Reader Question: Too Good to be True BMW?

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Here’s the latest reader question, along with my reply!

Matthew asks: While searching for used cars I found listings for more than one BMW selling for less than $10,000 with anywhere from 65,000-100,000 miles. I can’t find an honest review anywhere. My question is, should I be suspicious of any vehicle selling for that price with that many miles? Can I assume that even the lauded “Beamer” needs to be ditched at 100k?

My reply: All cars depreciate – i.e., lose value – from the moment they leave the dealer’s lot. But luxury cars depreciate at a faster rate, because part of their value is bound up in being the “latest thing.” Put another way, the person who buys say a new 7 Series BMW doesn’t want to be the guy who is driving a four-year-old 7 Series. This is why a large percentage of luxury cars are leased rather than bought. It is also why there are great deals to be had on used (and former leased) luxury cars.

But there’s a catch.

While the cost to buy one of these can be a very sweet deal – vs. what the same car cost when it was new – the cost to service luxury cars is often haltingly high. Not just  labor but also parts. And luxury cars – modern ones – tend to be the ones that bring the latest technology/gadgets to market, before they become common on lower priced cars. These gadgets and more complex systems entail more things to go wrong and more expense when they do.

That said, some luxury cars are better in all regards than others. Lexus cars, for one. In part because they are exceptionally well-built but also because they are Toyotas. Lexus is merely a brand name used in North America only – because American buyers are very hung up on branding. Anyhow, these “Lexus” cars share many functional components with their “Toyota” brethren – and “Toyota” parts tend to cost less than – for example – Mercedes or BMW parts

Acuras and Infinitis are also generally pretty good bets,  for the same reason – being essentially (respectively) Honda and Nissan vehicles.

BMW and Benz vehicles are iffier, in my opinion – anything recent (last five or so years) at least. They are way “teched” and I’ve had small glitches with brand-new press cars. I’m not saying don’t buy one; I am saying be careful. Choose one that has been thoroughly gone over by a competent technician you trust; if possible, get the seller to include an extended warranty on major components such as the drivetrain (engine, transmission, AWD system, etc.)

Keep in mind that if “the price is right,” having to spend a little money might not sour the deal. Like you, I’ve seen cars that once carried $50,000 MSRPs on used lots for a third that sum by the time they were five years old.

Sometimes less.

. . .

Got a question about cars – or anything else? Click on the “ask Eric” link and send ’em in!

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  1. And just what year and model BMW were these ads for? Were there lots of pictures and a thorough description in the ads? Could be the classic scam, where you respond to add, and they want you to ‘text for more pics’ [They’ll often only be one in the ad], and then they send this nonsense about the car being 1500-2000 miles away from where you are, and them wanting to ‘do the transaction through “Ebay Motors”, and with ‘free shipping’, yada, yada…. and of course, the “Ebay” stuff they send you is completely fake, and instructs you to pay via ‘gift cards’ or some other ridiculous method……

    Those scams are so ubiquitous on sites like Craigslist and Autotrader, and Fecebook- you can spot them immediately by their prices always being a fraction of what a legit seller would be asking- and the cars are always picture-perfect and low mileage…..usually being offered for less than what a train-wrecked one would go for at the salvage auction.

  2. When I bought a car last in 2011 I looked into a new BMW. What I found was that BMW was making it increasingly difficult for people to service the vehicle themselves. They also seemed to have various issues. The faithful BMW fans seemed not to be too bothered, had some workarounds etc but to me it seemed like it wasn’t a recipe for long term ownership. So I got another Mustang. Which even if Ford tries some nonsense the aftermarket quickly rectifies it. There might be a good-enough ecosystem for BMWs but I don’t know it and what I found certainly didn’t seem to be as easy and affordable.

    Another thing I noticed was how quickly new BMWs disappeared from the road in my area. I would see tons of the new models and then a couple-three years and I would rarely see them. I’ve gotten flack for saying this before, but the cars go somewhere. They may still be alive and well but they went somewhere after the lease was up or the owner decided to get something else in a couple years. And by somewhere else I mean out of the Chicago area. Not many even seem to filter downmarket as used cars. They just seem to go away. Maybe someone buys them and sends them to eastern europe or something because I don’t seem them in the self serve salvage yards much either, even 10+ years after they were made.

  3. Modern BMWs are nothing like the old BMWs. They’ve been making them (I’d extend Eric’s ‘5 years’ to 20 years or more) essentially as disposable vehicles, because as Eric mentioned, the people who buy them new are status-seekers, and do not keep them very long…so no need to make them with an eye towards long-term durability or serviceability.

    The cars literally fall apart. Tons of cheap plastic used on ’em (so much for ‘luxury”)- and parts are very expensive; and service is even more expensive. They use lots of propritary stuff, and you pretty much need a BMW dealer, or at least a [pricey] mechanic who specializes in German cars/BMWs…as a lot of run-of-the-mill mechanics either don’t have the necessary tools or know-how to deal with them.

    Think about it- how many BMWs of the model and year of the one you’re looking at do you see on the street?

    Modern BMWs=money pits. (And Benzes; Range Rovers; Jaguars, etc. too).


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