By on April 17, 2012

It hasn’t gotten nearly as much attention as the handful of early production Tata Nanos that caught fire, or the Ferrari 458 recall, also for fire safety issues, or the newly expanded investigation into Jeep Wranglers burning, and certainly not nearly the attention given the near non-event with that one crash tested Chevy Volt, but BMW appears to have a corporate wide fire problem with turbocharged models that has now resulted in recalls of BMW, MINI and Rolls-Royce vehicles. Earlier this year BMW recalled turbocharged Mini Cooper models because the circuit board controlling the auxiliary water pump used to cool down the turbocharger after the engine is shut off could develop an electrical fault due to copper migrating between circuit traces, creating a fire hazard. Now comes word that BMW is expanding a previous recall (PDF) of some 2010 BMW and Rolls-Royce models to include 2011 and 2012 models. It’s not clear if it’s the exact problem as with the Minis, though it does involve the same component, the electronic controller for the auxiliary water pump. To their credit, BMW discovered the latest problem in internal testing and there is no word on any real-world fires with consumers’ cars. The Mini recall was prompted by reports of a dozen fires, eight of them while the vehicles were parked. The latest recall (PDF) affects 2011 BMW 5 Series, and 2012 6 Series, 7 Series and X5 and X6 vehicles. Also affected are 2010-2011 Rolls-Royce Ghosts, which are built with a BMW platform and share components with the parent brand. BMW says the problem exists with 100% of the turbocharged V8 and V12 powered models in those lines. A total of about 35,000 BMW made vehicles are affected by the original and expanded BMW and Rolls-Royce recalls.

In the initial voluntary recall last October, BMW attributed the problem to an unspecified malfunction in the electronic controller. It’s possible that it’s the same problem as with the Minis.

Under certain conditions, the pump’s electronic circuit board can malfunction. The malfunction can occur as a result of certain design features in combination with high operating temperatures. Under these conditions, this can lead to a failure of the water pump. In some cases, the circuit board can overheat. In an extreme case, overheating of the circuit board can lead to smolder of the water pump. If smoldering occurs, it cannot be excluded that this may also lead to an engine compartment or vehicle fire.

In the subsequent expanded recall, BMW attributed a problem with later production vehicles to improperly made turbocharger housings, resulting in leaking coolant.

It was discovered that for the additional production, there was a manufacturing process deviation at the supplier for this limited production run of pumps, this deviation could result in cracks in the pump housing. If this were to occur, then coolant could enter and contact the pump’s circuit board.

Whether or not it’s the same exact defect affecting Minis, BMWs and Rolls-Royces, it’s clear that BMW has quality and fire safety problems involving its turbochargers’ water pumps. The recall notice sent to NHTSA from BMW identifies the faulty component supplier as Pierburg Pump Technologies GmbH.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can dig deeper at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

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36 Comments on “Does BMW Have a Fire Safety Problem With All of Its Brands’ Turbos? 2,916 More Non-Chevy-Volts Recalled For Fire Hazard...”

  • avatar

    I can only imagine what people’s drivers are saying in the Rolls crowd…

    • 0 avatar

      Oh Rothschild, what is that smell?

      I believe the engine is on fire sir.

      On fire, pish posh dear Rothschild the Bottomtooth’s have had Rolls Royces for almost a century and none have ever caught on fire.

      Yes sir. *cough* *cough*


      *cough* Yes sir.

      You should really have a Doctor check that dreadful cough, and do something about that horrid smell.

      Yes sir, what do you suggest I do. *cough* *cough*

      Oh dear *cough* I seem to have caught your *cough* illness Rothschild.

      Yes sir, it may have something to do with the black acrid smoke.

      You may be right dear Rothschild, why don’t you pull off at Buffy Paddington’s Estate and we can get out of this predicament.

      As you wish sir.

      You’re a good man Rothschild.

      Yes sir.


  • avatar

    I can read it now: “See! The Chevy Volt doesn’t suck that much, even a BMW will catch fire!”

    • 0 avatar
      Volts On Fire

      As have two Chevy Cruzes so far, yet another model under NHTSA investigation.

      • 0 avatar

        Two Cruze fire problems is a very small number of failures with respect to the total production. What would be more concerning is if the failures were the same indicating a design/manufacturing problem. That’s what NHTSA investigations determine.

  • avatar

    Ronnie you forgot the tags, Chevrolet, Volt, and GM.


    • 0 avatar

      and death watch

      2 cruze fires would not be considered signficant although i do see on other auto forums not as enlighted as TTAC blaming the “Obuma Administration” for the Volt/Cruze fires… and maybe being on the grassy knoll in ’63 as well?

  • avatar

    Is this related to the lead free solder ‘whiskers’ problem? To the-even-more-uninitiated than I am, the whiskers grow and can short circuits.

    Also, kudos on your fair and balanced inflammatory statements. Why should Chevy and Ferrari get all the heat?

    • 0 avatar

      Cleverly done, sir.

      I’ll have to dig out the docs for the Mini recall, but I seem to remember that it was copper being redeposited, not lead.

      If some good comes out of the Chevy Volt fire brouhaha, it would be greater awareness about vehicle fires in general but I’m skeptical that it’s going to happen.

      FWIW, there was a Lambo Flambe (Flamborghini?) in California the other day. A brand new dealer owned Aventador burned:

    • 0 avatar
      George B

      The recall notice said the problem was electro-migration. This paper has several good pictures showing what electro-migration of copper looks like.

      The lead in tin-lead solder suppresses tin whiskers. If I understand correctly, adding ductile lead to solder avoids some of the internal stresses that cause tin whiskers to form and cars are still allowed to use tin-lead solder.

      • 0 avatar


        That presentation was sorta interesting even if I didn’t bother to down load the Japanese extensions to Acrobat.

      • 0 avatar

        Good, informative link, George.

        Something else I’ve run into is the conductor material (usually copper) reacting with out-gassing product of plastics and urethanes in hot humid environments to create what looks exactly like the migration in that paper, down to the blue corrosion shown on page 3.

        Mercedes-Benz had a large problem with this, especially with vehicles coming out of their Alabama plant. The best fix at the time was to coat the PCBs after fabrication with a conformal coating to seal in the electronics.

        Not sure how that fared as it likely also insulated the PCB from ridding itself from heat.

  • avatar

    I wonder if we’ll start seeing many, many more turbocharger-related issues now that blown engines are becoming more prominent in everyday vehicles? A Firestone- magnitude recall could have the potential to do serious damage to a brand name…..

    • 0 avatar

      I’m under the impression that some OEMs are dumping turbos for superchargers, particularly the Eaton TVS.

    • 0 avatar

      Turbochargers are a robust technology. The failure here appears to be cost cutting, not a failure of turbocharger technology.

      • 0 avatar

        this is pretty much it

        the japanese golden era from say 1988 to 2002 when they made millions of turbo rwd cars saw no significant added fire risk

        the technology is sound… i’d argue that this clearly does not reflect the global move to turbos like pretty much all companies from Ford to Kia to Mercedes to VW to… everyone… there is absolutely no issue with GM no matter how much people don’t like them

      • 0 avatar

        The NHTSA is currently investigating the Chevy Cruze turbos to determine what’s causing them to burst into flames.

  • avatar

    BMW has had turbo problems ever since the N54. HPFP, carbon build up, turbo oil leaks etc.

  • avatar

    More Volt association with fire? “Its ok! they all know I’m joking! and I even put in a retraction in the fine print!”

    How irritating. I’m guessing it gets you more clicks huh? garbage.

    “In other news: BMW may have minor corporate widespread high risk problems, meanwhile the Volts haven’t all caught fire. Conspiracy?”

    • 0 avatar

      Sorry if my satire wasn’t clear enough. You’ve taken my post 180 degrees from my intention. I was being critical of those who made a big deal out of the Volt fire issue. I think that’s made quite clear right up front in the post’s opening sentence, not in some “fine print”:

      “…near non-event with that one crash tested Chevy Volt”

      I plead guilty to liking clever headlines. If I wrote this one with the hope of getting more clicks from people looking for info on the Volt fire story, I would hope they would read this and put the Volt issue in perspective.

      The Volt fire story deserved reporting. I wrote about it at least a couple of times. What it’s shown me, though, is that fire safety is a near constant issue in the industry and that all manufacturers, sooner or later, have to deal with it through recalls. I know of a half dozen fire related recalls or investigations since January. I’m just trying to give some perspective.

      Ultimately I wrote this because the BMW/RR recall reminded me of the earlier Mini recall and then when I found out they were both about the same component, I realized that there was a bigger story and that BMW may have a problem that cuts across its brands.

      • 0 avatar

        Ronnie, I was among the critics of the Volt angle on the R&D facility explosion, but I have no complaint here. The headline is funny and not misleading, even to morons like myself.

        Also, I agree that the Volt fire story has been newsworthy. It just sucks when the mass media oversimplify and add hype in such a way that misinforms readers/viewers.

    • 0 avatar

      I read the headline as Ronnie poking some fun at the Volt-fire hysteria crowd, as opposed to, uh, fanning the flames.

    • 0 avatar

      In the future, all TTAC blog posts should be titled “(First Initial Last Name) Blog Post # (number of posts previously published + 1)”

  • avatar

    This is still the fault of the Volt.

  • avatar

    What is most worrying about this problem is that involves drivers operating their BMW/Rolls/MIni in normal operation and the fire risk is elevated. And the problem seems to involve roughly the same design weakness.

    (The Volt fire problem did not involve normal day-to-day operation of the car. The conditions were very severe, unusual, and contrary to manufacturer recommendation).

  • avatar

    Makes me a bit concerned about the upcoming M5, which uses the turbo V8 engine in a hotter state of tune.

  • avatar

    I hate BMW more and more each day.

  • avatar

    So they dropped a straight six for turbo four but there are such nagging details as a functioning aux pump to cool the turbo after the engine shuts off? Or saving fuel because your water pump runs on an electric motor instead of belt. And this is technological advancement because….????

  • avatar

    As a mechanical engineering major with a concentration in the automotive industry, this sort of crap scares me. I would hate to be the scapegoat–or worse, a genuine perpetrator–of such design flaws as these. If nothing else, though, it encourages me to pay attention and make sure that I develop a better critical-thinking skill-set.

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