June 10

2013 BMW X3 Timing Chain



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 you doing Bernie? 

Bernie: Doing very well.

Mark: So today we're talking about a 2013 BMW X3 that had a timing chain issue. What happened with this vehicle? 

Bernie: So this vehicle was towed to our shop. The engine wouldn't run. And we proceeded to do some diagnostic testing. 

Mark: So you normally have a road test, obviously, if it's towed, you're not driving it. What was the process of the diagnostic testing? 

Bernie: Yeah. So the first part of the process, you know, is to obviously try to start the engine and to try to drive it if possible. And we cranked the engine over. It wouldn't start, but it seemed to crank over normally. So the next step is to hook up a scan tool, retrieve the stored codes from the engine module. And we found many codes for valve timing. Something was going on with the timing chain.

There was also a few noises in the engine we could hear when we cranked it over. So pretty clearly we figured the timing chains had probably you know, gone bad. 

Mark: Is this a normal or recurring issue on BMWs? 

Bernie: Yeah. Timing chain problems are pretty common on these engines. They use a lot of plastic guide rails which tend to fail. And yeah, it's a common problem on BMWs. Also the variable valve timing valves can have problems. So there's a number of things that can happen on them. 

So there's our vehicle.

2013 BMW X3 Timing Chain

I was going to say, you know, one step in the diagnostic before we actually look at some of the timing chain ugly bits and pieces that we found is to, you know, the next step, of course, in the process is, let's have a look at the oil filter, see what happened. You can pull the oil filler cap off this engine, you can actually see in the top of the engine, whether the timing chain is moving and from what we could see when we cranked the engine over, you could actually see the timing chain seemed to be moving normally, and there wasn't an excess amount of play. So this engine has a timing chain, it also drives the oil pump. And one of the codes that we found was a low oil pressure code which sort of gave us an indication that the oil pump timing chain had probably, that's where the failure had happened. 

So this is a sort of our first view of the oil filter. It's kind of hard to see in this photo, but there's a couple of areas where you could actually see like metallic particles on the outer surface of the oil filter, just little glints. 

2013 BMW X3 Timing Chain

And I mean, once you see that, you know, that's not a good sign, but this is, this is kind of an inside view of when you move the pleats of the oil filter and see what's trapped in there. Every one of these pleats is just full of plastic and metal particles and so at this point we're going it's a complete engine failure. There's no sense in trying to resurrect it. You know something's happened. The timing chain's gone bad It probably suffered from lack of oil pressure and damaged a lot of other engine components at the same time 

2013 BMW X3 Timing Chain

Mark: So you can tell that the engine's gone just by looking at the oil filter? 

Bernie: Well, not just by looking at, yeah, I mean, the oil filter is a pretty good indicator. The next step would be a complete engine dismantle to look at everything and just see, Hey, what's worn here. I mean, once you get little metal particles, you've got engine bearings, you've got cylinders, piston rings, cam, you know, pieces of timing chain.

Even in the valve system, the camshaft, yeah, the valve system and the valve system is very complicated on these engines as well. So you've got like. You know, camshafts, lifters, valves, et cetera, et cetera. Many, many, many, many pieces. 

So you know, at this point we're going, okay, is it economical to spend a lot of money taking the engine apart and then rebuilding it, which is again, extremely expensive. Or do we just try to find a good used engine from somewhere to put into it?

At the end of the day, that's what we opted to do. We got a good used engine. And the company we bought it from actually put new timing chains and gears and guides and everything into the engine. So it's actually a very good value for the customer because that's the kind of key failure item, you know, that can cause the engine to die like this.

So why put a used engine in that might just fail in six months or a year, would be sort of a waste of money. So we've got a couple more pictures to look at. 

2013 BMW X3 Timing Chain

So after we replaced the engine, we tore the oil pan off and went straight to the oil pan, had to look at some of the goodies that we found. This is the oil pickup tube. So this sits at the bottom of the oil pan and the engine sucks the oil up through this tube into the oil pump.

And you can see actual chunks of plastic and debris stuck in there, which is obviously going to impede the flow from the oil pump. 

This is the oil pump drive chain that the tensioner, which is a piece at the top. That piece there that, I mean, that plunger is fully extended and there's bits of plastic that are missing from there. It's hard to tell where they are or what's missing, but some of the pieces are still intact. 

2013 BMW X3 Timing Chain

There are many other bits and pieces. There's some of the items that we laid out on the floor after taking the oil pan off. 

2013 BMW X3 Timing Chain

And there's a view in the bottom of the oil pan of a bunch of pieces of the timing chain. So yeah, it's a pretty nasty situation. All basically plastic items that failed, the guides failed. So the chain starts flopping around and jumps teeth or just can't get any grip on running the chain. 

2013 BMW X3 Timing Chain

Mark: So is there anything to prevent this from happening? What could an owner do if he has one of these vehicles? 

Bernie: Well, regular oil changes are a key to long engine life as we've talked about many times. But you know, changing oil doesn't prevent a congenital defect, I'll call it like a manufacturing defect. Like, you know, these plastic guides and these timing chains, obviously they've only got a limited lifespan.

So they probably should have made the more robust or maybe the plastic wasn't right. Or perhaps over years, you know, the oil changes weren't done enough and the plastic deteriorated. There's quite a few factors that can go into it, but key is regular oil changes and that's sooner than the manufacturer recommends. Probably eight to 10,000 kilometres.

And if you hear a moment of rattle coming from your engine, immediately take it in for service. You know, they had the owner done that on this vehicle, there's a good chance that the chains could have been replaced and the engine could have been saved. Still wouldn't have been cheap, but way cheaper than doing a whole complete engine job.

Mark: So what would be the comparison between actually fixing that worn out timing chain, let's assume or the guides and replacing it with a good used engine where that had new timing chain? 

Bernie: I would say probably at least half the cost. I don't have like all the numbers in front of me, but I mean the job, we'll talk Canadian dollars. I mean, we'd estimate it out of probably around 12,000 bucks to do the engine and used engine replacement with the new timing chains in it. So, you know, that kind of gives you an idea. If it's half that cost again, I'm just kind of running numbers. I might be wrong, so don't call and say, we gave you a YouTuber podcast price quote. Every job's individual, but nonetheless, it's a lot cheaper to do the timing chains before it fails.

Mark: Of course, this isn't the only thing that can fail in that timing chain system either because it is complicated. This is just the oil pump. 

Bernie: This is just the oil pump. And the chains will fail. The chains that drive the camshafts will also fail. That can cause catastrophic damage as well. But if this one failed, the other one's not far away. And some of those bits and pieces of plastic may well have been from the camshaft drive chain. It's just, at that point we go, okay, there's all the damage, you know, we'll send the engine off to engine heaven, scrap heaven, engine rebuild heaven.

Mark: So basically the real point of this whole thing is if you've got a BMW of a certain vintage, what's the range, age range? 

Bernie: I’m thinking if we go 2010 to modern, you know, like new. Any engine, we'll just not say BMW, any engine, you start noticing a rattling noise, get it inspected right away.

Mark: Otherwise it gets really expensive really quickly after that. 

Bernie: Yeah. Yeah, exactly. Yeah. That's right. Yeah. 

Mark: In terms of you've lost a vehicle. You can't drive it anymore because it's going to take quite a while to get it fixed. 

Bernie: Yeah, even if you spend the money to fix it, you're out of vehicle for several weeks. Nothing seems to happen fast these days, it almost seems like since COVID things have taken longer, but truthfully, even before that, this would have been a job that would take in a while.

It's labour intensive and acquiring parts and getting all the right stuff. It takes time. 

Mark: Or if you try and buy it off from BMW, it's really expensive. 

Bernie: Yeah, exactly. Yeah. 

Mark: So there you go. If you're looking for service for your vehicle or you've got a rattle in Vancouver, the guys to see immediately are Pawlik Automotive. You can reach them on their website, pawlikautomotive.com. Book your appointment, get in there right away. Or you can call them at (604) 327-7112 to book your appointment. You have to book ahead. They're always busy. Pawlik Automotive in Vancouver. Thanks so much for watching and listening. Thanks Bernie.

Bernie: Thanks Mark. Thanks for watching.

About the author 

Mark Bossert

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