BMW 3 Series sedan blue rear

BMW 3 Series: 16 Most Common Problems to Check Before Buying

With seven generations and 40+ years of production, the 3 Series is one of BMW’s most successful models.

But before you commit to buying a used or new BMW 3 series, it’s important to know about any potential issues that may come with owning one.

To help ensure that your dream ride isn’t more trouble than it’s worth, we will discuss the 16 most common problems with the BMW 3 series.

Read on to learn more!

5 Most common problems for all BMW 3 Series

Here are five common problems for all BMW 3 Series!

Tip: If your BMW 3 Series doesn’t start, check out these seven effective fixes to try!

1. Oil leaks from worn-out engine seals or gaskets

Driving a BMW 3 Series is generally an enjoyable experience, but one issue to watch out for is oil leaks.

Oil leaks can happen when the seals or gaskets that seal engine parts become worn out over time. However, an oil leak may also appear due to faulty maintenance, such as incorrectly installing the oil pan gasket or not tightening the oil cap enough.

Typical places where you will first notice oil leaks include the valve cover gasket, timing cover gasket, front & rear crankshaft seal, or oil pan gasket.

If left unaddressed, oil leaks can cause further damage down the line, so don’t wait too long before trying to address them!

Signs that oil leaks are becoming a big problem are when you see oil underneath the car or smell something burning a few minutes after starting the car.

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

2. Rough shifts on automatic gearboxes

The automatic gearbox has become a common feature in many modern cars, including the BMW 3 Series.

BMW automatic gearbox

However, if you experience any weird, slow, or rough shifts on the automatic transmission of a BMW 3 Series, it may be a sign that there’s an (expensive) repair coming up.

A BMW 3 Series should change gears quickly and smoothly without noise or hesitation.

BMW will tell you the automatic transmission is ‘sealed for life.’ However, it’s undoubtedly advisable to flush your transmission oil every 60,000 to 80,000 miles, especially if you want it to last 300,000+ miles.

After flushing the gearbox, you will likely notice that the car shifts much smoother!

3. Worn boot or hood struts

Have you ever experienced that the boot or hood of your 3 Series is not lifting as smoothly as it should? Maybe it will even stand still in the middle or fall when you let it go!

If that’s the case, you’re experiencing one of the most common problems with a BMW 3 Series, worn boot or hood struts.

Over time, these components deteriorate with regular use. But luckily, they’re inexpensive to replace, and almost anyone could do it themselves.

One tip if you are going to replace these parts is not to cheap out and get the most inexpensive struts you can find.

Good-quality struts won’t break the bank, do their task much better, and will last a lot longer!

4. Clogged water drains in the engine bay

Now, there is one more common problem. If you notice water pooling around certain places in your engine bay, it’s more than likely due to blocked water drains.

Often, clogs are caused by leaves and other muck that builds up in the system over time.

BMW 3 Series clogged water drain in the engine bay

If water can no longer drain from the engine bay, you will likely experience several problems over time.

Eventually, the water leaks through the seals and causes corrosion. It can even come in contact with the engine control unit (ECU) and cause lots of electrical issues!

To prevent this problem, you should check your drains regularly and clean them if you find they are starting to get blocked up.

BMW 3 Series fixing clogged up water drain

5. Corrosion on the alloy wheels

Corrosion can be a problem when it comes to BMW alloy wheels.

Alloy wheels are susceptible to corrosion from road salt and winter grime, causing various issues such as corrosion pits, pitting, and uneven coloring.

Here’s an example, and we bet you’ve seen something like this before!

BMW 3 Series alloy wheel corrosion

It’s best to check in on your alloy wheels regularly. If you spot any corrosion, it’s important to act quickly to prevent further corrosion that could lead to costly repairs.

Cleaning your alloy wheels frequently with a gentle soap solution and a soft brush will help reduce the risk of damaging corrosion.

Regularly washing the wheels off with a gentle soap solution and applying wax for protection can help retain their look significantly over time!

If you care about the looks of your BMW 3 Series, take a look at The Chemical Guys. Their cleaning products definitely don’t disappoint!

Chemical guys Wheels and Tires products

11 Most common BMW 3 Series problems (per generation)

As mentioned, some problems are specific to a particular BMW 3 Series.

So, let’s look at the most common BMW 3 Series problems for each generation!

BMW 3 Series G20/G21 (2019 – onwards)

BMW 3 Series G20

The BMW G20 is the seventh generation of the 3 Series.

With a sporty design and intelligent interior, this vehicle packs plenty of luxury at an affordable price point.

In fact, the G20 BMW 3 Series is currently one of the most reliable BMW models!

But what are its most common problems? Let’s take a look!

Note: Since the G20 BMW 3 Series is the newest generation and has only been in production since 2019, there aren’t many problems with it yet. For example, in our study of how long a BMW 3 Series lasts, we found no G20 3 Series on sale with over 200,000 kilometers!

1. The electric passenger side mirror fails to operate

BMW 3 Series side mirror

A common issue with the G20 BMW 3 Series is the electric passenger side mirror that fails to work.

When you lock your 3 Series, and it has electric folding mirrors, they should fold in. However, sometimes, you may find that the driver’s side mirror folds in, but the passenger’s side mirror stays open.

Sometimes, the mirror can fold in and then out again, even if you didn’t open the car.

Even though it may feel like the side mirror has lost its mind, this is likely just a software bug that BMW will fix in the future!

Hidden feature: Did you know that the BMW 3 Series has a hidden feature where the passenger side mirror dips automatically so you can see the curbstone when reversing? To learn how to activate it and for more hidden features, take a look at this article!

2. A rattling exhaust on cold startups

There are a couple of BMW G20 owners that complain about a rattling exhaust on cold startups. They describe it as a high-pitched vibration that comes from the center of the exhaust system.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a real solution for this problem yet, as some people (including the BMW dealership) can claim that it’s completely normal as long as the noise disappears once the vehicle warms up.

Reader’s tip: Would you like to know how much a BMW 3 Series depreciates over its life span? If so, check out our article with research results here!

BMW 3 Series F30/F31/F34 (2012 – 2019)

BMW 3 Series F30

The BMW 3 Series F30 is a compact executive car that has maneuvered its way as the top seller in its segment since its debut in 2012.

Its dynamic design is not only attractive but also highly efficient, with improved aerodynamics, which reduces drag and improves fuel efficiency.

Let’s check out its common problems!

1. Worn timing chain mechanism

One of the most common issues seen in the older BMW F30 3 Series is a worn timing chain mechanism.

The timing chain is responsible for synchronizing the pistons and valves to work together as part of the ignition system.

Over time, the chain can start to stretch and cause the timing of the engine’s valves to be off. If the mechanism fails, it can cause significant damage to your engine!

All engines of the F30 3 Series have a timing chain, and you can expect them to be worn out at roughly 200,000 kilometers, especially on four-cylinder engines.

BMW 3 Series six-cylinder engine

However, in some cases, the timing chain wears out even earlier. Therefore, it’s crucial to be aware of the state of your timing chain. If you hear a rattling noise when doing a cold start, it’s definitely a good idea to let it get checked!

2. Failed thermostat or water pump

A common problem to look out for with this generation BMW 3 Series is a failed thermostat or water pump, although a failed thermostat seems to be more prevalent.

If the thermostat fails, it opens up all the way. This causes the fan on your BMW 3 Series to keep running and the engine to be cooled continuously, which means it won’t warm up.

So, if you notice this problem, try to take it to a mechanic as soon as possible as driving with it for prolonged distances can damage your engine!

3. Loose tail lights of the trunk lid

An issue unique to the F30 3 Series is that the trunk lid’s tail light becomes loose and starts to fall out.

A broken plastic clip usually causes the problem, and often, the best solution is buying a new tail light.

BMW 3 Series F30 common problem - loose tail lights of the trunk lid

Note: If your BMW’s lights stay on while the car is off, it’s most likely due to a setting in your iDrive settings.

4. Rust on the front seat rail frames

If you have a BMW F30 3 Series from the earlier production years, chances are you may experience rust on the front seat rail frames in the interior.

Luckily, BMW often fixed this issue under warranty, but some BMW 3 Series owners still experience it!

BMW 3 Series F30 rust/corrosion on seat rails and frame

BMW 3 Series E90/E91/E92/E93 (2005 – 2012)

BMW 3 Series E90

With its 2005 debut, the BMW E90 3 Series quickly set the bar for luxury sedans and stations. Boasting excellent handling and ride comfort in one stylish package, this car had what you would expect from a premium vehicle.

However, like every car, it has some common issues:

1. Rust on the rear subframe and wheel arches

A common problem of the E90 3 Series seems to be that the rear subframe accumulates surface rust faster than usual.

BMW 3 Series E90 rust/corrosion on the rear subframe

This issue is caused by the rear subframe being made of steel and isn’t given enough rust protection. (The front subframe is made of aluminum and doesn’t suffer from as much rust.)

So, especially if you’re looking at a 3 Series that has been used in coastal areas, take a look at the rear subframe underneath the car. Meanwhile, you should also check out the rear wheel arch, which is another corrosion-sensitive place. 

2. Failed or stuck cup holders in the interior

The E90 3 Series has cup holders that are hidden in the dashboard and pop out once you press on them.

Unfortunately, it’s common to see them get stuck. When this happens, you can try to grease them up or simply replace them.

BMW 3 Series E90 cup holder

3. The door grab handles in the interior get sticky

Another interior problem of the E90 3 Series is that the interior door handles get sticky.

This is due to the rubberized coating that BMW loved applying on models in these production years.

However, when that coating wears off, it becomes very sticky!

4. ABS errors due to rusted ABS rings

The ABS system, short for the Anti-lock Braking System, is a critical component of any modern car.

Primarily designed to improve the vehicle’s braking capabilities, the system utilizes sensors to detect wheel lockup and applies brake pressure independently to prevent sliding or skidding.

To detect wheel lockup, the system uses so-called ‘ABS Rings,’ which are mounted at the end of the drive shaft.

On the E90 3 Series, these rings tend to rust, causing ABS errors on your dashboard.

So, if you have ABS errors on your BMW 3 Series, check the state of your ABS rings!

5. Prematurely-failed rear shocks

The last common problem of the E90 BMW 3 Series is a rear shock that fails prematurely.

This is simply the nature of the original shocks that were fitted at production, which often fail after around 100,000 miles.

When it comes to fixing the issue, it’s recommended to upgrade to a suspension set from a renowned brand like Bilstein to prevent another premature failure in the future:

BMW 3 Series E90 suspension/shocks upgrade kit
Found on AutoZone


All in all, don’t get too scared about these BMW 3 Series problems. Through our research, we found that the BMW 3 Series can last at least 250,000 miles or 400,000 kilometers with regular maintenance!

Also, when buying a BMW 3 Series, it’s important to be aware of its common issues, but checking its insurance costs is essential too.

If you agree, you might be interested in our article about which BMW 3 Series years to avoid.

Have a great rest of your day!

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