|Firefighters try to extinguish the flames from a BMW 520d that caught fire while being driven down a highway in Wonju, Gangwon Province, Sunday. / Yonhap|
By Lee Suh-yoon
Angry customers have filed a class-action lawsuit Monday against German automaker BMW for the "fire-prone" engines in its 520d sedans.
Four BMW owners filed for damages of 5 million won ($4,500) each against BMW Korea and Deutsche Motors, a local distributor of BMW vehicles, claiming they sold cars that had the risk of catching fire, and then tried to cover up the problem.
One of the owners in the lawsuit, who only asked to be identified by his surname Yoo, said he could no longer drive his BMW 520d M Aerodynamic to work.
"I have to drive about 100 kilometers back and forth work on the airport highway every day but now I'm too scared to make the trip in my BMW," Yoo told The Korea Times. "People also stare at me disapprovingly for driving the car because it could be potentially dangerous to other motorists."
More customers have shown interest in joining the suit, according to Ha Jong-sun, the attorney from Barun Law representing the plaintiffs.
"BMW's recent recall plan does not get rid of the fire hazard entirely, because it replaces just the exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) component instead of the whole engine," Ha said over the phone.
Over 20 BMW 520d sedans have caught fire in Korea since last December, or about three every month.
The problem has been traced to the EGR that is supplied by a domestic manufacturer. A functioning EGR will re-circulate exhaust gases back into the engine to cool down the engine's cylinder and decrease nitrogen oxide emissions.
BMW may have intentionally tried to cover up the defect, Ha said.
"Though the problem surfaced here three years ago, BMW did not take any definitive measures to fix it, saying the cause was unclear," Ha said. "However, it must have been aware of the problem because it specifically changed the structural design for the EGR for its cars in 2017."
Last Thursday, BMW Korea initiated recalls for over 100,000 diesel engine vehicles that contained the problematic EGR module, including the 520d sedans manufactured before 2017.
Yoo added that selling the car is not a feasible option at the moment because its secondhand price has plummeted amid the string of fire incidents.
"Right now, I'm thinking about getting a fire extinguisher for the car," Yoo said. "Sometimes, I have nightmares about my car going up in flames."