A little background — I don’t buy new BMWs, I like to buy lightly used ones that have been well maintained by their owners. So no one in Munich (or New Jersey, BMW’s NA HQ) cares what I think. Plus, I know and accept the fact that German cars require more preventative maintenance than American or Japanese cars. The payoff is (or at least was) a more engaging, enjoyable driving experience.
But reliability is getting worse, and the word is getting out. The complexity of new BMWs is through the roof, and they are having loads of computer and electronic problems. Consumer Reports ranks the 135i and 335i models as below average for reliability, and Kelley Blue Book ranks the overall value of the current 3 series as “poor” in its Cost to Own index.
Part of the problem is the total lack of maintenance most of the cars receive. Back when owners paid for maintenance, BMW had a long list of items that needed regular attention. You can get that list via an email request to Mike Miller, Tech Q&A columnist for Bimmer Magazine. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Now that BMW pays for new car maintenance, suddenly cars need nothing but oil changes every 15,000 miles! The rank hypocrisy is galling to me. BMW is selling cars today that are disposable after 100,000 miles.
That may be OK for some buyers, who never plan to have the car that long. It’s disastrous for enthusiasts like me, who typically want to own and drive cars well past the end of the extended warranty period — in BMW’s case that’s 6 years or 100K miles, whichever comes first.
BMW might respond hey, our sales are up so we’re giving customers what they want. And you Americans should be thankful our cars don’t cost even more. We have to sell BMWs for less in North America due to the large number of competitors, and we get killed on the exchange rate due to the weakened dollar.
But let’s look closer at those sales numbers. Keep in mind 2009 was a historically bad year for auto sales. According to BMWBlog.com, BMW sales in North America were up 12% in July year to year. However, Audi sales were up 17%, Acura sales 44% and Porsche 68% (admittedly from a much smaller base). The competition has upped their game — what does BMW represent today besides brand cachet and high cost?
Speaking of Mike Miller, he hit it on the head in the latest issue of Bimmer Magazine. There’s no link available, so I include the response below. Mike is responding to a reader writing in concerned about buying a used E90 M3 (the current body style). Even with not including the full reply it’s long – but a good read.
Your letter prompts me to clarify two points: First, few readers write in to Tech Q&A to tell me their BMW isn’t broken; the nature of the column largely deals with broken cars. However, my readership here and in Roundel (the BMW CCA magazine) is large enough, I think, to paint an overall picture of the reliability of a given BMW model over the years.
Second, no one loves BMW and its cars more than I do. I’ve been bleeding BMW blue and white for most of my life. This means I remember the days when BMWs were as reliable as Old Faithful. I’ve been thrust into the unwilling gadfly role by the very company I love.
In my opinion, BMW needs a level of reliability commensurate with its premium position in the over-crowded, over-competitive, globalized vehicle market. They don’t have it right now, and if they don’t get it we could all be in trouble. Look how fast Toyota fell from grace after taking its eye off the ball. Regardless of owner stupidity – shut the engine off if the gas pedal gets stuck, you morons! – the possible complicity of the U.S. government and the fact that Toyota still builds excellent vehicles, perception is everything in the marketplace.
Right now, the perception of BMW is, “Never own one without a warranty,” and that’s unfortunate.
UPDATE, 12:45 EST – This is cool. Mike Miller saw the post, and likes it. But he emailed me and asked that I add some clarifications from him, shown below:
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