In this article I’ll go over the most common Bluetooth pairing and connectivity issues I’ve run into over the years. We’ll also look at issues with voice quality and poor reception. I hope that by reading this post, you will gain a better understanding of the system and be able to troubleshoot difficulties more effectively.
So, let’s get started.
Most Common BMW Bluetooth Problems
Bluetooth issues in BMW include call dropouts, music that won’t play despite a good connection, phones that won’t pair with the car, and poor voice quality at high speeds, to name a few.
Despite the fact that the symptoms vary, the main cause is virtually always in software. Or the bug in the software, if you want. Both in your phone and in your BMW.
While troubleshooting Bluetooth issues, I’ve exchanged quite a bit of control units and antennas, only to discover that the biggest offender is actually the bug in smartphone software.
Let’s have a look at some of these faults.
Bluetooth Keeps Disconnecting
You begin a conversation and the connection drops just as you are about to make a point. The music begins to play, and you must take over the call using your phone. So, over the years I’ve discovered that the smartphone’s software is usually to fault for this problem.
This happened in 2022 with the iPhone iOS update. In this case, the Bluetooth connection will usually hold fine for the first two or three calls, depending on the call length. Then, during the next call, the phone will lose connection.
When you start the car next time, everything works as if nothing happened. This affected most BMW and MINI models.
We also encountered a similar problem with iOS 9.2.1 in 2016. The Bluetooth connection cuts out during the call and the iDrive switches to the most recent media source (e.g. radio). On the iPhone, the conversation continues. The connection is re-established in a matter of seconds, and the conversation can continue hands-free.
The issue was caused by an iOS software bug. While waiting for the official release, Apple provided users the opportunity to install the beta version of the upcoming update.
The same is true for Android devices.
However, until the “official” announcement of the flaw, BMW technicians all over the world battled to pinpoint the problem by swapping or programming iDrives and telematic control units (TCU). Of course, I’m one of them.
When the customer comes in with this complaint after this lesson, the first thing I do is disconnect their phone from the car and connect mine. I use an ancient iPhone 6 with an old iOs that I know works for this.
So, if you’re encountering problems, see if they started after you updated your phone. Remember that it might not be as obvious as you think. It’s possible that all you’ll need to do is make a couple of fast phone calls during the drive, and everything will be OK.
The AVCRP Problem
Audio/Video Remote Control Profile (AVCRP), also known as the Bluetooth profile, is a standardized interface that, among others, can control navigation and audio streaming via your BMW’s iDrive system.
When you pair your smartphone with BMW, besides the software keys, the connection also needs a propper Bluetooth profile. The profile for simple file transfers (FTP) isn’t the same as what you’d need to use your smartphone app to manage an audio player.
Generally speaking, when you update your phone with a new version of AVCRP you should also update your BMW iDrive to match the compatibility of new features.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work.
While I’m no smartphone expert, I do know that under developer mode on Android devices, you can downgrade the AVCRP version. I also know that in 100% of cases, downgrading will resolve Bluetooth connectivity issues caused by the upgrade.
This is something I learned from a customer and have tried numerous times. As far as I understand, this is not possible on iPhone.
BMW Bluetooth Software Update
Smartphones, music players, and tablets are all evolving at the same time. As a result, BMW software updates make sure that your applications and your BMW are constantly up to date.
However, although the new software releases will bring in new functionalities in AVCRP, the basic Bluetooth operating principle will remain the same.
For example, the iPhone 13 is not compatible with the 2011 BMW E90, according to BMW Bluetooth Compatibility Check. The fundamental hands-free functionality, however, will operate just fine.
The most important thing to remember is that updating your BMW’s Bluetooth software will probably not fix the problems mentioned above. While the software upgrade will add some new features, the essential Bluetooth functioning principle will not change.
Nevertheless, you should always keep your BMW’s iDrive software at the latest version.
To check if there’s an update for your BMW available, head over to the BMW Software Update site and enter your car’s VIN.
The update process is rather simple, and it takes only a few minutes.
For vehicles with over the air software update capability (OTA), the software is updated automatically:
Below is the example of the iDrive with the latest software version installed:
And here’s the example of BMW that can be updated:
If this is the case, download the Software Update Information PDF document and follow the simple instructions on how to update.
Let’s move on to tackle more troublesome flaws now that we’ve covered these software bug issues.
Bluetooth Pairing Problems
The most common pairing problems I see are the device names and passkeys.
Device Name With Special Characters
When you connect your smartphone to the vehicle, the notification “Telephone is connected” appears on the iDrive display. On the phone, the connection is marked as successful. The telephone feature, on the other hand, is unavailable.
This happens because the phone’s device name (Bluetooth name) includes icons and symbols like “smilies”.
The control unit does not recognize this style of icon and symbol formatting.
Solution: Change the device’s name on your phone. Only letters and numbers are permitted! Use the iDrive feature to erase the list of all attached Bluetooth devices to reset the control unit. Do not use any special characters (#$%&/) or emoticons (smileys) in the name of contacts or in the name of the phone.
Bluetooth Passkey Problem
If you can’t connect your phone with your BMW at all this is the first thing to try. For some to me unknown reason, BMW’s Bluetooth will not accept some passwords. I can’t even tell you how many times I solved the pairing problem just by using a simple string: 12345.
Poor Voice Quality
The other person hears continual disturbing noises during a call. Crackling or snapping noises, for example. In your car, however, these interference noises are not heard.
The issue occurs both at a stop and while driving. It makes no difference whether or not the phone is in a useless snap-in adapter.
Solution: Install the software update (UPD01006 or higher). Visit www.bmw.com/update, download the UPD file, and install the update via USB port. You can also install the update using ISTA (KISA → customer-initiated software update).
Poor Voice Quality at High Speeds
This issue can mostly be attributed to incorrect microphone installation. Phone conversations using the hands-free system at high speed are almost impossible.
The other person cannot hear you at all or very poorly. The problem can also occur when the ventilation blower is set to high. This can also affect the voice input.
On the 1-Seris F20 and 3-Series F30 with production dates 17.10.2011 to 30.06.2012. The microphone was installed incorrectly in the headliner.
The microphone’s directional feature is oriented toward the windscreen and ventilation in the event of a faulty installation. This intensifies the interference noise, particularly at high speeds.
While this was the manufacturing fault, I had a few cases where the microphone was incorrectly installed during a repair or retrofit work. This affects all BMW models.
Solution: Make sure the microphone is properly installed. The microphone’s arrow must point in the direction of travel (see illustration) and must be altered if necessary.
|1||The direction of microphone installation. The arrow must point toward the windscreen when installed.|
Also, make sure the microphone is installed correctly. The broad side faces the windscreen, while the thin side faces the back. The microphone must never be installed diagonally (90° twisted) to the vehicle’s longitudinal axis.
I should also note that the wrong microphone direction can sometimes have advantages. For example, in the 7 series (F01, F02), if the driver’s seat is set too far forward (due to small body size), the microphone direction will be aimed over the driver’s head and cause the same problems.
If this is the case, remove the microphone and reinstall it at an angle of 180° (installation direction opposite the direction of travel).
Problems With Smartphone Functions (Phone Book, Contacts, SMS, etc.)
The stored contact picture is not displayed with incoming calls and an activated split screen.
The image is displayed appropriately when the split-screen is turned off. Even for outgoing phone calls, the contact photos are always displayed appropriately.
Cause: Application software in the head unit.
Solution: Update the software with ISTA or E-Sys.
The Phone Button on The Steering Wheel Not Working
Affected models: E7X, E81, E82, E87, E88, E89, E9X, F01, F02, F04, F07, F10, F11, F12, F13, F18, F20, F25, R55, R56, R57, R58, R60.
When the ignition is turned on or the engine is started, it is not possible to use the multifunction steering wheel to operate the phone for the first time.
In such cases, the buttons for accepting and canceling calls are inactive. The phone, on the other hand, can be controlled by the controller. When you make your next call, the controls on the multifunction steering wheel are fully functioning.
Cause: Application software in the head unit.
Solution: Update the software with ISTA or E-Sys.
Troubleshooting Bluetooth problems can be a pain. I know several BMW owners who have decided to never buy another BMW because of these, despite the fact that they are usually caused by smartphone issues.
While the faults I mentioned in this article are the most prevalent off the top of my head, rest assured that this is far from a comprehensive list.
With prior experiences in mind, there’s no doubt that the advancement of Bluetooth technology will bring new challenges with each update. One may argue that technology causes more issues than it solves, but that’s a different story.
I got my Bluetooth fixed for my Android phone (Google pixel 6) by enabling developer mode and tuning Bluetooth. These settings specifically:
avrcp version 1.3
HD audio off
Number audio connections 1