Car dopers: High mileage BMWs?

My car was written off by the insurance company after an accident and I’m currently looking around for a new set of wheels. I’ve seen several ads for various late 1990s BMW 3-series convertibles with 100K+ miles that caught my eye. They’re cheap. I like them. They just… feel right.

Now, according to my friends, it seems that these cars are surprisingly consistent –
a) Most mechanical things will not break even if I try to break them until well past 200K.
b) However, I might be looking at a new clutch and that can get pricey on a BMW
c) Everything else can and will probably break – especially things like dash lights, power features, etc. and are ridiculously inconvenient or expensive to fix.

Is this a generally a fair assessment in your experience? Should I stay away? Some of these are very tempting.

Any other cars I should check out that I might’ve overlooked? Overall I’m looking for a used stick-shift convertible, preferably under $10K.

We are a BMW family and I will give you a few honest tips. BMW’s aren’t like other cars and can’t be compared casually with other brands. This is both good and bad. BMW’s have incredible, distinctive handling, they are fun to drive, and they just feel solid when you sit in one. However, you have to really like BMW’s to be a satisfied owner, especially for the older ones.

As you may have heard, the maintenance costs for a BMW are generally through the roof. Another poster here once described the BMW maintenance schedule more appropriate for an aircraft than a car. The repair cost difference isn’t subtle. It isn’t 15% or 50% more expensive than other cars, it is more like 200% - 400% more expensive than other cars and it is hard to get out of the shop for less than $1000. The other problem is that you really and truly need a mechanic that specializes in BMW’s. Regular mechanics can’t fix them responsibly and most key parts, the code reader, and everything else are proprietary. Regular mechanics will screw up a BMW so fast it will make your head swim and I have seen it happen time and time again.

My wife has a 2002 325i and it still looks and drives like new at 162,000 miles. However, the maintenance costs are at least $2000 a year and could become more at any time. I also had a 1995 3 series until a crash a couple of years ago. I was up to about 150,000 miles and some very major things were starting to fail and weren’t worth the money to fix. I also spent at least $2000 a year keeping it in shape while I had it.

They are great cars if you like to roll that way.

I had a 13 year old 1982 320i. Being that old, it needed all the usual suspects, brakes, exhaust etc. I put a lot of money into it. But the engine, purred like a kitten. The odometer went out on me twice for months both times. Showed 135k, probably was well over 150k.

Damn, I’m sorry I wrecked that car.

I agree with Shag, to a point. They are awsome, beyond any other make I’ve owned (although Nissan is a close second).

The thing about BMW is you have to be willing to grab a wrench and work on them. Believe me, it is easier than you think. You will spend less and enjoy more owning a BMW if you replace the little shit yourself. And by little shit, I mean the stuff that fails on them. Go online, you will see owners report to the mile stuff that fails, by model, regulary (but not more than any other car). Depending on model, you can count on the exhaust sensors to fail, the cooling system to have problems, the suspension bushings to need replacing, and on, and on, and on…

And they are still the best cars on the road! And when you can replace all the little, inexpensive parts the fail, as they are designed to do, you will save money in the long run and roll in a better car. Parts wear. That the principle. And BMW designed them to fail/wear and be easily replaced. Replace the worn out suspension bushings, and by golly, it handles like a new car again!

Also: repair manuals and parts diagrams are available so you can tackle any job you want.

Example: Me and a buddy from high-school both roll in 740’s. He can’t fix a flat. I’m no mechanic, but can turn a wrench if forced to. We both had the damn-near exact radiator failure (as fortold by other owners, at 100k miles, but mine went 160k, his 120k) and I spent $280 (110 on the rad, and I replaced the waterpump and all the belts, too) and did the work myself, with no trouble (like a Nissan, made for easy repair and maintainence), and he spent $1300 plus a tow, and only replaced the radiator.

Short answer: Do It!