hardly worth mentioning
Crashes / Fires:
0 / 0
Injuries / Deaths:
0 / 0
Average Mileage:
73,738 miles

About These NHTSA Complaints:

This data is from the NHTSA — the US gov't agency tasked with vehicle safety. Complaints are spread across multiple & redundant categories, & are not organized by problem.

So how do you find out what problems are occurring? For this NHTSA complaint data, the only way is to read through the comments below. Any duplicates or errors? It's not us.

2003 BMW 318 lights problems

lights problem

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2003 BMW 318 Owner Comments

problem #19

Apr 012016


  • miles


The zkw xenon headlights have a flaw in the plastic projector housing. The housing gets too hot and melts and the light output is severely restricted. This happens to 100% of the headlights made by this manufacturer and is a safety issue. The reflective coating on the headlights melts and the light can no longer be projected out correctly. The fog lights are now brighter then the headlights. The vehicle can no longer be safely driven at night. Spare parts are not available and the only fix is to replace the entire headlights at a cost of over $2000. There should be a recall to replace the headlights as this is a safety issue of not being able to see.

- Lincoln, NE, USA

problem #18

May 202014


  • 197,300 miles
There is limited light output from the xenon/hid headlight assemblies due to "melted" projector bowls from BMW. This is a serious safety defect that prevents end users from being able to see the road and objects ahead of them.

- Mission Viejo, CA, USA

problem #17

Jan 022012

318 6-cyl

  • 70,000 miles
Oem projector headlights burnt behind projector causing very dim lights.

- San Diego, CA, USA

problem #16

Nov 012012

318 6-cyl

  • 115,650 miles


My tail lights and turn signals work for a while then quite working. The exact same symptoms as recall #11V438000 for the same type, model and year as my car, but BMW says my vehicle is not included.

- Indianapolis, IN, USA

problem #15

Mar 242012

318 6-cyl

  • miles
Due to the plastic bowels in the headlight projectors, which are chrome like lined, and the high heat of the hid bulbs, this chrome like coating has burned off making the light output of my hid head lights very dim. The outside of the bowels have gone from a chrome like coating to a bronze/caramel color/coating. This problem is very obvious. I have had other vehicles with hid headlights, and the light output of those cars is easily double or more, to the point where alot of times I have to drive with my fog lights on just to light the road up to be able to see well enough so that I don't have a accident. I have pictures I took of the discolored bowels im talking about on my phone that I would be able to send.

- Glenn Heights, TX, USA

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problem #14

Jan 022012


  • 50,000 miles
Zkw xenon headlight reflector bowl is burned resulting in very dim light output. I am often afraid of driving at night because I feel it is a danger to my safety.

- Newnan, GA, USA

problem #13

Jun 012011


  • 150,000 miles


The contact owns a 2003 BMW 323. The contact stated that the headlights would flicker on and off. The turn signal light would also flicker abnormally. The vehicle was taken to an independent mechanic where they advised him that the taillight assembly needed to be replaced. The vehicle had not been repaired. The manufacturer was contacted and they advised the contact that the vehicle was not included in NHTSA campaign id number: 11V438000 (exterior lighting:tail lights). The failure mileage was approximately 150,000.

- Lexington, KY, USA

problem #12

Jan 012010

318 6-cyl

  • 80,000 miles
The BMW E46 (3 series BMW) that was made from 1999 to 2006. In some cases during these years they used a lighting manufacturer "zkw" for their xenon headlights. Unfortunately these lights have a common failure issue commonly referred to as a "burnt reflector" on the internet and on BMW forums. This is a non-consumer replaceable part. When this part fails it causes the vehicle to not have effective headlights. I personally have had times where my field of vision could not see items on the road due to the dim lights. The only remedy appears to be to replace the entire headlight assembly to the tune of hundreds of dollars (well over a thousand if you do both sides). In my opinion BMW should correct this issue for the consumer. Headlights are an important safety item. To have a part fail that is not consumer replaceable is unacceptable. Many people have this issue but have no way to remedy it. Just google it or check E46fanatics.com. You will see that there are plenty of people that realize this is an issue.

- Orlando, FL, USA

problem #11

May 252011

318 6-cyl

  • 105,952 miles
My BMW 2003 330I is equipped with zkw headlight assemblies that have plastic xenon projector bowls installed inside the headlight assemblies. After several years of usage these projector bowls burn out and as a result, the reflective coating that allows light to be focused through the projectors are burned off reducing effective light output from the headlight assembly. Upon inspection, both my headlight assemblies suffered approximately 50% loss in effective light output due to burned out xenon projector bowls and I found that my fog lights were putting out more light than both my zkw headlights. This problem affects all 3-series sedans made from 2002 - 2005. There have been many people who have, as a result of BMW inaction to do the right thing and correct this serious safety deficiency, either replaced their original zkw headlight assemblies with depot aftermarket headlight assembles or have replaced the defected zkw projector bowls with al projector bowls or fx-R projector bowls. This problem needs to be addressed as it is a serious road safety issue while driving at night.

- West Greenwich, RI, USA

problem #10

Dec 112011


  • 111,000 miles
Zkw bi xenon headlights reflectors burn out over time. The bowls are shot and they were black, burned to a crisp. They were made out of a plastic material with a chrome coating, instead of a metal reflector. This should be a recall for BMW. They got the tail light which works fine in my car, I need my headlights to see!

- Ridgewood, NJ, USA

problem #9

Nov 012011


  • 80,000 miles


The contact owns a 2003 BMW 3series. The contact stated that the rear tail light warning indicator illuminated on the instrumental panel. After checking the rear of the vehicle, the tail light appeared to be operating as designed. The warning light would illuminate on an intermittent basis. The vehicle was not inspected by a dealer nor repaired. The manufacturer was contacted and they advised him that the vehicle was not included in the recall associated with NHTSA campaign id number 11V438000 (exterior lighting:tail lights). The failure mileage was approximately 80,000.

- Wildwood, GA, USA

problem #8

Nov 082011


  • 38,000 miles
Headlights fail randomly. Headlights flicker, turn off, turn back on. Independent of speed or weather conditions. Bulb testing after this failure indicate that the bulbs are not failing (they are not burned out).

- Bethesda, MD, USA

problem #7

Jun 012009


  • 98,000 miles
The low beam reflectors on 2003-2004 zkw branded high intensity discharge xenon oem hid headlights on the 3 series BMW from that model year (sedan) were made of some painted material that degraded when subjected to the heat produced by the oem xenon bulbs. This results in a significantly decreased light output as the reflector became scorched. If it's bad enough, there is no light being projected on the road and it is very hard to see anything with the normal headlights. Either the high beams have to be used or the foglights have to be turned on. This is a safety issue. I would imagine that BMW and zkw were and are aware of the defect as the newer, redesigned headlights do not suffer from this problem. Replacement oem headlights cost $1200 for each side.

- Poughkeepsie, NY, USA

problem #6

Dec 122010

318 6-cyl

  • 55,000 miles
Lens cover for head lights on BMW 325 I with only 65K in southern California are severely oxidized limiting vision at night. Called BMW and basically stated warranty has expired.

- Altadena, CA, USA

problem #5

Jul 012009


  • 50,000 miles
The contact owns a 2003 BMW 330I. The contact stated that when the brake caution light illuminated, the brake light, tail light and turn signals failed suddenly. The contact replaced the rear bulb several time. The vehicle had not been inspected or repaired. The contact planned to speak with the manufacturer. The failure mileage was approximately 50,000 and the current mileage was approximately 60,000.

- Murrieta, CA, USA

problem #4

Aug 102008


  • 90,127 miles
Please let this notice serve as a formal petition for an investigation of a safety-related design defect. The rear tail light bulbs aren't working on the driver's side. The ground wire in the connector, connecting to the bulb carrier seems to be damaged due to a bad ground. I have been replacing bulbs for the last two years.

- Louisville, KY, USA

problem #3

Sep 032010


  • 40,000 miles
BMW E46 3 series - zkw headlights- very low light output the zkw headlights have a design flaw in which after 2-3 years of use, they dim to around 20% of the original light output. This is very dangerous when it comes to night driving. Someone driving with this issue is nearly completely blind driving around at night. This is due to the projector reflector bowl being made out of plastic, and melting from the heat. This causes the light to bleed out from the backside of the light into the housing, instead of forward onto the road. BMW noted this flaw by replaced the zkw headlamps with al branded headlamps in all the newer bmws in 2005 and on. The al branded headlights replaced the plastic bowl with metal bowls. However, all E46 3 series sedans from 2003-2004 still have these faulty zkw headlamps. There is no easy fix to this problem, as BMW does not sell the bowls separately. The only solution is to completely replace the headlamps, which costs around $2000. This is a very serious safety concern. I can guarantee that nearly every 2003-2004 3 series sedan with oem xenon headlamps faces this issue. Owners do not fix the issue due to the heavy costs.

- Anaheim, CA, USA

problem #2

Jan 022009


  • 70,000 miles
Real light assembly (turn signal, parking light brake light) malfunctions occasionally and none of the lights work thus, posing a dangerous situation when vehicle in motion, turning and especially at night. Problem has been going on for at least a year. It appears that the wire connector in the assembly is burning out thus causing a short, I have temporarily repaired the problem myself by cleaning the burned parts of the wire and reconnecting and protecting with electric tape.

- San Diego, CA, USA

problem #1

Apr 142009


  • miles
Formal petition for safety defect investigation, after replacing the tail light bulbs in on the passenger and driver's side they continued to burn out, after taking the bulb housing cover off, I noticed a burning smell and the brown wire in the unit had melted the entire connection. I was told by my local BMW dealership this is a known flaw as the ground wire is not adequate to handle the power coming through, this issue has caused me to almost be rear-ended 4 times when the light suddenly will stop working BMW usa whom I contacted is aware of this malfunction, and has done nothing to address this issue. Updated 04/27/09.

- Bridgeport, CT, USA

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