There’s nothing like laying down a small fortune on a swanky BMW only to wake up one morning and discover it decided to spontaneously combust overnight. Or even worse, when it decides to do it as you’re flying along the freeway. But it happens. Not often, but then cars don’t have to burst into flames every day for it to still be a problem. Not that fire is the only thing that’s ever taken a battering ram to BMW’s reputation, of course. Faulty seat belts, airbags that don’t inflate (or inflate whenever they feel like it), dodgy engines, brakes that don’t seem to understand their basic purpose in life… over the years, BMW has been forced to issue recalls for a host of problems. In fairness, not all of them have been serious. Back in the 1990s, a handful of German motorists got huffy at being told what to do by a female-voiced GPS. BMW decided to bow to the will of less than a couple of hundred misogynists and issued a recall for all female-voiced navigation systems. That particular recall may have been trivial nonsense, but most have been far from nonsense and even further from trivial. And they just keep coming. For now, General Motors has the worst record for recalls. But as movement regulators and peeved drivers continue to uncover oversights in the car industry’s manufacturing processes, you never know when that might change. As things stand, these are the five biggest BMW recalls in the luxury auto company history.
5. Steering Wheel Recall
In 2019, BMW issued a recall against 2018-2019 x3 xdrive30i, x3 sdrive30i, and x3 m40i vehicles equipped with the Active Lane Keep Assist option. The problem according to vinrush.com was that BMW had installed the safety feature without first checking its compatibility with the steering wheels they were using. As it turned out, it wasn’t compatible, resulting in it becoming less of a safety feature and more of a safety risk. Naive drivers who thought they could rely on their car to tell them when they’d taken their hands off the wheel (because, obviously, how else would they know otherwise?) were shocked to discover that the sensors couldn’t actually tell if their hands were on the wheel or in their laps. Fortunately, it didn’t take BMW long to find out what the problem was, and pretty soon, all 51 recalled cars were back on the road before any reports of crashes or injuries had been reported.
4. I3 Recall
In 2017, every single I3 model ever sold in North America was recalled. Understandably, it was a big deal. I3’s had first been released in 2014, meaning there were 4 model years worth of cars, amounting to 30,000 vehicles in total, affected. You don’t issue a recall like that because a few customers aren’t happy with their GPS. You do, however, issue one when people’s lives are in danger. As Autowise reports, because of the severity of the problem, BMW placed a complete stop-sale on the line until the problem was resolved. After enlisting the help of NHTSA, BMW conducted a series of crash test simulations to figure out the root of the problem. What they found was that anyone under five feet in height was at an increased risk of neck injury when they sat in the driving seat without wearing a seatbelt. It was a costly recall, and one that could have been completely avoided had people just worn their seatbelts.
3. PCV Valve Heater Recall
In 2017, BMW recalled 740,500 vehicles that were at risk of their positive crankcase ventilation valves short-circuiting, overheating, and melting. As CarComplaints.com notes, a melted PVC valve heater can result in a very real danger of a fire even if the ignition is turned off. Two years later, they widened the recall to include a further 184,500 vehicles. According to BMW, the PCV valve heaters weren’t made to the correct specifications owing to supplier error. Their manufacturing mistakes had led to cavities in the area of the electrical contacts which allowed moisture to seep in, When that happened, it was only a matter of time before it short-circuited. In most cases, drivers were alerted to the problem by a warning light. Sometimes, it was the smoke and the smell of burning that reached them first. Understandably, the recall was a PR disaster for BMW. It didn’t exactly help matters that peeved customers alleging they’d never received repairs or received a loaner vehicle subsequently lodged a class suit action against them.
2. Coolant Leak Recall
The coolant leak recall that affected four and six-cylinder diesel models from the years 2010 to 2017 started with 480,000 vehicles. It ended with 1.6 million. The problem was caused by a leak in the exhaust gas recirculation module. When the leak met soot and high temperatures, fires could, and did, occur. In the event, only 30 diesel motors in Germany were found to have the defect, but all potentially affected vehicles were offered a free safety inspection just in case.
1. Takata Airbag Recall
If the 2017/2019 PCV valve heater recall was a PR disaster for BMW, the 2015 Takata airbag recall was an even bigger one. By the time BMW decided to act on the advice of Takota and recall every single vehicle with a potentially explosive Takata airbag, eight people had already died. In its recall notice, BMW claimed to be unaware of any injures or deaths in its vehicles as a result of the problem. That didn’t stop another 12 people from dying and another 300 people from getting injured before the problem got fixed. Not that it was solely a BMW problem – multiple manufacturers were affected, with the result that the Takata recall is remembered as one of the most disruptive recalls in history. On BMW’s side, over 37 million vehicles were recalled. The NHTSA eventually determined the source of the problem (Takata had used an ammonium nitrate-based propellant but had failed to add a chemical drying agent), but the damage had already been done. Takata was already bankrupt by then so it didn’t have a reputation to either harm or save. The same couldn’t be said for BMW, nor the multiple other manufacturers involved in the debacle.