I am considering purchasing a second vehicle and am looking at a 2001 BMW 325i with an automatic transmission; however, I have heard mixed reviews of the automatic transmission in BMWs. Is there any reason to think that an automatic transmission is less reliable (more likely to break requiring a costly fix) versus a manual transmission in the same vehicle?

Especially so at 100k+ miles

If so, at the risk of asking two questions, it would be nice to know what causes this lack in reliability

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    I don't know if reliable data can be gathered to put a stake in the ground. Answers will tend to be very subjective. You may want to reward your question into what are the pro's and con's of the bmw automatic transmission and the manual or I believe the close hammer will come down upon thee. Cheers. Feb 25, 2016 at 6:45

2 Answers 2


15 year old car with 100k+ miles will eventually have many problems. I had 2005 Audi A4 2.0 Turbo diesel and when I sold it in 2012, it had 162k miles on it. The reason I sold it was because, it needed the entire cooling system to be replaced as well as automatic windows and many electronic parts. Usually gearbox and engine are the most durable parts of the car if they are regularly serviced and well taken care of. You will have to replace many parts before it's engine's and gearbox's turn.

As for manual vs automatic. Manual is low cost maintanence in case of problems compared to automatic. However, if the manual car is badly driven, you will experience a lot of problems with the gears themselves. I would suggest replacing the clutch as soon as possible after you buy the car since it is 15 years old. It will make a smoother drive. Why automatic is more costly to fix than manual is because automatic is a more complicated and closed system compared to the manual. Also, there are more aftermarket parts available for manual transmission than automatic. (Eg. Clutch, lever, gear etc).

Also, I would like to remind you that bimmers are needy cars. You have to take care of the, well. I currently drive a 2014 X5 and I had to get the electronic components of the air suspension replaced due to cold weather. (Below -10F)

  • I would say changing the clutch immediately after buying is terrible advice. You don't know if it has been replaced before. And why would you do it if it causes no problems anyways? Either way, manual transmissions are cheaper to repair, that is true. Feb 25, 2016 at 11:38
  • I assumed that the transmission has not undergone any repairs or any parts replaced. My suggestion was regarding that the manual does not feel smooth, and new clutch would make it more comfortable. But you are right @IhavenoideawhatI'mdoing. Feb 25, 2016 at 12:14
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    5th gear popout on an early 90's Nissan SR20DE was not a cheap repair. Replacing an auto on a 2004 Corolla was cheaper than any repair would've been on any transmission. It depends strongly on the circumstances surrounding the repair for what costs less. Feb 25, 2016 at 13:08

Simply put, no. There is nothing to suggest that in general BMW automatics are any more or less reliable than their manual transmissions. Just looking at how many used BMWs are for sales with more than 200k miles suggests that major drivetrain problems are not common.

Individual cases of transmission reliability depend strongly on that specific generation of transmission. There was a generation of Honda Accords which had major transmission problems, but that really doesn't mean anything regarding the reliability of Honda Accord transmissions of other generations. The same can be said of many different vehicle makes and models, and I'm sure is true of BMW.

More specifically regarding the car in question, E46 autos in 99 and 2000 had problems with reverse going out, but that was eventually resolved and no major failure rates were reported in newer E46s. That common failure happened well before 100k miles, so if the car has reverse when you look at it, you're probably in good shape.

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