These BMWs Suck to work on . . .

I’m in the midst of a job I hate to do right now.  It’s tough, ugly, time consuming, and one mistake will warrant starting all over again.  It’s not all peaches around the shop every day,  so I thought I’d share what I feel are some of the most difficult BMWs to service.  If you have one on my list, don’t despair, but don’t be surprised that technicians look like they hate you.  They don’t hate you, they hate working on your car.  These are in no particular order, they all are a challenge and some tasks suck more or less depending which one you are assigned.

3.0 si (e3)

If you have ever done a starter job on one of these you know why I’m putting this car on my list.  Built when emissions equipment and fuel injection were in their infancy, there is so much exhaust plumbing and vacuum hose under the hood that is resembles a post modern interpretation of Medusa.  All of this makes any task take twice as long as you have to remove tons of stuff to accomplish the smallest job.  The starter job is easiest performed by removing the cylinder head.

850i (e31)

Where do I begin?  This ‘super car’ can be a complete nightmare due to the amount of technology packed into the chassis without any real monitoring systems for proper diagnosis.  Combine that with a V12 engine and little room to work and a spark plug change can turn ugly quick.  They are also not very common, leaving technicians to re-acquaint themselves with this beast of a car when something comes up.

745i, li (e65)


This car is pretty horrible.  Replacing the valve cover gaskets is quite an ordeal and the design leaves much to be desired.  Oil leaks are common and none are cheap to fix.  Transmission pans are of constant worry and there is so much engine covering and under-carriage plastic that you can spend an hour just uncovering your work area.  The wierd thing is that I don’t see many of them on the road and we luckily don’t service a lot of them.  I’m starting to think they are all sitting in a plane hanger in Area 51.

X5 4.4, 4.6, 4.8 (e53, e70)

This might be the grand daddy of them all.  It has all of the problems inherit to the X5 combined with the difficulty of working on the BMW V8 engine.  Axle boots are a constant issue as are clunky transfer cases and transmissions.  You’ll usually need a step stool to work on anything in the engine bay unless you are 6’6″.  Unfortunately, most of the parts are also specific to the X5, so they bring with them a premium price tag.   Both a difficult car to work on and expensive for the consumer.

530i (e34)

In over 10 years, this is the only car that has ever made me cry.  Infamous for its nikasil engine problems, BMW’s re-entry to the V8 market really fell flat on the serviceability end.  If you have to replace the o-rings between the engine block and the motor mount bracket, keep all prescription pills and firearms hidden.  Or call in sick and let someone else suffer.  To be honest, the rest of the car is not that bad, just that the engine puts it on the list

630 csi (e24)

Very similar to the 3.0 si but with less room and more problems on the inside.  This may have been the most oppressed car under North American emission requirements.

3.0cs, csi (e9)

My favorite car. An extremely challenging automobile.  If beauty promotes high maintenance, in its day this car is the equivalent to Sophia Loren.  Over my career I have fully assembled and re-assembled about 4 of these cars from start to finish.  If I added up all that I’ve worked on, I’ve probably put together about 40 or 50.  They never come easy, they’re always a challenge. Taking the complete dash out and back into the car can take days.  One of the most beautiful BMWs ever, but they can get ugly in a hurry.

Chris Keefer

La Jolla Independent BMW

4 Responses to “These BMWs Suck to work on . . .”

  1. 1 jason @ car servicing August 3, 2011 at 5:34 am

    Servicing a BMW – a necessary evil

  2. 2 Vu August 18, 2011 at 11:50 pm

    Awesome post Chris. A great follow up post would be your favorite or easiest BMWs to service. See you very soon for an oil change!

  3. 3 Glenn August 22, 2011 at 10:48 pm

    Thanks for the inspiration, as I now have a new goal in life: to acquire as many of the cars on your list as possible. Good post!

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