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Common BMW Timing Chain Issues and How to Address Them

Learn about common timing chain problems, including stretch, tensioner failure, and guide wear. Discover the signs, solutions, and the importance of professional diagnosis and repairs. Trust Stedmans Garage for BMW timing chain solutions in the Worthing area.


The timing chain is a critical component in BMW engines. It connects the crankshaft to the camshafts and ensures proper valve timing. Without a functioning timing chain, the valves will not open and close at the right times, leading to poor engine performance, misfires, and even engine damage. The purpose of this blog post is to explore some of the common timing chain issues that affect BMW vehicles and provide solutions to address them. Timing chain problems can sneak up on BMW owners and lead to expensive repairs if left unchecked. Being aware of the signs of timing chain wear as well as steps to take to prevent it can help add years of life to your BMW engine.

Importance of the Timing Chain in a BMW Engine

The timing chain allows the camshafts to turn in time with the crankshaft. This synchronisation is what ensures the valves open at just the right moments to allow air and fuel in and exhaust gases out. Without this vital timing, the engine would quickly fail. Over time, this chain can stretch or even break, causing the cam and crankshaft timing to be thrown off. This can lead to reduced engine power, misfires, strange noises from the engine, and even catastrophic engine failure in some cases. Replacing a stretched timing chain and any associated guides or tensioners is crucial to restoring proper engine function.

Purpose of the Blog Post

This blog post explores the most common timing chain issues that affect BMW engines. It looks at what causes chains to stretch or components to fail over time. You’ll learn how to spot symptoms of timing chain problems so you can address them promptly. We discuss the repairs needed to replace worn parts and restore proper camshaft timing. Tips are provided on steps you can take to extend the life of your BMW’s timing chain. The goal is to help BMW owners understand this critical engine component and how to keep their vehicles running smoothly for years to come. 

Common BMW Timing Chain Problems

Timing Chain Stretch

Timing chain stretch occurs in BMW engines when the chain elongates due to wear over time. This is often caused by insufficient oil changes, using the incorrect type of oil, or extensive engine operation at high RPMs. As the chain stretches, it can jump timing and cause the valves to open at the wrong time. This can lead to reduced engine power, misfires, poor fuel economy, and even catastrophic engine failure in severe cases. Replacing stretched timing chains is crucial to restore proper valve timing and engine performance.

Timing Chain Tensioner Failure

The timing chain tensioner keeps the chain taut as it rotates through the engine. When it fails, the chain has excessive slack which can cause it to skip timing. This affects valve operation and engine performance. Signs of a failed tensioner include rattling noises from the engine bay, check engine lights, rough engine idle, and reduced power. Continued operation with a failed tensioner can lead to complete timing chain failure and bent valves – an extremely expensive repair. Replacing the tensioner at the first sign of issues can help avoid catastrophic engine damage down the line.

Timing Chain Guide Wear

BMW timing chains ride on plastic guides which can wear out over time, usually due to oil debris and lack of maintenance. As the guides wear down, the chain loses alignment and tension which causes timing issues. Symptoms include engine noises on startup or acceleration, check engine lights for misfires or cam/crank correlation errors, reduced fuel economy, and loss of power. If left unattended, the chain can skip timing and cause valve or piston damage. Replacing worn guides is crucial to restore proper chain alignment and engine performance.

Engine Misfires

When the BMW timing chain stretches or jumps timing, it causes the valves to open at the wrong time relative to piston movement. This leads to misfires, where the air/fuel mixture fails to properly ignite in the cylinder. Misfires cause rough engine operation, reduced power, poor fuel economy, and excess emissions. The engine computer may disable cylinders or limit RPMs to compensate. If left unchecked, the constant misfires can cause engine overheating and catastrophic damage over time. Addressing the root timing chain problem is key to resolving misfires and avoiding further damage.

Warning Lights

Several dashboard warning lights can indicate BMW timing chain issues. The check engine light is common and can point to misfire codes triggered by jump timing. The battery/alternator warning light may come on as engine power drops. Oil and temperature lights can indicate leaks or overheating from internal engine damage. BMWs have a specific timing chain fault indicator in some models. When these lights come on, prompt diagnosis and repair of the timing chain is needed to avoid progressive and expensive damage to the engine. Ignoring the warning signs can be extremely costly.

Explore the significance of the timing chain in BMW engines and the common problems that can arise. Discover symptoms, solutions, and the importance of regular maintenance and professional diagnosis. If you're in Worthing, rely on Stedmans Garage for expert BMW timing chain services.

Signs of Timing Chain Problems

Engine Noise

One of the most common signs of a failing timing chain in a BMW is abnormal engine noise. As the chain stretches and components wear, you may hear a loud rattle or knocking sound on startup or at idle. The noise tends to get louder as engine speed increases. This sound is caused by the timing chain slapping against the timing cover due to excessive slack. If left unchecked, the constant impact can damage the cover and other engine parts.

Loss of Power

Timing chain issues can also lead to a loss of engine power in your BMW. As the chain stretches, it allows the camshaft timing to drift from its proper position. This timing discrepancy disrupts valve operation, resulting in less air and fuel making it into the combustion chamber. You may notice a lack of throttle response and acceleration. The engine may also misfire frequently due to the valve timing being off.

Poor Fuel Efficiency

Along with the loss of power, your BMW’s fuel economy is likely to suffer significantly when there are timing chain problems. The inefficient combustion caused by the valve timing issues requires more fuel to be injected to keep the engine running. You may see your gas mileage drop drastically as engine performance deteriorates. Keep an eye out for this, as it can indicate worn timing components.

Warning Lights

There are several dashboard warning lights that can come on relating to BMW timing chain failure. The check engine light is common as misfires and ignition issues trigger error codes. The battery/charging system light may also activate if the engine struggles to turn over. Oil and temperature lights can illuminate if low oil pressure or overheating result from mechanical issues. The most specific light is the timing chain indicator, which clearly alerts the driver of a stretched or jumped timing chain.

Solutions to BMW Timing Chain Problems

Regular maintenance is essential for the health of BMW engines, particularly in preventing issues with the timing chain. Experts advise an oil change every 5,000 miles using superior synthetic oils to ensure the timing chain is well-lubricated and protected. Additionally, a thorough inspection of the timing chain and its related parts is recommended at intervals of every 20,000 miles. This frequent check-up helps in early detection and resolution of potential issues, thereby maintaining the engine’s optimal performance and extending its life.

Tensioner Replacement

The timing chain tensioner keeps the chain taut as it rotates. Over time, oil pressure weakens the tensioner and it can no longer properly tension the chain leading to noise or jumping. Replacing the tensioner when replacing the timing chain is critical for preventing future issues.

Guide Replacement

In BMW engines, it’s important to monitor the condition of the timing chain guides, particularly after 60,000 to 100,000 miles of use. These guides can become brittle over time and break, potentially leading to small pieces entering and clogging the engine’s oil channels, which may result in low oil pressure. The replacement of these guides is as crucial as replacing the chain itself, as neglecting them could lead to complete timing system failure. Proactive maintenance of these components is essential to prevent significant engine issues and ensure smooth operation.

Professional Diagnosis

Seeking professional diagnosis can identify timing chain issues before catastrophic damage occurs. Technicians use visual inspection and tools to measure chain stretch. They also diagnose related failures like plastic guides and advice on necessary repairs. This prevents further wear and tear.

BMW timing chain problems? Learn signs, fixes, and importance of maintenance. Worthing's Stedmans Garage can help

When to Seek Professional Help

Timing chain issues in BMW engines can lead to complex repairs that require professional diagnosis and service. As the timing chain stretches, wears out, or fails entirely, it can throw off the carefully calibrated timing of the engine’s valve train. This can result in bent valves, damage to piston heads, and even catastrophic engine failure in some cases.

Complex Repairs

Replacing a worn or failing timing chain is a complex job that involves removing part of the engine to access the chain and its associated components. In addition to the timing chain itself, technicians will often need to replace guides, tensioners, camshaft adjusters, and even camshafts and valve lifters. The high labour costs and intricate nature of this repair mean it should only be trusted to experienced BMW specialists.

Safety Concerns

Continuing to drive a BMW with timing chain issues poses serious safety risks. As the valve timing gets progressively worse, you may experience a sudden loss of power at high speeds. This could make it difficult to accelerate, pass other cars, or merge safely. Additionally, an engine with damaged valves or pistons could fail completely at any time, possibly locking up the drivetrain or causing other dangerous mechanical breakdowns.

For these reasons, it is not recommended to continue driving a BMW once symptoms of timing chain failure arise. Doing so only exacerbates the existing engine damage while putting yourself and other motorists in harm’s way. Instead, have your vehicle towed to a professional mechanic for diagnosis and repair as soon as possible.


In summary, timing chain issues are a common problem for many BMW models. As discussed throughout this blog post, issues like timing chain stretch, tensioner failure, guide wear, and more can have serious consequences if left unchecked. Symptoms may include engine noises, loss of power, poor fuel efficiency, and warning lights.

The best way to address BMW timing chain problems is through regular maintenance and prompt professional diagnosis and repair when issues arise. Replacing worn parts like the chain, tensioners, and guides before catastrophic failure occurs can save BMW owners thousands in repair costs down the line.

For those in the Worthing area needing expert timing chain solutions for their BMW, I highly recommend contacting Stedmans Garage. Their experienced BMW specialists can accurately diagnose issues and perform necessary repairs to keep your vehicle running smoothly.

Discover BMW timing chain woes, their impact, and how Stedmans Garage Worthing provides expert solutions.

FAQs About BMW Timing Chain Issues

What causes timing chain stretch in BMWs?

BMW timing chains can stretch and fail prematurely due to a few key reasons:

  • Oil Contamination: Contaminated or dirty engine oil can cause increased wear on timing chain components. Metal shavings and debris in the oil can grind away at the chain, guides, tensioners, and sprockets. Using low quality oil or neglecting regular oil changes increases contamination risk.
  • Manufacturing Defects: Some BMW engines like the N20 and N26 have been prone to timing chain issues due to manufacturing defects in the original chains and guides. These weaker components wear out faster than they should.
  • Lack of Maintenance: Not replacing worn chain guides, tensioners, and seals at recommended service intervals can allow too much chain slack/stretch until failure occurs.

Are timing chain problems common in BMWs?

Yes, premature timing chain failure has been a common issue in many 4-cylinder BMW engines for the last decade. Some of the most problematic engines include:

  • N20 4-cylinder turbo (F30 328i, F22 228i, X1 sDrive 28i, etc.)
  • N26 4-cylinder turbo (F56 Mini Cooper S)
  • N13 4-cylinder turbo (E82/E88 135i)

These engines have tensioners, guides, and chains that are prone to premature wear. BMW extended the timing chain component warranties on these engines due to widespread failures happening before 100k miles.

How can I prevent timing chain issues in my BMW?

  1. Use only high quality synthetic engine oil and change it regularly
  2. Replace the oil filter with every oil change
  3. Stick to BMW’s recommended engine & timing chain service intervals
  4. Use fuel injector cleaners and quality gasoline to minimize contamination
  5. Install an oil catch can to reduce oil blowby related contamination

While you can’t guarantee the prevention of timing chain wear, proper maintenance gives you the best fighting chance at avoiding premature issues.

What warning signs should I watch for regarding timing chain problems?

Here are 5 key warning signs that may indicate impending timing chain failure in your BMW:

  1. Rattling noise from engine bay on cold start or idle
  2. Check engine light – especially for misfire or cam/crank correlation codes
  3. Rough engine idle
  4. Reduced engine power & acceleration
  5. Metallic debris in oil or sludge build up on fill cap

If multiple symptoms are occurring, have your BMW serviced immediately to inspect for timing chain wear and prevent further engine damage.

Is it safe to continue driving with a malfunctioning timing chain?

No, it is not safe to keep driving once your BMW’s timing chain shows signs of failure. As the chain further wears and tension is lost, the engine timing can jump causing valve and piston damage. The chain itself can also break resulting in immediate loss of engine power.

Continuing to run a malfunctioning timing chain risks complete engine failure where your BMW comes to a halt wherever it is being driving – a dangerous scenario. Have the vehicle towed to a service center immediately.

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