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.

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.
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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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  • Mark Johnson| 19th March 2019 at 1:13 pm Reply

    I have a 2011 328i with 69,000 miles. I love driving the car, but for the past four years every time I have gone any distance from home, a sensor goes out. I”ve had no other problems, and the repairs have rin between $500 and $1000, not terribly expensive. But I am tired of being several hundred miles from home wothout cruise control. The cruise goes out when these sensors malfunction (one sensor per wheel, all now replaced, one just yesterday). That’s not too bad really, but I’ve driven Toyotas much further without any repair at all, and even my Chevy pickup has required less maintenance. I’m thinking about selling mine now. Looking at a 2019 BMW M240i, but also at a Camry hybrid.

    • Rachel Richardson| 19th March 2019 at 2:56 pm Reply

      Thank you for your feedback on the BMW. It sounds as though reliability is a huge issue for you when it comes to the particular model you have been driving and I know that our US readers will be interested in your experience. I hope that you have luck in finding a new vehicle that fits your lifestyle.

  • Pete Koziar| 18th February 2019 at 9:56 pm Reply

    Had a 2007 Z4 that I just traded in. Got 140,000 miles + out of it, engine was still sound, but lots of little stuff started breaking down, like the horns, for goodness sake! The steering was also starting to have a mind of its own, so I figured I was heading for a very expensive repair.

    I can’t think of a year that I didn’t pour over a grand into it, and I did keep up with maintenance, at the local BMW dealerships.

    • Rachel Richardson| 19th February 2019 at 9:03 am Reply

      Hi Pete,
      Sorry to hear that you didn’t have the cheapest experiences with your Z4, though it sounds as though it lasted a considerable period of time. I hope that you have luck with your next vehicle. If you are based in the UK and looking for a new car our team would be happy to help you.

  • Remi Moore| 11th February 2019 at 7:41 pm Reply

    I have a 2012 BMW 335 i X drive coupe. I have to stand up for BMW here. That car is amazing. It’s fast, handles like a dream, and looks great. The car sounds wonderful and I have had only one issue that was very minor. The tire sensor for the tire pressure had to be replaced. My experience has been very good and I consider it one of the most reliable and high performing cars I have ever owned.

    • Rachel Richardson| 12th February 2019 at 8:33 am Reply

      Hello Remi,
      Thank you for posting your opinion. I am sure that people will find it helpful when they come to making a decision about their new vehicle.

  • Marco| 11th February 2019 at 6:02 pm Reply

    I bought a 2008 535i new and have had quite a few problems with it. The tally includes several water pumps, a fuel pump, two sets of injectors, leaking hoses, turbo problems, the remote trunk release stopped working, etc. As much as I enjoyed driving the car, I’ll never buy another BMW.

    • Rachel Richardson| 12th February 2019 at 8:28 am Reply

      Hi Marco,
      Thank you for your comment. Sorry to hear that you had so many issues with your BMW. I hope that you have more luck with your next vehicle.

  • 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.

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