6 months of recalls, but BMWs are still burning

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6 months of recalls, but BMWs are still burning

Things aren’t looking good for beleaguered German automaker BMW, with yet another vehicle reported to have burst into flames on Christmas Day.

A BMW 520 sedan caught fire at around 6 p.m. on Tuesday in Gongju, South Chungcheong.

Earlier that day at 1 a.m., the driver of a BMW 5GT sedan saw black smoke coming out of the back of their vehicle while driving on a highway bound for Pohang, North Gyeongsang. The car, subject to recall, had already gone through safety checks.

The driver said the car was moving at 110 kilometers per hour (68 miles per hour) on cruise mode, but it started slowing down even though it was moving downhill and then smoke came out the back. The car didn’t burst into flames as the driver immediately pulled over and called the police.

There were no casualties caused by either incident, but the news stoked fears over the safety of BMW vehicles. Just one day earlier, on Dec. 24, a BMW 320d sedan caught fire in Gwangju.

The burnt 320d was a 2009 model not included in the 65 models currently subject to recall.

A public-private investigation team under the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport had already raised the need of an additional recall for defective designs in exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) system when it released its examination report on BMW fires on Monday.

The team confirmed that the major cause of the fires was a leaky EGR module, the same conclusion that the German carmaker came to, but disputed BMW’s claims that changing the faulty hardware resolves the issue. The team said there may be a fundamental problem with the EGR design and a simple replacement may not completely resolve that.

“We spotted coolant boiling within the EGR cooler, and we think the boiling is due to a faulty design of the EGR,” the joint investigation team said in a statement. “If boiling continues, this could lead to a crack in the EGR cooler, [making them leaky.]”

“New EGR systems won’t lead to fires right away, but the team found that after several years of constant driving heating up the EGR cooler, a similar fire could reoccur as long as the design stays the same,” a spokesperson from the Land Ministry said in a phone call on Wednesday. “We demanded that BMW come up with an explanation regarding EGR design.”

The joint team also said the intake manifold connected to the leaky EGR coolant should be recalled as well after check-ups if it has been polluted or weakened by a mixture of leaked coolants and engine oil sticking to pipes. The team has delivered its research findings to the carmaker, which has to consult with its German headquarters and come up with a recall plan.

In the meantime, an increasing number of BMW car owners are signing up to file a suit against the company. Barun Law, which is currently preparing for a class action suit against the carmaker, has collected around 1,000 car owners who would like to take part in the suit as of Wednesday. The Korea Consumer Association is also preparing for a separate suit and has gathered roughly 2,000 participants.

BY KIM JEE-HEE [kim.jeehee@joongang.co.kr]
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