How Reliable Are BMW Cars? An Honest Assessment

Why Are BMW's 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.

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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

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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  • Liang| 14th October 2018 at 7:01 am Reply

    Choose Lexus or Toyota!

    • Rachel Richardson| 15th October 2018 at 9:21 am Reply

      Hello Liang,
      Thank you for sharing alternative cars for people to consider. I am sure that our readers will find this useful when making their choice.

  • Dan| 13th October 2018 at 1:25 pm Reply

    We have had a two BMW’s, both of which were the Ultimate Break Down Machine instead of the “Ultimate Driving Machine”. The problem is… BMW uses too much cheap plastics under the hood that constantly break. We have neighbors and friends that have had one in the past as well and their experiences were the same as ours. Never again!

    BMW’s are meant to be lease cars and were not designed to last the long haul. BMW’s are designed to extract as much as cash from owners as humanely possible. God help anyone who owns one of these out of warranty.

    • Rachel Richardson| 15th October 2018 at 9:15 am Reply

      Hi Dan,
      Thank you for sharing your experience with the BMW and I am sorry to read that it wasn’t more positive. I am sure that our readers will find this information helpful.

  • Steve| 7th October 2018 at 6:21 pm Reply

    Been driving a BMW for the last 7 years. A 120d from new in 2011, then a 2 year old 430d xDrive in 2016 and changed to a 2 year old 435d xDrive in March this year.

    Granted the 120d was from new, and the two 4 series were both brought from BMW dealerships as “Approved Used”.

    I honestly haven’t had to spend a penny on anything that wasn’t standard wear and tear (tyres, wiper blades, fluids etc.). Sailed through MOT’s, nothing other than the normal basic costs for servicing etc. Only real expense was a new windscreen that had a large chip in it. Enquired about a genuine BMW screen fitted by the dealer and it was going to be over £4800*!!! Clearly opted for an insurance claim and was more than happy to pay the £120 excess! 😀

    *(Apparently it was super expensive as it had a heads-up display so used some sort of magical glass)

    • Rachel Richardson| 8th October 2018 at 9:26 am Reply

      Hi Steve,
      Thank you for sharing your knowledge and the positive experience you had with BMWs. I am sure that our readers will find this information helpful.

  • Ronald| 19th May 2018 at 6:28 am Reply

    Bought one at 93k miles. 2008 BMW E90 328i. Up to 96k miles in 7 months, had a radiator hose go bad and the infamous CCV whistle. Guess what, the radiator hose was a common problem with a Youtube video having 50k views on it. The whistle from the CCV had many more views and should be $20 to fix just like the engines from the last generation but BMW made it integrated with the valve cover costing $450 for the OEM part.

  • Andrew guzman| 20th March 2018 at 7:56 pm Reply

    Bought a 2009 335i convertible in 2015 with 27000 miles on it. It has now 60000. Problems so far:
    . A/C stopped working (live in florida)
    . Had to replace the entire interior front light section as some areas were melted. Not designed for florida weather?
    .Oil leak
    . Trunk not closing/locking
    . It is automatic but the manual shift option stopped working
    . Had to towed on the road: water pump was out

    At least I bought an extended warranty at Carmax but still had to pay the $250 deductible for each time plus the hassle to bring and pick up the car and be without it for the time the repair takes place. For the A/C problem it took 1.5 weeks.
    No, not going with german cars anymore. Driving it 1 more year until extended warranty expires and going for an used Infiniti Q50 sport, maybe the red sport that has 400 HP.
    Done with the BMW

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