BMW drivetrain malfunction: What causes it & how to fix it

It’s by no means a discovery that errors appearing while we’re driving aren’t the thing we want to see. Every time they do, we can either feel annoyed, irritated, sad, angry, or even fearful. The last one is present when the error relates to our vehicle’s engine. It is the most crucial part of our car’s overall driving capabilities and costs the most to repair or exchange. It is precisely why the “Drivetrain Malfunction” error can give you lots of unpleasant emotions if it appears on your BMW screen. This article will cover everything about this malfunction to help you prepare for such an event better. You’ll see how to look for it, what causes the error, as well as the consequences of it and repair methods. 

2010 BMW series 3

What is a drivetrain?

Before we start talking about the malfunction, let’s make sure we all know what a drivetrain is. Many drivers never had the chance to learn vehicle terminology or simply didn’t deem it necessary. Even though in most cases, this knowledge won’t be needed for you. The car mechanic will perform the fixes. However, it’s still better to know at least some of the part names and be able to identify them.

A drivetrain’s definition goes as follows: “a group of parts that interact with the main engine of the vehicle to transmit power from it to the powered parts.” It’s important to note that an engine is NOT a part of the drivetrain. The same can be said about wheels- they’re the receiving part of the force the drivetrain transmits. This group of components typically consists of the following:

  • Transmission- transmits power directly from the engine to later parts, like a chain in a bike.
  • Driveshaft- a long metal pipe that takes power from the transmission to other components
  • Universal Joint- a movable joint that allows for varying positions of the driveshaft
  • CV Joints- designed to keep the power transmission at a constant velocity 
  • Differential- the penultimate part transmits power to individual wheels.
  • Axle shafts- rotating parts that give power directly to the wheels 

Drivetrain vs. powertrain

If you’ve heard of the term “drivetrain,” you’ve probably heard of the powertrain. Usually, regular people and even professional mechanics use these two terms interchangeably. Even though it’s not technically true, it’s harmless for the most part. However, it might cause some unnecessary trouble when shopping for new vehicle parts. Here’s the difference between a drivetrain and a powertrain:

2010 BMW

The main difference between those two is classifying the engine as a part of the subassembly. If we’re talking about the drivetrain, it’s an assembly that works WITH the engine- not including it. A powertrain is, by definition, “an assembly that consists of every part which helps make the vehicle move in any way.” This time, the engine is a part of that, as it’s the main component that makes our car move. Other parts in the car, such as a catalytic converter, are also a part of the powertrain.

Another small difference lies in the wheel classification. As with the engine, it’s also a part of the powertrain while not being a part of the drivetrain. In short, the drivetrain is a big part of the powertrain, centered around transmission more than power and movement.

What does drivetrain malfunction mean on BMW?

Now that you know what a drivetrain is, it’s time to explain what the error means. A BMW drivetrain malfunction is a hardware error in nature. It means that in order for it to appear, some of the mechanical parts of your vehicle have not to be working properly. In this case, the potential target of your car malfunction can be any parts that make up the drivetrain. It includes the transmission, driveshaft, different joints, and the differential. The error will appear on your screen if any of them becomes damaged.

The subset in your car responsible for detecting these malfunctions is called the car’s engine computer, or ECU in short. It automatically detects all sorts of real-time errors in your vehicle, allowing you to react as soon as possible. 

Due to the potentially rather serious nature of this error, there are countermeasures implemented into your car. They are there to ensure maximum safety in case of the drivetrain malfunctioning. If this happens, the ECU (engine’s control unit) will switch the car into safety/limp mode. It means that the overall performance of your car, which is mainly the power generated by the engine, will be reduced adequately. It will be mentioned in the error message, which reads: “Drivetrain Malfunction: Drive moderately. Maximum drivetrain output is not available. Consult service center.” You will not be able to reach the max speed of your car if it’s in limp mode. It is the best solution, as it prevents further damage to the already damaged parts. It’s while it also allows you to reach a repair point safely.

BMW drivetrain malfunctions when accelerating

2010 BMW series 3 dashboard

There are multiple reasons why your drivetrain might malfunction. If this error pops up while accelerating, the most likely problem lies in the high-pressure fuel pumps. These parts are necessary for fuel transmission from the tank to the engine. They create high pressure inside themselves, which makes the fuel travel at very high speeds. Because of this, any smallest dent or function will result in significant losses of transmitting power. In turn, it will cause the engine to work inconsistently.

If you try to accelerate while having drivetrain problems, it will technically be possible up to an extent. Remember that your vehicle’s overall performance is limited, and gaining speed will be much harder. Even when we ignore that, it’s still not recommended to accelerate excessively during drivetrain malfunctions. It will only strain the damaged parts even more and might cause further damage, which will be both unsafe and pricey to repair.

What Causes A Drivetrain To Malfunction?

The cause listed above is just one of the many probable causes responsible for a drivetrain’s malfunction. These might vary a lot. Identifying them is not always that easy, especially if you’re not experienced with car repairs. To help you, we’ve listed three main causes of this subset becoming damaged:

  • Excessive vibrations- these problems are most commonly appearing during gear changing or accelerating. If your car produces excessive vibrations, it might be caused by loose U-Joints in your drivetrain subset. They can be loose mostly from extensive usage if they become worn out. These shakings create an additional strain on the drivetrain and might eventually lead to it being damaged. 
  • Grinding/bumping- an issue related to the previous one but caused by slightly different factors. Suppose you happen to notice a grinding noise during normal driving. It might be a sign of your U-joints being too worn out or your solenoid packs needing to be exchanged. Excessive grinding or bumping might cause dents and thinning of the ground surfaces, which can create a malfunction.
  • Leaks of transmission fluid- another possible problem you can experience is related to the quality of your transmission fluid. It is necessary for your drivetrain to run smoothly and transmit power without additional torque losses. If this fluid leaks into other areas of your vehicle, it might disturb their normal pace of work. In turn, it will create an error.

drivetrain damage from mismatched tires

Mismatched tires are another serious cause of your drivetrain’s malfunction. They play a critical role in the overall performance of the vehicle, and their proper matching can be crucial to your car working properly. 

Most importantly, tires that are mismatched in size can damage the differential assembly. It is done by making the differential use different performance outputs to each tire in the vehicle, losing the balance and shortening the lifespan of this piece. 

Even if the cars are different in size by half an inch, it’s enough to cause severe balance losses in your vehicle subsets. It damages them in the long run. In order to avoid this, make sure that the tires you buy are always from the same brand and set. Before buying, check whether every tire is the same in diameter to avoid unnecessary problems in the future.

What to do when you’re accelerating & car is shaking

2011 BMW series 5

The first thing you need to do if your car begins to shake during acceleration is to minimize the further strain you’re putting on the vehicle parts. To do this, make sure it’s safe to slow down and try to approach a safe spot to park your car in slowly. Once you’ve parked your car, let the engine rest for up to ten minutes. It will allow the automatic systems inside your car to perform a system reset and implement the safety measures, letting you drive back to your house safely.

It’s not necessary to stop driving immediately after your car enters limp mode. It’s advised to keep driving until you reach a safe destination or a place from which you’ll be able to call the mechanic. In any case, make sure to call your dealership or a BMW mechanic to get your damages repaired if you’re done with driving already.

There is no reason to panic when the error pops up. The safety measures implemented into your car, working via autonomous systems, are more than enough to keep you safe if you behave correctly. Make sure not to create a threat to other drivers by suddenly hitting the brakes or trying to stop your car

Troubleshooting

Even though this error can be serious, you don’t always need to call for a professional’s help to fix it. Sometimes you’ll be able to do the repairs yourself without any advanced gear needed. Doing so can be challenging, especially for people with no experience. Once you learn how to do it, you’ll be able to save yourself lots of time and effort. Most importantly, money. 

2013 BMW series 3 328i

Here are three things you can do to try to solve this problem by yourself:

  • Restart the engine- this is mentioned above, and it’s done by letting the car rest for a couple of minutes. It allows the systems to restart themselves. Although it works most of the time, it might not always give you desired results. It still means you’ll have to spend money for a mechanic afterward.
  • Inspect your engine- if restarting doesn’t solve the problem, try lifting the hood of your car and search for potential symptoms there. Check for any noises, visible fluid leaks, and smoke. Sometimes, jump-starting the car will be necessary when the battery is the problematic piece.
  • Perform a scan- if you want the most in-depth analysis of the potential problems of your vehicle, you can scan it with an OBD-II Scanner. The two parts that you will need to scan are the DME and EGS/AGS. They will give you the proper error codes.

Doing these steps one by one might solve the issue, but they won’t work all the time. Remember not to hesitate and call your mechanic if you believe it’s needed.

BMW drivetrain malfunction repair cost

If you are ever unlucky enough to get this error, you will have to face the costs of repairing it. No manual fixes that you perform will be sufficient to drive the car with complete safety again. The damaged part (or parts) will always need to be replaced or at least brought back into good condition. 

As many BMW models significantly vary in price, there are also many potential costs of drivetrain repairs. It all depends on which car you’re driving and how accessible the parts are in your area. For example, a BMW 328i costs about $40,000, while a BMW m4 costs almost twice as much. 

Let’s look at specific BMW models, such as the BMW i3. The drivetrain repairs can go up to $2000, with about $150 spent additionally on labor costs. The costs of repairing a BMW x3 should be about the same, along with other members of the Series 3 group.

2007 BMW 550 i Sedan 4D

How to fix drivetrain malfunction in a BMW

As unsatisfying as it sounds, the best way to fix the drivetrain in your BMW is to let the professionals deal with it. It’s a complex subset of parts that requires maximum care and expertise, which most casual drivers lack. To avoid further damage to your car, it’s best not to try and repair it yourself, save for the prevention methods described above.

BMW drivetrain malfunction reset

The automatic systems of your vehicle will try to perform a system reset when experiencing drivetrain malfunctions. Don’t worry- the car won’t shut down at once, especially not when you’re in the middle of driving. It will reset once the engine is off, requiring you to willingly turn it off in a safe place where your car is parked. 

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