Which used BMW 1 Series should we buy? 

A reader is concerned about timing chain problems on older the BMW 1 Series and asks which models were affected...

1: BMW 1 Series (2004 – 2011)

My son wants to buy a 2009-2011 BMW 1 Series as is first car, either a 118d diesel or a 118i petrol.

However, I remember seeing a TV programme some time ago highlighting the fact that the BMW 1 Series had a bad reputation for cam chain noise or failure. 

Can you tell me more about the problems and if they affected either of the models my son is considering? It would be really useful if you could let us know which engines and years are best avoided.

Simon Haas

What Car? says…

Petrol and diesel 1, 3, and 5 Series BMWs made between 2004 and 2011 appear to have suffered a higher proportion of problems with their four-cylinder engines' timing chains than other cars of that age. 

While there are some reports of premature wear and failure of timing chains on the 118i petrol model, the N47 engine that was used in the 2007-2009 118d is more prone to these issues. However, BMW issued a recall for this engine, and it was performed on many cars to prevent the issue. 

So if your son is thinking of buying a 118d from this era, his first question to the seller should be whether the car has been to BMW for recall work relating to the timing chain. He can also ask at a BMW dealer to find out if recall work has been carried out, or if any is due. He should also listen for a rattling noise from the rear of the engine: this could indicate timing chain wear. 

Timing chain problems on petrol-engined 1 Series models appear to be most common on the N43 petrol engine, which was fitted to the 2004-2006 118i. The timing chain on this engine could jump a tooth on the timing cogs, but the risk can be reduced by fitting a new chain tensioner and an anti-skipping bracket. This bracket is fitted as standard to the E87 engine that is used in the 2007-2011 118i, so these cars should not suffer from this problem. 

Used BMW 1 Series 2011 - present

There are far fewer reports of problems on the later F20 1 Series produced from 2011 to 2019, so if your son can stretch to one of these instead, he'll be getting a more modern and potentially more reliable car.  

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