My BMW doesn’t work! Why won’t they fix it?

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By Christopher Elliott

Jim Ogden’s new BMW is a lemon, but he can’t get his dealership to fix it or take the car back. What are his options?

Question

I purchased a used 2023 M240i Coupe with 3,200 miles and a full factory warranty recently from Stevens Creek BMW in Santa Clara, Calif. After completing the transaction, but before even leaving the lot, the technician who was demonstrating the operation of the car was not able to connect the car to my BMW “ConnectedDrive” account.

The dealer advised me to wait another day for BMW to connect my account and see if the problem resolved itself. It did not.

Fast forward to today. The car has been in the service department for the last six weeks. Since taking the car to the shop, the problems have gotten almost infinitely worse. The dealer has replaced the instrument console and other electronic modules. The current status, according to the service department, is that “the car has four modules that will not code,” including the new instrument panel. 

They have been unable to repair the vehicle and have turned the car over to BMW, where it has been for several weeks. There is no ETA for a fix. 

The dealership has made it crystal clear that it will not take any responsibility for the car and that this is between me and BMW. The general manager at the dealership advised me that the car meets all the requirements for a buyback and advised me to contact BMW and start the buyback process.

I made the buyback request to BMW last week and am supposed to hear back this week but am not optimistic. Since then, I have contacted several reputable lemon lawyers for advice dealing with BMW. To my surprise, all told me variations of the same thing: I’d have a great case if the car were brand new, but they will not take on any cases of used cars, and my odds with BMW are very low. Can you help? — Jim Ogden, Los Gatos, Calif.

Answer

The M240i Coupe is a gorgeous car, and I commend you on an excellent choice. A non-working M240i Coupe, however, is not an excellent choice. But you had a red flag or two before you even drove the vehicle off the lot. 

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I run into this issue with rental cars all the time, and my advice is the same: If something is wrong with the car, do not accept it. You could have ripped up the contract and walked away, and maybe you should have.

I’ve purchased a few cars in my lifetime, and the fact that they were selling you a vehicle with just 3,200 miles on it should have also raised a red flag.

But that’s not the only sign of trouble.

How to tell something is wrong with your new car

When you’re shopping for a new car, you have to be on your guard for a lemon. Here are the warning signs:

The “check engine” light is flashing

If you’re taking a new car for a test drive and the engine light illuminates, take it back. Immediately. An illuminated “check engine” light on the dashboard can indicate a variety of problems, from a loose gas cap to a serious issue with the engine or transmission. Do not buy the vehicle. (Related: These car gadgets will help you easily get organized.)

The car is making funny sounds

If the vehicle makes strange noises while running, such as knocking, clunking, or grinding, it may be a sign of serious trouble. The car might have engine trouble, there may be a problem with the transmission or even the brakes. Don’t ignore these warning signs.

Low tire pressure warning

Best-case scenario, someone forgot to fill the tires. Worst-case scenario, there’s a problem with the monitoring system for tire pressure. Don’t allow a salesperson to explain it away and promise to fix it. Find another vehicle.

Oil leak

Look for any signs of oil leaks around the engine. Even small drops of oil can add up over time and lead to costly repairs. If you see a puddle of oil when you pull the car out of its spot, you might be test-driving the wrong vehicle.

Pushy salespeople

If the salesperson is trying to rush you into buying the car by telling you there’s a “today only” sale or another interested party, you should think twice before buying. Take your time, ask questions, and don’t let anyone pressure you into signing a contract until you’re satisfied with the condition of the vehicle. (Related: You don’t need this: How to say “no” to a sales pitch — and mean it.)

By being vigilant and taking the time to thoroughly inspect the vehicle, you can avoid purchasing a bad car and ensure years of trouble-free driving. Remember, it’s always better to err on the side of caution when investing in a new set of wheels.

Will BMW buy your car back?

I would have wondered what BMW used the car for. Was it a courtesy vehicle? Or did someone return it after driving 3,200 miles because something was wrong with it? I might want to get a straight answer — as well as any relevant repair records — from the dealership before buying the car.

You can get a deal on a used car from time to time. I once bought a car with just 1,000 miles for a price that seemed too good to be true. I found out later that the dealership owner’s wife had used it as her personal car and just didn’t like it. The likely reason? The model was being discontinued. (Related: Time to buy? Here’s what the salespeople won’t tell you.)

The fact that your car was pre-owned should have had no bearing on its warranty, which would have covered all your repairs. But clearly, BMW should have taken the car back if it was so deeply flawed. We’ve had a few complaints about BMW in the past, including one customer who had a problem with her title. But they are few and far between. The company fixes most customer service problems when you appeal to one of the executive customer service contacts at BMW. I publish the names on my advocacy site, Elliott.org. (Here’s our guide to contacting the CEO directly.)

My advocacy team and I contacted BMW on your behalf. The company agreed to take your car back and offered a discount on a new vehicle, which you accepted.

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter.

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