How to Inspect a USED BMW

A lot of people have been asking me in the comments what to check when buying a BMW. Of course, it’s different depending on the car, model, age, mileage and price, but here is my overview. If you are looking for specific issues on BMW Z4 or the 5 series, check out the links in the description. In this article I will go over the common items you want to check or do before purchasing a used BMW.

Of course, these don’t have to be a deal breaker, but they will give you negotiating power and allow you to make an educated decision on your purchase; not to mention, show the seller you know what you are talking about.

Leave your recommendations on what you check before buying a BMW in the comments below so that we can have an awesome, community-built resource for everyone.

Before Driving the car

Service Record:

  • Before you even see or drive the car, ask for an entire service record, from beginning to the end. At the very least the car should have had oil changes every 5-8k miles. The rest depends on mileage. Ask the owner to tell you more about his or her ownership over the years and why they are selling the car. This will let you gauge how well the car has been cared for.
  • You also want to see if the car was in an accident and what kind of damage was done to the car. If it was in an accident, ask who repaired it and if you can see photos of the damage before the fix. It’s also important to know how long ago the repair was done. I’d feel a lot more comfortable seeing 20-30k miles of usages after the accident, since obviously the car has been driving since. Accidents are not deal breakers and can actually be a great deal if properly taken care of.
  • I also recommend getting a CarFax as it will confirm or deny what the seller is telling you and you will also see the maintenance records that all previous owners have done. Personally, I don’t care how many owners the car has had, but you will be able to see that information here as well.

Car Overview:

  • If everything checks out, next you’d want to do a quick overview of the car. This may be obvious, but a lot of people skip this step and miss simple things like balding tires, cracked glass or lights and much more.
  • Check the interior, it should have appropriate wear for the mileage. If the seats have heavy wear but the car only has 50k miles, something doesn’t add up or the car has been beat on hard. Check to make sure all of the electronics such as iDrive, backup camera, sunroof etc are working correctly.
  • If it has run-flats, check the wheels for cracks, and if it’s an X-Drive, back up and crank the wheel either direction, if it makes noise, the front drive shafts are most likely going out. While you have the wheels turned all the way, check the CV joints at the same time. If the car has air ride suspension, check for leaking air bags. The easiest way to tell is if the car is leaning when parked.
  • If you are looking at a high mileage manual car, take it to have the clutch looked at. You can’t feel a SAC (self-adjusting clutch) going bad until the death-rattle right before it gives out.
  • By the time you are ready to buy one, you should have driven a few similar cars to get a feel for it and how it should be driving and responding to input from the driver. The engine should be running strong and transmission shifting without hesitation.
  • Ask the seller if you could drive the car cold and after covering the basics, take it on a drive and get on the highway. Then check for diagnostic codes with a good BMW Scanner, to be sure they didn’t just clear any codes before you arrived. There shouldn’t be any lights on the dash and no major codes.

Under the Hood

  • Before you take it on a drive, thought, take a look under the hood to see the condition of the car, does it look like someone has been taking care of this car? You can tell how much the person cares about their car by seeing if the fluids are topped off and are the correct-clear color, are there a bunch of leaves and grime everywhere? This is also a good time to notice if there is any poor workmanship. If you can see simple things done incorrectly, how many more are there that you cannot see?
  1. Now let’s look at some more specific items under the hood. BMWs are famous for their oil leaks, so it’s a good idea to check for signs of oil leaks or spotting on aluminum parts, this would indicate that someone may have wiped off the oil recently. Also, don’t bother checking under the car as you won’t see much, BMWs have a plastic cover under the engine.
    1. The most common oil leaks on a BMW engines occur around the oil filter housing gasket and the valve cover gasket. Depending on the engine, it can be very easy to spot (Show n20) like on the 4 cylinders as it’s right up top or a little harder on the V8s (show N63).
    1. If you spot an oil leak, try to see if it’s an active leak or is it covered in dust and stuff is built up on it. An oil leak is not necessarily a sign of poor maintenance unless the leak has been there for a significant period of time and never fixed.
    1. Check to ensure the oil pan gasket is not leaking, this one may be a little harder, but you can lower your phone into the engine bay to take a closer look. Valve cover and oil filter leaks are DIY friendly if you are mechanically inclined, but the oil pan gasket is a lot more difficult without a good set of tools.
    1. Lastly, check the oil itself, most BMWs don’t have a dip stick, but you can open the oil fill hole and make sure there is no water, coolant or milky residue mixed with oil.
  2. Next we want to check the coolant system. The bottle should be filled to the correct level and be the right BLUE color. You also want to check all the coolant hoses that you see for leaks and any signs of coolant.
  3. At the same time, look for any broken vacuum lines and anything new or that looks out of the ordinary, like a repaired line that wasn’t replaced, it may need to be replaced in the future.
  4. If the engine mounts are visible, take a close look to make sure there are no cracks.
  5. Lastly, look for potential front end damaged, is it missing any air ducting or plastic pieces? Have the bolts been taken off for the front support and is there any overspray? Are the stickers missing or have paint on them? Other than the obvious crumbled metal, these are all good indicators that work has been done to the front end.

Vehicle Specific Checks:

As I’ve mentioned in the beginning of the video, you have to do research on the specific vehicle and find the common failure points and problems to expect. I have done the research for the vehicles I own, so check those out if you’re interested.

As an example: The N20 engine on the Z4 has timing chain issues, so check if that work has been done or the chain has been checked.  And speaking of the convertible, check that the roof functions properly. There should be no squeaks or rattles when in operation.     

If we take a look at the 5 series, you have to check if the CCP (customer care package) is done on pre-2014 models. It’s a major service that fixed many issues on early cars. Also, has the car had the timing chain, valve seals or engine replaced? These jobs are not uncommon on these cars and this information is very good to know before you see the car, that way you can see if it was already repaired or something to budget for.

Get Professional inspection done:

  • The last check you can do before taking it for a ride is to get on the ground and look underneath for signs of damage. Once you’re satisfied, take it to a Euro Indy shop for a professional pre-purchase inspection. Even after checking everything I have mentioned, it’ll be the best $100-$150 you’ll spend when buying a used BMW. Short of doing a compression test you’ll want to know every little thing about every system in the car and professional mechanic can do that for you. If there are too many negatives, move on or calculate into the price. Unless you are willing to do some work yourself, the cost of repairs could easily dwarf the cheap price of the vehicle. Sometimes its best to spend a couple hundred dollars and have either peace of mind or save yourself from unexpected thousands.

And lastly, don’t forget that you are buying a BMW, check your wallet and credit card balances. Make sure there’s enough there for repairs and maintenance.