Spontaneous Combustion of Parked BMWs Get a 'News at 11' Close-up

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems
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)]
Steph Willems
Steph Willems

More by Steph Willems

Join the conversation
2 of 28 comments
  • Rpn453 Rpn453 on May 13, 2017

    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.

  • Jcisne Jcisne on May 13, 2017

    Happened to me with a Hyundai.

  • Lynchenstein @EBFlex - All ICEs are zero-emission until you start them up. Except my mom's old 95 Accord, that used to emit oil onto the ground quite a lot.
  • Charles The UAW makes me the opposite of patriotic
  • El scotto Wranglers are like good work boots, you can't make them any better. Rugged four wheel drive vehicles which ironically make great urban vehicles. Wagoneers were like handbags desired by affluent women. They've gone out of vogue. I can a Belgian company selling Jeep and Ram Trucks to a Chinese company.
  • El scotto So now would be a good time to buy an EV as a commuter car?
  • ToolGuy $1 billion / 333.3 million = $3 per U.S. person ¶ And what do I get for my 3 bucks -- cleaner air and lower fuel prices? I might be ok with this 🙂🙂