BMW E90 Problems (2004-2013 3-Series) – Complete Guide!

The BMW 3 Series E90 is becoming reasonably priced. This is making it attractive for first-time BMW buyers or people looking to upgrade from their E46. The E90 aged really well. The E92 coupe with M-Sport bumpers still turns heads, which is not something many cars do after 10 years. However, the BMW 3 series E90 has a lot of known problems. Here they are, try your best to avoid buying a bad car.

Major faults and bigger BMW E90 problems

  • 320d diesel engines have common turbo failures.
  • N54 Turbo engines are prone to turbochrger failure and wastegate problems. They also suffer from leaking boost lines and because they are direct-injection engines, they also suffer from carbon buildup.
  • All petrol engines have problems with fuel injectors and ignition coils. The car can have problems starting up or with an unsteady run in neutral.
  • 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.
  • 320d diesel engines have problems with plastic flaps on the intake manifold.
  • 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 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.
  • 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. 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!

Other and minor BMW E90 problems

  • In 335i models, there is a problem with the automatic transmission control unit. The transmission starts in second gear which causes stress to the transmission and unwanted vibrations with rattling. Overall, the automatic transmissions in the E90 3 series are not the best. Shorten the transmission fluid replacement interval and stick to it! These transmissions are super sensitive to regular ATF replacement.
  • The steering rack leaking oil is a known common problem.
  • Common dual mass flywheel problems on diesel variants with manual transmissions, expensive to replace.
  • Common camshaft sensor failures, especially on 2.0 petrol engines
  • The 330d models have under-dimensioned DPF filters causing them to fail sooner than normal. Expect replacement by 80,000 miles.
  • Owners report many fuel leaks on 330d’s.
  • Very common problems and failures with high pressure fuel pumps on the 330i and 335i with the N54 and N52 engine. Expensive repairs.
  • Owners report problems with the OEM tow hook.
  • Regular failures of thermostatic valves on diesel engines (both the thermostat on the EGR valve and the one on engine cooling radiator).
  • Loud and uncomfortable ride on run-flat tires. Most owners replaced them as soon as possible.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • N52 6 cylinder naturally aspirated 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.
  • Smaller engines, the 318i for example 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.
  • 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 report that door handles get stuck in “opened” position.
  • Loud windshield wipers.

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 repogramming.
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Our recommendation

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).