BMWs are catching mysterious fires in the U.S. and owners have filed more than 90 complaints about the issue to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. But the government watchdog for automotive safety does not have an active investigation into possible causes.
“These BMWs have [had] these fire problems for a very long time,” says Jason Levine, the executive director at the nonprofit Center for Auto Safety, “They’ve taken a very long time to respond to them. And it doesn’t seem that they’re getting to the bottom of the problem.”
BMW insists that car fires can result from a variety of external reasons “unrelated to product defects.” In 2017, a company spokesperson suggested several other potential causes of car fires, including a lack of maintenance, improper maintenance by unauthorised mechanics, aftermarket modifications, rodent nesting and even arson.
“In cases that we have inspected and are able to determine root cause,” a BMW spokesperson told ABC News, “we have not seen any pattern related to quality or component failure.”
Since the initial report in 2017, the company has issued four fire-related recalls affecting more than 1 million vehicles across various years and models.
The luxury automaker isn’t the only vehicle producer to take that step. Car manufacturers collectively have issued 62 parked-car-fire-related recalls since 2017. In January, Hyundai and Kia recalled 168,000 vehicles for fire risk.
But while U.S. regulators have declined to investigate, BMW has faced scrutiny elsewhere. The company was recently fined $9.9 million by the South Korean government after its transport ministry determined officials had tried to cover up technical problems related to dozens of engine fires in diesel cars and moved too slowly to recall affected vehicles.
The company has issued statements saying that “with approximately 4.9 million BMW vehicles on U.S. roads, fire incidents involving BMWs are very rare. … BMW takes every incident very seriously.”
Virginia Chamlee’s said her 2005 BMW X5 ignited as it was parked and turned off in her driveway in Jacksonville, Florida, in July 2018. She reported the fire to BMW immediately but she said the company never came to inspect it.
Lynn Wrench’s 2011 BMW 328i xDrive ignited while it was parked and turned off in her hometown of Colgate, Wisconsin. BMW offered her $1,500 to sign a non-disclosure agreement.
“I wouldn’t even be able to talk with you about this. Or anybody,” Wrench said. “Why would I do that?”
Joseph Santoli, an attorney who’s sued BMW in the past, told journalist he has been contacted by many angry BMW owners exploring their legal options after reporting that their parked cars caught fire.
In October 2017, Laura Ohme said she and her two sons were forced to flee their California home when her 2014 BMW X5 ignited while it was parked and turned off in her garage.
The family escaped unharmed, but the resulting fire destroyed their home. Fire investigators were able to pinpoint her recently purchased BMW as the source of the blaze.
“We’re not the only family that has lost everything because of a BMW car fire,” Ohme said. “Fix the problem.”