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BMW 3-Series Fuel Pump Failures

jongouldjongould Posts: 13
Copied below, you will find a letter I wrote to BMW Customer Relations earlier this month, detailing an experience I had involving a fuel pump failure on my 2007 BMW 328xi. I believe that the problem I experienced represents both a potential safety issue -- given the fact that a fuel pump failure results in an immediate loss of engine power, power steering, and power brakes -- and a potential design flaw -- given the cause of the fuel pump failure, which my BMW service manager attributed to the deleterious effects of the ethanol in the premium Mobil gasoline I have been using in my car. If the explanation BMW provided is correct, it suggests that every BMW 328 on the road today is vulnerable to this problem. When one adds to this the fact that the only way to remedy this problem is to replace not only the fuel pump but also the entire gas tank of the car, at a cost of approximately $3500, I believe this is a situation represents a recall, or perhaps a class action lawsuit, in the making.

Dear BMW Customer Relations,

On Saturday, April 2nd, I was driving my 2007 BMW 328xi from my home in upstate New York to New York City when my engine abruptly shut down at mile 65 of the N.Y.S. Thruway. Fortunately, I was close enough to the entrance ramp of the Modena service area that I was able to coast safely off the highway and into the parking lot. When I attempted to restart the car, the starter turned over, but the engine would not start. Accordingly arranged to have my 328xi towed to Hudson Valley BMW in Poughkeepsie, which is the dealership that sold me the car.

On April 5th, I received a call from a service representative at Hudson Valley BMW. She told me, as I expected, that my fuel pump had failed and needed to be replaced. She said that the cost of the repair would be approximately $750 plus the $125 diagnostic charge. I told her that I was surprised and concerned that the fuel pump had failed on a car that had only 96,000 miles on it, but that they should go ahead and replace the pump.

A few hours later, I received another call from the service representative, this time informing me that the service technician had determined the reason my fuel pump had failed – namely, that the fuel lines leading to the pump had deteriorated. She then explained that the only way to replace the fuel lines was to replace the entire fuel tank, at a cost of $2500. To say the least, I was taken aback at this information. When I asked what could have caused the fuel lines on a car with 96,000 miles to deteriorate in this manner, she said it might have been caused by “excess alcohol” in the gasoline I was using.

I was even more astonished by this explanation than I was by the problem itself, but I told the representative that I needed a car, and I authorized her to order the fuel tank and perform the repair. Immediately after this conversation, I called BMW Customer Relations. I informed them of what had happened and I expressed my dismay at the supposed cause of the problem. They said they would initiate an inquiry and get back in touch with me.

I next called Hudson Valley BMW and spoke with the service manager there. In response to my question, he reiterated that the fuel pump failure had been caused by excessive levels of alcohol in the gas I was using, which caused the fuel lines to swell and crack, thereby fouling the pump. He emphasized that it was essential to use “high quality” gasoline in the 328xi. I informed him that the great preponderance of the 96,000 miles I have put on my car in the last four years has come from driving the same route between my home in upstate New York and New York City, and that I have habitually purchased my gas at the numerous Mobil stations along the way.

He told me that while Mobil was considered “high quality” gasoline, the Mobil stations on the Thruway were “a real problem” because they sometimes added extra alcohol to their gas. When I expressed amazement that BMW was making cars that were potentially so fragile that they not only required their owners to pay close attention to the brand of premium gas they used, but to the possible variations in the quality of that brand, he said that he would speak to “the factory” and see what he could do in terms of getting me some consideration on the cost of repairing my car.

The next day, the service manager informed me that he had spoken with the company and was prepared to take $1000 off the cost of replacing my gas tank. That would reduce the cost of the repair to $1500, plus the $750 to replace the fuel pump, plus the $125 diagnostic charge. I thanked him for his efforts on my behalf and told him to proceed with the repairs.

This has been my experience so far. Now let me state my position on what has occurred.

It is disappointing that a fuel pump would fail at 96,000 miles on a well-maintained luxury performance car, but in itself, I accept that things like that occur. The explanation I have been given as to why the fuel pump failed, however, puts this matter into a whole other category.

Quite simply, if the fuel pump on my 328xi failed because of the deteriorated fuel lines in my gas tank, and if those fuel lines deteriorated because of the supposedly high alcohol content in the admittedly “high quality” brand of premium Mobil gasoline I have been using in my car, then that failure was caused by a design deficiency that BMW needs to take responsibility for correcting. BMW manufactures cars and sells them in the American market. It goes without saying that those cars have to be designed to operate safely and efficiently in that market. Accordingly, BMW instructs its owners to use premium-grade gasoline in the 328xi. I have followed those instructions faithfully. BMW further advises its owners to use “high-quality brand-name” gasoline in the 328xi. I have followed that advisory faithfully, consistently filling my tank with Mobil, one of the brands that BMW specifically recommends.

To state the obvious, it is simply unreasonable for BMW to suggest that its owners should not only fuel their cars with “high-quality brand-name” gasoline, but also guard against any undetectable variations in the alcohol content of the gasoline sold under those brand names. If the fuel lines installed in the 328xi are not sufficiently robust as to be able to withstand those undetectable variations in the alcohol content of the fuel, then that is a design flaw in the car. (An obvious fix would be to design the vulnerable fuel lines so that they can be replaced at regular intervals without requiring the replacement of the entire gas tank.)

As it is, the service manager at BMW of the Hudson Valley was clear in stating that the fuel pump in my car failed because of the deteriorated fuel lines. Therefore, it is my position that BMW should reimburse me for the full cost of replacing both the fuel pump and the fuel tank. Anything less than that would represent an abdication of responsib


  • MrShift@EdmundsMrShift@Edmunds Posts: 43,681
    edited April 2011
    Given the age of the car and the mileage, I really don't think it matters what caused the failures. Given that they have already made an adjustment, I'd just let it go if I were you, because you did get 100K of use out of the parts, so you have to consider the value received.

    While I don't believe than ethanol at 10% can deterioriate fuel lines, it does act as a solvent and could conceivably cause a fuel pump failure due to debris being churned up.

    If anything I think your complaint is with the gasoline companies, not BMW.

    Just my two cents, and I dont' wish to imply that I don't have sympathy for your plight. I'm just trying to explain how I would feel if it were my car.

    100K is more than a natural lifespan for a fuel pump or fuel lines----some go more, some go less but it's certainly in the realm of probability.

    What ticks me off about your story is that you have to replace an entire fuel tank for the sake of some lines---that strikes me as poor design.
  • jongouldjongould Posts: 13
    I completely agree with you. I could easily absorb the fuel pump failure -- stuff happens with cars. I could even absorb the fuel line deterioration as the cause of the fuel pump failure. But if fuel lines are vulnerable, then you treat them like brake pads and air filters: you design them to be changed every 50 or 75 or 90 thousand miles so they don't wear out. In which case you don't embed them in the walls of the fuel tank.

    As it is, however, this is a problem waiting to happen in every similarly designed new or used 3-series BMW on the road: a $3500 hit somewhere down the line, at 100,000, or 150,000, or 200,000 thousand miles. Along, quite possibly, with a sudden loss of engine power, power steering, and power brakes at highway speed.

    That's bad design from a car company that prides itself on its good engineering.
  • MrShift@EdmundsMrShift@Edmunds Posts: 43,681
    edited April 2011
    it definitely sucks. Did you ever get to SEE those fuel lines? Neoprene is supposed to be impervious to ethanol unless somehow E85 got in there.
  • jongouldjongould Posts: 13
    I didn't see the fuel lines. My sense is that they're built into the wall of the fuel tank. But clearly, whatever they're made of is vulnerable to ethanol. And I mean it when I say I've used "top-tier" Mobil-brand gasoline 90% of the time, driving the same route back and forth between upstate and New York City, stopping at the same stations. No doubt I've occasionally used some lesser-quality premium gas from time to time, but here again, isn't it reasonable to expect a certain minimal level of robustness in a well-engineered car?

    So it took 96,000 miles for this to happen in my car. But sooner or later, this has the potential to affect every 3-series owner, new and used. And when it happens, its $3500. Just like that. I don't think it's right to expect the owners of a high-priced, high-performance car to just absorb that cost. And when you think about it, what's meant by them refunding me $1000 of the $3500 repair cost? That's sort of accepting a "little" responsibility for the problem.
  • MrShift@EdmundsMrShift@Edmunds Posts: 43,681
    You should also report this to the NHTSA. If enough people complain, it might get their attention about a recall. As I said, fuel lines should not disintegrate with 10% enthanol.

    Interestingly, BMW has had problems with its fuel pumps on both the turbo cars and the normally aspirated X5 models.
    BMW Fuel Pump Recalls

    Perhaps your car will be next?
  • jongouldjongould Posts: 13
    Thanks for the encouragement. I did sent a copy of my letter to the NHTSA yesterday, and I'll keep you posted on how they respond. I can't say I'm enjoying this. I really love my car (within reason, that is!).
  • kyfdx@Edmundskyfdx@Edmunds Posts: 25,946
    edited April 2011
    ... I think your service advisor is talking out of his... er.... hat..

    1) Almost everywhere I go, 10% ethanol is the norm...

    2) "Oh... Mobil is good gas.. but, those Mobil stations on the thruway put extra ethanol in their gas".. WHAAATTTTT??!!! Does he think the Mobil station keeps a big tank of ethanol out back, and slips a little in the Premium grade tank, when they need to make their numbers for the month? This is just service advisor BS for: Yes, something went wrong with your car, you are out of warranty, and I really have no idea if it could possibly be BMW's fault, but if I blame it on something else, you won't be mad at me.

    BMW has had trouble with the high-pressure fuel pumps on the turbo models... but, of course that wouldn't apply to your car.. If ethanol in gas caused BMW fuel lines to deteriorate, then there would be a rash of problems... and, I sure haven't heard of them...

    Now, just like your service advisor (lol), I have no idea what caused your problems... I do think it's great they took off a $1000 on the repair, considering how far out of warranty you are... But, I wouldn't blame it on the gas..


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  • busirisbusiris Posts: 3,453
    Ditto on your entire posting. If this was widespread, it would have been in the forefront as much as the HPFP issues.

    And, seeing how the EPA wants to increase ethanol content upwards to 15% in 2007 and later models, I can't buy the explanation that a little extra ethanol caused the issue. Since mileage is reduced by the lower energy content of ethanol, the OP would have been complaining about really poor mileage well before any failure occurred.

    Of course, if one of the stations screwed up and put 85% in the wrong tank, which subsequently wound up in the OP's fuel tank, that may be an issue. However, I would think the engine's maintenance system would have gone nuts running on e85...

    Anyway, that's my opinion...
  • jongouldjongould Posts: 13
    Dear kyfdx,

    Please don't get me wrong. I am simply operating on the basis of what BMW told me. When I contacted them -- not the dealer, the company -- it's not as if they suggested that something else caused the fuel pump failure. They seem to agree with the service manager that the cause of the pump failure was deteriorated fuel lines, and that the deterioration was caused by a high level of ethanol in the gas.

    If it had been a simple matter of my fuel pump failing at 96,000 miles, and me paying BMW $875 to fix the thing, this whole conversation/controversy would not be taking place. It's their explanation for the added $2500 cost of having to replace the entire fuel tank that sent me over the edge.
  • MrShift@EdmundsMrShift@Edmunds Posts: 43,681
    Their explanation makes little sense on the face of it, but oh well.....
  • busirisbusiris Posts: 3,453
    Here's my question on the alcohol idea...

    Exactly how is one to know what % of alcohol content is in the gas.... Keep a mini-lab in the trunk to test a sample before filling?

    That position would be a great aid to a competitor in an advertising campaign...

    "Our competition blames you for fuel-related" failures. We don't!".
  • MrShift@EdmundsMrShift@Edmunds Posts: 43,681
    edited May 2011
    A gas station can't be pumping 15% ethanol without telling people--it would have destroyed 90% of the cars in the neighborhood. The place would be surrounded by torches and pitchforks.

    Unless your car is specifically "multi-fuel" designed, it can't safely run on 15%.

    Regular neoprene fuel line should be impervious to 10% ethanol.

    This whole explanation makes my bogusometer go off.
  • jongouldjongould Posts: 13
    OK, so what do you think could be happening? My fuel pump failed. BMW told me the reason it failed was that the fuel lines had deteriorated, and had to be replaced, and that the only way to replace them was to replace the entire gas tank. Do you think that my dealer, BMW of the Hudson Valley, was just padding an $750 fuel pump repair with an additional $2500? If so, why? And if the explanation was bogus, why would the company then back up the service department at BMW of the Hudson Valley? I told them I was going to take this to the NYS Attorney General's Office, and I'm doing just that.
  • MrShift@EdmundsMrShift@Edmunds Posts: 43,681
    I really have no idea what they are talking about. As I said, their explanation (at least as it has been relayed from them to you to me) makes no real sense---the deteriorating of fuel lines from normal gasoline makes no sense, the replacement of the fuel tank makes no sense, and how a fuel pump is destroyed by fuel lines going INTO the pump makes no sense. Do they mean the filler neck tube? What fuel lines "going in?" And why aren't the rest of the neoprene fuel lines in the car destroyed as well in that case?

    Maybe it's all on the up and up and it's just a communication problem, I can't say.
  • jongouldjongould Posts: 13
    The explanation was: the elevated level of alcohol causes the fuel lines to swell; when they swell enough, they crack; when they crack, chips of neoprene or whatever the line is made of fall off and foul the pump. One would think there should be a filter before the pump intake preventing this from happening, no? Perhaps the filter is installed earlier on the fuel line. Does anyone know a BMW mechanic who could comment on this, or are we just the blind leading the blind?
  • MrShift@EdmundsMrShift@Edmunds Posts: 43,681
    I don't think you need a BMW mechanic here. I think you need someone to explain to you how E85 got into your tank, because normal gasoline with 10% ethanol can't do that to fuel lines.

    And also why the rest of your fuel lines aren't destroyed, just the ones in the gas tank.

    And why you have to replace the entire gas tank rather than clean out the old one.
  • jongouldjongould Posts: 13
    Thanks to the gentle prodding I received as a result of this posting and thread, I just called BMW and asked them for a better explanation. Here's what they told me: the fuel pump in the 2007 328xi (and, I strongly suspect, other 3-series cars from that and maybe other model years) is located inside the fuel tank, and the fuel tank is a "sealed unit." What this means is that if a fuel pump fails on that car -- for any reason -- the entire fuel tank has to be replaced, at a cost of $2500 (plus the cost of a new pump). In other words, the fuel pump is in the fuel tank, and the fuel tank cannot be disassembled.

    That said, BMW still does maintain that the most likely reason that the fuel line deteriorated and/or "ruptured" was ethanol in the gas, so we're back to Square One on that issue.

    For those of you who are thinking that this has to be about the stupidest way to design a car that you have ever heard, you'll be happy to know that BMW changed the design on later model years of the 3-series, so that now the pump can be accessed and changed with requiring the replacement of the entire fuel tank.

    What I said about these cars still stands, however: every 2007 3-series BMW is waiting for this to happen, and when it does, its a $3500+ repair.
  • shiposhipo Posts: 9,152
    edited May 2011
    "What I said about these cars still stands, however: every 2007 3-series BMW is waiting for this to happen, and when it does, its a $3500+ repair."

    Nah, if what you say is true, there'd be 2007 328i models dropping by the thousands, and that just ain't happening. However, if your statement had said:

    "What I said about these cars still stands, however: every 2007 3-series BMW which has inadvertently had E85 added to the tank is waiting for this to happen, and when it does, its a $3500+ repair."

    then I'd agree with you.
  • jongouldjongould Posts: 13
    Sorry to be such a dope. What's E85? And how would it be added to my gas tank?
  • shiposhipo Posts: 9,152
    E85 (which has been talked about in this thread) is fuel comprised of 85% ethanol and 15% gasoline. Most gasoline sold in the U.S. these days can be called E10 (10% ethanol, 90% gasoline mix), and good old gasoline can be called, for lack of a better term, E0 (my invention, not a convention used in discussions like this).
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