Drivetrain – First break-down

Our i3 was one of the first delivered and it is now five years ago the first post about the new shiny revolution was published on this web site. The i3 has served us well and there has not been any major issues. Until now.When trying to leave for work a morning last week, the only sign of life the i3 wanted to give was “Drivetrain. Stop carefully”. The BMW engineers are not generous with information. Imagine a computer that had a similar error message – it would not be acceptable. Also, the part “stop carefully” is interesting when the car is just started. The light was red and the car refused to go anywhere. It was not even possible to put in a gear.

As always, first some advice was searched from i3 blog publishers, forum writers, and the like. Possibly the error could stem from condensation, so I decided to use the Connected app to schedule a departure four hours later with preconditioning turned on. This way I was sure it would also warm up the battery and maybe condensation would go away. No avail. Same error message.

After discussing with the BMW workshop, it was clear that tow truck was the only option. First a large tow truck came but it was too big to manoeuvre into the villa driveway. A couple of hours later there were two tow trucks outside – one small to pull the i3 into the larger street and a large that could lift it to a flatbed. Here the disadvantage of a construction that prohibits the i3 from being towed after another car becomes very apparent. Had it been a normal car I could have towed it myself to the workshop but with the i3 it requires large and expensive equipment. That said, I believe everything is covered by BMW Mobile Care.

The i3 has now been at the workshop for more than a week. Despite several calls there has not yet been any analysis from BMW what caused the error nor any plans how to fix it. I keep you updated.

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29 thoughts on “Drivetrain – First break-down

  1. Very interesting and thanks for sharing! Our i3 is only 2 years old and has approx 30 000 km on the clock, no such bad experiences so far.. May I ask how many km’s you had when the drivetrain broke?

  2. Is your car a Bev or Rex? Seems to be more problems with the Rex models but then there are more of them about. Also, were are you located? I’m in the UK.

    1. It is a BEV in Sweden. One of the arguments for choosing the BEV was that it is simple and very few things that need service and that can break. We will see if that analysis was correct.

  3. Sorry to hear.
    Please keep us posted on the progress.
    We have 105 000km on our 16 and it still run ok. The only issue is that the range is 145 km during summer and 115 when temperature is below 7 C.

  4. I have a 2014 i3 REX. 52,000 miles
    I have had that error a 3 times in the 1st 3 years, towed it in & it was fixed.
    BUT, that was under warranty.
    Real curious to see they find, as mine went out of warranty 2 months ago.
    I’m in the US – Texas.

    1. Thanks for sharing, Mark. Do you know what they “fixed”?
      If it happened again it sounds like it was only temporary.

      Since our error did not happen when driving, but when the car was parked, it sounds like a pure electric error. The information I read that it could be related to condensation made sense. The days just before it happened were very wet in Sweden with fog, drizzling rain and only a few degrees on the plus side (Celsius).

      Must admit I fear they put the car in a warm garage, do same checks, think all is ok, and say they “fixed” it.

      1. I bought a used 2016 REX and just got this drivetrain message @ 15,000 miles. Waiting on a tow truck now.

        We did have a big rain weekend here on the East coast US. However, who wants a car that can’t get wet?

        Anyone else get detail on what is meant by “fixed”? I want to be ready with knowledge if they start throwing nonsense excuses my way.

      2. My i3 totally crashed with the motor mount – they replaced everything under warranty but BMW in Sweden needed some 3 months. A few weeks after I got it back there was “drivline error” this time the car was parked. Trying to get in gear gave strange crunching noises … the came and fetched and rang the next morning saying it was ready and I had been given a buggy software version.

        Since then (30 months) I’ve had no problems at all. I have had it since early 2014.

  5. So what happened? I am curious to hear the reason and the cost, mine just showed the same symptoms as yours and I am very worried since there is no warranty

    1. For my 2016 i3 Rex it required replacing the SME (battery controller) and ~3 weeks in shop. I am under warranty so not aware of how much it actually cost.

  6. Hi guys!

    I’ve experienced that “sweets” just today too. The car shut off at once and i had to stop carefully.
    But everything became working in a few minutes.
    These days was -10 degree in Kyiv and car has stayed two days outside.
    And i’ve got this warn in 30mins of driving past.

    Two years ago was smth similar but YELLOW and i could continue driving. After chicking the errors, the report was the high voltage cable issue. I purchased the cable but problem has gone itself while cable has been delivered.

    But now it really scared me. Something is going wrong.

    To light of Engine Check i already used to!! It just wishes me good day)) then shuts down…

    2014 BMW i3 REX

  7. Sorry about the slow follow-up on this.

    After about two weeks I was told by BMW that they had done troubleshooting and that the fault was due to an old 12V battery. After replacing the battery everything worked.


    If this really was the main problem I am really concerned about the BMW error handling. A simple 12V battery can be replaced relatively easy by most people and if a 12V battery problem instead results in “Drivetrain. Stop carefully” and an immobilized car that cannot be driven and has to be towed to a workshop, leaving me 2 weeks without a car, well then I am dissatisfied to say the least.

    Alternately the root cause of the problem was due to something else (like condensation). Perhaps the problem then caused 12V battery problems. Perhaps root problem disappeared when the car was put in a warm garage and systems were reset by BMW. I do not know.

    Either way it is not satisfactory.

    1. Hmm, funny enough I put my ICE car battery on charge the other day and wondered if I should do the same for the i3 Rex, never consider it normally.

    2. 12 V battery is finished is common for electric cars. Google a little. You dont get the load from start engine so you dont know when its finished. Some people have volt meters in their cigarett lighters to change the battery before its done.

      I had mine replaced may 2017, mine is a Rex 2015-feb, so 2,5 year and it was done.

      One nice morning i may 2017 it didnt start, all sorts of strange messages, screens turning down light, at last the doors couldnt be locked. A circus with two tow cars because its got carbon fibre caross. On to BMW Segeltorp Stockholm. (the tow man recommended BMW Solna… but then you have to drive the narrow Eugenia tunnel where half swedens cars goes every day in a jam). Two tow trucks to get the car off also, circus.

      Over 100 error messages according to BMW Segeltorp, after 11 hours of error searching (car was in for a week approx), they changed the 12 V battery och made an adjustment in “styrdon”, i think they changed some software (maybe optimizing the level at which the 400 V battery charges the 12V battery to give it longer life). No more Hardware were changed than the simple 12 V battery, price SEK 1500. They wanted around SEK 25 000 (vat incl) for the whole job. About SEK 2300 an hour, trained specialists…

      After some arguing BMW took it on good will, the car was in feb 2017 for 2 year free check and service.

      What did you pay for the 12 V battery swap BMWi3Owner?

      I called a private BMW specialist (Per Larsson), and the receptionist lady in the phone says that it usually can be the battery when you get lots of fault codes…. wow, competence! They can do everything on BMW i3 except the high voltage system.

      I think you have to switch of the 400 Volt system fuse to change the 12V battery yourself. Google. Look at bimmer, and more forums.

      I had it in now for service at BMW Solna, seems ok but not more, half of service personell may have training in BMW i. But they didnt check my back tires which are close to illegal in 1-2 mm), and he even did a check thats only done for the chinese market… just checked every box quick i think after inquiring a service paper, coming back 12 min later…

  8. I have had my i3 exactly 5 years and the USB port for charging my phone has stopped working, along with voice commands and the heated seat function. Has anyone else experienced failures such as these?

    1. The USB port is not designed to charge the phone. Do it from the lighter ports. Nop, everything works fine 4,5 year and close to 900 hours rusning in Mid swedish climate. Lovely heat in winter, 3 levels in chair, works perfekt.

  9. my first drive train notification on my i3BMW. The first time this happened it said something about the battery and the engine light went on. I was able to start the car after it shut itself off and it drove normally. It happened again yesterday when in stop and go traffic. It needed to be powered off and turned back on and it drove normally. I suspect it is related to the gas motor on the Rex that I never use. I am interested that 50% of the 2014 cars had this particular problem and wonder if there is a class action suit? Electric cars should be disease free and the gas engine if it is only used when it decided to cycle on should last more than 4 years without problems.

  10. I have a 2014 REX with only 17,000 miles, its had a new SME after two beakdowns two years ago.
    Last year it needed the oil sealss for the rear drive shafts replaced as there was a serious leak.
    This year it recently went in for its annual MOT and sevice with another drive train warning light, I was told it had three faults
    1. Replace charging socket actuator
    2. Replace high voltage cable
    3. Replace fuel pressure sensor.
    I then got a call to tell me they still were having problems and were odering additional parts, I then got another call informing me that the whole motor and drive assembly had to be replaced!!!!
    6 weeks later I got my car back and it seems to be OK now but I have lost my confidence in the brand.
    I live in London and really believe its the perfect town transport but do I keep it now its been totally rebuilt or trade it for a new model?
    I have to say that BMW did replace the motor under their “good will” but I am told that “This Is It!”, as I have already had two previous claims.
    Are the newer models now more reliable or did I just buy a lemon?

  11. I bought mine in Dec 2017, 94ah rex, it’s an October 2016 car. Comes with a 3 year warranty, if I can’t extend that warranty for a sensible price I’ll sell it, we love to and would not go back to ICE but by the end of next year there will hopefully be more choice in the UK market. The 120ah doesn’t really appeal at the moment as ideally we’d like a little longer range and fast charging out of our next EV.
    I went to our local dealer (Essex) to enquire about a software upgrade as my car is well out of date, they advised not to unless I had a problem, advice I took but their reluctance to “flash” the car didn’t fill me with confidence, there is still a lot to learn all round with EV’s I feel.

  12. I have a 2014 i3 REX and I’ve experienced practically all the above issues. The most recent problem is the drive train warning & the car is now immobil (2nd time). This was after 1 day of driving after coming back from the shop for vapor sensors in gas tank. 40k miles, out of warranty but fortunately BMW and dealer split the last repair cost. My only hope now is to trade it in before the warning lights come back on next time its temporarily fixed. If you have a i3 with the REX I’d recommend getting rid of it. My car has spent more than 30+ days in for repairs, clearly BMW can’t fix the problem.

  13. Idag dog min i:3:a, drivlina, stanna försiktigt, stod det på skärmen.
    Bilen har gått drygt 200 mil, uttagen i december 2018.
    Förstår att det är ett problem som startade 2014 och som pågår fortfarande. Hur kan detta vara möjligt?
    Jag känner mig inte trygg med bilen, inte med verkstaden dit bilen bärgades. Det går helt enkelt inte att få kontakt med någon där, de ringer inte tillbaka.
    Mitt tålamod är redan slut och förtroendet för BMW är förbrukat.

  14. Ugh. 2014 i3 with range extender showing drivetrain warning, unable to even put it in N for the tow truck driver to pull up on the flat bed. Manual states turning off Intelligence Safety System but my i3 does not have the button below the Flasher button as indicated in the manual and as shown online in videos.
    Tow truck driver left as we did not want to risk doing more damage.
    Appreciate reading about the Drivetrain warning that others have discussed…anyone have a 2014 and know how to put the car in neutral so as to allow the car to roll/be pulled up on to the tow truck flatbed?

  15. Understand that BMW Group has sent out a letter to BMW i3 owners. They are aware of a circuit board issue that will result in a red indicator “Check Control”. They advise to contact Mobile Care for transport.

    They are also urging owners to replace the faulty electronics and (at least for newer cars) BMW will pick up the cost for this. See letter attached (in Swedish).
    Letter from BMW Group

  16. Thanks a lot for sharing! Can you say something about the tires, too? I’ve heard that replacement tires are only available from BMW and that they are expensive? – Is this true? I’m asking because used i3s are REALLY affordable these days, but if you need a repair and very expensive tires my assumed calculation might need to be adjusted. Thanks in Advance!

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