8 Most Common BMW X3 Problems (Explained)

The BMW X3 is a luxury compact crossover SUV that offers a blend of sporty driving dynamics, versatile cargo space, and upscale features. 

First introduced in 2003, the X3 has since become a popular choice for those seeking a premium compact SUV.

In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the common issues BMW X3 owners have had to deal with and different ways to fix them.

1. Timing Chain Failures

The second generation BMW X3, also known as the F25 model, was equipped with the N20 turbocharged 4-cylinder engine which had many cases of timing chain failures. 

When the timing chain breaks, it usually leads to catastrophic engine damage.

The N20 engine was used in the BMW X3 sDrive20i and xDrive20i from 2011 to 2017, as well as the xDrive28i from 2012 to 2017. Timing chain failures are more common in the early models as BMW updated the problematic parts in 2015.

Premature failures with the timing chain tensioner and the plastic chain guides led to:

  • Play/slack in the timing chain
  • Timing chain skipping teeth/gears
  • Broken bits falling into oil pan

Symptoms of N20 timing chain issues include:

  • Whining noise when revving engine
  • Low oil level warning
  • Engine rattle
  • ‘Drivetrain Malfunction’ error
  • Engine misfire

Here’s how a few owners on XBimmers.com described their experience:

“Was driving my ’13 X3 with just over 90k miles this weekend when all of a sudden I received a Drivetrain Malfunction error. Timing Chain snapped and I need a new engine.” 

“My mom’s 2017 X3 suffered engine failure on 2/18/23 due to the timing chain snapping. It only has 58,323 miles and has regularly been serviced at a local BMW dealership.”

“My X3 28i is currently at the dealer due to a drivetrain malfunction that was shortly followed by a low oil pressure warning. I stopped immediately and had it towed in. The tech has found metal and junk in the oil filter.”

“I have a 2013 X3. Got the dreaded low oil pressure warning. Dealer says there are metal shavings everywhere and that the engine needs to be replaced.”

BMW extended the warranty on some models to 7 years or 70,000 miles for the early model years.

Replacing the timing chain, chain guides and oil pump sprocket with the updated BMW parts should prevent future problems from occurring, but this can cost you around $2,000.

It’s worth noting that although there are many cases of timing chain failures, there are many more cars that haven’t had any issues. 

2. Serpentine Belt Issues

The second generation BMW X3’s N52 and N55 6-cylinder engines have had cases where the serpentine belt shreds and gets pulled inside the engine causing lots of damage.

The N52 was used in the xDrive28i from 2011 to 2012 while the turbocharged N55 was in the xDrive35i from 2011 to 2017.

Here’s how a few owners on XBimmers.com described their experience:

“Just had the dreaded serpentine belt failure the other day. I heard it slapping around and shut the car down. I was able to unwrap the belt from around the crank and get it all freed up.”

“2011 BMW X3 35i. Oil filter housing was leaking onto the accessory belt and caused it to slip off and got caught behind the pulley. Further inspection revealed that the crank seal was damaged from the belt when it caught behind the crank pulley.”

There are two main causes of early serpentine belt failures:

  • Oil getting onto the belt and degrading it
  • Misaligned or worn belt tensioner and idler pulley

The serpentine belt is supposed to last 120,000 miles or 6 years. However, it’s a good idea to routinely check the condition of the belt and the pulleys to avoid early belt failures which can potentially damage your engine.

3. Oil Leaks

The BMW X3 can develop different oil leaks over time as the rubber seals wear out and degrade.

This can be said for all BMWs, as well as most other cars from other brands, but it’s something to keep in mind if you want to avoid huge repair bills later on — especially once the car reaches around 100,000 miles or 10 years.

If the car doesn’t have enough oil, the engine’s internals won’t be properly lubricated and will wear out faster.

Common sources of oil leaks in a BMW X3 include:

  • Front and rear main seal
  • Oil filter housing gasket
  • Valve cover gasket
  • Oil pan

Aside from visually checking for oil leaks inside the engine bay, you should regularly check your BMW X3s oil levels by going into the vehicle’s settings. 

It’s a good idea to check your oil levels every 1,000 miles just in case a new leak develops in between your oil changes. 

Most oil gaskets are fairly cheap and easy to replace, so it shouldn’t be much of an issue. 

If you get an oil level warning, top it up before driving off again to avoid damaging your engine.

Related: BMW X3 Beeping Problems? (11 Common Causes)

4. Cooling System Leaks

BMW X3s use a lot of plastic for its cooling system which can get brittle and fail with age.

This is a common issue for pretty much every modern BMW made in the last 30 years so it’s not unique to the X3.

Some of the critical components you’ll want to keep an eye on include:

  • Hoses and pipes
  • Expansion tank
  • Reservoirs
  • Parts of the radiator

If the cooling system develops leaks and your coolant gets too low,  your engine could overheat and go into limp mode. In extreme cases, the cylinder head can become warped due to the excessive heat which calls for an expensive engine rebuild.

In most cases, you’ll get a low coolant warning on the dash before any major failures.

Here’s how one owner described their experience:

“Had the warning pop up on my wife’s 2016 X3 28i. Pulled over and restarted the car still had same warning so drove over to the dealer.  The reservoir was empty and it took almost 3/4 gallon to fill up.”

It’s a good idea to routinely check the coolant levels every few months and not wait for the low coolant warning to appear. If the engine overheats, pull over and have it towed to avoid damaging it further.

Once the car gets to around 10 years old, you’re going to see more and more cooling system component failures.

5. Water Pump Failure

Early water pump failures are fairly common in some models of the first and second generation BMW X3.

The N52 and N54 engines had electric water pumps that could fail without warning and cause overheating issues. It’s not uncommon to see reports of failures at around 50,000 to 70,000 miles.

Some signs that might tell you that the electric water pump is problematic include: 

  • Cooling fan constantly runs at high speed
  • Engine temperature warning on the dash
  • Trouble code for 2e83 or “electrical cooling pump, low power mode”

If you see a temperature warning on the dash, it’s best to pull over and let the engine cool down for around 30 minutes before driving off again. This will help prevent catastrophic engine damage.

Once you start experiencing symptoms of a failing water pump, you’ll want to swap it out for a new OEM unit before it stops working altogether. 

When replacing the water pump, most people also install a new thermostat which is another common point of failure.

6. Infotainment Screen Blacking Out 

Many BMW X3 owners have had issues with their infotainment screen intermittently going out. In some models the instrument cluster can also go blank.

In some cases, it’s just the auto dimming feature that makes the screen very hard to see.

Here’s how a few owners described their experience:

“My 2020 X3 has the dimming problem. I had the dealer tint the front windows 35% and during the day I have to roll the drivers side window down to have the gauges brighten up like they should have.”

“My wifes 2019 gauge cluster goes dark and her HUD says lost signal. Hers only goes out for a few seconds while she’s driving and comes back on. It’s happened half a dozen times in the past few months.”

If your screen goes out completely, you can try holding down the volume button for 30 seconds to reboot the iDrive system.

If it still persists, have your dealer update or reload the software. They should also be able to check if there’s a hardware or wiring issue. However, since it’s usually an intermittent problem it can be hard to diagnose and troubleshoot.

Related: 21 Best & Worst BMW X3 Years (With Facts & Stats)

7. Transfer Case Problems

First generation BMW X3s had many cases of transfer case failures, particularly with the 2007 and 2008 models.

There have also been reports of transfer case issues in second gen X3s, but these were far less common.

Symptoms include:

  • Whining or grinding noises
  • Not engaging all-wheel drive 
  • Shuddering or hesitation
  • Errors on the dash

Here’s how one owner described their experience:

“My 2013 35i started shuddering during low speed cornering, it’s the transfer case again… I know this because it has already been replaced along with the front diff twice under warranty for the exact same issue.”

BMW issued a recall and offered extended warranties for some of the affected models.

To avoid future issues, change your transfer case fluid every 60,000 miles. This should keep the internal components properly lubricated and less likely to wear out prematurely.

8. Fuel Pump Failures

Many first and second gen BMW X3 owners have had fuel pump failures at relatively low mileages. 

It happens more often in cars equipped with the N52 and N55 engines, particularly with the 2007 to 2010 model years. 

Signs of fuel pump issues include:

  • Hard starting
  • Misfires
  • Hesitation
  • Reduced power or stalling
  • ‘Drivetrain Malfunction’ error

Here’s how one X3 owner described their experience:

“I have just had the high pressure fuel pump replaced on my 2011 X3. 37K miles and no longer under warranty.”

“The car went into reduced power mode 3 times in a week with “Drivetrain Malfunction” as the error on the car display. Reading the codes from the car I got P15DF, P0087 & P10D9.”

Fortunately, a bad fuel pump shouldn’t damage anything else in the engine. At worst, the car will go into limp mode or simply refuse to start.

If you suspect that your fuel pump is failing, it’s recommended to perform a diagnostic scan for trouble codes to confirm the issue. A replacement fuel pump typically costs a few hundred dollars and can be installed with relative ease by an experienced mechanic.

BMW recalled the 2007 to 2010 models to address the fuel pump issue. On certain models, they also extended the fuel pump warranty to 10 years or 120,000 miles. 

BMW X3 Pros & Cons


  • Nimble handling
  • Good build quality/refinement
  • Powerful engine options
  • Good size for in-town driving and long trips
  • Capable all-wheel drive system


  • Out of warranty maintenance can be expensive
  • Some models have known issues
  • Base models lack many standard features 

What Do The Reviews Say?

“Though it doesn’t stand out in any one category, the BMW X3 is a capable all-rounder. It’s comfortable and enjoyable to drive. The cabin isn’t as pretty as those of its contemporaries, but overall the X3 is a solid pick for a small luxury SUV.”

“On bumpy roads, our test X3 had a fairly busy ride quality, which we partially attribute to it being outfitted with the optional Dynamic Handling package.” 

“The combination of touchscreen and dial controls makes exploring infotainment menus a breeze. The nav system is easy to use and the graphics are tack-sharp, although voice commands offer limited usefulness. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration is included.”

“Generous cargo space and plentiful interior storage options make the X3 a versatile SUV. There’s a healthy 28.7 cubic feet behind the second row, which can easily be lowered from release handles in the rear, revealing 62.7 cubic feet of space.” 

“Despite being a small SUV, the X3 relays driving excitement through its steering, handling and engine sound. These attributes make it a bit more entertaining to snake up a mountain road or barrel through a freeway on-ramp than some other vehicles in the segment.”

2023 BMW X3 | Edmunds

What’s the Resale Value of a BMW X3?

Here’s a quick look at used car pricing on Edmunds at the time of writing.


Related: BMW X3 In Snow & Winter Driving? (Solved & Explained)


  • Ian Sawyer

    Growing up with a father who was a mechanic I had an appreciation for cars and motorcycles from an early age. I shared my first bike with my brother that had little more than a 40cc engine but it opened up a world of excitement for me, I was hooked. As I grew older I progressed onto bigger bikes and...