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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50 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.

    2. Hi Mark! I saw ur post about ur bmw i3 about the drivetrain issue, I have the same problem buddy And I live in Texas as well, can u tell me ur experience I have Rex 2014 with 38K, I think is still in warranty. Thanks I really appreciate ur help Mark.

  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…

    P.S.
    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.

    Hmm.

    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!

    1. 2014 REX – i took mine to Cost Co and they could have ordered them but the tread was still good so i passed. Roughly $700 for all four. Then a month later i hit a giant pot hole and blew both passenger front and rear at the same time, I had it towed to the dealer just to have everything checked out and ended up replacing them there. Other than that never really had a problem except the recall airbag. Going in next month for Routine Maintenance.????Wandering after reading these posts should i consider extending my warranty??

  17. My 2014 i3 failed on the road with a drivetrain malfunction error mesaage. I brought it on a lowloader to the BMW garage is Ashford. After 5 weeks in the garage I am told that my curremt bill is almost £1000, they still do not know what is wrong with the car and are waiting for further testing instructions from bmw headquaters. And I will not be given a courtesy car because my car is too old.

  18. My 2016 i3 failed on the high speed road.Then they replaced whole motor and drive assembly .I’m in China.

    1. My car had only 17000miles when the complete drive train and motor was replaced in my March 2014 i3 no serious problems since.

  19. 2017 Charged the car and failed at Ikea London (Wembley). Since then the warning (amber) of issue with drive-train has come up. It went away last night. Reappeared this morning whilst driving at 70 mph.

    Just about to call the garage and see what they say. I’ll keep you posted

  20. 2014 i3 Rex with 111,500 kms.

    just got the drivetrain malfunction message last week, car is at BMW for repairs

  21. Yes I’ve experienced the infamous drive train message on my 2015 rex. It first occurred driving home after servicing the rex but it still drove on the battery ok. I wasn’t too fussed as I figured some sensor must have been loosended during the service. subsequently the trouble message dissapeared by itself but then it would come and go intermittantly evey couple of days at startup in the mornings. Eventually I got pissed off and of course it rendered the rex pointless so I took it back to the dealer that serviced it. Of course their investigation revealed it was not their culpa. They said the car had registered a slew of electrical faults and they alledged to have carried out “rotor sensor initialization,reset faults customer to monitor” whatever that meant. Obviously I wasn’t happy with that terse description plus what monitoring?
    The verbal guff they gave me was that there are a lot of wires in the rear of the i3 rex and they are somehow causing faults, if they were to try isolating the fault they would need the car for a week! so they were hoping that their little rotor malarky would solve it but if it happened again bring it back in for the big investigation which as it was going to be lengthy would cost a lot but they would supplicate to BMWs’ good nature to pay for it as the car is still relatively new and only 12857 miles on the clock. So I took it away and within a few days it started repeating the intermittant drive train warnings but still ran ok on pure electric power. At this point I came to the conclusion that I understood how & why the germans had lost the war; that their legendary engineering prowess and fame were unfounded bullScheisse. Ineed subsequently when working in germany I became aware that many ordinary germans (at least 2 work colleagues) were not aware of their presumed brilliance. Naturally I did not want to take the car in to cost me a small fortune with dubious results especially back to the same place that had “initiated” the problem. Like many policemen I am suspicious of coincidence but now it has become extra annoying as I want to travel just slightly out of battery range and a Rex is worthless if its salient feature is inoperative. Also unlike BMW I would have moral qualms passing it off to some unsuspecting punter. I never did like BMWs as many people praised them and had them especially in California and I’m not really a herd player which is probably why I bought the damm I3 in the 1st place as most regard it as an ugly thing. This time I shoulda stuck with the herd…

  22. Same problem 2014 i3 Rex. The crazy thing to me is the inability to get in neutral. Fun trying to figure out how to get a dead car that can’t be put into neutral out of a garage! How did they not think of this. Seems so basic.

    1. Interesting thread, drove my 2014 Rex with about 80,000 miles about 7 miles this morning without problem. Parked and came back in 45 minutes and got the red stop carefully message (I think) and then a bunch of others, including something about electric power only. Was able to drive home, the car felt normal, and even was able to start the Rex engine as a test. Scanned the OBD and got a slew of codes (4 engine, 4 Charging interface module, 1 universal charging, 13 electric motor hybrid and 1 tank function module), although 0 confirmed codes, 0 pending codes and 0 permanent codes recorded. I don’t know how many of these were present before this incident. I cleared all codes. Also, I changed the 12V battery about a month ago. I’ll have to wait and see what happens next.

      1. My 2015 REX suffered a DriveTrain fault 2 weeks ago and would not move anywhere. I couldn’t put it into neutral either to get it out of my garage. Eventually an AA patrolman was able to power the 12 volt battery briefly to slide it into neutral, out of the garage and onto the towing truck. It has been with the local BMW garage for two weeks now. First they said it was the 12volt battery and replaced it but the fault persisted. After consulting with BMW technical services they decided it is a problem with the high voltage battery and they have had to dismantle the whole car to get it out and do the checks. Nothing resolved as yet. They seem to be lost. Meanwhile they keep telling me that I need to agree to pay more in case the eventual fault is not covered by the 8 year warranty for the high voltage battery. Dispairing.

        1. Update. After nearly three weeks I have my car back. The fault was with the charging electronics module inside the high voltage battery. A big job but luckily it was all covered by the 8 year warranty that the high voltage battery has.

  23. I bought a 2016 BMW rex early September 2020 from a private seller near Croydon, a very friendly young family. Who were upsizing to another EV. It had been working fine since then in both pure electric and petrol Rex when needed. In early November I actually took it on a trip to Neustadt-in-der-Weinstrasse, which is twinned with my city here in the UK, Lincoln. Was expecting to see loads of i3’s on my trip, probably only counted 5! Germany seems to be totally opposite to the UK, great electrical charger infrastructure but hardly any EVs on the road. I see much more EV’s in UK yet in comparison our charger infrastructure is weak. Anyhow trip went well up to the French control checkpoint at Calais (Eurotunnel-UK Customs!) the customs pointed me into a garage and was told my car would be searched. They went to town! I had much German beer in the back but they didn’t bother with that. They removed the “Do not remove – authorised access only” panel from the back under the boot. Seemed to check all inside but didn’t pull
    anything out. They did move panels from the doors and also the cable carry basket from the front boot. I was shocked how thorough it was, I had to board a later train. When I asked why was I stopped they said that they don’t get many of these vehicles come
    through (most probable) and that they have many spaces to hide things. To me it seemed like my car was being used as an example to train the new recruits. Luckily I was not in any urgent rush. Carrying on from Kent towards Lincolnshire, most of this part of the journey I did in rex. Passing Stamford and suddenly I get the engine management light and message “Drivetrain error – note remaining miles” I had nothing in electric apart from the last 3 miles. After the 3 miles I suddenly loose power. Luckily I got of the A1. But driving through Stamford it would stop every 500yards. I’d have to put on hazard lights turn off car and on the engine light will still stay. I could do up to 15mph and then suddenly loose power again and have to pull into side. I repeated this process 5 or 6 times until I could safely park up. Unlike what others said i had no problem getting it into N or Drive, however it was stuck in this limp mode with the same error message. Finally found a local electric point, and got it home. Next day took it to Listers BMW Boston, the reckoned it was overfilling of the Rex tank, which I admitted I had done from the journey Kent – Lincolnshire. After a few days they said it had a fuel sensor changed and was ready for collection. £250 later I left the dealership with 8 miles on electric. At the moment the electric ran out and it switched to Rex it failed and I got the exact same error message. Pretty annoyed as I needed to get to work and to me
    seemed like all that had been done was cancel error code using a OBD reader! Called the dealership who refused to arrange to pick me or car up from 3 miles down the road. I had repeat the same process with it in limp mode about 15 times to get back to the dealership, totally embarrassing as it was stop start all the way back. After 2 more weeks was told they have done all diagnostics and now awaiting results from BMW HQ regards a fix. Was told that my current bill would be £996 but should get goodwill of this and that the rest of the costs would be covered by ‘BMW Technical’. Another 2 weeks passed and they told me a fuel pump had been changed and an injector but still no fix. They told me not too worry and that any further costs are all covered. They said they had to get tools from Nottingham BMW to access the motor. (You’d think they’d have the tools on site!!). A week later passed and the dealership calls saying where did I purchase the car to which i said it was a private sale. Next day I get a call saying BMW will not be honouring coverage. They completely washed there hands of it as it was a private sale (20,000 miles on clock!). They then said either I pay £996 to collect the car unfixed, or pay £8000 reduced to £6000 with “goodwill” to have it repaired!!! They said they were 98% sure it is something called a ‘splined torsion shaft’ that sits in the middle of the motor. We said to them this is ridiculous since the car has only 20,000 miles and 4 years old. After a lot of protest got the car back (unfixed) at £600. Currently trying to do a Section 75 and looking at other options to recover costs as this was a definite breach of contract going back on what they’d promised multiple times on the phone. Made correspondence with BMW UK with no avail. Looking at now writing to BMW Germany for either help in fixing or at the least some insight into what’s the issue. Have already spoken to Honest John who are looking at my case. Having spoke to a private BMW specialist in Lincoln who are quoting £1000-2000 to do the work that BMW didn’t do. They are just getting EV training certification but should be able to work on my car early 2021. I’m going to write a list of all possible things so the private specialist garage can look as my experience with BMW Boston was awful so when they said 98% there’s no certainty of a fix. So far I’ve got: 12v battery, condensation, high voltage cable between generator and battery, SME or this so called ‘Splined Torsion Shaft’ that I can see the part online at between £150 – £250, although yes it is right in the centre of motor so labour costs are high. I would be interested to hear from anyone who has similar issues/same issue, or any ideas on how to proceed. As currently driving round on full electric with a giant paper weight under the bonnet!! I don’t think it’s customs though that caused this as I did over 100miles in Rex after leaving customs. I’d like to think they are authorised to remove that panel. Though sometimes do wonder if they could of caught a cable or something small!!

        1. Thanks I had a look through that forum. Some interesting reads. Though I’ve decided I won’t go down the warranty route, instead I hope to go to 3rd Party specialists and not BMW due to their extortionate labour costs. I think more BMW Specialist garages are looking at working on I3’s and getting the certification to do the work on EV’s. So I’ll be taking mine to them from now on if things go wrong.

          1. It’s a quandary (I have a 2016 i3 rex now out of warranty), another trick I’ve read is to take the car to a BMW motorbike dealer as they have way more experience with this (scooter) engine. Read somewhere that an i3 owner solved a rex problem by researching on the motorbike forums, this particular issue was a common one with these scooter engines

  24. Right so have you had the drivetrain issue with your i3 REX? Did you get it fixed and what was the found problem?

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