Is it Worth Buying a Twenty Year Old BMW?

January 24, 2012

We all love BMWs. There’s something about these cars that just light up our eyes when we see one.

Though I never owned one I have loved these cars for as long as I can remember.

A few years ago I drove my friend’s 1988 325i and remember how surprised I was at how solid it felt. Here was a twenty year old car that felt and drove like a new car.

The distinct rumble of the engine and the precise steering is like no other. Japanese cars are nice but there’s something about the BMW that puts it in a class of its own.

There are a lot of 80s and 90s Bimmers for sale on the used market today. Many of these cars are available for under five thousand dollars and are within reach for the majority of us. But how cheap are they to maintain?

We all know that BMW means performance and luxury, but is it wise to buy a twenty year old car?

I would feel comfortable buying a twenty year old Honda or Toyota because of their reliability and relatively low cost of ownership. But I’m not sure I would buy a twenty year old BMW.

So how much does it cost to keep these cars on the road? On average, I would say they are about twice the cost of a Honda.

For example, to change the AC compressor on an early 90s 5-Series will set you back around 1200 dollars. It costs 500 dollars to change the AC compressor on an early 90s Honda Accord.

The exhaust system will set you back 1000 dollars for the 5-Series and 465 dollars for the Accord. To replace the radiator will set you back 700 dollars for the Bimmer and 500 dollars for the Accord.

These prices are based on a 50 dollars/hour labor cost and are only estimates. Expect to pay more for labor if you go to a dealer but you get the general idea. These cars are expensive to maintain.

For those of you that are mechanically inclined you are better off buying the parts online and fixing it yourself.

If I were to buy an old Bimmer I would get an e30 3-Series with the 6-cylinder engine. These cars are small and provide plenty of power and performance. When maintained correctly these cars should have no problem reaching 300K miles and beyond.

But you have to be careful. These cars are fairly cheap on the used car market which make them tempting to buy. Many people buy used Bimmers and trade it in within a year because they were not prepared for the high maintenance costs.

If you have to worry about the price of maintenance then these cars aren’t for you.

Do you own a Bimmer and how much does it cost to keep it on the road?

How many years have you owned a BMW?

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What's the average yearly maintenance cost for your BMW?

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Kane March 11, 2012 at 12:50 pm

thanks for the tip helps a lot


Tuisbly March 14, 2012 at 12:26 am

Whatever the reasons, it’ll be a sad day for caslsic Bimmer-philes when the first V6-engined BMW rolls off the assembly line. While that may be true for the Bimmer-philes, the rest of us will have to wait and see how much power it makes before we decide to feel sentimental or excited. ;)That being said, I do share your appreciation for the inline six configuration. There’s just something about the way one sounds and feels while climbing through the rev range that makes it stand out from the run of the mill V6/8 etc. (And second only to a rotary in smoothness. 🙂


Wain April 3, 2012 at 10:09 pm

I do own a 25 years old e28. my first BMW, planning to drive it for many years to come, the car feels solid and safe at any speed in fact it feels like brand new much more solid than a typical Japanese car, change the engine oil and filter once a year, use synthetic oil, the engine feels like it will run for ever it has a bit over 250k miles on the odo, transmission is manual 5 speed. I’ve been spending around $250.00 on servicing and maintenance per year. I purchased the car almost 5 years ago in very poor condition so had it repainted with high quality materials quite pricey but well worth it also had the two front seats reupholstered and replaced headliner. Wold i buy another old BMW i will say yes but no before have it tested by an expert mechanic.


William April 12, 2012 at 1:05 am

I bought a 1988 325i Convertible a couple years back and LOVE IT!! Yes I bought it in poor condition and have spent time and money in restoring it. But I can say this, if you go to enough wrecking yards to find parts, go online, and do the work yourself it can be as cheap as a honda. I was lucky and found a near replica of mine in a wrecking yard near by in almost perfect shape and stripped it. I would have a hard time buying any other brand of vehicle!


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