BMW Drivetrain Malfunction: Everything You Need to Know

So you’ve got a BMW drivetrain malfunction message. The good news is that it might not be a big deal. The bad news is that it might be a big deal. The real bad news is that you might never figure out what exactly is causing your drivetrain malfunction.


Welcome to BMW ownership!

 I have never owned a BMW and will never own a BMW. But I absolutely love them. I’ve driven BMWs that belong to friends. And I’ve even driven several BMWs on a race track.

They are truly “the ultimate driving machines.”

Hell, you’re reading this because you probably own one. So you know what I’m talking about.

BMWs are amazing cars. BUT….

Their reliability sucks.

What is a BMW drivetrain malfunction?

I wish I could answer this for you. But I can’t.

Nobody can.

A BMW drivetrain malfunction can be any number of mechanical problems. And pinpointing the cause is surprisingly difficult.

You would think that BMW would have their shit together.

But they don’t.

The dreaded drivetrain malfunction is the plague for countless BMW owners. The problem stumps and frustrates an alarming number of BMW owners every day. 

If you’re reading this you’re probably now part of the “driver malfunction club.”

In this article, you’ll learn about some of the main causes of BMW drivetrain malfunctions.

If you’re lucky one of them may solve your problem and make that annoying little message go away.

But don’t get your hopes up too high (sorry, just being honest). Some BMW owners never figure it out and end up just trading in their beloved Bimmers for a different make.

On paper, a BMW drivetrain malfunction is a service engine soon (or check engine light) of sorts. Your BMW has BOTH a check engine light AND drivetrain malfunction alerts. 

Lucky you!

But why? Let’s take a look at the difference between the two alerts.

Check engine light

When your BMW’s check engine light turns on, something is going wrong with one of the systems in your car. Your BMW’s onboard computer detects the problem, then alerts you by turning on the check engine light. 

BMW check engine light
Don’t ignore your check engine light. Source: hushypushy

When this happens, a code is logged in your BMW’s on-board computer that can be read by using an OBD scanning tool. This code will tell you specifically what caused the fault and you’ll know what to fix.

Generally, these lights don’t mean something is terribly wrong with your car. So there’s probably no need for you to immediately pull off the road and stop driving. 

But don’t ignore a check engine light. You should have it looked at as soon as you reasonably can. You may have to wait several days before you can get a service appointment…. And that’s fine. Just don’t ignore the light for months on end!

BMW OBD Scanner

I recommend taking your BMW to an authorized BMW dealer or a local mechanic who specializes in BMWs. 

The reason for this is because BMWs use a more sophisticated computer system than other cars. There are BMW-specific OBD scanning tools that a BMW dealer or BMW specialist will have.

And if you are a DIY-er, make sure you have a BMW OBD scanner.

It’s important to note that standard OBD tools DO work on BMWs. However, depending on what the problem is with the car, the non-BMW OBD tool may not be able to pick up certain codes.

Drivetrain Malfunction

Here’s where everything gets muddy.

If your BMW has a check engine light, why does it need a drivetrain malfunction indicator?

Good question.

I suppose someone at BMW thought it was necessary.

Can’t I Just Plug in a BMW OBD Scanner When I Get a Drivetrain Malfunction?

In a perfect world, your BMW’s check engine light will also illuminate when you get a drivetrain malfunction message. The check engine light will tell you WHY your car is having problems.

But as we all know, a perfect world doesn’t exist. And sometimes your BMW will tell you there’s a drivetrain malfunction and NOT illuminate the check engine light!

If this happens to you, sorry, but you’re kind of screwed.

A BMW drivetrain malfunction WITHOUT a check engine light doesn’t register a trouble code in your on-board computer. Therefore, you really don’t know how to fix  your drivetrain malfunction.

I’ve literally spent hours in the BMW forums researching this problem.

A drivetrain malfunction seems to happen a lot. And it often stumps BMW mechanics.

How to fix a BMW Drivetrain Malfunction

If you’re doing your homework, there’s several websites that talk about the reasons for a BMW drivetrain malfunction. Most of them suggest spark plugs, coil packs, and high pressure fuel pumps as the culprits. Some even suggest low octane gas and software updates.

Can these be the problems?


To be honest, I’m not a BMW expert. I’m literally telling you that you’re screwed if you have a BMW driveline malfunction and no accompanying check engine light.

Why? Because I don’t have an answer. And it appears no one else does either!

Personally, I think the best way to educate yourself about this issue is by connecting with other BMW owners. There’s no shortage of owners who are online discussing BMW driveline malfunctions.

Here’s a great example of a frustrated BMW X3 owner who has the dreaded drivetrain malfunction message. He refers to it as the “everlasting problem of a drivetrain malfunction.”

This is just one of many frustrated BMW owners. If you spend some time reading posts in the BMW forums, you’ll find many more BMW owners who have similar frustrations.

What BMW owners are saying about drivetrain malfunctions

Spend some time searching for drivetrain malfunctions in any of the big BMW owner forums like Bimmerpost or Bimmerfest and you’ll get a good sense of what other owners are going through.

There’s no shortage of conversation threads on the topic.

According to conversations in the forums, some of the of the top reasons other BMW drivers are getting drivetrain malfunctions are:

  1. Bad Coil Packs and/or Spark Plugs
  2. Cold Weather
  3. Dirty Turbocharger
  4. Radiator Damage

Let’s take a look at each…

Bad coil packs

Bad coil packs are a good place to start. Many BMW owners attribute bad coil packs to the reason why they receive a drivetrain malfunction message.

Bad spark plugs  

Along the same lines as coil packs, another leading cause of the BMW driveline malfunction message is bad spark plugs

If you’re lucky, an OBD reader could tell you which coil pack or spark plug is causing your problems. 

You can replace a single spark plug or coil pack. But I personally think you should replace them all if one is bad.

Check out this YouTube video by “Crazy Bob.” He discusses the possibility of coil packs and spark plugs causing your drivetrain malfunction code.

Is Crazy Bob correct? 


What’s more interesting (and possibly helpful to you!) are all of the comments on Crazy Bob’s video. At the time of writing this article he has 354 comments.

These are great, well-thought-out  comments by other BMW drivers who are experiencing a drivetrain malfunction. It might be worth your time to read through them. Reading the experiences of others may help you find the source of your problem!

Cold Weather

Photo of an e92 M3
e92 M3 in the snow. Source Josh Taylor

I found many BMW owners talking about cold weather causing the drivetrain malfunction message. 

Check out this thread on the Bimmerpost forum. With over 170 posts, this thread has many BMW owners sharing their thoughts and strategies about their drivetrain malfunctions.

If your BMW is acting up in cold weather, there just might be something in this forum that will help you solve your problem.

Dirty Turbocharger

photo of a dirty x5 turbo
Dirty Turbo. Source: x5ownerian

This owner of a BMW 550ix in this Bimmerfest post goes through all of the usual suspects I mentioned before (coils, spark plugs, fuel pump) and nothing helped.

His mechanic decided to inspect the turbo system and found it to be very dirty.

So he cleaned out all the gunk and BOOM!, no more drivetrain malfunction.

If your BMW happens to be turbocharged, it might be a good idea to check and make sure your turbo system isn’t dirty.

Radiator Damage

Here’s a 2015 BMW M3 owner who had the drivetrain malfunction light triggered by a piece of debris damaging his radiator. 

Photo of a 2015 BMW M3
2015 BMW M3. Source: BMW Group.

The design of the grille on a 2015 BMW M3 is somewhat flawed in that it allows for road debris to pass through and potentially damage the radiator.

Other Possible Causes

What you’ve just read about are what I’ve determined to be the main causes of a BMW drivetrain malfunction. 

Are these all the causes? 

Unfortunately no. I’ve also heard about software updates, low-octane gas, fuel pumps, and vacuum leaks (just to name a few).

If what you’ve read about here doesn’t help, I strongly suggest you spend some time in the BMW forums. 

Read about what other BMW owners have gone through. And post your own questions and find out if someone may have had similar issues with the same model. Doing this will be incredibly helpful.

BMW Drivetrain Malfunction: What not to do

I can’t tell you how many times I read about BMW owners getting the drivetrain malfunction message on their dashboard and suggesting you just pull over, shut off the car, restart it, and POOF! No more codes!

Let’s put on our common sense hat for a second.

Can this work?


Does it mean the problem is gone? Probably not.

Your BMW can’t self-heal. 

If your car is telling you it has a drivetrain malfunction, listen to it.

While finding the exact cause for the problem may be a challenge, you need to put in the time to fix it. Because if you don’t, you might find yourself stranded somewhere with a car that won’t run.

BMW Drivetrain Malfunction Repair Cost

If you made it this far, you probably know what I’m going to tell you what the BMW drivetrain malfunction repair cost is.

I have no idea.

Because the cause of your drivetrain malfunction can be SO MANY different things, you’re looking at costs of a couple hundred dollars to several thousand dollars.


It’s often a mystery as to what causes a BMW drivetrain malfunction. The best thing for you to do is find the most experienced BMW service technician you can to troubleshoot the problem. If you are a DIYer and are stumped by your drivetrain malfunction message, spend some time connecting with other BMW owners  in the popular BMW forums….  You just might find your answer there. Good luck! You’re gonna need it.

**header image courtesy of 186697 via**

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