BMW Catches Fire, Everyone Tries Not To Pay For It

Poor guy. Buys a 2000 540 Bimmer and while he’s driving home, it catches on fire. Some sort of thermostat failure. At first, he was screwed. Commerce, his insurance company, wouldn’t pay for it because they say they don’t cover mechanical failure, and there was no flame. “No flame, no claim,” was their clever explanation. BMW said there were no recalls or faulty parts for that model and so they weren’t going to do anything either. Then the BMW owner posted his complaints on an online message board, got a lawyer, and filed a complaint with the State Insurance Commission. All of a sudden, magically BMW now sends out an engineer to the guy’s house and found that yes, the car had failed. BMW offered him enough of a settlement that he no longer feels queasy about buying BMMs in the future. Ah, the power of putting your dukes up.

540 Caught Fire [BimmerFest] (Thanks to Ziemowit!)
(Photo: Getty)


Edit Your Comment

  1. Sigh… the prospect of losing money… It never fails to motivate a company.

  2. beavis88 says:

    @Papa Midnight: And the corollary there is that free money never fails to turn a consumer into a pliant dumbass.

  3. Buran says:

    I’m not sure I want to buy a BWM, though, whatever that is.

  4. Frostberg says:

    yay for settlement money!

  5. azntg says:

    Remind me, what is the purpose of us having insurance if it won’t pay when we really need it?

    From what I’ve read at the forums (of course, omission of facts can be a serious problem), it looks like there was a defect of some sort and the insurance has refused to pay for damages made to the car due to the defect.

  6. TMurphy says:

    Seeing the title I thought it was about a crash where everyone fled because they don’t want to have to pay for damaging the thing…

  7. says:

    Cars never, ever catch fire. They just have “thermal events.” Ford has policies when its engineers write potential failure analysis documents that you never, ever say “fire.” Because then when something DOES catch fire you can be sued (or, I guess, be required to replace the car).

  8. chiieddy says:

    Whatever happened to his state lemon law if he just bought a vehicle with a faulty part that caught on fire?

  9. goodkitty says:

    @azntg: To force us to buy insurance so the insurance companies can keep bribing, I mean paying, politicians so they can get into office. Next up, forced health insurance with streamlined claim denial!

  10. Buran says:

    @Buran: From BWM to BMM. Hmmm… Not sure if that’s an improvement.

  11. b-real says:


    Captious, much?

  12. BeFrugalNotCheap says:

    What a minute, the car catches on *fire*, and the insurance company won’t help because there was “no flame”? Am I missing something here?

  13. hills says:

    It’s my understanding (unfortunately from personal experience) that the Lemon Law only applies to new car purchases – This sounds like he bought a used car….

  14. hills says:

    More info – Even if he was the original owner of the BMW, in Massachusetts the “Lemon Law protects consumers whose vehicles suffer a significant defect in the first 15,000 miles or 1 year, whichever comes first, and cannot be fixed despite three or more repair attempts…” – This car was purchased in 2000, so no luck.

  15. says:

    @hillsrovey: Lemon laws apparently vary from state to state. Massachusetts DOES protect used car purchases (ref []), and while your covered period varies depending on the mileage on the used vehicle, I would think that the miles between “where I bought it” and “where it caught fire” would not exceed that.

    At first I was baffled as to why, driving it home freshly purchased and having it catch fire, he wouldn’t have used the lemon laws. However, reading his own posts rather than the Consumerist digested version, it appears he is probably the original owner, and in that case he’s definitely out of the lemon law protection period :)

  16. shan6 says:

    @befrugalnotcheap: I am wondering the same thing. Was there “no flame” as in an outside source of fire didn’t lite this mother up, or “no flame” as in “the car had a ‘thermal event'”?

  17. The Porkchop Express says:

    @azntg: his insurance does not have to cover BMW’s defects.

  18. SexCpotatoes says:

    This is one of those really borderline stories. You want to side with the consumer, because you can place yourself in his situation, imagine it happening to your car.

    On the other hand, the insurance company has the fine print which says “does not cover mechanical failure, OR electrical shorts”.

    The problem was a mechanical/elecrical part failed, in this case the thermostat and it leaked coolant onto the wiring harness which shorted out. The insurance was right not to cover it, as this seems to be a design flaw.

    BMW steps up to the plate and does right by a guy with a 7 year old car (I don’t know how long he had owned it, if he was the original purchaser or not, but hey). Just goes to show that you have to stand up for yourself and make a big enough stink when it matters. Choose your battles, etc.

    Even if the fuel lines were to rupture or come loose, spraying the engine bay with gasoline, and causing a fireball, the insurance company could say “hey, that was a mechanical failure, obviously the car was not maintained, or inspected properly” and that would be technically right, unless there was a design flaw which was causing demonstrable multiple failures of the same sort across the country, which, with the DOT supposedly investigating, there very well may be.

    Okay, I’m out.

  19. pda_tech_guy says:

    Is it just me or are consumerist’s interns in desperate need of a grammar and spelling lesson?

  20. Hambriq says:

    I had a similar situation happen with my dad; he was involved in a multiple car collision. Basically, one girl yapping away on her cell phone didn’t notice that traffic had stopped on the highway, so she crashed into someone’s car going about 50 miles an hour. That car proceeded to crash directly into my dad’s car.

    Her insurance company of course paid for the car she hit. But they wouldn’t pay for my dad’s car. Why? Because apparently it was not the woman’s fault that my dad’s car was totaled, it was the fault of the person she hit, who in turn hit my dad. “We discovered evidence that the car that struck your [father’s] vehicle was following too closely.”

    And of course, that person’s insurance was having none of it. So he was stuck between two insurance companies that were pointing the finger at each other, neither willing to pay for it. So guess who got to pay for it?

    My dad’s insurance.

  21. floydianslip6 says:

    @goodkitty: Move to MA

  22. I had a similar situation, worse outcome, with Volvo. Powersteering pump went bad, overheating, and ruined the engine of my S80. Took to dealer, they examined it, and promptly told me it was several thousand to get the car running again. Like the pre-consumerist, pre-MBA chump I was, after a brief (and angry) discussion with my extended warranty company (I bought used), money was handed over.

    Two years later, when looking into another problem with the car (Ford has been death on quality at Volvo), up comes an actual RECALL of, yes, you guessed it, the power steering pump, with a warning that it might actually do what it did to my car.


  23. jomil91 says:

    @Hambriq: thats what usually happens, then your dad’s insurance would take the girls insurance to court and get their money back, including the deductible your dad payed, its how it works.

  24. Benstein says:

    Maybe this is why when I took my Cooper in for an unrelated service issue last week at the dealer (BMW owns Mini and this was also a BMW dealer), they mysteriously checked the thermostat and found a leak.

  25. n/a says:

    BMM? Is that the Bowel Movement Machine?

  26. GearheadGeek says:

    @PotKettleBlack: Wait, you had purchased an extended warranty on the Volvo, and you let the dirty scumbag insurance company (because that’s all “extended warranty” companies are) get off without paying for a warranty claim? It may be worth trying to get them to reimburse you for the now-recalled failure, and to pursue the issue with Volvo as well since it was a repair at the dealership.

    The scam artists warranty specialists will tell you that it was never their problem because it was a Volvo recall that Volvo should have paid for. You may have some luck with Volvo since they want you to buy another car from them.

  27. bbbici says:

    How can a car “catch on fire” if there is no flame?

  28. Sudonum says:

    Something similar happened with my Chevy truck. The instrument cluster went out just past my extended warranty. Took it to the dealer, who told me “too bad, it’s out of warranty”. However I suspected something was rotten because when I started explaining the problem the service writer basically finished my sentence. I asked if Chevy had issued a service bulletin, he said “no”. I paid to get it fixed. A couple months later I get a letter from Chevy telling me that they have extended the warranty period on the instrument cluster and that if I am experiencing any problems, take it to the dealer for a free repair. The letter further stated that if I had experienced the problem and already paid to have it repaired, to submit a claim to GM and they would reimburse me. Got my check a a month later.

    I’d contact the dealer where you had the repairs done. Also see if you can get the contact information for the Volvo factory rep for your area, they can apply a lot of pressure both upstream and downstream. I don’t know about Ford/Volvo, but Chevy/GM also has a Customer Service hotline that has been very helpful to be in the past. Also try this link [] to see if anyone else has had any luck getting a similar experience resolved.

    Good Luck

  29. vdragonmpc says:

    Holy cow! Extended warranty companies are paid for engine repairs like that. I had a ‘chrysler warranty’ on my Turbo Supra and they covered all kinds of fun with that car.
    One Crankshaft Key stripped was over 7 grand. They covered the replacement. Well worth the money I paid. Not to mention the switches and other misc parts that wore out over the 3 year period.

    You just have to really be a pain in the rear.

  30. JayXJ says: They’re not to shy about using the word in recall notices though. They just replaced the wiring harness in my ride due to a fire risk with the cruise control wiring.

    Remind me not to bother with Commerce insurance. I had a claim similar to this a several years ago with an Escort and didn’t have any problems with the company I was using at the time. Sad that he had to go to these kind of efforts.

  31. Buran says:

    @b-real: Harping over a valid post, much?

  32. The Porkchop Express says:

    @Hambriq: and that is why you have insurance.
    Don’t worry about them, they’ll get their money back and probably your dad’s deductible as well.

  33. mentir says:

    I guess I’m not really shocked that nobody is applauding BMW’s efforts in this situation. Though it’s unclear whether this guy purchased the car new back in 2000 or acquired the car used, the warranty from the manufacture has likely expired. If there truly was no recall (as stated in the post), BMW at the very least deserves credit for helping this guy out.

  34. says:

    @JayP71: That’s true, I do remember it in my Escape’s recall notice, come to think of it :) Probably because nobody getting a notice warning them of possible “thermal events” is going to understand what it’s supposed to be, and will more likely ignore it.

  35. b-real says:

    OMFG, it’s a typo, alert the authorities! You don’t need to point out every mistake on a blog. We’d be here forever otherwise.