For the past four years, BMW owners have complained of frequently failing fuel pumps in BMW's twin-turbocharged engine sold in the 335i sedan and other models. With lawsuits and national attention growing, BMW's now forced to address the problem. UPDATE!
For a company built around ultimate driving machines, suffering a series of problems with a high-performance engine is embarrassing enough. But several BMW owners say the automaker's handling of their problems has dented their enthusiasm.
Rolled out in 2007, the BMW twin-turbo, inline-six N54 engine was sold as the top of the line in the 3-Series sedans, and has since been used in several other models such as the 135i and the X5. At the time, BMW touted the engine's high performance and fuel economy via direct injection — using high-pressure jets to squirt precise mists of fuel into the combustion chamber.
But soon after it arrived, BMW owners in the United States began reporting a series of problems; rough starts, engines that cranked but wouldn't turn over, and stalling at speed or tripping into a "limp home" mode. Some owners said the pumps failed within a few thousand miles, and others have had their High Pressure Fuel Pump (HPFP) replaced up to four times. Several BMW forums — like Bimmerpost, e90post, Bimmerfest, 1addicts — and a slew of others have long threads on the problem, like this owner's complaint:
My 335xi, (which I don't have anymore since I upgraded to the N55 X5), had two HPFP failures... It was a loaner vehicle, and had it's first HPFP replaced by the dealership when it only had 8k miles.. I didn't even have ownership of it yet. I bought it when it had 18k miles as a CPO, and by 29k miles it's HPFP failed AGAIN. I knew about this problem (HPFP) as being possible, but the dealership never told me it had failed once before. Had I known, I probably wouldn't have bought the car....I shouldn't have to worry about starting my car in the morning, and wondering if I can get to work or not, because BMW has been using the same failed approach on their pump for 4 Model Years.
BMW's response has been straight from the industry playbook: Deny any widespread issue but quietly fix for those who complain. While several BMW dealers have blamed the problem on quality problems with U.S. gasoline, owners in Germany have also filled online forums with fuel pump failure reports. BMW offered several software updates that supposedly addressed some problems, but many owners say the updates only delayed a pump failure.
The German automaker told U.S. safety regulators two years ago that it had started investigating the problem in April 2008, and had been fixing vehicles since. It said at the time it had no reports of crashes or injuries linked to the problem, and that "BMW strongly believes that this issue, and the conditions that occur in the field, do not pose any risk to motor vehicle safety." By that point, BMW already had some 700 consumer complaints.
The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration closed a preliminary investigation into the problem in August 2008, saying it found that less than 1% of the BMW owners who might suffer a fuel pump problem could stall. Last year, the company extended the warranty on the fuel pumps to 10 years or 120,000 miles for several model years.
Customers have taken matters into their own hands, and this morning, "Good Morning America" ran a segment on the problem, based in part on lawsuits filed against the automaker. In it, BMW executives vow to take some kind of action.
UPDATE: This morning, BMW announced two recalls of 150,800 vehicles in the United States to fix bad fuel pumps in the N54 engines. The larger recall covers 130,000 vehicles and includes 335i models since 2007, 2008–2010 135i, 535i and X6 xDrive35i Sports Activity Coupes and 2009–2010 Z4 Roadster sDrive35i.
BMW says depending on their prior repairs, it will either replace the fuel pumps, upgrade the software or both, and expects about 40,000 vehicles will need new fuel pumps.
Fans did not participate in the request to recall the BMW X5, but 20,800 from the 2008 model year are being recalled anyway to fix a similar fuel pump failure. That recall qualifies as a safety defect, since the failure could shut off the engine and power assist for steering and brakes.