BMW i3 Problems to Expect

BMW i3 was designed from the ground up to be one of the more unique vehicles on the road, but how reliable is it?

SimpleCarGuy here and in today’s video I want to talk about some common problems you can expect on the BMW i3. We’ll discuss the difference between BEV and REX reliability, best years to buy, what to look for when buying yours and how to avoid some of these issues if you already own one.

Content:

Quirky:

Remember, this isn’t a regular EV, hybrid or a gas car. It has bespoke parts made for the i3 shared only with the i8 in most cases. Overall, it’s one of the most reliable EVs on the market, but every car has its issues; especially, experimental one like the i3.

Before I talk specifics, let me explain how the video is structured. We’ll talk about the most common issues first and then the not as common, but still, something to pay attention to. Specifically, we will discuss Mechanical, Electronic, Cosmetic and REX Specific issues. You can use chapters to jump around if you like.

BEV:

  1. 12v Battery

The most common problem across the BMW i3 range has to be the 12v battery. Judging from how many people have complained and how many forum posts you can find on this, the battery will pre-maturely fail about every 3 years and it’s not unusual to see people with only 50,000 miles on their 3rd battery. It’s recommended replacing it before it gives out. A failing battery will leave you stranded needing a flatbed as the car won’t turn on. Interestingly, the 95 and 120 ah cars have a different part number for the 12v battery and seem to be a little more reliable, but still affected.

  • Motor Mount Failure

Another very common issue is the weak motor mounts that can fail abruptly causing the car to vibrate and make lots of noise in the back. This can happen on cars even under 50,000 miles and usually more so on cars that were driven hard or on bad roads. Snapped off bolts on the motor mount are not unusual either. BMW has since replaced the plastic motor mounts, upgraded the bolts to metal ones and reprogrammed the cars to have less initial torque during the repair campaign  and on all newer cars. If this recall has not been done on your car, it’s a good idea to get it checked out.

  • Strut Mounts, Bearings, Dust Covers)

Common across the range are also a few suspension issues. Most common one being the dust covers on the front dampers. This isn’t critical or dangerous, but water and dirt will prematurely wear out your dampers resulting in an unstable ride and more expensive repair. The dried-out rubber can also get into the bump stops causing an annoying squeak. Failing strut bearings are also a common failure point and require the upper strut mounts to be replaced.

  • AC Compressor – No Cold Air (all years)

Bigger problems can be caused by a failed AC compressor. This may not be as common as the first 3 items, but it gets expensive. VERY EXPENSIVE. If you happen to be one of the very unlucky ones where the AC compressor completely fails, it can cause the cooling fan to implode sending shrapnel through the High Voltage battery pack cooling loop. Yes, on this car, the compressor runs both the HVAC as well as the cooling of the HV battery, so the repair can be over $8k+ i as the battery has to be removed from the vehicle and cooling lines replaced. This seems to be more common on 2017 or older i3s, but has happened on newer ones as well. It’s recommended to get your HVAC system checked out as soon as you hear any clicky or metallic noise from the AC Compressor. Replacing JUST the compressor can be a cheaper $3000 job.

  • Washer Fluid Pump Leak

A much cheaper issue that has come up on many BMW i3s is the leaky windshield washer pump. I’ve had this happen on mine and I just used some epoxy to fix the leak. My simple fix has lasted a few months now but, of course, you can simply replace the entire pump for only around $20. To prevent this, make sure to not get any debris into the washer fluid tank and clean out the clogged washer jets if they are not performing as expected.

Electronics:

Switching over to the electronics, other than the 12v battery we talked about earlier, there are a few other common issues to watch out for.

  • Failed driver heated seat

One of the most annoying ones in colder climates is the heated seats going out. A lot of people use their heated seats much more than in regular cars to gain some range in the winter so sometimes the elements in the seat get damaged and cause a short circuit or the thermometer goes bad causing the seats to overheat and shut off.

  • Flickering LEDs on the center panel (especially AC) Blurry/Faulty Reversing Camera

A few common but rather minor issues have to do with the LEDs going out in the climate control panel where it starts to flicker or completely burns out and faulty reversing camera where it becomes a little blurry.

  • Charge Port Door Solenoid

The charge port door solenoid can also fail and cause the charge door not to open. It usually starts with a grinding noise during operation. I had a hard time opening the charge door in the snow on my car and had to re-adjust it a little bit as well. In some cases, the solenoid does not fail but the door has to be recalibrated.

  • Airbags

On a more serious note, there was a problem with the internal components of the airbag that were not properly assembled by BMW. This resulted in the airbag deployment in a low-speed collision on 2014 and 2015 models. Similarly, the passenger restraint system on the same year cars had a tendency to show a warning even when the passenger was buckled in.

  1. KLE Failure (PCB Issue)

While this next one is not very common, it is also serious and surprisingly only occurs on 2018 and newer models. There have been a few reports of a failed KLE and EME modules due to bad solder joints. KLE module is responsible for charging your vehicle and EME is the Electric Motor controller that if fails shuts down high voltage to the motor and stopping the car in its tracks. If there are any signs of sudden loss of power on your BMW i3, the dealer will replace these at no cost.

Cosmetic Exterior

  1. Cheap materials used:

BMW i3 also has a few issues with the quality of the materials that have been used. A lot of these were advertised as eco-friendly and good for the environment and it’s mostly true, but it also means some of these materials don’t last as long as we would expect from BMW.

I have personally noticed poor quality interior on my car as it wears out very quickly. Granted, mine was neglected and abused, but looking online for used interior parts showed very similar wear and tear at only 50,000 miles. The Deka fabric appears to stain easily as well, even with water.

Other have also pointed out that the antenna deteriorates in hot climates as well as the rubber trim along the top edge of the windshield becoming crumbly or sticky. Door seals have a very similar issue. Whether it’s the design of the car or the quality of the seal, it wears out much sooner than any other BMW I have owned and others have reported the same, even stating that water has been collecting in the lower CRP frame due to poor insulation.

The door handles are also of a strange design and not often used on BMWs, so they get a little loose and wobbly over time. Last noticeable cheap material is used on the eDrive badge in the back. It can start to peel in hot weather.

  1. Roof delamination.

A more serious issue on the outside has to be the carbon fiber roof. Those that park their car outside in very hot climates will start seeing bubbling and peeling appear after about 4-5 years. This is a known issue with other carbon fiber roof like on the M3 and M4 and the best solution to protect the clear coat and the roof panel itself is to get it vinyl wrapped.

REX:

Fuel Related Issues

  1. Fuel Door

Lastly let’s talk about Range Extender specific problems. Of course, with addition of a scooter engine in the rear, there is more complexity and more problems to expect.

Luckily, not of them are very serious and the most common one is the fuel door that gets stuck and will not open unless you use the emergency release under the hood. This happens almost entirely because of a failed fuel tank pressure sensor and the reason this sensor fails is because owners are trying to add just a little more fuel after the pump stops. So, DO NOT OVERFILL your gas tanks and allow the pump to auto-stop. Fuel pump relay is another issue on the REx and can cause the AUX unit not to start and light up a Check Engine Light.

As with other gas engines, you have to do proper maintenance or risk things like misfires on one of the cylinders. In addition to maintenance, you must use high quality premium fuel as it can sit there unused weeks at a time. Most importantly, change your oil once a year if you use your Range Extender if you don’t want the cam shaft bearings to start wearing out and fail.

Before I finish up this video, there are a couple of things I wanted to mention that aren’t really problems, but good to know. If you notice, BMW i3 runs on some very skinny tires. Great for rolling resistance, terrible for wear and tear. These tires wear out in as little as 10k miles if you are an aggressive driver. Worse is that they are unique to this vehicle so are hard to find, can be expensive and with a choice of 1. 20 inch wheels look the best, but are the biggest offender and tend to go out taking out the wheel on bad pot holes.

The second none problem-problem is that the 3g cell network has been turned off in US and thus on the early cars you no longer have real time traffic, remote starts or app access. This is a huge blow for fairly new cars.

Which car do I recommend?

For that reason and many other, I would recommend a 2017 or newer BMW i3 with the Range Extender. These do not have any big real issues and offer a great range with larger batteries and 4g network support. In 2018 you also get a facelift and a more sporty i3s model. Older models are still a great buy and a lot of times a bargain as most issues have been fixed under warranty or through recalls. I have been really enjoying my BMW i3 and I would recommend it to anyone looking for a quirky, fun and unique car that is no longer in production. Now that you know more about the reliability, you would be amazed how many hidden features this car has, make sure to watch that video by clicking here. Thanks for watching and I’ll see you in the next one!


Top 15 Useful BMW i3 Hidden Features

  1. Key and Key fob

We’ll start with some simple ones for those newer to BMWs and the I3. This seemingly simple key actually has many hidden features. Everyone knows you can roll down your windows and sun roof on most BMWs by just holding the unlock button for a few seconds, but did you also know there is a physical key that has a couple of features of its own? Not only can it open the driver’s door, it can also lower and raise the windows if you hold it all the way to the right or left. Well, only the front windows, the rears are fixed in.

A couple other fun key features I found is that if you hit the lock button on your key fob when the windows are opened a little, it will go back up inch by inch and if you have a European version , you can just hold the lock button to close them completely. If your car is plugged into a charger and you lock it, you will also see the charge status. Lastly, if you hit the lock button twice within 10 seconds, it will DE-activate the tilt alarm and the interior motion sensor. Great for leaving a dog in the car.

  • Door Handle

Speaking of leaving things in the car, you don’t have to open the rear door to put something in the back. You can use this handy handle on the back of the seat to lean it forward like in a 2-door car. However, if you do open the door and look in the corner here, you fill find that you have some pull tabs behind a cover. There are these manual pulls all over the car. You can open the charging port, the front trunk and fuel filler door.

  • Fuel cap and charge port has a spot to be stored

While we are here at the fuel door, when you fill your car with either gas or electricity, don’t let the cap dangle, there is a built-in spot to keep them off the paint.

Interior:

  1. Telescoping steering column

Switching over to the interior and controls, there are some fun ones here as well! For example, I recently learned that the steering wheel is not only adjustable up and down, but it’s also telescopic!? How cool!

  • Turn Signal Cancel

Some of the features you use daily also have little tricks behind them. For example, when using a turn signal, you don’t have to push it the opposite direction and turn on the other one accidentally, you can simply tap in the same direction to cancel it. I know it solves a problem that BMW has created by changing how their turn signals work, but cool nonetheless.

  • Follow me home and parking lights

You can also use this stalk to turn on follow me home lights by pushing the stalk away from you. Your low beams will stay on for 30 seconds. This is also why I upgraded mine to LEDs.

Similarly, you can turn on parking lights by pushing the stalk up or down. Left or right side of the car will stay on. Great for street parking or parking in an alley.

  • Put car in neutral/skip neutral

Switching to the other side of the steering wheel, there are a couple of features here as well. You can skip Neutral when selecting Drive or Reverse by pushing the gear change lever past the first click. This one is easy to find after driving the car for a while, but how do you put the car in Neutral? You would think you can just pop it in N and turn it off… but it just goes to Park on its own. To do so, hold the gear lever and the power button for 3 seconds and the release both. Now you are in neutral and car is off.

  • Can turn on radio when car is off

There are a couple of tricks with the entertainment system as well. As an example, you can power on the radio with the car off by simply hitting the volume/power button.

  • Shortcut Buttons

Just to the right of the power button, we have some preset buttons, but what most people don’t know is that you don’t have to use it for radio, you can use it as a shortcut for almost anything in the system. For example, you can make one of them toggle the Hold State of Charge aka turn on the Range Extender or dim the control panel brightness or even switch to different music sources and much more. Fun fact, if you’d like to reset all of them, simply hold 1 and 8 at the same time.

  • Hidden menu

Ok, ok, I hear some of you screaming that you know all of these already, but did you know that this small city car has a drift mode!?

Ok, it’s not actually called a drift mode, but there is a hidden menu that gives you tons of additional information and allows you to enable a roller mode where it will turn off the traction control, stability control, ABS and regenerative braking giving you full control of the rear wheels!

Getting into the hidden menu is fairly simple, you just hold the trip reset button for a few seconds and you are in! Here you can find a few options, including the roller mode which you can press and hold to enable. You can also unlock this menu for a ton more information, like your battery capacity, temperature and other specs not otherwise advertised. To unlock it, enter the sum of the last 5 digits of your VIN and you are in! I will do a full video on this as I think it deserves a deeper dive. We can even check out the CiC iDrive service menu in that video as well. Let me know if that is something you’d be interested in seeing.

  • Coat Hanger
  • Power plug

If you haven’t seen my camera install video, you might not know that there is a power plug right under the air vents, super convenient for charging your phone. Also, there is a hidden coat hanger behind this little cover. All you have to do is flip it around.

Engine/Driving:

The last few items I wanted to mention have to do with the engine, driving and storing the vehicle.

One features that’s hard to figure out yourself as a driver is that when braking really hard, the car will also illuminate the lower lights, giving more of a warning to the cars behind, but not only that, if you open the rear hatch and your lights are no longer visible, the lower set will take over and work as regular lights and brakes! Great thinking on BMW’s part here!

  1. Rex Emissions Mode
  2. You can check oil level unlike other BMWs

Luckily BMW did more thinking around the range extender engine which leads me to the next hidden feature, you can put the car in emissions mode. This will turn on the engine and run it for 20 minutes to bring it up to operating temperatures and prepare systems for emissions testing. Your battery charge has to be under 75% as it will charge the battery as a side effect. Could be useful in an emergency! To turn it on, open the hatch, turn on the ignition and then press the accelerator pedal 3 times and hold on the third. Release and press the brake button followed by the Start and Stop button. The engine will start at this point. Another fun fact about this motorcycle engine is that it actually has an oil dip stick, so you can check the oil level unlike most other BMWs. Nice!

  • Long storage hidden feature, hack:

The very last trick that could be useful for some has to do with storing a BMW i3 over longer time. BMW says not to allow the vehicle to sit idle for extended period of time on low charge, so it must be close to fully charged to be stored. This will work great for the high voltage battery, but you will still be risking killing the 12v battery since simply having the car plugged in will not charge it. So, to circumvent this, what you can do is set up a departure time once a week, this will power on the car and charge your 12v battery at the same time saving you a headache in the future.

Summary:

Wow this turned out to be a pretty long video! So, I hope you have learned something new or interesting about a BMW i3 and if you are a hardcore enthusiast, I’d love to hear some of the things I’ve missed. Also, if you’d like to access some more truly hidden features, check out this video where I show you how to code your car for more range, true control of the range extender and even adding a sport mode! Thanks for watching and I’ll see you in the next one!