BMW Bluetooth audio issues (such as random disconnects) are affecting many users, making it difficult or impossible to stream audio (music) or to make phone calls.
The good news is that you’re not alone. The bad news is there’s no fix — other than buying a car that has Apple CarPlay.
BMW makes great cars, but they often fail miserably in the technology and infotainment area. I would argue that BMW’s downhill trend started around the time Apple released the iPhone 5 and BMW decided not to make a snap-in adapter. BMW promised it would come, but they still didn’t have one for the iPhone 5(s) when Apple released the iPhone 6 two years later.
Since then, BMW’s support for the iPhone (and potentially other phone models) has gone down the drain. The iPhone X/iPhone XS I own right now was pretty much unusable in my 2016 BMW X4.
A few months ago, we finally switched from the X4 to an Acura MDX with Apple CarPlay. Since then, we haven’t had a single issue with iOS 12!
The only hope is CarPlay, which BMW also dragged its feet to offer. Fortunately, the German carmaker started offering it with its 2017 lineup — for a fee! Yes, you have to pay extra to use your iPhone in a BMW!
BMW Bluetooth Not Working
I have had connectivity issues with both my 2013 X5 and 2016 X4 and various iPhone models, including an iPhone 5s, iPhone 6, iPhone 7 Plus and iPhone X, running a variety of iOS versions. While none of my iPhones ever worked flawlessly in any BMW car, I never had any issues with other Bluetooth-connected devices.
As a result, it’s pretty obvious that BMW’s Bluetooth implementation is the culprit, and it’s more than embarrassing (and infuriating) that they haven’t been able to fix it.
Bluetooth Audio Issues With 2013 BMW X5
BMW Bluetooth Audio Streaming Issues
With my 2013 BMW X5, I ran into a Bluetooth audio issue related to streaming audio via Bluetooth from an iPhone 5s on iOS 7 while the phone was connected via USB. At the time, I had both my wife’s iPhone 5 and my iPhone 5s paired with the vehicle.
It turned out that as soon as I connected my iPhone via the USB port under the armrest, BMW’s iDrive software would disable Bluetooth audio for my iPhone. Of course, unplugging the phone from USB would not turn Bluetooth audio back on. I had to do that manually every single time I plugged in my iPhone via USB.
You can quickly reproduce the problem by plugging in your phone via USB and navigating to the corresponding setting under Telephone > Bluetooth (phone) > [my iPhone] > Options [Button] > Configure Phone.
If I tried to check “Audio” while my phone was plugged into USB, I got the following error message:
“Audio via USB is not supported by Michael’s iPhone 5 with Bluetooth audio activated. Bluetooth audio was deactivated for Michael’s iPhone 5. Please activate USB audio if necessary.”
Of course, activating it was what triggered this error in the first place. So I called BMW customer service, but the friendly customer care agent on the phone didn’t have a solution. She mentioned that iOS 7 was just recently released and BMW hadn’t had a chance to test it yet. I didn’t want to waste time explaining to her that Beta versions of iOS 7 had been available for months. Her suggestion was to delete all paired devices and try again.
I didn’t think re-pairing everything would make a difference, and instead decided to Google for a solution. It turned out I was not the only one with this issue; someone on one of the BMW forums I found pointed out that Bluetooth audio is unavailable while the iPhone is connected to the car via USB.
The “Solution” Is Not to Connect Your Phone Via USB
As a result, I refrained from connecting my iPhone via USB, checked Audio in the Bluetooth settings and voilà — no error message, and audio streamed flawlessly via Bluetooth.
BMW finally, albeit partially, fixed the problem in their 2016 lineup. With our 2016 X4, I still cannot stream audio via Bluetooth while my phone is connected via USB, but at least the car automatically re-enables Bluetooth audio when I disconnect the phone from USB.
Bluetooth Audio Issues With 2016 BMW X4
When the lease of our 2013 X5 ended, we picked up a 2016 BMW X4. While it still didn’t support CarPlay, Bluetooth worked well in the beginning and most of the Bluetooth audio issues had been resolved.
Bluetooth and Smartphone Integration
The 2016 BMW X4 still has some minor problems and lacks Apple’s CarPlay technology, but at least BMW appears to have fixed the following Bluetooth audio issues affecting devices running iOS 7 through iOS 10.
You can now reliably stream audio via Bluetooth. When I connect my iPhone via USB, the audio stream almost instantaneously switches to USB. Disconnecting the iPhone from USB switches audio streaming back to Bluetooth.
In the past, Bluetooth streaming was completely disabled upon connecting a phone via USB. Re-enabling it meant digging through the settings, which was a major pain in the butt.
Audio Resumes After Ending a Call
In the past, audio streaming would not continue after completing a call on a connected phone. And since there was no “Play” button on the X5, I had to resume audio streaming directly on the phone itself. The 2016 BMW X4 automatically continues audio streaming after a call ends.
The X5 didn’t handle multiple connected phones very well. In the new model, it’s easy to switch back and forth between two connected phones. That’s helpful when both my wife and I are in the vehicle while both of our iPhones are connected.
Long-pressing the Voice Command button on the steering wheel triggers Siri. That’s awesome, and a welcome enhancement to the driving experience.
Features the 2016 BMW X4 Does Not Support
According to BMW’s Bluetooth Compatibility Check, the following features are not supported in combination with an iPhone 6S Plus:
- Display contact images
- All Office features
- Playing videos
I can live with those limitations!
Useless Snap-in Adapter
BMW still has an entirely useless phone cradle with certain options like the 6NS ENHANCED TELEPHONY WITH EXTENDED SM. BMW doesn’t sell a snap-in adapter for newer iPhone models, such as the iPhone 6 or iPhone 6 Plus, rendering the cradle useless. You cannot remove the cradle, and it takes up most of the compartment under the armrest without providing any useful function.
Bluetooth Issues With iPhone X/Xs and iOS 11+
While we didn’t have any major issues with our iPhone 7 Plus or our iPhone 6, the Bluetooth issues resurfaced when my wife and I upgraded to the iPhone X running iOS 11.
As of this writing, our phones are almost unusable in combination with our 2016 X4. The problems seem to be aggravated when both phones are connected to the car at the same time. If that happens, one of us has to manually disconnect from the car via Settings > Bluetooth in iOS.
But even when I’m alone in the car, audio streaming via Bluetooth often stutters, and it usually takes a few minutes before the phone even appears as connected under the car’s Multimedia menu.
BMW USB Audio Interface Not Working
Making the situation even worse is the USB port under the armrest, which has become incredibly unreliable. It appears as if the car loses its connection with the phone every few seconds, making audio streaming and charging via USB almost impossible.
I have tried multiple cables and different phones, but I experience the same problem with all of them. That tells me that the USB port may be defective. As a result, I took the car to the dealer to have the USB port checked out. Of course, they couldn’t reproduce the problem with their phones. BMW can never reproduce any of the issues, and always acts like they have never heard of these problems.
Nevertheless, they agreed to order a replacement port and they promised to call me when the part arrived. That was two months ago, and I still haven’t heard back from the dealer.
Troubleshooting Steps That Haven’t Worked (for Me)
Below are a few of the troubleshooting steps that your BMW dealer or Apple Genius might recommend. None of them have worked for me, but it doesn’t hurt to run through the ones you feel might help:
- Delete all paired Bluetooth devices (BMW) and the Bluetooth accessory (car) in iOS, then enable pairing mode to re-pair the devices
- Update iOS software (this often makes the situation worse)
- Factory reset the iPhone (a huge waste of time)
- Reset your phone’s network settings (iOS)
- Turn airplane mode on and off
- Replace the head unit (BMW)
- Disable Bluetooth, then turn Bluetooth back on
Frequently Asked Questions
I have blamed BMW for my iPhone not working in the car. However, you could argue it might also be Apple’s fault. iOS has had bugs, and I’m sure those bugs have impacted the Bluetooth connectivity in cars.
However, considering how reliable the iPhone works in most other car models, and the fact that BMW has never released an update for their cars to fix potential bugs in their Bluetooth framework, I’d argue it’s BMW’s fault.
What’s important to understand is that BMW, much like any other registered Apple developer, gets new versions of iOS way ahead of the public. Every year, at Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC), developers get Beta releases of the new iOS version before we get them in October.
Apple does that so that developers can test their apps and services to ensure they’re compatible with iOS. BMW either never does that integration testing, or they do and decide not to make any corrections. Either way, it’s BMW that’s to blame here.
That’s a great question that I don’t have an answer for. I have never used an Android device and most users who stumble upon this blog use an iPhone. If you have experience with Android phones or know someone who has or hasn’t had issues, please let me know by leaving a comment below!
For cars without Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, the ultimate fix is for BMW to release a firmware update for the iDrive software package. I have not seen BMW doing that, so I wouldn’t hold my breath. My guess is they just wanted to wait for CarPlay to get released, and they don’t care about older models that don’t have it.
If you’re OK with losing some fidelity, you could also try a third-party Bluetooth receiver for your car, such as the ones they sell on Amazon*.
BMW and Apple CarPlay
BMW recently announced that they would start charging a subscription fee for CarPlay. Seriously, BMW? You fucked us owners over with crappy technology and phone support for years, and now you want to charge us a subscription fee for a feature you should have added years ago?
That move is ridiculous — especially considering that Apple doesn’t charge carmakers to integrate CarPlay technology.
BMW and iPhone Bluetooth Audio Issue
The good experience I had with iOS 9 and the iPhone 6 didn’t last very long. It looks like BMW is incapable of keeping up to date when newer iPhones and iOS versions are released. Personally, I have waited long enough for BMW to get their act together and fix all these Bluetooth issues.
What’s your experience with BMW Bluetooth audio issues in newer models? Let me know by leaving a comment below!