There are many jobs on BMWs that require a huge amount of patience, experience and skill; but probably the hardest task on a BMW is being the middle-man between a broke college kid and their parents when things go wrong.  Luckily it is not an everyday occurrence, but I’m smack-dab in the middle of a bad one and it happens often enough that I feel obligated to discuss it.  I’m the moderator between two parties right now. . .


The collegiate bought a 1998 3-series without having it looked over by a qualified mechanic.  This car is a crap shoot as you can get a decent car at a decent price, but are still expensive to repair and time and mileage haven’t always been kind to the e36 3-series.  He brought the car to us to check it over a bit about a month after purchase and he lucked out in many ways.  Bought a manual transmission car with low miles and a clean interior.  The bad thing was that the car hadn’t seen the best maintenance and the cooling system was on some serious borrowed time. I advised him to take care of the cooling system asap and to have an Inspection II done as soon as possible.  All this totals about $1600, maybe more if I found some issues during the inspection that needed attention.

This is where it gets bad.  College kid doesn’t want to cost his parents any more money and also wants the car purchase to be a successful one.  I’m pretty sure he doesn’t have $1600-2000 to drop on the car as I was broke when I was in college.  He probably doesn’t want to call his parents and discuss why he bought a $4600 car that needs another $2000 in work.  So the car gets no attention and the situation gets dangerous.


Three months later the car comes into the shop with a blown radiator and no coolant in the system. Not good.  As I discussed before, the chances of the cylinder head surviving this incident aren’t good.  However, the first step is to repair the cooling system, get the car to hold coolant under pressure and see how the engine does when it fires up again.  Unfortunately in this case, the cylinder head will need to be replaced as the engine is consuming a massive amount of coolant.  This is where my job gets tough.

Parents are pretty understanding these days, more so than when I was in college.  But the communication break-down between kids and their parents still seems to remain.  Before the colling system job, the collegiate was informed that it was potentially only the first step in what might lead to a cylinder head job, which pushes us into spending another $3000.  Three months ago he was told this as well but chose not to address the issues with the car.  However, as far as I can tell, this tiny bit of information was never passed on to his parents who I come to find are going to be footing the bill.  Guess who is starting to become the bad guy?

After about an hour long consult/diffusing phone call to his parents we decide to examine the entire car to determine the condition of the rest of the BMW before making the decision to fix it or cut the losses.  The car needs about another $1500 in addition to the cylinder head problem which is now pushing the total cost past $5000 in repairs.  ALL OF THIS COULD HAVE BEEN AVOIDED!!

If you are considering buying your college student a car, or if they come to you for advice when considering their first car purchase, do a lot of homework.  BMWs aren’t always the best choice, in fact they are usually a bad idea for a college kid that doesn’t have a whole lot of cash laying around.  Regardless of the make and year, insist that the car be checked out by a qualified technician before it is purchased.  Most important, make sure that you develop a clear line of communication between your son/daughter and the shop that they are taking it to if you are the one paying the bills.

This BMW actually started out as a good car to own.  The price was very reasonable given the year and mileage, and at the time it needed only about $2200 worth of work to make it pretty darn near perfect.  In this particular case, bad planning and poor communication will result in a $3000 loss.  And my job hasn’t gotten any easier . . .


Chris Keefer

Independent Motorcars

5836 Autoport Mall

San Diego CA 92121