You know when you go for a quick twenty minute drive in the countryside, park your car and forty-five minutes later it spontaneously combusts?
“What the F, Elizabeth?! No one’s car does that! It’d be impossible to leave the house and we’d be back to riding cows to the office!”
Well, my friends. It happened. It was not an isolated incident. And the manufacturer’s reticence is approaching that of a cover-up operation.
The car in question was my parents’ BMW X3 2.0d; a diesel engine with a four-wheel drive. It was two years old and had been serviced six months previously at the Leicester BMW dealership where it had been bought. It had about 25,000 miles on the clock had never shown any faults. I can personally vouch for the fact that once it was white. And had tyres.
On the morning of August 21st 2018, my Dad, Mum and brother went for a twenty minute drive in Derbyshire, parked and headed out for a walk across the moor at about 10:30am. They returned shortly after lunch to find the car had morphed into a burnt out husk and a note from the fire service. The latter had been called out at 11:14am, presumably by a passer-by, to find the car fully ablaze. They could not determine what had started the fire, but speculated that it had been triggered by an electrical fault.
At the time, I was in Tokyo feeling slightly anxious as to why my mother had not replied to my last text message. One photograph the following day answered that question. It did not relieve the anxiety.
While the early stages of the fire are unknown, the blaze must have taken hold quickly for the car to be fully alight by the time the fire service arrived. My brother has severe learning disabilities. How he responds in an emergency is very hard to predict and —due to more predictable responses of how he responds the rest of the time— there is a child-lock on the door by his seat in the back of the car. If my parents had been driving, if they’d been in the car having a picnic in the wet British weather or if the car had even been parked in a crowded car park, this story could have had a truly awful ending. It happened the day before my brother’s birthday.
Alarmed by what had happened and wanting answers, my parents reported this to BMW UK. Their representative sounded sympathetic and asked if BMW could examine the wreckage, which was arranged. A few days later, my parents received an email simply saying BMW could not determine the cause. This was a matter for the car insurance company.
Unsatisfied, my parents requested more information or indication of any follow-up investigations. Their email went unanswered. They then went to the dealership where they had purchased the vehicle who also initially sounded shocked and said they would follow-up with BMW. Weeks went by with no word and emails inquiries once again went unanswered. In the end, my parents filled in a complaint form on the website of the dealership and finally received a brief answer: the dealership had heard nothing more from BMW.
That this had just been a random act of God would have been an awful lot more convincing if not for a recall on BMW vehicles in 2017 and 2018 because of —you guessed it— a fire risk from a cable that connected the battery and blower fan that was liable to catch alight. The recalled vehicles were those manufactured between December 2004 and July 2011, well before my parents bought their car. The cars were recalled in two batches after a BBC investigation showed the problem affected far more cars than BMW had claimed.
In the article from ABC news above, BMW claimed prior to the recall to have “not seen any pattern” in the fire outbreaks. They offered a discount or cash settlement to those affected as a “goodwill gesture” but insisted the recipients sign a non-disclosure agreement in return.
My parents were not offered anything from BMW, despite the car being fully covered by the BMW warranty. Finding tweets by one of the owners of the affected car on twitter, my dad replied with images of his own burnt out car. A few weeks ago, I also posted the images on twitter. In both case, BMW responded with canned replies. “Thank you for your message / We’ve escalated your case for evaluation to the relevant service department / we will get in touch with you as soon as possible” followed by silence.
An article in the Telegraph from August (the same month my parents’ car went up in flames) reported a ban on BMW in parking lots across South Korea, along with a boycott by taxi drivers. BMW’s South Korean unit issued a recall of 106,000 diesel vehicles at the end of the month, citing a problem with the exhaust gas system.
Yet, BMW claimed to have not the faintest idea what happened to my parents’ vehicle.
Then last week on October 23, 2018, BMW announced a new recall of 1.6 million vehicles. It is a collection that would have included my parents’ car, although they still have heard nothing from BMW acknowledging the fault. The issue this time is a claim that diesel engines may suffer from a fuel leak and result in a fire.
This lack of communication means the recall is hardly reassuring. Multiple recalls citing different faults, at least one of these only occurring after pressure from the press, along with denial of any possible problem when confronted with individual cases does not paint an image of a company who cares about the safety of it customers.
It paints an image of a company who would see families across the globe die before they admit they knew their vehicles had a fatal fault.
Name suggestions for the cow I’m getting my family for Christmas welcome.