Seeing the dreaded “Drivetrain Malfunction” error alert on your BMW X3 is not only frustrating, but it can also be downright scary.
What does this alert mean, and what can you do about it? I will explain everything in this article.
Let’s get into it.
What is the Drivetrain on your BMW X3?
In short, the drivetrain on your X3 isn’t just one part,
It’s a group of parts that work with the engine to get the wheels spinning and the SUV moving.
These components team up to transfer power from the engine to the wheels. Here are the main components that make up your BMW X3 Drivetrain:
- Engine: The engine is responsible for generating the power, while the drivetrain takes that power and makes it usable.
- Transmission: The transmission switches gears so you can go faster or slower.
- Driveshaft & Differential: The driveshaft and differential then send the power to the axles, which turn the wheels.
- CV Joint & Wheels: The CV joints allow the axles to move up and down while still transmitting torque.
All of these parts sync up to propel your X3 down the road!
What Does “Drivetrain Malfunction” Mean on a BMW X3?
Now that I have briefly explained what the drivetrain is and how it works,
let’s get into the specifics of what a drivetrain malfunction means on a BMW X3.
In short, the “drivetrain malfunction: drive moderately” message means that your X3 Engine Control Module(ECM) has detected an issue with your drivetrain.
The exact nature of this problem will depend on which specific components are affected and what type of fault code triggers this warning (Will cover the common causes below)
That is why I always recommend getting an OBD II Scanner to check the fault codes yourself.
This way, you will be able to quickly identify the main culprit of the drivetrain warning.
BMW X3 Drivetrain Malfunction Signs:
There are other indicators that you might see when your X3 is having a drivetrain malfunction. These include:
- “Drivetrain malfunction: Drive moderately. Maximum drivetrain output not available” Message
- Car shaking when idling
- Loss of power when accelerating
- Fuel Smell
- Exhaust Smoke
- Transmission “Slipping” When Driving
- Unexpected Shifting
What Causes BMW X3 Drivetrain Malfunction Alert?
Let’s now look at the potential reasons for your BMW X3 drivetrain warning in detail, drawing on my expertise as a mechanic.
Note: Whether you have the BMW X3 E83, F25, or the G01 generation of X3, the same problems can cause drivetrain malfunction alerts.
1. Battery on the Way Out:
The battery on your X3 is the master controller for all of your BMW’s electrical components.
If it’s on its way out, then you may experience problems with the engine starting, running smoothly, and more.
A weak or dying battery can also cause your vehicle to have a “drivetrain malfunction” warning.
If your BMW battery is older than 3 years, then replacing it can solve the problem.
2. Worn Spark Plugs:
The second most common cause of a drivetrain malfunction alert is worn spark plugs.
Spark plugs are responsible for igniting the fuel that is injected into your engine’s cylinders, which causes them to turn and produce power.
If they’re worn out, then your X3 engine will start to misfire; in other words, your engine will not produce the power that it should.
This can cause the engine to stall or run poorly, which may lead to a drivetrain malfunction alert.
If you notice that your X3 has started running rough or stalling, then check your spark plugs for wear and replace them if necessary.
3. Bad Coil Packs:
Just like the Spark plugs, the coil packs on your BMW X3 will wear out over time and need to be replaced.
The coil packs are responsible for sending electricity to the spark plugs, which then ignite the fuel that is injected into your engine’s cylinders.
If one or more coil packs go bad, then it will cause the vehicle to run rough, and the ECM may trigger a drivetrain malfunction error.
4. Faulty High-Pressure Fuel Pump(s):
High-pressure fuel pumps (HPFP) are responsible for delivering fuel under high pressure to the injectors in your car.
The HPFP is a very important component of your BMW X3.
If this pump fails, then it will usually trigger an engine misfire code, as well as a drivetrain malfunction error on certain models.
The easiest way to determine if your HPFP is failing is by detecting a strong gas smell when you start your engine, either from the engine itself or under the hood.
5. Clogged Fuel Injectors:
Fuel injectors on your BMW X3 inject fuel into the engine’s cylinder – that’s their job. But over time, crud and gunk can clog up those injectors.
And clogged injectors can’t properly deliver fuel to the engine. So, if your injectors get clogged with dirt or debris, your engine might not get the right amount of fuel.
That could make your car take longer to start or cause the engine to vibrate. It could even trigger the drivetrain malfunction warning light. Keeping those injectors clean is key to avoiding issues and keeping your BMW’s engine running smoothly.
6. Bad Low Pressure Fuel Pump:
Above I mentioned that a drive train malfunction on your X3 can be caused by faulty high-pressure fuel pumps,
The low-pressure fuel pump is responsible for sending gasoline from your gas tank to the high-pressure pump.
If this pump goes bad, then you will experience a number of different issues such as slow acceleration, and stalling.
When your BMW ECM picks up on this, it will cause a drivetrain malfunction warning light to come on.
7. Outdated Software:
With my experience working on BMWs, I’ve seen how the computer software can become outdated over time without you even noticing. When that happens, your BMW won’t function right.
The engine control module (ECM) will be feeding bad information to components like the fuel injectors. So even though you can’t see the software, it needs to stay up-to-date.
That helps ensure the ECM gives accurate instructions so your BMW runs smoothly. If things seem off, a software update could get your car back on track.
8. Blown Turbo:
The final common cause of the drivetrain malfunction warning light on a BMW X3 is a blown turbo.
Unfortunately, this does happen often and can be relatively costly to replace (if you are out of an extended BMW warranty)
A blown turbo can occur from a number of things such as over-boosting, or running too much boost pressure for too long.
This can lead to failure in the turbocharger’s compressor wheel which will cause it to blow out and need replacement.
other signs that the “drivetrain malfunction” error message is caused by a bad turbo include:
- Whining Noise when accelerating
- Noticeable Loss of Power
- White Smoke when driving
- Engine working extremely hard when going uphill
How to Fix the “Drivetrain Malfunction” on an X3
As I mentioned above, there are a lot of things that can cause this error message to appear, and I highly recommend taking your Bimmer to a Qualified garage/BMW Service Centre.
However, before you do, you may want to try some of the following suggestions:
- Disconnect and Reconnect the battery terminals to reset the system
- Replace the Battery if it is older than 3 years
- Replace the Coil Packs and Spark plugs if you have driven your car for more than 50-80k miles
- If the above doesn’t reset the drivetrain malfunction error, Get an OBD11 Scanner (preferably Carly or Bimmerlink) and scan for errors stored by the computer and fix those.