A year of owning a used BMW 3 Series

IMG_2285As of this week, it has been one year since I bought my 2009 BMW 328i xDrive. With almost 400,000 units sold in 2009 alone, the E90 (the internal model designation for the 2006-2011 3 Series) is probably the most mass produced luxury-sport sedan on the market. As such, lots of people will have the chance to pick up a used one just as I did. So I thought I would give a brief recap of my first year of ownership.

In a nutshell, I think the BMW 3 Series has long been the best all around sedan on the market. Some of you might say “what about the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry?” Yes, those are just fine if you want to get from point A to B and don’t care if your car has soul and character. I know that sounds judgemental, but an engaging car is not a priority for every driver and that’s just fine. For me, having an engaging car like this was a priority.

I bought my BMW after seeing it online at a Hyundai dealer where someone had traded it in after the certified preowned maintenance plan expired at the 50,000 mile mark. I had been researching the E90 3 Series on and off for probably 7 years and it was what I would call my “reasonable/attainable dream car.” It’s not a Ferrari, but for a self-proclaimed car guy like myself, it’s a great daily driver.

My intention had only been to test drive the car as I was saving up and planned to buy one towards the end of 2015. But this checked almost all the boxes I wanted in a 3 Series. It was the four door model, meaning no pillar-less doors which are prone to window misalignment requiring costly repair every so often. It’s the 328i instead of the 335i, meaning it has the naturally aspirated straight 6 engine instead of the turbo charged one. These are a lot more reliable and cheaper to maintain than the turbo engine. It has a manual transmission, for greater driving pleasure. It has manually adjustable seats and does not have the iDrive option, meaning even fewer things to distract from driving or to go wrong. It also has xDrive, BMW’s all wheel drive system, which is honestly probably a liability when it comes to maintenance and reliability, but the car has low miles, so I took the gamble against the advice of a local BMW mechanic. But one day I’ll throw it around in a snowy parking lot and it will have been well worth the extra money.

Between being a stick shift and being at a Hyundai dealer the car had sat there for 3 months without even a test drive. This meant that I was able to talk them down from $17,500 to $16,500 and get them to fix a dent in one of the doors for free. The loan payments were low and barely impacted by a down payment so I bought it for $0 down. The loan also includes about $1,000 for the loan fees and gap insurance. Payments came out to $270 a month, but I pay $148 every two weeks so I can pay the loan off quicker than the 60 month term. State Farm charged me an insulting $80 fee for changing my insurance policy to a car that costs me about $160/month from less than half that for my 1994 BMW 325is. Why charge a fee for me changing to a policy where I pay you more…?

An inspection of the car by a local independent BMW/Mercedes/Hummer shop revealed a leaky seal on the right side of the rear differential which they quoted $275 to fix. I got a second quote from the BMW dealer who told me they had seen the car 4 months prior with the previous owner and that the seals on both sides needed replacing for $400. I told them about the discrepancy between their assessment and that of the independent shop and they eventually agreed to change the seals on both sides of the differential for $300 as well as detail the car.

Since I purchased it I’ve driven the car on a handful of road trips from my hometown of Tulsa, OK  to Oklahoma City, Wichita, Columbia, MO, and Taos, and Santa Fe, NM as well as to work, the gym, the grocery store, and wherever else one drives a car. This racked up only about 8,000 miles on the car in the first year of ownership.

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She can go anywhere a Land Rover Defender can!

Over the 8,000 miles I’ve really only had four maintenance issues. First, I noticed that one of the eight LED brake lights doesn’t function. It’s about $150 to replace the entire light cluster as it’s now out of warranty and it’s not designed for just changing a single bulb. But I’m fairly certain it died while it was under warranty and that the previous owner should have had it replaced as part of a part recall. Because there are 7 other lights, I haven’t bothered to replace this yet, but I will eventually.

The second issue was that the check engine light came on after a road trip. I plugged in a wifi code reader to the car’s OBD II port and found out that one of the solenoids responsible for adjusting the cam shaft wasn’t working properly. I scoured YouTube and a couple BMW forums for half an hour before deciding I could fix it myself. I remedied the issue by pulling out the solenoid, cleaning it with brake cleaner and putting it back, saving myself a couple hundred dollar trip to the mechanic.

The third issue was another check engine light which my code reader told me was a faulty emissions control valve which helps to reduce emissions for the first few seconds of the engine warming up. As Oklahoma does not have emissions tests, I have not bothered to fix this as I’ve read it’s an issue that’s prone to repeat itself. However I will probably replace the valve when I take it in for an annual service checkup at my favorite independent import mechanic in the next month or so.

The fourth issue was that when I took the car in to have the tires balanced and rotated the tire place told me one of the wheels was dented. This is less of a problem with the car and more of a problem with the abhorrent roads of Oklahoma. They were able to swap the wheel with a used one they found at a salvage yard for $150.

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Oil change!

During my time with the car, I’ve also changed the brake fluid with the help of a generous friend with better lifts than I have. This cost about $8 for the fluid and $39 for a brake bleed kit on Amazon. (Pro tip: the brake fluid reservoir is by the cabin air filter, don’t confuse it with the power steering fluid reservoir.) I also changed the oil myself, spending about $70 for 7 quarts of Mobile One Synthetic and a Mann oil filter.

“8,000 miles is a long period to go on one oil change!” You might be thinking. Well the dealership had allegedly changed the oil before I bought the car, though the mess that came out the drain plug leads me to believe otherwise. It was also clear no one had changed the filter during the previous oil change. Did I mention the car doesn’t have a dipstick? It has what BMW calls condition based servicing and based on how you use the car and what its sensors say, it will tell you what it wants e.g. oil change, brake fluid change, brake pads, rotors, a full checkup, etc.

In all of this time, I will say that I have totally loved the car. The controls for the radio, sunroof, windows, air conditioning, etc. are all very intuitive and are easily operated without looking at them. The base model seats are comfortable even on long road trips and the suspension, combined with the smaller 16” wheels on my car adequately soak up the bumps and pot holes of Tulsa’s streets while offering a smooth ride over highways, and minimal body roll on curvy backroads.

The engine is punchy, smooth, and quite fun, though I would definitely shell out for a turbo-charged model next time. xDrive has actually saved my ass/killed the fun in probably half a dozen corners that I took too quickly. I’ll explain how xDrive works in another post. Hill assist, which holds the brakes for three seconds when you are on a hill and starting to go from stop is a great feature. The brakes are phenomenal and have made me afraid that by comparison, any other car I drive will not stop in time.

I can honestly say that, holistically, this 3 series is my favorite car out of everything I’ve owned or tried out and I appreciate it even more each time I drive someone else’s car. I’ll give a more in depth review of the car itself another time. But this is what year one of ownership was like!

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