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How Unreliable Are BMW Really? (We Did Our Research)

We’ve written extensively about several models of BMW, and the luxury brand as a whole, on this blog. Today, we’re going to combine all our previous research to provide you with an answer on whether or not BMWs are as unreliable as the consensus will make you believe. Let’s start with a quick answer:

BMWs are unreliable because they need to go to the garage for unexpected maintenance more often (about once per year), and the risk of having a severe problem is higher than average (about 15%). Furthermore, some cars only have a lifespan of 110,000 – 140,000 miles and the average annual maintenance cost of $968 per year for a BMW are higher than the $646 average.

However, that certainly doesn’t answer the question entirely. Below, we’ll discuss all the data as mentioned earlier in detail. We’ll start by discussing the reliability of BMW compared to other brands. Then, we’ll move on to the potential lifespan of a BMW. We’ll also discuss the average maintenance cost of BMW compared to other brands, and we’ll see which BMW are most and least reliable. Read on!

Are BMW Less Reliable Than Other Car Brands?

First, it’s essential to establish whether or not BMW is unreliable as a brand. For this, we went to repairpal.com. Repairpal has data from all different car brands since they run numerous repair shops around the country.

On this website, we gathered information on 26 car brands sold in the United States. We then selected the three most important categories for all these brands: the reliability rating, the number of unexpected visits to a repair shop annually, and the probability of the car having a severe problem when such an unexpected visit is made.

The results are displayed in the table below and are sorted by reliability rating. Please scroll all the way down the table to find the results for BMW.

BrandReliability RatingVisits To Repair ShopProbability Of Severe Problem
Honda40.3110%
Toyota40.3412%
Mazda40.3710%
Hyundai40.2710%
Kia40.2210%
Nissan40.3113%
Acura40.398%
Mitsubishi40.1912%
Lexus40.538%
 Buick3.50.3817%
Chrysler3.50.312%
Subaru3.50.3313%
Dodge3.50.2215%
Jeep3.50.2713%
Infiniti3.50.6710%
Chevrolet3.50.2815%
Volkswagen3.50.4911%
Volvo3.50.549%
Ford3.50.315%
GMC30.2817%
 Cadillac30.417%
RAM30.2615%
Lincoln30.4415%
Mercedes30.7313%
Audi30.813%
 BMW2.50.915%

Out of all the brands sold in the United States, we found that BMW has by far the lowest reliability rating of 2.5 out of 5. This indicates that one of the leading chains of car repair shops in the United States has found that BMWs show up in their shop disproportionally much, that the problems are worse than average, and that they also cost more (more on that later).

Furthermore, we see that BMWs, on average, have to go to a repair shop for an unexpected visit around 0.9 times per year (this is the highest score of all brands, which is not a good thing). This means you can expect a non-planned stop at a repair shop almost annually. When doing so, there’s a 15% chance of your BMW having a severe problem, which is higher than many other brands (but less than Buick, Cadillac, and GMC).

Also read: This Is Where BMW And MINI Are Made

How Many Miles Can BMW Last?

So, we found that BMW as a brand does seem to be incredibly unreliable. However, there’s more to the unreliability question than just the data of one repair chain. Reliability also indicates the potential lifespan of a car. In other words, how many miles can BMW last?

If you want to have an in-depth look at this particular aspect of the brand BMW, I suggest you read this article, the more extended version of this subheading. It also has much more information on individual cars.

In short, our research worked as follows: we went to autotrader.com and selected all used BMWs in a particular series that were for sale in the United States. This usually left us with several thousand cars in a group. Then, we divided all the available cars up into groups based on the mileage they had driven.

Overall, this gave us a pretty good understanding of what mileage you could expect from a specific model of BMW and how much of a percentage was able to reach that mileage. Again, read the full article we just linked if you want to know more.

The results are displayed in the table below. Please note that the X2 and X7 were included because these have been on the US market for 4-6 years. This meant they had unrealistically low mileages since they hadn’t had time to reach their full potential.

ModelPotential Mileage
5 Series250,000
3 Series240,000
M3230,000
X5220,000
X3210,000
7 Series200,000
M5200,000
Z4200,000
Z3180,000
X1170,000
M4170,000
X6165,000
4 Series140,000
8 Series130,000
X4130,000
2 Series110,000

We found that many BMW seems to perform quite well in terms of the mileage they can handle throughout their lifetime. Many BMWs can reach a mileage above 200,000. Given an annual mileage of 13,500 miles, a BMW would have a lifespan of 14 years and ten months. The 5-series does particularly well, with an expected mileage of 250,000.

The Z3, X1, M4, and X6 seem to fall somewhere between. Their mileage isn’t great, but it’s also not terrible. It’s just that most people wouldn’t expect a luxury car to run out after about 12 years of moderate use.

Finally, we have to say that the 4-series, 8-series, X4, and the 2-series seem to have a terrible lifespan. This would indicate that there’s something wrong with these cars. These cars have an 8 – 10 years lifespan, which means they run out of life energy quite quickly.

Did you know that the BMW 5-series is our top pick for car owners that want a BMW? Check out the article here: Which BMW Series Is Best (And Should You Get It?)

Do BMWs Cost Much In Maintenance?

In this blog post, we did extensive research on the maintenance cost of BMW. I highly recommend you check that article out for more information on the maintenance cost of these cars.

Discussing the average annual maintenance cost is another critical factor that we must know to establish whether or not a BMW is unreliable or not. For this, we went to repairpal.com once again. Then, we took the 26 most popular brands, and we looked at what brands are, on average, the cheapest and the most expensive.

Once again, scroll down the list to find BMW.

BrandAverage Annual Maintenance Costs
Honda $428
Toyota $441
Mazda $462
Hyundai $468
Kia $474
Nissan $500
Acura $501
Mitsubishi $535
Lexus $551
 Buick  $608
Subaru $617
Dodge $634
Jeep $634
Infiniti $638
Chevrolet $649
Volkswagen $676
GMC $744
Volvo $769
Ford $775
 Cadillac  $783
RAM $858
Lincoln $879
Mercedes $908
 BMW  $968

The conclusion: BMW is the most expensive brand of car you can have. On average, a BMW costs $968 to maintain. Even compared to other luxury brands, such as Lincoln and Mercedes-Benz, BMW is still much more expensive. Please read on to find out if there are also BMW that don’t have ridiculous maintenance costs associated with them.

What’s The Least And Most Reliable BMW?

Let us provide you with another piece of information to answer the main question. In the table below, we’ve established the annual maintenance cost for different models of BMW. Once again, the data was taken from repairpal.com. For most models, this was relatively straightforward.

However, the ‘Series’ were more difficult because these consisted of multiple different cars within each series. Therefore, we’ve taken the maintenance cost of the most basic version of each series (e.g., for the 1-series, we’ve taken the maintenance cost of the 128i).

ModelAverage Yearly Maintenance Cost
BMW Z3$691
BMW 3 Series$773
BMW 5 Series$825
BMW 1 Series$870
BMW Z4$895
BMW X1$915
BMW 2 Series$922
BMW i8$979
BMW X4$988
BMW 6 Series$1,012
BMW 7 Series$1,027
BMW X3$1,034
BMW M3$1,161
BMW X5$1,166
BMW i3$1,173
BMW M5$1,173
BMW X6$1,206
BMW 4 Series$1,229

We see here that there does seem to be some form of correlation between the height of the maintenance cost and the earlier mentioned potential mileage of a car. For example, we found that the 3-series and 5-series are the BMWs with the most extended lifespan. Coincidentally, they also hold a number two and three spots in terms of the annual maintenance cost, making them the most reliable BMWs.

Did you know that the BMW 3-series is our top pick for first-time car owners that want a BMW? Read more about that here: Are BMWs Good First Cars And Which Is Best? (Explained)

Furthermore, the 2-Series and the X6 have one of the shortest lifespans. The 2-series has average maintenance cost for a BMW (although it’s still very high), whereas the X6 almost has the highest maintenance cost. For some reason, the maintenance costs of the BMW i3 are incredibly high, given this is a relatively small electric vehicle.

The 4-series has a very short lifespan and has the highest maintenance cost of all BMW, making it the least reliable BMW.

Finally, we feel there are some cars, such as the M-series, that will naturally have high maintenance costs because it’s not only a luxury vehicle but also focused on performance.