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DailyFinance, January 11, 2011, Tuesday


January 11, 2011, Tuesday


Another Safety Problem for BMW: X5s That Catch Fire

BMW ads claim the company makes the "ultimate driving machine." It's an interesting word choice because ultimate comes from the Latin word for last. And in the case of a Washington, D.C., lobbyist, her last moment on earth was spent in a BMW X5 that ignited in flames in her garage.

It's just one of many cases of BMW X5s catching fire, and it's hardly the first time that BMW vehicles have threatened the safety of their owners. In July 2010, I wrote about how faulty fuel pumps in some BMW models cause them to suddenly lose power, a hazardous condition that contributed to an October 2010 recall of 130,000 BMWs.

The last moments of Ashley Turton, an energy company lobbyist and former chief of staff to Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro (D-Conn.), are recounted in Tuesday's Washington Post. Turton was a mother of three small children -- a 21-month-old girl and twin 4-year-old boys -- who was married to Daniel Turton, White House deputy director of legislative affairs for the House of Representatives.

Ashley Turton left early for work but never made it. According to the Post, at 4:50 a.m. Monday, she was found dead in her 2008 BMW X5. The vehicle "crashed into the interior of the garage. After the impact, a fire started and quickly engulfed the entire garage as well as the automobile." Investigators aren't sure what caused the fire or what her exact cause of death was.

A Common Theme

A smiliar incident occurred in Westport, Mass., where on July 30, 2009, a 2004 BMW X5 went up in flames at a resident's home, according to Fortunately, the local fire department arrived in time to stop the fire from spreading further into the house, and nobody was injured.

Topix's BMW X5 Fire category has 48 posts pertaining to BMW X5 fires since 2007. While each post (none of which are independently verified) doesn't pertain to a separate incident, many of those reported share a common theme -- an electrical short circuit appeared to have ignited the gas tank, causing the vehicle to rapidly go up in flames. A blog is even dedicated to BMW electrical fires, and there's a Twitter feed called mybimmerburned.

At least one other incident reported on Topix started with an electrical fire in the dashboard. Here's a post from Chardon, Ohio, on Dec. 18, 2009 from Bob: "Yesterday, my wife was driving home from work in our 2002 X5 3.0 when smoke stated coming from the passenger side dashboard. In seconds, it filled the cabin to where she couldn't see. Luckily she was able to navigate to a nearby driveway and get out. Within minutes, the car was totally engulfed in flames. Thank God no passengers or small children in the vehicle."

Another Recall Needed?

Arthur C. Wheaton, director of the Western N.Y. Labor and Environmental Programs at Cornell University's School of Industrial and Labor Relations, says, "If there are multiple, related cases in BMW's, then I think it is serious and should be investigated. The details here sound pretty serious and may require a recall." A BMW spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.

Sponsored Links This problem of BMW X5s catching fire isn't new. In 2001, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) recalled over 76,000 pre-2001 BMW X5s and other models that ignited due to problems with "defective auxiliary fans." (Here's a link to get the related documents from put 01V206000 into the "Quick Search" field.)

And BMW is not unaware of fire problems. For example, in June 2010, it recalled 38,000 1-Series models. According to MotorCrave, the recall related to "a safety problem that could cause a fire in the event of a crash." NHTSA said the problem was that "In a crash of sufficient severity, deployment of the front pretensioner and load-limiter occurs. The insulation around the pretensioner could ignite." According to NHTSA's website, this problem affects nearly 32,000 vehicles made between December 2007 and May 2010.

Unfortunately, this 1 Series recall won't help anyone owning a BMW X5 such as the one in which Ashley Turton's life ended.
Filed under: Company News, Columns, People, Autos

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