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.
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.
- 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.
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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Fuel Related Issues
- 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!