Earlier this month, I started the X3 and found a "Low Coolant" warning message illuminated on the dash. This came as a bit of a surprise because I haven't noticed any fluids on the ground where I normally park the red SUV, nor have I visited any place extraordinarily warm in recent months. Not being close enough to a dealer to risk limping the X3 in, I called and asked the closest BMW dealership for a recommendation on what to do.
After being transferred to the parts department, the associate who picked up couldn't tell me. He of course recommended BMW's own brand -- a brand you can only buy at a dealership -- but that didn't help because, again, I didn't want to risk driving it there. After I explained the situation, the associate said, in very careful words, that he couldn't recommend a different brand, and that he couldn't recommend going to a parts store and asking them. And if we did go to a parts store? Then, we learned, the X3 would have to get to the dealership as soon as possible and have its coolant flushed and replaced with BMW's stuff. My hypothesis for this is that BMW has certain in-house requirements for its free 4 year/50,000 mile maintenance program. We're happy to oblige them, because, hey, free maintenance.
Nevertheless, we still had to get the BMW coolant. I snagged a ride to the nearest dealership, fully expecting to pay the ridiculous premium automakers tend to add for branded maintenance parts. Perhaps I'd have to take out a small loan. These worries were pleasantly unfounded, as a gallon of BMW-branded coolant cost just $25.88. That's around $10 more than the brands Autozone recommends, which isn't too bad.
BMW recommends that you mix the blue fluid 50:50 with distilled water and slowly fill the coolant reservoir until the stuff reaches a yellow marker. The X3 took about a quart, which is surprising considering 6.5-quart capacity.
Even with the issue fixed and the X3 running again without issue, I was still curious about the whereabouts of that missing quart. Later in the week, I dropped the X3 off at South Bay BMW, in Torrance, CA, to see if any explanation existed. A service advisor there said that this is a normal situation for BMWs, adding that anywhere between 13,000 to 25,000 miles the hoses in the cooling system expand, effectively increasing coolant capacity. While, sure, this does happen, increasing capacity by a quart sounds a bit excessive. We opted to have the system pressure checked just to be sure coolant wasn't escaping.
Of course, the pressure check returned no leaks; the X3 is operating as intended and the coolant simply disappeared. While I'm glad it's working properly -- and that the dealership affair cost nothing -- I'm bummed that only advice we can give to X3 owners is to buy a jug of BMW coolant and distilled water to keep in the garage for backup just in case a quart of coolant makes like Keyser Soze: Poof, it's gone.
|Our Car |
|Service life ||11 months/24,342 miles |
|Average fuel economy ||21.6 mpg |
|CO2 emissions ||0.90 lb/mi |
|Energy consumption ||156 kW-hr/100mi |
|Unresolved problems ||Throttle delay |
|Maintenance cost ||$0 (2 x oil change, tire rotation, inspection) |
|Normal-wear cost ||$0 |