BMW has long been known as the manufacturer of sporty and practical SUVs. The brilliant minds behind the German brand saw a potential need for SUVs in the premium, luxury segment and came up with the BMW X5. The crowd loved it instantly and the SUV trend took a whole new shape, increasing the demand for super practical, high-riding SUVs. However, what is the BMW X3 problems that you should be aware of?
These SUVs needed to have a smaller footprint than their contemporary full-sized models but provide the same driving experience. Just four years after coming out with the X5, the German automaker tried to expand its horizon with the famed BMW X3.
The amazing engine up front paired with the xDrive AWD system at the back is enough to shoot the X3 to 60 mph in under four seconds! But we won’t get into that today. This is a discussion on the BMW X3 problems that threaten to taint the lineup’s glory years.
History Of The BMW X3
The BMW X3 first started production in 2003, 4 years after the X5 was launched in the market. BMW had hoped it would be a more successful successor of the X5. The X3 was more compact than the BMW X5 in design, but the manufacturers did not skimp on the features required to offer the ultimate luxury driving experience. After all, these cars were designed to compete with rival cars like Mercedes G, Audi Q, and Range Rovers.
Right now, X3 has 3 generations:
- First-generation (E83): 2003-2010
- Second-generation (F25): 2011-2017
- Third-generation (G01): 2017-Present
This is the third generation of BMW X3 in 2021. Over the years, the lineup has managed to establish a strong foothold in the industry and made a mark for itself. It is safe to say that the BMW X3 is amongst the sportiest SUV crossovers in its sector.
Common BMW X3 Problems
The BMW X3 problems have been that black mark on the otherwise golden history of BMW vehicles. Engine problems have been a common aspect in these vehicles, but there are a handful of other issues as well:
- Failure of timing chain guide
- Engine oil leaks – gasket and valve cover
- Sunroof leak and rattle
- Broken regulators and window rattle
- Expansion tank leaks
- Overheating from radiator
Engine Oil Leaks
BMW engines, although efficient, are prone to oil leaks, and the BMW X3 is no different. Oil leaks are generally caused by deprecating valve cover gaskets as well as cracks in the covers. Normal wear and tear slowly eat away at the rubber gasket, allowing the oil to leak out of the engine.
In addition, the majority of engines on BMW vehicles feature plastic construction. Thus, the cover is exposed to elevated levels of stress and heat, and with time, this can develop cracks that help oils seep out into the engine bay.
It is to be noted that older cars are more vulnerable to leaky engines. Issues like that commonly arise after the vehicle has gone over the 80,000-mile mark. Luckily, most of the time, the problem is a result of gasket decay and this is a relatively cheap fix – $20 to $40 for the part.
If you can DIY, then you can save on labor costs too. An auto repair shop would charge about $300 to $400 to fix that. So, a cracked valve cover basically means $400 to $500 in replacement work.
Sunroof Leaks And Rattle
This problem is rampant between the first-gen X3’s – the E83’s. When the driver would crack or open the sunroof, multiple trim pieces would rattle and move around, emitting an irritating sound. Some users also complained that the sound persisted when the sunroof was open – normally a wind-induced issue.
Fortunately, this problem has no negative impact on the vehicle’s driveability. It is more so an inconvenience to the driver. Extra felt tape in the areas where the sunroof is rattling would fix the problem. The repair is free for those cars with retained factory warranty. But even if the warranty period on your car is over, don’t worry. The repair is inexpensive and can be performed at home pretty easily.
When it comes to a leaky sunroof, the whole sunroof may have to be replaced on some, while on others a simple drain cleanup and vapor barrier resealing would do the trick.
Failure Of Timing Chain Guide
The timing chains on the X3 have metal construction. As metal on metal contact is detrimental to every engine, the timing chain guides usually are made from plastic. The job of the timing chain guide is to connect the camshaft and crankshaft to the timing chain. Since the guides are made of plastic, they are prone to cracks which can throw off the engine’s timing. As a result, the engine incurs damages.
If you detect the problem in the early stages, all you have to do is change the guides and fix the timing. That repair will cost you $500 on average. If you continue to drive the vehicle for a long time without repairing the issue, the car could have a total engine failure. Then, you cannot escape at least a $5,000 bill in repairs.
Common signs of timing chain failure include:
- Rough idling
- Bad driving condition
- Lack of acceleration and power
- Loud whining, rattling, or knocking sounds from the engine.
This issue becomes more serious when the X3 has surpassed 100,000 miles. If you are getting a high-mileage BMW X3, we suggest you replace the guides – just as a preventative measure.
Broken Regulators And Window rattle
A failed window regulator stops the window from closing or opening. A fix will run you a few hundreds in labor and the same for parts. The door window rattle is another commonly reported issue, similar to the rattling of the sunroof. This noise usually comes from the door seals but we think it is the windows.
Dirt and debris accumulate on the door seals with use and the doors lose snugness with the car’s body. Therefore, we start hearing more noises and feeling excessive vibrations from the windows. This can be repaired by cleaning the seals and layering gummi pflege on them.
Overheating Engine And Coolant Leaks
Common symptoms of a cooling system failure are an overheating engine or coolant leaking all over the garage floor. On the X3, it is usually the coolant expansion tank and the radiator causing these problems. It can also be caused by poor housing or a thermostat.
Seriously, if your car is showing signs of overheating, stop and get it towed. Driving around in an overheated engine warps the internals. You may have to replace the engine entirely.
The Worst Year For The BMW X3
Much like every other vehicle on the road today, there have been good and bad years for the X3.
According to carcomplaints.com, the 2013 BMW X3 was the worst model year. Infamous for its engine problems, the X3 would cost owners thousands in repairs every time. The problems would start once the car had 83,000 miles on it and on average, the repair cost $3,400.
A total of 36 complaints were registered about the X3 – the highest number out of all model years. The problems had a wide range too, starting from suspension faults and broken timing chains to transmission troubles.
BMW X3 Problems Over The Years
2005 BMW X3 Problems
The 2nd year of X3 production was a good one indeed. Only a few user concerns and complaints were brought up, the majority of them revolving around exterior accessories, windshields, and windows. NHTSA complaints primarily dealt with interior accessories.
Users who had problems with the windshield and windows usually referred to the leaking sunroof as well as the failure of power windows over time. Fixing the power window generally costs about $600 on average and the owner would have to pay to replace the window motor.
In terms of exterior accessories, owners of the vehicle were primarily concerned about the windshield wipers suddenly stopping working. Water leaks were another concern that could be solved by repairing the drainage tubes. However, the windshield wipers gave up with time and needed to be replaced.
Almost all of NHTSA’s complaints revolved around the seats, seat heaters/coolers, and the adaptive equipment. In fact, the seat troubles led to 11 injuries, 15 fires, and happened at just under 100,000 miles. Owners reported that the seat would overheat while on high setting and burn through the seal material, causing physical harm to the driver.
2007 BMW X3 problems
Another good model year from BMW, the 2007 X3 did not have many user complaints either. NHTSA did raise some concerns, with 51 complaints about interior accessories, 71 regarding the seatbelts, and 47 about the engine.
The airbags and seat belts became somewhat of a major concern as the airbags resulted in two crashes and two injuries. These problems would start happening at around 14,000 miles. A recall was issued for this model year and many users assume this was to fix the automatic transmission.
The issues related to the interior accessories were similar to the complaints that poured in in 2005 – the heat setting being too powerful and burning the users on the seats. 16 crashes and 14 injuries were caused by this and drivers would notice this become an issue after 85,000 miles. Common signs of an overheating system include a burning smell, a coil imprint on the leather seat, and in extreme cases, seats catching on fire.
The final problem in the 2007 X3 was the engine troubles, where the NHTSA complained about the failure of the engine mount bolt, oil leaks, and difficulty controlling vehicle speed.
Having caused 4 fires, these problems would start showing up at 65,000 miles on average. Users stated that they lost power in the engine and it would stop driving, the heater would stop functioning, the vehicle would not crank over, and all the warning lights came on simultaneously.
2012 BMW X3 Problems
There was only one complaint about the 2010 BMW X3, making it one of the most stable model years. However, with the 2013 X3, people noticed cracks forming in the system. Main areas of concern included the steering, engine, and airbag, and seatbelt category.
The engine troubles revolved around the engine system as a whole, the unintended acceleration, and the vehicle speed control. Naturally, disaster followed and there was one crash and one fire. Problems would start showing at about 110,000 miles. Owners reported that the engine tended to go into neutral and seize while driving, the car would stall automatically, the camshaft timing was defective and it would detach at high speeds.
NHTSA also reported complaints about the 2012 X3, saying that the issues mainly started at around 45,000 miles. Symptoms included:
- A hard to use and sticky steering
- Need to make many minor corrections during driving
- Difficult to control steering
- Temperature making the steering wheel stiff
Last but not the least, the seat belts and airbags problems from the previous generations persisted in this model year as well. This resulted in 1 crash, 1 injury, and it was calculated that the problem started occurring at 40,000 miles on average. Passengers claimed that the airbags would not deploy when they should.
2013 BMW X3 Problems
We already mentioned that the 2013 X3 is the worst in the BMW X3 lineup. The severity of the BMW X3 problems combined with their prevalence makes this an avoidable model. The biggest area of concern is the engine. The NHTSA lodged 23 complaints about the drive train, 13 about the braking system, and a disappointing 78 complaints regarding the engine system.
There was a common string in these complaints – they claimed that in the 2013 X3:
- The engine would shut down and still when driving
- Engine would fail
- The timing chain would break
- The engine mount tended to fail
- Oil leaks were common
- It was difficult to brake with the engine on
On average, users had to pay $320 to get these problems solved – problems that occurred at about 70,000 miles. Owners of the X3 said that the high-pressure fuel pump needed to be replaced but even after that, the car would display problems while shifting into neutral or driving gears after restarting.
Coming back to the NHTSA complaints regarding the drivetrain, 23 of those complaints talked about the powertrain. One fire was caused by these issues that mainly showed up after the car had 114,000 miles on it. Users reported facing an error message about the low oil pressure in the car, losing power during a drive, the engine dying and not being able to start, and the repeated illumination of the powertrain malfunction error light.
Finally, the last concern regarding the X3 came in the form of braking systems, with 13 complaints being cited by the NHTSA about the hydraulic braking system and service brakes. These problems resulted in 1 crash, 2 fires, and occurred super early in the driving stage – 18,000 miles. According to user reports:
- The brakes became unresponsive when driving
- Brakes are covered by any extended warranty
- Brake does not work when depressed
- Failure of braking system mid-drive
2019 BMW X3 Problems
The German automaker definitely got a slice of humble pie after the 2013 X3 tarnished their reputation. Things improved significantly after that and they would soon be launching the best of the X3s: the 2019 BMW X3. Watch this video for an in-depth review.
There were some NHTSA complaints about the 2019 model year here and there, like paint and body problems as well as miscellaneous issues. The paint and body problems concentrated on the liftgate and hatchback, the tailgate, and of course, the vehicle itself.
Users noticed that the tailgate opens automatically, although the car is parked overnight. Moreover, the comfort access would not work 24/7/365, with the door refusing to unlock on command. There were also claims about the glass on the sunroof as users thought it could shatter. In addition, the strong seat ventilation does not work properly.
Miscellaneous troubles in the 2019 BMW X3 focused on:
- Frontal collision detection malfunctioning
- Digital instrumentation providing wrong information
- Auto start and stop features stops
- Lane assist and active safety feature not vibrating the steering wheel to give notifications
- Windshield damaged caused by small debris against the glass
BMW did not have to recall every year, so that is a good sign. Below is a table of all the recall campaigns announced by the German giant:
|Model Year||Number of Recalls|
Almost all of the main issues with the X3 resulted in recalls of the vehicle.
The first recall was made to address the failure of vacuum pump lubrication and loss of brake assist. Once the vacuum pump fails, the braking system loses power and this drastically raises the risk of a crash. Particular model years of every car from BMW, especially between 2012 to 2014, are prone to a power assistance failure and inadequate lubrication.
Another recall was issued to deal with the damage done to lower child seat anchor bars. Affected vehicles under this recall featured lower anchor bars used to secure the child restraint seats correctly. If the bars are damaged, the child seat may not be secured properly and can increase the chance of injuring the child during a crash.
Furthermore, an improperly welded airbag deflator became a concern for the BMW X3. In simple terms, this means that if there was a crash, the inflator housing would detach from the base plate instead of deploying the frontal airbag. The metal would strike the car’s occupants, leading to critical injuries or even death.
Another recall covered with the occupant classification section, where if in the event of a crash the system would fail, the front passenger airbag would not activate and cause injury to the passenger.
In general, every other BMW X3 problem is something most other BMW vehicles face. We and general users found the X3 pretty reliable. But once the car gets more than 100,000 miles on itself, the coolant and oil leaks, timing chain guide troubles become more regular, and engine issues might pop up.
Regular maintenance, like replacement of ignition coil and spark plug, regular oil changes, and gasket replacement can help maintain long-term reliability.
The transmission and drivetrain on these vehicles rarely display any troubles and are very reliable. Transfer case problems are a probable issue over the 150,000-mile mark, but apart from that, the parts are quite sturdy. Moreover, the suspension, brakes, steering as well as the electronic components are of good quality.
Be warned though. Repair bills on BMW cars are not usually wallet-friendly. Make sure you have to maintain a luxury car from a premium brand. Read more on BMW reliability here.
Expected Mileage From A BMW X3
German vehicles are known all over the world for their engineering excellence and quality craftsmanship – and the X3 is a testament.
Take a look at some of the first generation models roaming the streets today. The BMW X3 is a robust car that offers a smooth driving experience and almost anything you can conjure in a luxury, high-quality compact SUV.
You can expect the BMW X3 to last between 150,000 to 200,000 miles (average mileage) with proper maintenance, regular servicing, and conservative driving behaviors. If we consider you get an annual mileage of 13,500 miles every year, you get 11 to 15 years of service before the car will require major fixes or breaks down.
BMW X3: Facts About Common Problems, Reliability, and Off-Road Performance
- The BMW X3 was introduced in 2003 as a mid-size luxury crossover vehicle designed to compete with other luxury mid-size vehicles like the Audi Q and Mercedes G.
- There are currently three generations of X3s: the first generation (E83) produced from 2003-2010, the second generation (F25) produced from 2011-2017, and the third-generation (G01) produced from 2017 to the present.
- Common problems experienced with the E83 and F25 X3s include engine oil leaks, sunroof rattle and leaks, timing chain guide failure, window rattle, and broken regulators, and overheating from radiator and expansion tank leaks.
- Engine oil leaks are commonly caused by deteriorating valve cover gaskets or cracks in the valve cover itself and can be repaired relatively easily and inexpensively.
- Sunroof rattle can be fixed by adding additional felt tape to the areas on the sunroof causing the rattle while a leaking sunroof may require the full sunroof to be replaced or simply cleaning the drains and re-sealing the vapor barriers.
- Timing chain guide failure can result in the engine’s timing being thrown off, which can severely damage the engine’s internals and result in the need for a new engine. This can be avoided with preventative maintenance, such as replacing the guides above 100k miles.
- Window regulator failure and window rattle are reportedly common issues but can be fixed relatively easily and inexpensively with the right knowledge and tools.
- BMW X3s are generally reliable vehicles, but oil and coolant leaks and timing chain guide problems become more frequent as the vehicle ages and accumulates mileage. Preventative maintenance is key to maintaining long-term reliability.
- The drivetrain and transmission, brakes, steering, suspension, and electronic components of X3s are generally very reliable, and transfer case problems typically do not arise until above 150k miles.
- The X3’s all-wheel-drive system electronically adjusts how much power is being sent to each wheel and is optimized for snow and light terrain, but it is not designed for heavy off-road driving like a Jeep or Land Rover.
Although the BMW X3 problems were enough to destroy the reputation of the lineup, the German automobile manufacturer worked to bring changes. They recovered from a really vulnerable state and came out with better versions in the future, making this one of the better cars you can own.