BMW Transfer Case Actuator Problem And Fix

BMW Brake, ABS, and 4x4 Warning Lights Come On

This article is an attempt to aggregate information in a single place regarding a defect in the X drive systems of BMWs that will typically affect ALL of the following models of BMWs at one point or another, typically around 80k-120k miles.

2004-2007 BMW X5 E53
2004-2010 BMW X3 E83

*** Make sure to check your model to ensure it has the same actuator motor and gear as described here and in the videos below.

I include here a description of the problem, links to outside information and some information on my own experience fixing this issue on a 2006 X3 E83 model. This article is for informational purposes only and the reader assumes all responsibility for attempting to fix without professional assistance.

Having said that, with some basic automotive acumen and a few hours this issue can be fixed for as little as $50 or less to replace just the transfer case actuator gear whereas a mechanic or dealer would conceivably charge $1,500 to $2,000 or more to replace the transfer case actuator motor entirely (or worst case scenario attempt to replace the entire transfer case?).

Indications/Symptoms of the Problem

  1. The brake, ABS, and 4x4 warning lights all come on at the same time (see title photo above)
  2. There is an very audible rapid clicking noise that comes from the transfer case (approximately under the driver's seat underneath the car) just after the engine is turned off. The best way to hear this is to open the driver's side door when parked, turn off the engine and listen for the clicking noise (it may not happen EVERY time so try it a few times). The noise should only last about 1-2 seconds, see the video included here for an example of the sound.

If you have both of these symptoms then the culprit is very likely to be a stripped gear inside the transfer case motor. The transfer case actuator motor is a small motor that is bolted on to the transfer case and can be removed and replaced (or repaired with a new internal gear).

If you DO NOT hear the clicking described the cause could be something else (not covered in this article).

Watch this video for an excellent description of the problem and removal and replacement of the transfer case actuator motor:

BMW Transfer Case Actuator Motor Gear Problem In Detail

So what's going on inside the transfer case actuator motor? In short, there is a nylon (ie: plasticky) gear inside the motor that is turned by a metal worm gear (a screw). Over time the nylon part gets worn down and stripped and does not turn any more. See the photos.

There is a lot of discussion in various forums about how this gear does not ever seem to turn all the way around and you can fix it by simply rotating the gear to the unused portion (a potential free fix). I cannot speak to whether that is a reliable long term fix since I did not try that. You can see from my photos however, that it indeed does not look like one side of the gear that still has the light green lubricant on it was ever touched or used by the worm gear,so take that for whatever it's worth.

My experience (and decision) was that if I was going to spend an afternoon underneath the car removing the actuator motor and taking it apart I did not want to risk the free fix failing at some point and having to do it all over again. I believe it's well worth the $50 - $100 to purchase a new gear and not worry about it for another 80k miles or more. Since the first writing of this article, replacement gears have actually gone from $100 down to $20 or less!

Complete assembled motor.
Complete assembled motor.
BMW transfer case actuator motor disassembled (brand new black replacement gear pictured).
BMW transfer case actuator motor disassembled (brand new black replacement gear pictured).
Close up of the new replacement transfer case actuator gear and the motor housing metal worm gear.
Close up of the new replacement transfer case actuator gear and the motor housing metal worm gear.
Worn transfer case actuator gear.  There is a totally worn concave section on the top.
Worn transfer case actuator gear. There is a totally worn concave section on the top.
Worn transfer case actuator gear from another angle, top portion totally worn concave.
Worn transfer case actuator gear from another angle, top portion totally worn concave.
Old transfer case actuator gear unworn side.  This is straight out of the motor, bright green lubricant appears to have never been used/worn by the worm gear.
Old transfer case actuator gear unworn side. This is straight out of the motor, bright green lubricant appears to have never been used/worn by the worm gear.

Fixes For The Problem

If you've determined from watching the video above that you have this problem you can fix it yourself by either replacing the entire motor unit (still somewhat expensive at $800 or so just for a new motor), or you can go a step further and replace just the motor gear by following along with the video below. You can order a new gear easily on Amazon with the provided link.

Actuator Motor Gear Replacement

My experience is that it took me about 3 hours to remove the actuator motor and disassemble/reassemble it and bolt it back on to the car. The hardest part was really just accessing the motor and torx bolts to get them off. Some basic tips would be:

  • Make sure you've let the car cool significantly (overnight would be a good idea) before attempting.
  • You may need some special female torx (star) socket bits for the bolts that hold the actuator motor on (link below).
  • Some universal socket joints for accessing the torx bolts (I had a hard time getting my socket wrench to fit in the space, only was able to do it with a universal joint).

Another Good Video On the Problem (x5)

More by this Author


Dennis 2 years ago

Had the same problem with my 2006 X3 ordered the gear took it to my service center paid for 3 hours labor problem solved.

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johnnyvest 2 years ago from Salt Lake City Author

Thanks for the feed back @Dennis ... I just did my second one, this time on my aunt's 2007 X3 ... same exact problem at right around 80k miles. Replaced the gear and problem solved.

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johnnyvest 2 years ago from Salt Lake City Author

I keep saying that every one of us that has done this gear replacement needs to hang the old worn gear from our mirrors as our own "rite of passage" fuzzy dice because make no mistake, EVERY single one of these X series cars will have this problem and need it to be fixed most likely before 100k miles. It really is a pathetic oversight and lack of quality on BMW's part. I'm guessing most dealers will act like they've never heard of the problem.

HARRY DION 2 years ago

Thanks for the feed Johnnyvest. It was a very helpful hint. I just bought a 2008 X3 with 88,000 miles and I'm having the same problem. I took it to the BMW dealer and they were going to charge me $1100 dollars to fix the problem. I will order the gear from amazon. I found one for $56. Any ideas how much they charge for labor to replace the gear?

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johnnyvest 2 years ago from Salt Lake City Author

Hi @HARRY DION. I'm not sure how much they'll charge, but it shouldn't be more than about 3 hours worth of labor. That includes removal, dismantling the motor and replacing the gear, and re-installing. I've done two of these and the first took a while since I was being ever so careful but for the second one I did it in under 3 hours and I'm not a mechanic and that was doing it in a driveway, jacking up the car, etc. For a good mechanic to remove the motor shouldn't take more than 10-15 minutes. As for the price of $1,100 thanks for sharing. That's actually a pretty decent estimate if they're replacing the motor all together, my local dealer has a $900 price for the new actuator motor, just slightly more than what you can get online. So they're probably estimating that for the part plus 2 hours labor (assuming about $100/hr).

HARRY DION 2 years ago

Hi Johnnyvest, thanks for your response and advise. I will go to the BMW shop next week and pick up my car and fix it myself since the warranty company refused to fix the problem because they claim it's a pre-existing condition. I was really getting worried about where I'm going to get $1100 to $1300 to fix the car. My question to you johnny is, I intend to drive the car around for a few weeks before fixing the problem, do you think it will make the situation worse? Please advise. Thanks

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johnnyvest 2 years ago from Salt Lake City Author

It should not. My wife drove hers with the problem for probably 3 weeks. I believe the actuator turns the all wheel drive system on/off (though I'm not sure exactly when or why) so you might notice a difference in how it feels. We noticed that the lights would go off typically after parking the car and would come on while driving. I assume this was when the wheels were slipping. Again I'm not 100% sure on this but my experience was that driving it did not adversely affect it.

HARRY DION 2 years ago

Thanks again Johnnyvest. Have a great weekend.

Al Delisle 2 years ago

Thank You so much for posting this, it helped tremendously in my deciding to replace the gear myself... you saved me BIG $'s .. I spend less than $50 and I am sure the stealership would have wanted $1300-$1600. The only thing I would add that would be helpful is to recommend jacking up tranny so that you can easily rebolt the crossmember bar in reassembly...

johnnyvest profile image

johnnyvest 2 years ago from Salt Lake City Author

Thanks for the comment @Jean-Jacques, I'm glad this information was helpful to you. Please report back if your gear rotation ever slips back into the worn out part and you get the problem again, I'm interested to know the longer term results of that work around. Cheers.

Jean-Jacques 2 years ago

@Jonnyvest: Thank you for this post. I am a proud owner of a 2007 X3 that I imported from Canada to small central african country of Rwanda. My car had the problem at 106,000 km and you can imagine if you add shipping and duties on a $1500 spare part.

By reading your post, I knew more than most mechanics here who always advise well off people to by new BMW actuator when they see the symptoms.

It took us less than two hours to dismount the actuator and rotate 180 degrees the gear, mount back and problem was fixed!

Now my mechanic is actually considering reaping benefits from this workaround. As long as the engine is ok, I will have spare gear ready. But I am sure the one I have just rotated will do another 100,000km with no issue. Thank a lot Jonnyvest.

Roger 2 years ago

Thanks for the great write-up - saved me almost $3000 for a new transfer case for our X3 as quoted by BMW Seattle. For anyone else in the Pacific Northwest, Doug at Chase Race installed the gear for me, thanks Doug!

J Goode 2 years ago

Had all the same symptoms, even the clicking. Changed the gear but light are still on. Does it have to be reset?

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johnnyvest 2 years ago from Salt Lake City Author

Hi @J Goode, in my case I did not have to reset the light. I assume you've started/stopped the engine and driven the car around. Do you still get the rapid clicking when turning off the car? In many cases with a worn gear the lights would go on and off after stopping then driving a bit.

J Goode 2 years ago

No more clicking noise. The lights did not turn off

J Goode 2 years ago

Gear was bad and new one is in.

johnnyvest profile image

johnnyvest 2 years ago from Salt Lake City Author

Well I'm not sure. It would seem that you fixed the transfer case gear problem if you're not getting the clicking any more. I can't really say why the lights would not be going off. My experience with having done 2 of these is that the lights went out shortly after and did not come back on.

J Goode 2 years ago

Drove it then reset code. Lights went out


Manoel Martins 2 years ago

Very helpful ! Thanks for the information ! I have a X3 from 2007 with that problem, bought the gear from AMAZON, it cost me about 65 €, and i will install it tomorrow ! Hope it will works. BEST REGARDS FROM PORTUGAL !

B Paul 22 months ago

Was told today I need transfer case for $3000 repair by local shop(not dealer). I drive a 2006 x3 and can't afford repairs now hope to put off for new year. I have a Christmas trip of 6 hrs on highway. My question is what's gonna happen if it goes totally out on trip. Also can anyone recommend repair shop in tyler tx area. I am female and can't do repairs myself. This so much for asst

johnnyvest profile image

johnnyvest 22 months ago from Salt Lake City Author

Hello @B Paul ... it's difficult to say how safe the car is to drive. Are you experiencing the symptoms exactly as described in this article? If so then it is likely your actuator motor and the transfer case might be ok. If not, it could be the transfer case is bad. There is no way for anyone online to answer that for sure. How many miles on your car? All I can say is that you could try ordering a replacement gear and seeing if you local shop might be willing to replace that in your actuator motor and see if that fixes your issue.

jagdeep 21 months ago

Hi Roger,

Where exactly is chase race? I replaced the gear but not my X3 is acting funny.

Watline Noel 21 months ago from Sunrise, Florida

Anybody know anybody in fort lauderdale area that can install the motor gear for me. Ill buy the part on amazon. My mechanoc would not do it unless i repale the transfer case.

Speedy 20 months ago


I have this problem on my 2008 BMW 330xd : all lights on + that noise. I didn't find any gear online for this model , only for X3 and X5 models. I assume is the same thing. Am I mistaking?!?!

Anyway I will just rotate the gear 180 degrees and see if it solves the problem , at least until I find a new gear.

Regards from Romania!

Smith 20 months ago

Hello there!!

thanks for the explanation really really great. My car has 97000Km and I am not quite sure if I need the transfer case actuator replaced or the big metal box which attached to it...????

Many thanks

shaggy474 20 months ago

Remember guys thiS gear going bad is a tire

issue 99% of the time. Rotate often and check tread depth religously. I would teplace all tires at early signs of wear. Otherwise you will do this repair often!

johnnyvest profile image

johnnyvest 20 months ago from Salt Lake City Author

That's interesting @shaggy474 ... I'm not 100% sure there is any long term way to prevent this gear from wearing out as it really looks to be a design flaw in the part (ie: composite "plastic" gear contacting a metal worm screw). I've rotated my tires religiously and still had it. Of course everyone should follow your advice ... rotating tires and replacing all tires at once is common sense that should always be followed. I'd love to hear from X3/X5 owners with 100k+ miles that have NOT had this problem in their cars? Are there any out there ...

Samuel chen 18 months ago

I have a same problem as you describe, the brake light is red, AWD ABS EBV 4x4 are all yellow. my car model is 2008 X5 93210 miles. Except I don't hear the rapid sound ,instead of just a quick one sound '' click''. I just had theses all lights on 4 days ago. The lights all come from when the car running for a while, after put off the engine, that signals disappear.The bmw dealer have checked this problem today, he said that it's transfer case motor that should be replaced, if the gear of transfer case chipped, I have to replace the transfer case that I felt very doubtable. Would be this case just do as same as described for replacing the carbon gear ?

johnnyvest profile image

johnnyvest 18 months ago from Salt Lake City Author

Hello @Samuel Chen! Sorry to see you're also having the problem. What you describe with the lights coming on and off is pretty common with this issue, I know on the 2 cars that I have repaired that was the case. It's hard to say exactly if replacing the carbon gear will solve your issue, but given the cost of A) a new actuator motor and B) a new transfer case ... it seems like it might be worth trying to see if that's it? With your comment "of the gear of the transfer case is chipped" they might be referring to the actual spindle in the transfer case that connects to the white tooth circle in the center of the actuator motor (pictured above). This seems unlikely as I think that spindle is metal (if I recall correctly) and many teeth on that (or the white plastic ring in the actuator motor) would have to be stripped in order for it to fail to actuate (turn).

One thing about attempting the carbon gear replacement is this: if you get it all taken apart and disassembled as above you should be able to see the worn section on the gear. If that is present then replacing the gear should fix the problem. If your gear is not very visibly worn as in the photos above then that may not be the issue.

Fernando 18 months ago

Hey guys I also had this problem with my x3 2006 for a while. I went and did the fix my self and it was really simple. The gear was worn so i changed it and it turned off the lights except for the 4x4. After I fixed it, I took it out for a drive and I feel like its grinding when I make a left or a right turn. Any help on regards of the problem would be great

John Hawaii 16 months ago

Brah, you saved me big $ on repairs for my 2007 x3. Mahalo for taking the time to post these videos and make this blog. Aloha.

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johnnyvest 16 months ago from Salt Lake City Author

No problem @John Hawaii ... I saved myself big time money and just wanted to spread the knowledge. I think it's pretty weak on BMW's part that this plastic gear will fail on probably EVERY car that has this transfer case actuator.

Greg Dockstader 16 months ago

Just replaced the gear. Everything went well and back together as easily as it came apart except for pulling the peened cover plate to access the gear. Watched a YouTube video where the guy was able to pop the plate out in about 15 seconds, the whole project took about 2-1/2 hours and 45 minutes just to get the cover plate off to access the gear! Everything is running fine, no abnormal noise when cornering like Fernando described. Only thing is the ABS, brake, and 4X4 lights are still on. I've only taken it out for about a 5 mile loop and no change with the indicator lights parked and running or driving.

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johnnyvest 16 months ago from Salt Lake City Author

@Greg Dockstader: The lights should go off on their own, at least they did in both cars that I have done this procedure for. You might want to try turning the key to position 2 (the last one BEFORE the ignition actually starts the car) and leave it there for 30-45 seconds before the car starts. Then start it and see. PS: Regarding getting the cover plate off the motor ... yes it's always taken me a while too, probably about 20 minutes or so each time just because I didn't want to mess anything up. It can be a tricky little SOB though.

Greg Dockstader 16 months ago


I took everything back apart, checked all the plug prongs, brush springs and brush seats on the spindle, bearings, everything appears to be fine. The white gear linkage to the new cog seems to rotate freely, the worm drive screw to the motor wind seems to rotate fine in housing when taken apart but rubs a little, I imagine the bearing on the shaft holds the alignment where it should provided there is no play in the bearing case. Once I put the motor back on the drive I can't freely turn or rotate the white gear. Should this gear be able to turn with at least a little force?

I see you're in SLC area, I live in Riverton. Is there any way to PM on this forum?

johnnyvest profile image

johnnyvest 16 months ago from Salt Lake City Author

@Greg Dockstader: I seem to remember that you could rotate the white gear but that it wasn't easy to turn since the motor and worm gear provided a good bit of resistance. It sounds like you're putting it all back together correctly. I mean really unless you it goes back together correctly it won't really go back together at all (meaning that the white gear fits right into the inner gears of the new black replacement gear and the metal worm fits into the grooves on the outside of it). When starting the car you about a second after you start the car you should be able to hear the motor actuate. Listening from the outside of the car it sounds like a quick 1/2 to 1 second long buzz. That's what it sounds like when the gear is in working order ... when stripped that is what made the loud clicking sound (the guy in the video has audio of that).

Greg Dockstader 16 months ago

So here is what I did right after I posted the question. I went through and cleaned the brushes and spindle just to make sure there was good contact and everything moved and rotated freely. Still could not get the gear to rotate after putting the gears back together. I put the assembly back on the transfer case and rotated gently back and forth on the tranfer case gear until I felt it slip. I was then able to spin the white gear. I think what happened was the worm drive screw edges may have been sitting on top of the gear and not seated in the grooves. Got everything put back together problem solved, indicator dash lights went out.

Thanks for your help!

maryland sue 15 months ago

Just found out that I need transfer case repair. The quote is $2700. I have a 2008 X3 with 144,000 miles. Seems like it's time to trade it in, instead of another expensive repair. Just curious if anyone that reads this will tell me that everything I have loved about the X3, I could possibly find in another make/model. If I go from 3.0 6 cyl to 2.0 4 cyl, will I notice that big of a difference in handling/performance?

Kris 12 months ago

After replacing transfer case do i have to get it reprogram

Michael 11 months ago

I have a 2007 X3 3.0SI with 94,000 miles. I bought it used in Germany with 50,000 miles and I put 30,000 autobahn miles on it spending as much time as I could on the speed limiter. I then took it to South Korea where I have put the next 15,000 miles on rough, uneven, mountaineous roads. I use the 18 inch dunlop D4 winter tires and the Pirelli P Zero Rosso summer tires on 19's. I will post when I do have a problem, but I enjoy slightly spirited driving in the snow and rain and have turned some decent laps with it on the Hockenheim race track. Hopefully I didn't just jinx myself with this post.

Gareth 11 months ago

Very very helpful post, thanks! My 2007 X3 has been doing this for some weeks (but driving fine) and the BMW dealership here in Cape Town, South Africa, has quoted me the equivalent of $2700 to simply "replace" the transfer box, after importing a new one from Germany. Bah! I'll get a friendly mechanic to do the job for one-tenth the price! Thanks again.

Jose 6 months ago


I have a x5 2006 3.0 and it has the 4x4 light on only what do you think it may be

I will apreciate your commets


Enrique @ Houston 6 months ago

I change the gear and only works for 10 minutes, later changed the transfer case motor and still have the 3 lights on, my mechanic told me about update all the software of my 2007 x3, what do you think?

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johnnyvest 6 months ago from Salt Lake City Author

I really am not sure @Enrique, I do not know enough about the software to comment, here is a link to a forum of some people having other issues with their transfer case (beyond apparently just the worm gear issue here):

Dominic M Ogeto 4 months ago

Thanks very much. The Transfer Case Actuator Motor gear has excellently worked for me on X3 here in Kenya.

Actuator and slipping/hesitation 4 months ago

I did gears months ago. It worked. Before car just drove in rear wheel drive but drove ok except handling different than awd. I had flat after successful gear change. Perrellis on x3 but I replaced flat on right rear with a same size, close to same wear Firestone in order to get car on to shop. As soon as I started driving BAM, lights on. Prob drove 5-10 miles. Now have new tires and lights still on BUT, when they come on the car starts hesitating at some point after. Some times 300 meter from home sometimes a few miles. ANY IDEAS??? I'm prepared to do gear again or complete motor ($455 on Amazon.). But before I do what do you guys think is different to make it slip/hesitate?? Btw. Lights go off after car sits for awhile not running. I hear buzz when I start car but not clicking when I turn off. Thks


Bonnie 7 weeks ago

HI, I saw this post because my 2005 x3 that i just bought with only 40,000 miles on it just started doing this. the low tire pressure light as on when i bought it, they said they reset it, but it came back on and then the other three came on. I dont think i hear any clicking.. so i wonder if its the tires ? Its in the shop right now, a non btw shop, so i have my doubts about them.. but i had to have this car.. 6 speed manual, and 40,000 miles!!!

bonmon62 7 weeks ago

shaggy474.. can it really be low tire pressure or needing new tires I have this trio of lights on since friday, today is tuesday, and it also has the low tire pressure light on as well, in fact, the LTP light was on when i purchased the car 6 weeks ago! its been in the FORD shop 4 times since then, had a loud exhaust within 3 days of purchase, hood would not open, still in shop for that right now, needs a new cable release, and now the lights?? I bought this because it was a 6 speed manual and had 40,000 miles on it.. its a 2005. i fell in love.. would love your input.

Ben77059 6 weeks ago

I am glad this thread is still active. I have the same issue on an '07 X3. I could not remove the Actuator. I had an E10 torx socket, but I could not get it and a ratchet wrench on the top bolt.

Any suggestions? I did support the transfer case, had I not supported it, would it have dropped enough to get the socket on the bolt?

Thanks in advance for your suggestions.

johnnyvest profile image

johnnyvest 6 weeks ago from Salt Lake City Author

Hi @Ben77059, on the 2 jobs that I have done I do remember it being very tight to get to those upper bolts. I loosened the support cross bar like it the video and pulled it down a bit (gently, it doesn't have to come down too much) and that does provide enough room to get in there. It's still a tight squeeze.

Ben77059 6 weeks ago

Thanks Johnny. My issue was getting the socket, attached to the wrench, onto the upper torx bolt. There was no room between the end of the torx nut and the frame of the X3 to get the socket on the nut.

Are you saying if I had not supported the transfer case with a jack (another online video says to do this), the case would have come down a little so the end of the torx nut would have been below the frame of the vehicle?

johnnyvest profile image

johnnyvest 6 weeks ago from Salt Lake City Author

I think I removed the bolts on the cross bar on the passenger side and loosened the ones on the drivers side (but did not remove) which allowed some play to lower the transfer case and still support it at the same time. I also think I used an angled ratchet extension to reach it. Something like:

Gretchen 5 weeks ago

So these lights came on in my 2005 X3 about a week and a half ago. Within the hour I had found your article and identified the clicking sound. A few hours later the lights turned off. I wanted to do the repair as soon as possible and finally had time to start on this Sunday evening. The lights still had not come back on, however the clicking sound was still there when shutting off the vehicle. I followed your videos step by step, however when I was removing the motor from the actuator I didn't get the black plastic piece off with it and had to slide it back on. Everything else seemed kosher and I put in the new gear, until I got the step of reattaching the clips with the actuator reinstalled on the vehicle. When putting the black plastic piece back onto the actuator motor we had put it on upside down (the large clip attachment still faces the same way, however it is on top of the motor when on the vehicle rather than underneath it). We attached everything anyways and when we started the vehicle then the lights were immediately back on (they were off when we started repairs). Would not reattaching the clips all the way cause the lights to come on? Do you think because that black piece is upside down it would cause them to come on? I did try the starting to two ignition clicks and waiting before starting all the way and no dice. My first thought is to take it all back off and flip that black piece back the way it goes, however do you think I have already damaged the actuator motor and I'm just screwed here? Help :(

Gretchen 5 weeks ago

Just wanted to follow up and say that I took everything back off, flipped the black piece back over the correct way, reattached everything and when I started the car - no lights! Thanks for a great article, extremely helpful and saved me so much $$$!

Ben77059 5 weeks ago

Update: I tried removing the actuator again, this time lowering the transfer case after removing the brackets (the first time I supported it with a bottle jack per another video). Once the transfer case was lowered, I was able to access and remove all the bolts. I replaced the gear and reinstalled the part and it is working great.

I would like to add that I never heard the "clicking" sound, I only had the light trifecta. The gear was worn as shown in the video.

2007 BMW X3

sal 7 days ago

i replace the part and the light still on what can i do next. please help

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