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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 07-24-2012, 07:16 PM
ProRaven ProRaven is offline
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Mein Auto: 1997 528i
2003 540i front seat caught on fire

All-

I used the search feature, but could not find much information on what happened to me last Thursday:

I got in my 2003 540i, and noticed my driver seat was for no reason all the way back in the flat position. The power seat did not respond when I tried to move it back up to a proper angle.

I was in a hurry to get my son to karate, so I told him to hop in. The karate school was only 5 minutes away, and I figured I could lean forward for the short ride.

Two minutes into the ride, my son and I smelled smoke. We looked down, and noticed flames under my driver seat. The seat motor had caught on fire. We were forced to pull over, and I used his water bottle to douse the flames.

I have comprehensive insurance with no deductible, but my insurance company is telling me I could still be liable for some of the bill.

Question: with an 11-year old car like mine, is it worth my time to bitch to BMW NA, or to the dealer, and not pay a dime for this incident? I'm shocked a seat could just catch on fire like this. My mechanic told me he has seen this a few times with BMW.

Your .02 is appreciated.

Darren

Last edited by ProRaven; 07-24-2012 at 07:20 PM.
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  #2  
Old 07-24-2012, 10:20 PM
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moots moots is offline
wat's dat noise
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Mein Auto: '97 528i
you can always try.......how cud the seat do an uncommanded position maneuver? my guess is the motor kept running after the seat resumed it's new position and burnt itself out!geez....that is scary.

this is the time that i am thankful my seats are manual seats
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  #3  
Old 07-24-2012, 11:17 PM
acoste acoste is offline
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The contacts in a relay can stick together and won't release under higher (than spec) load. But why hasn't this kicked off the fuse which is 30A only? I think the unloader relay which cuts the power after 16 minutes has saved your car from burning to the ground.
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  #4  
Old 07-25-2012, 12:10 AM
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fullthrottle540 fullthrottle540 is offline
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i hate it when that happens
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  #5  
Old 07-25-2012, 12:24 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ProRaven View Post
I used the search feature, but could not find much information on what happened
I ran a quick /seat F3 in the bestlinks to find this, among others.
- How to fix broken wires in heated seats (1) & how to do a front (1) & rear (1) heated seat retrofit & how to retrofit active comfort seats into the E39 (1) or E38 (1) & splicing wiring for modding a 99+ sports seat into a 95-98 BMW (1) & a BMW E39 rear folding seatback/folding seats retrofit DIY (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) & how to reupholster or repair or re-foam or dye worn leather or cloth BMW seats (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6) (7) (8) (9) (10) (11) (12) (13) (14) & recommended suppliers (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6) (7) (8) (9).

I think one of those threads, IIRC, has a story about burned up seats.
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  #6  
Old 07-26-2012, 07:36 AM
ProRaven ProRaven is offline
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Total repair is 3k. I will post how much is covered by insurance. Crossing my fingers.
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  #7  
Old 07-26-2012, 08:35 AM
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Dking078 Dking078 is offline
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3K?!!? What are they replacing?
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  #8  
Old 07-26-2012, 08:38 AM
YinD YinD is offline
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Your insurance company will probably submit a claim/letter to BMW to re-coup their loss. 11 year old vehicle is usually too old to have a leg to stand on. That is even older than what NHTSA usuallly looks at.
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  #9  
Old 07-26-2012, 09:47 AM
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I always have a 5# ABC fire extinguisher on the back floor of all my cars. Glad to hear that you and your son were not harmed.

Good luck with the insurance.
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  #10  
Old 07-29-2012, 02:22 PM
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MikesE39 MikesE39 is offline
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if your car is 03 then its 9-10 yrs old. and iv heard of e39s catching fire more than once. its begining to scare me.
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  #11  
Old 07-29-2012, 03:23 PM
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seemyad seemyad is offline
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Definitely an electrical short.

Relay, switch, controller, or hot wire to ground.

Motors typically burn-out in the form of an open. The coils overheat and burn open like a fuse. There are always exceptions.

I wonder why the car's fuse did not blow before the fire started. Check your fuse box to see if there is one for the seat. If so check the amp rating to ensure it is the right one.

If the fuse is correct I'd be concerned about that too. Should be checked out.

I'm glad that no one was hurt.

Last edited by seemyad; 07-30-2012 at 12:58 AM.
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  #12  
Old 07-29-2012, 07:26 PM
Danios Danios is offline
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WOW...

I would go to BMW and throw an epic sh*tfit. I don't care if the car is 9 years old, your seat catching fire is ABSURD and completely unacceptable. I would make very clear that your son was in the car and could have been injured and if they don't address the problem your next call is to a lawyer. Talk to BMWNA also because they may be more prone to addressing the issue than a dealer.

As for your insurance's damage quote, was anything else damaged besides the seat? If not, I would just buy a used seat out of a low-mileage totaled car. It'll cut your bill from $3k to $300.

Best of luck. Wow that is absolutely ridiculous, I'm still shaking my head...
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  #13  
Old 07-31-2012, 12:37 PM
sktn77a sktn77a is offline
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I see no reason why your insurance company would not pay for the repair/replacement? Maybe they are just trying it on. Certainly advise BMW of the fire. They should be very interested in a potential liability issue with one of their products (ask Ford, Chrysler, Toyota, Audi.........). If they don't respond, send them a second copy of your letter, copying the NHTSA.
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  #14  
Old 07-31-2012, 12:49 PM
Turbo_525 Turbo_525 is offline
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1. Glad you and your son were not hurt! Car fires, especially interior can spread quickly and can be very hard to put out, even with a proper extinquisher.

2. You're really lucky the water even helped - electrical fires can make it worse - suggest an ABC extinquisher as well.

3. Definetly get BMWNA involved. This is a safety risk indeed! Good luck!
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  #15  
Old 07-31-2012, 02:37 PM
GroupBquattro GroupBquattro is offline
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The insurance co has to pay, that's what comp coverage is for. Unless they can prove it was an intentional act, which is not the case. Negligence is not an issue either since you did not ignore any warning signs, you just found a pushed back non-working seat. And it was cold at the time. If the ins co want to subrogate aginst BMW, that's up to them, you have nothing to do with it. If they give you a hard time, tell them you may contact the insurance commissioner, that 's the worst thing an insurer wants to hear. I am an insurance broker, that's what I do.
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  #16  
Old 08-09-2012, 09:34 AM
ProRaven ProRaven is offline
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Bad news: BMW NA called, they are not extending me any "goodwill" due to the fire. They reasoned it was a 10 year old car, 90k miles on it, and the fire could have been started by "an outside influence," meaning it was detailed improperly, trash, etc. I keep a very very clean car- this is infuriating me.

I'm not sure what my next recourse will be. Who do I start with?
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  #17  
Old 08-09-2012, 11:03 AM
jygesq jygesq is offline
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should be covered under your comprehensive insurance coverage

Quote:
Originally Posted by ProRaven View Post
Bad news: BMW NA called, they are not extending me any "goodwill" due to the fire. They reasoned it was a 10 year old car, 90k miles on it, and the fire could have been started by "an outside influence," meaning it was detailed improperly, trash, etc. I keep a very very clean car- this is infuriating me.

I'm not sure what my next recourse will be. Who do I start with?
Assuming you have it,
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  #18  
Old 08-09-2012, 12:19 PM
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doru doru is online now
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Where and when was your car last serviced? Pray to God it was at the dealership and not too long ago. They always tinker with the seat settings when driving it......
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  #19  
Old 08-09-2012, 01:55 PM
ProRaven ProRaven is offline
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I get it serviced at Towson BMW for the last year. They have not been much help.
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  #20  
Old 08-09-2012, 03:22 PM
ProRaven ProRaven is offline
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Basically, I'm bouncing this situation up to an executive claims manager AND an insurance commissioner through Liberty Mutual, as well as going to the next level with BMWNA. With a 10 year old car that I bought used and I'm the 3rd owner- do I even have a shot?
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  #21  
Old 08-09-2012, 06:25 PM
GreenTiger GreenTiger is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ProRaven View Post
Basically, I'm bouncing this situation up to an executive claims manager AND an insurance commissioner through Liberty Mutual, as well as going to the next level with BMWNA. With a 10 year old car that I bought used and I'm the 3rd owner- do I even have a shot?
I hope you do have a shot because this is absolutely ridiculous. I would dump the car so fast if it ever caught fire on me. That's one thing I hate about complicated cars: complicated electrical systems.
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  #22  
Old 08-09-2012, 11:19 PM
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seemyad seemyad is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ProRaven View Post
Basically, I'm bouncing this situation up to an executive claims manager AND an insurance commissioner through Liberty Mutual, as well as going to the next level with BMWNA. With a 10 year old car that I bought used and I'm the 3rd owner- do I even have a shot?
Just did a Yahoo search on "BMW seat fire". Found hits on e39 seat heaters burning the seat.

Long shot is to find similar incidents, compile them together and raise heck with BMW, NHTSA, and the State Attorney General office (all free of charge). Safety is the catch word of the decade. I should because I am a Safety Inspector.

I know this is a trying time due to the unforeseen incident. You and your son escaped unscathed. You have no idea how many grieving families people in my office have dealt with.

Try to make the best of a lousy situation. Create a long term plan with short term milestones to get beyond this. Hope for the best but plan for the worst.

I'm sorry this has happened to you. Be thankful the most important items were not damaged, you and your son. In the end ALL material things come and go so enjoy them while they last and do your best to keep your life in order after the loss.

Last edited by seemyad; 08-10-2012 at 09:45 AM.
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  #23  
Old 08-09-2012, 11:57 PM
dalyduo dalyduo is offline
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Less than a year ago was getting my '03 540 iT serviced at Bimmers Only in Bedford Hills NY. The owner Graham pointed to a slightly older E39 wagon parked outside, "Notice anything different about that car?" I walked over and other than dark tinted windows it appeared normal. "Looks pretty good..." I replied. Then he opened the passenger door to reveal the right front passenger seat burned to a crisp and the dark tinted windows were actually smoke tint from the fire. The car had been parked overnight outside his garage and the seat did itself in all by itself. Apparently the oxygen was used up before the fire became hot enough to pop the window glass and the fire smoldered out but the interior was completely ruined by heat, smoke and smell. Very troubling.

Clearly this is an issue worth paying close attention to. I've had my heated motorized seats inspected at every service interval since then and I regularly check underneath with a flashlight for any obvious visual signs of wiring issues. Unfortunately a bad switch or relay might not give any warning before making itself known catastrophically.
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  #24  
Old 08-10-2012, 09:49 AM
ProRaven ProRaven is offline
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Sounds like Liberty Mutual is laying the blame on the "general module," which according to their policy they don't cover replacing that. I asked Liberty to mail me a letter stating what they do and don't cover in this particular case, which I'll share with the MD insurance commissioner. They do cover all resulting damage, but don't cover the GM. I bubbled this thing several levels up with both BMWNA and Liberty Mutual, and I'm getting shut down. I might be SOL in this situation. I am trying to look on the bright side- nobody was hurt- but this is a complete pain in the ass.
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  #25  
Old 08-11-2012, 09:11 AM
YinD YinD is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ProRaven View Post
Bad news: BMW NA called, they are not extending me any "goodwill" due to the fire. They reasoned it was a 10 year old car, 90k miles on it, and the fire could have been started by "an outside influence," meaning it was detailed improperly, trash, etc. I keep a very very clean car- this is infuriating me.

I'm not sure what my next recourse will be. Who do I start with?
File a complaint with NHTSA. You can do this directly on their website. Of you have the money, hire an outside fire investigator.

Then mail all of this to BMW again.
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