What kind of problems does a BMW X3 usually have? In this blog, we’ve outlined the most important things you should watch out for when you’re in the market for an X3. However, let’s first start with a quick answer.
Common problems for all generations of the BMW X3 are a loss of braking power because of a damaged vacuum pump as well as a sunroof that’s stuck or which has clogged drains causing water to enter the cabin. Furthermore, oil leaks have been a significant problem for the second and first-generation, and an overheating PCV valve heater caused some 2007 – 2011 X3s to go up in flames.
That was the most straightforward answer possible. In the article below, we’ll discuss every problem in detail. We’ll do so for all generations of the X3 in great detail. This means that, no matter what model year you’re looking at, you should know what problems you can expect, what causes them, and how they should be fixed. Read on!
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Third-Generation (2017 – Present)
The third generation of the BMW X3 certainly isn’t without its flaws. This is not necessarily because of the number of complaints this car has received. Most model years of this generation end up with around 20 – 50 complaints which is reasonable for a luxury vehicle. However, we would advise you to stay away from the 2019 model year (55 complaints, 9 recalls) and the 2020 model year (22 complaints, 12 recalls) because the build-quality overall seems to be questionable.
Loss Of Braking Power
In mid-2018 BMW recalled 2018-2019 BMW X3 sDrive30i, X3 xDrive30i and X3 M40i under recall number 18V453000. Owners of these vehicles could experience reduced braking power because of insufficient coating on the rear brake calipers. The solution was to bleed these rear brake calipers, which did solve the issue.
Another recall was issued for the 2020 model of the X3 M40i (recall number 21V598000). BMW described this problem as follows:
Approximately 14,006 vehicles have been manufactured with engine management software that, under certain engine start conditions, could damage the oil/vacuum pump which supplies vacuum for brake assistance.Source
This problem was activated in certain circumstances. The first circumstance would be pressing the engine start/stop button twice rapidly or depressing the brake pedal very briefly while pressing the start/stop button. This would immediately result in a loss of braking assist.
Interestingly, the full brake assist would still be available for two or three uses, or around six partial brake applications. After this, brake assist would be lost. However, mechanical braking would still be available at all times.
It turned out this condition was caused by faulty engine management software, which was updated in the affected vehicles free of charge.
No Backup Camera
Losing image on the backup camera is a common problem for the third generation of the BMW X3. In total, BMW has issued two recalls for this problem.
The first recall, issued under number 19V684000, involved 2018-2020 X3 sDrive, X3 xDrive, X3 M40i, and X3 M. The problem in this specific case was that the display settings of the backup camera could be adjusted in such a way that the rearview image would be lost. This setting would then be remembered by the system, resulting in losing the backup image when needed the next time.
In 2021 BMW issued another recall for the backup camera. This was done under recall number 21V096000 and involved 2019-2021 X3 sDrive30i, X3 xDrive30i, X3 M40i, and X3M. BMW described the problem as follows:
In November 2020, BMW was informed by the supplier that the rearview camera image may not display as intended due to the possibility of a bug within the rearview camera software.
The supplier indicated that the image could be either displayed out-of-sequence (for a multi-displayed image), a portion of the image could be slightly obscured, or the display screen may not illuminate. These conditions could occur when the vehicle is shifted Reverse gear.Source
The solution involved updating the backup camera software, which was done free of charge.
Hybrid Battery Problems
At the end of 2020, BMW recalled the 2020 – 2021 model years of the xDrive30e (the hybrid version of the X3) because of potential short-circuiting of the hybrid battery cells (20V490000). This was caused by debris that may have entered the battery cells during the production process.
The recall initially involved only 713 vehicles but was extended a few months later (20V601000) and included 4,509 vehicles at that point.
The solution to this problem was to inspect the battery modules and, if debris was found, replace them as well.
Sunroof Doesn’t Function
First, there’s the problem of the sunroof getting stuck. Typically, this happens when the sunroof is in the tilt position. Furthermore, it could be the sunroof, or the sunroof’s shade is stuck. As it turns out, this is mainly a software issue. Resetting the sunroof has been an often mentioned solution and is done as follows:
..To do a full reset you push up the sunroof button and keep it held down for several minutes. The sunroof will cycle, fully closing then fully opening the sunroof. When it stops it has fully reset.Source
For many people, doing a reset like this solved the problem instantly. Whether or not it occurs again is unknown. However, getting the sunroof stuck didn’t seem to be a daily problem for the drivers that had it. Therefore, performing a reset every so often seems a reasonable solution.
Detaching Rear Spoiler
2018 model years of the xDrive30i and M40i were recalled at the beginning of 2018 because of a rear spoiler that wasn’t correctly attached to the car’s frame (18V154000). The solution to this problem was simply attaching the bolts properly to the frame, which the BMW dealers did.
Non-Illumination Of The Dashboard Panel
Another issue involved the non-illumination of the dashboard panel. In these cases, the dashboard would go blank immediately after starting up. In total, BMW recalled around 3,000 vehicles under recall number 17V719000. Luckily, an update to the instrument cluster software was all that was needed to fix this problem.
Braking Of Certain Parts
Almost 400 models of the 2020 X3 sDrive30i, X3 xDrive30i, and X3 M40i were recalled (19V678000) in the same year because of a front axle swivel bearing that wasn’t properly heat treated during production. Because of this, they were prone to breaking unexpectedly, which could result in severe damage to the car and risk of injury to the passenger. The solution involved replacing the affected swivel bearings.
Another recall was issued for the steering gear tie rods in 2020 X3M (20V355000). In certain driving conditions, such as high temperatures and rough road surfaces, a steering gear tie rod may become damaged, possibly resulting in a fractured tie rod. Inspecting and replacing these tie rods was a suitable solution.
Second-Generation (2010 – 2017)
Unlike the third generation of the BMW X3, the second generation did have some significant problems worth noting. What’s problematic with this generation is that many issues are related to the timing chain, EGR-cooler, certain parts of the engine, or loss of braking power. All of these problems are costly, making this generation of the X3 quite troublesome if you end up with a problematic model.
Timing And Oil Pan Drive Chain Failure
The N20 (Turbo 4-Cylinder) engine used in BMW X3 is prone to problems with the timing and oil pump drive chains. Although to eliminate this problem, BMW redesigned the timing chain guide in 2015 and later models. But in early BMW X3 models from 2012 to 2015, the failure with timing and oil pump drive chain is common.
The issue with the timing chain usually occurs after an average mileage of 80,000 miles. To detect this problem, look for any of these symptoms described by BMW in their service bulletin: a whining noise from the lower engine area near the engine oil pump that increases in frequency when the engine RPM increases.
The cause of this problem was excessive wear on the engine oil pump chain drive sprockets because of a design flaw. The solution BMW provided in their warranty extension (which increased the warranty of these parts to 7 years or 70,000 miles) was to replace the engine oil pump drive chain module, timing chain, timing chain tensioner, slide rail, tensioning rail, and guide rail.
However, this warranty extension wasn’t enough for many owners. Some of them had already paid up to $900 in repairs to replace the timing chain and oil pump drive chain, and these owners didn’t receive compensation for this. Therefore, a class-action lawsuit was started and won. The settlement involved reimbursement for past repairs as well as potential future ones.
Problems With Sunroof
2010 – 2017 models of the BMW X3 are infamous for their sunroof problems. Frequently reported issues with the sunroof include a jammed sunroof and a leaking sunroof. Luckily, fixes for both these problems have been found, and they’re mentioned below.
This involves the same problem and solution as described in the third generation of the X3 (discussed earlier in this article).
Although this problem of the leaking sunroof is quite common in older generations of the BMW X3, typically before 2010, earlier versions of the second generation occasionally have sunroof drainage problems.
Suppose you suspect any water leaks inside your car during a car wash or while it rains. Then chances are you have a leaking sunroof. To accurately identify the leaking spots, you should close all the windows and sunroof while someone pours water on the roof of your BMW X3.
To fix the leaking sunroof. Firstly, you should check and clean the drainage channels coming from the roof for any obstacles. Blocked drainage channels are a very common culprit for this problem in the BMW X3. In the video below, an owner of a 2012 X3 explains how he got rid of the problem.
If cleaning the drainage channel does not help, the next thing would be to replace the sunroof seals, which can develop cracks over time, causing water to leak inside. Replacing the sunroof seals can cost anywhere around $400-$600 in the United States.
Coolant Leaks Into The EGR Cooler
Problems with EGR Cooler are not very common in the BMW X3. However, the company has had a recall for the 2015-2017 X3 xDrive28d SAV. Common symptoms of a malfunctioning EGR cooler include:
- ‘Powertrain Malfunction’ error
- Smoke from under the hood
- Sudden power loss
- The engine has a rough idle
BMW did issue a recall for the above-mentioned diesel model years at the end of 2021. As it turns out, the EGR in the affected models leaked internally, causing coolant to mix with the diesel soot in the EGR. This resulted in smoldering parts and melting of the intake manifold.
Dealers inspected the EGR cooler and the intake manifold and replaced both when defects were found.
Loose Camshaft Housing Bolts
2010 – 2012 model years of the X3 xDrive 28i and X3 xDrive 35i, as well as the 2010 X3 xDrive 30i, were recalled in 2014 under recall number 14V176000. The situation was described as follows by BMW in their documentation sent to the NHTSA:
The VANOS adjustment units may develop an internal oil leakage that will no longer allow the VANOS to adjust quickly enough. Due to this leakage, the vehicle’s engine emergency mode and engine malfunction are permanently active.Source
This leak was caused by the VANOS assembly’s gear bolts, which would loosen and/or break over time. Dealers were ordered to replace all bolts on units that did not experience any problems.
If the gear bolts were found to be loose or broken, the entire VANOS assembly system had to be replaced. Furthermore, if the bolts were broken, the missing pieces had to be found and removed to protect the system from this debris.
Loss Of Braking Power
2013-2014 BMW X3 xDrive28i were recalled at the end of 2014 because of a sudden loss of braking power. These specific models had a problem with the lubrication of the brake vacuum pump. Insufficient lubrication of this part led to the failure of the vacuum pump.
This would result in loss of braking assistance, making braking difficult or impossible. Recalled models had the brake vacuum pump replaced free of charger.
High-Pressure Fuel Pump Failure
This recall was specific to the 2015-2017 X3 xDrive28d. In these vehicles, the high-pressure fuel pump was at risk of failing. A failing fuel pump always results in difficulty starting the engine, engine stalling, or complete and sudden power loss. In these models, BMW described the problem as follows:
Over time, and due to factors such as fuel quality, a reduction in pump lubrication could occur, which
may lead to an increased wear of pump components. This could result in an increasing deposit of metallic shavings within the pump housing and a corresponding deviation in the measured fuel rail pressure.
If this continued, a warning lamp would be illuminated in the instrument cluster along with a reduction in pump performance.Source
First-Generation (2004 – 2010)
The first generation, just like the second generation, was problematic and had severe problems. To be fair, recalls were issued for most of them, which means most of them should be solved by now. However, PVC valve heater problems (which caused some cars to go up in flames), engine problems (such as high oil consumption and oil leaks) as well as electrical problems did cause quite a few headaches for owners.
PCV Valve Heater Malfunctions
BMW issued three recalls (2017, 2019, and 2022) for brand-wide problems with the PCV valve heaters. In the case of the X3, we’re talking about the 2007 – 2011 model years of the X3 3.0si and X3 xDrive30i, which were recalled under number 17V683000.
The role of the PCV valve is to regulate the intake of gases. If the valve malfunctions (or, in the case of BMW, short-circuits), the flow of gases can’t be adequately regulated. This results in the build-up of sludge in the engine, which contaminates the oil in your BMW and causes the following symptoms:
- Black smoke coming from the engine
- Oil leaks
- High fuel consumption
- The car is misfiring or idling
These problems were caused because the electrical contacts of the blow-by-heater are coated with plastic material. Irregularities in the manufacturing process could allow moisture to occur near the blow-by-heater and lead to a short circuit. The solution to this problem involved replacing the blow-by-heater, which was done free of charge.
Oil Leakage Problem
Leaking elemental fluids like engine oil affects the optimal functioning of various components, including the engine. Over time, this problem can also lead to severe issues concerning the engine in your BMW X3. Oil leak problems are common in the 2004 – 2006 models of the BMW X3. Usually, this problem occurs after approximately 60,000 miles. In this case, the most common oil leak cause is the valve cover gasket.
I had a mechanic look at it and was told that the leak was caused by a freezing oil seperator. Since the oil seperator was designed incorrectly, it stops wworking by the frozen condensate in cold climate. Also, it causes high pressure in the crankcase and consequently it creates an oil leak through the valve cover gasket.Source
Replacing the oil separator will cost approximately $300 – $400, including labor. Furthermore, replacing the oil cover gasket with a new one in the United States can cost around $500, including an additional labor cost of approximately $75-$100.
Also read: The Types Of Gas A BMW X3 Uses (Explained)
N46 Engine Problems
One of the most popular engines in the BMW X3 2004-2010 models is a 2.0-liter diesel (N46). Unfortunately, this engine can be troublesome at times. The problems include:
Engine Mount Bolt Failure
Most common in the 2007 BMW X3. The engine mount bolts can fail, resulting in a failed engine, broken water pump, and other damages. Though this problem rarely occurs, it can be expensive to fix, considering the high labor cost involved. One owner described his problems as follows:
After hearing a very loud bang. I noticed a very bad vibration during normal operation of the vehicle. Today I was able to find the problem. The 4 bolts that hold the motor mount bracket to the engine block were sheared off.Source
BMW never truly provided a solution to this (not a service bulletin, not a recall), so owners were left paying for expenses out of pocket. Given that this was a major problem with the engine that could do significant damage, repairs often cost $1,000 – $3,000.
High Oil Consumption
Owners of X3s with the N46 engine complained about high oil consumption paired with puffs of blue, white, or greyish smoke. As it turns out, this was caused by a clearance problem between the valve and valve guide in the cylinder head. As a result, the valve stem seals would wear prematurely, resulting in high oil consumption. Replacing the seals was the only solution.
Also read: The Types Of Gas A BMW X3 Uses (Explained)
Recurring Electrical Problems
One of the main problems with the first generation of the X3 was its widespread electrical problems. According to the complaints registered on the website of the NHTSA, this was mainly a problem for the 2006 – 2008 model years.
Symptoms of this involved the dashboard going completely blank, the car losing all its power, the car not unlocking or locking, the tailgate opening by itself, and the driver seat heater becoming so hot that drivers were burnt out of their seats.
BMW never issued an issue or a recall for this problem. Furthermore, the second generation (typically designed completely differently) came out shortly after, meaning that BMW never addressed the problem correctly.
However, the fuse panel is a specific area to look for this problem. The fuse panel in the BMW X3 2004-2010 model can be found either behind the glovebox or in the engine compartment. Check the fuses to ensure none of them is damaged or has blown.
If you find any blown or damaged fuse, then get it replaced. A faulty battery or alternator could also be the root cause of the problem. However, given the widespread problems, the solution probably wasn’t that simple.
VVT (or VANOS) System Problems
The problem with the VVT can occur in almost all the BMW X3s from 2003 to 2010. To detect the issue with VVT, check the engine light for the codes DTC 2A99 and DTC 2A82.
Usually, the solenoid valve for the intake and exhaust is the culprit for this problem. If the oil is not changed often or is dirty, it can clog up the valves affecting the proper functioning of the variable valve timing. Moreover, a low oil level can also cause this problem.
To fix the problems with the VVT, check the valves by swapping the intake with the exhaust valve and then see if the code appears again. If yes, this indicates the solenoid valve needs replacement, not the cams or actuators.
A new solenoid valve for the BMW X3 can cost around $300 – $400, with an additional labor cost of about $150 – $200 in the United States.
Numerous Recalls For Safety Features
Besides all the earlier mentioned problems, the first generation of the X3 also had its safety malfunctions. These were centered around the car’s airbags or the front passenger seat detection mat.
First, the airbags. BMW issued a total of two recalls for these parts. The first recall (16V071000) related to the 2007 – 2010 model years of the xDrive30i. The inflators of the driver’s frontal airbag could rupture in the event of a crash, sending metal fragments into the cabin.
The second recall (20V017000) involved the same part in the 2007 – 2010 model years because, as it turned out, the parts used to replace the rupturing inflators were also faulty. These inflators contained phase-stabilized ammonium nitrate (PSAN), which would degrade over time due to fluctuations in temperature. Therefore, they could inflate unexpectedly.
Front Passenger Detection Mat
BMW also had to issue two recalls for the front passenger detection mat. The first recall (08V384000) was issued in 2008. The problem was that the front passenger detection mat, located in the seats, would develop cracks over time in the 2004 – 2006 model years. This would disable the frontal airbags and illuminate the airbag light.
The second recall (17V605000) for this part was issued in 2017 and involved 2006-2010 BMW X3 2.5i and X3 3.0i, and X3 xDrive30i vehicles. This recall was an extension of the first recall, given that it involved the same problem, just on a broader selection of vehicles.
Hi! My name is Stefan; I’m the owner and lead writer at TheDriverAdviser.com.
I’m an active writer on this blog myself, as well as a novice car mechanic. For the really technical stuff, I find writers with experience as a mechanic or who have studied mechanical engineering.
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