BMW Recalls Half its ActiveEs
On January 17, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recalled half of the 700 lease-only BMW ActiveE electric cars on American roads, citing a bad seal around the drivetrain housing that can cause grease to leak, prematurely wear the gear shaft that transfers power from the motor to the reduction gear transmission. The possible consequence is “a sudden loss of vehicle propulsion,” increasing the risk of a crash.
The ActiveE was also recalled last summer for a fault that left it vulnerable to power steering failure. Owners appear patient, even though some have had repeat issues. The recalls don’t involve problems with batteries (much in the news with the Boeing Dreamliner failures), but that doesn’t mean that the ActiveE packs have been trouble-free.
BMW notes the issues, and spokesman Dave Buchko comments, "The field trial experience of the ActiveE is an integral part of the development of the drivetrain for the iBrand vehicles. We regret the inconvenience to customers who have joined us on this journey." The ActiveE shares much of its drivetrain with the i3 "megacity" vehicle, which rolls out late this year.
Many are Already Fixed
Tom Moloughney, a New Jersey-based ActiveE driver who also posts on this site, notes that his car isn’t on the recall list, because it was already fixed. He wrote about it here, long before the recall. “Many of the people that had the bad seal have already had the motor replaced with the new seal because they had a failure,” he said in an email. “I’d guess there are probably only about 100 to 150 left to be recalled and fixed.”
George Betak, an ActiveE driver in the Bay Area, has had his share of woes. In mid-March of last year he began experiencing charging problems. It was towed to Oxnard. A week after Betak got his car back last summer he encountered an “unrecoverable drivetrain error,” which led to another tow to Oxnard for a three-week stay. “They replaced all three traction batteries, motor and control electronics,” he said. In other words, pretty much everything.
Trial and Error
“It’s been working fine since then, with the occasional software glitch or two,” Betak said. He has a basic incompatibility problem with ChargePoint stations, which has yet to be addressed. In a workaround, he can sometimes clear the GFCI fault by unplugging and re-inserting the J1772 plug a few times. That doesn’t work with the Eaton stations he has at work.
But for one other owner, Bruce Becker of Connecticut, leasing an ActiveE has been a great experience, despite the recalls. "I love the car," he said. "I love the way it drives--it's quiet, it's powerful, and I'm more comfortable with it than I was with a conventional car."
Becker's recall experience is somewhat tempered by the company offering him loaner cars, including a 2013 3-Series and an X3. "This is a field trial," he said, "and BMW is learning from it. The service issues haven't been a real hardship, and I've never had any driving problems with the ActiveE. It's a very versatile car--I was even able to get a folding bike in the trunk."
If you have an ActiveE and haven’t heard from BMW, you can call (800)525-7417 or email CustomerRelations@bmwusa.com. NHTSA’s hotline is (888)327-4236, or visit here.
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