October 30

2013 BMW X3 Rough Running

BMW

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Mark: Hi, it's Mark Bossert. I'm here with Bernie Pawlik, Pawlik Automotive in Vancouver. Vancouver's best auto service experience and we're talking cars. How are you Bernie? 

Bernie: I’m doing very well today. 

Mark: So today's victim is a 2013 BMW X3 running rough. What was going on with this vehicle? 

Bernie: Yeah. So this vehicle, the owner had complained that it felt like it was running rough, possibly an engine misfire. So that's why the vehicle came in and that's where we started our testing and diagnosis. 

Mark: So what's the procedure? 

Bernie: Well, first of all, road test, you know, what's going on with the car? What's happening? Are there any warning lights on the dash? If there's a misfire, 95% of the time the check engine light will be on. Sometimes if it's a severe misfire, the check engine light will be blinking. I believe the check engine light was not on in this case. And it felt like the engine was misfiring, but my technician worked on figured it might be something else.

So did a little further research and found that there's a lot of issues with the transfer cases in these vehicles, where they give a feeling like the engines misfiring but I think the transfer case is either slipping or engaging and disengaging in a way it's not supposed to.

Mark: What is the transfer case? 

Bernie: Any 4 wheel drive vehicle, unless it's an EV, any 4 wheel drive vehicle will have a transfer case. And what that does, it allows there to be a drive shaft drive to the front and rear axles of the vehicle. If you have a, say, a front wheel drive only vehicle, the differential transmits the power through axles to the front wheels.

On a rear wheel drive, there'll be a drive shaft to the back. The transfer case allows there to be drive shafts to both axles, but what has to happen is it either locks in place or there's a differential in the transfer case or some sort of slippage because when you go around a corner, wheels are all turning at different speeds.

And if they're locked up, then it won't turn properly. The vehicle will actually start binding as it goes around the turn. And that's not a good thing. If you have, like a four wheel drive truck, that's sort of off road capable. A lot of those, when you put it in four wheel drive, the transfer case locks. So when you go around a corner, the vehicle will actually, it's called like torque binding, will actually do that. So it's fine to do that when you're on snow or on a gravel road, but not good on a paved road. 

So the BMW X3 is an all wheel drive vehicle. So it has this sophisticated transfer case that you don't even know you're an all wheel drive. It just kind of takes care of everything. But when something goes wrong. 

Mark: It feels like it's missing. 

Bernie: It feels like it's got a misfire. So that is a symptom. Now, I'm not saying if you're driving your BMW and it feels like it's misfiring, you need a transfer case. That's where our diagnostic and testing comes in. 

Mark: So then you researched and found this information. What did you check next to confirm it? 

Bernie: We did some tests on the transfer case and found it was in fact faulty. And some of it was a process of elimination as well, because we verified that the engine itself had no fault codes. There was no misfiring coming from the engine. So by process of elimination, that really meant the problem was either in the transmission or the transfer case. And the transmission we were able to again identify wasn't the problem. So this process of elimination, the transfer case was it. 

Mark: So how do you go about repairing a transfer case? 

Bernie: Well, we don't actually repair them. I mean, in this case, the option is either buy a brand new one or get a good used one. And in the case of this vehicle, we opted to get a good used one. So that's what we did. So we'll look at a couple of pictures of the unit.

2013 BMW X3 Rough Running

This is a problem that happens on these BMWs, but it's not so common that it would be silly to buy a used part. I mean, I have a similar vehicle. It's a little older than this. Knock on wood and my vehicle has higher mileage, knock on wood. The transfer case has not caused any problems, but let's hope it doesn't do so because it's an expensive repair. 

This is a picture of the one side of the unit. So you can see different inputs for the different shafts. Input shaft and output. This large piece here is the transfer case mount. 

2013 BMW X3 Rough Running

Here's another view from a different angle. So, again, this I believe is probably the rear output and the other side was the front output shaft. Where the front output drive shaft would go. This is the electronic control unit here. So this unit is, it's a pretty sophisticated transfer case in that everything is controlled electronically to manage the slip of the transfer case. So it'll slip when it needs to, but it won't when you need the traction. And again, the problem with this unit could have been in the electronics. So sometimes you never know. 

2013 BMW X3 Rough Running

There's a close up view of the electronic unit and the rear output where the rear drive shaft attaches.

2013 BMW X3 Rough Running

So the tricky thing is, you know, if you were to repair this and there may be repair parts available, you don't really know until you get into it. Is it an actual mechanical problem? Like, are the clutches worn out? Or is the electronic unit faulty? And so there can be a high risk in a sophisticated piece like this trying to rebuild it.

We rebuild transfer cases for trucks that are more, you know, like Ford, Chevy, GM, Dodge type of trucks, where they have a more mechanical transfer case. Sometimes they'll have some electronics on them, but usually it's a mechanical problem. And those are much easier to rebuild and get parts for.

Mark: So, once you replaced it with the good used transfer case, I guess my first question is, how do you know it's a good used transfer case? 

Bernie: Well, we have to trust the people we buy the parts from and that's why we deal with reputable auto wreckers or recyclers as they sometimes like to be called. Sometimes there's a bit of a risk. They always put a warranty on it, but being a used part, our warranty is a little, if we put the part on, it doesn't work. It depends on how the supplier deals with it. But our usual policy is if it doesn't work, because you're trying to save money with a used part, you know, you'll have to pay the money to remove the part again. So, fortunately, we've never had to do that, which is good. 

Mark: What is the price difference between having, in this case, especially with the transfer case of buying a new and a used one?

Bernie: You know, I actually didn't do the math and the work on it but I would say probably two to three thousand dollars. Possibly even more. 

Mark: Significant. 

Bernie: Yeah, it's significant. Yeah. And I think that's where going with used parts, it makes a difference of whether the difference is significant. If it's only 500 dollars, why not go with the new one? But say it's 5,000 dollars for a new one or 4,000 bucks for a used one, and you're going, well, why not spend the extra 1,000 to get the new one? Unless you know you're going to sell the car. You know, people always go, well, I'll sell the car.

And then they drive it and go, that actually feels pretty good. I think I'll keep it. You got to see what you're committed to beforehand. But anyways, yeah, the price difference was significant. I know that, but I don't have the exact numbers. 

Mark: So once you've got the good used, new to the vehicle transfer case in place. Did it need to be reprogrammed? 

Bernie: Yeah, it does need to be reprogrammed to the vehicle. Sometimes I wonder why, but, you know, for some reason there's coding numbers in the units, and they need to be set to certain parameters and things that need to be set. So we reprogram it to the vehicle. And of course, like you said, how do you know the used one is good? Well, we don't really know until we actually drive the car and we drove it and it was good. 

Mark: Since you own one of these and you've worked on quite a few, how are BMW X3s for reliability?

Bernie: I'd say they're fair. I mean, it's a sophisticated car. So quite a few things can go wrong with them. Transfer cases are not, you know, an uncommon problem on these. So as the vehicle ages they will need to be replaced. You know, things like oil leaks are pretty common on these vehicles, coolant leaks, oil leaks on these vehicles. And of course, there's a lot of electronic bits and pieces that can cause problems. 

But I mean, the one I have, it's a 2011. I have to say like, you know, it's got about 180,000 kilometres now. It's actually been a pretty good vehicle. The main stuff, like the engines themselves are pretty solid, provided you do good maintenance.

Mark: And change the oil a little more rapidly than BMW says. 

Bernie: Exactly. Absolutely. Yeah, that'll save you a lot of money. 

Mark: If you're looking for service for your BMW in Vancouver, the guys to see are Pawlik Automotive. You can reach them on their website to book your appointment, pawlikautomotive.com. Or you can call them at (604) 327-7112 to discuss what's going on. They'll give you some advice. They'll get you to book your appointment to come in and get it fixed. Pawlik Automotive in Vancouver. You can enjoy our wonderful videos on the website. And if you're ever not sleepy like sometimes me, I'll watch one and it puts me right to sleep. Try it or not. Thanks for watching and listening. Thanks, Bernie. 

Bernie: Thanks, Mark. Thanks for watching.

About the author 

Bernie Pawlik

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