BMW 1 Series exposed engine

BMW 1 Series Timing Chain: Replacement Interval & Symptoms

If you’re considering purchasing a BMW 1 Series, you must know of potential timing chain failure symptoms.

Some BMW 1 Series models have been known to have problems with their timing chains, which can be a major inconvenience (and expense) if your car is one of them.

In this article, we’ll look at which BMW 1 series models are most prone to timing chain issues, what the symptoms are, what you can do to prevent these problems, and how often the timing chain should be replaced!

Which BMW 1 Series have a timing chain?

First things first, which BMW 1 Series models have a timing chain?

The answer is quite simple.

All BMW 1 Series models produced from 2004 onwards are equipped with a timing chain, including the E87, F20, and F40 generations. There is no BMW 1 Series equipped with a timing belt.

What is the replacement interval of a BMW timing chain?

Exposed timing chain in an engine

No matter which BMW 1 Series you buy, it will have a timing chain.

But how often should the timing chain be replaced?

The recommended replacement interval of a BMW 1 Series timing chain is every 80,000 to 120,000 miles (or 130,000 to 200,000 kilometers).

If you don’t drive long distances, it’s recommended to replace the timing chain every 10 to 15 years.

Generally, replacing a timing chain on a BMW 1 Series costs between $1,000 and $1,500.

Note: Some timing chains last the life of the car, while others fail much earlier.

The leading cause for this lies in the maintenance the car has received over the years.

In a later section of this article, we will discuss how to avoid timing chain failures on your BMW 1 Series!

Which BMW 1 Series have a timing chain issue?

Let’s move on to another important question in this article.

It’s pretty unpleasant to know that the lifespan of a BMW 1 Series timing chain varies so widely.

But if you want the lowest chances of timing chain problems on your BMW 1 Series, which models should you avoid?

The BMW 1 Series with the highest likelihood of timing chain issues is the E87 generation equipped with a diesel engine, produced between 2007 and 2011. This includes the 116d, 118d, 120d, and 123d.

These models are equipped with the 2.0-liter N47 diesel engine, and there are many reports of it having timing chain issues.

BMW 1 Series E87 white

With the increasing age of the E87 BMW 1 Series, some petrol versions are also starting to develop timing chain issues.

Especially the 116i, 118i, and 120i produced between 2007 and 2012 equipped with the N43 2.0-liter petrol engine may have timing chain issues.

However, for these 1 Series models, it’s often not the timing chain itself that fails, but rather the plastic timing chain guides that become brittle and break.

Symptoms of this issue include a scraping noise from the engine or a red oil pressure warning light that flashes on the dashboard from time to time.

So, if you notice this for your E87 petrol BMW 1 Series, take it to a certified mechanic as soon as possible!

Generally, the newer the BMW 1 Series, the less likely it is to have timing chain problems.

Symptoms of a failing timing chain on a BMW 1 Series

Timing chain in detail

Signs of a failing BMW timing chain generally develop slowly and are hard to notice.

Here are the symptoms of a failing timing chain on a BMW 1 Series:

  • Rattling noise. As your timing chain stretches out, it becomes loose and can rattle against some parts of the engine. This noise is usually loudest during startup.
  • Rough idle. Although there are multiple causes for a rough idle, a bad timing chain could be one of them. A worn-out or stretched timing chain can lead to the engine’s timing being off. This can result in misfires, where the engine doesn’t run as smoothly as it should.
  • Metal fragments in the oil. If there’s excessive wear on the timing chain, tiny metal shavings might appear in the engine oil. If you’re getting an oil change and the mechanic spots this, it’s a red flag.
  • Check engine light. Modern cars are smart! If the timing chain is failing, the engine’s control unit might pick it up and light up the check engine light.

When you doubt your timing chain, it’s best to take it to a mechanic, who can measure the chain’s stretch and tell you its state.

Tip: When buying a used BMW 1 Series, remember these symptoms to avoid buying a car with hidden issues.

How do you prevent timing chain issues on your BMW 1 Series?

To prevent timing chain issues on your BMW, it is important to follow the recommended maintenance schedule for your vehicle and have the timing chain inspected and replaced if necessary.

Here are some specific steps you can take to help prevent timing chain problems on your BMW 1 Series:

  • Keep up with regular oil changes. Frequent oil changes are important because they help to lubricate the timing chain and reduce wear and tear.
  • Avoid overloading the engine. Overloading the engine can put extra strain on the timing chain, potentially leading to premature failure. It’s also crucial not to drive the car too hard when the engine and oil are still cold!
  • Avoid running the engine low on oil. Low oil levels can cause the timing chain to run dry, leading to excessive wear and potentially causing the chain to break.
  • Avoid exposing the engine to contaminants. Debris or contaminants can get into the timing chain area and cause the chain to wear out faster or break.
  • Use the recommended oil. It is important to use the type of oil recommended by the manufacturer to ensure that the timing chain is properly lubricated.

Tip: The 3 Best Motor Oil Choices For A BMW (+ How To Pick One)

Filling up car engine oil

In addition to these steps, it is a good idea to have the timing chain regularly inspected by a BMW dealer or a trusted mechanic.

If the timing chain shows signs of wear or is due for replacement, it must be replaced as soon as possible to prevent potential problems.

And if you’re wondering whether it’s worth buying a used BMW 1 Series, check out this article here, where we discuss the pros and cons!

Note: Read our article here to learn more about BMW’s reliability!

Why is the timing chain problem so infamous?

The timing chain is a common worry among BMW 1 Series owners. So, why is that?

Let’s take a look at how the timing chain works and what causes the problem:

Timing chain: A quick overview of how it works

A timing chain is a metal chain that connects the engine’s crankshaft to the camshaft(s). The crankshaft is responsible for converting the reciprocating motion of the pistons into rotational motion, while the camshaft(s) operate the valves in the engine.

The timing chain’s primary function is to ensure that the camshaft(s) and crankshaft are correctly synchronized so that the valves open and close at the correct times in the engine’s cycle.

Engine timing chain CAD render

In a typical internal combustion engine, the timing chain is located inside the engine and is covered by a timing chain cover.

It’s typically subjected to a lot of wear and tear due to the high speeds at which it operates and the heat and friction it is subjected to.

Timing chains vs. timing belts

Both timing chains and timing belts are used to synchronize the rotation of the crankshaft and camshaft(s) in an internal combustion engine.

The main difference between the two is that timing chains are made of metal and are typically more durable and long-lasting, while timing belts are made of rubber and tend to wear out faster.

In general, timing chains are considered more durable and require less maintenance than timing belts.

However, timing belts can be more efficient, quieter, and generally easier to replace.

The timing chain problem

There are several reasons why a timing chain may fail prematurely.

Some of the most common causes include:

  • Wear and tear. Like any other mechanical component, timing chains are subject to wear and tear. As they age, they can stretch and become loose, which can cause them to skip or jump teeth on the gears they are driving, leading to timing issues and engine damage.
  • Lack of lubrication. Timing chains require lubrication to reduce friction and wear. If the timing chain is not properly lubricated, it can wear out faster and fail prematurely.
  • Contamination. If debris or other contaminants get into the timing chain area, it can cause the chain to wear out faster or even break.
  • Poor manufacturing quality. Sometimes, timing chains may fail prematurely due to poor manufacturing quality or design defects.


It’s clear that the first generation BMW 1 Series has had its fair share of timing chain issues, but the good news is that they don’t have to be a death sentence for your car.

As long as you maintain your car according to the service schedule, the chances of a failed timing chain will drop significantly.

That being said, if you find yourself with a timing chain that’s in bad shape, it’s crucial to get it replaced as soon as possible to avoid further damage.

Now, get out there and enjoy the ride!

Recommended read: Before getting a BMW 1 Series, don’t forget to check if it has Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. You can find an overview of all BMW 1 Series with Apple CarPlay or Android Auto in this article!

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  1. Good article Patryk.

    I’ve recently purchased a second hand 118d 2008 and it’s just starting making a kind of ticking noise every 1/2 a second or so (can only hear if outside of the car) Am I right to assume that it’s like the timing chain and will need replacing?

    Many thanks

    1. Hi Charlie,

      Glad to hear that you found the article helpful!

      A ticking noise can be indicative of issues related to the timing chain, but there can also be various other reasons for such a noise. It could be anything from a loose pulley, valve issues, or injectors. So, before jumping to conclusions, it would be best to get it checked by a mechanic!

      I hope that helps.
      – Patryk

  2. Very interesting article. I’ve bought a coop series one 2009. It’s running fine. It goes very very nice but I wondered why the timing chain is at the back of the engine I didn’t know that otherwise I wouldn’t of bought it obviously because of the expense of taking the engine out and I’m having all that worry about it. I assumed it was in the front at the Mercedes are used to have, but there we go very interesting. Thank you very much

    1. Hi Edward,

      Thank you so much for your feedback! I understand your concern about the placement of the timing chain, which can indeed make it more costly and labor-intensive to replace. However, I’m glad to hear that your 1 Series is running well. Enjoy your ride!

      – Patryk

  3. Nice article, Patryk.

    I got a low oil pressure warning while the engine was cold and got it checked by my Mechanic who’s going to replace the oil valve. During this, I also got him to check the condition of the timing chain and apparently, it was stretched while the guides still remained intact. He then checked the chain tensioner and it didn’t seem super worn out so I wonder what would have caused this. Likely a lack of care from the previous owner I guess.

    I am going ahead to replace the timing chain as well as the tensioner hoping that I can drive peacefully for the next 50-90K without having to worry about any huge failures. Since I bought her from the dealership, I have been bringing her back to full potential and taking very good care of her. I’ll make up for the repair cost and decide to get rid of her at some point depending on how she treats me back.

    1. Hi there!

      Thanks for sharing your experience. It sounds like you’re making wise choices with your car’s maintenance. The stretched timing chain could indeed be due to previous neglect. Replacing both the chain and the tensioner is a smart move for long-term reliability. It’s great to hear that you’re committed to restoring your car’s health.

      Happy driving!
      – Patryk

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