June 11

How Reliable Are BMW Vehicles

BMW, Podcast


Mark: Hi, it's Mark Bossert, Producer of The Pawlik Automotive Podcast and Video Series. We're here with Mr. Bernie Pawlik, Pawlik Automotive, in Vancouver. Of course, 20-time winners of Best Auto Repair in Vancouver, as voted by their customers, including this year, 2019, and 38 years repairing cars in Vancouver. And, how are you doing this morning, Bernie?

Bernie: Good, very good.

Mark: Excellent. So, we're going to talk about BMW, the ultimate driving machine, the reliability thereof. Are BMW's reliable?

Bernie: Well, that's a pretty broad question. There's ... I mean, there's a huge lineup of vehicles from your sort of, let's say, your sort of basic three series sedans, up to SUV's, luxury SUV's and the X5. Compact SUV's. We've got some very nice sporty models, including the Alpina, which is a ... I hope I said that properly, which is kind of a AMG'ish type version of a BMW. And, the M Series, high performance. So, there's a lot of variety in BMW. I mean, you won't find any pickup trucks. But, you can find pretty much everything else.

Mark: So, there've been some studies that claim that BMW's the most expensive car to repair. What's your experience in the shop?

Bernie: I'd say they are pretty expensive to repair. There's a lot that does go wrong with BMW's. Not all models, but I would say, in a nutshell, you could expect to be paying more to fix a BMW than a lot of other brands of cars. Maybe not any more than a Mercedes or another equivalent European car, but there are a number of issues that happen.

And, I know the study you're talking about. Kind of compiled from a database of auto repair costs, and I believe it was acquired, I think it's from a mobile auto service or an online booking service, and they kind of looked at the pricing and stuff. And so, it is somewhat accurate, but I don't know that it's really a full sort of sample of the whole automotive market place. But, I would tend to agree with that, generally. They are definitely more expensive.

Mark: And of course, is it fair to say that for the brand, BMW, we're talking about generalities. We're not necessarily branding or stating that they're X or Y, because certain models within any brand of vehicles that's made, certain models would be better. Certain models, eh, not so much. Is that true for BMW as well?

Bernie: Yeah, absolutely. There's a wide variety of issues in different models of cars. And, I mean, we can talk about some of the more specific things, but I think generally, some models are better than others.

I think I've said this on my pod, my daughter owns like, a 2003 Series. It's a really reliable car. I mean, very little's gone wrong. And, I know you had a three series that's maybe a little older, that you had all sorts of problems with. And, you know, we see other newer three series where there's a number of things. So, there are some common problems to them, but generally, some are more reliable than others.

Mark: So, let's work our way through. How are the brakes on BMW?

Bernie: Brakes are generally good. There's not really a lot of issues in the brake department. Pads and rotors, of course, need to be replaced. It's a typical European vehicle where, as the pads wear, they usually wear the rotors at the same time. So, to do a proper job, you'll do pads and rotors.

They also have an electronic wear sensor which is, it's a little additional item that you won't find on a lot of North American or Japanese cars, but that's another item that needs to be replaced. But other than that, the brakes generally, they have an average life span, 50 to 80 thousand kilometre type of range. Some of the SUV's, they might wear a little quicker. But, that's the general rate. So, brakes are good. Nothing unusual in that department. And, not overly expensive to repair, unless you get into some of the high performance M series where the rotors and pads are oversized.

Mark: What about steering and suspension?

Bernie: There's a few issues there. Control arm bushings, especially on some three series vehicles, have been problematic for a long time. They tend to wear out, and when you replace them, they tend to wear out really quickly even after that. So, that's certainly something we see. There's some ball joints will wear out in the suspension.

Other than that, pretty good. But, there are some predictable parts that we'll see on certain models that will wear out. And these are mostly, I think, like, the three and five series.

Mark: What about engines?

Bernie: So, engines, well, there's a lot to be said for engines. And, BMW really has two ... unless you get into the V10's ... but, I mean, two common engines. They have V8's, and they have their straight six engine, which they've used for a long time.

Now, the six cylinder engine is, you get some that are like, two litre, some that are a three litre, and they've just sort of changed the dimensions inside the engine to accommodate. But, on the outside of the engine, looks pretty much exactly the same.

And, of course, they modified them as technology's increased with variable valve timing, and variable valve lift, and all sorts of pretty nifty technologies. But, I think the six cylinders, generally, are much better than the V8's. There's some problems with the V8's that can be ... And again, I'm going back to kind of the early 2000 range where their timing chains would wear out. And just, horrifically expensive to fix. So, you know, like, it's like 25 or 40 hours labor type of time, if you can just add a, multiply that by a hundred dollars or a hundred and fifty, or whatever you pay for labor. You can see, that would be an extremely expensive repair, plus parts.

Coolant leaks are common on those V8's as well, and again, extremely expensive to fix. So, I'm often like, I like power and performance, but I find those V8's, I'd be kind of scared to own one. Six cylinders on the other hand, I mean, they do have their problems, but they're much more reliable in many ways. And, some of the issues we see with the six cylinder, oil leaks, valve cover gaskets will leak. Oil pan gaskets will leak. Oil pan gaskets, valve covers, oil filter housings, talking about a lot of different places here.

Some of these oil leaks are actually pretty expensive to fix, too. Like, on an X drive, drive shaft goes through the oil pan. So, it's a very labor-intensive job to change an oil pan gasket on many of these. So, they do fail on most of them, so that is an expensive issue.

Mark: How about coolant leaks?

Bernie: Coolant leaks, yeah. That's the other area. So, coolant leaks have been kind of a common issue. Water pumps, a lot of plastic parts in the cooling system that'll cause leaky seals and you know, some of these ... Again, I'm thinking kind of back a couple of, a decade and a half, a couple of decades. You know, as the plastic gets old, it tends to get kind of brittle. And, we even had parts in our shop where somebody just lean on a radiator, and the radiator neck where the hose attached to it will snap off because the plastic gets brittle and hard.

So, that's an issue that's been common with a lot of BMW's. And, I think if you're into preventative maintenance, you want to keep one for a long time, there's certain parts that we can recommend to you to replace, just for a liability purposes. You know, certain plastic hose ends and things like that. I think that kind of covers it for the cooling system.

Oh, one other engine item that does tend to fail too, and a lot of the six cylinder, the crank case vent valve is a pretty high failure item. And they will ... You'll know it's bad, the engine, sometimes you'll start the engine, and a big pod of blue smoke will come out the back. Or, you'll have to add a lot more oil than usual. You know, maybe a litre every thousand or five hundred kilometres. And, the check engine light may also be on with a rough running condition, depending on how badly the valve's deteriorated.

But, that's again, a thing to fix. Now, I know we've talked about a lot of problems here, but in favour of BMW, I mean, the general guts of the engine, like, things like the head gaskets are usually bullet proof reliable. The pistons, the compression, the internal workings of the engine, besides timing chains, tend to be extremely reliable. Like, the valves, the pistons. You know, things that keep the compression component of the engine are generally, very reliable.

Mark: So, what about transmissions, the drive train, all wheel drive? What about issues there?

Bernie: Usually, pretty reliable. I mean, the transfer cases can cause issues when the vehicles reach really high mileage, but they're generally pretty reliable and well built. We don't see a lot of transmission problems with BMW's. Again, pretty reliable. The drive trains, the drive shafts, differentials, they're all pretty good. CV joints, CV boots, they're all pretty reliable.

Again, when a car gets really old too, the things ... And, I'm saying old like, you know, 12 to 20 years old, then a lot of other issues start to happen. But, generally, that part of the vehicles is really, quite reliable.

Mark: What about fit and finish? The interior and the body?

Bernie: Yeah, it's nice. I mean, it's good quality. The components are generally well built and you don't run into a lot of problems. Like things like power windows, again, we don't fix a lot of problems with those. They tend to work pretty reliably, yeah. Overall, that part of the car is usually pretty good.

And, the one thing I realize about engines that I did miss is, there's a lot of newer models that do have four cylinder turbo charged engines, that they're generally a pretty reliable option, and much better on fuel than some of the other models, so just jumping back to the engine category.

Mark: And, how about electronics? Electrical systems? Generally, can be an issue with German cars.

Bernie: Can be an issue. I mean, we don't see, again, a lot of problems with them. I mean, I do know someone who bought a, I think it was an X3. It may have been brand new. And, she had a lot of problems with the, I think it was the navigation system or something. And, the vehicle was in the shop for months, trying to get fixed. And, those are kind of irritating issues that you hope you have warranty on. But, usually for the most part, the electrical and electronic systems are pretty good, which is great, because there's so much to it that they could be problematic and expensive. And generally, things are pretty good.

You know, as far as interior items too, like heating and A/C, again, pretty reliable. But, I know some models, I'm thinking the three series again, going back and sort of in the 2000's decade, the heater blower fans would tend to fail. Start making noise or not work. And, very expensive to fix. So, the way they're designed, it's a very labour intensive job, plus, an expensive part. So, that is one thing that can be an expensive issue.

Mark: So, let's pick on some here. Are there any particular models that you see a lot of?

Bernie: We service a lot of three series. We service a lot of X3's. Those are probably the most common for us in our shop. I think I've alluded to some of the, a lot of the issues I've talked about there would apply to those vehicles, with the exception of the V8 engine, because they don't put that in that model. You'll find the V8 in the larger five and seven series, and the X5 models. But yeah, I mean, I think I've kind of spoken ... Most of the issues I've talked about are related to those particular vehicles.

Mark: What about X3's? I know that's a model you see a lot of. It has some quirks.

Bernie: Yeah, I mean, I actually own one myself, so I can speak from personal experience. I mean, pretty reliable, but this vehicle, a hundred thousand kilometres, it's had some oil leaks, new oil pan gaskets need to be replaced. The oil filter housings leaked oil. The electric water pumps failed. And you know, that's actually another item that BMW, they've gone to electric water pumps. It's an expensive part. So, yeah, there are some expensive things. And in my opinion, not as reliable as they should be.

I'm most happy when these kind of things start failing at around the 200 thousand kilometre range, instead of a hundred, seems a little too young, in my opinion. But you know, they're good running vehicles.

The other thing in the little X3 issue, taillight. They have LED taillights that quit working. And, it's a manufacturing defect. There's a little module, a little electronic board that turns the LEDs on, and they fail. They're just not made properly, so if you go to BMW, they'll sell you a whole taillight, but we can actually fix it. We've done the research, and found out how to repair it for substantially lower cost.

But that again, is like, a little quirky thing on the X3. It doesn't seem to ... We've seen other BMW's where the taillights fail, the LEDs, and you have to buy the whole light because it's a different design. But generally, they're pretty robust and pretty durable.

Mark: What about the X5? I know that's another one that we've talked about a lot.

Bernie: Yeah, X5, coolant leaks, to me, are probably the biggest thing on those. The earlier generation of V8's were really bad. The newer ones are better. And, X5's do come with the six cylinder as well, which, I think, is a much more reliable option. So, some of the things we talked about, problems with the six cylinders, like, crank case, vent valves, some of the oil leaks and coolant leaks, those are the kind of things you're going to get with a six cylinder.

But yeah, the V8's are, they definitely have their sort of ... They're more expensive coolant leaks from coolant pipes that run under the intake manifold, and pieces like that. You know, again, the older X series too, the V8, the timing chains can be an expensive issue to fix, as well.

And, one thing I'll say about an X5, it's an all wheel drive, and a lot of them have very large tires on them. So, they're not great on gas. But, you know, you don't buy a car like that for good fuel economy. You buy it more for the luxury. But, they are kind of, probably a little worse than they could be.

Mark: BMW's, what are the steps as an owner, to kind of maximize the reliability of my BMW? What do I need to do in maintenance?

Bernie: Well, regular service, for sure. And, this is a great question. Thank you for asking it. You know, BMW's maintenance schedule, they really try to stretch out the oil change interval. A lot of them are 24 thousand kilometre oil changes. They've been using that for a long time, back in the early 2000's, even earlier than that, late '90's.

You know, in my opinion, way too long for oil changes. The only time you ever really want to do that is if you're doing nothing but straight highway driving. So, changing your oil for sure. But, I would say every 12 to 15 is a much better time interval. You're much safer, you're still, that's a long interval for an oil change, and you're going to be having cleaner oil.

BMW also, you know, a lot of their transmissions, they say you don't need to service them. They're filled for life fluid. But, the fluid in them is no different than any other transmission fluid. And, the system works exactly the same. There's nothing magic about a BMW transmission, and changing fluid in that, I would recommend doing that.

So, the brake fluid every couple of years. You know, regular service is kind of the key for everything. The control arm bushings I talked about earlier, I mean, when they get bad, you'll hear clunks and things. Or, the brakes will feel a little weird. If you bring your car in for regular service, you'll know all these things and you can fix them before they become big problems.

Mark: So, there you go. If you've got a BMW in Vancouver, the guys to see are Pawlik Automotive. You can reach them at 604-327-7112, to book your appointment. You have to call and book ahead. They're busy, always busy. And, of course, if you want to check out their website, pawlikautomotive.com. Hundreds of articles and blog posts on there. Videos on all makes and models, and all kinds of repairs. Our YouTube Channel, Pawlik Auto Repair, same thing, hundreds, hundreds of them. And, of course, thank you so much for listening to the podcast. We appreciate it. Thank you, Bernie.

Bernie: Thank you, Mark, and thanks for watching.

About the author 

Bernie Pawlik

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