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Should you take home a CPO BMW?

Is a BMW CPO worth the added expense when you purchase one? I grab a 2019 540i and see if i makes a difference.


Welcome to a special edition of the mailbag. Over the past year or so, I’ve gotten many emails that all ask a very similar question: is a CPO BMW worth it? This article will explain the pros and cons of going for a certified BMW.

I’m going to bring along my good friend Tony’s beautiful “new” 2019 540i. Tony’s F10 550i was sadly destroyed last year, (another casualty of an inattentive driver) and this new G30 has replaced it.

What is a CPO BMW?

BMW 540i CPO
This is a CPO 2019 540i that we’ll use as a reference case.

The question sort of answers itself. A CPO, or Certified Pre-Owned, BMW is a relatively new BMW that has more than 300 miles on it, but less than 60,000. BMW takes these cars (usually off leases), and gives them a look over to make sure they will not fall apart the moment you drive away. Then they slap on an additional year of warranty to whatever is left of the original four-year, 50,000-mile one. Only BMW dealers can sell a CPO BMW.

For this honor, you get to pay a bit more on the sticker price, so don’t think that peace of mind is free.

How well does BMW look over CPO cars?

BMW 540i CPO
A majority of CPO cars I’ve come across are clean.

There are so many variations of used cars that people turn in. Obviously, a BMW with 300 miles on it, perhaps a demo car or returned because the owner wanted a “prettier interior” – those are peaches. Think of them as a slightly discounted new toy.

On the other side of the spectrum, maybe you’ve found a CPO X5 with 55,000 miles. BMW has likely changed the tires, brakes, replaced any worn drive belts, fluids…the car won’t feel “like new”, but it should be in very nice condition. You can absolutely ask the dealer for a report as to what was changed before you buy. The CarFax report may also show it, but the report is only as good as what the dealer puts into the computer.

BMW 540i CPO
Missing is the LCI treatment on this G30.

In this instance, Tony’s 540i had 28,000 miles when purchased, and it’s a great spec to review because it fits the majority of CPO purchases (i.e., right in the middle).

BMW says they give their cars a “360-point inspection”, which is just a psychologically satisfying number related to 360 degrees. They don’t wave a light saber over the car and knight it. Some BMW techs are great, and some are not, so it depends on who’s working the car over.

Are there any BMWs that can’t be certified?

BMW 540i CPO
Not every BMW is certified, but then not every BMW fits the criteria.

Those with more than one owner, extensive damage history, or cars repaired with non-BMW parts cannot be certified. This is part of that peace-of-mind you pay for. Who knows what the previous owner drove into and needed to fix. Is that a BMW exhaust, or the “DMW” brand? You’re paying for a BMW, so the cars should reflect that by using genuine parts.

They used to be a bit more picky though, so I’d still recommend a PPI, or pre-purchase inspection. Previously, they only allowed cars with clean CarFax reports, and now the website says “We review each vehicle’s CARFAX or AutoCheck report, and ensure that it has genuine BMW parts, plus an up-to-date maintenance history.”

Don’t be afraid of that – my X3 M40i was rear-ended by a teenager who wasn’t paying attention (do I sound like a broken record yet?), so it now has a “history”, but is otherwise spotless. Review each car on a case-by-case basis. Same goes for my old X3 30i – whoever snagged that one got a terrific CPO car.

BMW 540i CPO
Is the interior clean, or are there a lot of wear marks?

Does that mean CPO BMWs are better?

BMW 540i CPO
Canberra Beige Sensatec usually wears well vs leather.

Not always. If you really like a car and it isn’t certified, ask the dealer if you can have your shop take a look. Or complete a PPI as stated above.

Inspections can cost money, so factor that in. A CPO BMW won’t break down in two days, and if it does you have recourse to fix it. A 5 Series purchased off a random lot is a bit more of a risk.

Tony’s 540i has been flawless, but my 335i was CPO, and it leaked more than your grand dad’s underpants. BMW isn’t dissembling the entire car before selling to you, so be aware of a model’s shortcomings. No one should be surprised when an N55 leaks oil, certified or not.

How can I find a CPO BMW?

Easy – head to their website, here.

That doesn’t mean that is a dealer’s entire used inventory, simply the certified ones.

Can I have BMW certify a car for me?

BMW 540i CPO
BMW can certify any car that fits the rules.

If it fits the general criteria listed above, yes, they can certify a BMW for you, but they will charge you for it.

Does BMW certify M cars?

BMW 540i CPO
There’s no M magic that makes them so much different than a regular Series car mechanically.

Sure. There is no black magic under the hood of an M5. But be aware that M cars are driven harder and thus, might need more attention as they age.

How extensive is the BMW CPO warranty?

BMW 540i CPO
The B58 is pretty bullet proof, but always check for leaks.

It will cover the entire car for an additional year after the original warranty is up, but excludes plenty. Need a new battery? Not covered. New brakes? Ditto. The chances that you’ll need these things is higher simply because the car is older.

If tires have a certain amount of rubber left on them, even if they are right at the limit, BMW will leave them. So check the wear bars, ask how much life the brake pads have left – be thorough.

The body too – not perfect. Expect rock chips, minor dings and dents, etc. Be sure the car you’re looking at is one you can live with.

All this means that you might be buying a “new” (and still expensive) car to you, but it is by no means factory fresh. You might need to put money into it just a few months after purchase.

BMW CPO financing

BMW 540i CPO
This was once a $70,000 car.

One other important element is that BMW offers decent rates if you wish to finance directly through them, along with incentives for loyal customers and other discounts. It is possible to offset the cost of a CPO car if purchasing through BMW.

You can’t get a free driving school class with a CPO purchase, though the CCA does offer a minor discount, usually around $250.

This 2019 BMW 540i xDrive

BMW 540i CPO
This is a 2019 540i with about 28,000 miles when purchased.

I’ll use this 2019 5 Series as a bit of a case study. Absolutely no two BMWs are alike, so it’s hard to find a direct comparison. This 2019 has a few elements that raise the price, namely the M Sport appearance package, gloss black grilles, and gloss black wheels. However, it is pre-LCI, so it gets an older iDrive and only semi-digital dash. Other specs include:

  • 28,000 miles when purchased
  • $48k original dealer asking price, with a discount of over $5,000 after the usual dealer antics.

The car has since had its windows tinted. By comparison, here’s another 2019 540i. A nation-wide search indicates just a handful available, and other pre-LCI model years are very similar. It can be hard to find M Sport-equipped cars, as they are more popular. Tony’s 540 is likely a bit higher because we’re in the north east, and those gloss black elements are desired among the Bimmer faithful.

The depreciation is real

BMW 540i CPO
The steering wheel on these cars is almost always in bad shape, but you can clean them up.
BMW 540i CPO
Seat bolsters are a common issue.

To get Tony’s G30 as a brand new car today, the sticker would be pushing $70,000. That means in three years, the 5 Series lost $30,000 of value, or 42%.

The original owner always takes the biggest depreciation hit, making a good case for this car’s resale value. No, it’s not an LCI (granted, a big improvement in this particular BMW), but if you can live without that, even the most badly behaved BMW won’t cost $30,000 in maintenance.

BMW 540i CPO
Door pulls and buttons can also show wear.

My own BMW CPO experience

The CPO warranty saved me multiple thousands of dollars on the 335i.

I first had a 2015 F10 528i xDrive that was CPO and purchased with 12,000 miles. In just over 2 years, my family accumulated almost 80,000 miles on the car. A seal on the rear xDrive differential was leaking, but beyond that, it was a great car that gave us zero issues.

The 335i’s problems are well documented, but I will share this: the car had some dings on the body I found unacceptable for a car still costing $35,000, and the brakes were shot. They replaced them for free, but I could have done without the back and forth.

The N55 is a notorious engine that proved the point during the 335’s ownership stay with me.

Neither car was what I’d call my “dream” spec – especially Glacier Silver Metallic on the 3 Series. But all things considered, my CPO experiences were pleasant ones. I’d do it again if needed.

How to do a Pre-Purchase inspection on a BMW

BMW 540i CPO
Check for rock chips and small rubs.
BMW 540i CPO
Check the wear bar on the tires, seen here poking from between the out main treads.

There are a million reasons why a PPI isn’t always possible. Like your last bad date, if it doesn’t feel right, don’t take it home.

But I get it – hard to find what you want, and the price is right, and you reallly want it. So here’s a checklist of things I look for.

  • Check the wear bars on the tires, which are those little strips you see inside the tread. If the tread depth is close to that little bar, the tires need to be replaced.
  • Check over the front end for any big chips or cracks in the body work or headlights. You’ll find plenty of rock chips, but big ones should be addressed on a CPO car.
  • Look carefully at the leather seats, especially the driver’s side bolster. Excessive wear will cause it to crack sooner.
  • The steering wheels on these cars always looks like crap – decide if it’s really worn, or simply needs a good AMMO scrub.
  • Drive the car to make sure the rotors are not warped. If there’s any pulsing, ask the dealer to replace them.
  • Finally, pop the hood. See anything leaking? Belts squeaking? Anything that looks like it might have leaked, but was since cleaned? And does it smell like coolant? A little is ok, a lot could be an issue.

And don’t let the greasy salesman pressure you. It might be their time, but it’s your money.

BMW 540i CPO
Gloss black accents and the M Sport Package can up the price.
BMW 540i CPO
Are the body panels straight? Check everything carefully with your own eyes.
BMW 540i CPO
Older iDrives are common, but with Apple CarPlay, does it really matter?

So, is a CPO BMW worth it?

Like a casino, BMW wouldn’t offer this if they didn’t come out the winner nine times out of ten. They are banking on the car being fine for the 18 months or so that it’s covered. Most of the time, that’s true.

Trying to organize a PPI through a dealership can sometime be a hassle, and knowing the most expensive elements of your car are covered will allow you to sleep safe at night. Purchasing an extended warranty can cost upwards of $5,000 on these cars, so getting a CPO one for an additional few grand over a non-CPO BMW isn’t so terrible.

Some dealers are more extensive in their checkups, but you do have BMW of North America to contact if something drastic goes wrong.

All that said, a non-CPO BMW should not scare you as long as you know what you’re getting into. All the precautions still apply.

You might love it the minute you take it home, but this is still a stranger’s car, and you don’t know if it was owned by Captain Slow or Clarkson. If you can swing it, take the CPO option.

And welcome to the family.

BMW 540i CPO
There’s no such thing as the perfect used car, but CPO cars can make it a more palatable experience.

Special thanks to Tony from the University of Don’t Be Stupid.

Want your car reviewed?

If you live in the tri-state area and want me to check it out, send me an email! 

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