ABC News is reporting this morning that there are multiple reports of parked BMWs catching fire in North America. All of the reports are coming from owners whose cars have been parked for various periods of time, ranging from hours to days. The cars have been catching fire while parked and turned off, which seems to be causing some confusion. BMW has commented on the matter, stating that “With approximately 4.9 million BMW vehicles on U.S. roads, fire incidents involving BMWs are very rare. BMW takes every incident very seriously and has a dedicated team prepared to work with BMW owners, insurance companies and authorities to investigate any vehicle fire incident that is brought to our attention.”
With the cars parked and the engines off, there’s typically very little to start a fire other than an electrical issue, due to maybe a damaged wire or improperly secured battery terminal. Though, BMW claims it’s investigated these instances and claims that it hasn’t seen and product defect-related patterns. To be fair, it must be incredibly difficult to spot a pattern, due to the wide variety of vehicles that are reported in these incidents. The BMWs involved in these fires range from 1-15 years old, so electrical systems, chassis and engines vary greatly. For instance, some of the cars include an E90 3 Series, E53 X5, E85 Z4 and an E70 X5. All of these vehicles have different chassis, can come with different engines and have extremely different electrical systems and technologies.
According to Sean Kane, founder and president of Safety Research & Strategies, “A lot of the power to these electronic systems is going to remain on in the vehicle even when the vehicle’s off,” Kane told ABC News. “And once the electrical system starts going, you’ve got plenty of combustibles under the hood.”
However, BMW Spokesperson Hector Arellano-Belloc claims that this simply isn’t true of BMW’s cars, or any modern car. “BMW vehicles do not draw, and I quote: ‘A lot of the power to these electronic systems is going to remain on in the vehicle even when the vehicle’s off.’ In BMW vehicles, only a select group of circuits remain active when the vehicle is turned off with a very small amount of current draw that ranges from 40-80 mA.”
BMW is suggesting that there are various reasons as to why a car could catch fire that aren’t product-defect related. According to BMW North America, lack of maintenance or even improper maintenance by unauthorized mechanics, aftermarket modifications, rodent nesting and even arson can all be causes of fires. Especially considering that, according to BMW, some of the cars widely ranged in mileage, with some having accumulated up to 232,250 miles. These reports of BMW fires are happening all over the country and there are dozens of cases, according to ABC, though in the report, there’s no specific info on the mileage of each car, its owner history, maintenance history or accident history. So it’s next to impossible to determine if the fires were caused by product defect, damage or improper care.
There are also reports of owners who claim BMW is trying to cover these incidents up, with BMW NA offering discounts on replacement vehicles and even cash settlements, all with non-disclosure agreements going along with them. According to New Jersey-based Attorney, Joseph Santoli, BMW makes these customers sign NDAs “to ensure that each incident is evaluated and then appropriately resolved on its own merits”. According to Santoli, though, “They’re intending to prevent anyone from sharing notes or comparing, or the media finding out.”
At the moment, BMW is claiming that there’s no pattern or link between these cases. Based on the differences in model, year, mileage and the lack of mechanical information about these vehicles, it’s incredibly difficult to find a pattern. ABC reportedly gave BMW the VIN numbers of each vehicle involved in these incidents, so as to find a pattern, and none was found. There are also reports from other countries of this happening, but BMW North America can’t comment on those, naturally. We don’t have anymore information at the moment but we’ll update you if we learn of anything else. The ABC report will be linked below.
Here’s BMW’s full statement:
We at BMW empathize with anyone who has experienced a vehicle fire. We understand it is a traumatic event and the safety of our customers is of utmost importance to us.
BMW has a long reputation for engineering excellence and is known as a pioneer in safety technology. We have full confidence in our products and strive to always provide the best possible owner’s experience.
With approximately 4.9 million BMW vehicles on U.S. roads, fire incidents involving BMWs are extremely rare. BMW takes every incident very seriously and has a team dedicated to working with BMW owners, insurance companies and authorities to investigate vehicle fire incidents brought to our attention.
We have investigated and in some cases inspected the vehicles identified by ABC News. These vehicles span an age range of 1-15 years, accumulated mileage of up to 232,250 miles and multiple generations and model types. In cases that we have inspected and are able to determine root cause, we have not seen any pattern related to quality or component failure. Vehicle fires can result from a wide variety of external reasons and can range from improper accident damage repair, unauthorized aftermarket modifications (such as remote starters, stereo installations, etc.), previous vehicle flooding, rodent nesting, lack of, or improper preventative maintenance and even arson.
BMW of North America cannot normally comment on incidents outside of the US. However, we can say that as in the US, the incidents in Korea have been investigated and it was determined that the majority were caused by unauthorized aftermarket modifications.[Source: ABC News]