BMW Mini fire highlights need to report to regulators
VANCOUVER -- On July 25, Timi-Lee Skingley was driving home to Kamloops on the Coquihalla Highway just hours after picking up her 2018 Mini Cooper S Countryman from servicing at BMW Mini in Langley. She says she felt something was wrong and pulled off the highway at the Britton Creek rest area.
“As soon as I stopped then you could see the black smoke,” she says.
Skingley says she lifted the hood and saw flames shooting up near the back corner of the engine on the passenger’s side and soon the vehicle was completely engulfed in flames.
“I had enough time to shut off the car, (and) grab my purse,” she says.
The car was still under warranty and Skingley had just picked up it up from the service department where she had taken it in after complaining about lagging and hesitation while driving up hills. According to the paperwork, the dealership had run a diagnostic and had test driven the Mini, but could find nothing wrong.
And what warnings did she get before the fire occurred?
“There was no warning light, there was no indication that the temperature in the engine was getting hot, there was nothing,” she says.
Skingley contacted McLaughlin On Your Side when she says she felt that BMW wasn't taking the issue seriously or standing behind their product. She wanted the company to take responsibility, forgive the remaining loan on her vehicle -- $34,916 -- and allow her to use money from her insurance claim to buy another car.
“There is a presumption that the auto maker has a duty, first of all, to investigate and may be responsible for that loss and they should make their customer whole,” says George Iny, executive director of the Automobile Protection Association.
CTV News reached out to BMW Canada, which emailed a statement; “We are sorry to hear of the situation with Ms. Skingley’s vehicle. Incidents of this nature are handled directly by the insurance company.”
“Why does BMW get paid for a faulty product?” asks Skingley.
There’s nothing to suggest BMW was at fault in this case, but the company does have a history of fires reported with several models of older BMWs and BMW Mini Coopers. Recalls have been issued over the years for various fire hazards on several models but newer models, including Skingley’s 2018 Mini Cooper, were not part of those recalls.
“In Canada, one of the issues we’ve seen is a failure to report these incidents,” Iny says.
He says that often vehicle fires get reported to insurance but don’t get reported to Transport Canada regulators, which can investigate to determine if there’s a bigger problem. The government agency can investigate possible defects which can lead to manufacturer recalls.
B.C.’s provincial insurer, ICBC, handled Skingley’s claim. She says it will pay out about $31,885.40, which is not quite enough to cover the remaining amount of her loan.
ICBC told CTV News it can recover costs if there is sufficient evidence to prove negligence or liability, but they also weigh the costs to pursue damages versus the cost of the actual damage done by the fire. However, in Skingley’s case an external fire expert was not hired and a full investigation was not done because ICBC says the vehicle was too badly burned.
Over a two-year period, in 2018 and 2019, ICBC received seven fire claims involving Mini Coopers, not including Skingley’s 2018 model. Transport Canada received six reports, with all Minis older than five years and under a fire hazard recall. As for other BMW models, ICBC had 75 fire claims while Transport Canada received just 14 reports, with only one covered by a fire hazard recall.
Because of privacy concerns, ICBC wouldn’t disclose model years but says all the fire claims involving BMW and Mini vehicles involved both older and newer models and arson was not suspected in any of them.
However, Transport Canada told CTV News it has received just three reports of fires involving newer vehicles, including Skingley’s 2018 Mini Cooper S Countryman, one 2019 BMW X5 and a 2020 BMW X6.
ICBC says it did not reach out to BMW Canada and that typically it wouldn’t contact the manufacturer unless there was a related recall.
As for BMW Canada, the company is relying on the insurer, stating: "If they determine that an investigation into the cause of the loss is necessary, they will contact MINI Canada or the retailer.”
The Automobile Protection Association says you should never rely on insurance companies, police or even the manufacturer to report vehicle fires to regulators. You need to file a complaint yourself.
Iny says if insurance companies are successful in recovering costs from a manufacturer, it’s often settled with a confidentiality clause.
“APA’s position is that’s a very bad thing from a public safety standpoint,” he says.
While the APA has not heard of any fires involving newer Mini Coopers, Iny encouraged Skingley to file a complaint with Transport Canada.
Her Mini Cooper has now been sold for scrap but she’s not letting it go. She did report her fire to Transport Canada and urges other vehicle owners who have had fires to do the same. What is she hoping for?
“That at least some attention will be drawn to it,” she says.
Transport Canada told CTV News it has no open defects investigations related to fires in BMW or BMW Mini vehicles.