A malfunctioning lock mechanism, a fault counter reaching a threshold limit, a worn battery, or a faulty 30g relay on the E90 series can all cause steering lock malfunction. You’d eventually be unable to start the engine.
The problem is usually fixed with a simple fault counter reset, battery, or relay replacement.
I’ll go over the most common causes and how to troubleshoot the problem in this article.
Let’s get going.
How Does Steering Lock Fault Counter Work?
The CAS control unit stores the internal steering lock counter. The steering lock current is measured by the software algorithm, and when the lock mechanism draws too much current, the error is logged. The fault counter is incremented by one every time the steering column lock struggles to unlock.
Yellow vs. Red Steering Lock Light
The CAS module will illuminate the YELLOW steering lock malfunction light on the dashboard and iDrive after an xxx number of registered faults (depending on the model and SW version). The CAS module will ultimately (very soon) trigger the RED steering lock light and prohibit the engine from starting if the fault is not addressed.
Steering Column Tension on Lock Cylinder
Always avoid locking the steering wheel when under tension (eg. at full lock or while holding the steering wheel). The electric motor will struggle to release the lock cylinder due to pressure from the steering column, and the CAS module will register the fault.
Repeated faults will result in a yellow, then a red malfunction warning, which will prevent your BMW from starting.
So, to avoid these faults put the front wheels in a straight-ahead position before removing the key from the slot.
Solution: Reset the ELV fault counter and change your habit.
The red steering lock warning can be caused by a worn battery or a defective IBS sensor. The reason is straightforward: the steering lock motor lacks sufficient electricity to unlock the steering column. In rare instances, the CAS module can prevent the engine from starting.
This happened to me once on E84 X1, which is basically the E91. The battery was replaced, however, the replacement was not registered, as I detailed in this article. The first sign I noticed was that when I unlocked the car, the welcome lights did not turn on, and the clock was reset.
I drove the car like this for a few days before deciding to investigate the issue. The red steering lock malfunction notice emerged on the second, or third, day, I’m not sure, upon starting the car for the first time in the morning.
Nevertheless, the car started and it never appeared again.
Solution: Replace and register a new battery or repair the IBS fault.
How to Reset Internal ELV Fault Counter
With BMW’s ISTA, Toolset32, or any other diagnostic scanner that has this feature, you can reset the ELVcounter. My preferred tool is Toolset32, as it can be done in seconds.
The internal counter will begin counting faults from zero after a successful reset. So, if you lock the steering wheel under strain again, or if the lock mechanism itself doesn’t work smoothly, the malfunction notice will display very shortly.
If that happens after reset, and it’s not your habit’s fault, you will need to remove the steering column from your BMW and clean and grease the locking mechanism. Of course, you always have an option to take your car to a dealer or indy and install a new steering column for about $2k, or more (you can’t buy the lock mechanism without the complete steering column).
I changed a few E90 steering columns when they were still relatively new. And the pricing is reasonable for a BMW worth $30-40,000.
I’ve also reset hundreds of ELV counters and advised owners on steering column tension over the years. Only three or four of those BMWs required steering column lock replacement. You can now assume that resetting the ELV counter is a rather safe bet.
Always check the current I-Level and update the CAS module with the latest software! You can update the I-Level with ISTA/P or only the CAS module with WinKFP. The best practice is to always update the CAS when resetting the ELV fault counter.
BMW Tool32 ELV Counter Reset (Without Ignition)
If you are familiar with tool32, simply load the CAS.prg file and run the “steuern_elvcounter_cas_loeschen” and “steuern_elvcounter_elv_loeschen”. To run the job, double-click each item and wait for the “Job Done” popup to appear.
Reset The ELV Counter Using ISTA
If you are unable to turn on the ignition, manually enter the VIN in ISTA to identify it. Now go to the “Reset ELV Counter” (Body) service function and follow the procedure.
Reset The ELV Counter Using AUTEL
Many generic diagnostic scanners, such as Autel, offer the ability to reset the ELV counter.
If none of these methods worked, it is not over yet. Besides replacing the steering column, you also have these options.
Disable ELV With Software
Some BMW models do not have ELV at all, depending on the market and production year. That means no steering lock and, as a result, no issues. On cars with CAS3 and CAS3+ modules, this is possible.
On early models with CAS2 (white box), you must replace the module with CAS3.
This method requires reading the EEPROM from the board and flashing it with modified software. I’ve never tried this, but if you have the right equipment companies like Eurolab can modify the software for you in a couple of minutes by uploading it to their server.
In theory, you could use WinKFP to flash the CAS module without the ELV. For this, you’ll have to identify your CAS by ZUSB number and find a compatible ZUSB of the non-ELV model, if it exists.
I’ve never tried it and have no intention of doing so. If you have any additional information, please post it in the comments section or send me an email so that we can share it with others.
If nothing else works to fix the ELV problem, there’s still the ELV emulator. The emulator will essentially deactivate the electric steering lock and transmit fake digital telegrams to the CAS module.
If you decide to go this route, you’ll need to remove the steering column from the car, remove the electric steering lock altogether, install the column and connect the emulator to the ELV connector.
No coding or programming is necessary, but you’ll still need to reset the fault counter (if the limit is reached).
And we reached the end of the list of possible solutions for ELV malfunction warning.
There are a few more things to consider while troubleshooting the fault because some symptoms can lead you in the wrong direction.
Faulty 30G Relay or JBE Power Supply
Early models are particularly prone to this issue. The symptom is similar to that of a steering lock fault in that you are unable to turn on the ignition. I’ve seen at least a dozen folks try to reset counters, and replace steering locks, CAS units, and other things, all to no avail.
Reading the fault codes will be quite helpful, but you’ll require ISTA. ISTA can read the fault memory even when the ignition is turned off.
You’ll get 50+ error codes if the problem is with a 30G relay. If the lock counter hits its limit, you’ll only get lock counter faults.
The other issues I’ve seen were faulty junction boxes or, more often, a power supply cable on junction boxes.
Below are a few interesting videos about the topic.
Replacing the faulty 30G relay
Replacing the junction box power cable:
Replacing the faulty junction (fuse) box: