BMW and Mini lemons, what you have to know about BMW service

Mini Cooper :

Summary : Inferior quality materials (chrome chipping, leather peeling, seams coming undone, net sagging), inferior mechanical components (2 window motors, gear box, sliding roof and windows squeaky, servo-brake), inferior finition (vibrations everywhere), inferior electronics (most problems where never correctly diagnosed, nor repaired and many modules had to be replaced), inferior service (repeated returns to the garage for the same issues).

I became interested in motorized motricity relatively late. My first car, was a Ford Falcon, 3-speed manual, second hand, that I kept for about one year around 1970. Then for several years, no more car, only motorbikes from 250 cc to 1000 cc. Finally in 1989 I bought a brand new BMW 325ix that lasted me 13 years and costed me far too much (in services and repairs).

At the beginning of 2003, the 325ix was replaced by a brand new Mini Cooper, even redder than the BMW. Almost all options on this Mini, including the Harman Kardon HiFi option, automatic transmission Tiptronic, run flat tires, pack Chili, leather, sliding roof, automatic air-conditioning, automatic headlights height adjustment, etc.

The Mini Cooper is an excellent small car, less powerful than the BMW but just as much fun. The automatic transmission with continuously variable ratio (CVT) requires, at the beginning, some adaptation, but it is a more optimized solution than others; the engine always runs around the same speed, which results in less gasoline consumption and probably reduced emissions. But it is always possible to pass in pseudo-manual mode, with fixed ratios, which is quite convenient when the engine is subjected to highly variable loads, such as for mountain driving.

One thing is sure, the Mini should be less expensive to maintain than the 325ix, one one hand due to the maintenance intervals which are 25'000 km (against 10'000 for the 325ix), and on the other hand because it is a smaller car. However things are not starting too good. Already under warranty, several returns to the garage were necessary. One of the least understandable points is the fact that a Harman-Kardon HiFi system is offered as an option. In itself, for a music lover, it is an excellent option, but then the manufacturer of the car should then pay attention to all the elements that can vibrate, in particular inside the doors. This table is a log of these problems, their solutions and cost (1 USD = 1.15 CHF in June 2009).

DateDescription     km milesCost (CHF) [USD]Sum (CHF) [USD]
2003-02-01Delivery of the mini.036'415 31'650-.--
2003-06Reprogramming of the electronics due to erratic lighting of several indicators, diagnostic of a sensor to be replaced.?0.000.00
2003-07Back to the garage for replacement of the sensor, no luck, they have not received the right part. Reprogramming of the electronics still due to erratic lighting of certain indicator lamps. A strong knocking towards the back in outwards leaning turns remains unidentified. A vibration towards the back is supposed to be repaired but is not.?0.000.00
2003-08Back to the garage for replacement of the sensor, repair of a window which no longer opens, and for various vibrations, including the violent knock towards the back in outwards leaning turns. When the car is returned to us, the window still won't open, the knock could not be identified. An attachment part for the back seat was ordered in relationship to the vibration towards the back.?0.000.00
2003-08-25Return to the garage to repair the window. Replacement of the back seat attachment part, supposed cause of one of the noises.?0.000.00
2003-08-28The air-conditioning no longer works, the corresponding module is reprogrammed.?0.000.00
2003-09-30Oilservice15'000 9'375263.60 230.00263.60 230.00
2003-11-25Replacement under warranty of 2 electronic modules due to the erratic lighting several indicators, search for several vibrations (not found), replacement of a windscreen washer jet, loading of new programming to resolve jolts of the car in idle.18'000 11'2500.00263.60 230.00
2004-03-30Pilot lamps still light up erratically (always the same ones: ABS and Tire Pressure) and the sliding roof which became sluggish and squeaky. Another attempt to correct the various vibrations..23'000 14'3750.00263.60 230.00
2004-04-03The sliding roof is repaired, the problem of the erratic lighting of the lamps was addressed by the replacement of another electronic module. None the vibrations and noises were repaired; worse, a vibration which had disappeared since 2003-08-25 reappeared towards the backdoor. Moreover, the chromium plating of the gear shift is chipping off, the headlights are misadjusted (much too high) and a reflector is missing on one door.24'000 15'0000.00263.60 230.00
2004-04-03Given the incapacity of the garage to solve the problems of vibrations, I decided to tackle these myself. First, vibrations in the doors in the presence of music with low frequency content. I used a simple setup with an small audio generator to track these vibrations, this equipment should be available in any radio repair shop or car radio specialist, and particularly for a HiFi specialist! See here the results of this work. Secondly, the vibration towards the backdoor. The method used here is within the reach of anyone. While one person drives on bumpy road, causing vibrations, another person, in the back of the vehicle tries to discover the source of the noise. See here the results of this work. A last detail, all this (doors and back) took less than one hour!24'000 15'0000.00263.60 230.00
2004-06-02A breathing noise (air leak?) suddenly appeared when the brake pedal is pushed. A kind of aspiration for presses and expiration for releases. The mechanic pretends that this is normal. When I point that it only started yesterday, he replies that as long as the car brakes, all is normal.26'500 16'5600.00263.60 230.00
2004-06-03The following day, the noise is now permanent as soon as the car is warm. There is a continuous hissing coming from the brake pedals, which only cease when braking. It will be necessary return to the garage, but this car is becoming a full-time job...26'500 16'5600.00263.60 230.00
2004-06-28Return to the garage, for the problem of the brake pedal, the windows which squeak, the driver's seat leather which has 2 seams coming undone, the net of the sliding roof which is slacking on one side, and always this knocking, that I managed in locating towards the back window of the sliding roof.28'000 17'5000.00263.60 230.00
2004-06-30The servo-brake having been replaced, the problem of breathing behind the brake pedals - although I was told once again that this was normal - disappeared, as well as the continuous hissing coming from the same place. The knock, towards the back window of the sliding roof is always there, the other things seem to be repaired, and the reflector on the door has door returned.28'000 17'5000.00263.60 230.00
2004-07-05Something else has returned, even worse than ever, it is the vibrations in the doors due to the music. It is probable that the doors were opened for the repair of the squeaking of the windows, and certain clips or screws had to be loosened. The reflector on the other door is now missing. Deep disappointment, moreover we are told that now, even under guarantee, we are no longer entitled more to a replacement car during repairs! We were billed 45. - for one day (not expensive, but still!).28'500 17'800  45.00 40.00306.60 270.00
2004-08-30Another noise has just made its appearance. In turns or during acceleration and braking, There is a knock, probably under the frame. Apparently something is loose... To return to the garage hardly seems seem an option, since so far they have repaired non of the noise, knocks and vibrations.32'500 20'3000.00306.60 270.00
If one considers the lower quality of the Mini (compared to the BMW), the lowest quality of the services in the garage (we had always been satisfied before) it seems that the moment has arrived to change car, brand and garage. We are indeed greatly disappointed and frustrated.
2004-11-08Seeing the end of the warranty approaching, I emailed the Mini importer in Switzerland, who finally put me in liaison with the head mechanic in my garage. He finally took time to listen to us, came with us in the car to note the problems, and surprise, barely one day later, all is repaired. No more vibrations in the doors, no more vibration in the back door (replacement of the lock and some adjustments. Even the violent knock in turns has disappeared. The gear shift lever is repaired, the reflector is back on the door, the headlights adjusted and the noise under the frame came it seems from an improperly tightened wheel!?!38'100 23'8000.00306.60 270.00
2004-11-0840'000 km service38'100 23'800516.80 450.00823.40 720.00
2004-12-01Change of 2 tires and a rim that I have damaged avoiding an as...le who was driving in the middle of a small narrow road.40'000 25'000913.00 795.001736.40 1515.00
2005-08-08The car no longer moves! The engine turns, but the gear lever has no effect. Call with the garage to tow it, but the car refuses to be towed, it jumps all over the place, probably that the wheels are locked. The garage then sends another mechanic supposed to load it on a truck, but he forcefully tows it the garage. Damage: the gear box is entirely destroyed, even the casing is broken! Given the circumstances, the gear box will be replaced under warranty (thank you!). On recommendation of the garage, replacement of the brake pads, and the 2 front discs, all very worn. Worth a mention, loan of a replacement vehicle during the two days of the repair (thank you again).54'000 33'750686.85 595.002423.25 2110.00
2005-08-29The button to open the doors on the electronic key no longer works, the button is very soft, it is like there's nothing behind. As the car is no longer under warranty and electronics has no secrets for me, I notice after having opened the key that the small pushbutton is unsoldered and is loose at the bottom in the case of the key. Two solder joints later (component SMD!) all is back in order. Let us not blame BMW for this problem, but Valeo, manufacturer of the key.54'800 34'2500.002423.25 2110.00
2005-10-01Another manifestation of inferior quality of the materials used for the Mini, the steering wheel supposedly in leather (payed option) is peeling at places.56'000 35'0000.002423.25 2110.00
2006-01-09Small service at 61'000 km. Oil change, some filters and small parts.61'400 38'375311.30 270.002734.55 2380.00
2006-03-10Reappearance of the erratic lighting of certain indicator lamps. This is the proof that the problem is still not solved after several returns to the garage and replacement of electronic modules!67'000 41'9000.002734.55 2380.00
2006-06-01Appearance intermittently of a strong vibration in the dashboard. A good punch on the top of the instrument panel generally solves the problem for a moment. When this noise appears, the word clunker comes immediately to mind!71'500 44'7000.002734.55 2380.00
2006-07-12The window on the passenger's side refuses to open again. New appointment with the garage. Repair taken under warranty, thank you.72'800 45'5000.002734.55 2380.00
2006-08-30The door on the driver's only opens with difficulty from the inside. Something seems unhooked in the handle which like is kind of slack. Let's see this at the time of the next service in a few months!73'300 45'8000.002734.55 2380.00
2006-11-02Main service, including replacement of the left lock and a cable in the door. It should be noted that the steering wheel continues to lose strips of so called leather and that the vibration in the dashboard makes itself remembered regularly.79'040 49'4001263.85 1100.003999.40 3480.00
2007-10-02Spooky event? During a parking manoeuvre, the gear ratio indicator goes to EP and gears no longer change. EP is supposed to mean Emergency Program, it is a mode which makes it possible to return to the garage at low speed to determine the cause of a transmission breakdown. This has not happened again (dated November 15, 2007), probably one more demonstration of the approximate electronics which is used in this car.95'400 59'6000.003999.40 3480.00

Time has come to replace this RED LEMON. 90'000 km (55'900 miles). Given the long series of bad experiences with the garage, the next car (a BMW this time) will come from a different garage. The trade in value of the Mini will turn out to be CHF: 10'000 (USD: 8700).


Cabriolet BMW 330i :

Summary : apparently a much better vehicule than the Mini, but still a RED LEMON. Several problems with the electronics, and a totally deficient diagnostic system. A horrendous service by BMW both the importer and even in Munich. The garage has indeed tried to repair this car many times, but was totally not helped by BMW who have shown themselves to be the most unreliable partner for the garage and and have displayed the utmost disdain for the customer.

Having all in all been very satisfied with my 325ix, I decided that the successor of the Mini would be a new car of the same class and brand. After hesitations and research, I chose the 2008 version of the BMW series 3 convertible. The 3 liters version (330i) being the first to implement innovative ideas of energy savings, it is this model that we chose. One of the elements of this choice was also that this model was well classified from the CO2 emissions point of view with 187 g/km. This is not exactly low, but in comparison to other similar models, this is relatively good.

On this car, almost all the options, since I have decided to keep it ten years at least. Let's mention the radio DAB (Digital Audio Broadcasting), a cruise control (ACC) using a radar at the front of the car which maintains a safe distance with the preceding car, electrically adjusted seats adapting automatically to the driver according to the key used (contactless of course), and many other options, adding to the comfort of this vehicle. The options mentioned above were all the source of problems described further with this vehicle.

At the time of this writing, this car has close to 10'000 km, (6'250 miles) and let us say right away that I am extremely dissatisfied with it. In fact it is not so much of the car, which all in all is a good car, but of the BMW service which not only has shown its incapacity to repair this car in a satisfactory way, but has also given ample proof of its lack of consideration for the customer.

Here is, as for the Mini above, a chronological table of the life of this car, which of course is red like its predecessors.

DateDescription     km milesCost (CHF) [USD]Sum (CHF) [USD]
2008-01-11Delivery of the car. The roof refuses to open. A salesman is called to the rescue, then the head mechanic who concludes that the battery is not sufficiently charged; indeed once the engine runs, the roof accepts to open. I will discover later that it is in fact a safety contact in the trunk that is very finicky (poorly adjusted?).097'770 85'000-.--
2008-01-18Return to the garage for various problems: 1. the DAB radio does not work. 2. The automatic speed regulator (ACC) is intermittent and only works one day out of two. 3. Memories associated with the 2 keys are erratic (it seems that 4 profiles appear at random, whatever the key used). This visit is only a diagnostic, appointment is taken for January 25 for the repair itself.   440  2750.000.00
2008-01-25All the problems are fixed except the automatic speed regulator (ACC) which requires a 'calibration', appointment is taken for February 11. In the meantime, no more speed regulator (ACC).   850  5300.000.00
2008-02-11The car spends the day at the garage. The ACC seems fixed.   1'750 1'1000.000.00
2008-03-09The ACC breaks down again. Appointment is taken for March 13.   2'200 1'3750.000.00
2008-03-13The diagnostic does not show anything abnormal (which is surprising, since the ACC does not work). The expert of the BMW importer must be consulted, I am promised that someone will call me the following day. In the meantime, I get the car back, and I am told that the ACC is again operational, which turns out to be false!   2'200 1'3750.000.00
2008-03-14Having not heard from the garage as promised, I call at the end of the day, but no one really remembers me, and no answer is available for my problem. I decide then to write the direction of the garage to try to make things move forward.   2'300 1'4350.000.00
2008-03-17Call from the manager who suggests the "most drastic" solution recommended by the BMW specialist: the replacement of the radar and of its mount. This should be undertaken within the next 2 days, at reception of the parts. A few hours later, I get a call to let me know that the parts will not be available before the beginning of April (they are probably being delivered by camel from the far end of Bavaria). In the meantime, no more ACC for at least 2 weeks.   2'300 1'4350.000.00
2008-04-03The car is finally repaired, but all the programming of the keys and radio has disappeared. It seems that this is normal for any reprogramming of the car - one would expect more from a company like BMW.     3'200 2'0000.000.00
2008-03-18The ACC is again broken down. Back to the garage for a diagnostic, the result of which I won't be told. I am assured though, that BMW takes my problem very seriously and that they will call me at the beginning of week (today is Friday).     4'100 2'5600.000.00
2008-03-24Monday 21 no call. Tuesday 22 no call. Wednesday 23 no call, I send a registered letter to the BMW importer (with copy with the garage) asking that they repair this car seriously and definitively. The following day, the 24, I receive a call of the garage which tells me that the BMW expert is on holidays till May 12, and they kindly offer to re-adjust the ACC, which is done the 25. The ACC works again.   4'400 2'7500.000.00
At this point some comments are necessary. Electronics is increasingly present and complex in cars, and especially in high-end models. However it is obvious that mechanics are not experts in this field, and should not have to either. It is nevertheless necessary that mechanics precisely diagnose problems in the event of a breakdown. Car manufacturers are perfectly aware of this and implement several levels of diagnostic, embarked, and at the garage. However in the case of the ACC, the BMW diagnostic is completely insufficient, and clearly inappropriate, since at each intervention it recommended either calibration of the ACC or nothing. More generally, this casts doubt about the diagnostic of BMW's. As we will see it below, the problem came from a specific component, and it is not easily conceivable that the diagnostic system could be unaware of it.
2008-05-16The ACC breaks down again. Back to the garage for a diagnostic, the head mechanic does not know what else to do...   5'600 3'5000.000.00
2008-05-17New signature letter to the BMW importer asking for the replacement of the vehicle since they are all too clearly unable to repair it, but they did not even bother to answer...   5'600 3'5000.000.00
To date, May 23, 2008, The ACC (automatic cruise control) has worked 64 days and was down 65. The BMW importer ignores my case, and the garage does not know what else to do.
2008-05-23Signature letter to BMW Munich. The answer a few days later is that they trust the service of the BMW importer, in other terms they don't give a shit either! since at this point it is entirely demonstrated that the importer and their expert are unable to fix this problem. Very disappointed, I decide hire the services of a lawyer.   6'000 3'7500.000.00
2008-05-29The car returns to the garage for several weeks, BMW lends me a similar model in the meantime. No indication on the nature of the repair, nor on its exact duration. We will see in a few weeks.   6'600 4'1250.000.00
2008-06-24I recover my car, and the head mechanic indicates that many parts were replaced, according to recommendations from BMW and he believes useful to add: including the ABS module... The car seems to work. Back at home I make a quick survey the car, and I notice that a cover for the headlight washer is missing, that the other is crooked, that the wood panel behind the steering wheel is scratched, that the back seats are not properly mounted, that the screen of the navigation system is scratched, that leather on and towards the back seat presents two small cuts, and that one of the leather panels of the central console in not properly assembled (gap of 1 cm) and that it presents several marks of a screwdriver or similar tool having been used to disassemble it. A look under the hood reveals another series of defects: a broken cable holder, a rubber cover improperly installed, a wire pinched under a plastic part, almost ruptured, a rubber seal not even installed, simply lying there, a cable too short to reach its mounting clip, and this is only what is immediately visible. In the trunk, a rubber foot is missing, and some clips are lying there that do not seem to come from the car.   6'600 4'1250.000.00
2008-06-25Back to the garage to show and inventory these defaults. The manager being on vacation, he will call me when return. A few days later, a letter from the lawyer having clearly helped, we agree to an appointment at the garage for July 9, in the presence of a representative of the BMW importer.   6'600 4'1250.000.00
To date, June 25, 2008, the ACC (automatic cruise control) worked 64 days and was down 71. The car has returned 9 times to the garage in 135 days. As for the ACC it seems to work for the moment, but as they are not sure of the repair - they were not able to identify the defective component - we decide to wait a few weeks before considering the repair as final.
2008-07-09Consideration of the damages by the manager and the BMW representative. The conclusion of relatively a long discussion is mixed. The damages will be repaired. Which parts were changed? Almost all the wiring of the car, as well as many parts and modules were replaced, this is why the repair took so long, and it is also why the damages due to the repair are found all over the car. Considering the number of visible defects (pinched cables, broken parts or poorly installed ones), it is extremely likely that this is only the visible part of the iceberg. There is probably a higher number of these defects hidden and they will have consequences during the years to come. Without denying this possibility, BMW refuses to extend the warranty, at most would they show understanding if it were proved that a future breakdown would be associated with this repair. It was also pointed out to me that the responsibility for BMW is restricted to the repair the vehicle, and that the number of visits to the garage to carry out this repair as well as any related prejudice is not their responsibility. Punkt Schluss!. Final detail, it seems that other customers (or should I say victims) of BMW have had a similar problem, and that it is due to an accelerometer, which was indeed replaced. I simply had the bad luck to be the first to whom this problem happened, and thus I was used as "tester" for BMW. How is it possible that this component - apparently essential since it is decisive in the operation of the ACC - is not included in the diagnostic is beyond any understanding.   7'450 4'6600.000.00
All that to say that when faced with such a problem, the customer is alone in front of an impersonal organization, which clearly transmits the message that the customer is no longer of importance once the sale is over. What bothers me more, I think, is that this nonchalant behavior comes from a brand that one would suppose is more serious. As far as I am concerned, this reputation is completely overrated. If it was once deserved, these times are quite over.
2008-08-10The car jerks and loses all its power on the motorway. I make it with difficulty to an exit, where the engine dies, not to start again. The mechanic brings back it to the garage, where it is repaired the following day: it is a known problem, all the injectors have to be replaced.   9'200 5'7500.000.00

At this time, it is not possible to draw a complete conclusion. This BMW 330i is not even one year old, and has been to the garage more time that it should in its whole lifetime. There has been 4 types of problems with this car.
    1. Initial delivery problems, the roof should have opened, the DAB option was present but not enabled, the problems with the memories associated with the keys was likely a setup error in the software.

    2. "Normal problems" such as the injectors needing replacement. Although considering the time the car spent in a BMW garage, one would think that the known problems would be verified and fixed preemptively.

    3. The cruise control problem (ACC), where neither the BMW garage, nor the BMW importer, nor the manufacturer (BMW Munich) knew what to do to repair it, they just tried one bit after the other until hopefully the problem finally went away. This points to very serious flaws in the BMW diagnostic and BMW customer service in general.

    4. Everything that was butchered up as a consequence of the incessant repairs.

One of the reasons I bought a BMW rather than say, a Lexus, was to buy European. I certainly won't make this mistake again.

I have had few opportunities to drive the BMW over the past couple of years, however there are still a few issues creeping up. Here is a follow up log.

2010-09-05The car seems to work properly, except for the passenger side front window which, at times, when closed re-opens itself half-way.   23'500 14'6000.000.00
2011-05-01The car has developed a whining noise whenever the steering while is turned. This will have to be checked at the next service.   24'000 15'0000.000.00
2011-08-18The car was taken to the garage to replace the wheels, and at the same time have them look at the whining noise as well as a strange grinding noise in (near) the steering column. Apparently none of the problems were noticed, and hence not repaired. Some grease was applied, let's hope it helps. A small rubber strap that holds the gas cap is broken. Cap (and strap) replaced under warranty.   25'000 15'500252.80 278.00252.80 278.00
2012-07-04The car was taken to the garage for the service. The strange grinding noise in (near) the steering column is still present, but this time accompanied by a message on the dashboard mentioning a problem with the steering lock. Problem not noticed and hence not repaired. It is symptomatic, once more, that the on-board diagnostic is of no help, even in the presence of a dashboard message that one would hope is logged somewhere. As for the small rubber strap that holds the gas cap, it broke again. Neither replaced nor repaired!   27'250 17'000250.20 255.90503.00 533.90
2012-09-24Bought a new gas cap (the strap is not available alone). This one is different from the previous two, better designed. Another indication that us, customers, are doing testing for BMW.   27'250 17'00025.75 27.60528.75 561.50
2012-09-25DAB is the European equivalent to HD radio. This car is equipped with the DAB option. However the Swiss abruptly replaced the DAB system by an incompatible DAB+ system on October 15. This makes regular DAB receivers obsolete quasi overnight. I contacted BMW, confident that an upgrade would be available. Surprise, pre-2010 receivers will not be upgraded. So here we have an option that has a lifetime of 2 to 4 years, and BMW is not concerned. Disappointing!   27'300 17'0000.00528.75 561.50
2013-03-22The car was taken to the garage to replace the wheels (summer wheels). The cost includes the storage of the wheels for 1 year.   27'500 17'100191.95 206.35720.70 767.85
2013-12-12The car was taken to the garage to replace the wheels (winter wheels). The cost includes the storage of the wheels.   33'500 21'00049.70 55.00770.40 822.85
2013-12-12The car refuses to start. A diagnostic message on the dashboard claims the car cannot be started as long as the steering wheel is locked. However the steering wheel is perfectly free. This is likely the problem already mentionned twice to the garage of the steering column lock. A few hits on the wheel and it starts. This happens from time to time. What a lemon! Unfortunately no lemon law in Switzerland otherwise with all the issues with the ACC, then the steering lock, there would be something to do.   33'500 21'000 0.00770.40 822.85
2015-01-1535'000 km service.   35'500 22'200204.05 203.00974.45 1025.85
2015-12-15For the last few months, the car seems to finally work normally, but it could not last. The roof once opened no longer closes - an inconvenience in December. It can be closed, but needs to be pushed by hand. Visit to the garage, and ~$200 later and a sensor adjusted, all works again.   50'000 31'075198.65 200.201173.10 1226.05
2015-12-17New summer tires for this spring, wheels change and storage.   50'500 31'3851019.30 1026.302191.40 2052.15
2017-05-1770'000 km (43500 mi) and this is where i stop this blog. In the meantime, I had to get the oilpan of the gearbox replaced. When I made the remark to the mechanic that it was surprising that BMW could not make seals that did not leak, he replied that it is not so much the seal, but the oil pan, made of plastic that deforms with time causing the leak. Dammage: CHF 1500.- ($1500.- these days). I still have to get the gas pump replaced as it is noisy (another 1500.-). The auxillary heater (used to warm up the cabin in winter) no longer works (it was an expensive option). More expensive repairs I guess... In short, it really is a lemon... and a bottomless pit for money.   70'000