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X3 E83 (2004 - 2010)
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  #1  
Old 09-07-2011, 11:31 AM
pburnett pburnett is offline
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Transfer Case Actuator potential free fix!

A couple weeks ago, I got the "terrible triad" of lights (ABS, 4x4, and Brake). Recently, I got the clicking noise after turning the car off and was able to determine that it was coming from a transfer case. Using several posts from here, especially this one:

http://www.bimmerfest.com/forums/sho...6&postcount=19

I bought a new transfer case actuator and installed it. Problem solved, no lights, no clicking, all better. It is not a cheap part at 720 bucks from getbmwparts.com, and 900 bucks elsewhere, so the engineer in me wanted to figure out why they were failing.

Which brings me to the purpose of this post. I disected the old actuator to find out what the heck is going on inside it. I appologize for the huge pictures, but some sort of resolution was needed to describe what I was trying to say.

What the actuator looks like when off the car:


And broken down into the pieces: Bottom right is the motor, top right is the brush assembly, top left is a guard of some sort that pops off (albeit bent and unusable once you have it off) and the bottom left is the gear assembly (we'll focus on this one)


After I popped off the oil guard piece, here is what the inside looked like, a ton of shavings and grease.


and closer:



So you can see the motor turns a worm gear which is mated to a black gear (which is made of plastic !!!) Eventually, this gear wears down like crazy and doesnt have any teeth left to grip the worm gear. This is what causes the slipping, and the error lights, and especially the clicking sound.

In this photo, you can see the change from good gear area to the bad area. The good area is on the left, and as you follow the black gear around to the right, you can see where it has been worn down from sitting all the time.




So, I went farther. I took off the black gear to see what it looked like:
Good side (what it should look like everywhere):


Bad side (Cause of the problem)


POTENTIAL SOLUTION:

So now we know what the cause is, how can we fix it? It has been (from my research) that everyone just buys a new actuator. Yes, it fixes the problem, I can vouch for that, but I don't know how many other people looked into what CAUSED the problem.

I bet you could unbolt the motor from the gear housing assembly (it is held on by 4 torx bolts that come off quite easily compared to trying to remove the actuator from the car).
Mark a location of the current position on the white plastic gear you can see in the first photo. After the motor is unbolted and removed (ONLY THE MOTOR, DONT DESTROY YOUR ACTUATOR AND TAKE THE WHOLE THING APART!!!!), turn the white plastic gear 180 degrees from its current location. This takes the bad part of the gear and puts it where it will not get used, which means that a good part is now in contact with the worm gear.

Re-insert the motor and bolt back together. This should give you, say another 65k miles (when mine failed) or so before you likely have to replace the actuator. Re-install on your transfer case, and voila! you should be good to go with only an hour or so of your time wasted instead of time and 900 bucks.

I haven't tried this, so try it at your own risk, but with pulling everything apart, it seems like a pretty safe bet, but obviously I can't be held responsible if something does go wrong.

Hope perhaps it can save someone almost a thousand dollars. I believe my logic is sound, but I look forward to your comments!
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  #2  
Old 09-07-2011, 12:07 PM
spokelizard spokelizard is offline
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Brilliant!

Great idea, great documentation. Hope I never have to do this, but I'll definitely keep it in my arsenal.

Another BMW plastic part causes major problems. You didn't say, but I assume that the little plastic gear can't be purchased as a separate part.
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  #3  
Old 09-07-2011, 12:40 PM
bluskye bluskye is offline
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Was the actuator difficult to replace? Do you have a DIY?
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  #4  
Old 09-07-2011, 02:02 PM
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timfitz63 timfitz63 is offline
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OK. Engineer here. Not quite following your description of the gear reversal and how that 'fixes' the problem, so maybe I'm missing something critical, but:

I don't think reversing (or simply rotating, if that's what you're suggesting) the exposed white gear 180 degrees will correct the problem. Yes, that could re-position a 'good' portion of the black gear onto the worm gear, but regardless of how the gears are positioned, as all of them turn, the black gear will rotate until its worn portion reaches the worm gear, then it stops turning again. This will happen within one rotation of the black gear.

Based on the wear that you highlighted on the black gear, I think it would have to be replaced -- if one can find the part...
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  #5  
Old 09-07-2011, 02:16 PM
pburnett pburnett is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by timfitz63 View Post
OK. Engineer here. Not quite following your description of the gear reversal and how that 'fixes' the problem, so maybe I'm missing something critical, but:

I don't think reversing (or simply rotating, if that's what you're suggesting) the exposed white gear 180 degrees will correct the problem. Yes, that could re-position a 'good' portion of the black gear onto the worm gear, but regardless of how the gears are positioned, as all of them turn, the black gear will rotate until its worn portion reaches the worm gear, then it stops turning again. This will happen within one rotation of the black gear.

Based on the wear that you highlighted on the black gear, I think it would have to be replaced -- if one can find the part...
It looked to me that the black gear doesn't turn the whole way around, only really over that worn area. I believe BMW used a full gear as to ease the installation (not having to worry about the position you put it in)

If it continuously rotated around, woundn't the gear wear more evenly and not in a single spot about the length of the worm gear?

Again, I guess it might not be a fix per say, but it could seriously delay the need to spend 900 bucks.

Just a thought.

Last edited by pburnett; 09-07-2011 at 02:17 PM.
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  #6  
Old 09-07-2011, 02:45 PM
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timfitz63 timfitz63 is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by pburnett View Post
It looked to me that the black gear doesn't turn the whole way around, only really over that worn area. I believe BMW used a full gear as to ease the installation (not having to worry about the position you put it in)...
Maybe I need to fiddle with it myself, like you have, to really see what's going on there. But what you're describing wouldn't be consistent with how a worm gear and a cog gear typically interact.

Quote:
Originally Posted by pburnett View Post
... If it continuously rotated around, woundn't the gear wear more evenly and not in a single spot about the length of the worm gear...?
It may have worn evenly until it failed; you'd have to compare the teeth on the gear you extracted from your actuator to a brand new gear.

But I think what's happening is that these plastic gears are not durable enough; they either have a weak spot or just get 'chewed up' by the metal worm gear over time. I'm actually rather shocked that BMW even used plastic cogs inside a transfer case, but...

All is not lost, though; you did a good job in isolating the weak component in the actuator! Hopefully someone can zero in on a supplier for those black gears (they've gotta come from somewhere...), and we can all re-build our failed xDrive actuators!
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  #7  
Old 09-07-2011, 03:16 PM
Supercourse Supercourse is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by timfitz63 View Post

But I think what's happening is that these plastic gears are not durable enough; they either have a weak spot or just get 'chewed up' by the metal worm gear over time. I'm actually rather shocked that BMW even used plastic cogs inside a transfer case, but...
I was surprised that even garage door opener motors have those nylon worm drive gears.

Recently took apart one - same sort of thing. The plastic just gets badly chewed up in one section.

The repair guy said it happens randomly, through bad luck.
They otherwise work fine for well over 10 years.

As you say, a weak point in the plastic, or maybe things get slightly out of alignment and the damage is started.

May be the same for the transfer case actuator - some will have that problem, but not inevitable.
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  #8  
Old 09-07-2011, 03:57 PM
pburnett pburnett is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by timfitz63 View Post
Maybe I need to fiddle with it myself, like you have, to really see what's going on there. But what you're describing wouldn't be consistent with how a worm gear and a cog gear typically interact.
I see what you are saying. I figured that the gear had, say, 90 degrees of freedom in rotation (on/off on either side of the 90) for actuated/non-actuated. So the real question when the actuator is active, does it spin the black gear constantly or does it stop at some point? I have no idea. Really, it is because I don't know what or how the inside of the X3 transfer case works or looks like, but I am beginning to think you may be correct. Unfortunatly, I don't see a way to get to the black gear without doing some serious damage to the cover that I pulled off, so even if you had found a replacement, I don't think you can get to it to just replace it, but maybe with some luck you can.

Just for reference, I attached kind of what I was talking about in the picture. I'm just wondering if maybe the motor goes forward/reverse to turn on and off something with the transfer case. something like this would cause only this area to be used. Not the best solution for it, but likely cheap and easy to manufacture.
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  #9  
Old 09-21-2011, 05:37 AM
UberXY UberXY is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by timfitz63 View Post
OK. Engineer here. Not quite following your description of the gear reversal and how that 'fixes' the problem, so maybe I'm missing something critical, but:

I don't think reversing (or simply rotating, if that's what you're suggesting) the exposed white gear 180 degrees will correct the problem. Yes, that could re-position a 'good' portion of the black gear onto the worm gear, but regardless of how the gears are positioned, as all of them turn, the black gear will rotate until its worn portion reaches the worm gear, then it stops turning again. This will happen within one rotation of the black gear.

Based on the wear that you highlighted on the black gear, I think it would have to be replaced -- if one can find the part...

The gears do not rotate all the way around, just a subset of degrees. That's why the gear wears out in one spot and the fix works.
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  #10  
Old 09-07-2011, 02:19 PM
pburnett pburnett is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by bluskye View Post
Was the actuator difficult to replace? Do you have a DIY?
It wasn't too bad. You need external torx sockets, but after I got that, it wasn't bad. I'll try and post the DIY someone else wrote that I followed with some of my own notes.
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  #11  
Old 09-12-2011, 05:34 PM
pburnett pburnett is offline
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no one has tried it, you would be thre first one!

I'm really curious as to if it would work. It might, it might not. Do you have the clicking noise when you turn off the car from underneath?

To do the "fix", all you have to do is unbolt the actuator motor (I think you said you did this already), turn the white gear 180 degrees, and put the motor back in. The worm gear will seat itself properly (I have tried this with my messed up one, so you should have nothing to worry about). Reinstall and then let us know!

If you can drive a few times and try to push the X-drive system so that it has to work, and report back many of us would be very eager to hear how it works. Good luck!
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  #12  
Old 09-13-2011, 01:42 PM
dannyy06 dannyy06 is offline
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Already done!!!!!!!!!

IT WORKS..........

been driving the whole day without any problem and without the lights coming back on
and no clicking sound when turning the engine off.

Thanks for the help this was a successful experiment that save me lot of $$$$$$$$
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  #13  
Old 09-13-2011, 01:47 PM
pburnett pburnett is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by dannyy06 View Post
Already done!!!!!!!!!

IT WORKS..........

been driving the whole day without any problem and without the lights coming back on
and no clicking sound when turning the engine off.

Thanks for the help this was a successful experiment that save me lot of $$$$$$$$
HECK YES!!!!!! too bad it cost me to find out, be it sounds like we have a fix that will delay the need to change the whole assembly.
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  #14  
Old 09-13-2011, 01:52 PM
dannyy06 dannyy06 is offline
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Eventually a new one its going to be needed but my has 66000 miles, lets hope that it last another 66000 .......

thanks again.
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  #15  
Old 09-13-2011, 02:03 PM
crenninger crenninger is offline
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maybe when doing the 180 turn, do a little less, then you can do it twice... like turn only 1/3 it doesn't look like the engagement is using more than a 1/3 turn.

Also while in there, why not adding some grease to reduce friction and thus lifetime?
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  #16  
Old 09-13-2011, 02:14 PM
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timfitz63 timfitz63 is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by dannyy06 View Post
Already done!!!!!!!!!

IT WORKS..........

been driving the whole day without any problem and without the lights coming back on
and no clicking sound when turning the engine off.

Thanks for the help this was a successful experiment that save me lot of $$$$$$$$
Well, sorry to rain on the parade, but don't celebrate just yet...

Are you certain that you fully exercised the xDrive so that the full range of torque transfer was explored? If not, you might discover that the black gear will end up slipping at some stage -- like during inclement weather...

I recommend cautious optimism. Hopefully "pburnett's" idea will stand the test of time, but let's see how your system handles this 'shade tree repair' as winter sets in... Honestly, I hope it bears itself out successfully!
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  #17  
Old 09-13-2011, 02:20 PM
pburnett pburnett is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by timfitz63 View Post
Well, sorry to rain on the parade, but don't celebrate just yet...

Are you certain that you fully exercised the xDrive so that the full range of torque transfer was explored? If not, you might discover that the black gear will end up slipping at some stage -- like during inclement weather...

I recommend cautious optimism. Hopefully "pburnett's" idea will stand the test of time, but let's see how your system handles this 'shade tree repair' as winter sets in... Honestly, I hope it bears itself out successfully!

I agree 100%. I'm optimistic now, but the true test would be winter, and unfortunatly, as the poster who did the fix is in Puerto Rico, we may not see it. I recommend finding some loose dirt or gravel roads and make the xDrive work. Then, we will see if it truely is possible to delay buying a new actuator.
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  #18  
Old 09-13-2011, 02:25 PM
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timfitz63 timfitz63 is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by pburnett View Post
I agree 100%. I'm optimistic now, but the true test would be winter, and unfortunatly, as the poster who did the fix is in Puerto Rico, we may not see it. I recommend finding some loose dirt or gravel roads and make the xDrive work. Then, we will see if it truely is possible to delay buying a new actuator.
Ah, yeah. I missed his location on the first pass... Not much snow down in Puerto Rico, huh...?

Your suggestion is probably a good one, though: find some gravel, sand, or loose soil. Next heavy rain shower should give some indications as well...

Let us know how it pans out, "dannyy06!"
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  #19  
Old 10-18-2011, 06:23 PM
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Evlengr Evlengr is offline
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I like the pix and all, but looks like the gear stuck in place and the worm just sat there and ate through it. So not the gearing that caused the issue, but that it seized at some point and the cylindrical gear just chewed it up.
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  #20  
Old 11-05-2011, 09:22 AM
rbanna rbanna is offline
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Its working now,,,

I followed your steps and all my systems are working perfect, ABS, 4x4, Self level suspention and Stability system all working fine, I have removed the motor by my self in 30 min, then I opened the motor to shift the gear by 180 degree, now its working properly, thank you very very very much for the help, I have saved around 2000AED like 400$ for used one,

Thsnks again boss
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  #21  
Old 11-05-2011, 09:26 AM
rbanna rbanna is offline
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Its working fine now...;)

I followed your steps and all my systems are working perfect, ABS, 4x4, Self level suspention and Stability system all working fine, I have removed the motor by my self in 30 min, then I opened the motor to shift the gear by 180 degree, now its working properly, thank you very very very much for the help, I have saved around 2000AED like 400$ for used one,

Thanks again boss
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  #22  
Old 01-10-2012, 06:18 PM
monty802 monty802 is offline
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Actuator Motor Access Issues

I've been experiencing the "3 Light" issue along with the "clicking" noise when turning off ignition. Got up under the car this evening to remove the actuator motor and turn the gear to see if it would resolve the problem but ran into access issues. I've got a support bar and a splash guard that runs from just past the transfer case to the rear bumper that is limiting my view and ability to get a socket wrench to the torx bolts. From the sounds of it, some of you have had a pretty easy go at getting to the motor and getting it off. Is my undercarriage cluttered more than yours or am I failing to see the easy route. Any suggestions would be appreciated.
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  #23  
Old 01-20-2012, 07:41 PM
micuzzu42 micuzzu42 is offline
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I turned the black gear 180 and it works fine i am in canada alot of snow here and had no problems
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  #24  
Old 03-24-2012, 01:42 PM
desertviking desertviking is offline
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Update to repair

In my former post I said that I noticed 3 cracks on the bottom of the white nylon gear.
I decided to take it apart again and reinforce the gear with a sleeve. I found a 1 1/4 inch brass drain pipe that fit exactly. Not only is it very thin so that it doesn't interfere, but it is just small enough so that it tightens up the cracks in the gear. I decided to reinforce the top of the gear as well that connects to the transfer case.
I feel that the nylon gear in the cause of the problem. When the black gear tries to turn it, it expands enough for the teeth to get stuck.
I have attached pictures to explain.

Hope this helps.

Lars
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  #25  
Old 05-26-2014, 12:28 PM
Monkeydub Monkeydub is offline
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Wrong post.

Last edited by Monkeydub; 05-26-2014 at 12:29 PM.
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