BMW i3 Most Common Problems That You Should Know

BMW i3: Most Common Problems That You Should Know

BMW i3 Most Common Problems That You Should Know

The BMW i3 holds a special place in our hearts despite its discontinuation. It’s unique, quirky, and the farthest thing from blowing pedestrians’ eardrums out after the light turns green.

But after all the time we’ve spent in this little premium EV, a bunch of problems with the BMW i3 start rearing their heads and cannot be simply ignored.

So before you join the rapidly expanding EV cult, make sure you take note of all the common things that could go “bump” (aka problems) in the BMW i3 below!

What are the common problems of the BMW i3?

The most common BMW i3 problems include problems with the steering, range extender (REx) issues, electronic issues, and battery/charging problems.

The BMW i3 also has other problems that concern the airbags, motor mounts, and the REx’s fuel tank ventilation line.

This is but a general summary of the problems that the BMW i3 can potentially run into during its lifespan.

The list of specific problems can vary from minor annoyances, such as a squeaky steering wheel, to ones that can cause a fire hazard, like the fuel tank ventilation chafing and leaking fuel vapor.

In the next part, we’ll be getting into the nitty-gritty details of each of these problems as well as providing you info on how to possibly get them resolved.

Problems with the Steering

Ask any BMW i3 owner what kind of problems they run into with their vehicles, and you’re bound to hear multiple responses that concern the steering system.

The BMW i3 is known to run into issues with its steering, whether it be the steering feeling harder and stiffer than normal or squeaking noises every time you turn the wheel in either direction.

Harder and Stiffer Steering Feel

Under normal circumstances, the BMW i3 is actually known for having great maneuverability when steering thanks to its relatively small dimensions.

However, this can all go out the window, as the steering feel can actually start to become harder and stiffer over time, making it more difficult to steer the BMW i3 in the direction that you want it to go.

There can be several different reasons for a harder or stiffer steering feel, and you may be tempted to look at your power steering fluid levels first.

However, it’s important to note that the BMW i3 has an electric power steering system instead of a hydraulic one, meaning that it does not utilize any fluid.

Otherwise, checking your power steering fluid level should be the first thing that you do when you experience hard steering in other BMW models with hydraulic power steering, such as the F10 and X5.  

Thus, the actual first thing to check if your BMW i3 feels harder to steer is the front tires, as they may have dropped in tire pressure, making them underinflated and heavier to steer.

Harder and Stiffer Steering Feel

The BMW i3 has a built-in TPM (Tire Pressure Monitor) that gives a warning when a tire loses pressure. As a reference, BMW recommends a front tire pressure of 33 psi (2.3 bar) for the i3 while the tires are still cold.

It’s also worth mentioning that the BMW i3’s steering assist is controlled via an electric motor and sensor, so just in case they glitch and cause the hard steering issue, you can try and reset them by simply turning the ignition off and on again.

In some cases, it may even be the software that controls the motor and sensor is outdated, so a software update may be needed to fix the hard steering issue. We recommend taking your BMW i3 to a dealership for this.

Squeaking Noises While Turning the Wheel

Squeaking Noises While Turning the Wheel

One more specific steering problem that you can experience with the BMW i3 is that the steering wheel makes a squeaking noise every time you turn it in either direction.

While it may “sound” like a minor annoyance, the squeaking issue still requires you to go through the task of removing several different steering system components to access the source of the noise, which happens to be the steering spindle sleeve.

The steering spindle sleeve has its own plastic bearing, and according to the manufacturer’s technical service bulletin (TSB B320315), the plastic bearing may have either been insufficiently lubricated or has no lubrication at all.

The BMW i3 squeaky steering issue can be remedied by simply taking your vehicle to the dealership and having the steering spindle lubricated under the service bulletin. However, you can also choose to do it yourself by following the steps below.

How to Lubricate BMW i3 Squeaky Steering Spindle Sleeve Bearing:
I. For Engine Compartment Side of Steering Spindle
1. Detach the front luggage compartment well to access the steering shaft bearing behind it.
2. Using universal plastic lubricant (BMW P/N 81 23 2 327 735), lubricate the sleeve’s plastic ring located on the steering shaft.
3. Spread the lubricant by turning the steering left and right three times.
II. For Under-Dash Side of Steering Spindle:
1. Detach the trim panel for the pedal mechanism to access the steering shaft bearing behind it.
2. Using universal plastic lubricant (BMW P/N 81 23 2 327 735), lubricate the sleeve’s plastic ring located on the steering shaft.
3. Spread the lubricant by turning the steering left and right three times.

Range Extender (REx) Issues

Range Extender (REx) Issues

One of the most well-known problems of the BMW i3 involves its range extender (REx) system, which as its name suggests, can extend the range of the vehicle if ever the battery power drops below 6.5% state of charge (SOC) relative.

Under normal operation, the range extender or REx serves as a backup source of power so that you can reach the next charging station or get the vehicle safely back home. It’s a separate APU (auxiliary power unit) that actually runs on gasoline.

However, numerous reports from owners state that as the range extender (REx) kicks in, the vehicle suddenly goes into limp mode and, as a result, the BMW i3’s power, acceleration, and speed are all limited.

Furthermore, reports say that the range extender (REx) doesn’t live up to the advertised range extension from 81 miles to 150 miles per charge.

Most of the reports of the range extender (REx) issue actually come from owners of 2016 or older BMW i3 models, and due to the prevalence of the issue, a class-action lawsuit was filed in 2016 against the manufacturer.

Considering the range extender (REx) is a $4000 optional feature and promises to essentially double the BMW i3’s range, the whole issue caused a lot of owners to believe that they’ve overpaid for the vehicle.

But a recent article by states that the class-action lawsuit has already been dismissed. 

BMW explained that the REx reduces the power when the battery drops below 2% to prevent it from completely discharging and even gives a warning when about to do so.

Moreover, the plaintiffs’ expert refused to offer an opinion as to whether or not the whole issue is really considered a design defect, or just a misunderstanding in the owners’ part of how the REx works under certain conditions.

Hence, the only real solution when you start having concerns with the BMW i3’s range extender (REx) is to have it checked by an actual BMW dealership.

Problems with Electronics

The BMW i3 is known to have two common problems with its electronics, which relate to either the printed circuit board (PBC) or the vehicle’s iDrive system.

The printed circuit board can potentially malfunction and cause the vehicle to suddenly lose power, whereas when the iDrive system becomes faulty, multiple electronics such as the radio and navigation may not work properly. 

Printed Circuit Board Issue

Printed Circuit Board Issue

Certain BMW i3 units from the 2018 and 2019 model years have been recalled due to printed circuit boards that may not have been made to the right specifications, which can eventually lead to the vehicle suddenly losing power or completely shutting down.

Such incorrect specifications may cause the printed circuit board (PCB), which is part of the EME (Electric Motor Electronics) module, to become faulty and result in no electrical contact at all.

Once the EME module detects this problem, it will completely shut down all high-voltage electrical power, which is what actually causes the commonly reported issue of sudden power loss in the vehicle.

Luckily, the recall rectifies this issue by replacing the entire EME module of affected 2018 BMW i3 models, meaning that the printed board circuit automatically gets replaced along with it.

But even though you get a BMW i3 unit that’s not part of the recall, you should still be proactive about having its printed circuit board inspected by a local dealership, just to be on the safer side.

iDrive System Problems

iDrive System Problems

Another common source of electronic problems on the BMW i3 is non-other than the iDrive system.

The iDrive system controls many different infotainment features like the navigation system, the audio system, and the climate control (heating and air conditioning).

It’s worth noting that the BMW i3 was equipped with a 4th-generation iDrive system when it was first released in 2013, so other generations of the iDrive may exhibit different issues of their own.

One common iDrive system problem that can happen to multiple generations of the system is the iDrive controller itself malfunctioning. The controller has knobs that can either get stuck in a certain position or suffer an internal fault due to debris.

But as for owners of BMW i3 models, they commonly report that their specific iDrive infotainment system can sometimes be unresponsive or at least slow to respond to inputs. In other cases, it can even crash completely.

As a result, everything that the iDrive system controls can also malfunction, which means that you may experience the audio system cutting off suddenly or making popping noises.

This also means that you will not be able to control anything that pops up on the iDrive system’s 8.8-inch display (for Technology Package models) via the controller/knob.

iDrive System Problems

To verify that the iDrive controller is the one that’s malfunctioning, you can check if you can still control the display using either the drive mode selector or the buttons on the steering wheel.

If you can still control the features via the wheel or drive mode selector, then you will need to get your unresponsive iDrive system controller diagnosed by the dealer, as it may be a software problem.

However, if there is a physical problem with the iDrive controller/knob, then you can try and open it up and clean any dirt or debris that has accumulated inside it using a can of compressed air.

Battery-Related Problems

Since the BMW i3 is a car that primarily runs on an electric motor, it’s to nobody’s surprise that it can eventually develop problems relating to its battery.

The BMW i3 utilizes a 60 to 120-ah (amp-hours) lithium-ion battery to power up its electric motor, though it has been known to exhibit reduced battery range and issues with charging.

Reduced Battery Range

Reduced Battery Range

The BMW i3 was initially advertised to have a range of 80 to 100 miles (130 to 160 km) on a single charge, though a lot of owners have complained that they are unable to reach this range in their units.

This issue has been most commonly observed in 1st-gen BMW i3 models made between 2013 and 2017, and some owners have noticed that the range shortens even more when driving the vehicle in cold weather.

As a result, the 1st-gen BMW i3 isn’t exactly the best choice of vehicle when you plan on going for long trips where there are hundreds of miles of tarmac to cover. 

Not unless you have opted for the range extender (REx) feature we’ve discussed prior, but that’s beside the point.

Sometimes, it’s just a case of the BMW i3’s computer needing more time to adapt and recalibrate according to your driving style and current car settings. That way, it can show you a better range on the screen.

Other times, however, reduced range on the i3 can be traced to either degraded battery cells or the BMS (battery management system) reducing the battery capacity on purpose to preserve its life.

If you’ve already been driving reasonably for a while and the i3 still fails to live up to its promised range, then it’s the perfect time to have your battery checked for any issues and replace it as needed.

Slow Charging and Other Charging Issues

Slow Charging and Other Charging Issues

Aside from problems with the battery itself, the BMW i3 can also run into issues with how the battery is charged, one of the most common ones being that it takes way too long for the battery to charge.

A slow charging time on the BMW i3 can be attributed to several different things, such as the charging rate not being set to the maximum setting, a faulty charger, or the charging cable not being properly locked in place.

The BMW i3 comes with an onboard AC charger that can charge it up to a rate of 11 kW, though if only a level 2 charger is used, you’ll be limited to 7 kW.

Thus, the charging rate can also be dependent on the cable that you use, and you will have to change the settings so that the charging rate actually matches your cable. 

Otherwise, the car will limit the charging rate to whatever has been set, regardless of the cable.

Now, 7 kW is still a decent charging rate (at least when compared to a 3.6-kW one), as it’ll take around 6 hours to charge the BMW i3’s battery from empty to full using a 7-kW AC charger.

However, there have been reports wherein even the 7-kW charging rate feels like it’s charging at only half that amount (around 3.7 kW), which can take over 10 hours to fully charge the BMW i3.

This can be a sign that one of the two (older i3 models) or three (newer i3 models) 16-amp charging circuits in the charger has failed, which will limit the charger to only 3.7 kW.

To test for a faulty 7-kW charger on the BMW i3, you can either borrow another 7-kW AC charger from another BMW i3 owner or plug in your car with the same charger at a charging station that supports 7-kW charging.

Once you’ve confirmed that it is indeed a faulty charger, you will need to replace it with a new one, which can cost between $250 and $600 depending on the type of charger and charging output.

Problems with the Front Passenger Airbags

Problems with the Front Passenger Airbags

Among the problems that concern the interior of the BMW i3, airbag-related problems have been reported to mostly occur in certain models made between 2014 and 2015.

According to a recall by the manufacturer, 923 units of the BMW i3 made from March 17, 2014 to August 17, 2015 have been fitted with front passenger-side airbags that can fail to deploy properly in the event of a low-speed crash.

The reason for this potential risk is that there was an error in the manufacturing process for the front passenger-side airbag module.

While it’s not as prevalent as the other problems, any issue regarding the airbags can increase the risk of injury to occupants if an accident was to occur.

Thus, the recall remedies this by replacing the defective airbag module in all affected units at no cost to the owners.

Failed Motor Mount

Failed Motor Mount

If you ever experience your BMW i3 vibrating more especially during acceleration or hear a loud thud each time you go over a bump, then you most likely have a failed motor mount.

Whether you’ve got a typical combustion engine or an electric motor like the one in the BMW i3, it’s the motor mounts’ job to keep the motor firmly in place and reduce any sort of vibration or impact.

But since BMW has decided to equip the i3 with plastic motor mounts, they tend to wear out a lot quicker compared to, let’s say, aluminum ones.

One thing that also aggravates this issue a bit further is that the BMW i3’s wheels, when going over a bump and catching a bit of air, can produce a bit too much torque after landing and gaining traction again.

While BMW has already reduced the wheel torque in such situations via a software update, the real long-term solution to the failed motor mount issue is to replace it with an aluminum motor mount.

Aluminum motor mounts happen to be recommended by BMW, despite weirdly not opting for such from the get-go. 

And of course, it’s always recommended to replace all motor mounts at once even if only one has failed, as they are all most likely near the same age and level of wear with each other.

Fuel Tank Ventilation Chafing Issue (Risk of Fire)

Fuel Tank Ventilation Chafing Issue (Risk of Fire)

BMW i3 models have a notorious problem relating to the range extender’s (REx) fuel tank ventilation that can potentially become a fire hazard.

Since the REx system is an auxiliary power unit (APU) that runs on gasoline, any damage done to one of the lines can result in the leaking of fuel vapors.

This is exactly the case for the REx’s fuel tank vent line, as it has a tendency to chafe or rub against the battery-positive cable’s ribbed wire protection sleeve.

Eventually, the vent line may crack open and start leaking fuel vapor into the engine bay, where hot temperatures can ignite the vapor and start a fire.

BMW has already released a recall for this fuel vent chafing issue that affects 2014 to 2017 i3 REx models, which involves replacing the fuel vent line if necessary and installing a clip on it to prevent the chafing issue.

Just in case your BMW i3 REx is not a part of this recall, it’s recommended to have your fuel vent line checked by a local dealership for any signs of wear and then have the same procedure done.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)