Hello there and welcome to the BMW Car Club of America.

If you are a BMW CCA member, please log in and introduce yourself in our Member Introductions section.

Coolant Low Warning

Discussion in 'E90/E91/E92/E93 (2006-2011)' started by goss8284, Jul 26, 2011.

    • Member

    goss8284

    Post Count: 8
    Likes Received:0
    Hey guys! I am not sure if this was the appropriate place to post this, but today my car flashed a warning when I first started it. I looked it up, and the warning for was low coolant.

    Please forgive me, but besides loving driving my car, I don't know much about it. Can I just go to Auto Zone to get coolant or do I need to take it to the dealership?

    Thanks in advance!
    • Member

    MGarrison

    Post Count: 2,892
    Likes Received:150
    If your car is under

    If your car is under warranty, I'd hit up the dealership. You don't mention your model and month/year of production - in any case, afaik, BMW uses it's own coolant, and if that's what's in there, you wouldn't want to mix in something that isn't compatible (presumably). The more important thing is figuring out why you've lost coolant. You wouldn't want any unpleasant surprises, and if everything's the way it should be, there's no reason to be losing coolant.
    • Member

    goss8284

    Post Count: 8
    Likes Received:0
    It is a 2006 330xi. It was

    It is a 2006 330xi. It was certified when I bought it about 8 months ago. I am not certain the month of production. I appreciate the input. One of the other issues is that the dealership closest to me (about 35 minutes away) SUCKS and I hate them with a hot, firey passion. The next closest dealership is almost 2 hours away, but I do at least trust them more. Do you think I should be ok to travel that far or should I suck it up and just go to the closest one to prevent any possible damage?

    Thanks again!
    • Member

    MGarrison

    Post Count: 2,892
    Likes Received:150
    I would start by popping the

    I would start by popping the hood open, and checking your coolant level. Your owner's manual, presumably, would explain where to manually, visually, check your coolant level. These days, I wouldn't be surprised if BMW owner's manuals don't include any of that information.

    Check your coolant level with the car cold, engine off. The coolant system pressurizes, and if you pop off your expansion tank cap after the car's been running and it's hot, you could scald yourself (so, don't scald yourself).

    The expansion tank should have some means of assessing the proper coolant level. Older BMW's, there was a line molded into the side of the tank. E38 7's have a float with an indicator rod that pops up, so it will vary from model to model.

    You can use realoem.com to see a parts diagram to get an idea of where your expansion tank is so you know what to look for.

    If you're so low on coolant that your expansion tank is empty, or, as best as you can tell, you don't have any coolant, that would indicate you have a major coolant leak. Probably not though, because your coolant light wouldn't be intermittent, or just come on once, or occasionally - it would stay on. It might be obvious, but if the car won't hold coolant due to a major leak, you wouldn't want to drive it - the engine would overheat with disastrous and very expensive-to-repair consequences.

    If your car has not been overheating or running hot (temp indicator at normal when driving and idling), and seems to be holding coolant (no obvious big leaks or out of coolant), it should be ok to drive.

    See this link for what your expansion tank probably looks like (I chose a 2006 E90 with a production month early in 2006, you can start at the beginning of realoem.com and choose your exact model) - the expansion tank is shown in the "Radiator" section.

    http://www.realoem.com/bmw/showparts.do?model=VD33&mospid=48830&btnr=17_0322&hg=17&fg=05

    Looks like it has a float indicator. When you open the cap, if there's coolant in there, the float will pop up.

    I don't know about BMW's coolant, but coolant typically has a distinct sweet-ish smell. If you have a coolant leak, you may be able to smell coolant underhood, or possibly even in the car. You can do a sniff test - pop the hood after driving the car, look around for leaks and see if you smell anything; safest to do this with the engine off, you wouldn't want to lose your nose by snagging it in the fanblades, for instance, or, get killed by having your long scarf snag in spinning parts and choking you to death, or, well, you get the idea ;-). Checking the coolant in the expansion tank, as mentioned, is most safely done with the engine cold.

    Should you need to top a car up with coolant in the future, keep in mind coolant is poisonous to animals, and are attracted to it by its smell and will drink it without knowing they're drinking something that could kill them (ie, contain the coolant properly and wipe up spills). Some coolants are pre-mixed, some are not. Coolant is typically a 50-50 mix, coolant and water. Tap water can work, but it's preferable to use distilled water, which contains no impurities or minerals to contaminate your radiator and cooling system.

    If your coolant level is where it should be and there's no other evidence of major or minor leaks, could be something like an electrical glitch with the float, or something. I can't tell you exactly how to interpret the float when you open the expansion tank cap, but hopefully the owner's manual details something there. You might try asking the dealer on specifics for checking the coolant, or, listed in the Roundel are the clubs technical reps, who have volunteered to respond to service questions; Roundel lists their contact information. You could also e-mail Mike Miller, contact info is also in the Roundel, he might have additional specifics or sites to refer you to.

    I wouldn't think it could be worth travelling 4 hrs round trip just to check what might be a very minor issue. Find out yourself what you can, and go from there. If you do have a larger issue, then you can judge whether you can drive the car, what distance, and if the long trip would be worth the effort, or ok to drive that far.
    • Member

    goss8284

    Post Count: 8
    Likes Received:0
    Wow... I REALLY appreciate

    Wow... I REALLY appreciate all of that. I decided to call the dealership and see what they had to say. Most of it was along the same lines as what you said. When checking the coolant level, I learned that it was BONE dry. I was shocked! They (dealership SA) told me it would be ok to put some store-bought 50/50 coolant in there to at least get me to the dealership so I can see if there is a bigger issue on hand here.

    So... I am going to drive the 4 total hours Thursday to have them check it out. I will post an update in case anyone else experiences this.

    Thanks again for your very detailed response! It helped out a lot! It also helped me to realize 2 things: I know NOTHING about cars... and I have figured out that I really really want to learn now!


    Cheers!
    • Member

    MGarrison

    Post Count: 2,892
    Likes Received:150
    Probably running out of

    Probably running out of nested replies at this point - will continue with a new reply to your original post...
    • Member

    MGarrison

    Post Count: 2,892
    Likes Received:150
    To lose that much coolant,

    To lose that much coolant, it's definitely going somewhere. I hope it's something obvious and easily found (and not leaking too fast!)

    Get the coolant topped up, run the car a bit, and check it again once it's cooled down. You can check it sooner with a quick start from cold and couple of revs up to 2.5-3k, but don't run it long, the engine heats up quickly. If you do that, be careful opening the expansion cap - very slowly, a bit at a time, at arms length, keep your face and body away, and as soon as you hear air pressure starting to be released, stop opening it, and step back, (in case enough pressure built up to spray coolant), and if you deem it's ok after a bit, you could repeat and open further.

    I mentioned earlier the cooling system is under pressure - the reason for this is it increases the coolant's boiling point and ability to transfer more heat from the engine. The danger in opening a hot cooling system is when the pressure is released, the coolant tends to expand, and could spray out around the cap the second you crack it, and if it's really hot, it could be a substantial scalding spray. If you run the engine only briefly from a cold start after filling it, and don't let it have a chance to build the temperature or pressure, you _should_ be able to crack it, release the pressure, and check it. I say should, based on my experience with MY cars - yours may be different (but probably not that different), so caution is always warranted.

    A tech would fully bleed the air out of the system, but you can get by just with topping it up.

    Pay attention to how much it takes to get it filled up. If it's a gallon - ok, that's down, but not empty. If it takes much more than that, that's pretty empty (ie, pretty serious leak or problem). If you can, find out the coolant capacity for your car so you know relatively how empty it was.

    For any driving, keep an eye on the temp gauge - if it starts to climb, either slowly or quickly, expect to shut it down (as I said, you don't want to overheat the engine - that can get expensive). 2 hours is a long drive - get some shorter trips in before you go so you can get a sense if you're losing any coolant in a shorter time frame.

    If you see that you were pretty empty, I'd say take along at least that much extra coolant for your trip, at least two, but maybe even up to 5 gallons, or whatever your cooling system fill capacity is. Keep your receipt so that if you don't end up needing it, you can return it. And if your car overheats on the trip, be really cautious about cracking open that expansion tank to top it up. I'm assuming you haven't been overheating, your dash probably would have lit up like a Christmas tree - in any case, if the car seems to be overheating quickly, continuing to dump coolant in it probably isn't going to get you very far, and ya might as well be pouring money on the ground - stop and just get it towed, as much of a hassle as that is - cheaper than the alternatives you might be facing otherwise, which could be new engine, or cylinder heads, etc - major, expensive parts.. and labor!

    Sounds like that's not the case (I'm hoping you would have noticed - there are stories about people just ignoring all warning lights for some reason or another) and that you've been driving the car and not noticing it running hot or overheating. A bit low is an indication of something, but a top-up will probably work fine for running to the dealer, but better to be prepared with some extra coolant on hand in case the issue gets worse en route.

    Good luck!
    • Member

    pyao88

    Post Count: 29
    Likes Received:0
    I had low coolant warning once on 2006 330xi

    I had low coolant warning once on 2006 330xi
    took to dealership and they topped it off for free. You can also buy the BMW coolant by the bottle at the dealership. Car has 111k miles now.

Share This Page