Best Used BMW’s Under $20,000
Zach is a BMW enthusiast with a passion for performance. With over 10 years of experience modifying and performing DIY work on BMWs, he’s developed a deep understanding of virtually every BMW engine. He’s also the proud owner of a 600whp N54 with upgraded twin turbos and an E30 325i drift car and has a particular affinity for the S58 engine. Zach is highly knowledgeable about all things BMW, but his expertise in tuning and performance mods sets him apart. His experience as an enthusiast, combined with his technical knowledge, makes him an essential resource for anyone looking to improve the performance of their BMW.
Are you in the market for a used BMW for around $20,000 or less? Plenty of BMW’s come in around that price point, which can make it overwhelming to decide where to start. In this article, we’ll dive into some of the best used BMW’s for less than 20k. However, it’s important to note – this is far from an exhaustive list. There are too many possible options to discuss and best is subjective. Anyways, this article is intended to function as a good starting point to get your research underway.
*If you’re looking to stick to a slightly lower budget we have an article for the best used BMW’s under $10,000 here.
Things To Consider Before Buying
The scope of BMW’s available for less than $20,000 is pretty large. Some higher-end and desirable BMW’s under 20k are going to be 10-15+ years old. For example, a lot of M3 models are still worth close to $20k even when they’re 15 years old with 100k+ miles. However, the price range we’re looking at also allows room for some newer models that are only several years old. They’re generally going to be your smaller, lower-end models like the 320i, 328i, 330i. These used BMW’s can be great choices for many.
What we’re getting at is this – have some sort of idea what year, mileage, performance, etc you’re looking for. Sportier models are usually older and higher mileage at this price point. That can bring on a lot of reliability and maintenance concerns. The last thing you want to do is stretch the budget and then find yourself with a car in need of thousands in repairs.
We’ll touch on reliability as we move through some of our favorite used BMW’s under $20,000. If you’re set on an older car it’s important to check if some common problems were addressed by previous owners. Of course, for the DIY crowd you can find some amazing BMW’s for great deals if you’re willing to spend some time wrenching.
1) Used BMW’s Under 20k – E46 M3
We can’t think of a much better BMW than the legendary E46 M3 to kick off this article. Model years for the E46 M3 range from 2001 to 2006, so we’re talking about a 15-20 year old car. Due to the age it’s definitely not for everyone. However, it’s hard to deny that an M3 offers the full package when it comes to a fun performance car.
It’s not impossible to find a clean E46 M3 with under 100k miles in the $17-20k ballpark. However, it may take some time and patience to track down the right M3 for less than 20k. Plenty of options exist if you’re willing to stretch beyond 100,000 miles, though.
Why the E46 M3 Makes The List
Many love and respect the E46 for its modest size compared to modern cars. One look at the F80, F82, G80, or G82 M3/M4 models and the size difference is evident. Some consider the E46 M3 among the brands bests for that very reason. It was built back when the M3 was truly intended to be the “ultimate driving machine.” That’s not to say modern M3 models aren’t excellent, too. It’s just a new ballgame where bigger, heavier, more luxurious M3’s are becoming the norm.
Anyways, back on track. We believe the E46 has aged well. It’s small, light, and offers a very respectable 338hp and 269tq. As an M car it also has all of the other desirable specs like a limited slip differential and sporty suspension. The E46 makes the list of best used BMW’s under $20,000 for good reason. It’s without question the best pure drivers car on this list.
What to Look For Before Buying An E46 M3
BMW M3 models of the era use the S54 3.2L inline-6 engine. As a naturally aspirated inline-6 engine it offers simplicity and pretty good reliability. However, age and mileage are big factors here. It’s definitely going to require a little extra TLC compared to newer BMW’s. Look for a clean E46 M3 with a good maintenance history. Also, check to see if these repairs were completed:
- Water pump
- Rod bearings
These are a couple common issues with the E46 M3. Check out our BMW S54 common problems guide to learn more about E46 M3 reliability. The SMG transmission are known to be a bit problematic, so a 6MT is a good idea. It will also add to the fun and joy of driving an M3, in our opinion.
2) Best BMW’s Under $20,000 – F15 X5
It wouldn’t be a complete list without at least one mention of an X model BMW. We understand an X3 or X5 might not be what everyone thinks of when they hear the brand. However, it’s hard to argue an X5 is a bad option as an exciting performance-oriented daily driver. The F15 was available from 2014-2018 and offers a handful of engine choices.
Given this is a larger, higher-end BMW that still fairly new it might be a small budget stretch. Some 2014 and 2015 models do come in just under the 20k price point, but they’re usually going to have about 100-150k miles. Up the budget a few thousand and you’ll find a lot more options. Additionally, an F25 X3 is a good option if you don’t need the size and extra features of the X5.
Why The F15 X5 Makes The List
For one, it’s the most practical family car and daily driver on our list of the best used BMW’s under $20,000. X5 35i models are the base engine option, which is the N55 3.0L turbo inline-6. It delivers 300hp and 300tq, which is a good amount of performance for an SUV. There’s also the 50i which uses a twin turbo V8 delivering a staggering 444hp (they’re typically a bit more expensive, though).
Plenty of space, good power, sporty handling, AWD, towing capability, etc. Add it all together and the X5 is a very capable family car and daily driver. It also offers enough performance to be a fun car when you don’t need the rest.
What to Look For Before Buying An F15 X5
Reliability is likely one of the biggest downsides to an X5 model. The gasoline engine options are the N55 or N63. Below are some articles to common problems with both of these BMW engines.
Fortunately, the F15 X5 uses the newer N63TU engine which is typically more reliable than the original N63. However, both the N55 and N63 still have common issues with the cooling systems and oil leaks. As a larger luxury car there’s also more technology and electrical stuff that occasionally has little gremlins to work out.
Especially when looking at 2014-2015 models they’re getting to the age and mileage that oil leaks start popping up. It’s not all bad, though. These engines can be reliable, and most repairs are cheap for capable DIY’ers.
3) Best Used BMW’s Under $20k – F10 535i
The F10 535i is a bit of a wildcard on this list. It’s another pretty large car with a bit more focus on luxury rather than all-out performance. However, the 535i is powered by the N55 3.0L turbo engine. It offers 300hp and 300tq with lots of options to tune and mod the car. Making 400+ horsepower with a few basic bolt-on mods is very possible.
It’s also easy to find the F10 for less than $20,000 since they came out in 2011. A lot of 2011-2014 models with less than 80,000 miles can be had for less than $20k.
Why The F10 535i Makes the List
Some may wonder why we went with the F10 535i instead of a smaller, sportier model. We gave a shoutout to the E90/E92 335i in the article about the best used BMW’s under 10k. The newer F30 335i and F32 435i didn’t come out until 2014, so they can be a bit of a budget stretch at $20k. That said, they’re both great choices if you’re not sold on something as big as the 535i.
Anyways, back to the F10 535i itself. We already touched on this some, but the N55 engine delivers good performance with tons of aftermarket potential. Despite its large size the 535i still offers nimble handling. Combine that with a spacious and luxurious interior and the F10 is a pretty good value overall.
What To Look For Before Buying An F10 535i
We discussed the N55 engine a little bit in the previous section about the F15 X5. It’s an improvement over the older N54, but still not the most reliable BMW engine around. Oil leaks and cooling system issues are commonplace, especially north of 6-8 years old and 80,000 miles.
A 5-series may also come with some extra reliability concerns over the smaller 3 and 4-series BMW’s. The extra tech and electronics can cause some headaches. Maintain these cars well, and they can still offer pretty good reliability. If reliability is a big concern of yours then the next car on the list might be a safe bet.
4) Used BMW’s Under $20,000 – F30 330i
BMW F30 330i models certainly are not the most capable performers on this list. They use the B48 inline-4 turbo engine with 248hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. Still not bad numbers for a relatively small, light-weight car. A tune and bolt-ons can also boost these engines to 300+ horsepower. The 330i is a pretty basic BMW, but it’s still on the list for good reasons.
The F30 330i was first released in 2017, so it’s the newest car we’re discussing. 2017 models can be had for about $16-20k, and many of them are under 50,000 miles. Stretch the budget to just over 20k and you can find some 330i’s that still have a bit of factory warranty left. You might even find CPO models from BMW, which often come with 1 extra year of unlimited mile warranty (beginning once the original warranty expires).
Why The F30 330i Makes The List
Age is a huge factor in the 330i making this list. It’s a pretty basic BMW, but that’s not a bad thing. The F30 is still nimble and fun to drive with enough power for many owners. Those looking for more can throw on a few mods to push the power north of 300hp.
These cars are also well within the $20,000 price range, and some are even CPO with extra warranty coverage. We also believe the B48 engine in the 330i is one of the most reliable BMW engines of the 2000’s era. Solid performance and handling coupled with age and reliability earn the F30 330i a spot on the best used BMW’s under $20k.
What To Look For Before Buying An F30 330i
There really isn’t too much to discuss at this point in time. B48 engines are proving to be pretty reliable, but they’re still new engines since they were just introduced in 2017. There are some reports of coolant loss and potential balance shaft problems. However, it’s too early to tell the full scope of these issues.
Otherwise, as these engines age we suspect some of the typical cooling system and oil leak problems will develop. BMW did change some designs and re-work a lot of that stuff, though. Hopefully it all holds up well and these engines remain reliable for the long-term, too.
Best BMW’s Under 20k Summary
As we mentioned, this is by no means an exhaustive list of all possible BMW’s under the $20,000 price point. There are just so many different options that cover the full spectrum. Old, new, high-performance, basic, SUV’s, coupes, sedans, hatchbacks, etc. All of these BMW’s and then some fall in the sub 20k price range.
This list is really intended to hopefully serve as a good starting point for those looking for used BMW’s. Anyways, we believe the above options are among the best BMW’s for less than $20k. They all have something different to offer, so it really just comes down to personal preference.
What are you favorite BMW’s for less than $20,000? Which BMW are you considering?
Drop a comment and let us know!
Great post. F15 is my favorite generation! I love my 2015 F15 35i MSport. It’s been super reliable and a fun family car to drive. Awesome vehicle!