Autoblog: Class action suit alleges BMW N54 turbo engine unsafe, causes Unintended Deceleration

Kowalski

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Class action suit alleges BMW N54 turbo engine unsafe, causes Unintended Deceleration — Autoblog

The award-winning BMW N54 inline-six has been a hit around the world since it made its debut in the 2006 E90 335i. The twin-turbocharged engine produces around 300 horsepower and 300 pound-feet of torque and many have actually suggested that the Bavarian automaker's power figures have been conservative. When it came out, BMW promised this engine would virtually eliminate turbo lag, increase performance and improve fuel economy at the same time. In fact, it was so confident in its new engine that it spread it around, adding it to its 1, 3 and 5 Series cars, along with its Z4 sports cars and X6 crossovers.

Unfortunately, the N54 has also seen its fair share of owner complaints. Most notably, unhappy BMW drivers allege having two very important issues with the w?ndermill; the high-pressure fuel pump has a very high failure rate and a defect in the design of the turbochargers requires they be tweaked so as not to run at full capacity. Many BMW owners have officially had it with the N54 engine and a class-action lawsuit has kicked into gear.

The lawsuit, initiated by the legal firm of Kershaw, Cutter and Ratinoff, LLC of California alleges that BMW produced an engine which suffers from serious defects. The aforementioned fuel pump is evidently prone to failure, and when they go south, the car loses power and goes into 'limp mode' since it can't drink gasoline. Such failures could have serious safety ramifications depending on when and where the pump packs up. According to Autoblog sister site Daily Finance, this isn't the first lawsuit regarding N54 problems.

According to the law firm, the problem with the turbochargers is that defective examples cannot run at full capacity, resulting in strange noises underhood and noticeable throttle lag. BMW had initiated a software update, which made it so the turbochargers were "fixed," but apparently all they did was stop the turbos from being allowed to run at full tilt. This, in turn, resulted in a loss of power and noticeable lag, one of the very issues the N54's architecture was designed to eliminate.

Among other details, the KC&L class action (official press release below) alleges that BMW knowingly hid these defects not just from customers, but also from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and the suit is looking to legally compel BMW into a recall.

BMW officials that Autoblog contacted for this story noted that the company cannot comment on pending litigation, but they did offer us the following statement:

BMW has discovered that certain 2007-2010 model year vehicles may experience partial failure of the High-Pressure Fuel Pump (HPFP) which is part of the direct fuel injection system on certain 1 Series, 3 Series, 5 Series, X6, and Z4 models. Specifically, vehicles powered by the twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-6 engine (internally dubbed "N54") are affected. Symptoms include long engine starting times and sometimes the illumination of the Service Engine Soon lamp in the instrument cluster, possibly accompanied by reduced engine performance (Fail Safe operation).

As a result, BMW will extend the emissions warranty coverage period to 10 years or 120,000 miles, whichever comes first, on affected vehicles in all 50 States. If the HPFP fails during the extended warranty coverage period, BMW will replace it with a newer-production version. Customers who experience long starting times or notice the Service Engine Soon lamp should contact an Authorized BMW Center to schedule a service appointment. Customers with further questions should contact BMW Customer Relations at 1-800-831-1117 or email customer.relations@bmwna.com.

It's worth noting that while BMW acknowledges problems with the N54's fuel pump and is offering affected owners an extended emissions warranty, the additional coverage does not appear to extend to other areas of the engine. In regards to the turbocharger, BMW spokesman Matthew Russell says that:

The turbo complaint is much less widespread and we have had a service bulletin in place since 2007 to address it. In an effort to address specific noise concerns, BMW updated the turbocharged engine software on 335i/xi and 535i/xi models built from June 2006 through March 2008. The updated software causes a small amount of increased "turbocharger lag" under certain circumstances and, while not substantial, the lag may be perceptible to the most sensitive BMW drivers. X6, 135i, and 3 Series/5 Series vehicles from March 2008 production onward are not affected."

Press release

Class Action Law Firm takes on BMW for Systematically Concealing Safety Risks of Defective High Pressure Fuel Pumps and Turbo Chargers

The lawsuit alleges that BMW systematically concealed information from the public and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) regarding defective fuel pumps and their risks to consumers.

Flawed engine design of BMW twin turbo models leaves consumers stranded

Sacramento, CA (Vocus) October 5, 2010

Sacramento, California based class action law firm Kershaw, Cutter & Ratinoff, LLP, recently filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of thousands of individuals who own various BMW vehicles released between the years of 2007-2010. The lawsuit, No. CV10-2257 SI filed in the Northern District of California, seeks to compel BMW to initiate a recall in order to replace all of the high pressure fuel pumps (HPFP) in the affected vehicles.

According to the complaint, in 2006, BMW announced with much fanfare the development of its new N54 twin turbo engine. BMW touted the new engine as incorporating state of the art technology that included dual turbo chargers and a newly developed fuel injection system. BMW represented to the public that this new technology would eliminate 'turbo lag,' a common problem in turbocharged vehicles, and that its new state of the art fuel injection system greatly increased the performance and fuel efficiency of its vehicles.

Plaintiffs allege that the new engines that were so highly touted by BMW in fact contain serious design flaws that render the vehicles unsafe to drive. There are essentially two design flaws at the center of the case. First, the plaintiff asserts that BMW's new fuel injection system that supposedly incorporates a new 'state of the art' fuel pump actually malfunctions at an alarming high rate. As a result, many BMW owners have had to repeatedly replace their fuel pumps, sometimes within 1,000 miles of vehicle ownership.

Lead attorney on the case, Stuart Talley of Kershaw, Cutter & Ratinoff, noted, "When these fuel pumps fail, the car comes to a complete stop or loses substantial power. If this happens while someone is driving on a highway at high speeds, this can create a very serious safety hazard. We believe the defect is so significant that it makes these cars unsafe to drive."

The second problem relates to the BMW turbo chargers. Specifically, the complaint alleges that owners of the affected vehicles were told that BMW's new engine had eliminated 'turbo lag.' 'Turbo lag' is the delay between the time that driver of a vehicle presses the accelerator and the time that turbo chargers on the engine essentially 'kick in' to provide added power to the engine. However, shortly after the vehicles were released, BMW began to receive complaints from owners that they were hearing strange noises from the engine along with a delay in throttle response. BMW eventually discovered that these problems were the result of a design defect in the turbo chargers.

Plaintiffs allege, however, that rather than repair the defective turbo chargers, BMW implemented a secret 'software fix' to hide the problems from consumers. Any time a consumer brought their BMW in for repair or routine maintenance, BMW would 'upgrade' the vehicle's software. This software tweak kept the turbo chargers from operating at full capacity, ensuring that their defects would go undetected.

Apparently owners aren't happy. A number of user generated forums, petitions and blogs have cropped up criticizing BMW for their handling of the issue. On the BMW Blog, several consumers reported their BMW's going into 'limp mode.' They also complained of excessive power loss and 'turbo lag,' the very condition BMW said it had eliminated with its 'state of the art engine.' The plaintiff's complaint seeks to force BMW to repair the defective turbo charges and/or reimburse consumers for the diminution in value to the vehicles.

Kershaw, Cutter & Ratinoff have demonstrated their dedication to protecting the legal rights of consumers, as well as their ability to devote substantial resources through trials involving large corporations. Their product liability lawyers have represented thousands of victims of defective vehicles and dangerous products in cases throughout the United States, generating hundreds of millions of dollars in lawsuit recoveries for their clients and the classes they have represented.
 

deathrazor

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I think the points are 1) they are failing far too often, and 2) if it fails while on the interstate or highway when you are overtaking and you suddenly decelerate, it could pose a safety hazard (or if you are cruising above whatever the "limp home" rpm is and the same thing happens).
 

Spectre

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Not the first set of problems BMW's had with this engine, either. The N54 in the first example sent to Automobile had an unpleasant habit of overheating its oil and going into limp mode, too.

It's also funny that BMW needs a turbo 3.5L engine to make the performance numbers Nissan makes out of a 3.7L NA engine.

And yeah, BMW needs to eat the cost and replace those turbos.
 

GraemeH

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My BMW had parts that also weren't invincible and would sometimes fail. Nor didn't make me coffee and bring me breakfast in bed. I intend to offer the next ambulance chaser I see the opportunity to represent me in this issue. Blah blah cocks blah.
 

Spectre

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There is also the whole "you promised us X and you didn't deliver" legal issue, which could be considered fraud.

Ford had a similar problem with the 1999 Mustang Cobra (which is why there's no such thing as a 2000 Cobra non-R.) Ford recalled all the affected cars, after enough attention was brought to it, but BMW has a history of not doing so - see the old Nikasil issue and how long they denied that a problem even existed.

If the plantiffs' claims are true, BMW NA is going to get hammered again, and rightfully so - especially after their truly abysmal handling of the E46 M3 S54 engine grenading issue. Synopsis here.
 
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Kowalski

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Not the first set of problems BMW's had with this engine, either. The N54 in the first example sent to Automobile had an unpleasant habit of overheating its oil and going into limp mode, too.

It's also funny that BMW needs a turbo 3.5L engine to make the performance numbers Nissan makes out of a 3.7L NA engine.

And yeah, BMW needs to eat the cost and replace those turbos.

It's a 3.0L twin-turbo and it's rumoured that it produces more than the advertised 306 bhp.

I don't want to sound like a BMW poster boy, but apart from this problem that seems to be USA-only (I might be wrong about that), the N54 is a fairly competent engine.

I drove a manual 335i coup? and I liked it a lot. But, yes if I were one of these owners, I'd be pretty pissed off as well. BMW better sort this out ASAP, but they better come-up with a proper solution and not a half-arsed one.
 
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GerFix

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What a petty law suit.
If BMW are replacing broken fuel pumps, where is the problem? If a fuel pump failure whilst driving is dangerous, it is only because the driver is performing a dangerous maneuver in the first place.
As for a software fix .. what is the problem with that? In a modern engine, the software is integral to its function. Who is to say that the turbo malfunction wasn't due to faulty software all along?
 

otispunkmeyer

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Not the first set of problems BMW's had with this engine, either. The N54 in the first example sent to Automobile had an unpleasant habit of overheating its oil and going into limp mode, too.

It's also funny that BMW needs a turbo 3.5L engine to make the performance numbers Nissan makes out of a 3.7L NA engine.

And yeah, BMW needs to eat the cost and replace those turbos.

its not a 3.5

its a 3.0

the 335i designation is due to the turbos. they just do a multiplier or something to give NA equivalent. the non turbo is just the 330i i think. so they make more power than mr Nissan for less cc's

having said that, i think id go for the nissan anyway.
 

argatoga

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Pah. Only 300hp and with turbos?

I'd rather have this. 400hp normally aspirated i6. And unlike the boring German thing, when it fails it does so in spectacular fashion.

Sagaris_engine.jpg
 

the Interceptor

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I'm baffled (or maybe not) by the ignorance of some people in this thread, especially those who participated in similar threads earlier and thus should know better why the N54 only has 300ish horsepower.

These are parts of an interview with the leading engine developer from BMW, Klaus Borgmann, taken from the german car mag "AutoBild Sportscars":

Borgmann:"The primary goal in development was to combine the efficiency of a six cylinder with the dynamics of a V8. We wanted the specs of a medium sized V8, combined with the fuel consumption and - most importantly - the smoothness of our six cylinder." [specs of the new six cylinder: 306 hp and 295 lb-ft]

(...)

As a major goal were spontaneous reactions, a single turbo seemed to be too unattractive. Its reactions on accelerator movements would have been too indolent, and the characteristics too edgy at full throttle. So, the guys from Munich decided to use two turbos, each one powered by three cylinders. The advantages were much more spontaneously reactions of the smaller turbines due to smaller [and therefor lighter] rotating masses. This way, even small accelerator movements create reasonable propulsion, as little amounts of exhaust gases are enough to make the turbos spin.

(...)

To reduce the timespan between pushing the accelerator and the reaction of the turbos even more, the engineers used another trick. Using the direct fuel injection, the turbos are being kept spinning with large valve timing overlap and an air stream of unused intake air. So, even when you're cruising, the turbines are being kept spinning with some pressure.
Well sized overpressure valves are another trick to improve fuel economy. As long as you don't access power, the exhaust gases are being disposed past the turbines. The advantage: the turbos do not raise the counterpressure, the engine has an easier time pushing the exhaust gases out and uses less energy. Only when you push the accelerator, the valves close and you get the boost you need immediately.
Another part of the story when it comes to efficiency is the use of high-strength steel for the turbos. Only a few years ago, the turbos needed to be cooled with fuel, which decreased the fuel economy. Turbos made of the new steel can resist the temperatures up to 1000 ?C almost without any cooling.

(...)

Borgmann:"Even when driving progressively, this engine uses less fuel than the 3.0 NA engine [this one is based on]. Due to the higher torque, you unconsciously use higher gears all the time." That reduces fuel consumption so much that it even compensates casual power runs. Put into figures, the new six cylinder uses 2 litres less on 100 km [equals a jump from 20 to 24 mpg] than the BMW 4.0 V8. Additionally, this engine weighs 70 kg less than the V8, making the car more agile.
 
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AiR

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News: Some dudes are exploiting the US legal system, files silly lawsuit, hopes to cash in. That's what happens when the system allows you to sue without paying the costs of the other party should you loose.
 

MrChips

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Not the first set of problems BMW's had with this engine, either. The N54 in the first example sent to Automobile had an unpleasant habit of overheating its oil and going into limp mode, too.

That was because MY2007 335s weren't fitted with an oil cooler as standard - a baffling decision by BMW to say the least, but no fault of the engine itself.

On another note, I've owned a car with an N54 engine for two and a half years now, and I've had absolutely no problems with the engine so far. Yes, the HPFP is problem with this engine, but it is nowhere near as bad as the impression you get reading about it on the internet. A good friend of mine is the GM at the local BMW dealership, and according to him, they might see one car every couple of weeks with a bad HPFP - a job that would take my car out of service for two days tops, as the dealer keeps a few HPFPs in stock at all times for this very reason. And it isn't like BMW has denied it's a problem either; by upping the warranty on the part (both the original pump and any replacements) to 10 years/120,000 miles, they've basically ensured that it will be replaced under warranty for the life of the vehicle.
 

Pry

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According to the law firm, the problem with the turbochargers is that defective examples cannot run at full capacity, resulting in strange noises underhood and noticeable throttle lag. BMW had initiated a software update, which made it so the turbochargers were "fixed," but apparently all they did was stop the turbos from being allowed to run at full tilt. This, in turn, resulted in a loss of power and noticeable lag, one of the very issues the N54's architecture was designed to eliminate.
Not completely true.
The issue was rattling wastegates. On some cases they did get loose and started to rattle. With the original software when you released the throttle the wastegates were left closed to reduce lag when you went back on the throttle. The software fix opens the wastegates after you release the throttle so they keep tighter and not rattle. This causes more lag because it takes time to close the wastegates.
It won't affect the power. The turbos almost never work on full tilt without a tune. They push around 7 psi with stock software. With a tune they are capable to produce over 17 psi.

I haven't had any of these issues with my 2007 N54 and it came from the factory with an oil cooler. You can use around 15.6 psi of boost in summer on European fuel with just a tune. Good luck with a bolt on 370Z. :)
 

Cowboy

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So we now have beemers that decelerate on their own, and Toyotas that acellerate on their own.....

If they join forces we could have the first selfdriving car!
 
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