of BMW’s SUVs or a sedan that offer all-wheel drive, such as the 3 or 5 series. If you’ve got long commutes, consider opting for a model with good fuel efficiency that will be comfortable on longer drives.

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