Drivetrain Malfunction: How To Fix? (Step by Step)

Drivetrain Malfunction

When you see an error message appear on your car’s dash, it’s obviously cause for alarm, but how serious are they and what does each one mean?

If your BMW has flashed up with a “drivetrain malfunction” error, then we’ve got all the information you need to solve it.

A drivetrain malfunction can refer to a problem with the transmission, the engine, the ignition, or the fuel system in your vehicle. For BMWs, this error message is not particularly specific and it will initiate a safe driving mode that affects how the vehicle runs.

Here is how to fix a drivetrain malfunction:

  • Step 1: Restart the engine.
  • Step 2: Check the engine.
  • Step 3: Run a diagnostic scan.
  • Step 4: Consider the symptoms.
  • Step 5: Take it to a professional.
  • Step 6: Carry out repairs or replacements.

What Is The Drivetrain?

To understand what this error message means and what you might need to do to fix it, we first need to figure out what it’s actually talking about.

The drivetrain in your car is not a single component, but a series of different components that link together. Sometimes alternatively spelled as drive train or drive-train, it is basically all of the parts that deliver power to the wheels, which can include:

  • Transmission: Also known as the gearbox, which turns the power from the engine into forward momentum.
  • Driveshaft: The cylinder that connects the transmission to the axle, providing torque to the wheels.
  • CV Joint: A Constant-Velocity Joint, which bends and allows the axle to move while the drive wheels are turning. Usually found in front-wheel drive cars.
  • U-Joint: A Universal Joint is a flexible component that connects to the driveshaft, allowing it to pivot and move as the car bounces or flexes.
  • Differential: The component that distributes power to each drive wheel.
  • Axle Shafts: The shafts that deliver power from the differential to the drive wheels.

Strictly speaking, the engine or motor itself is not technically considered part of the drivetrain, and neither is the fuel system, but these component parts are obviously interlinked and the drivetrain can malfunction if they are not also working normally.

What Causes Drivetrain Loss?

So, now that we know what a drivetrain is, we can start to get to grips with what it means when your car has a “drivetrain malfunction”.

In general, when the drivetrain isn’t working and you start to notice a drop in power then it means that one of the many components involved has started to fail.

This might be because:

  • Components like the U-Joints are worn and becoming loose, causing the drivetrain to shake and the vehicle to vibrate while you are driving.
  • The transmission fluid is leaking, meaning the transmission is no longer being kept cool and lubricated. This leads to more friction and wear, which cause further damage and a loss of drivetrain function.

These are far from the only reasons why your drivetrain might be struggling, though, and they are not necessarily the exact causes of why you might get a “drivetrain malfunction” error message.

How To Resolve A Drivetrain Malfunction

Now that we know what might have caused the message to appear in the first place, how do we actually get rid of it?

Once you are in a safe place, there are a few simple steps that you should follow:

  • Step 1: Restart the engine. Before you panic, it’s worth checking that the error message is not a mistake. Try turning the engine off for around ten minutes and then starting it up again to see if the error reappears.
  • Step 2: Check the engine. If the error message is still there, you can give your engine some basic maintenance to see if you can spot any obvious problems. Have a look at the state of the components, inspect the engine for leaks or damage (particularly to the transmission), and check the levels of your oil and coolant.
  • Step 3: Run a diagnostic scan. If you have a code scanner, then you can use this to get more accurate information about the exact problem that your BMW is facing. The manual will tell you what each specific code might mean, as long as you are using a compatible scanner.
  • Step 4: Consider the symptoms. If you haven’t figured out the root cause of the message yet, then think about the other symptoms you have noticed. Misfiring generally means that it’s a spark plug problem, power loss is often related to the ignition coils, fuel problems will typically be down to the fuel pump or injector, and exhaust issues are normally caused by the catalytic converter.
  • Step 5: Take it to a professional. The last port of call will always be a professional mechanic, who will be much better equipped to diagnose the issue for you.
  • Step 6: Carry out repairs or replacements. Most of the problems that lead to a “drivetrain malfunction” error message require some component to be replaced or repaired – like fixing a transmission leak, installing new spark plugs, or getting a fresh catalytic converter.

Read also >> How an Internal Combustion Engine Works (Step By Step)

Read also >> Who Invented the Internal Combustion Engine? (History + More)

BMW Drivetrain Malfunction Error Message

In a BMW, specifically, a “drivetrain malfunction” is an error message that they use to indicate that there is some problem within the overall drivetrain system, which has led to it running less efficiently than normal.

This error message can mean more than one thing. Since the drivetrain is a relatively broad interconnecting series of components, a malfunction could be occurring in any one of them, causing this message to appear.

On top of that, BMWs often use this message to refer to other issues that might affect the drivetrain, like problems with the engine, the fuel system, or the ignition – which are not technically considered drivetrain components.

Usually, though, this message means one of a few different things is happening. The first step to figuring out how to resolve it, therefore, is identifying which of the following issues might be causing it to appear:

Engine Misfiring

If your engine is misfiring, this means that the combustion is not happening the way that it should and the combustion cylinder is not firing properly.

This can cause slower acceleration, shaking while you are trying to increase your speed, and even losing power for short moments. You might also notice the engine vibrating more than usual.

More often than not, this will happen because the spark plugs have become damaged or worn over time, so they are not able to deliver the spark required to fire the engine.

Loss Of Power

If you’re struggling to accelerate and losing power, then your car is often going to flag this as a problem with the drivetrain.

It will be most obvious when you are trying to speed up, and it can be frustrating and dangerous when you’re not able to get the forward momentum that you usually do.

One of the most common reasons why you might be losing power would be aging ignition coils, which aren’t able to distribute power to the spark plugs.

Fuel Delivery

Sometimes combined with power loss, you might also notice that your fuel supply is not consistent, and you get random surges of power while you are accelerating. This might indicate that there is a problem with the fuel pump and your engine is starved.

It’s not always the pumps that cause this problem though. You might also notice misfiring, stalling, and strange vibrations that might mean the fuel is not getting where it needs to go, often because the fuel injectors are not functioning correctly.

Exhaust Issues

If something is wrong with your emissions system, then you can get a pressure build-up or a clog that causes the combustion chamber to slow down.

This may lead the engine to stall and might show up as a drivetrain malfunction in your car.

The most component that typically causes this kind of failure would be the catalytic converter, which converts harmful gases and dangerous emissions into cleaner elements in order to protect the environment.

Can You Drive On A Drivetrain Malfunction?

Although it is often possible to drive with the “drivetrain malfunction” error showing, it is definitely not recommended.

Some of the issues that can cause this message to appear are pretty serious and may mean that the vehicle is not safe to operate.

This error also usually triggers the vehicle to switch to a safer driving mode, which is designed to stop more damage from occurring. You might see the message “Drive moderately. Maximum drivetrain output not available.” This means that the torque has been limited and the overall power has been reduced to keep the engine safe.

How Long Does A Drivetrain Last On A Car?

It’s hard to say how long you should expect your drivetrain to last because it is made up of so many different parts.

The spark plugs are usually the first component to fail, and these typically last from 30,000 to 50,000 miles. The driveshaft and axle shaft tend to survive for 75,000 to 150,000 miles before becoming overly worn, and the transmission shouldn’t need replacing before around 300,000 miles on the average car.

At the end of the day, though, the parts in your car don’t always live for as long as they are supposed to. Proper maintenance and regular inspections will definitely keep them going for a lot longer – but unexpected damage can occur no matter how old they are.

Can Brakes Cause Drivetrain Malfunction?

The braking system will almost definitely not result in a drivetrain malfunction, as the brakes themselves are not part of the series of components that give the car drive. Problems with your brakes problems are usually indicated by a brake pad warning light or a “brake malfunction” error message.

What Causes a Drivetrain Malfunction on BMWs? >> Check out the video below:


So, what does it mean when your car tells you there is a drivetrain malfunction? Well, it typically means that some component within the drivetrain has failed, or the drivetrain is not able to function normally because it is not getting the power that it needs.

In a BMW, this message usually indicates a problem with the transmission, spark plugs, ignition coils, fuel pumps, and fuel injectors, or catalytic converter.

It’s always best to stop driving the car as soon as possible to get the damaged component replaced or repaired.


Steve P.

Steve is an automotive technician, technical writer, and Managing Editor. He has held a lifelong passion for cars, with a particular interest in cars like the Buick Riviera. Steve is based in Boise, Idaho.

Recent Posts

error: Content is protected !!