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E39 (1997 - 2003)
The BMW 5-Series (E39 chassis) was introduced in the United States as a 1997 model year car and lasted until the 2004 when the E60 chassis was released. The United States saw several variations including the 525i, 528i, 530i and 540i. -- View the E39 Wiki

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  #1  
Old 08-06-2011, 01:48 AM
NZ BMW NZ BMW is offline
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Exciting Evening - FIRE in the radiator fan...

Hi Everyone,

Just got back from the side of the road where I watched my immaculate 530i be hauled onto the back of a tow truck because it looked like the radiator fan caught fire.

We were driving along when I started to smell burning plastic, I thought it was the car in front of me, then it got really strong and I pulled over straight away. Seeing what looked to be steam coming from the front grille I popped the bonnet (hood) and there was a fire in the centre of the radiator fan (the front aux fan). I flagged down a passing motorist and lucky he had some water bottles in his car which we used to douse the flames.

Has anyone had this before? What causes this, a short in the motor? Some kind of parts rubbing together? I recently had my radiator changed - I would be surprised if they were related unless they somehow pinched some wires but I think that would be unlikely.

Needless to say I'm going to purchase a fire extinguisher for the car. Also funny was that we pulled over right next to another E39, looked to be a late 1990's 528i.

At only 120,000km's (not miles) I'm a bit miffed to be honest.

Any ideas would be appreciated - it is Saturday night here so I won't see the car until Monday or Tuesday.

Thanks,
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  #2  
Old 08-06-2011, 03:24 AM
JimLev JimLev is offline
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There have been reports of the epoxy that holds the permanent magnets to the outer frame of the motor case coming loose and jaming the armature.
This causes the motor to draw large amounts of current, overheat, and in your case catch fire.
Your lucky your car didn't burn up.
Your radiator change is unrelated to this, the wiring/connector for the aux fan is not on the radiator side, the AC condenser is between them and not removed when the radiator is replaced.
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  #3  
Old 08-06-2011, 04:14 AM
NZ BMW NZ BMW is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by JimLev View Post
There have been reports of the epoxy that holds the permanent magnets to the outer frame of the motor case coming loose and jaming the armature.
This causes the motor to draw large amounts of current, overheat, and in your case catch fire.
Your lucky your car didn't burn up.
Your radiator change is unrelated to this, the wiring/connector for the aux fan is not on the radiator side, the AC condenser is between them and not removed when the radiator is replaced.
Thanks for the info - like I said I would be surprised if the two were connected, but this confirms it for me, thank you.

To be honest I'm amazed - I've never seen anything like this happen to a car before. I feel very grateful that the car was not a write-off and that I was able to put it out quickly.

I'd be interested to see how many people have had this issue - I take it that it's not common at all?
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  #4  
Old 08-06-2011, 04:32 AM
JimLev JimLev is offline
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No, it's not real common. A few years ago I replaced the mechanical fan on the water pump with a 16" electric fan. After a few years I had the same problem, the magnets came off and jammed the armature which only blew the 20 amp fuse. My aux fan was coming on more than it usually did so I suspected something was wrong.
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  #5  
Old 08-06-2011, 05:00 AM
billybadass billybadass is offline
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well its funny you mention fire in the aux fan just two days ago i changed out the fan and with in 30 min of running the car i was on the free way and smoke started blowing in the cab i pulled over and open the hood and sure thing there was a nice lil camp fire going on and i wasn't so lucky the hole front of the car is gone motor is melted ill put some pic on Monday so i think its more then you think i also did a lil looking in to it and there's a couple of of bmw with fire storys
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  #6  
Old 08-06-2011, 05:16 AM
cn90 cn90 is online now
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I wonder if people report this to BMW.

Also the appropriate gov agency needs to know. In the US it is the NHTSA:
http://www.nhtsa.gov/

Curious why the fuse did not blow. I remember a similar event in forum a while back.
This is an example of "fancy engineering gone wrong". The 1997 and 98 models have a different design, the resistor pack sits outside of the fan. Later years have a circuit borad built into the aux fan casing. This is an example of "the car is a victim of fancy electronic design". The aux fan by itself is a simple device, yet BMW engineers decided to complicate it.

Yes, carry a fire extinguisher.
In my cars I always carry a fire extinguisher and about 1/2 gallon of wind shield washer fluid (which could be used to refill WW reservoir or to put small fire out).
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  #7  
Old 08-06-2011, 05:37 AM
96 GGM 528I 96 GGM 528I is offline
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You would use Methyl/Ethanol alcohol to put out a fire? Bad idea. You know that people use washer fluid in meth injected cars right? NEVER PUT WASHERFLUID ON A FIRE YOU ARE TRYING TO EXTINGUISH.
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  #8  
Old 08-06-2011, 05:45 AM
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TemporarySanity TemporarySanity is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by 96 GGM 528I View Post
You would use Methyl/Ethanol alcohol to put out a fire? Bad idea. You know that people use washer fluid in meth injected cars right? NEVER PUT WASHERFLUID ON A FIRE YOU ARE TRYING TO EXTINGUISH.
+1! A cousin of mine tried to put out an engine fire on his 1972 240Z, using washer fluid. It just made the fire bigger! Fortunately, a passing motorist had an extinguisher and was able to put the fire out before any serious damage was done.
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  #9  
Old 08-06-2011, 05:59 AM
JimLev JimLev is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by 96 GGM 528I View Post
You would use Methyl/Ethanol alcohol to put out a fire? Bad idea. You know that people use washer fluid in meth injected cars right? NEVER PUT WASHERFLUID ON A FIRE YOU ARE TRYING TO EXTINGUISH.
There is so little methanol in washer fluid it will not burn. It's only purpose is to prevent it from freezing.
Methanol injection is used in turbo and S/C cars to cool the cyl temps down to allow them to crank up the boost without detonation. I use it in my nitrous engine for the same reason.

CN, the reason for the newer style fan is it removes the 2 resistors, the 3 relays, and all of the wiring. The PWM fan can run at almost any speed between 0-100% as opposed to 3 fixed speeds. Either fan can fail. The less parts the more reliable it is suppose to be.
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  #10  
Old 08-06-2011, 06:17 AM
JimLev JimLev is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by TemporarySanity View Post
+1! A cousin of mine tried to put out an engine fire on his 1972 240Z, using washer fluid. It just made the fire bigger! Fortunately, a passing motorist had an extinguisher and was able to put the fire out before any serious damage was done.
After reading your post I had to try it. I have some washer fluid that is good to -20 F, I poured some on 1/2 of a shop rag that I hung outside with the wet end at the top.
I lit the bottom dry end on fire. When the flame got to the wet part it went out. I tried to light the top wet end with a lighter, it wouldn't burn.
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  #11  
Old 08-06-2011, 06:25 AM
cn90 cn90 is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by JimLev View Post
There is so little methanol in washer fluid it will not burn. It's only purpose is to prevent it from freezing.
Methanol injection is used in turbo and S/C cars to cool the cyl temps down to allow them to crank up the boost without detonation. I use it in my nitrous engine for the same reason.
That is what I thought, WW fluid has some methanol but the majority is water.
Hey I learn something new.

BTW, a new experiment is in order to day, all of you guys are welcome to do your own experiemnt in your backyard:
- I will build a small fire (I have a small fire pit in the backyard) sometime this weekend and test the WW fluid (whether it is flammable) and report back hehe!
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  #12  
Old 08-06-2011, 07:18 AM
96 GGM 528I 96 GGM 528I is offline
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-40 winter fluid is defiantly flammable. I mean GM recalled a crap load of cars because of it. http://www.cunninghampilaw.com/blog/...d-fire-hazard/

MSDS says flash point is 102 deg F. As I said never use it to estinguish a fire. here is a pdf of the MSDS it had a fire rating or 3, 4 BEING THE HIGHEST. It says on the sheet that the flame will not be visible. so test your own theory's at your own expense. I don't think GM recalls cars for fun though http://cleanpartsusa.com/images/Weat...id%20MSDS1.pdf

Last edited by 96 GGM 528I; 08-06-2011 at 07:20 AM.
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  #13  
Old 08-06-2011, 07:28 AM
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bluebee bluebee is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by NZ BMW View Post
the radiator fan caught fire
It would be nice if you post a picture so I can include it in the pictorial look at all the things that fail on the cooling system!
- Pictorial look at typical E39 cooling system failure modes (1)

We don't have 'that' one yet!

Quote:
Originally Posted by cn90 View Post
the appropriate gov agency needs to know. In the US it is the NHTSA: http://www.nhtsa.gov/
When I searched the NHTSA for my 2002 525i, there were only 25 records on file for the entire production year!

Methinks we should start reporting some of this safety stuff to the NHTSA!

Quote:
Originally Posted by cn90 View Post
Curious why the fuse did not blow.
Agreed. That's what it's for!

Quote:
Originally Posted by cn90 View Post
carry a fire extinguisher.
When I was young, and new to cars, my Dad put a Halon fire extinguisher in my trunk, which I carried with me all through college and beyond. I never did use that thing - and - a decade or so later, threw it out, unused, and depleted anyway.

I never bought a new one.

Last edited by bluebee; 08-06-2011 at 07:30 AM.
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  #14  
Old 08-06-2011, 07:32 AM
cn90 cn90 is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by 96 GGM 528I View Post
-40 winter fluid is defiantly flammable. I mean GM recalled a crap load of cars because of it. http://www.cunninghampilaw.com/blog/...d-fire-hazard/...
The GM thingy root cause is electrical in origin, not caused by WW fluid:
http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/201...r-fire-fiasco/

Anyway, I will report on my backyard experiment later, it is cheap experiment anyway LOL!
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  #15  
Old 08-06-2011, 07:58 AM
96 GGM 528I 96 GGM 528I is offline
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http://www.youtube.com/verify_age?ne...%3DS818xxy-X60

I'm not trying to argue anything just would hate for someone to post on here the tried to extinguish a fire and burned there car to the ground.
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  #16  
Old 08-06-2011, 09:39 AM
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bmw_n00b13 bmw_n00b13 is offline
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Some anti-freeze additives in their pure state are flammable no doubt, but I suspect the -40 washer fluid isn't flammable... that being said, it doesn't matter if it is or is not flammable, car fires need to be put out with an ABC extinguisher... there's solid material, oily stuff, and live wires.

I gotta track down a nice car sized extinguisher. Like most things of that nature, you'll regret it only when you don't have it.

I hope the OP is able to recover the car for a reasonable amount of money! The new fan design is highly prone to failure after the warranty expires, but it usually does not fail this way.
The other fire under the hood was caused by a map thermostat iirc.
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  #17  
Old 08-06-2011, 02:12 PM
NZ BMW NZ BMW is offline
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Thanks for the feedback everyone.

Bluebee - I will get some pictures when I get to see the car again - I'm going to make sure my mechanics keep the old fan so I can have a look at it.

BMWnoob - Yes, I also hope it won't be a large fix. I have both a warranty of the car and full insurance so we will see what happens, I don't think it was that bad looking back on it the next morning now that the adrenalin has faded. I couldn't see any melted plastic and in the time it took me to retrieve the water from the other car and return the fire was actually out so fingers crossed it was confined to the motor. There was also no smoke in the cabin either.

I'm also curious as to why the fuse did not blow. I've only had the car for 4-5 months. Kind of makes you think that someone's "fix" for a fuse constantly blowing was to put in a higher rated fuse! But we will have to see.

It is funny that we're having this conversation about the washer fluid. I'm carrying around about 3L of pre mixed BMW coolant - I briefly thought about dousing the flames with it but then thought the better of it.
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  #18  
Old 08-06-2011, 02:30 PM
JimLev JimLev is offline
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Aux fan fuse is 50 amps, that's a lot of current to draw, the wires inside the fan are much smaller than the supply wire.
Ones the fan gets spinning it's current consumption is <20 amps.
The start up surge is probably 30+ amps but doesn't last long.
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  #19  
Old 08-06-2011, 04:55 PM
pleiades pleiades is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by NZ BMW View Post
....Also funny was that we pulled over right next to another E39, looked to be a late 1990's 528i. ....
Was theirs on fire too?

What are you doing to make that aux fan run in wintertime!
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Old 08-06-2011, 05:22 PM
NZ BMW NZ BMW is offline
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Originally Posted by pleiades View Post
Was theirs on fire too?

What are you doing to make that aux fan run in wintertime!
Nah it seemed fine - I briefly thought about striping it for parts... The guy who pulled over to help was driving a X5, he looked worried.

What do you mean about the fan? Mine runs at all times of the year, we never get below freezing here. Was about 10'C last night. We'd just been sitting in traffic so that might have been the cause of it running.
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Old 08-06-2011, 05:38 PM
pleiades pleiades is offline
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Originally Posted by NZ BMW View Post
Nah it seemed fine - I briefly thought about striping it for parts... The guy who pulled over to help was driving a X5, he looked worried.

What do you mean about the fan? Mine runs at all times of the year, we never get below freezing here. Was about 10'C last night. We'd just been sitting in traffic so that might have been the cause of it running.
Mine only runs when I have the AC on, on a hot day. Admittedly rare where I live. None the less... these things should not run full time.
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  #22  
Old 08-06-2011, 05:58 PM
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bmw_n00b13 bmw_n00b13 is offline
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Three BMWs parked on re side of the road, two broken down. Lol.
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  #23  
Old 08-06-2011, 10:54 PM
NZ BMW NZ BMW is offline
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Ignoring the gripe this guy is having about his fan here is a video of what seems to happen:



Info on the recall:

E39 Auxiliary/Cooling Fan Recall UPDATE

BMW issued SI Bulletin 64 07 01 yesterday to notify dealers that all models that were recently recalled to replace the auxiliary/cooling fan would be recalled again.
Here is some of the pertinent info from the SI Bulletin:

"SUBJECT
Recall Campaign 01V-206: Engine Auxiliary/Cooling Fan - E46, E38, E39, E52, E53
MODEL
E46, 3 Series with manual transmission, produced 02/01/2001 up to 06/01/2001
E38, 7 Series from 11/01/2000 up to 06/30/2001
E39, 5 Series from 01/16/2001 up to 08/31/2001
E52, Z8 from 01/01/2001 up to 08/31/2001
E53, X5 from 12/18/2000 up to 09/05/2001
NOTE :
This notification contains important revisions to Recall Campaign 01V-206, Engine Auxiliary /Cooling Fan which has been revised.
ALL VEHICLES CAMPAIGNED UNDER THE CURRENT RECALL 01V-206 WILL BE RECALLED AGAIN USING THE FOLLOWING, NEW PART NUMBERS:
E46 PN 17 11 7 510 617
E39 PN 64 54 6 921 395
E38/E52 PN 64 54 6 921 383
E53 PN 64 54 6 921 381.
Should a customer who has received a Notification Letter for the Recall 01V-206 request that Recall 01V-206 be performed, proceed with the repairs described in this Service Bulletin.
This Service Information Bulletin is going to be updated shortly with the full VIN range of the affected vehicles. Customer notification mailings will follow.
SITUATION
The potential defect involves the engine auxiliary/cooling fan in certain MY 2001 BMW vehicles.
Fan operation, including variable speed, is electronically controlled. It is possible for the electrical circuitry in the fan control unit to overheat and fail, causing the fan to stop operating. If this were to occur, engine overheating and subsequent engine damage could result if vehicle continues to be operated, despite the warning provided by the coolant temperature gauge.
In addition, it is possible in some cases for the failure of the electrical circuitry to cause smoldering. In the extreme case, a fire in the fan control unit, which is mounted in the fan and located in the front of the engine compartment, could occur. This could happen either while the engine is running or after the ignition has been switched off since fan may run for up to 11 minutes after engine shutdown."

Last edited by NZ BMW; 08-06-2011 at 11:38 PM.
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  #24  
Old 08-07-2011, 07:27 AM
pleiades pleiades is offline
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DAMN!

I hope you get them to fix it free then. Everyone with a MY 2001 needs to know this.
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  #25  
Old 08-08-2011, 03:00 PM
NZ BMW NZ BMW is offline
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Just an update for everyone. The damage seems to be confined to the fan. It is being replaced. The costs of the parts and the installation is about $1200NZD so roughly $1000USD. Annoyingly the warranty company will not cover it. They cover a radiator but not the fan bolted to it.

I am going to keep the old fan to see what the part number is on it. If it should have been replaced under the recall I will write to BMW and see what recourse they can give me. However I'm doubtful that after 10 years they will care.

All in all a relatively cheap fix given the potential for the entire car to be destroyed by this kind of thing.

I'll post some pictures of the fan when I see it.
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