BMW Owners Say Their Parked Cars Are Going Up In Flames

Image courtesy of ABC News

When you park your car, turn the engine off, and walk away, you have a reasonable expectation that when you return the vehicle will be in the same spot and in the same condition as when you left. But some BMW owners say they’ve returned only to find their car in flames. Now, these owners and fire officials from across the country are asking why. 

ABC News on Thursday reported on its investigation into nearly 40 incidents involving BMW vehicles that have unexpectedly caught fire, sometimes resulting in damage to surrounding property, including homes.

While BMW tells ABC News that it has investigated the cases brought to its attention, it has “not seen any pattern related to quality or component failure” in its vehicles.

Yet, owners of the charred vehicles say that can’t be the case. ABC News’ report details a number of incidents involving the fiery BMW, but here are 4 things we learned about the apparent ongoing issue.

1. No Warning Signs, Say Owners

A Maryland man tells ABC News that after spending years as a self-proclaimed BMW ambassador he was completely caught off guard when his 2008 BMW X5 caught fire in his garage in Dec. 2015.

The man’s wife had just returned home from a quick drive when she reported an odd smell from the vehicle. By the time the man reached the garage minutes later, he heard a “snap, crackle, pop” sound from the vehicle before it inexplicably burst into flames.

The fire quickly spread to the garage and then the couple’s home. It was a complete loss.

While the owner says he first thought the fire was related to a new battery in the vehicles, he found others had experienced similar issues with the BMWs.

2. Not An Isolated Incident

ABC News and its affiliates found nearly 40 cases similar to the Maryland car fire.

Each of the incidents involved a variety of BMW vehicles from several model years, ranging from the 2008 X5 to a 2011 BMW 3-series. Additionally, the fires occurred at different times, some owners reported the vehicle had been parked for days before bursting into flames, while others said they had driven the vehicle just hours before the fires started.

One woman says that her vehicle, parked in the garage, caught fire while she slept. When she woke up she ran downstairs and used a garden hose on the flames until fire officials arrived.

3. BMW Downplays Incidents

Just as BMW told ABC News, the car company has also informed consumers they don’t believe the affected vehicles contain a defect.

“You’re at wit’s end, you don’t know what to do,” the Maryland man tells ABC News of his interaction with BMW, including the lack of an apology.

In a statement to ABC News, BMW said that fires in its vehicles are rare and can be caused for a variety of reasons that don’t involve a defect, such as lack of maintenance, improper maintenance by an unauthorized mechanic, or other issues.

While the statement implies that some of the fault for the fires falls on owners, BMW has offered some assistance, ABC News reports. For instance, some customers say they received offers for discounts on replacement vehicles, while others have receive cash settlements.

The company says the offers are its way of providing support to customers.

4. Regulators Investigate

ABC News reports that it has sent its findings to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which says it has not found evidence of a safety defect.

Still, the agency urged consumers to report any issues through its consumer complaint database.

On the other side of the world, however, federal regulators in South Korea are looking into the issues. In that country, BMW issued a recall covering some cars that had caught fire, finding a fuel line defect was present in some diesel vehicles. This was only after the carmaker noted that poor maintenance could be a contributor to fires.

Despite this, a South Korean transport ministry official tells ABC News that the agency is still investigating, as the recall and maintenance issue only answer some questions.

UPDATE: BMW has provided an official 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 dedicated team prepared to work 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, multiple generations and model types.  In cases that we have inspected and are able to determine root causes, 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, previous vehicle flooding, lack of, or improper preventative maintenance, rodent nesting, unauthorized aftermarket modifications (such as remote starters, stereo installations, etc.) and even arson.

Our Customer Relations team will be happy to assist customers with any additional questions or concerns about their BMW and can be reached at customerrelations@bmwusa.com or at 800-831-1117.

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.