BMW 3 Series Questions - How Reliable Are They Really? Maintenance Costs?

I have always loved BMWs and I’m in my late 20’s and would love to grab one while I’m still relatively young and don’t have a family etc. I have a budget of $10K and have found a model in particular that fits my budget and i think would be a really nice buy That ticks the practical boxes for me while still being something i love to drive on the daily. People close to me though are negative on the idea and are saying things can go wrong (ie “auto transmission has been known to go”) and when they do its ridiculously expensive - ultimately being pessimistic.

I feel this is a bit of fearmongering so to speak and i wanted to get some honest takes from people that know them well without scouring forums.

The one I am strongly considering is a:
2009 BMW 320d
155,000kms on the clock
Great condition and 2 owners first owner was a lady that bought it originally brand new.

I test drove it and it felt pretty great overall.
Thoughts guys - thanks in advance :)


  • A $10k BMW. OK, you're not asking for trouble at all.

    • +79 votes

      There is nothing more expensive than a cheap BMW.

      • a wife?

      • +13 votes

        A wife who drives a cheap BMW?

      • If you happen to love old BMWs then it might make sense to buy a 10k one and spend 20k on repairs, than to spend 30k on a new one. If you love old cars then you love old cars, a new reliable one won't ever satisfy you.

        • On a 3 series, if you're careful, you can buy a 5k one, spend $5-10k, and drive it until it begins to go up in value. But it's a different story for a convertible, a turbo, an AWD, a M car, a V8, a diesel, or any low production model.

          My mother-in-law used to have a 1991 4cyl Camry. After it got dented and repaired poorly by AAMI, she agreed to sell it, and now drives a '02 6cyl BMW e46. It cost me $5k+$7k in parts (suspension, cooling, fueling, ignition), but because its always been cared for it only needs new car maintenance now, yearly fluids and rocker cover gasket (I should fork out for an OE one one day). She's done 40k over 5 years, and in that time its had new tyres, a window winder, and a wheel bearing.

          She still loves her little bimmer as it is safer and infinitely more comfortable. But then again, a newer Camry would be too. It's about choices, and is quite personal. Overspending is easy on old cars. If she bought a newer Camry, it wouldn't be worth spending much on, and I wouldn't have done all the labour it took to return a 300k car to full service, let alone take the risk of her being disappointed. You don't want the MIL getting stranded every time she drives a car you fixed.

          As it is we prefer old BMWs to new cars (inc new BMWs) and just try not to pay too much over the odds. If I add up all my effort, and the cost of everything and say her car cost me 15k over 5 years, its still a car that is worth maintaining and a joy to drive, rather than a more costly one that will reduce in value and cost a lot more to maintain over time. However few people buy a 5k car to spend three times that on it… so not many live longer than a few years after dropping to this low a value.

          • @resisting the urge: 'few people buy a 5k car to spend three times that on it'

            LOL - years ago I sold my old Renault 12 - good engine, crappy paint - for $300 - what I'd just paid for new tyres - so effectively zero - to a guy who loved Renault 12s - he bought it for his ~20yo daughter

            he put it into his favourite workshop and said 'fix everything' - maybe a month later it came out like new condition - he spent something like $3000 fixing everything

            on handover day, the daughter's boyfriend said 'can I take it for a drive' - planted it, lost control on the first corner, wrapped it around a telephone pole - the car was a write-off

            so value for money - $3000 for 100 metres - looks like $30 a metre …

            • @Hangryuman: Oh wow. Murphy's law never fails to hold true. I hope the bf paid up!

            • @Hangryuman: How do you lose it in a Renault 12? He would have crashed a stationary bike

            • @Hangryuman: Over-capitalising on anything is sub-optimal. But cars are a poor solution for our mobility needs, and the economics reflect it in every way.

              A friend of mine had an Astra that had never let him down. He'd only driven it on weekends and was barely on its 2nd set of tyres after 8 years- and it did everything he wanted it to, and more. Anyhow, the AC went so he sold it. He bought it for 28k, sold it for… $2800. Repairing the AC would have cost $600. But he felt it was over-capitalising, so sold it. The new car was 30k. Servicing free, big warranty, etc.

              It has broken down numerous times and he hates it. The dealer has extracted money from him in dubious ways. Some people have no idea when they are onto a good thing.

              Another factor is insurance- it works for newer cars better, but delivers hardly what most think it will. If you fully insure a well maintained older car they will write it off for the smallest of impacts because other people don't maintain theirs, so your car's 'market value' reduces. If you have a newer model, they either charge a massive premium and/or excess, or will only fund a poor repair, no matter how well ou look after it.

              Some people love the 12, mostly because they had them in the family when growing up, and it can make them do funny things with their money. I don't get it as it didn't do anything brilliantly or even lead its category in any way, and was barely more reliable than say, an Escort. Renault had good engineers, but were quite divorced from management and marketing, and the product suffered. Some, such as the 4 were brilliant regardless, but the days of utilitatrian cars are long gone now (the whole point of an R4 was to be utilitarian, it even had to go off-road as its sole purpose was to be a competitor to the Citroen 2CV. It succeeded only in terms of it being functional and reliable, things the Citroen had in abundance anyhow. Renault wouldn't have gone down the hole in the 90s if their product was less influenced by this sort of success.

        • @AustriaBargain This is exactly me but Saab.

          Bought a $10k Saab 10 years ago. First 3-4 years were pretty fine but the last 5 have been tough. Probably costing me $2k a year to keep on the road with repairs. So I estimate I'm pretty spot on for $30k over the life time of ownership.

          I like it though. New cars just aren't the same. People think I'm an idiot, yet a lot of people making those comments are dropping $30k + finance on Corolla's every 3 years. So I think I'm still coming out ahead.

  • +22 votes

    It's not great but it's not bad.

    The bad rep it gets is from idiots that think a 320i is a drift monster because "it is a BMW".

    Most cars are actually pretty good but certain brand/models attract certain characters.

    My personal experience with them is with torqued/twisted drive shafts. Apparently a common problem (what isn't when you Google the specific issue).

    PS. If you don't know how to do your mechanical work, stay away from old luxury vehicles.

    first owner was a lady that bought it originally brand new.

    No idea why a lady would be better, and first owners usually buy the vehicles orginally brand new. Usually.

    • +19 votes

      " first owner was a lady that bought it originally brand new"

      That could worry me more than anything, knowing how other women I know treat their cars (poorly) services are just suggestions not requirements, rarely clean and tidy, little care for damage or wear in the cabin.

      • I know it comes of as sexist but from an observational level, my findings are the same as yours.

        Of course, not all men keep a tidy car and not all women have messy cars but overall, there is an appreciable difference.

      • Average workforce participation rate in Australia: 59.9% for women and 69.6% for men.

        Men: Drive car to work, car sits all day.
        Women: Used for day trips, school pickups, shops, around town…that's a lots of time in traffic and in the car.

        I'm thinking car wear and tear might actually be worse than for men.

      • I've had a good think about this and really it could go either way - driven gently VS poorly maintained if we go with the stereotypes

      • This always baffles me. Why the majority of women always keep their kitchen spotless but yet neglect their cars when it comes to keep them tidy and clean. Some of their cars are even like trash cans, full of food wrappings, used tissues stuffed in door handles and clothing items everywhere.

    • first owner was a lady that bought it originally brand new.

      No idea why a lady would be better

      Exactly! I think when they put this in an ad, they want to imply the car hasn't been thrashed hard, but when I see this, I'm on alert.

      From my experience, lady owners normally know next to nothing about cars and their negligence usually leads to their cars not being maintained as well. Same thing applies to guys of course, but this marketing phrase doesn't instil any confidence in me at all.

  • Hope you put aside some money to fix the timing chain.

    Not sure why you would get a 4 cylinder diesel 3 series as a "bucket list" BMW.

    • I upvoted re the timing chain. Although OP would more than likely get $10K value before it goes, when it does go it's a show stopper.

      OP, in this model at least, BMW seems to consider the timing chain a non-replaceable part. It's requires the engine to be removed to replace.
      You do NOT want to pay someone to replace the timing chain - either get it towed to a scrap yard, or take up a new hobby working on engines.
      However, we got well over 200K before ours went.

      But as for it being a "bucket list" item - that depends on your priorities I guess. I got the 2008 model in 2008. It's a small car with the price tag of a large car, but is an absolute joy to own. I would never consider paying more for a car, so I guess the 320D was my bucklist car.

      I loved it so much that I decided to replace the engine when the timing chain went. It cost more than $20K all up - I'm sure it could be done cheaper - I definitely feel that I picked the wrong repairer, but just letting you know what can happen.
      Just for a bit of clarity, this was a few years ago, and people were asking $20K+ for 2008 320Ds.

    • While I see your point, i think it would add more value if you recommend some in this price range that isn't a Camry 😂

      • MX5. Rx8. Suzuki Sierra. E30 with a 6 cylinder. The list of cars that is better than a 4 cylinder diesel 3 series is very long. The only way you could really go backward is by wanting a 1 series 4 cylinder diesel.

  • +24 votes

    11 year old 10k bmw is never a good time

  • 2009 BMW 320d
    155,000kms on the clock

    This is not living large friend

    • For people like me on a pension it is the only real luxury we can afford. I love older luxury vehicles with all the safety and luxury features. I drive very gently to avoid repairs and excessive fuel and am always prepared for a large bill which fortunately i never really needed with my lucky choices. But go for it i say, have fun! One day he may afford a new one, but at age 55 i think my prospect for that is slim :). Good on him for not getting a boring car! Even though it wouldnt be my choice, it is what he really wants and is not going to break the bank.

      • The problem is that this is a boring car. It's boring and expensive for what it is. It's a 2L diesel engine with an automatic gearbox.
        This is the sort of car you take the badges off.

        • '2L diesel engine with an automatic gearbox'

          and heavy German steel - i.e. gutless

          which is why women drive it - looks glamorous, but ain't gonna win any races from the traffic lights

          I knew a guy had a 320 - he was gay - the exhaust note on acceleration sounded more like an extended fart - maybe that's why he liked it …

      • 3 series is not luxury. The 4 cylinder diesel is a know shitbox, and not even fun. So you have an unreliable, not fun, not luxury car.

    • It's a nice look car though. Could OP buy a shell of that car and somehow bolt it onto a Toyota or something.

  • keep saving


    Transmission is not an issue on that model, on the other hand timing chain is going to fail for sure, and that require engine to be taken out for a replace. Can you imagine how much it will cost? If you can afford go with inline 6 engines, cause these are pretty reliable. Also it is always good to change oil and filters by yourself, your wallet is going to love that.

  • take the prospective car to a trusted mechanic to give it a thorough going over. They can tell you stuff about mechanical issues like water pump failures but can't tell you about electrical gremlins that are likely to arise. Check out scotty kilmer on youtube for his thoughts - they're a money pit. Get a 2nd hand mx5 or toyobaru 86 for thrills without bills.

  • I see people driving entry level BMW's around and think, Why?

    They look crap and are going to cost you a LOT of money to repair when it breaks down.

  • My mechanic bought a 3 series, said it was the worst car he's ever owned. He worked for VW & Mercedes. Years ago I spoke to a BMW mechanic in Adelaide, he said every heatwave they'd get a rush of cars with melted components as they're not built for Australian heat. That's just anecdotal evidence though.

    According to this link the '12-19 diesel model is middle of the road. That's for newer cars though

    I wouldn't do it personally. What about it appeals to you? The shape? Luxury brand?
    I'm with Peter above. If you want a 'bucket list' car get something actually sporty. If you want something to impress the opposite sex, get a convertible. I'm generalising here but from everything I've read online, most women care much less about the car you drive than men think. My wife told me I can get any sports car I want (within budget) but it had to be a convertible: "If it's not a convertible it's not a real sports car". Just one opinion but I'm glad she convinced me, I'm a convert.

    If it's a luxury brand you're after, consider Lexus. As far as I'm aware they have a Toyota-like reputation for reliability but with the upmarket badge. I had a quick look for you, you could get something like this for the same price:
    Pros: Lower k's, more powerful (power to weight), likely better reliability and resale value
    Cons: 2 years older, worse fuel economy, lower torque

    • +2 votes

      According to this link the '12-19 diesel model is middle of the road

      OP is looking to get 2009 model. This model is known for timing chain issue which is very costly to fix.

      OP make sure to google "N47 timing chain".

    • The "not made for Australian heat" thing is bullshit by the way.

      • Yeah nothing came up on Google. If I think about it that guy was an apprentice mechanic, probably didn't know what he was talking about.

      • These cars are sold all over the globe - like every other car. The "built for Australia" marketing was started by holden, and really makes no sense.

        We don't have hash conditions, we have mild winters where the temperature never gets below 0, flat roads with minimal inclines, and well paved roads (another ignorant stereotype is that we have 'bad roads')

        • don't completely disagree, it is mostly marketing BS. But so is your comment somewhat, Where I grew up temperatures got to -15 on cold winter nights and there wasn't a paved road for a 100k's and certainly not a flat road for even further (I don't live their now but the roads are still dirt and as bad as they were 30 years ago when I lived there). But people in those circumstances do make up a relatively small percentage of the population. plenty of country ears have really bad roads, yes our cities and towns are great, but unless you are on a main road some of our roads are truly atrocious.

    • While the new Lexus' are pretty cool, the old ones are ugly and boring. The "Corolla" of the luxury car market.

      • Appearance, and to some degree, performance, is subjective. It's really down to the individual whether a BMW 320d or a Lexus IS250 is beautiful and exciting.

  • Yes, there is a good chance it will cost a lot to repair. Euro plus diesel plus age adds up to a pretty penny.

    However, if you can afford to write it off after a few years maybe it’s worth it as a bucket list type thing. That is, buy it now for $10k but take a big proportion of that as a financial hit if something goes wrong and you need to sell it for parts. As others have said though a diesel is hardly a driver’s car or desirable except for the badge.

  • BMW are notorious for having faulty indicators. Make sure it’s had all its blinker fluid changes.

  • It's very good to increase your relationship with the mechanic and become best friends with them!
    You will be visiting them very often they will soon feel like family.

  • On the one hand I want to say it's a big mistake, but on the other hand follow your heart man. Get the car of your dreams and make all the mistakes while you can while you have no responsibilities. You may never get to do it again. Alternatively, save your money, keep grinding at your chosen career and profession so in the next 5 yrs you'll be in a job and position where you can lease it like most BMW owners do.

  • ive heard some even older M3s are in higher demand because they are the last gen without too much electrical stuff that causes more problems. around early 2000s i think. there was a doug demuro video about them being the last great M3, but similar may apply to other BMWs from that era. might be worth a look

    why bother with a bmw though. as well as being a potential financial nightmare, they arent all that interesting to drive.
    i rented a 5 series for a road trip last year, and it felt very capable at driving fast on windy roads etc, just somehow a bit sterile while doing it.
    same as my mums old 3 series. you gotta get them to 100km/h just to get any feeling out of them

    if you really want a Euro, get a Golf. awesome little cars, fun to drive, and stretching the budget a few grand will get you something fairly new and less risky
    if you really want a fun car before family stuff weighs you down, get an mx5 and drift around feeling like a maniac at a safe 50km/h

    • dont be fooled, each generation has its Achilles heal they're isn't a great one (maybe the last generation is the best reliability wise). the one your probably thinking about is the E46 M3 coupe. it's not electrically simple or analogue like an old car, it is celebrated because it feels like analogue BMW. Both aesthetically and ergonomically it is what most BMW people believe a BMW should feel/look/behave like, clear simple dials, nice manual transmission, naturally aspirated torquey inline six, great precise feeling and balance etc.

      For some having to pulling apart a SMG transmission to replace a pump, literally welding the car's inevitable torn frame back together, endlessly replacing bad plastics, gaskets, sensors, vacuum leaks, led panels that fade etc, is good trade off for a great driving car, and to me that's more understandable than buying, a boring 4 pot turbo diesel with 160 clicks on it.

    • early 2000s m3 owner here, the electrics are not reliable lol

  • Coming in to save you from past experiences, bought a second hand one worth about 26k at the time (2004 model back in 2010) and it was the worst purchase of my life.

    The first service came to $1400 because of timing belt issues and that thing only had around 60k km on the clock, some guy smashed my side mirror, that was $400 bucks. So many other little issues which I kept having to bring it in for a check up. Luckily it was written off eventually a year later.

    Not saying they are all bad but this is my 1 of 2 BMW experiences, with the latter being a new one so cannot say anything other than indicators coming on way too early than they should - as in service/warning indicators.

  • +9 votes

    Does this model support roof racks? :p

  • To give you a random comparison, this 2009 Toyota Corolla with 150,000kms, sells for about the same price at this 2009 BMW 320d in question.

    When new the Corolla was around $25k versus the BMW which would have been closer to the $60k mark.

    Sure this is just one example but I can only wonder why nobody would go near an 10+ year european car.

    • Thanks - this tells me most of what I need to know about cars - and what to buy new anyway.

    • why nobody would go near an 10+ year european car

      Because for some, owning a ticking timebomb for their public image is more important than using a reliable car.

  • For risk of being the devil's advocate here i believe if you're in your 20's, young professional and on a decent wicket then go for it, just budget for the worst case scenario.

    I do know the BMW E generation was rife with problems from transmissions to failing turbos. The most reliable from that generation i believe were the 325i's (~$10k) with the 335i's a basket case of turbo failures and sensor issues.

    If you can wait for second hand prices to come down (once the jobkeeper/seeker cash pump calms down) then stretch to the F series. These are far more reliable, and look pretty cool it seems they just used the E series as the guinea pigs, you should be able to pick one of these up for around $15-18k.

    Just be prepared for depreciation, but then again at $10k you don't really lose much.

    • Lol. "E generation"? The "E" cars started in the 70s, and went for about 40 years.

      Used the E series as guinea pigs

      Haha damn they really played the long game with that one.

  • Troll

  • Don’t do it. Their plastics fall to pieces and expensive to replace Under the bonut

  • i have got the same car no problems after 3 year .new battery and changed run flat tyres,make sure the bmw recalls have been done and regular oil changes are essential.Being diesel needs a long run every 2 weeks to burn the DPF.Fuel economy is outstanding and has a bit of poke 8 seconds to 100km.I say go for it just remember the euros are high maintenance but enjoyable.

  • I think it is a reasonable purchase, it will hardly depreciate from this point.
    No idea who would say anything bad about the Auto transmission, isn't it a ZF 6HP? They are known for reliability and generally being a good transmission…
    It helps if you are handy or have a mechanic mate, servicing/parts/repairs are generally expensive for BMWs.
    Familiarize yourself with checking the condition before purchase (or get a mechanic), things like lady owner don;t mean anything…

    A 320d has the luxury (feel) and "look" of BMW, but if you are interested in the driving/sports side of the brand, you may find it lacking.

    • what do you mean hardly depreciate, it has the potential to depreciate significantly to scrap value at almost any point in time going forward if a significant issue arises. that is a pretty significant problem for someone that only has $10k to spend on a car.

      • Depreciation curve for BMW 3 series in general… its passed the sharp depreciation and it at the low stable price point (estimate it would have been $60k new plus luxury car tax, back in the day). Contrast to most Toyotas with flatter early depreciation.

        • The point is it could literally be weeks or months away from losing another 50% or more of its current value, at 155,000k's you are at the pointy end of said cars life with potentially very expensive repairs on the horizon. They need to be factored into such a purchase, if he simply loves the car and money is not an issue then go for it, but do so with the expectation of a potential very large (large as in percentage of the cars value) short term loss

  • My mum bought one and when it was 6 months out of the warranty cylinder KO’d and a warning light.

    All up 4K and that’s a 3-4 year model driven to commute a few km each day less than 40k on clock😂 avoid!

  • Our experience was that a 2008 320D was faultless for ~ 10 years, servicing was cheap despite what you'll hear, and it didn't require parts so that was a mute point.
    So if it was your heart's desire to own a new 320D, I'd totally recommend it.

    However, I would also recommend selling it at the first whiff of a problem. Because once it started having faults, it seemed endless. And every repair was to replace some circuitry - hence I guess why they have a reputation for expensive parts. We have windows controllers failing, door locks failing, headlight controllers failing - well just that actually - I think 2 door locks, 2 windows, and when the headlights started playing up, we called it quits.

    But would I say buying a 2009 model now would be a bad idea? Not necessarily…if you are in a position to organise your own repairs, you'll have a great car that you'll be very happy with. We sold ours for $5K a few years ago (definitely underpriced - had people fighting to buy it… we sold it unregistered because didn't want to pay to repair headlights to get roadworthy, and thought people would be very wary of buying an old unregistered car) to a young uni student who was absolutely thrilled with it. She sent me a series of photos for a few weeks as she was getting it cleaned up. I was trying to talk her out of buying it - telling her about what's gone wrong and the costs involved, but her dad apparently reckons he could look after that stuff.

    I've been driving for over 30 years, and that 2008 320D is undoubtedly the highlight of that experience.