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
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58 Comments

  • John Farrugia| 28th March 2020 at 8:47 pm Reply

    There is more to why BMW are unreliable – they are ingeniously designed to fail after a few years say 5 yrs. Replaced myself the broken driver’s door mechanism. Other than being VERY complex, the part that fail, a die cast hinge, had a ‘neck’ creating a weak point. And this is from where it failed. In other words, it’s been designed to fail. Same story with the top radiator hose; this has a junction made in a very weak fashion. And it fails from there. German engineering at its best for designing limited life motor cars.

    • Rachel Richardson| 2nd April 2020 at 9:18 am Reply

      Hi John,
      Thank you for your comment on the reliability of BMW in Australia. In this report we focus on vehicles available for the UK market, looking at consumer reports compiled from data provided by UK warranty companies and consumer surveys.

  • Don| 7th March 2020 at 7:24 pm Reply

    WOW…reading these BMW stories is soothing to my soul. I too fell in love with a BMW! A beautiful used 2008 Champaign Platinum 335i convertible 45,000 miles a perfect retirement car for some fun in the Florida sun. What a bad decision…I’ve regretted every minute of ownership. Oil leak into the radiator, battery and coding issues, false codes, starter failure, windshield washer reservoir/pump replacement, light LED failure, now another engine oil leak. I’ve driven the car less than 20,000 miles and have over $5,000 in towing and repair expenses. The BMW brand truly earns it’s reputation of “Unreliable”. With a lifespan of maybe 70,000 miles even if you baby the car…I’ve been sick for days for not doing my homework and researching the BMW brand before purchasing.

    • Rachel Richardson| 12th March 2020 at 11:13 am Reply

      Hi Don,

      Thank you for your comment. We put together these articles so that people can make an informed decision about their lease or purchase.

  • Taylor| 16th February 2020 at 5:08 am Reply

    I think most of the problems people have with BMWs are caused by lack of preventative maintenance. And I understand why, the bosch spark plugs at OEM grade can cost you $75CAD for 6 of them. A synthetic oil change costs double of regular. All the replacement parts are in fact more expensive (although for niggling interior issues, you can usually get them for cents on the dollar from an auto wrecker – the dealership will charge you your first born child for something as simple as a door handle cover).

    The key to maintaining a BMW in a reliable fashion is to get it inspected BEFORE something breaks, regularly. It may seem like a waste of money to pay a mechanic to go over your car when nothing is wrong. BMW charges $60 for a 52 point inspection and gives you 2 years of roadside assistance for your troubles, well worth the price considering that’s at the dealership.

    Unfortunately, people are cheap and there is often more month at the end of the money and saving $60 on the oil change or $40 on a plug change when the engine runs fine and skipping out on coolant etc. etc. means you are going to drive your high performance car using low performance supplies, so you are bound for trouble. Buying premium high octane fuel is another one that every fill up can seem like a dirty secret to save a bundle that you don’t tell anyone about. Keeping the gas tank full all the time is another; getting water in your tank, gas, and fuel system due to condensation- why not just keep running it and keep the money in your pocket, you’ll end up buying some later – but you drive that high performance car to near empty and you end up with sediment sloshing around getting into your fuel lines and clogging injectors. I could go on forever.

    You are buying a well tuned high performance car, and you have to treat it to the preventative maintenance it deserves.

    The window regulators are definitely a problem on sub 2002 models, at least with power windows. How BMW made such a fine performance car and managed to get something with the window regulator so wrong is beyond me. I’ve had warped regulator bars, rollers that have broken off (remember this is inside the bloody door), and the hatch lock somehow (???) malfunction due to a faulty spring (????). The latter of which leads to a cascade with the car thinking the door is always open which means without disconnecting the battery the interior lights will stay on perpetually until the battery dies.

    But… it’s worth it. The thing grips the road like an Addidas shoe accellerates to 90Km/h in one block, and the engine sound is so sweet I keep the stereo down so I can hear it. The only problem I have driving the car is it’s just *so damned easy* to speed. My 318ti can take a right hand turn at 60Km/H which is over the limit on its own, with no oversteer.

    If you want rock solid reliability, get a Toyota. You can drive those things into the ground with bunk gas and crappy oil. But as like most other Japanese vehicles, they have timed everything to fail at the same time, so once you get one moderate problem all of the other systems are soon to follow. Bimmers can last for decades, if you treat them right.

    My 2c

    • Sebastian| 25th February 2020 at 4:51 pm Reply

      I can say exactly the same as you regarding Alfa Romeo, even thought everybody thinks they are unreliable which ARE NOT , its a mith. and problems are average. I have have 5 bikes and always the one that has problemas is the BMW and never the Yamaha nor the Honda

      • Rachel Richardson| 26th February 2020 at 8:09 am Reply

        Hi Sebastian,

        Thank you for your comment about the reliability of Alfa Romeo. We are currently looking at updating all our reliability articles with the latest information. However, we are referring to the UK market, and only looking at cars rather than their motorcycles.

    • Rachel Richardson| 25th February 2020 at 4:31 pm Reply

      Hi Taylor,

      Many thanks for your extensive comments on the reliability you have experienced with your BMW vehicles. We are looking at the cars from a UK owner perspective and the data we have access to (and have included in the article) is from UK-based sources.

  • Todd from Wisconsin| 7th February 2020 at 7:38 pm Reply

    Just sold my E60 and I absolutely loved the handling, I do all my own troubleshooting and mechanical work on the car, so parts on the used market are relatively inexpensive, parts install straightforward, and well put together. Sometimes frustrating how many things you have to remove to gain access to things, but that is typical of many newer vehicles, however, scanning the car for electrical issues seems to be where I am challenged. I used a PC with Inpa and a Foxwell NT 530 to extract all the fault codes on mine, and I had 7 pages worth of faults. I managed to get them cleared and repaired one by one, however, something simple like a low battery can cause faults lodged in the transmission module, and airbag modules….but all are doable, so if you turn your own wrench its not that expensive of a car to own, that is if you pay yourself $1 an hr /labor….I sold the car and have my eyes on a Lexus GS350…

    • Rachel Richardson| 10th February 2020 at 9:05 am Reply

      Hi Todd,

      This is the way it was when cars were less technology-focused. The introduction of more tech in cars is welcomed for many reasons, however, it has made it much more complicated for the everyday motorist to repair something that was previously straightforward. Unfortunately, not everyone has the equipment or the capability to repair their own vehicle.

  • 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.

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