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The myth of German engineering

I’m looking at buying a used 2001 BMW 325i with 120,000 miles on it. I’ve always heard that BMWs, as a general rule, are good for 200k+ miles. Reading reviews online, I’ve only managed to find mixed results.

From a purely mechanical standpoint, is it true that BMW holds its own against Honda and Toyota when it comes to high mileage?

Basically true, if both vehicles are maintained by the book. The difference, however is the cost of the parts and service. This is typically twice as high for a BMW than a good Japanese car. The failure frequency of German parts, especially electronics is much higher than that of Japanese cars. So there are more repairs as well.

As a result of all this, a Japanese car can be made to run economically for a very long time, whereas a BMW may face such high repair and overhaul costs later in life that the owner just throws in the towel and sells the car for parts.

A doctor friend of mine has a 700 Series BMW, 18 years old, with not very high mileage. The car was in an accident, and was not properly repaired. As a result the engine overheated and needs extensive repairs. It now needs $15,000 woth of new parts, according to the shop, more than the car is worth. The insurance company has washed their hands of the whole mess and has offered him scrap value.

This is not an unusual example, especially with high end German cars who are bought by wealthy, non-mechanical persons and are not meticulously maintained. So you can get 400,000 miles out of a BMW, but your bank account may not allow it.

BMW = Bring. Money. With you

It will hold its own, but it won’t hold anybody else’s. It will cost you more to get the 250,000 than it will cost in a Toyota but who wants to drive a Toyota when there are BMWs around? If you have enough money, you can do anything you want with cars.

Well said…we have friends that buy used SAABs to save money…then complain cause they put upwards of $700, several times a year in repair bills, just to break down miles from home…to each his own. Used to be one of those SAAB(snob)/BMW owners till I could no longer afford it. I’ll leave it up to Jay Leno and the like now.

IMHO they do.

SAABs are not so bad. Owned one previously and currently have 2.

A gentleman who used to live about a block from me owned a BMW motorcycle (never owned a car) and when he moved about 15 years ago that motorcycle had over a million miles on it; and that included a number of high speed crashes, a smash-up with a deer, and many, many, miles of pulling a 12 foot trailer to haul stuff with (One excursion with a load of rough lumber had a GVW of over 3000 pounds. Not shabby for a 750 CC bike.)

BMW’s reputation for longevity should not be confused with reliability. The Germans brands have improved reliability, but they are still chasing the Japanese. You can, however, make a German car last just as long as a Japanese car, if not longer, if you have the money to maintain and repair it. Just don’t expect your BMW to compete with Honda for cost per mile unless you can do the work yourself.

Yes BMW should be able to do 120,000 miles with ease. I would expect over 200,000. The limiting factor is usually an accident or the failure of the owner to maintain basic maintenance. That is not very different on any car. BTW I would expect over 200,000 on any modern car. Look around at all the cars on used car lots. They are still good, but the original owners have dumped them, because they have decided they want something different. Few people keep a car that long and it is seldom because the car failed.

The problem with BMW’s that I would be concerned with would be the cost of that maintenance. They are not cheap cars to buy and they are not cheap cars to maintain. If you are looking to save money, I would look elsewhere.

Overall I believe people worry far too much about ratings. This or that car may get more “repairs” than another during the first few years, but as often as not, those differences are more influenced by the actions of the owner than the car itself. That is not to say the ratings are worthless, but only that you should not over react to them.

I agree with the others, the BMW will last as long as you are willing to maintain it correctly (so will a toyota/honda, buy why would you bother?). The biggest difference is cost, the BMW will cost more per mile and is probably less likely to tolerate neglect. You can drive the BMW forever if you are willing to keep it in good condition, if you just want something cheap buy a ricer.

As others have said or implied, you will be able to keep that car on the road as long as you can afford to do so. Just bear in mind that repair costs on BMWs tend to be horrendously expensive, and they do break down just like other makes of cars.

As long as you can justify putting $$ into it, that car will continue to run. Just be sure to budget a lot of money for it.

If the previous owner took care of the vehicle they hold up well like most any make. There reliability is average which IMHO is decent however service & repair costs are higher than average car.

The key is finding a good independent shop that is reasonable and knows what they are doing with BMW. I owned an “unreliable” VW Jetta GLI however find ownership pleasant with a great small/inexpensive VW specialist who used a mix of recycled and new parts where appropriate. He always fixed the car the first time.

Never compare the cost of repairing a BMW to a Honda or Toyota. It’s an unfair comparison guaranteed to make the BMW look bad. Instead, compare repair costs of Lexus, Infiniti or Acura to BMW. You might include other luxury cars, too, and only put those on the list that you would consider owning.

And how do we define “good engineering”. An article in Consumer Reports years ago, considered the Ford Maverick as one of the “best” engineered cars of all times. It seemed that most of catagory breakdowns occurred at closer to the same milage than any other car…that’s “quality” engineering.

No matter what you say, maintenance and parts . . . even tires, are going to be more expensive with a BMW, Lexus, Porsche, whatever . . . than a Toyota, Nissan or Honda. Depends on what you want. I know folks who have 250,000+ on a 911 . . . and I know that it cost a lot more to get that far than it would with a Honda. But you look SOOOOO good getting there . . . and the 911 is . . like Ferris Buehler said about the Ferrari he “borrowed” . . . “a choice automobile, I suggest that you pick one up if you have the means.” Before you buy the BMW . . . go to Tire Rack and compare even TIRES for a BMW 325 and a Honda Accord. Rocketman

It’s important to focus on the OP’s original question; are BMW’s as reliable as good Japanese cars?

BMW’s used to be much less reliable than Mercedes’s. The shoe is now on the other foot, and BMWs (at least some models) are almost as reliable as Japanese cars, and much better than Mercedes, who seem to have a hammerlock on low reliability these days. Volkswagen has models that are better than Mercedes.

On the other hand, some posters imply that because a Lexus is expensive to maintain and repair (if that becomes necessary), that it is also an unreliable car! Nothing could be further from the truth. A Lexus will not bankrupt you and there are examples of owners who have gone well over 300,000 miles with only wear type repairs, such as brakes, shocks, etc.

This fact makes a used Lexus a much less risky buy than a used BMW or Mercedes. This would also hold true for an Acura, and to some ecxtent Infiniti.

German engineering is still world renowned, but mostly in industrial and some domestic equipment. Why should the country with the world’s highest labor costs also be the world’s largest exporter? And with a population less than half of the US! Most German exports are manufactured goods, so they must be doing something right! My wife loves German kithen appliances, most of which are designed to outlast the owners.

Most people are focusing on the fact of repairs during the high mileage run. However the poster is simply asking if the vehicle runs till 200k at least. The answer is yes. And in some cases cheaper than a Honda with a failed automatic transmission(very common) or Toyota with sludged motor(another issue).

However the maintenance getting there is definitely more $$$ on BMW.

I think it’s important to choose luxury cars first, and then add in that they should be high performance cars, too. Lexus did not offer a high performance car until 2006 (IS 350). Infiniti has had the G35 sedan since 2003 and Acura has offered high performance cars for a long time (Integra, RSX, TSX, TL, NSX). It might be best to only compare Bimmers to Acuras because of that.

In re reading the original question, the phrase “purely mechanical standpoint” jumps out. When the mechanical components were just that, and fuel injection was a mechanical and not electronic component than the answer would be yes. If CR can be believed and most European cars fail first in their electrical components which now comsumes so much of the mechaincal operation of a car, than the answer is perhaps no.
My take is that BMW, Mercedes etc. are just as good as they ever were…the bar is raised higher by Toyota (lexus) Honda (Acura) and Hyundai (?) because of their attention to electronics.
Maintenance be damned, an oil change isn’t going to extend the life of your computer.

Since you are looking at a 7 year old BMW you should take the same precautions regarding a used car that everyone else should. New car reviews mean little when a car is almost a decade old. Check everything carefully and get one of the background reports on this specific car. You are buying a car that is costly to maintain at the point maintenance becomes a major factor in retention. Buyer beware. That said, German cars have the reputation (much deserved) as being more “fun to drive” than other cars. That may be more the reason for their popularity than anything else.

Wow, thanks everyone for your detailed and incredibly informative replies. I really appreciate your help on this one.

With that said, I’d like to point the thread in a slightly different direction: my specific situation. I’m currently a college student, looking to buy my first (used) car, and the reason I was looking at BMW is because of both the luxury and sportiness of their vehicles. Right now I own a 2000 Mustang V6, and although I’m definitely happy with it, it won’t be mine too much longer since my brother will be coming to college next August.

Essentially, I’m looking to spend $12k or below, and I’m looking to get something relatively new, with reasonable miles, and sporty. I love the power of the 3.8L engine, but I’m also looking for something a little roomier - with as much as I enjoy driving, I tend to give people rides, and the Mustang can get a little cramped at times.

I suppose I’m really looking for a 4-door V6, and so I landed with BMW. Now, from what I’ve read, Mazda is closer to what I’m looking for. If I could find an RX-8 for the right price, I might be tempted to forgo the whole 4-door thing.

Finally (and please be candid with me here), am I dreaming to think I could get a car that fits what I’m looking for in that price range? I don’t honestly know if I’m being realistic or not.

Thanks again for your responses; you’ve all been incredibly helpful.