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BMW ABS and Traction Control Warning Lights (ASC, ASC+T, DSC), Transmission Not Shifting, E38, E39, X5

December 21, 2012

This answer is applicable for many BMWs in addition to the one listed below.

car year: 1997
car model: 528i
Why does the ABS & traction control lights @ dash come on? Is there a wheel speed sensor @ the front and back? Or just @ the back? Also automatic transmission doesn’t shift.

The E39 5-series (528i, 525i, 530i, 540i, M5 97-03), E38 7-series (740i, 740il, 750il 95-01) and the E53 X5 (3.0i, 4.4i, 4.6is, 4.8is 00-06) all use a similar ABS and Traction Control system.  There are wheel speed sensors at all four wheels and the speedometer is fed vehicle speed info from one of the rear wheel speed sensors (left or right varies by chassis model).  When the ABS and Traction Control lights are on at the same time, this is typically an indication that there is a fault in the ABS control unit.  With this noted, a reading of the internal fault codes is in order prior to replacing any parts.  The transmission is in a fail-safe mode if it is not shifting.  This often happens when the ABS and/or traction control systems have faults, but not always.  There could be a transmission fault at the core of the current issues.  As with the ABS and traction control, the internal faults need to be checked.

The common engine management OBD-II readers will not read the ABS and/or traction control faults.  The diagnostic will need to be done by a shop that has the appropriate diagnostic and coding tool, specifically for the BMWs.

Once we have fault information, we can consider the appropriate steps in repairing the issue.  Just give us a call at 800-535-2002.  More information on these systems can be found in the applicable Bentley repair manual.

Bentley repair manuals:

Bavarian Autosport

  1. Daniel Gagnon permalink

    My 1997 740il automatic transmission started to not shift and was acting like the car was in 5th gear coming off the line. After stopping at a store the transmission will not ehgage at all into any forward gear but does work in reverse. Do you have any suggestions as to what has happened to it? A car repair shop wanted to install a rebuilt transmission for many thousands of dollars which I cannot afford. Do you think there is a faulty sensor or bad fault codes that is causing this problem. A warning light appeared on the dash saying Safety Mode or something to that effect. The repair shop thinks the clutches in the unit need to be completely rebuilt. I appreciate a quick reply tomorrow if possible with some suggestions.

    • Otto permalink

      We would think that the current transmission troubles are more likely due to valve body issues rather than clutch wear. You may have a faulty valve control solenoid, sticking or leaking valve or clogging in the valve body passages. There is also a possibility of issues with the transmission control unit. When was the fluid last changed?

  2. joseph permalink

    Hi OTTO, am having simillar problems. Since today the speedometer has been on and off and when its stops working, the car feels like it loses power to shift to the next gear. I have an ABS light on the dash and the triangle with the exclamation mark.

    Could the rains have had smthn to do with this because my window was left a bit open and it rained all night with water goin in from the drivers side window

    • Otto permalink

      What year and model BMW do you have?

      • joseph permalink

        Hi OTTO, am too sure what year but 97-03 5 series, I thinks its 2001 or 2003. Here is my chasis number: WBADM42090GH72322. Plz help, I dnt know what to do

    • gonzo permalink

      Same issues here OTTO…2000 528i
      Code 1250, 0500, 1397,1520,1189/1188 from smog check.
      will not pass smog due to check engine light. Car PASSES emissions however

      Any ideas.

      • Otto permalink

        Your fault codes:

        P0500 = Vehicle Speed Sensor A
        P1188 = Fuel Control; Bank-1 Sensor-1
        P1189 = Fuel Control; Bank-2 Sensor-1
        P1250 = Not OBD-II; likely A BMW Proprietary code that the OBD-II reader could not read properly
        P1397 = Camshaft Sensor B, Bank-1 (Exhaust cam sensor)
        P1520 = Camshaft position actuator B, Bank-1 (Exhaust camshaft)

        With these codes, we would start by replacing the exhaust camshaft position sensor. Clear the codes and see what returns. If the P1520 is still present (whether P1397 is gone or present), you likely need to rebuild the VANOS piston seals. If this is the case, do this next and then repeat the clearing of the codes to see what does or doesn’t come back.

        If the VANOS needs to be rebuilt, this could be causing the fuel control codes. therefore, we will start here (as noted above).

        We have the cam position sensor and the VANOS rebuild kits in-stock.

        Click HERE for exhaust cam position sensor

        Click HERE for VANOS rebuild kit

  3. Lumumba Hasan permalink

    Hi Otto
    I have 1995 bmw 740il my ABS and trangle warning light is on i dont have trouble shifting but its not responding as fast as it used to. Is this a warning that the transmission is going out on me?

    Also I replaced my spark plugs she started right up but once i drove it down the road i got white smoke coming out of the tail pipe. I checked the engine oil and it was low so I added oil and drove and i could smell it coming out of the tail pipe. I replaced the CCV while installing it I felt for the vent pipe inside the manifold and did not find one like it the one in the video. Not sure if my model is supposed to have one. I still have a little smoke but not like before it was like a smoke screen from wold war 2. Now sure what is still causing the smoke and yes the check engine light is on. What else can i check to see what may be causing the problem?

    • Otto permalink

      Your 95 model 740il (E38 chassis) has the M60 version of the V8 engine. The M60 does not have the tube through the intake manifold. Was the engine still showing the white exhaust smoke from the exhaust, right after the CCV replacement …. and still is?

      Let’s read the fault codes to see why the Check Engine light is on. Since the car is prior to OBD-II (which started in 1996), you will need a code reader that is specific to the earlier BMW models and fits the round DLC (Data Link Connector) port.

      The ABS and Traction Control warnings may be due to a faulty ABS control unit, which is very common. However, the only way to know why the warnings are on is to have the ABS fault codes checked. this must be done by a BMW dealer or an independent shop that has the proper diagnostic tool to get inside the BMW vehicle systems.

  4. kelvin permalink

    just purchase a 03 325i and the traction light come on while driving .what can i check


    • Otto permalink

      First, check that all of the tires are the same and that the air pressure in all of the tires is the same. If the light continues to stay on, there is a fault in the system (anything from a faulty switch to sensors or the control unit). A BMW dealer or an independent shop that has the proper scan and diagnostic machine can read the ABS and Traction Control system faults. This should point to what the source of the actual fault is.

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