Imported cars start flaming out

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Imported cars start flaming out

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A BMW 5 Series sedan catches fire in Sangam-dong, western Seoul, on Nov. 5. [youtube screen capture]

The chrome on imported foreign cars is looking a little less shiny after the Volkswagen cheating scandal, a series of recalls due to defective parts - and seven BMWs inexplicably catching fire on Korean roads since October.

Four of the fires in BMWs, the most popular foreign brand in Korea for more than a decade, occurred this month.

The most recent incident occurred on Sunday near the Cheonggye tollgate on the Seoul Ring Expressway when a fire suddenly broke out from a BMW 7 Series sedan’s trunk. Three other fires involving 5 Series sedans were reported in Guri, Gyeonggi, on Saturday; near an apartment complex in Sangam-dong, western Seoul, on Nov. 5; and in Goyang, Gyeonggi, on Nov. 3.

In October, three such cases were reported. One of them involved a 750Ld sedan driven by a 55-year-old owner surnamed Kim in Yeongdeungpo District, western Seoul.

All the fires broke out while the cars were in motion, and some of the flames were first observed from the engine area, according to local police forces. The 750Ld sedan was brand-new. The owner Kim purchased it the day before the fire, which ended up completely destroying the engine and hood.

BMW Korea did not react to the cases in October, but as more incidents occurred this month and news spread through local media outlets and the Internet, the company apologized in a statement under the name of its CEO, Kim Hyo-joon, on Tuesday.

“We apologize for the fire incidents that occurred with BMW vehicles recently,” CEO Kim said in a statement. “We are currently trying to find out the exact causes of the fires in cooperation with our headquarters in Germany and will reveal the inspection result transparently as soon as we get the report. If the cars involved were repaired at our service centers before the incidents, we will give refunds.”

The company added that it will cooperate in the investigations of the fires in the Sangam-dong, Seoul Ring Expressway and Guri cases, even though the cars were previously serviced at private repair shops.

Some are worried that the fires were related to a recent recall in which the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport ordered repairs on 23,000 BMW 520d sedans in September for a possible defect in the timing belt, which could cause a vehicle’s engine to stop while driving. The owner of the BMW 520d sedan that caught fire in Goyang, Gyeonggi, reportedly said, “I fixed the timing belt problem recently at a BMW service center, and the fire broke out and completely burned my car the next day.”

The Transport Ministry said Wednesday that the possibility of the fires being related to the recall was low. “We’re trying to find out whether the part change was related to the fires,” a ministry spokesman said. “Since the timing belt isn’t installed inside an engine, engineers say there are no technical relations between the component and fires.”

Aside from BMW, other foreign automakers are set to recall thousands of cars for defects. The Transport Ministry said Wednesday that five automakers - Audi, Volkswagen, Mercedes-Benz, Nissan and Forza Motors Korea - will recall some cars.

Audi-Volkswagen Korea, with sales plunging because of the emissions-rigging scandal, told the ministry last month that it found a defect on a clock spring on 27,811 units of seven models, including the Passat, CC and Jetta sedans, all of which were 2010 to 2014 editions. The part inside the steering wheel supplies electricity to air bags and horns.

“We haven’t determined specific schedules for the recall since fixing the problem isn’t easy as we have to get enough parts,” said a spokesman of Volkswagen Korea.

Nissan Korea will also recall 149 Altima sedans manufactured between March 2012 and September this year and Maxima sedans produced between February and August this year for a defect on H-rings installed on the vehicles’ fuel pumps. Owners can get their cars repaired at Nissan Korea service centers from Friday for free.

Mercedes-Benz will recall 145 units of the S63 AMG 4MATIC Coupe that were manufactured between July 2013 and January 2014. The Transport Ministry said safety belts in the 200-million-won ($173,000) luxury car were assembled in the wrong way. A total of 21 Maserati Quattroportes imported by Forza Motors Korea also became subject to recalls for a possible defect on starter motors.

BY KWON SANG-SOO [kwon.sangsoo@joongang.co.kr]
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