Subject: BMW Buyers Guide
I want to buy a BMW. How should I go about it?
There's lots of stuff.

DECIDE WHY YOU WANT THE CAR. Decide whether you want an old show car, a race car, a daily driver, or whatever. This should help you settle on which types of BMW are best for you.

HOMEWORK. Get some books and research the different cars (check out the references at the end of this FAQ). When it comes to information, some is good, more is better, and too much is just enough. Figure out which years, models, and features of BMW are in your list.

Once you decide on a car type, find out what can go wrong with them and how much it can cost to fix them.

PRICES. Check out the usual sources for prices and availability:

Shop for insurance at this point. You don't want to find your dream car and find out you can't afford to insure it. Insurance companies vary drastically (as do the costs for the different years and models).

FIND A MECHANIC. Especially if you are able to look for a car close-to-home, find a mechanic before you start looking. Ask friends who their mechanics are and talk to CCA members. Talk to your mechanic (and other knowledgeable people) about what you should be looking for in a car.

LOOK FOR A CAR. Now that you know the car (and price range) for which you are looking, start your search. Take lots of information including VIN, etc.

CHECK-OUT THE CAR. If the car is long distance, you may have the owner take it to a mechanic first. I tend to like to use BMW dealers for long distance check-outs. Dealers may be more expensive but they should know their stuff.

If the car is nearby, check-out the car in person first. Look for features, rust, and general condition. Test drive your car: does it start easily, does it accelerate with no flat spots, does it go into all gears easily? After the car has been warmed-up, ask the owner and take it to redline. If he resists, ask him to do so. Make sure the car revs freely and that there's no smoke when you do this.

TAKE THE CAR TO A MECHANIC. Have the mechanic do a compression check and a leakdown. Have him make sure the engine numbers match the VIN. He should be able to itemize everything you need to put the car into street concourse condition (even if you don't want to show the car, this will give you an idea of everything the car needs). The list should help you decide whether you want this car and, if so, the price range for the car.

CHECKLIST. Check out the following checklist for some ideas of stuff for which to look.

BUY THE CAR. Join the BMW CCA. Enjoy your car.


. Car _________________________________ .
. Price _______________________________ .


Miles ___________________________

   How Long Owned __________________     How Many Owners ____________________
   Records _________________________     Where maintained ___________________
   Color ___________________________     Last Paint Job _____________________

Interior Color___________________

   Wheel sizes _________    Tire sizes _________     [ ]  Original Color
   [ ]  Original Engine     [ ]  5 speed manual      Induction ____________
   [ ]  Air Conditioning    [ ]  Alarm               Radio ________________
   [ ]  Electric Windows    [ ]  Electric Antenna
   [ ]  Electric Mirrors    [ ]  Electric Seats      [ ]  Rear window defrost

Why Selling, Notes:

Compression 1:____ 2:____ 3:____ 4:____ 5:____ 6:____

Check seams for even-ness and for rust (portal closed)

   [ ] left door            [ ] right door           [ ] fuel filler flap
   [ ] hood (mating)        [ ] trunk

Check for rust (under car):
[ ] left jack receiver [ ] right jack receiver

   [ ] front suspension     [ ] rear suspension
   [ ] headlights           [ ] tail lights          [ ] under windshield

[ ] trunk area (lift carpet)

[ ] front seats [ ] rear seats [ ] dash [ ] carpeting



     A B C D F   Paint, chrome, trim    A B C D F   Rubber
     A B C D F   Dents/Dings            A B C D F   Undercoat all around (e)

   LEFT SIDE DOOR:     VIN Drivers door jamb (post '69) ____________________
     A B C D F   Mating                 A B C D F   Edge, bottom (r)
     A B C D F   Hinge                  A B C D F   Strike Plate (r)
     A B C D F   Jack receiver (r)      A B C D F   Underside rocker panel (r)
     A B C D F   Side windows & seals   A B C D F   Body under windshield (r)

A B C D F Top seal A B C D F Top condition

   LEFT FRONT FENDER: VIN Windshield post           ____________________
     A B C D F   Tire condition         A B C D F   Fender Lip Texture (a)


     A B C D F   Shock tower (r)
     A B C D F   trunk lid: fit (r)     A B C D F   trunk lid stop (r)
     A B C D F   Battery Box (r)        A B C D F   Front bumper - fit
     A B C D F   Spare tire             A B C D F   Jack and toolkit

A B C D F Tire condition A B C D F Fender Lip Texture (a)


     A B C D F   Mating                 A B C D F   Edge, bottom (r)
     A B C D F   Hinge                  A B C D F   Strike Plate (r)
     A B C D F   Jack receiver (r)      A B C D F   Underside rocker panel (r)
     A B C D F   Side windows & seals   A B C D F   Body under windshield (r)


     A B C D F   Tire condition         A B C D F   Sight along body (accident)
     A B C D F   Suspension Pickups (d) A B C D F   Texture on fender lip (a)
     A B C D F   Pinch Welds
     A B C D F   Fuel filler

   HOOD: VIN on dash                ____________________
     Engine number (front of block)                     ____________________

     A B C D F   General condition      A B C D F   Belts
     A B C D F   Oil leaks              A B C D F   Transmission fluid leaks
     A B C D F   Exhaust system         A B C D F   Rear Valence (accident)

     A B C D F   Tail & parking lights  A B C D F   Brake lights, signals
     A B C D F   Backup lights          A B C D F   Seams/Fit (accident)


     A B C D F   Tire condition         A B C D F   Sight along body (c)
     A B C D F   Suspension Pickup (d)  A B C D F   Texture on fender lip (a)
     A B C D F   Pinch Welds (g)


     [ ] Leather  [ ] Leatherette  [ ] Cloth  [ ] Sport seats  [ ] Head Rests
     A B C D F   Front Seats             A B C D F   Rear Seats
     A B C D F   Carpeting               A B C D F   Pedals
     A B C D F   Air Condonditioner      A B C D F   Headliner
     A B C D F   Dashboard               A B C D F   Seat adjustment (L&R)
     A B C D F   Front Seats Frame

A B C D F Clutch pedal free play A B C D F Brake Pedal Firmness

   A B C D F   Clutch slippage           A B C D F   Idle (fluctuations)
   A B C D F   Valve sounds              A B C D F   Clutch chatter
   A B C D F   Other strange sounds      A B C D F   Blip throttle (miss=inj'n,
   _________   Oil pressure (warm)                   smoke=valve guides)

Everything required to bring the car to street-concours, itemized and costed

1:____ 2:____ 3:____ 4:____ 5:____ 6:____ compression (130-170 +- 15%) 1:____ 2:____ 3:____ 4:____ 5:____ 6:____ leakdown (< 3-5%, 10% max)

[ ] Numbers Match [ ] Engine number match [ ] Worn Valve Guides

[ ] Idle Control Valve and Module updated?

   A B C D F   Tie rod ends              A B C D F   CV joints
   A B C D F   Ball Joints               A B C D F   Bushings

A B C D F Shock absorbers/struts A B C D F Brake lines

   A B C D F   Structural Rust           A B C D F   Cosmetic Rust
   A B C D F   Springs (F&R)             A B C D F   Control arms (F&R)

VINs / Engine No. Match
Mechanical Condition

(c) check for accident damage
(d) The rear suspention pickups are bolted to the pan under the car

roughly aligned with the torsion bar tubes -- check for rust. (e) Fresh undercoat is bad. If you see it, check to see what mischief

it covers.
(r) check for rust

       What are the classic problems/areas to check on BMWs?

The BMW is a really good car but there are a few problem areas that have, at various times, plagued this particular vehicle. Here is a list of some of the most notorious problems.

Shock tower rust:
see 2002 FAQ.


  1. Idle Control Valve and Idle Control Module:

    Check to see if these have been updated.

  2. Timing Belts on the M20 engine (325i and 325e and 528e):

    Make sure it has been replaced every 60k miles. If you can't find out when it was last replaced, tow it to a mechanic to have the work done. Don't drive it if you don't know the timing belt has been changed in the last 60k miles.

  3. Tips from Mark
Date: Tue, 14 Jan 1997 03:41:11 -0500 (EST)
Subject: <E30> 325e things to watch

the owner is reasonably consciencious about maintenance ESPECIALLY changing the cam belt every 50-60k miles. One of its drawbacks is that the valves need adjusting every 20k miles or so. Also, the car isn't exactly a "rocket" but it great for interstate trips, etc - great mileage, reasonably comfy ride.
Things that need checking on an E30:

I guess that's it. Seems like a lot but these are not atypical for a car of that age and mileage.

If your friend buys, have him join BMW(nospace)CCA - best $35 I every spent!

Mark Fiumara
BMW()CCA #37523
Arlington, VA
1985 325e, 132k miles (a rookie compared to yours candidate!).

E30 M3 Tips
From: Anthony Le <>
Date: Tue, 18 Feb 1997 16:38:02 -0600
Subject: Re: buying an 88 M3

The most important thing you can do is take the car to a good BMW dealer and have them do a pre-buy inspection and leakdown test. Cost is about $150 for both tests.

I did this this before I bought my car. I saved me at least $1K.

Common problems for the E30 M3:

  1. intake gasket leak--telltale sign is an uneven, lumpy idle.
  2. warped rotors--I warped my after my first autocross event
  3. buzzy shifter above 4K rpm--can be fixed with a rubber band
  4. etc--the car is 10 years old!

Many say the E30 M3 is a sport car. I consider it an extremely good sport sedan. Still a really fun car, but I steped into the M3 coming out of a mid engined, rwd 2 seater, 7600 RPM redline go cart. My comments are somewhat biased.


E28 Tips:

From: Don Eilenberger <> Date: Sun, 16 Feb 1997 16:44:32 -0500
Subject: RE: Buying hints for 535i <E28>


I'm assuming this one has 150k miles on it? You didn't mention auto/manual tranny - I'll assume automatic since about 80% were sold that way:

  1. Engine - no specific problem areas - BUT - the bolts holding the oil spray rail down (and feeding the oil) will loosen up if they haven't been converted to the new style. The new style are indicated by a machined groove in the head of the bolt - if you can see the bolt - it is obvious. If not - assume this should be done. Parts are about $10 - labor is next time the valves need adjusting - do it. The rest of the engine is pretty much bulletproof if given any care at all (regular oil changes, an occassional tuneup). Uses a timing chain - life unknown, only heard of one giving anyone trouble - probably due to general engine neglect.
  2. Cooling system - water pump is 50k mile item, fan clutch 100k mile item. Assume the clutch has been replaced once, but the water pump may need doing. Not a big or expensive job. Check car by letting idle for a while - temp gauge shouldn't cross 1/2 way mark by much - if it does, figure radiator may be gunked up.
  3. Tranny - the '86 uses the ZF 4HP22E - an electronically controlled 4 speed with lockup torque converter tranny. Although some DO go beyond 125k miles - most do not. Are there any records that it has been rebuilt or replaced? Replacement with a good rebuilt (BMW or ZF) is gonna be around $3k or so..

Make sure it shifts smoothly (no bangs or klunks), put it in neutral after running it a ways - take foot off brake, make sure it doesn't creep (sure sign of one specific problem with them) forwards.

Ask about tranny oil/filter changes - when/how often? More is better..

4. Driveshaft - the E28 (and lots of other BMW's) use driveshafts with swaged in universals - meaning that they are not made to be rebuilt if a universal goes south. This can be expensive.. But - there are places which DO rebuild them. Have no personal experience, but have heard OK things about these places. Figure ~$1k for factory driveshaft - ~ $400 for a rebuilt. They are a PITA to get at (exhaust has to be dropped). Also - BMW used 3 different driveshaft designs on this model - one has a rubber flex disk at the front of the shaft (attachment point to tranny) called a 'GUIBO' - these go bad.

Drive it - if there are vibrations that can't be explained by unbalanced wheels - figure driveshaft.

5. Brakes - problem area with E28 - drive at 60mph, apply brakes gently - there should be no vibration in steering wheel. If there is - you'll need pads/rotors for front. Cost about $200 for parts.. labor isn't too bad.

6. Suspension - the shocks/struts are wonderfully long lived.. but there are a number of bushings in the front end which can add to vibration problems in the front end. If there is no record of these being done - figure it's gotta happen - about $400 for all of 'em.

Good FAQ's available for the above two items..

7. Rust - few spots to look: Around the license plate lights in the rear (remove panel inside trunk to check). While there, lift floor cover and make sure the spare-tire well isn't rusted.. this model has aging problems with the taillight gaskets that leads to water in the trunk.. cheap to fix if you find it early. Also - bend down and poke around the jacking points (4 of'em in front of rear wheels and behind front wheels on the rocker panel). There is evidence that actually using them cracks the rustproofing and rust will form around these points.. other than that - not a noted ruster..

8. Heating/AC - make sure it all works - expensive to fix mostly 'cause it's a PITA to work on.

9. Tires - if it has the stock TRX tires - figure on about $600 for rims and real size tires. These puppies are now going for around $180 each, and getting harder to get - plus they are a 20 year old technology.

10. Fuel system - fill the tank completely and then park it so the filler side is slightly lower than the driver side. Check for any dripping down the side of the tank. The tanks rust out around where the filler neck goes into it. Figure around $400 or so to replace it.

General running - this car will not always idle perfectly smoothly (sorta lopes or misses once in a while) - but it should idle at a constant speed (around 650 RPM) - without fluctuating.. if the idle speed changes - it has about a $300 problem. Most of them have been fixed by now. Other than that - it should pull smoothly from idle to redline without hesitation or pauses. It should not ping, and there should be no strange noises from the engine compartment. Try to listen to it when it just starts up with a cold engine - some of them have loose elements inside the cat-converter which will make a rattle like a loose exhaust component. Check the exhaust system - stock in good condition is best - aftermarket is chancey.. stock system can be expensive to replace (~$600) - but seems to last about 60-80k miles. Good FAQ's available on the idle problems.

Other stuff - check all the electronics on it, windows, power seats, On-Board-Computer, the oil-service lights in the center of the dash, and all instruments, lights, etc. There are some little gremlins lurking on this model that are fairly common.. OH, and the power headrests probably don't work - but the fix is $0.00 and takes about 15 minutes per side (there is a FAQ on this).

Run the wiper - on intermittent make sure it is smooth in action.. if jerky (common) - again fix is $0.00 - but a bit of a PITA to do (there is also a FAQ on this).

The above is worst case - and it's better when bargaining to go forwarned.. if the car has 150k on it and it feels good, chances are most of the above items have been taken care of. Some are periodic items (water pump, fan clutch, mebbe driveshaft, probably the automatic tranny) - others are more or less one-time per lifetime of the car.

If in doubt about checking any of the items, or questions about what IS going on underneath - paying someone to put it up on a lift and check is very cheap compared to missing an item..

Hope this helps - and could someone PLEASE add this to a FAQ repository somewhere?? I don't keep it from each time it's asked, and since I don't own an E28 any more, I'm likely to forget it over time.

As far as price - well, hard to say. I traded in BOHICA, an '87 535i(a) with 135k miles on it for $5,000.. the dealer without doing anything to it was asking $9k at first, later dropped it to $8,500. If the dealer did everything it needed, it would have cost them about $3k in parts/labor.. this is in NJ - BOHICA looked very nice, and drove well, but the rust was starting around two jack points, the tranny was doing some odd things (2nd one in the car), and the catalytic was rattling.. the engine was just a strong (and used NO oil) as when the car was new, and all the electronic's worked.. but I'd stuck the TRX's back on it - and it needed a set of 4..

As far as depreciation - the 535i holds it's value quite well.. this car cost about $40k or so new (depends on options), but after the initial hit - they seem to settle out at between $5k and $12k depending on year/model/milage and more or less stay there.

This was in NJ.. your local price may vary, but it sounds like you're in the rustbelt (snow & ohio is a giveaway) so I'd guess $$$ are gonna be close.


Don Eilenberger
Spring Lk Hts, NJ, USA

E36 Tips:
none yet...
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