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BMW i3: 7 Common Problems That You Should Know

What kind of problems does a BMW i3 normally have? In this blog we’ve outlined all the most important things you should keep an eye out for when you’re in the market for an i3. However, let’s first start of with a quick answer:

Most commonly the BMW i3 has steering problems which can make steering difficult or create noises while steering. Also, problems with the range extender can cause the car to not accelerate fully. Furthermore, some printed circuit board malfunction which can cause the car to shutdown. Finally, problems with the airbags, fuel vapor and charging are also common.

However, that doesn’t tell the whole story. In the rest of the article we’ll discuss every single problem into detail. Furthermore, we’ll tell you how to identify it, how to fix it and how much it costs to fix. Read on!

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Also read: The Complete Cost Of Maintaining A BMW

1. Complications With The Steering

The i3 electric hatchback from BMW has a compact stature and is easy to maneuver. However, several owners have experienced and reported trouble with the car’s steering system. Problems like steering getting stiff and squeaking noises while turning the steering wheel are common.

Steering Feels Hard

At times, when the car comes at rest, then the steering would get hard, making it extremely difficult to maneuver the vehicle. If this issue is faced, then firstly check your car for low tire pressure, as low air pressure in front tires can be the cause of a stiff steering wheel. If that is not the case, you can also check your steering fluid level, which can deplete in rare cases.

If none of this seems to be at fault, then just like many other issues, this also relates to the electronics or software of the car. So, try turning the ignition ‘off’ and ‘on’ as this can debug the problem by resetting the software and various electronic systems of the car.

If the problem persists, the next step would be to check your car’s software and upgrade to the latest one if it is running on any older versions.

But, at last, if none of this helps and you still confront this problem. Then taking your BMW i3 to the nearest BMW service station would be recommended to resolve this issue.

Squeaking Noise From The Steering

If you hear any squeaking or squealing noises while turning the steering wheel of your BMW i3. Then possibilities are you are experiencing this problem. These squeaking noises arise from the steering spindle, particularly when the wheel turns.

The leading underlying cause of this problem is the plastic bearing of the steering spindle sleeve. Which, when inadequately or not lubricated at all, can cause this problem.

The only solution to avoid or fix the squeaking noise from the steering system – is to lubricate the plastic bearing of the steering spindle sleeve properly.  

To lubricate the plastic bearing on your own, follow these steps –

  1. Remove the front luggage compartment well.
  2. Lubricate the plastic ring of the sleeve located on the steering shaft.
  3. Use universal plastic lubricant (BMW P/N 81 23 2 327 735) for this purpose.
  4. Turn the steering left and right to distribute the lubricant properly.
  5. Repeat this process, and lastly, lubricate the under-dash part of the steering spindle.

If you are not a DIY person, take your BMW i3 to the service station to resolve this issue. Fixing this issue should cost you not more than a few hundred dollars in the United States.

2. Problem With The Range Extender (REx)

The range extender or Rex in the BMW i3 is an APU (auxiliary power unit). The primary function of the REx is to extend the range of the vehicle to get you home safely or to the next charging station.

Both the available models of the i3 come with an optional range extender that consists of a small gasoline engine. This system is designed to kick in only after the battery drops significantly (below 5 percent) and is intended to be a power backup in case of emergencies.

While the REx or range extender may provide peace of mind, it has a substantial problem too. Many reports claim that i3s manufactured in or before 2016 can incur a problem with the range extender system, which hampers the vehicle’s acceleration when switching from battery power to the gasoline engine.

Many owners who faced this problem with the range extender in their BMW i3 have also filed a class-action lawsuit against BMW in California, which depicts the seriousness of this problem.

In case of a faulty range extender system. When the vehicle’s range is extended, the car will go into limp mode while driving, whereas the opposite should happen, i.e., acceleration. In some scenarios, even the brake lights would stop working.

This problem resulting from the failure of the $4000 range extender system is a potential safety threat causing the i3 not to accelerate while driving. Moreover, the problem can exacerbate when the i3 drives uphill, and the REx system slows the speed.

To fix this problem, visiting your nearest BMW service station is the only advisable solution.  

3. Issue With The Printed Circuit Board

Many BMW i3s electric hatchbacks manufactured in or after the year 2018 can face this problem leading to sudden loss of power or even complete shutdown of the motor. At the root of this problem is the PCB (Printed Circuit Board), a critical part of the EME (Electric Motor Electronics) module that is not up to the required specifications.

When this problem occurs, it can cause a lack of electrical contact, forcing the EME module to shut down high voltage electrical power.

This internal malfunction has affected more than 135 BMW i3 REx and around 25 i3 BEV vehicles. The REx models, built-in or after January 2018, and the BEV models, built-in or after January/February 2018, are especially at high risk. 

Although BMW has recalled most models built during this duration, if your car was not one of them, it becomes necessary to inspect your i3 for this problem. However, detecting this problem on your own can be unfeasible; therefore, if you have any doubts, it would be wise to consult the experts at BMW for help.

In any case, if you detect abnormal loss of propulsion power, then chances are you might be having an issue with the printed circuit board. When sensed, BMW dealers would replace your EME (Electric Motor Electronics) module without any cost.

4. Motor Mount Failure

Many owners worldwide have reported this problem of the motor mount failing in their BMW i3. This problem was common in i3s, which were manufactured before the year 2016.

The main culprit in this problem is the plastic motor mounts used in the i3, which during harsh conditions can get damaged severely or break in the worst situations.

Usually, this problem occurs when the rear wheels spin and then suddenly gain traction again. Unfortunately, this can not only damage the motor mount but other electronic components and wires as well.

A loud thud sound can be noticed when the mount breaks if you hear a noise similar to this while passing over a bump. Then chances are the motor mount in your car has failed, and with the mount broken, your car would typically be unable to move.

Fixing this issue would require replacing the mounts with a new stronger one. However, in some cases, the more robust, newly replaced support can fail too. In that case, using aluminum mounts with larger bolts is what BMW recommends.

Moreover, a software update was released later by BMW. That ensures the torque of the motor is reduced while the rear wheels hit a bump before spinning for a short time in the air. So, with the reduced torque, when the spinning wheels touch the ground, it doesn’t overburden the drive train.

Fixing this problem can be a costly affair, especially If your car is not under warranty. In the United States, it can cost approximately $5,000-$6000 to repair and replace the motor mounts. Also, updating the car’s software is crucial to avoid this problem in the future.

5. Slow Charging

If you are suspecting the charging rate in your BMW i3 to be slow. Then most likely, chances are you have not set the charging rate to maximum. Therefore, ensure to check the setting for the suitable cable. As there are separate settings for the ‘AC rapid charging cable’ (the 7kW one) and the ‘Standard charging cable.’

After checking the charging rate. If you still find the 7kW charging rate to be slow. Then it is very much possible that you are using a faulty charger in the vehicle. On the older models of the BMW i3, there are two separate 16 amperes charging circuits which combinedly give 32 amperes single-phase charging.

While on the newer models, there are three 16 amps charging circuits, which can either work separately for 16 amps 3-phase charging or in pairs for 32 amps single phase. In case any of these units fail to work, then the i3 would charge at 16 amps/3.7kW, resulting in slow charging speeds.

If you suspect this problem, then to accurately judge whether the fault is in your charger or not. Either you can use someone else’s 7kW EVSE charger or find a public charging station near you that works at 7kW. Once you are sure of the problem with your charger, you should get a new one to eliminate the slower charging speeds.

A new charger for your BMW i3 in the United States, can cost you anywhere around $250-$600 depending on the quality and power output.

6. Problem With Airbags

This problem is common only in the 2014 and 2015 models of the BMW i3. Primarily, due to a manufacturing mistake, the internal components of the airbag were not appropriately assembled by BMW. Thus, i3s manufactured in this duration can have a faulty air inflator that will fail to deploy in low-speed collisions.

The good thing is, this problem is limited to the frontal passenger airbags and not the rear ones. But if faced, this problem can prove to be fatal. 

Although BMW later realized this mistake and recalled most of the vehicles to fix this issue. However, if you suspect this problem with your i3, visiting the BMW service station at the earliest is suggested.

To resolve this problem, BMW would replace the complete frontal passenger airbag module.

7. Fuel-Vapor Problem

This problem can occur in the extended range (REx) models of the BMW i3. Being a lethal problem, it can lead to a potential fire, started by the fuel vapors.

The REx models of the i3 incorporate a small petrol engine to charge the battery pack, which offers more range to the vehicle than the standard BMW i3. At times, the vent line of the fuel tank can rub against the ribbed wire protection sleeve of the battery’s positive cable. 

Over some time, this can lead to the vent line getting damaged. Thus, developing cracks and holes. This damage to the vent line could allow the fuel vapor to escape into the engine bay area and leaking fuel can create a risk of fire.

Although BMW has recalled most i3 models manufactured between 2014 through 2017, which could possibly get affected by this problem. However, if your car was not one of them and you suspect this problem in your BMW i3. Then closely inspect the vent line for any damage. In case you detect any holes or cracks in the vent line.

Then immediately take your car to the BMW dealership, where this issue would be fixed possibly free of charge. Also, after replacing the vent line with a new one, make sure to mount a clip to avoid the vent line from rubbing against the ribbed sleeve in the future.