Half-Price Bimmer: The Story Of A Man And His Search For The Perfect E60

Jack Baruth
by Jack Baruth

Wherever the hollow tubes of the InterWeb may reach, there you will find the argument that “it’s always a better idea to buy a CPO used car than a new one.” The mean transaction price of a new car in the United States is about $29,000. That kind of money will get you a loaded-up Camcord, a discounted LaCrosse, or any number of other mass-market sedans… but can it get you the BMW of your dreams? A friend and former co-worker of mine decided to find out, using his own time and money.

(Dramatic voice) This… is his story.

My search is over; now the love affair can officially begin. I had decided on the 535xi because it falls into an unbelievable sweet spot for me. It has the twin-turbo inline six (that eliminated the 2007 5-series and the 2008/9 528xi). It could be found for around $30,000 with the CPO warranty (that eliminated the 550). It has the room to seat four adults comfortably (that eliminated the 335xi). It has the AWD (which eliminated older 650’s, M3s, and M5’s). And it has looks, tech, and power.

So then came the comparison stage, how to compare nearly one hundred 2008’s and 2009’s? After flailing about for a few days and repeatedly confusing cars, I settled on a grid analysis which would score each car on the criteria I considered important; price, miles, exterior color, interior color, premium pkg, cold-weather pkg, sport pkg, heated rear sets, navigation, carfax, CPO warranty end date, etc. Then I weighted each of these criteria based on their necessity. That process gave me a score for each car.

Not knowing what I would say or how the conversation would go, I nervously dialed the dealer that had my top-scoring Bimmer. After I made every mistake that a novice buyer can make in the first five minutes (including naming my price), the salesman told me the car was still on the lot but appeared to have been sold the previous Saturday. WHAT?! Impossible. I was certain he was blowing me off because I had asked for a pre-purchase inspection (PPI). I had a friend with a cell phone in a different area code call and ask about the car. Sold. Damn.

I got a little desperate, calling three dealerships, naming my price, confirming that the options listed in the ad were correct. I focused on cars that had been on the lot for a while, thinking maybe I could negotiate thousands off the price as the dealer would be glad to be rid of it. Not so. A particularly fetching Monaco Blue Metallic w/Natural Brown leather was firm at $32,000 even though it had been available for more than four months. It can’t go any lower, I was told, that’s what we have in the car. What a shame. Oh well, on to the next one.

After another near miss where I ended up perhaps being a bit too eager to buy what was, in retrospect, the wrong car, I cooled it on the phone calls for a few days. All incoming calls from the circling sharks were put off with lame excuses, just enough to get them off the phone. I’m sure I was labeled “luke-warm” on Post-It notes in New Jersey, Michigan, North Carolina, and New York. I deleted my initial grid analysis and started over.

I scrutinized my weightings; asking questions like, do I really care more about the cold-weather package than the CPO warranty end date, and do I care about Nav at all? Also, in this interval I dug into the 535, learning about the HPFP problems, the gremlins in the electronics, warrantied items, and perhaps more important, those items that are not warrantied; like the batteries (foreshadowing). I investigated independent BMW shops, locally and near dealerships I might call. I began reading articles on the psychology employed by salesmen. I learned the techniques that supposedly counter these tactics (silence is big). I compared Fair Market Value (FMV) on KBB’s and NADA’s websites to the Dealer trade-in price. I decided I would be myself; honest and direct. This may seem idiotic, but I have always been uncomfortable when I stray from the truth (though I still sometimes do). I simply refused to believe that I had to lie to succeed.

Now I was ready, renewed, and excited to start again. Maybe I was just a little wiser…maybe. At the top of the list were two; one a 2008, the other a 2009, both blue, both with brown leather, both with sport, cold-weather, and premium packages. The differences were small and/or inconsequential; the 2009 had fewer miles and a longer CPO warranty, and the 2008 had the 18″ wheels. The asking prices were just $200 apart. What swayed me toward the 2008 initially was BMW Financial’s incentives; first two payments and 1.9% APR for 48 months. The 2009 had a respectable offer of 2.9% APR for 48 months. At this point it was February 21st.

I called on the 2008. In my confusion, I had forgotten it was one I had already called on. The price had come down $900 to $32,000 and Bob, the salesman, was emphatic that they needed to get that out of the car just to break even. I was skeptical, and I was armed with some pretty good (as it turned out) estimates of what they paid, and what they put into the car to recondition it for CPO status. I knew how long the car had been on the lot. Finally, I knew that there were other cars. This last bit of knowledge proved to be the most crucial.

I was working against a clock, as well. Due to the impending expiration of the incentives and the 400-mile distance between me and the dealership, the upcoming Saturday, February 29, was the only day I could buy this car.

I explained to Bob that I would not buy the car without a PPI. He responded with details about the CPO program, and the singular excellence of this car. His sales manager was more direct: no PPI, period. I called on the other car, and was told that a PPI would be no problem. The next day, Wednesday, Bob called back. The CFO is involved, he said, and a PPI can be done if I’ll put down a deposit. Refundable? Yes. Done. Paperwork was faxed, signed, and returned. Interestingly, the paperwork I was asked to sign included the $32,000 price tag. I suppose they wanted me to think I had agreed to the price by signing. I was also asked to apply for the BMW financing. I guess they wanted to know if they would be able to sell me a car. (I think asking for the financing worked against them as you’ll see later on.) The inspection was scheduled for Friday morning, February 24th.

Thanks to a busy morning at work, I didn’t see the results of the inspection until 11:30 AM. Codes pulled from the computer showed 11 separate items. Uh oh. “Not to worry,” said the inspector, “I think it is all due to a dying battery. Ask them to replace it.”

Now I’ve got a problem. Maybe all of those codes are battery-related, but what if they aren’t? The timeframe is too short to replace the battery, recalibrate the ECU, and pull the codes again. I decided to ask for battery replacement and $1000 off the car. I was convinced the price was too high, and now I had a solid reason. Bob, who had repeatedly told me that he stood to make nothing off this car, stated that they wouldn’t give that much. Maybe the battery, but a grand on top was too much. “I will buy the car if you’ll do it,” I stated. The answer: No deal. End of the adventure.

I didn’t bother to call on the 2009. That could wait until the following week. The pressure that had built all week evaporated in an instant. I was disappointed, but I felt confident I had done the right thing. I’m pretty sure they were banking on using my desire for the car and my commitment to the process against me. I’m still not sorry I expressed how much I wanted the car. A month of research had tempered my enthusiasm. They just didn’t know that. Then the phone rang. I felt the anger start to build the moment I saw the number of the dealership come up on the caller ID. Didn’t they know that this was over, at least as far as I was concerned? Three rings went by, and I almost let it go to voice mail. Almost.

“It’s Bob. You’re not going to believe this (correct, I won’t), but the CFO and the sales manager are arguing over your offer.”

“I don’t have an offer. You turned it down. I have no interest in playing games.”

“No games. We’ll do 31k and the new battery if the offer is still valid.” You’d think I would have been happy to hear this, but I wasn’t. I said almost nothing. I didn’t trust myself to speak.

“Let me get back to you Bob. I’m not pleased.” This is where my friends and my wife were crucial. It took a while for me to calm down. Honestly, I’m not completely sure why I was so angry, but I finally realized that I was getting what I wanted. I accepted. The breakneck pace then accelerated. I raced home, making calls the whole way to address the logistics of driving to St. Louis on short notice (which I had canceled when my initial offer was refused). Then to the airport to pick up the rental car. Back to the house to pick up the wife and an overnight bag, and we were off.

As if to drive home the logic of buying German, the Malibu LTZ we rented would not let us take the key out of the ignition once inserted. Calls to the rental car company and a Chevy dealership service department were not helpful. Of course, this problem is probably an isolated incident. I have no idea if this is a common problem (Google didn’t think so), but it made me feel better about my decision.

When I finally arrived at the dealership, the car was right out front. I looked right past it because I thought it couldn’t look that good. Then I drove it. Wow! How could this car have sat for five months? I hope there is not an unhappy answer to that question somewhere in my future. The car is now mine. I own a 2008 BMW 535xi. Still can’t believe it!

Did my friend make the right decision, or was he blinded by the allure of the Roundel? You could get out your slide rule and make the argument either way, but let’s face it: new cars aren’t dishwashers. Emotion plays a role. No matter what happens in the years to come, my friend will walk out to the driveway knowing that he has the car he wants. That’s worth a little bit of money, hassle, and time, if you ask me.

Jack Baruth
Jack Baruth

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  • Svoboda123 Svoboda123 on Dec 10, 2012

    Firstly, GREAT site. I went through a VERY similar buying path so I have to comment. I think many here are too unwilling to admit that a CPO car can be a great way to go and that this 535xi did represent a good deal. Assume you keep it 3-5 years (as many enthusiasts do) and factor in the minimal depreciation likely to be experienced, and the total ownership costs on this vehicle relative to safety and performance is quite modest- like new Camcord level. I know which I'd choose. As to the question of 335 vs 535: the increased rear passenger room is largely a myth. Consumer Reports measures dimensions consistently and it give the 5-series 1 more inch width, 0.5 inches leg and 1.5 inches head in back. I'm 6-1 and 190 lbs and sat in all positions in both to test before I chose. Either is fine in back for my size for a couple hours, 5 slightly better, including ingress/egress. Neither is great for long road trips with 6-footers plus in back. No shocker there. Maybe if you drive clients around in the back regularly or have kids over 6-feet it could make a difference. For how 96% likely use their cars, no appreciable functionality difference, IMHO. In my case I found an orphan 335i in Kentucky through the CPO search and got it for $28.5k with 0.5% financing. 28k miles, loaded, sport, manual. 3.75 years of warranty. That's about $20k below new sticker. Previous car was an S4 Avant (2.7T, manual, sport interior) I bought in New Jersey through CPO. I also note there is a ton of complaining about reliability problems. Maybe I have been lucky with my 7 German and one Swedish vehicle. Then again, I always buy vehicles that are built (final assembly) in the home country for the brand. I do believe you get a makes A-game when the car is built local, for them. I went for RWD on the 335 in spite of local climate (Colorado) for a couple of reasons, mostly because I had never owned one, but also the sport suspension is just better in the RWD version (I was surprised at the difference). The need for AWD is another myth. Unless you have a seriously sloped driveway you refuse to clear or for some reason must park nose-downhill on icy inclines, I see no need. I run snow tires and get around just great. Obviously AWD does nothing to improve braking or emergency handling on snow/ice. I will admit that canyon hauling in slippery conditions is much better with AWD, but is also a really bad idea on public roads. Lastly, I , Like many here, really want the manual wagon version of this car. I have been lucky to own a ton of sweet manual wagons (Passat VR6, Passat 1.8T, A4 1.8T, S4, Volvo V70 R-wife's current) and it drives me INSANE that what few models were available are largely gone now. Stupid, overweight Americans who insist on having a hulking SUV. How is it that the Brits, with a tiny fraction of the market size vs. the U.S., have almost the entire car universe at their purchasing whim, while we see a tiny fraction of those models. Regulation as protectionism? Why the heck can't we just adopt E.U. standards in one fell swoop? Detroit blocking it through influence in Washington? Again, great site and community.

    • See 1 previous
    • Svoboda123 Svoboda123 on Dec 14, 2012

      @krhodes1 Seriously considered a 3-series wagon but, yes, I really wanted a turbo at 5k feet and drives to skiing much higher. Even the 1.8T Passat wagon (after a chip) could rip up high passes. On the suspension, dumping the stock runflats completely cured the initial travel harshness in the stock sport suspension on the 335. In fact, I find it a touch softer than the stock S4. Yeah, I realize there is no sport suspension in the 335xi- just wrote it wrong. I hope to do Euro delivery one day- sounds like great fun.

  • Svoboda123 Svoboda123 on Feb 05, 2013

    Dump the run-flats. Simply awful. Get a slime/mini inflator kit instead- fits anywhere. The fob takes a standard cheapo watch battery from the drugstore (or mine does anyway). FYI.

  • Kars This article was about Ford not Tesla - you are clearly confused.
  • Ollicat Those are individual charging stations vs entire gas stations that have 8 - 16 pumps. And gas stations take 3 minutes to fill vs 30 min to hours for a charging station. And gas pumps are much more likely to be working vs charging statins. Nice try with more propaganda though.
  • Richard Poore Sure, as the article itself notes (hence my ire) California has mandated that all new vehicles sold in state be EV by 2035. They require EV or hybrid by 2026. Since the author admits to this mandate it seems that the article title is clickbait... was really hoping that there was some sort of changes in the CA position since the state is sorely behind on where they need to be with charging stations for this sort of requirement.
  • VoGhost When will Audi eliminate the fake, oversized grills that impede aerodynamics?