The BMW 3 Series E90 is now more than reasonably priced. This is making it attractive for first-time BMW buyers or people looking to upgrade from their E46.
The truth is, the E90 aged really well. The E92 coupe with the M-Sport package still turns heads, which is not something many cars do after 15+ years.
However, the BMW 3 series E90 has a lot of known problems. Here is everything I have found during the time of my ownership and what I uncovered during my research.
N47 320d Diesel Engine
The N47 2.0 diesel engines have problems with the engine timing chain. Some claim this is caused by the long oil change interval. The timing chain can skip and cause big damage to the engine. If the timing chain is bad, the engine rattles.
N47 engines also experience problems with the plastic swirl flaps in the intake manifold, which can detach and get sucked into the engine.
These engines are also known for common turbocharger failures. To learn more, read our full guide to N47 engine problems.
N54 3.0l Turbo Engine
N54 Turbo engines are prone to turbocharger failure and wastegate problems. They also suffer from leaking boost lines and because they are direct-injection engines, they also suffer from carbon buildup.
Generally speaking, all petrol engines in the E90 series are known to have problems with fuel injectors and ignition coils. Because of it, the car can have problems starting up or with an unsteady run in neutral.
Owners also report very common problems and failures of the high pressure fuel pumps on the 330i and 335i with the N54 and N52 engines. Repairs are expensive.
N52 Naturally Aspirated Petrol Engines
N52 naturally aspirated engines suffer from the seemingly uncommon problem with the exhaust-valve hydraulic lifters. Faulty hydraulic lifters in the cylinder head are known to cause a ticking sound, especially when driving around the town or on short journeys.
Owners recommend frequent oil changes and occasional high rpm driving to keep the problem managed. The only way to fix this is to replace the expensice cylinder head. This is more common on pre-2009 N52 and N53 petrol engines.
Even though this problem was fixed under a recall, many vehicles still tend to suffer from the dreaded loose camshaft bolts that keep down the Vanos mechanism.
These are engines are prone to valve cover gasket oil leaks, which you can spot on the cylinder head and engine block and other spots below the valve cover gasket.
Electric Water Pump Issues
The E90 is the first 3 Series to use an electric water pump. These have tendancy do malfunction without a warning at around 90,000 miles (ca. 144,841 km).
Be on the lookout for symptoms of a dying water pump so you dont get stranded by the side of the road or even worse, so you do not overheat your engine.
Oil leaks just dont seem to end with E90’s, but perhaps the most dangerous one is the oil filter housing oil leak which can cause major engine damage if the oil leaks from the oil fitler housing onto the serpentine belt.
The oil causes the serpentine belt to derail and the rest you dont even want to know. Have this part inspected as soon as possible!
Under-Dimensioned DPF Filters
The 330d models with the M57 engine have under-dimensioned DPF filters, causing them to fail sooner than normal. Expect replacement by 80,000 miles (ca. 128,748 km).
Make sure you read our guide to the symptoms of blocked DPF filters to recognize the signs of DPF problems. All E90 diesel models also experience regular failures of thermostatic valves (both the thermostat on the EGR valve and the one on the engine cooling radiator).
E90 Vanos Problems
As is expected on all BMW engines with VANOS, the E90 is no exception to the common Vanos problems. Sooner or later, the Vanos solenoids fail. All BMW petrol engines are extremely sensitive to poor oil, so make sure you use good quality oil that is replaced on time.
335i Transmission Problems
In 335i models, there is a problem with the automatic transmission control unit. The transmission tends to start in second gear, which causes stress to the transmission and unwanted vibrations, accompanied by rattling.
Overall, the automatic transmissions in the E90 3 series are not the best. We recommend you shorten the transmission fluid replacement interval and stick to it religiously!
These transmissions are super sensitive to regular ATF replacement.
Steering Rack Oil Leaks
The steering rack leaking oil is a known common problem. Make sure you keep an eye on the level of power steering fluid.
Other Common Problems
- Common camshaft sensor failures, especially on 2.0 petrol engines
- Owners report issues with the OEM tow hook.
- Loud and uncomfortable ride on run-flat tires. Most owners replaced them as soon as possible.
- Many owners report failing thermostats. When it fails, it either does not open and overheats the engine or it opens too much too quickly and it overcools the engine.
- Smaller engines, the 318i for example with the N43 engine have problems with the oil separator, coil packs and faulty piezo fuel injectors.
Body and Interior problems
Intensive abrasion of interior plastics on the steering wheels and door panels is reported on all models. During my time of owning an E90, my door handles literally started melting during the summer heat.
A lot of owners also report the braking of the plastic elements in the power side window mechanism. This results in side windows going down constantly. The whole mechanism needs replacing.
Owners also report that door handles get stuck in the “opened” position.
BMW E90 Electric problems
- Tyre pressure system tends to not work most of the time.
- Ignition coils are known to fail on all petrol engines.
- There have been many cases of the G201 pressure sensor failure in the ABS unit. The electronic stability control light turns on and does not go off. The whole ABS unit needs replacing.
- The fan resistor for cabin ventilation can fail and cause constant drainage of the battery.
- Owners report common problems with the wiring. This causes random door locking, car radio lock-up and the blinkers to stop working when you lock/unlock the car.
- Many reported failures of door locks and boot lock.
- Windows regulators are a known weak point of the E90. If it stops working, only a replacement will solve the issue. Not a cheap part.
- Common failures of the steering wheel lock. The issues is resolved with a software reprogramming.
The E90 3 Series is a car with a huge fan base and a huge base of people who had nightmarish experiences. The key to buying any BMW is to find a car with a known regular service history. Make sure to read our guide to buying any used car.
Make sure to check and ask the previous owners about the major faults we mentioned above. If anything of the above has been taken care of, it is a big plus. Try avoiding early models (2006-2008) and choose the later 2009+ models.
This is true for all engines, they were all greatly improved with the 2009 facelift. Good luck with the search!
Recommended diesel engine: 330d (strong and reliable, no problems with the timing chain)
Recommended petrol engine: 330i/328i with a manual gearbox (reliability king but not performance, it is a naturally aspired R6 engine BMW has been making for years).