BMW Mystery: Some owners claim parked car caught fire

Diane Wilson Image
Thursday, May 11, 2017
BMW owners report mysterious fires
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Some BMW owners claim their cars have caught fire while parked

RALEIGH, North Carolina (WTVD) -- A growing number of BMW owners are speaking out after their parked cars caught on fire, and they say they got little or no support from the luxury car manufacturer.

Danielle Emerson was asleep in her bedroom when she heard her son screaming frantically.

"I'm hearing 'Fire! Fire!' He said, 'Mom the garage is on fire go, go,'" Emerson recalled.

Once she got everyone out of the home safely, she went to the garage and saw her 2011 BMW 528 on fire.

"The car is burning from under the front passenger seat. It's coming up where the side view mirror is, that is burning off, the door is burning off," Emerson explained.

Danielle Emerson's car caught fire inside of her garage

Emerson said she grabbed the water hose just outside of her garage and started spraying the fire.

"My driveway outside is at a slant so I was able to lay on my stomach and look under the car, and the car is on fire in a straight line," Emerson shared. "Straight to back and I'm spraying, I'm spraying, and I'm praying."

Her son CJ was actually in the garage with buckets of water trying to put out the flames.

"I'm like, 'Boy, get out of here! Both of these cars are full of gas get out of there!' I'm thinking that something is going to blow up at any minute."

Firefighters arrived extinguished the blaze. Danielle's BMW was totaled and the car parked beside it in the garage was also damaged. Danielle said there was smoke damage to her garage and her home. BMW did investigate the cause but took no responsibility.

In this letter, the company stated in part, "The thermal damage found was isolated to the external surface of the battery cable, with no indication of over-voltage or shorting of the wire within."

The letter goes on to say, "Careful examination of the electrical, mechanical and fuel delivery systems did not reveal any indications of an ignition source as a possible cause."

Emerson was not pleased with the company's response.

"I need to know what happened that could have killed us."

Emerson isn't the only BMW owner who wants answers. We worked with ABC News Chief Investigator Brian Ross and his team along with our other ABC Owned stations and found at least 40 reported cases of parked BMW's catching on fire that were not covered by any fire-related recall.


One of those cases involved Bill Macko's 2008 BMW X5 at his home in Maryland.

Bill Macko's BMW caught fire in his driveway
Credit: Bill Macko

His wife just parked the car in the garage when he says she came in and said the car smelled funny. When Bill went to check on it, "There was black smoke, a snap, crackle, pop, and boom a flame."

It didn't take long for the fire to spread from his BMW to his home. His home was heavily damaged by the fire.

Bill Macko's BMW caught fire after his wife parked it in the garage (Credit: Scott McFarland)

Macko says representatives with BMW investigated but gave him no answers and took no responsibility.

"It's disheartening when you're so loyal to a particular brand or product and then you're treated like this, not even an apology that's the sad part."

While BMW, like many other manufacturers, has issued fire related recalls over the years, when it comes to these cases BMW issued this statement:

With approximately 4.9 million BMW vehicles on U.S. roads, fire incidents involving BMWs are very rare. BMW takes every incident very seriously and has a dedicated team prepared to work with BMW owners, insurance companies and authorities to investigate any vehicle fire incident that is brought to our attention.

We have investigated and in some cases inspected the vehicles identified by ABC News. These vehicles span an age range of 1-15 years, accumulated mileage of up to 232,250 miles and multiple generations and model types. In the few cases that we have inspected and are able to determine root cause, we have not seen any pattern related to quality or component failure. Vehicle fires can result from a wide variety of external reasons unrelated to product defect, like poor maintenance, unauthorized replacement parts, even rodent nests.

So how can a parked car that's turned off catch on fire? Sean Kane, with the Center for Auto Safety, says it's a mystery, but it could have something to do with the fact that vehicles are never really "off".

"Even when a vehicle is off you're going to get power to a lot of the controls, the modules, the door locks, even the high-pressure fuel pump," Kane explained.

Kane says since the fire destroys so much of the components in the car it's tough to determine a cause.

"Oftentimes these types of problem get masked or buried into this pool of fire and no direct cause or origin, no pattern that's visible and then go off the radar," Kane added.

After losing so much, Emerson said she continues to search for answers as to why her BMW caught fire.

"It's a slow process, but I'm willing to wait because that could have been our lives there."

After ABC News asked more questions about Emerson's case, BMW confirmed they are again looking into it.

When it comes to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, a representative said in part, "NHTSA is always monitoring for safety defect issues; at this time there is no evidence pointing to a safety defect; however the agency will continue to monitor its data. Motorists are encouraged to report potential safety issues to the agency, including strange and unexplainable incidents involving their vehicles. On NHTSA's website, vehicle owners can send a complaint and upload accompanying photos, police reports, insurance reports and other information that may be relevant. While on the site, owners can also check for open recalls using NHTSA's free look up tool."

The investigation continues. ABC News will have much more on the BMW Mystery Thursday on Good Morning America, along with World News Tonight and Nightline.

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