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[News in focus] More German cars start to malfunction

Reports of Mercedes stalling come as another BMW burns
Aug 03,2018
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A BMW 520d sedan is completely burnt out after catching fire on Thursday on the Yeongdong Expressway in Wonju, Gangwon, headed towards Gangneung. The fire was put out 20 minutes later and the driver and passenger were unharmed as they quickly exited the vehicle. [YONHAP]
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A sign at a mechanical parking station in Gaepo-dong, southern Seoul, reads that a visitor with a BMW vehicle cannot park here. [YONHAP]
It seems that if your German car isn’t on fire, it may not be running at all.

Reports surfaced Thursday of Mercedes-Benz vehicles repeatedly stalling as more BMWs and even a Mini Cooper catch fire, dealing a serious blow to the reputation of the brands once revered for their prestigious quality and top-notch safety.

A number of Benz drivers have reported the engines in their car regularly stalling during normal use.

“The engine got turned off on its own while parked,” Baek Gwang-gu, an owner of E220d, told the Korea JoongAng Daily on Thursday.

“A couple of weeks ago, I got a software upgrade because the engine didn’t turn on completely,” Baek added.

In fact, Baek got his 2018 E220d exchanged for a new one from the Joong Ang Motor dealership in Pohang early this year when its brake didn’t work on two occasions just two days after he received the car in January.

“I drove a rental car for three months because the after-sales [A/S] service center couldn’t figure out the reason for the malfunctioning brake before it decided to exchange the problematic car with a new one. It is a pity that I have to go to the A/S center again with the new car as well,” Baek said.

Mr. Choi, an owner of an E300, also said his engine stalled as many as four times in less than a month, leading him to upgrade the software at an A/S center early this year.

Engines stalling have been a chronic problem for Mercedes-Benz vehicles in Korea, not only for its best-selling E-Class models, but for other models as well.

The company rolled out a recall for the S63 AMG 4MATIC model in 2015, citing a defect in the ECU software after multiple owners reported the car stalling.

“So far, we haven’t had reports of the problematic car with the engine stall issue,” said a spokesman at Mercedes-Benz Korea. “Once we get a hold of it, we will do our best to roll out an inspection,” the spokesman added.

The reputation of German cars is at risk in Korea with simultaneous reports of malfunctioning engines.

BMW Korea issued a recall in July of 106,000 units of 42 models after nearly 30 BMW cars have burst into flames this year. Its best-selling model, the 520d, is at the center of the issue.

This week alone, BMW cars have caught fire on Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and Thursday, when another 520d sedan caught fire on the Yeongdong Expressway in Gangwon.

Reports surfaced Thursday that a gasoline model Mini Cooper, the British marque owned by BMW, caught fire last month. BMW Korea said it is looking into the case.

With the continuous outbreak of fires even after the recall announcement, anxiety among not only BMW drivers, but also those that share the road or a parking lot with them, is rising.

Multiple petitions have opened on the Blue House website, calling for the government to ban 520ds from Korean roads.

One mechanical parking station in Gaepo-dong, southern Seoul, has started to refuse to allow BMW vehicles to park in the lot.

“A visitor who drives a BMW cannot park here,” a sign was hung up in front of the lot on Thursday. The operator explained that “a burning BMW could spread to other parked cars, resulting in total catastrophe.”

“Ever since the Volkswagen diesel scandal broke out in 2015, German cars have been gradually losing their reputation,” said Kim Pil-soo, an automotive engineering professor at Daelim University.

“On top of German cars being highly common on Korean roads and therefore losing some exclusivity, the latest series of incidents regarding BMW and Mercedes-Benz is dealing a serious blow to German brands’ reputation for safety,” he added.


BY JIN EUN-SOO [jin.eunsoo@joongang.co.kr]