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Pelican Technical Article:

BMW E30 and E36 3 Series On Board Diagnostics
Jared Fenton

Difficulty Level: 2
Difficulty scale: Adding air to your tires is level one
Rebuilding a BMW Motor is level ten

     Did you know that your BMW 3 Series has an internal diagnostic program built into the computer? Not many people know about this. On the BMW 3 Series, there is a way that you can diagnose common engine problems without having to purchase a code tool or take it to the dealer to have it scanned. This is one of those neat little features of the Service Indicator Computer; the series of lights directly under the tachometer and speedometer that remind you to change the oil and perform service. In this tech article, I will provide you with the procedure for checking the fault codes and what the codes mean. This guide will help you to diagnose any possible problems with your car.

     This article is written for both the BMW E30 and E36 3 Series cars (up to 95) and should work on both models where a Service Indicator Computer is used. I will go over the small differences between the early and late cars, as they differ slightly. Keep in mind that this procedure will not work on early cars with Motronic 1.1.  

     Now on the E30 models, get in the car and put the key in the ignition and turn it to the second turn or “ON” position, but do not start the car. Now, press the accelerator pedal all the way to the floor, then let it release all the way back. Now repeat the depress/release cycle 4 more times fairly quickly, but not too fast. It may take some time to get this timing down correct. It should only take you a few seconds to do this. What this does is activate the wide-open throttle switch and the idle switch 5 times. This then sends a signal to the Motronic ECU to send fault codes to the Service Indicator Light.

     On the E36 models, the procedure works the same way, but the timing at which you press/release the gas pedal is faster than on the E30. Just keep at it, and you will eventually get the correct speed.

     Watch the “Check Engine” light. It should blink once, and then start blinking a series of four numbers. For instance, say this is a sequence you see… the light blinks once, then twice, then four times and lastly four times. If you read it correctly this means that the SI light is reading out the code 1244 (faulty camshaft sensor) The codes appear as a series of flashes for each digit. The flashes indicating one digit are about one second apart, the next digit will appear after a couple seconds interval. If there are no faults in the car, the computer will flash out the number 1444.

Here is the list of codes and what they indicate.

1211      DME Control Unit               

1215      Air Mass Sensor                 

1216      Throttle Potentiometer        

1218      Output Stage, Group 1

1219      Output Stage, Group 2

1221      Oxygen Sensor 1                   

1212      Oxygen Sensor 2                   

1222      Lambda Control 1                 

1213      Lambda Control 2                  

1223      Coolant Temperature Sensor   

1224      Intake Air Temperature Sensor

1225      Knock Sensor 1

1226      Knock Sensor 2

1227      Knock Sensor 3

1228      Knock Sensor 4

1231      Battery Voltage/DME Main Relay

1232      Throttle Idle Switch

1233      Throttle Wide Open Throttle Switch

1234      Speedometer A Signal

1237      A/C Compressor Cut Off

1242      A/C Compressor

1243      Crankshaft Pulse Sensor

1244      Camshaft Sensor

1245      Intervention AEGS

1247      Ignition Secondary Monitor

1251      Fuel Injector 1 (or group 1)

1252      Fuel Injector 2 (or group 2)

1253      Fuel Injector 3

1254      Fuel Injector 4

1255      Fuel Injector 5

1256      Fuel Injector 6

1257      Fuel Injector 7

1258      Fuel Injector 8

1261      Fuel Pump Relay Control

1262      Idle Speed Actuator

1263      Purge Valve

1264      EGO Heater

1265      Fault Lamp (check engine light)

1266      VANOS

1267      Air Pump Relay Control

1271      Ignition Coil 1

1272      Ignition Coil 2

1273      Ignition Coil 3

1274      Ignition Coil 4

1275      Ignition Coil 5

1276      Ignition Coil 6

1277      Ignition Coil 7

1278      Ignition Coil 8

1281      Control Unit Memory Supply

1282      Fault Code Memory

1283      Fuel Injector Output Stage

1286      Knock Control Test Pulse

1444      No Fault Codes  

     Well, there you have it - it's really not too difficult at all.  If you would like to see more technical articles like this one, please continue to support Pelican Parts with all your parts needs.  If you like what you see here, then please visit our online BMW catalog and help support the collection and creating of new and informative technical articles like this one.  Your continued support directly affects the expansion and existence of this site and technical articles like this one.  As always, if you have any questions or comments about this helpful article, please drop us a line.

Comments and Suggestions:
lola J Comments: does this release procedure work on 1996 318is, if there a procedure that does work to give me a code?
March 20, 2014
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: " This article is written for both the BMW E30 and E36 3 Series cars (up to 95"

You will need a BMW scan tool to read the codes. - Nick at Pelican Parts
Aviator Comments: I'm the original owner of an '89 M3. The car is totally stock. I have made no modifications. I have bad idle, bad mpg, smelly exhaust. I'm trying to read the codes out using your procedure of 1 slow depress and release of accelerater, followed by 4 more quickly. I can't get any codes to readout. Does your procedure apply to E30 M3's. This may have nothing to do with getting the readout to respond but I have the original sticker on the shock tower in the engine compartment that reads "OBD Exempt" which I understand means On Board Diagnostics Exempt. I need to show this sticker to novice smog testers from time to time.
January 7, 2013
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: The procedure may not apply to your M3. Some tools can connect through the BMW diagnostic connector. - Nick at Pelican Parts  
hotrodln Comments: thanks for the free tech article. I was shopping for a code reader when i found it. You will have my continued business! Pat
August 1, 2011
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: - Nick at Pelican Parts

Thanks for the feedback, keep checking in for more tech advise.
JPC Comments: Title should indicate 95 and earlier - shouldn't have to read the article to find out it doesn't apply
June 21, 2009
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: - Nick at Pelican Parts

Thanks for the feedback.

Got more questions?  Join us in our BMW Technical Forum Message Board, and ask a question to one of our many automotive experts.
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