Progress usually brings new better stuff, but in many cases (or in most cases?) it brings new problems as well. The BMW 3 series F30 does have some new features which were not available in the predecessor, like the:

  • 8 speed automatic gearbox which shifts gears like Jesus Christ himself
  • adaptive LED headlights (facelifted cars, optional feature)
  • adaptive cruise control
  • the optional iDrive system which still looks modern enough
  • digital instrument cluster (facelifted cars, optional feature)
  • 2 parking cameras on each side of the front bumper which are really practical (optional feature)

But it also has many qualities like the:

  • 6 cylinder diesel engines which are powerful yet very VERY economical 
  • Powerful and also pretty economical petrol engines
  • Great weight distribution
  • Still great handling (with the right suspension type in good condition)

All of this looks awesome, but before you grab some money and run to buy one, STOP it! At least for while, because there is a lot of stuff you need to know!

Interior

Good things:

  • the ergonomics is great 
  • there are still physical buttons for all the features
  • the iDrive multimedia system works very well and the optional version with the bigger screen still has nice graphics even by today’s standards + facelifted cars have an updated iDrive system which can be equipped with the newer iDrive controller which has a touchpad on it. (Apple CarPlay was still not available rom the factory, but it can be retrofitted)
  • sometimes you can also find well equipped cars with leather dash, head up display, adaptive cruise control and all those other things
  • the interior is more spacious than in the previous gen. so finally there is acceptable (but still not generous) space for the rear passengers. By the way, the Gran Turismo version offers a lot more space for the rear passengers than the standard models.

Bad things:

  • ventilated front seats were not available at all, unlike the Audi A4 B8 which could be equipped with this feature
  • the standard seats are not very comfortable and very flat with poor side support (the optional sport seats are good)
  • cars equipped with leather seats can have in many cases cracks on the sides of the front seats 
  • poorly equipped cars have a standard small iDrive screen. It not only looks cheap, but it also lacks the better features which are in the optional iDrive unit with the bigger screen.
  • the build quality is not the best. So, creaking/rattling sounds can more often occur mainly from the doors, interior door handles and occasionally from the center console video about common interior creaks
  • cars which are equipped with the dark shadow line exterior trim can easily make a creaking noise from the upper part of the doors. This noise is so famous that BMW even released a service bulletin about it. Long story short, there is a BMW branded Teflon tape which you simply apply to the exterior trim edge where it meets with the door seal. The bad thing is that the price for this tape is around 200 €, I guess its made from gold plates or something – genuine bmw tape to fix shadow line creak part number: 83199407798
  • the coating of the interior door handles is often worn/sticky and it simply disintegrates over time. But luckily you can buy replacement door handles from China and replacing them is not that hard.
  • early production cars made to 2012 have in many cases rusty front seat frames, so it’s a good idea to look under the front seats before buying

Rust protection

The rust protection of these cars is very good. However, there are some weak spots. This means that mainly cars used on winter salty roads are gonna slowly rust on the:

  • rear subframe (mainly around the bolts and edges)
  • rear body reinforcement area in front of the fuel tank
  • front subframe (mainly on the rear edges)
  • the exterior mirror mount can start to corrode (over time the whole mirror body gets loose and in the worst case it can break and fall down)

Possible issues

1. Door locks & door handle cable

First of all, there are the door locks which can fail and there is the door handle cable which can get stuck or even break-mainly in cold weather. If one or both of these components fail, then you either won’t be able to open the door just from the outside, or you won’t be able it from the outside and neither from inside !! These symptoms can at the beginning occur sporadically, but later they can get permanent. So, it’s better to fix this as soon as possible since it’s not that easy to replace the cable neither the lock when the door can’t be opened.

replacing the broken door cable at the dealer can cost around 400 €


2. Door strap creaking

Another issue related to doors can be a creaking noise when opening them. This is caused by the black door strap. Sometimes it’s enough to grease it, but in many cases the inner parts in it are already worn out-mainly on cars used on winter salty roads.


2. Tail lights (pre-facelift cars)

On the before facelift cars both the outer and inner tail lights can have some issues:

1.Outer tail light condensation – usually caused by the the gasket of the rear cover. In this case you have to replace the gasket eventually put silicone o it. If this doesn’t help then the light body is most probably cracked somewhere.

2.Outer tail light not working – caused by the damaged/melted connector and socket. In this case you have to replace the back tail light cover and you can fix the melted connector with a genuine repair kit: 61132359993.

3.Inner tail light not working – caused by the bulb holder corrosion. In this case you have to replace the bulb holder.

4.Inner tail light pops out/gets loose – caused by the inner tail lights mounting points which can break. In this case you have to replace the inner tail light.

Check the headlights as well!

The headlight covers can be densely covered with tiny cracks. This is just an optical flaw, but keep in mind that if the headlight covers are like properly cracked somewhere, then you can easily have issues with excessive headlight condensation. The excessive moisture will kill the headlight electronics over time, so it’s better to fix this pretty quickly. The headlight covers can be replaced separately but it’s not an easy job, so it’s better to find a company which can restore/fix the headlights.

new headlight cover


3. Steering (2 issues)

1st issue steering rack bolts

On rear wheel drive cars, the bolts which hold/secure the electric motor to the rack can get loose, fall out or snap! In this case the motor can fall down and you will simply loose steering – you won’t be able to drive the car any further! The good thing is, that in many cases the dealer already replaced the old bolts to updated new bolts, since there was/is something like a recall for this. To top of that, in many cases even the whole steering rack was replaced by the dealer for free (mainly because there is a belt inside the motor and if the motor falls out then the belt most probably breaks, but you can buy the belt separately – HEE4074ERM) But despite of this it’s still better to check the bolts visually since it is possible that there are still cars which have the old bolts fitted.

the old bolts are made from aluminum and because of corrosion they can snap, get loose or even fall out

Cars with the xdrive system have a slightly different steering rack motor mounting with different bolts so these cars are NOT affected by the steering rack bolt problem.

BMW 1 series F20 has the same issues with the steering rack too

2nd issue – worn/noisy steering rack

The steering rack itself can be worn and make various mainly knocking noises and sometimes even creaking/squeaking noises even before 200 000 km + a slight play in the steering can appear too. In plenty of cases it’s enough to fix it with a genuine repair kit (repair kit: 32106891974), but in other cases you will have to replace it completely. (After fitting the repair kit the steering feedback and sharpness can improve too.) So check it for these noises while driving and while turning the steering wheel.

In many cases it’s enough to buy and fit a genuine repair kit, but sometimes the whole steering rack has to be replaced which costs around 2 200 €.

+There are some cases of water ingress into the steering rack which will obviously damage it over time – in this case owners also experienced various mainly squeaking sounds from the steering.

Fun fact (is it a fact?) – the optional sport steering rack /option S2VLA/ is more durable than the standard rack and it even looks bigger + this sport steering rack also gives a better steering feedback/feel.

Additional creaking/ squeaking INFO:

Additionally, the creaking/squeaking noises while turning the steering wheel can not only be caused by the steering rack, but also by the plastic steering shaft sleeve located in the drivers footwell near the pedals (number 3 on picture below). This you can either replace or there is a genuine BMW lubricant spray for this which you simply apply to this area. And if you are unlucky then these noises are caused by the lower section of the steering shaft located in the engine compartment (number 5 on picture below), and rarely even by the steering column switch cluster assembly-the part directly under the steering wheel – in this case you either replace it or you can try to disassemble it and lubricate the moving parts.


4. Wiring

There are also numerous cases of damaged wiring in these cars. I would not call this a common problem yet, but as the wiring gets older there is a chance that it will develop issues in these cars. Of course these cars are still not that old, however its still better to be ready, than to wonder what the fuck is happening. For example, in many cases the wiring of the headlight connector was damaged causing not working headlights or the DRL on one headlight will shine brighter than on the other.

Then there are also many cases of damaged wiring next to the engine – on N20 engines. So if you got an N20 engine then it is a good idea to check the wiring in the plastic corrugation (on picture) since the wires can rub against it and get damaged causing various strange, even random electrical related issues on dash + possible engine stalling or issues related to vanos-loss of power, bad idle or others.

Preventively you can remove all protection from these wires and check all of them + protect them better.


5. Starter motor

Be ready that the starter motor can fail before 200 000 km. An early sign of a failing starter motor is a problematic engine start when the engine is warmed up.

symptoms of bad starter motor: slow cranking, weird sounds from starter when starting engine, later no engine start


6. Squeaking blower motor

Squeaking AC blower motor can occur more often as well. This is not the end of the World, but it can be annoying. To fix the noise you can try to clean the motor or simply replace it.


7. Parking brake cable bracket

The plastic bracket which holds the parking brake cables often breaks causing the parking brake cable to fall down. The loose cable will hit the propshaft and rub against it. This will cause a scary screeching, scraping, grinding or rattling noise during acceleration from under the car. The new bracket is very cheap but it’s not that easy to replace it since its positioned above the rear propshaft, so replacing this clip at the dealer can cost even more than 700e. You can buy the new plastic bracket, you can buy an aftermarket metallic bracket or you can use some zip ties to secure the cable.

parking brake cable aftermarket bracket


Before buying check all that other stuff which can occasionally fail too like: Parking sensors, parking cameras and power windows.

Software updates

Since this is a newer car you should consider updating the software of the engine, automatic gearbox and the multimedia system to the latest version. Because keep in mind that in this case not only the multimedia system can benefit from an update, but also the gearbox or engine which can start to work smoother/better.

Recalls

It’s also good to check if the car had fixed all the recalls at the dealer, since there are a couple of them. Except the usual software related stuff there is a recall on early cars made to 2013 for example, which can have an issue with the vacuum pump causing reduced braking performance – don’t panic, all this stuff should be already fixed but it’s still better to check it. To top of that there is also still an ongoing recall for cars equipped with the diesel engines because of the infamous EGR cooler (more about this in the diesel engine part of this article).

Water leaks into the interior

As the other used cars, this BMW can also have issues with water leaks into the interior. So if you got water in the interior then it most probably leaked in from the following places:

  • from the door – not properly attached black water barrier/sound insulation
  • from the door speakers – bad seal around the speaker
  • from the sunroof drains – clogged drains or disconnected rear drains
  • from the scuttle area – clogged scuttle mesh

It’s very important to check and clean the 2 scuttle areas under the plastic covers under the windshield. Dirt and leaves can get trapped on the bottom of these places and clog up the plastic mesh thing which is inserted into the drain hole on both sides. With a clogged drain, water accumulates here which can not only leak into the interior but over time it will destroy the main battery (positive) wires on the right side. The wire can simply rust out and cause various strange electronic glitches, engine stalling or the car simply won’t start at all. You can access these drains after you remove the fender liner, so remove the drain insert with the mesh and clean this area as much as you can. By the way, you can leave the drain holes without the mesh.

Suspension

This BMW was available with 3 types of suspension:

  • Standardok on good quality roads, not that good on bad quality roads, doesn’t have that good handling, steering feedback not that good either
  • M Sportbetter than the standard, good handling, good steering feedback
  • Adaptiveshock absorber stiffness can be adjusted from comfort to sport modes, very good handling, good comfort + the steering feedback can be adjusted as well

All the suspension types have regular shock absorbers with coil springs, except the adaptive type – which has electronically adjustable shocks instead of the regular shocks. They are 2-3x more expensive than the standard shocks, so keep this in mind.

Better to avoid standard suspension?

If you care about or expect good handling, then you should definitely try to find a car with either the sport or with the adaptive suspension. With the standard suspension the handling of this F30 is not that direct compared to the predecessor E90 or even compared to the older E46. In other words, the F30 feels more loose/softer with bigger body roll in corners and its overall adjusted more towards comfort. However, the weight distribution of the car is still great no matter the suspension type and with the optional sport or with the adaptive suspension the handling of the car is still very good. On the other side, if certain suspension components get worn (and they will) then the handling of the car gets noticeably, maybe too noticeably worse. 

Front control arm bushings

After 100 000 km the big inner bushings of the front diagonally mounted arms are gonna get a bit weaker. They simply become softer even if they look good visually with barely visible cracks. In this case you can notice that the handling of the car including the steering will get a bit more unstable or more loose in other words. + The wheel alignment will slightly change too. If you are not bothered with this or you won’t notice anything, then of course you can keep the old bushings – if they are not cracked too much. But if you want to improve the handling and the stability of the car/restore the rigidity of the suspension and steering in other words, then it’s definitely worth to replace them. And of course, if there are bigger cracks on these bushings or if they are even leaking a bit-since they are filled with hydraulic fluid, then you should replace them as soon as possible.

Rear subframe bushings

The next issue is related to the rear subframe bushings. There are 4 bushings in the rear subframe which are already pretty soft from the factory. On used cars they obviously get even more softer and more loose + they will develop cracks as well. The worn subframe bushings will cause various bad symptoms like: loose/unstable handling, unwanted body swaying and a floating feeling at higher speeds or during cornering. To fix this you will have to replace these bushings which is not the easiest. To top of that some owners also fitted genuine reinforcement bars to the rear subframe to improve the handling

part numbers of reinforcement bars:

These reinforcement braces are from the F32 coupe where they are standardly installed form the factory (it is possible that the touring versions have them standardly as well). They are bolted to the subframe and to the body and this way they reduce the movement of the rear subframe during driving-thus improving the rigidity.

rear suspension/subframe brace reinforcement post

Rear lower control arm outer ball joints                              

And the third main suspension issue is related to the outer ball joints on the rear lower control arms. They often make a hilarious but very annoying creaking noise even before 150 000 km. The ball joint itself is cheap but to replace it you will have to press out the old one and press back the new one-the same way as replacing the bushings of the front control arms.

Before buying inspect the other suspension components for wear as well, specifically:

  • check for leaking shocks
  • check the ball joint boots for damage
  • listen for a creak eventually a knocking noise when turning the steering wheel which can be caused by the worn front upper strut mounts 
  • listen for knocking/rattling noises from the front on uneven roads which is usually caused by worn sway bar links – they can be worn even before 150 000 km
  • check for vibrations at regular and mainly at highway speeds, since plenty of owners complain about this. The vibrations can be caused by various things so sometimes it’s easy to fix them but sometimes it’s almost impossible.
  • check the propshaft rubber elastic couplings for damage and cracks, since they can cause vibrations during driving
  • and lastly, cars equipped with the optional xenon or LED headlights have 2 height sensors. The first height sensor is mounted behind the front left wheel and the second height sensor is mounted behind the rear left wheel. The link rods on them can seize over time and mainly the rear rod can break since its made entirely from plastic.

ON THE NEXT PAGE: PETROL ENGINES

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