BMW Woes

In 1993, I bought a new BMW R1100RSA. This was one of the first models of the new R11 line (the "oilheads") released in the US. I knew I was taking a risk by buying a "beta bike", but I believed the hype about BMW quality. Among other things, the number of people who've received awards for 100000, 200000, 300000, and more miles on BMW motorcycles impressed me a great deal

My bike was fine for about the first 10,000 miles (about 10 months). At that point, the first clutch went, rather suddenly. From that point on, there was one problem after another.

Here's a list of the highlights:

At about 35,000 miles, after numerous problems and about 9 months in various shops, BMW North America authorized replacement of the entire engine, since they couldn't resolve the repeated oil-pressure related problems.

At that point, the bike was pumping more than a quart of oil into the airbox every 1000 miles!

Roughly 10,000 miles later, with the new engine in the bike, the 4th clutch failed. It looked like the whole process was beginning again! At that point, with the bike in pieces in the shop, I began looking for a replacement.

In total, the bike was in the shop for warranty service for about 10 1/2 months over 3 1/2 years.

Lessons Learned...

So, what have I learned from this experience?

Don't buy a "first year" model bike.

Find and work with a good dealer. I was quite happy with the service I got from Amol motorcycles in Dumont, NJ, and had nothing but the best experiences from Linder motorcycles in New Canaan, CT. The dealers, particularly Linders, were helpful and did excellent work, but they didn't get adequate support from BMW North America.

Document any problems. Keeping good records really helped with my dealings with BMW.

Use the 'net. The BMW-R1100 list was an invaluable resource. Many other owners were experiencing similar problems, and keeping in touch made it much easier to determine what was really happening across the model line.

In some states (NY, in 1996), motorcycles are excluded from the "Lemon Law", so there's no recouse, other than a civil suit, for a defective vehicle.

Know your warranty. When I bought the bike, BMW was offering a 3-year, unlimited mileage warranty. Within two years, that was reduced to 3 years, 30000 miles. A number of my claims, including the replacement engine, would not have been covered under the revised plan. There was a great deal of speculation that this change was related to the number of major service claims related to these new models.

And finally... Don't trust BMW North America! Even with the problems, I was very happy with my R1100RSA when it ran. I put over 45,000 miles on it in 3 1/2 years (minus the 10 ½ months it spent in the shop). It was comfortable, performed well, and had some well thought-out engineering innovations. However, for me the worst part of the entire BMW ownership experience was dealing with BMW-NA customer service. They were repeatedly rude, dismissive, and often lied to me. For example:

If not for the poor treatment from BMW-NA, I would be riding a BMW today.

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