Home » My 2014 BMW i3 Has A Horrible Achilles Heel, But It’s Still Way Cheaper Than Driving A Gas Car

My 2014 BMW i3 Has A Horrible Achilles Heel, But It’s Still Way Cheaper Than Driving A Gas Car

Bmw I3 Achilles Heel Ts
ADVERTISEMENT

My 143,000 miles 2014 BMW i3 has a terrible achilles heel that makes driving it far, far more expensive than it needs to be. And yet, I just ran the numbers and found that it’s still significantly cheaper to drive than a gasoline car, especially here in California. Let’s look at those calculations, and you’ll see why it’s such an insanely good deal despite its rather significant foible.

My i3 has been very reliable. In 12 months and 10,000 miles of driving, I’ve replaced a 12-volt battery and done a preventative differential oil change. That’s it. And other i3 owners say that’s what I can expect for years to come; it’s an absurdly reliable machine. In California, where gas is $5 a gallon, you might think I’d be saving a bundle of money. After all, all I really have to do is pay my power bill, and that’s about it. No regular changes, no weeping at gas pumps, no internal combustion engine replacement parts — I just plug it in every night and I drive.

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

But the reality isn’t so simple, and my i3 is likely going to cost more to drive than I thought.

The Tire Issue

Screen Shot 2024 04 25 At 11.10.43 Am

BMW i3s absolutely chew through tires, and though that’s the case for many EVs, the i3 is among the worst culprits. Hop on BMW i3 forums, and you find pages and pages of conversations about egregious tire wear. Some folks aren’t even getting 20,000 miles out of their set:

ADVERTISEMENT

Screen Shot 2024 04 25 At 10.02.40 Am Screen Shot 2024 04 25 At 10.05.15 Am Screen Shot 2024 04 25 At 10.07.54 Am

Based on what I’m reading, if I’m lucky, I can make it two years on a set of tires before I have to spend $1,000 on a new set of tires, as — and this applies only to the i3 — the tire options are severely limited due to them being a special (skinny) size:

Screen Shot 2024 04 25 At 10.01.43 Am

A typical gas car’s tires will last twice as long, so whereas over a decade I’m buying five sets of tires for a total of $5,219.80, a gas car owner would have to buy only 2.5 sets, and likely at a lower cost due to more availability. One can get a decent set of tires for a typical gas car for $700 installed; multiply that by 2.5 and you’re at $1,750 in tires to drive for a decade — that’s $3,469.80 saved driving the gas car over my i3!

But let’s look at fuel costs.

ADVERTISEMENT

Fuel Costs: Where The i3 Makes Up Lots Of Ground

Screen Shot 2024 04 25 At 11.11.17 Am

First things first: Electricity isn’t free. I typically spend about 30 cents per kWh when I factor in both the energy rates at my apartment and those at charging stations. My i3 generally does about four miles per kWh, meaning I’m spending 30 cents to go four miles or 7.5 cents per mile. A typical gasoline car the size of my i3 (like a Mini Cooper) can easily score 32 miles per gallon, meaning every mile costs $5 (which is about the price per gallon here in California) divided by 32 = about 15.6 cents, or 8.1 cents per mile dearer than my i3. Assume average annual miles traveled of 12,500 (that’s about average in the U.S.), and I’m saving $1,012.50 a year on fuel! That’s $10,125 over a decade.

Not to mention, I save $25 every 3 months for not having to do an oil change (I rarely use my i3’s range extender, so we can ignore that for now), and I save loads not having do deal with serpentine belts or oxygen sensors or even brake jobs (since my i3 uses regenerative braking, so pad wear is minimal).

Let’s say we spend $100 every 50,000 miles (four years of typical driving) on a dirt-cheap DIY brake job, that means that over 10 years you’re spending about $250 on that. As for oil changes, if you do one every 4,000 miles like I do, that’s about three per year, or $75 a year or $750 a decade.

So $750 in oil changes, $250 in brake jobs, and $10,125 extra in fueling per year, and you end up with with $11,125 more to operate a typical gas car. Even after you lop off the extra $3,469.80 I’m paying for tires over that span, we’re still at $7,655.20 saved driving my i3 over an equivalent gas car over a decade.

ADVERTISEMENT

Price Of Entry

Screen Shot 2024 04 25 At 11.15.26 Am

But what about the price of entry? Well, this was typically where gas cars gained their ground, but that’s just not the case anymore. New EVs are getting close to reaching price parity with gasoline cars, and used EVs are downright cheap these days. You can buy a 2020 Tesla Model 3 for like $25,000. My 2014 BMW i3 was $10,500, and if I’d gotten a federal rebate, it’d have been closer to $7000. Try finding a 10-year-old luxury car with adaptive cruise control, self-parking, and a Harman Kardon sound system for $7000. Heck, even finding one for the full $10,500 I paid would be tough.

My girlfriend and I just drove a Lexus RZ to wine country last weekend. The thing starts at over $56,000 new, but I’m finding examples with only 1,000 miles on the odometer costing under $40,000. Polestars are getting cheaper, VW ID.4s are getting cheaper, and on and on. If you can find a good deal on a reliable EV, and especially if you can take advantage of a federal EV rebate, you stand to save some good money, assuming gas isn’t too cheap where you live.

Anyway, I just thought I’d share those numbers since I was sure my i3’s tire situation would put me in a hole. But actually, given how pricy gas is, I guess I can deal with it chewing through tires at twice the rate a gas car does.

Top image base photo: BMW

ADVERTISEMENT
Share on facebook
Facebook
Share on whatsapp
WhatsApp
Share on twitter
Twitter
Share on linkedin
LinkedIn
Share on reddit
Reddit
Subscribe
Notify of
197 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
JAM Man
JAM Man
19 days ago

Literally called this from your first post about buying this car, it’s a HUGE oversight but might be worth the cost of entry to certain drivers: https://www.theautopian.com/remember-that-high-mileage-electric-car-i-bought-with-a-bad-battery-i-just-got-its-battery-replaced-for-free-heres-a-first-look-at-its-overall-condition/comment-page-2/#comment-145974

Captain Muppet
Captain Muppet
22 days ago

I envy your expensive narrow tyres.

Try finding 175/55R17 tyres at all. And I still have to buy gas.

Russell Robinson
Russell Robinson
25 days ago

$25 oil change???

Jim Zavist
Jim Zavist
25 days ago

Pro tip . . . You need to use your brakes, some, to avoid rusted rotors and frozen calipers (it’s another one of those frequent discussions on the 13 forums).

AlterId
AlterId
25 days ago

It’s not an i3 and it’s not a particularly good EV, but Toyota is pushing 36-month, 30,000-mile lease deals on the Busy Forks XLE for $0 down and $189 per month for a 2023 or $219 per month for a 2024 in my region. That includes at least two states (I don’t know about Pennsylvania) that don’t have state EV incentives on top of the $7,500 lease tax credit. I’d have to go at least 100 to 150 miles to get one, but if I had a job right now I’d jump on it, because I don’t really go anywhere much anyway and could probably manage my charging needs either off a standard 120-volt outlet or use the dryer outlet when I’m not doing laundry.

Shinynugget
Shinynugget
25 days ago

One caveat, living in California did allow DT to get a brand new battery, under warranty based on its condition. Would that have been the case in all of the other 47 CONUS states? I’d be willing to bet some but not all. Without that new battery his used $10k i3 wouldn’t be delivering the same experience and have a severely limited range. Those of us living in states without that law in place won’t get the same value from a used EV/PHEV with a degraded battery.

Shinynugget
Shinynugget
22 days ago
Reply to  David Tracy

Are the 94 Ah and 120 Ah less susceptible to degradation than the 60 Ah battery of the 1st 3 model years?

Toddyus
Toddyus
25 days ago

BMWs, including ICE versions in my experience, have aggressive camber setups that wear out tires much more quickly. I had 2 e90s that did this. Separately, we had a first-gen X5 that wore out its suspension components quickly. Of course, we didn’t know it was an issue until it nearly balded a set of snow tires in one season.

Jakob K's Garage
Jakob K's Garage
26 days ago

“There’s something called campering” just confirms my worst prejudices again BMW EV drivers. Not you David of course 🙂

Thomas Metcalf
Thomas Metcalf
25 days ago

I got a new tent. Hope to do some campering this summer.

Evo_CS
Evo_CS
26 days ago

See, this is just normal for me on the Evo. I run 200 treadwear tires on it year round (yayy Southern California!!) and when I was driving 60 miles a day to my previous job, I’d blaze through a set of Dunlop Direzzas in about a year. Why? Well because they were a close analog to the stock Advan A046 that the car came with. I could’ve run something less aggressive, but no. I wanted to maintain the character of the car from the factory, even when the stock tire was no longer available. If I can do a track day, I want to do it on the current tire, I don’t have the funds for a track only setup. Thankfully(?) there are a lot of options for sickos like me and my maniac of a car.

121gwats
121gwats
26 days ago

I blew through a new set of Blizzaks down *beyond* the wear indicators in one winter season. I’m in Iowa, so thats Late November to late March, and its the 72 mile EV only version.. it had to be well under 5-7k miles. Yes, I drove like an asshole all season like I always did in my ICE. Never again.

Blahblahblah123
Blahblahblah123
25 days ago
Reply to  121gwats

Useless trivia time. Blizzaks actually have two tread wear indicators. The first one is for when you wear away the soft ice compound rubber. The second is when the tread is at the traditional tread depth marker.
When you reach the first marker, you still have a snow tire tread, but no longer any enhanced ice traction. It is up to you which tread wear marker to use when deciding to replace the tire.
I found out about this as I initially failed a safety inspection one year and was puzzled as it looked like I had plenty of tread depth left. Upon closer inspection you could see the two tread wear markers at different heights. I passed safety after pointing that out.

121gwats
121gwats
25 days ago

Not sure if its the same on these bike tires that fit on an i3, its incredibly narrow usually tire manufacturers make unique designs just for this car. Its part of the reason why tires are expensive.

Here’s the tread:

https://www.amazon.com/photos/shared/P7JbGNyQQROvKCiGku4agA.VKwcWD406sgdFL5TupytWf

Blahblahblah123
Blahblahblah123
25 days ago
Reply to  121gwats

Yeah, they could be unique. They sure are skinny!! On the bottom of the picture on the outside edge, you can see the some tread wear marks in each tread “cut out”. Those markers definitely still show there is enough tread left to use the tire. (Circled in yellow in my attempted shared picture below)
There might (and this is a big might) be a tread wear mark more the middle of the tire (and picture). Those big “bands” (where you see a continuous line of rubber left to right) also look like possible tread wear marks. (Circled in blue in my shared picture below.) Those look like they used to be lower than the rest of the tread along the band. If those are indeed tread wear marks, then the ice compound is worn out.
I don’t know what a new Blizzak tread looks like so I can’t be certain about the ones circled in blue.

Winter tire marked up.jpg

Last edited 25 days ago by Blahblahblah123
Legend of Z3lda
Legend of Z3lda
26 days ago

The tires and wheels are an issue on our i3 as well. The rainy season potholes always lead to bent rims- I have a wheel repair shop in Van Nuys that I’m a frequent customer of. The fast wearing tires are pretty annoying too. They were pretty cheap at Costco a while back- I wasn’t a Costco member but signed up for it just for tires- hate the place otherwise.

But other than that, and the fact that the rear doors are a bit of a pain with our kids, we have really gotten good use of our i3. It’s saved a ton of money on gas, and with the Rex we can actually go on longer trips out of town. We did LA to San Diego recently.

Rabob Rabob
Rabob Rabob
26 days ago

Costco Van Nuys is a warzone

Legend of Z3lda
Legend of Z3lda
22 days ago
Reply to  Rabob Rabob

That’s where i had the tires installed. Scary. If there were even a next time I’d go to Marina Del Rey.

3WiperB
3WiperB
26 days ago

The OEM run-flats on our BMW 330e were shot at 19,000 miles. I didn’t even measure the treads when we bought the car with about 13,000 miles on it. Anyway, we ditched the run flats and bought traditional tires with a 50,000 mile tread life warranty. If they go that fast again, at least we should get them replaced for next to nothing. Not really an option for the I3 since it’s a special size.

3WiperB
3WiperB
26 days ago
Reply to  3WiperB

I should say, tires weren’t too bad on my Volt. The OEM’s lasted at least 40,000 miles for me. They did start losing chunks of tread toward the end though. It was really odd, but apparently not odd for that car.

Scoutdude
Scoutdude
26 days ago

Now do the math with a car that is actually cheap to run like a Prius, C-Max or C-Max energi.

Stig's Cousin
Stig's Cousin
26 days ago
Reply to  Scoutdude

It would be interesting to see a comparison with a Prius. I think that could be estimated, though. I looked at used 2014 Prii and i3s on autotempest. Based on cars for sale at the moment, a 2014 Prius with ~100,000 miles appears to sell for ~$2,000 more than a comparable 2014 i3.

If we use David’s $0.30 per kwh and assume 4 mi/kwh, that is around $0.075 per mile in electricity costs. The cost of electricity to drive 100,000 miles plus 5 sets of tires is around $12,719.80.

If we assume $5 per gallon and 45 mpg for a Prius, that is around $0.11 per mile. Tirerack sells a set of OEM tires for $562.72. I figure maybe add $200 for shipping and installation (I have no idea how much these actually cost), so three sets of tires (you are probably on your third set after 100,000 miles of driving) costs around $2,288.16. Fuel and tire costs for 100,000 miles would be around $13,288.16.

Once you consider maintenance, the Prius is probably a bit more expensive to run than the i3. It probably comes down to the individual car since the difference in cost isn’t that large. A few unexpected repairs for either vehicle could change the math considerably.

Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
26 days ago
Reply to  Stig's Cousin

The main difference is the Prius doesn’t have to stop to refuel every 60-90 minutes.

Blahblahblah123
Blahblahblah123
25 days ago

Two things:
1) David’s i3 is a REX so it too doesn’t have to stop to refill when the battery is empty just like a Prius.
2) Look for the article here where David tried to get as much range as possible with the i3 battery. (He was trying for 100 miles if I recall properly.) He basically drove the entire day in the city before he ran out of battery power.

Last edited 25 days ago by Blahblahblah123
Stig's Cousin
Stig's Cousin
25 days ago

Realistically, that is why older used EVs are so cheap. A Prius is more convenient as a transportation device so it will maintain its value better. However, if a used EV meets your needs, it is likely the cheaper option.

Epochellipse
Epochellipse
25 days ago
Reply to  Stig's Cousin

Assuming you can find tires for the new Prius. I’ve read that they are difficult to source right now.

BolognaBurrito
BolognaBurrito
25 days ago
Reply to  Epochellipse

What ones specifically? You can get the new Prius with 17″ or 19″ wheels, right?

Epochellipse
Epochellipse
23 days ago
Reply to  BolognaBurrito

It’s the P195/50R19 that I’ve read is scarce. I did a half-assed google search and the major sites show either backordered or limited inventory or only had snow tires. Which is kind of weird because I think that was offered on the 2013 Prius. The post I read was from a mechanic on reddit, maybe he just couldn’t find them locally.

Stig's Cousin
Stig's Cousin
25 days ago
Reply to  Epochellipse

I only looked at tires for a 2014 since I was trying to find the most direct comparison to a 2014 i3. The 2014 Prius used a relatively common tire size so over 50 different tires are listed on tirerack as in stock and ready to ship. I’m not sure about the new Prius, though. New EVs/PHEVS seem to all use weird tire sizes so tire availability could be a bigger problem in the future.

JShaawbaru
JShaawbaru
25 days ago
Reply to  Stig's Cousin

I can give you some real-world Prius data, although it’s from a generation older, on a 2007. I’ve driven it just a little over 50,000 miles as of last week.

Mine has a lifetime (ownership) average MPG of 48.8 (hand calculated, not from the car’s computer), so at $5/gallon, that’s 10.2 cents a mile for fuel, and would cost $10,245.90 over 100k miles. I spent $340 on a set of tires from Tire Rack, and probably spent another $100 on installation. Shipping is free from Tire Rack, in fact you get a discount if you pick the tires up in person. Those tires now have nearly 40,000 miles on them, and still have at least 10,000 miles left before they’re close to worn out, so let’s say 2 sets over 100,000 miles, at $650 each, since mine were discounted (2019 date code in 2022), including installation, so $1300 for tires. You end up with a total of $11545.90, which comes in a little under $1000 below the BMW.

Now, if you want to throw maintenance into it, mine is currently at 8 cents a mile, but that includes the tires, and struts and lowering springs, and a new hybrid battery, which I wouldn’t have needed if I’d run it more than zero times over the winter 2022 to 2023. I would definitely count the 2 front wheel bearings at $500 each installed, since they are a common wear item on the Prius, so those alone would just about catch it up to the i3. However, if you lived somewhere other than California, where gas isn’t egregiously priced, the Prius would gain the upper hand again most likely. I’ve only spent $3800 in fuel over 50k miles, which would double to $7600, knocking almost $3000 off the Prius’ fuel cost.

Last edited 25 days ago by JShaawbaru
Stig's Cousin
Stig's Cousin
25 days ago
Reply to  JShaawbaru

Thanks for the reply. Figured someone had that data readily available. I figure in some use cases an EV will be cheaper and in others a Prius would be cheaper. Realistically, both are good options, and which one is better depends on how the car will be used.

I had a Leaf that I used as a commuter for 5 years (40 miles round trip per day). I was able to charge it overnight for $0.01 per kwh, so my daily commute cost around $0.09. I bought it used and figured it had a limited life span so routine maintenance wasn’t a high priority. I spent ~$400 in maintenance and repairs over the five years I owned it. I’m not even sure how much tires cost since it still had its original set when I sold it at 80,000 miles. The total cost to drive it 60,000 miles was around $1600. Over 100,000 miles that car would have cost a little under $3,400 in maintenance, tires, and electricity. Although, I bought it for $12k and sold it for $5k, so depreciation was a substantial cost.

I think my Leaf was a better choice than a Prius given how cheap electricity cost me at the time, but I was in a unique situation where I had dirt cheap electricity and a car with a 70 mile range was perfectly adequate.

JShaawbaru
JShaawbaru
25 days ago
Reply to  Stig's Cousin

Yeah, there’s no way a Prius is going to win against a Leaf at a penny per kwh, that’s amazingly cheap, you definitely took full advantage of that situation. If I could get electricity that cheap, I’d be running out to buy the Fiat 500e for sale near me as soon as I got out of work.

Thatmiataguy
Thatmiataguy
25 days ago
Reply to  Stig's Cousin

Tire rack doesn’t charge for shipping tires.

Danny Zabolotny
Danny Zabolotny
26 days ago

Know what’s even cheaper than an i3 or most gas cars? Driving a $1300 beater. I could buy gas for years before it equals the cost of even the cheapest used EV on the market, and I’ve got a wonderful 400+ mile range to work with.

Drive By Commenter
Drive By Commenter
26 days ago

I’m at the same place with my cars. They’re long ago paid off. Plus they work fine. Gas is the biggest ongoing expense but it’s not California expensive. It’s more the time to do maintenance and time spent filling up.

R Rr
R Rr
25 days ago

Maybe it’s just me, but if I drove around in a $1300 beater, I think I would feel exactly like I’m driving around in a $1300 beater. Somehow I dislike that feeling, especially when I can afford something nicer that won’t feel like driving around in a $1300 beater.

Perhaps the $1300 beater makes more sense if that’s really all you can afford and public transit is not an option where you live.

Last edited 25 days ago by R Rr
Hangover Grenade
Hangover Grenade
25 days ago
Reply to  R Rr

I take my beater-driving as a badge of honor. I could afford something better, but I kind of like driving around in $2500 BMWs.

Danny Zabolotny
Danny Zabolotny
25 days ago

There is a certain freedom to it, like not worrying about door dings, being able to strap shit to the roof indiscriminately, laughing at rock chips, etc.

R Rr
R Rr
24 days ago

not worrying about door dings, being able to strap shit to the roof indiscriminately, laughing at rock chips, etc.

That’s exactly how I’ve always felt about any of my cars or bikes, whether they were old Alfas or stuff I bought brand-new. Just to be clear, I’m lower-middle-class, not some I-don’t-care-about-money uber-wealthy, but to me any vehicle is a fast-depreciating asset regardless what you do to (or with) it, stressing out about door dings and rock chips is just not something I do.

Also if those could stress me I probably couldn’t have half the fun I have with cars by tuning/modifying/racing them.

Last edited 24 days ago by R Rr
Danny Zabolotny
Danny Zabolotny
25 days ago
Reply to  R Rr

For me that’s about all I can afford, I don’t think I’ve ever spent over $5k on a car, and that was when I had more money… these days the car budget is like $2500 tops. On the bright side, I can fix these cars myself easily, so the upkeep is rather inexpensive.

As far as being a beater, my car mostly looks like a beater, but it drives pretty well. It’s a 1995 525i/5 with 257k miles, and while it has no paint, it has good working AC, heat, radio, heated + powered seats, and still gets like 26mpg on average even while doing 85-90mph everywhere. So I’m not suffering too bad.

Public transit is kind of a joke in Arizona, plus my commute is 40 miles each way.

Hangover Grenade
Hangover Grenade
26 days ago

I looked it up and the bolt circle is 5×112, so Mercedes size. Could you not just change wheels? I’m sure there are a million cheap choices on FBM.

R Rr
R Rr
25 days ago

If just a set of OEM tires is $1000, then I’m pretty sure these guys whining about their i3 tires can buy a set of more regular size rims & tires for a lot less $
Even if their electric range gets reduced by a few percentage points the money saved on tires would be worth it

Last edited 25 days ago by R Rr
Theotherotter
Theotherotter
26 days ago

This kind of thing does show the advantage of using an EV like the i3 as an everyday car over an ICE car. However, the real way to save money is not to use a car for daily transportation in the first place. Yes, I know this is hard in most of the US, where most readers are. It’s one of the US’s problems. When you’re only using your cars for fun, or 90% of your car use is for fun, then fuel costs get looked at very differently. I care about fuel consumption if I’m commuting in a car, not so much if I’m driving my 911 (which actually gets pretty decent mileage.) If I’m using the CTA to get to work I’ve got a relative cost comparison; if I’m using my bike, it’s free.

Bryan McIntosh
Bryan McIntosh
26 days ago
Reply to  Theotherotter

Using a bike is free aside from bike maintenance; I dropped $650 CAD at the bike shop in a single month in 2022 due to various parts needing to be replaced, including when someone stole my rear wheel (that had been secured with locking skewers). That was a $450 CAD bill on its own!

Theotherotter
Theotherotter
26 days ago
Reply to  Bryan McIntosh

I build up and maintain my bikes myself, and I have the same sort of bike problem as I have car problem, so I have four bikes in the regular transportation fleet, two other “road bikes” (approximately) and a couple others, plus two more I’m going to sell or give away. My primary do-t-all bike used to get an overhaul every spring but now winter mileage gets spread out enough that I don’t strictly need to. Maintenance largely consists of occasional brake pads, chains and cables, all of which are dirt cheap, and a cassette maybe every few years.

Bryan McIntosh
Bryan McIntosh
26 days ago
Reply to  Theotherotter

I agree, compared to car maintenance bike parts are much more affordable and it needs less space than when working on a car. I was mostly venting because I am frustrated that near the hospital where I work, if it’s not welded to the wall it’s going to be stolen and sold for meth or fentanyl. Or both!

Theotherotter
Theotherotter
26 days ago
Reply to  Bryan McIntosh

If you’re in Toronto that’s true of cars, too! 🙂

Gary Lynch
Gary Lynch
26 days ago

I thought that campering was a Mercedes topic?

Also note, my how has our David grown up. From driving shit box rust buckets in the salty snow to takings his girl friend to wine country in his Lexus.

Anthony Henderson
Anthony Henderson
26 days ago

Hehheh… “There’s something called campering.”
I hate it when my tires have too much negative camper…

Keon R
Keon R
26 days ago

I hear it’s really detrimental to your tire’s “thread” life.

197
0
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
()
x