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We Asked 97 BMW E90 Owners About Their Most Common Problems

We Asked 97 BMW E90 Owners About Their Most Common Problems

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the most frequent issues owners face with their E90s, focusing on engine, interior, and suspension troubles. We’ll also discuss some problems specific to the pre-facelift models (2006-2008).

If you want the quick answer, here it is: 

The BMW E90 3 Series (2006-2011) is known for a few common engine problems.

Oil leaks from the valve cover and oil filter housing gaskets are the most frequent due to aging and wear. The electric water pump can fail, causing overheating, while the VANOS solenoids are prone to clogging with oil sludge, leading to poor performance. On turbo models, carbon buildup on the intake valves can cause misfires and stuttering.

Interior issues include rattles and squeaks from aging trim pieces, failing window regulators, and faulty passenger seat occupancy sensors triggering airbag lights. The most common suspension problem is weak sway bar end links, causing clunking noises.

Pre-facelift models (2006-2008) with the N52 engine can experience valve lifter ticking due to oil starvation, requiring costly repairs. These earlier models are also more prone to ABS module failure.

That will get you asking the right questions on the lot and save you some headaches. But if you want to dive a bit further, stick around as look at each problem in detail including what it will cost to fix.

Let’s get started!

We Used Real World Data To Create This List Of Problems

Before we dive into the most common problems, let’s quickly explain how we created this list.

First, we asked 97 owners (via Facebook) about their BMW E90 to get a feel for what kind of problems they’ve run into. Yes, it’s a small data set but it is real world data that’s hard to beat. All owners had their BMW E90 for at least a year and we saw a wide range of mileage from 75,000 to 210,000. 

Then, we turned to resources like the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and many others, to review the most common complaints issues by owners along with the full history of recalls and active investigations.

Next, I fact-checked everything against my almost two decades of automotive experience working everywhere from dealerships to your local shops. Lastly, our team of automotive experts takes a closer look into each problem and breaks down why it happens, what you can do to prevent it, and how to fix it.

We review the data and interpret the results to make your life easier. Now that you understand how we came up with this list, let’s get into it!

What 97 BMW E90 Owners Reported

As mentioned, we asked 97 BMW E90 owners what problems they experienced with their BWM E90s. Here’s what they had to say:

owner reported problems in bmw e90 pie chart

Note: Some owners may have reported multiple problems, which is why the total number of reported problems exceeds the number of owners in the data set. The data set also includes a small number of owners who have not reported any major problems, or problems that only occurred in their individual vehicle so they didn’t make the cut of our common problems. 

Engine Problems

When it comes to the BMW E90’s engine, there are a few common issues that come up time and time again. In this section, we’ll dive into the most frequent engine problems, their symptoms, causes, solutions, and the costs associated with fixing them.

Valve Cover Gasket and Oil Filter Housing Gasket Leaks

One of the most common issues with the E90’s engine is oil leaks from the valve cover gasket and oil filter housing gasket. You’ll typically notice oil pooling underneath your car or a burning smell coming from the engine bay.

These leaks are usually caused by the gaskets aging and wearing out over time. The solution is to replace the faulty gaskets, which can cost anywhere from $200 to $600, depending on whether you do it yourself or take it to a mechanic.

Electric Water Pump Failure

Another frequent problem is the failure of the electric water pump, which can lead to engine overheating.

Symptoms include the temperature gauge reading high, warning lights on the dashboard, and even steam coming from under the hood in severe cases.

The main cause of this issue is simply the wear and tear of the electric water pump over time and it’s common on BMW E90s over 80,000 miles. Replacing the water pump is the only solution, which can cost between $400 and $800. 

VANOS Solenoid Failure

VANOS is BMW’s variable valve timing system, and the solenoids that control it can fail, causing poor engine performance, reduced fuel efficiency, and a check engine light. These solenoids are prone to getting clogged with oil sludge, which is the primary cause of their failure. This video does a great job explaining what to look for: 

Cleaning the solenoids might temporarily solve the problem, but in most cases, you’ll need to replace them. Expect to pay around $200 to $600 for this repair.

Carbon Buildup on Intake Valves (Turbo Models)

For E90s with turbocharged engines (335i, 335xi), carbon buildup on the intake valves is a common issue. This can lead to symptoms like stuttering, misfires, and reduced engine performance. The main culprit is the direct injection system, which doesn’t spray fuel onto the valves to clean them as port injection does.

The solution is to have the intake valves walnut blasted, which involves physically removing the carbon deposits. I’ve seen this service cost anywhere from $400 to $1,000, depending on the severity of the buildup and the shop you go to. In some cases, you might need to replace the intake valves altogether, which can be even more expensive.

To prevent this issue from reoccurring, I recommend using high-quality fuel and oil, and making sure you warm everything up (even on short trips). 

Interior Problems

Moving on from the engine bay, let’s take a look at some of the most common interior issues you might encounter with your BMW E90.

Interior Rattles and Squeaks

One of the most common complaints we heard from E90 owners are interior rattles and squeaks. These annoying noises can come from various trim pieces, like the dashboard, door panels, or center console.

The main cause of these rattles is the aging and wear of the plastic trim pieces over time, especially on high-mileage vehicles. It’s something we see in a lot of vehicles, including other BMWs like the i3 and the F30

The solution is to identify the source of the noise and either tighten or replace the offending trim piece. In some cases, applying felt tape or other anti-rattle materials can help. Fixing these issues can cost anywhere from a few dollars for DIY solutions (hello, trusty duct tape) to a few hundred dollars for more involved repairs.

Failing Window Regulators

Another common problem with the E90’s interior is failing window regulators. You might notice your windows moving slower than usual, getting stuck, or not moving at all.

The window regulators, which are responsible for moving the windows up and down, can wear out over time, causing these issues. The solution is to replace the faulty window regulator, which can cost between $200 and $600, depending on whether you do it yourself or have a mechanic handle it but because a broken window is a nightmare, I’d only suggest this fix for folks with some experience. 

Faulty Passenger Seat Occupancy Sensor

If you’ve ever seen the airbag warning light on your E90’s dashboard, it could be due to a faulty passenger seat occupancy sensor. This sensor is designed to detect whether someone is sitting in the passenger seat and adjust the airbag deployment accordingly.

Over time, this sensor can wear out or become damaged, causing the airbag light to come on. The solution is to replace the sensor, which can cost between $200 and $800, depending on the specific model and whether you go to a dealer or an independent shop.

To prevent this issue, I recommend being careful when moving heavy objects in and out of the passenger seat, as this can damage the sensor. Also, if you notice the airbag light coming on, get it checked out as soon as possible to avoid any potential safety issues.

Suspension Problems

Last but not least, let’s discuss one of the most common suspension issues you might face with your BMW E90.

Weak Sway Bar End Links

If you’re hearing clunking noises coming from the front or rear of your car, especially when going over bumps or turning, it could be due to weak sway bar end links. The sway bar, also known as an anti-roll bar, helps reduce body roll when cornering. The end links connect the sway bar to the suspension and can wear out over time.

The main cause of this issue is the aging and deterioration of the end link bushings. As these bushings wear out, they allow more movement and can cause the clunking noises you hear.

The solution is to replace the worn-out end links, which can cost anywhere from $100 to $400, depending on whether you do it yourself or have a mechanic take care of it. I recommend replacing them in pairs to ensure even wear and optimal performance.

If you’re experiencing this issue, it’s essential to address it sooner rather than later. Worn-out end links can negatively impact your car’s handling and stability, especially in emergency situations.

In my experience, this is one of the most common suspension issues on the E90, particularly on higher-mileage vehicles. If you’re looking to buy a used E90, be sure to check for any clunking noises or signs of worn suspension components during your test drive.

Problems Specific To Pre-Facelift E90 3 Series (2006-2008)

While the previous sections covered issues common to all E90 3 Series models, there are a couple of problems that are more specific to the pre-facelift models produced from 2006 to 2008. Let’s take a closer look at these issues.

Valve Lifter Ticking (N52 Engine)

One issue that seems to plague the pre-facelift E90s with the N52 engine is valve lifter ticking. You might notice a ticking noise coming from the engine, especially when it’s cold. This noise is caused by the valve lifters not getting enough oil, which can be due to a design flaw in the cylinder head.

BMW addressed this issue in the 2009 model year by updating the cylinder head design, but for the earlier models, the solution is to replace the faulty lifters and possibly the cylinder head. Unfortunately, this can be a costly repair, with estimates ranging from $1,000 to $3,000 or more.

I’ve seen some folks try to use thicker oil or additives to quiet the lifters, but in my experience, this is only a temporary fix at best. If you’re considering buying a pre-facelift E90 with the N52 engine, be sure to listen for any ticking noises during your test drive.

ABS Module Failure

Another problem that seems to be more common on the pre-facelift E90s, particularly the 2006-2007 models, is ABS module failure. You might notice the ABS light coming on, the brake pedal feeling hard, or the brakes not working as efficiently as they should.

The root cause of this issue is a faulty ABS control module, which can fail due to various factors like age, wear, or exposure to moisture. When this happens, the only solution is to replace the module, which can cost anywhere from $800 to $2,000 or more, depending on whether you go to a dealer or an independent shop.

In some cases, you might be able to find a used or refurbished module for less, but be cautious when going this route. I recommend making sure the module is compatible with your specific vehicle and comes with some sort of warranty.

To prevent ABS module failure, I suggest keeping your E90 parked in a garage or covered area whenever possible to protect it from the elements. Also, if you notice any signs of ABS issues, have it checked out by a professional as soon as possible to avoid any potential safety hazards.

Closing Thoughts

I’ve seen my fair share of BMW E90s in the shop, and while they can be great cars to drive, they do come with their own set of potential problems. If you’re considering buying an E90, it’s important to go into it with your eyes wide open.

Make sure to get a thorough pre-purchase inspection to identify any existing issues, and be prepared to budget for potential repairs down the line. Remember, these are complex machines with a lot of moving parts, and things can and will wear out over time.

That being said, if you stay on top of maintenance, address problems promptly, and find a trusted mechanic who knows these cars inside and out, an E90 can be a solid choice. Just don’t expect it to be perfect or trouble-free – no car is.

At the end of the day, it’s up to you to weigh the pros and cons and decide if an E90 is the right fit for your needs, budget, and tolerance for potential repairs. If you do decide to take the plunge, just know that with a little bit of knowledge and care, you can enjoy all the good things these cars have to offer while minimizing the headaches.

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