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Launch challenges leave 2014 BMW i3 owners inconvenienced, not discouraged

The all new BMW i3 electric sedan is now well into its second month of US sales. Some trouble spots have appeared, but overall owners are continuing to be excited about their new driving machines.

BMW i3 owners are a brave lot. Not only are they buying the first model year of a car, they are buying a car that is more advanced than pretty much any car in the world. Almost nothing on the electric i3 of importance is used on other cars, and thus it is relatively untested. Despite a long list of issues with the new vehicle, owners are keeping a stiff upper lip. Most are remaining positive about their experience, though some cracks are starting to appear in the veneer.

i3 Pre-ProductionTesting
BMW did experiment with the electric MINIs and the ActiveE electric 1 Series cars it used as beta test vehicles. The drivers of those vehicles (on special leases from BMW that did not allow the vehicle to be bought at lease-end) knew they were helping BMW to develop an electric car. They expected trials and tribulations, and they were instrumental in BMW’s development of the new i3. Many of those same people are now the first owners of the electric i3, and from all accounts, they are dealing with launch issues that go beyond what many expected. Yet they remain upbeat.

BMW i3 Check Engine Light
We have already reported on the mysterious Check Engine Light (CEL) issue. This is the i3 dash warning light that is coming on for reasons unknown. It appears only in the Range Extended (REx) version of the i3, which has a small gas generator on board. BMW has indicated a fix is near, but after many weeks, one has not been brought forth. The cars are drivable, but some owners of these cars, which top out at $56,000, are applying black electrical tape over the light. Hardly the premium experience most would expect of a car in this price range.

i3 12 Volt Battery Issue
Other drivers have seen issues with the 12 volt battery (not the main power battery used to propel the vehicle). This is something that many Tesla owners also struggled with when the Model S launched. A BMW i3 owner recently commented that he brought his car in with the battery issue only to find that BMW did not have the special, low weight, 12 volt battery in stock. How can the company not stock a part custom to its vehicles?

i3 AC Issues
Problems with the air conditioning are now widely reported by i3 owners. This is not unique to i3s. Many electric vehicle owners learn that EVs sometimes struggle to provide enough cold air to cool the car. This is partly the automaker trying to preserve the battery’s life to provide range to the car, but also in the i3’s case may be due to simple under-sizing of the AC, or it could be a defect.

i3 Tires
One of the i3’s biggest promoters, biggest fan (my opinion), and arguably the first private owner in the US, has had another issue that Torque News predicted after we drove the i3. His challenge has been flat tires. He has only owned the vehicle now for about 5 weeks, yet he has had 3 flat tires, requiring replacement of the tires. Two tire replacements were the result of a close encounter with a man-hole cover, and one was due to a screw in the tread near the sidewall. Although he gave his blessing for me to share this information, he does not think this is an i3 issue, but rather bad luck.

“How is that a BMW i3 specific issue?” you might ask. Well, the BMW i3 uses tires specific to it. To save fuel they are very tall and very narrow, almost like a bicycle tire or wagon wheel. They use higher inflation pressure than most cars’ tires do. There is no spare tire in the i3, and the special tires are not run-flat capable. Thus when an owner has a flat it requires a tow (as this owner did experience). One time the owner had a flat literally in front of a BMW dealership. The dealership did not have this custom part in stock.

Though he has spent $750 in just three months on replacement rubber, this particular owner is not unhappy. He did get a tire the same day he went in. One thing the owner has commented on in his writing about the i3 is that the tires are so narrow they seem to follow road imperfections, like ruts, more than most cars’ tires do. You can read more of his i3 likes and dislikes in his own words here.

Overall, most of the owners of the i3 are taking this type of bother in stride and love their new electric cars. They are keeping vehicle's benefits at top of mind and expected some growing pains. In no way am I implying that the group is dissatisfied, quite the contrary.

Some Owners Losing Hope
However there are exceptions. One former ActiveE lessee and new i3 owner recently wrote (and we asked her permission to reprint this)

“My i3's been in the shop 3 or 4 times in the past 5-6 weeks since we picked it up. And not for mere overnight software updates like many of you are reporting - this time it's been gone for 2 weeks and still no eta on when we will get it back. When service runs IRAP, they now say modules are failing. Last time it was the entertainment one that they replaced, today the security one crashed. It's going to be another 2-3 days before they can replace that one and try to rerun IRAP to see if anything else fails. And while service told me they have worked on other i3s with problems (AC, etc.), Clunker (as I have aptly named my lemon) is not cooperating. Am I the only one experiencing these issues??”

All Cars Have Launch Issues
To give some balance to this story I want to relay some personal information. Despite always advising my family and friends against buying the first year of any new car design I have done it often. I bought the first Civic SI with the VTEC engine. The sunroof never worked. I bought the first year of a Subaru 2.5GT. The engine failed at 11,000 miles and was replaced (yes the entire engine). My first Accord was a new model year and the transmission failed at 55,000 miles. I presently own a convertible Lexus which was the first model year of its design and the roof has been challenging to deal with. New-car challenges are not specific to the electric cars now entering the market.

The i3 Will Be Sorted And Will Succeed
Tesla Model S owners have reported more than once that they had to have the electric motor replaced on their Model S at the first service visit. One Chevy Volt owner we read posts from in a Volt club reported five changed transmissions (yes there is a “transmission” in most EVs). Like my internal combustion engine new-car experiences, these owners struggled through the new vehicle’s launch and they all report positive things about the ownership experience overall. We feel sure that the i3 group will also feel that way after the gremlins are sorted out.

Related Stories:
BMW i3 Poll reveals surprising facts about who buys electric vehicles
BMW i3 least expensive EV to maintain in America

Photography by John Goreham


Leif (not verified)    June 30, 2014 - 3:09AM

Hallo, I´m an i3 owner sins feb 2014 have run my i3 over 10 000 km today. First month I have the alarm driveline when using REX, as You mention about the REX. My car was at the BWM service and the German must have made it ok. Because after that I have not get any alarm of this kind. In fact I have not had any problem at all. Once I have an alarm that stops me from loading it at a CCS DC loader. But I don´t know if it was the loader or the car. But connecting it to the slow loader (included in i3) later it works, so I think there was a problem with the loader.
I´m sorry that other owners of the i3 have trouble because I think this is my best car ever. And I have a lot of cars 318,518, 525, 728,740. It is made for the city but I live out in the country without loader but I use it to my work 85 km one way (all electric, no REX). Load it during the day normally slow way (10A) then I go back in the evening. No problem.
I´m from Sweden and the infra-structure of loader is not so good but it add some loader (fast loader DC) two tree month between, sometimes hoping to go longer trip (>300 km only elect.) So on longer trips today, maybe one trip 4-8 weeks between , I use REX no problem ….

David (not verified)    August 2, 2014 - 3:32AM

I purchased the BMW i3 Rex model in June and its been there for 3 times for service and the third time the car is still in there for more than 3 weeks losing hope very fast and I just about gave up on this car I understand that it's the first year model but this is too much they should have fixed this problem before they launched in the US I'm ready to get out of this car and get into a conventional car

John Goreham    August 3, 2014 - 10:27AM

In reply to by David (not verified)

I'm not a fan of BMW, though I have huge respect for the company. However, I am a fan of the i3 and I hope you work it out. When I wrote this story I had photos from readers showing their i3 being towed and other negative things I could have used to "slam" the i3, but I did not (and do not) want to. I'm still glad I did not. Unlike some EVs, the i3 fans and owners are open and honest about the challenges they are facing. I have so far only heard of one owner, initials TK, that has actually returned her i3. Good luck and thanks for your continued comments. Let us know how things turn out.

sharden11 (not verified)    August 10, 2014 - 12:54PM

I am having trouble with the cruise control. It often cuts out for no apparent reason. It has been in for a software update which hasn't worked. The problem seems to be connected to the camera not liking strong sunlight, particularly apparent when driving towards the sun when low in the sky morning and evening.
This can be quite dangerous as when it cuts out the regen cuts in slowing the car quickly with the cars following behind in danger of rear ending the i3.

ddrs (not verified)    September 16, 2014 - 11:56AM

I am planning on buying one as well, but am REALLY disappointed that the 7 year/100,000 mile extended Warranty costs $4700.00 at Encinitas BMW, that is the same cost as an extended warranty for a BMW 5 series, and the i3 has no motor, and the battery is already covered separately for 100k miles. the extended warranty should not cost that much for a car with no motor, since that is where all the problems should be. Total rip off. But probably needed for a new model already showing some unique problems with software, tires, battery, etc.....

John Goreham    September 16, 2014 - 3:23PM

In reply to by ddrs (not verified)

Hey ddrs. My advice to you based on being active in the Facebook i3 Club is to LEASE. You will be one of the first 2,000 US owners of this vehicle and the challenges are not insignificant. In 3 years this i3 will be dramatically more reliable than the ones being produced today. Lease, and consider your i3 a fixed cost on your family budget. Just my 2 cents as a fan of the car.
Also, I don't know about BMW specifically, but I bought a Lexus and then bought the extended Lexus Platinum warranty after I owned it a year. I shopped the cost of the extended warranty and saved 10% by doing so. This is a LEXUS warranty, not aftermarket third party type. You should ask the FB i3 club members if they know the deal on this. Many members are BMW dealership employees.

David (not verified)    September 17, 2014 - 9:52AM

after being in the shop at the BMW dealer for a month and a half, BMWUSA finally decided to exchange the car to a conventional car. X4. maybe in the future I might purchase another BMW i3 but at this moment I'm very happy with my X4.

Gianluca (not verified)    May 13, 2015 - 8:40AM

we had our first I3 replaced after 1 month and half as the problem was not fixable according to our local BMW dealer... The new car they gave us is working fine ... but just a couple days ago the check engine light came on... will bring it in for that but as said that is the only issue we have had since we got it...