How reliable are BMW cars? An honest assessment

Why are BMWs known for being unreliable?

You’ve heard the rumour and it’s so strong that it’s caused you to think twice about investing in a BMW: BMW – in spite of their awesomeness – are unreliable.

BMW is one of the most sought-after premium brands in the world. Blending power and performance with sporty appeal, BMW are sophisticated, classy, and pretty much everything you would want in a car.

But, there is one mark against their reputation that they just can’t shake off; their reliability.

The question of reliability has haunted the prestigious brand – and German cars in general – for a while now, and one of the questions we get the most from customers when talking about BMW is ‘are they reliable?’

One of the biggest factors you should consider when getting a new car is whether it is reliable. If you can’t depend on your car, then it could cause you a major headache later on and end up costing you an eye-watering amount of money.

So is the “ultimate driving machine” a reliable car?

In this article, we’re going to look at whether BMW ‘s live up to their unreliable reputation and look at how they fare when compared to their competitors.

Has BMW tickled your fancy?  Explore all the BMW models available

Is a BMW a Reliable Car?

Since 2007, BMW has not scored above average with Consumer Reports. In 2012, BMW 3 Series convertible topped a list of the five least reliable cars. The BMW 5 Series came third in that list. Not only that, but their research found that cars aged between four and eight years old are more likely than any other car to be off the road, with the 3 Series being the likeliest car to be so. Back in 2010, Consumer Reports Best Cars study placed BMW as one of the least reliable in most of the classes and categories.

So far, so unreliable.

But, that was a while ago, where does it rank now?

BMW 2 series convertible in sky blue parked on top of cliff with sunsetting in background

Well, according to J.D. Power, BMW is still…average. The only category it was classed as above average was Body and Interior Dependability. In J.D Power’s 2015 U.S Vehicle Dependability Study, BMW have 146 problems per 100 vehicles, putting them above average.

However, because J.D Power is based on consumer surveys, BMW have often been ranked lower for trivial reasons. For example, one of the points of dissatisfaction has been, in the past, down to BMW not having cup holders. So consumer surveys should be taken with a pinch of salt.

Has BMW tickled your fancy?  Explore all the BMW models available

Why Are BMW’s Unreliable?

BMW 5 series in dark blue metallic speeding around a corner

We’ve established that BMW’s are pretty unreliable but, why?

Consumer Reports have said that BMW, as well as their fellow German brands, put all their focus on performance. This can come at a cost to reliability.

Gabriel Shenhar, automotive engineer at Consumer Reports, said that “They are susceptible to cost-cutting anywhere they can in the hope that the customer won’t know, they use suppliers that will deliver and sometimes they won’t.”

Shenhar points out that a common gripe people have with BMW is that they are sometimes guilty of using plastics instead of more durable materials. Another common complaint is that the complex electronics BMW implement in their models are prone to breaking down.

These “complex electronics” are worth expanding on. While BMW engine’s are often fine and problem-free, the electronics – what we can call the little stuff – are full of gremlins.

Then there are common, niggling issues, such as a driver’s side door handle, door locks and window regulators. In the past, these have been cited by frustrated drivers as breaking down.

But Are BMW’s Actually unreliable … Or Do We Just Not Maintain Them Properly?

This is the key question for some, but it’s kinda misleading.

People will point out that a BMW is a premium car, and therefore it needs proper maintenance. This means that you need to take good care of it as though it was your baby.

You need to get the oil changes done at a certain time, and you have to use the right oil. If you don’t, things can go wrong. If you keep on top of its maintenance, a BMW can  theoretically last a long time – perhaps forever.

That’s true of its engine. But as we’ve pointed out, it’s the little stuff that can often bring a BMW down. And it’s this that frustrates buyers and which contributes to its reputation as an unreliable car maker.

The good news? If you maintain your BMW properly, any other unreliability issues won’t cost  you a fortune to fix.

How Did BMW Rank In Other Areas?

The J.D. Power Ratings put BMW at the top for Quality Overall and above average for Performance and Design.

So, while their dependability can let them down, people are pretty pleased with the car itself.

BMW Vs. Audi Vs. Mercedes-Benz: Which One Is More Reliable?

So, how does the beloved BMW fare against its German counterparts, Audi and Mercedes?

Not very well, actually. In terms of dependability, both Audi and Mercedes scored higher than BMW, achieving above average. Though they all ranked the same in terms of overall performance and design.

However, it was in overall quality that the BMW shone, overshadowing both Audi and Mercedes with the highest ranking.

Mercedes SLc roadster in red parked front profile.
Has BMW tickled your fancy?  Explore all the BMW models available

Which BMW’s Are the Most Reliable?

While BMW’s are generally average in terms of reliability, there are some that score higher than the rest.

It should be noted that the following list is based on ‘predicted reliability’, and the BMW’s that are predicted to be the most reliable are;

  • 2016 BMW X3
  • 2016 BMW X1
  • 2011 BMW X3

The 2011 BMW X3 actually scored five out of five, with J.D. Power classing it as ‘Among the Best’.

BMW M2 in light blue metallic parked outside white building

Which BMW’s Are the Least Reliable?

While there are above average BMW’s, there are also below average BMW’s. Again, this is based on predicted reliability, but the BMW’s that are predicted to be the least reliable are;

  • 2012 BMW 3 Series
  • 2016 BMW 3 Series
  • 2009 BMW 5 Series

Ultimately, BMW aren’t necessarily considered the most reliable car on the market. But they are still loved by many, and their overall score shows that the design, quality, and performance offsets the fact that they aren’t the most dependable car on the market.  You can check out our BMW page for the latest in depth reviews.

Has BMW tickled your fancy?  Explore all the BMW models available

Andrew Kirkley

Director at OSV Ltd
Andrew enjoys: Movies and travelling to new cities to explore different cultures.

Andrew has been in the motor trade for over 20 years. What he enjoys most about his job is the team spirit and the dedication of his work colleagues. He also appreciates the teams input in the improvement of the company.
Andrew Kirkley

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  • Otrebla| 30th October 2019 at 10:07 pm Reply

    Pretty cars, with lots of performance but poor reliability…..hmmm
    This business model is being held up across industries as the model to follow. Decadence of the west? It seems so. We had to have Toyota showed a very different business model (that does not worship the god of quick Money) that attempts to serve their customers…how revealing!!! For reference and for all of you not convinced of wasting your money on this pretty cars, listen to what mechanics say about these pieces of junk (google Scotty Kilmer for instance. For they are the ones that attempt to fix these pretty performance cars and they know the brands that are reliable (Hint it is not BMW)

    • Rachel Richardson| 4th November 2019 at 9:09 am Reply

      Hi Otrebla,
      Thank you for your comment. There are indeed many reliable manufacturers out there, and BMW also has some models that are more reliable than others that they produce. The way that people drive and obtain their vehicles has changed a great deal over the last 15-20 years, and continues to do so, therefore the way that cars are produced is also changing.

      Toyota, Lexus and other manufacturers are guiding the way, but they are being followed closely by other manufacturers who are looking to up their game.

  • Ian McKenna| 13th June 2019 at 5:50 pm Reply

    I am retired and hoping to leave London and return to my roots in the north west next year. I’m not a millionaire but by trading down on my house I might have around £200,000 to spare. I set my heart on the BMW 840d. That would be around £85k with extras. At that price I expect whatever I buy to be utterly reliable, like those Mercs from the sixties you read about that are still running with half a million miles. OK, I won’t live long enough to see that but I do not want to end up taking out a mortgage to keep the car running. What I have read here has left me rather shaken. Perhaps a Lexus would be the better choice, in fact I know it would be, but I hate the front view of their cars. Do BMW sell extended warranties, way beyond the first three years? Otherwise it’s goodbye to my dream.

    • Rachel Richardson| 14th June 2019 at 9:03 am Reply

      Hi Ian,
      It sounds as though you have your dream car firmly in mind. I know that our vehicle experts would be able to answer any of the questions and concerns that you have about BMW (and other manufacturers). If you would like to talk with someone who can help, please contact Amanda on 01903 223391 and she will be able to put you through to one of our experts.

      • Sean| 25th September 2019 at 1:49 pm Reply

        Same here, BMW is the real car I truly desire but I don’t wanna hate myself every time I take the car in for maintenance or repairs. So my rational mind says”Lexus “ but like you say the front of the cars is just not attractive.

  • Tony DiGiovanni| 22nd May 2019 at 6:52 am Reply

    I own a 2008 black on black 550 woth the m5 wheels. I love the looks of this car as wll as how it handles and performs. Even though i have babied this car it has been nothing but a money pit. From the engine beig on…to motor mounts busted…blue smoke coming out of the exhaust…several engine leaks…vacuum pump replacement etc etc…i do not recommend a bmw to anyone. The other day a saw a brand new bnw 750 …a $100,000 car with blue smoke coming out of the exhaust. Either German engineers dont know what they are doing or they purposley design the cars to fail so they can make millions on replacement parts and service.

    • Rachel Richardson| 22nd May 2019 at 8:54 am Reply

      Hi Tony,
      Sorry to hear that you’ve had such a negative experience with your vehicles. We wish you the best of luck with whatever vehicle you decide to purchase or lease in the future. We keep our articles as unbiased as possible, using data from multiple sources to ensure that all the information we publish is balanced and up-to-date.

  • Eamon Conners| 7th May 2019 at 4:26 pm Reply

    I have a 2002 330i, which admittedly is quite elderly. It’s true though; I have had literally a ton of problems with this car. The problems I’ve had primarily stem from the cooling system, which as mentioned, has a lot of parts made from plastic. The plastic gets brittle over time and cracks, meaning I’ve had numerous coolant leaks to deal with. Other than continuous cooling problems, they’ve all been electrical. My alternator cooked my battery which created a terrible smell, the outside temperature sensor use to short in the rain, resulting in the car thinking it was -40° outside and turning the A/C off when it was 90° outside (gotta love Florida). If I didn’t have the means or know-how to do all of this work myself, this car would have been long gone. I’m able to afford it because I can fix things, which is why I can confirm the accuracy of this article. The problems I’ve encountered are either electrical, or caused by plastic being used in place of where metal obviously should have been. The upside is that BMWs are truly the ultimate driving machines. I have zero regrets about spending money if it means I get to drive it again. Plus it’s true what the article says about the engine. At 162,000 miles, the engine has been flawless. I bought the car from the original owner, my aunt, at 125,000 miles. Since I therefore know it’s history, I can confirm that if you keep the oil changed the engine will last forever. But probably not much else.

    • Rachel Richardson| 8th May 2019 at 8:25 am Reply

      Hi Eamon,
      Thank you for your comment. Information like this is always really useful, especially for people who are looking at a specific model and want to find out more about it. I do not envy you the issues with the temperature sensor given your climate. I wish you continued luck with your car.

  • HB| 25th April 2019 at 4:51 pm Reply

    I have a 2011 X5 35d. I want to call it the best SUV on the road. It’s beautiful, drives great, and helps get me and my toys to the mountains. However, at only 66,000 I have had the entire SCR tank replaced, a fuel injector replaced, 3 alternators, and now another undiagnosed issue. In addition, my rear cam malfunctions in hot conditions. I want to sell it but it won’t run long enough to sell it privately in good conscience. I keep up with all maintenance at the local BMW dealerships. What is most telling is that the head foreman at BMW dealerships as well as other BMW technicians refuse to stand behind the vehicle and suggest I sell it.

    • Rachel Richardson| 29th April 2019 at 9:12 am Reply

      Hi HB,
      Sorry to hear that you’ve had issues with a car that you enjoy the experience of driving. I hope that you are able to find a vehicle which has all the features that you clearly love about this one which doesn’t suffer the same glitches.

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