Monday, June 9, 2014

Check Engine Light Mystery Plagues Range Extended i3s In The US

The infamous Check Engine light of the BMW i3 REx
Many people that order the range extender option on the i3 do so because they just aren't comfortable with the BEV i3's 81 mile EPA range rating. Personally I really didn't want it but my driving demands dictated that I really needed it. If the i3 had 15% to 20% more range I would not have ordered the REx and I suspect there are a lot of others that would fall into the same category as me on this. We know it's there and we aren't particularly proud of hauling around the oil, gasoline and the rest of the muck that goes with it. So the last thing we really want is to be constantly reminded that we have a gasoline engine in our shiny, new electric cars. Unfortunately that is exactly what is happening.

The day after a picked up my car the check engine light (CEL) illuminated for a few hours and then shut off. I called my dealer as soon as it went off and was told to bring it in so they could check it out. Then when it turned off I called back and was told to monitor it, but it wasn't necessary to bring it in unless it comes on again. I then dropped my car off to be wrapped so I wouldn't be driving it for a week. During that time other range extended i3s were getting delivered and just like what I observed, within a day many other people were reporting the same thing. Some took their car back to the dealership where they down landed and cleared the fault codes and released the cars. The dealers don't yet have any answers and are basically saying there is nothing wrong with the cars and the light is coming on erroneously. Some people were told that if in fact there was indeed a problem with the engine the CEL would blink, not just light up and stay on as what is happening.

Unfortunately I got a flat tire last week and needed to get towed to my dealer so it was a good time to have the CEL looked at. The service manager said they pulled the codes and reset everything but didn't see any problem. Unfortunately the light didn't go on while they had it, but I doubt that would have made any difference. I've had reports from others that did indeed bring their car in with the light on and the dealer was just as stumped as to the cause. I also find it odd that the car's Check Control reads "All systems OK" even when the light is on. This offers more evidence that there really may not be any physical problem, but perhaps just some software bug that is turning the light on.

This is how I like to see my display: No CEL!
If that's the case, then why haven't we seen this reported for the past five months or so that the i3 REx has been available in Europe? I suppose the cause could be rooted to the fact that the US i3 REx operates differently than the European version, with restrictions on how and when it operates. To complicate things even more, only weeks before the REx was to launch in the US, BMW had to restrict the size of the gas tank from 2.4 gallons to 1.9 gallons. This meant the existing built cars needed to have some kind of retrofit done post-build. Could that work have triggered some kind of software conflict which causes the CEL? That would certainly explain why BMW hadn't seen this issue before and why every i3 REx (that I know of at least) in the US has this issue.

A little black tape will do the trick!
I know for a fact the engineers at BMW of North America are working on this. Hopefully they will get it resolved soon. I expect we'll get a phone call at some time asking us to bring our cars in for a software update, but who knows, maybe there actually is a physical problem it is detecting. However at the moment, nobody from BMW or the dealers seem to be able to provide any real answers. If I don't hear anything soon, I may be forced to just fix it myself!






6/18/14 UPDATE: It seems BMW has identified the problem and is issuing a temporary fix. See the bulletin below:

23 comments:

  1. This is a really great and groundbreaking vehicle, but the launch has been horrible so far in terms of vehicle issues. I hope they get them all squared away quickly and do right by the early adopters who seem to have purchased a beta version of the I3....

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  2. Tom, off subject here but may I ask. How do you override the charge timer?
    Leaf has an easy button by the charge port open button you hit and it turns off the time for an immediate charge. I use it a lot. do you have to go into a menu?

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    1. There is no button like that with the i3. You need to do it from within iDrive on the car or the smartphone app.

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    2. The Volt bypasses the timer with plugging, unpluging and replugging the J1772 plug. Maybe the i3 does the same?

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  3. My educated guess is that the US version gets in trouble everyone it tries to self-check the REX operation because... the battery is not usually at 6.5% so the same software bets itself up in a loop and the CEL indicates the malfunction (because the self-check fails).
    The real problem is that one can get many CELs and they all look alike, so how will you know is there is something serious or not? Time to get a code scanner ($15)... The engineers will have a hard time fixing this internal software conflict and even if they do, it is not a good thing the car cannot check itself for REX operation or run the unit for 1-2 minutes on a schedule... There was a good reason the car was designed to do it and still does it but only outside US... If I ever get my i3REX I'll make sure to run it weekly few miles on gasoline, if not, the ICE will not last long (corrosion, seals dry, gasoline going bad and taking out the fuel pump, etc). Also get good brand gasoline and maybe also a stabilizer additive.

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  4. Why only 1.9 gallons for USA? 2.4 gallons is small enough and going smaller probably won't help with BEVx status.??

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    1. Actually the i3 REx did qualify for the BEVx designation. BMW hasn't commented on why the smaller gas tank (and likely won't) but it is assumed they needed to do so to satisfy the CARB for BEVx acceptance.

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  5. Horrible launch is an understatement.

    Test drives where the staff know nothing about the car. "Yes sir 160 miles on a charge. Are you sure?"
    Test drive in sunroof car, sorry, that's not available.

    Range is not the 100 miles that was talked about early on, reality 70-80.

    What about leasing? $700+ a month because we can't pass along the full $7,500 fed rebate unless you use this owner's choice program. Argh!
    Why can't it work like every other EV lease? Let me see, loaded 5 series or an i3?

    Then the Rex doesn't get the sticker it was designed around. Rex can't engage in the US like the Euro version. Then they shrink the gas tank to 1.9 gallons.

    Issues with drive trains and cars coming to a full stop. AC not charged due to sitting at port and the CEL light for many, many Rex versions.

    I really like the i3, don't get me wrong. Especially the recycled components and the light weight. BMW has just failed with this launch.

    Hopefully MB gets it right. Looking for close to 100 mi range, decent lease and 4 real doors with room for 5.

    Waiting to see one in person.....

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    1. It's been a "difficult" launch, there is not question about that. I have been quick to point out the shortcomings here also, but a few things you state are not correct. The REx was never "designed around" a sticker, despite what some journalists think. I happen to know a lot more about the car and BMW's intentions than they do. The REx was designed to get the California Air Resource Boards BEVx designation, not a white sticker. BMW knew all along it would not get a white sticker and never claimed it would or said they were trying to get it. No gasoline burning car gets a white sticker, period. The restrictions to the REX were purely to get BEVx designation, which it did achieve. Also, the A/C systems have no issue, and certainly aren't bothered by sitting for a few weeks. The A/C problem is because BMW deactivates the A/C on the car for shipping purposes and some cars didn't have it activated upon arrival her win the US for some reason. So some people had to take their car back to the dealer after delivery and have then activate the A/C, which is a 15 minute procedure. Much else of what you say is valid criticism though :)

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  6. When they do find the bug in the firmware, will they update it over the air? Tesla has set the bar high on this front - makes driving to the dealer feel quite antiquated.

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  7. Telsa is alone in this capability. All other manufacturers have or will take notice.
    even a 90,000 bmw sedan or Lexus does not have over the air software updates.

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  8. I was assured by the salesman, here in Virginia, that it is so good you won't even know it is electric! :-(

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    1. Dealer training and information is a weak link in the electric vehicle chain. It doesn't need to be that way and I'm sure things will improve, but for now the customer must self-educate.

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  9. So I emailed my local "BMW Genius" last Friday asking about the check engine light, and he hadn't apparently heard of other folks having the issue, said it indicated a malfunction, and that I should make an appointment to bring it in. I made an appointment for Monday at 11am, brought it in. Around 4pm, I got a phone call basically saying "no update yet, we're going to need to keep it overnight". Sounded like they hadn't actually done anything yet. On Tuesday around 3:00pm, I got a phone call saying that it was a software issue and they were applying a software update, which would take another 8 hours, so they needed to keep it overnight again. Then this morning (Wednesday), I called about 11:00 and was told it would be ready to pickup about noon.

    The i3 was my first BMW. I've enjoyed driving it so far, but the service process is an important part of car ownership, and BMW isn't exactly wowing me so far on that front.

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    1. Thanks for the info. This is the first I've heard from anyone that has suggested they actually have a software update to correct it, and I've been contacted by dozens of i3 REx owners that have the issue and their dealers don't have any information about it.

      Please check back in a week or so to let me know if the issue resumes. It could be the dealer is just reinstalling the current software thinking it just needed to be reinstalled properly.

      Give BMW a little latitude with regards to servicing the i3. This is a completely new experience for them also, and their will certainly be alearnign curve. I suspect some dealers will embrace it and do a great job servicing them, while others wont' be as enthusiastic about e-mobility and will not offer great service. It will be up to us to find the good dealers and patronize them until the others get up to speed.

      remember, the dealerships are independently owned, and BMW has little control over how well the service the customer. You, the customer have the power to give them your business or not, depending on how well they cater to your needs.

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    2. > It could be the dealer is just reinstalling the current software thinking it just needed to be reinstalled properly.

      Definitely could be. We'll see whether the indicator comes back on. Do you know whether there's anywhere in the UI to see the version number?

      > remember, the dealerships are independently owned

      Fair point, but –

      > This is a completely new experience for them also

      That's why I'm inclined to blame BMW corporate for not providing sufficient education to the dealerships...

      I also blame BMW for not having built in an over-the-air software update process as Tesla has done. Requiring people to bring their cars in for software updates is going to become problematic for BMW in the long run because many people will take a long time to go to the trouble of doing so, and some never will at all. That's bad for both their customers and BMW themselves. It's like the bad-old-days of software pre-internet...

      I'm also kind of astounded at how long it takes to install a software update. I hope this has to do with the whole "a software bug could potentially endanger people's lives" aspect, and that there's some kind of extremely rigorous validation as part of the update process. Rather than being because BMW simply doesn't know what they're doing on the software side.

      (Disclaimer: I'm a software engineer.)

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    3. FWIW, I found the "show current version" screen, which says:
      Media: MN-002.038.015
      Telephone: TN-002.038.015

      But that kind of sounds like it's not talking about software that might include things like the Check Engine indicator...

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    4. And the indicator did in fact come back on. So I expect your guess was correct – they held onto my car for two nights in order to install the same software that was already installed. Awesome.

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    5. BMW now has a fix for it. Take a look at the update I made to the bottom of this post. I'd print it out and bring it to my dealer to make sure they are aware of it Neil. Good luck!

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  10. I would rather get a scanner and read codes to make sure something relevant is not there than turn the light off for everything (similar to pulling the fuse out...). No code, turn CEL off with the scanner. If any codes, take the car to the dealer (because it means it is something else).

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  11. From the trenches of one of the first REXs if not the first in the US: I actually took delivery with the engine light on. Probably not a great idea in hindsight. Figured what the heck. Well, on its first long trip, the range extender failed, shut down, shifted back to the "dead battery" and the car died on the interstate. Managed to wait for awhile and get the range extender back on enough to limp to a nearby Chilis which had a Chargepoint station which was then able to get home on electric with the REX working sporadically. The car spent two weeks at the dealer, with BMW engineers involved and the resolution was to replace the camshaft which was specd wrong. Kind of horrifying for a company which had been making that engine for years in bikes, but the lobes in the camshaft are apparently different on the REX. For the code geeks out there, they were 104003 and 104004 (intake camshaft signal). This is a big deal design wise. Maybe it was only mine, but doubt it. Be careful if you are depending on the REX to get somewhere.

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    1. Wow, that's not good! Sorry to hear about that. I've done quite a bit of driving with the REx on and it's been fine so far. Hopefully this is an isolated case, but please report back and let us know how things are proceeding.

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  12. The other thing is that after they replaced the camshaft, the back up camera kept entering a failure mode and required the dealer to clear/re-calibrate the system to clear the fault necessitating another day.. As for the isolated case, who knows, but based on the concern the BMW engineers had, it may not be, as it was the design of the cam lobes. In any case, love the car, its great, much cooler than my Active E.

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