The BMW X3 began production in 2003, four years after the introduction of the X5 which was BMW’s first-ever crossover or “sport-utility” vehicle. The X3 was designed to be slightly more compact than the X5, but offers a similar luxurious driving experience as the X5. These cars were designed to compete with the Audi Q’s, Mercedes G’s, Range Rovers, and other luxury mid-size vehicles.
There are currently three generations of X3s:
- 2003-2010: First generation (E83)
- 2011-2017: Second generation (F25)
- 2017-Present: Third-generation (G01)
We’re going to dig into the common problems experienced with the E83 and F25 X3s since the G01 series is still too new to be able to determine what problems are “common”.
We’ll also talk about overall X3 reliability, off-road functionality, and overall driving experience for the two earlier-generation X3s. If you are interested in seeing how the BMW X3 stacks up against other models, check out our BMW X3 vs X4 and BMW X3 vs X5 articles.
BMW X3 Common Problems
- Engine oil leaks (valve cover & gasket)
- Sunroof rattle and leak
- Timing chain guide failure
- Window rattle and broken regulators
- Overheating from radiator and expansion tank leaks
If you would rather consume this content via a video, check out our BMW X3 Common Problems video below:
1. Engine Oil Leaks
Not dissimilar to any other BMW, the X3 engines are prone to oil leaks. Oil leaks are commonly caused by deteriorating valve cover gaskets, or cracks in the valve cover themselves. Over time, the rubber gasket for the valve cover deteriorates from normal wear and tear and can allow oil to leak out onto the exterior of the engine.
Additionally, the valve cover itself is made of plastic on the majority of BMW engines. Therefore the cover is exposed to a lot of heat and stress, and over time this can result in cracks which allow oil to leak into the engine bay.
Older cars and ones with high mileage are most prone to leaking engine oil. These issues commonly arise once the cars get above the ~80,000-mile mark. Fortunately, the majority of the time it is caused by the gasket, which is a $20-40 part and relatively easy DIY. If you aren’t a DIY’er, a repair shop can typically get repair the leaks for $300-400. If you have a cracked valve cover, you are looking at a $400-$500 replacement work, and a few hundred in shop repairs if you aren’t a DIY’er.
2. Sunroof Rattle & Leaks
This issue is most common on the first-generation E83 X3s. With this issue, when the driver opens or cracks the sunroof, various trim pieces will rattle and knock around, causing an annoying noise. Some people have also complained of this noise while the sunroof is open, which is commonly wind-induced.
Fortunately, this issue doesn’t affect driveability and is simply a nuisance to the driver. It can be repaired by adding additional felt tape to the areas on the sunroof that are causing the rattle. For those with a factory warranty still remaining, this fix is free. For those without it, the repair is cheap and can be done pretty easily at home.
The sunroof leaking water is another common sunroof-related issue on the X3. On some vehicles, the full sunroof might need to be replaced ($$$) while on others, simply cleaning the drains and re-sealing the vapor barriers will do.
3. Timing Chain Guide Failure
On the X3, the timing chains are made of metal. Because metal-on-metal contact is bad for any engine, the timing chain guides are made out of plastic. The timing chain guides are designed to connect the timing chain with the crankshaft and camshaft. Due to the plastic nature of the guides, they are prone to breaking which can result in the engine’s timing being thrown off. If timing is thrown off, the engine internals can become severely damaged resulting in the need for a new engine.
For BMW X3 models that use the BMW N20 engine, the problem is so well known that some members of the BMW community have started a class action lawsuit. At this point, it seems that some BMW X3 owners have received compensation for the repairs. If you are interested in learning more, check out this blog thread.
If you catch the problem soon enough, you simply need to replace the guides and correct the timing. This repair is somewhere in the ballpark of $500. If you continue to drive a long distance with jacked-up timing, you could experience total engine failure and land a repair bill of $5k+. Common symptoms of timing chain failure are a lack of power and acceleration, poor idling and driving conditions, and loud whining, knocking, or rattling noises coming from the engine.
This becomes a more concerning issue in X3s with 100k+ miles on them. If you are buying a high-mileage X3, it might make sense the replace the guides as preventative maintenance.
4. Window Rattle & Regulator Failure
A failed window regulator will result in the window not opening or closing. A repair will run you a couple hundred in parts + the same for labor.
Similar to the sunroof rattle, door window rattle is also a reportedly common issue. This noise actually tends to come from the door seals and not the actual windows. As the door seals collect dust and dirt over time, the doors become less snug with the body of the car which results in excess vibrations and the noise you hear from the windows.
This can be fixed by cleaning the door seals and applying gummi pflege to them.
5. Engine Overheating and Coolant Leaks
If your X3 is frequently overheating, or you notice coolant leaks on the floor of your garage, you have a failure somewhere in your cooling system. On the X3, the radiator and coolant expansion tank are the most common culprits. This issue could also be caused by a bad thermostat or housing.
A bad radiator will run you in the upper triple digits while an expansion tank repair will be around half a thousand dollars.
If your car is overheating, pull over and have it towed! Driving an overheated engine can warp the internals and lead to a need for a completely new engine.
BMW X3 Reliability
The majority of the common problems on the X3 are common for a lot of other BMWs. Overall, BMW X3s are pretty reliable vehicles. But, as you get upwards of 100k miles on these vehicles, oil and coolant leaks, and timing chain guide problems become a lot more frequent in nature. Preventative maintenance, such as frequent oil changes, spark plug and ignition coil replacement, and gasket replacement become crucial to maintaining long-term reliability.
The drivetrain and transmission on these cars are extremely reliable and very rarely have any issues. Transfer case problems could become an issue above the 150k mile mark, but otherwise, these components are pretty bulletproof. Furthermore, the brakes, steering, suspension, and electronic components of these vehicles are also very reliable.
When you run into an X3 problem, it is most frequently an engine-related problem. Check out our engine-specific problem guides below to learn more about the specific engine in your X3.
As with any BMW, they are reliable when properly taken care of. Just be prepared for when something does break, as BMW repair bills are not usually friendly.
Be prepared to spend more money maintaining an X3 than you would something like a Jeep or Japanese crossover. But keep in mind, you won’t get the style, class, or luxury in those that you would in a BMW.
BMW X3 Engine-Specific Problems
As mentioned above, when your X3 has a problem, it is usually an engine problem.
We’re all about providing as much helpful information as we can, so we compiled common problem guides for all of the engines used in the X3. Find your specific car/engine and read about the common problems they experience:
First Generation X3 (E83) Engines:
- N46 Common Engine Problems (writing in progress!)
- 2004-2010 2.0i X3
- M54 Common Engine Problems
- 2004-2006 2.5i X3
- 2007-2010 3.0si / xDrive30i X3
- N52 Common Engine Problems
- 2007-2010 2.5si / xDrive25i
- 2007-2010 3.0si / xDrive30i
Second Generation X3 (F25) Engines:
- N20 Common Engine Problems
- 2012-2013 xDrive20i / xDrive28i (2.0T)
- 2014-2017 sDrive20i / xDrive20i / xDrive28i
- N55 Common Engine Problems
- 2011-2017 xDrive35i
- N52 Common Engine Problems
- 2011-2013 xDrive28i (3.0)
BMW X3 4×4 and Off-Road Performance
The X3 is really a traditional 3-series BMW converted into a crossover. It might be similarly sized to something as a Land Rover or Jeep, but they were not built to be the same.
All X3s push power to all four wheels, but they are not traditional four-wheel drive vehicles. The initial 2004-2010 2.0i and 2.5i X3s used a traditional four-wheel drive system, which pushes power to all four wheels at all times while driving. Any X3 that is designated “xDrive” is an all-wheel drive vehicle, which is different than traditional four-wheel drive. The xDrive, all-wheel drive, system electronically adjusts how much power is being sent to each wheel. The system adapts to the conditions you are driving it and adjusts how much power each wheel receives to optimize grip and power delivery.
The X3 is great in the snow, or in light terrain, but it was not made to climb rocks or drive in rough terrain like a Jeep or Land Rover.
BMW X3 Reliability Conclusion
What is reliable about the BMW X3?
The drivetrain, transmission, suspension, brakes, steering, and electronics (for the most part), are all very reliable and don’t cause frequent problems until you get towards the ~200k mark.
What isn’t reliable about the BMW X3?
The engines will be where your repair and maintenance money is spent. Engine reliability depends partially on what engine your X3 has, but all are prone to oil leaks, cooling system failures, and timing chain guide issues.
My two-sentence conclusion
Overall, great cars for people who live in cold or mountainous places, such as Colorado. And great for people who are looking for a mid-size car that has some style, class, and luxury to it.