By on May 11, 2017

[Image: Wikimedia Commons]

While BMW definitely isn’t alone in this regard, the company’s safety recalls often contain an ear-piquing phrase: “Risk of fire.”

The German luxury automaker has had no shortage of fire-related recalls in past years, but a ABC News investigation points to dozens of recent fires that destroyed vehicles not under recall. The models involved reportedly span the gamut of the brand’s product lineup, but the fires share a common trait. Each blaze broke out after the vehicle had been shut off — in one case, after the vehicle had sat dormant for three or four days.

Five ABS News affiliates took part in the investigation, which uncovered at least 40 U.S. fires over the past five years in unattended BMWs not subject to a fire-related recall. Other BMW fires have made headlines in Canada and overseas. Years ago, one irate owner even created a blog about the tendency of the brand’s vehicles to self-immolate.

The destruction of one 3 Series sedan in a Canadian parking lot was captured on video from start to finish. In it, wispy white smoke emerges from under the front of the hood before the blaze gets going in earnest.

Unfortunately for the viewer, ABC mentions the year and model of just a few of the vehicles involved: 2003 (that’s the one which sat for a few days before igniting), 2008 (a crispy X5), and 2011. The sister car to this writer’s former 1993 Chevrolet Corsica (it was a government auction two-for-one, if you’re wondering) burned while sitting alone in a driveway after a friend of the family’s daughter purchased it, so mysterious fires certainly aren’t unheard of with other brands. Mercedes-Benz and Ford are two notable recent examples.

In response to the news segment, BMW issued a statement saying, “we have not seen any pattern related to quality or component failure. Vehicle fires can result from a wide variety of external reasons unrelated to product defect.”

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, when presented with ABC‘s findings, couldn’t find any conclusive evidence of a safety issue requiring a recall. Certainly, the agency has compelled BMW to recall vehicles in the past. Auto safety expert Sean Kane called such fires “not uncommon,” telling the network that the fault usually lies in an electrical system that, because of modern features, never powers down.

That’s a bit of a letdown for the segment’s producers. It’s possible some of the vehicles involved in the fires may have a recall-worthy fault that hasn’t yet been discovered, but the wide range in age — trending towards older models — does raise the likelihood of a wear-related issue.

One the models featured in the segment — a 2008 BMW X5 — was recalled in 2011 and 2016, and both defects carried a risk of electrical fires. The earlier recall only affected vehicles with the turbocharged V8. As the owner’s vehicle’s trim level isn’t known, we can’t be sure whether the owner simply bought a used, unrepaired vehicle, or whether the fire had anything to do with the subject of the recalls.

No vehicle defect gets people reading and watching quite like one which results in a ball of orange flame, so even if BMW’s combustion issues are revealed as non-endemic, it’s still a big problem. A PR problem.

[Image: Tony Webster/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 2.0)]

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!

28 Comments on “Spontaneous Combustion of Parked BMWs Get a ‘News at 11’ Close-up...”

  • avatar

    What a drama queen…I sure hope this woman never has a real problem in her life…

    • 0 avatar

      Definitely over the top with the histrionics.

      Thing is, if she was still paying on the car she would have been required to maintain comprehensive (would apply here) and collision insurance in addition to liability coverage, so she will ultimately be made “right”. The situation is certainly a royal pain in the ass, but the sky is definitely not falling and she will get another vehicle without incurring financial ruin.

      (Unless of course she was irresponsible and thought she could get away without coverage, in which case she probably IS arriba arroyo de mierda.)

    • 0 avatar

      ” If you depend on your car to get to work, take a child to daycare, buy groceries for your family, or run essential errands you will understand how devastating it is to suddenly lose your car. ”

      It’s like worse than getting cancer, man!!

  • avatar

    Well, BMW owners have been accused of being attention w**res, so why shouldn’t their cars be too?

  • avatar

    When payments for your status symbol become a problem, sometimes a simple “flick of the Bic” is the solution.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Nothing to see here; it’s Teslas which catch on fire.

  • avatar
    Master Baiter

    This happened last summer to a guy I know. His 328i melted in his driveway.

  • avatar

    Clearly the owner’s fault for failing to maintain the car.


    • 0 avatar

      More than likely it actually is the owner’s negligence. Since it has happened 3 days after parking on some cars, it’s likely a module getting wet that shouldn’t be and shorting out. Usually caused by either a module box cover that’s missing or incorrectly installed, or an aftermarket modification.

  • avatar

    Wonder if the owner decided to keep the Note 7 anyway>

  • avatar

    “The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, when presented with ABC‘s findings, couldn’t find any conclusive evidence of a safety issue requiring a recall.”

    That’s because is there isn’t. It’s a story based almost entirely on the anecdotal evidence. But it makes for good TV and it can be recycled by blogs desperate for content. At least Jalopnik provided some analysis.

  • avatar

    There’s a better than decent chance that the 3-series owner bought a set of those cheap Taiwanese angel eye headlights off eBay suspiciously close in time to the fire.

  • avatar

    Any car that’s known for oil leaks is an increased fire risk. Combine that with owners that aren’t so mechanically inclined, caring more about the badge.

    Engine compartment heat has to peak right after a car is shut off, since air and coolant are no longer circulating.

    • 0 avatar

      I was thinking the same. Since there’s no real pattern, I would guess these BMWs weren’t properly maintained, or if driven hard, not allowed to cool down. BMW has to be careful though, and not to blame the customer.

  • avatar

    Burning Man’s Wheels?

  • avatar

    Redux of CBS 60 Minutes and its shoddy reporting of unintended acceleration amongst Audi 5000 with automatic gearboxes?

    While we’re at it, how about ABC 20/20 and its caught-with-its-hand-in-the-cookie-jar reporting on GM large pick-up trucks with explosive side saddled fuel tanks?

  • avatar
    John R

    Eh, not much meat here.

    Although there was a reddit post about a 2010 5-series headlamp melting its connectors for the halogen DRL/Parking lights. The housing was, apparently, PBT (Polybutylene terephthalate) which has a max use temp of 300F.

    $1200 to replace the headlamp assembly. Welcome to German auto ownership I guess.

  • avatar

    The melting aluminum food in the lede photo is cool. Also, 40 cars in five years, and some of them older cars? There’s no smoke, or fire, here.

  • avatar

    Hard to believe that the brake lights are still on in that picture above, considering the flames in the front.

    Last year, a car picking up kids from the daycare across the street had an underhood fire that I helped extinguish. It turned out to be a rodent nest made of dry leaves, right on top of the downpipe! Had we not gotten the hood open and put it out with the hose, it would no doubt have spread to the entire car.

  • avatar

    Hey guys. Ah, you know, it’s funny. These BMWs; they go to sleep. They think everything’s fine, everything’s good. They wake up the next day and they’re on fire.

  • avatar

    Happened to me with a Hyundai.

Read all comments

Back to TopLeave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Recent Comments

  • mason: “Mitch McConnell, Senior Senator from Kentucky, has already said that if the Republicans get a majority...
  • Art Vandelay: For the record, I would give up a good chunk of range to drive an electric version of that Olds if they...
  • Art Vandelay: Club Car. No reason other than the course I play regularly just got Yamahas to replace their fleet.
  • Art Vandelay: TREMEC T5.. honorable mention to the Doug Nash 7 Speed, but that’s a pretty short one. In all...
  • dal20402: I’m sad to see this sort of conspiracy bull$hit on this site. And it’s not even coherent. If...

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote

Who We Are

  • Adam Tonge
  • Bozi Tatarevic
  • Corey Lewis
  • Jo Borras
  • Mark Baruth
  • Ronnie Schreiber