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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
Official E46 Fire Thread

So, I did some digging and have started a list of threads where an E46 owner's car caught fire. I passed on most of the older angel eye and tail-light related instances, since that seems like common knowledge and have clear solutions already. I've arranged the list into two categories: In front of firewall and behind it (i.e.: in the cabin). Please post other examples I missed (I'm sure there are plenty).

It would be especially helpful to get more threads on FSR/FSU fires. A few people have said that OEM-Branded FSRs have caused fires, but no one has shown proof.

I think it will be helpful to see what correlations arise.

So far, here are what seem to be the most common causes of E46 fires:
1. Light Control Module (aka: LCM/LKM) -- likely shorting out due to a clogged or disconnected sunroof drain, happens most often when car is parked.
2. Final Stage Unit or connector (aka: FSR/FSU) -- usually happens when the car is running, smoke/flames under glove compartment follow a burning smell. Even without a fire, melted connectors are common. Some have speculated that an old blower motor may also increase the load/stress on these components.
3. Valve Cover Gasket (aka: VCG) -- oil leaks onto exhaust and eventually ignites (often triggered by a clogged Oil Separator (aka:CCV))
4. Headlights -- usually related to improper installation of bulbs or aftermarket accessories (angel eyes)


Cabin/Dash

Unknown New Jersey | 2002 330Ci Craigslist seller
LCM burnt up, destroying left edge of dashboard and DME. Car was salvageable.
http://newjersey.craigslist.org/cto/4504047232.html

04-15-2014 Indiana | 2002 325xit 62rambler
While driving, a burning electrical smell and smoke came out from dash and lower left dash burst into flames. Car had 125,000 miles with no electrical mods. Fire inspector said it looked like it came from the headlight switch (LCM) or module on the lower left dash/kick panel. Car was driven in heavy rain the day before. Fire occurred next morning.
http://www.reddit.com/r/BMW/comments/2318sq/and_this_is_how_my_e46_325xit_left_this_world_rip/

03-25-2014 Ohio | 2002 330Ci Fritzo2162
While driving. Started with burning rubber smell, then smoke coming from driver's side defroster vent. Flames poured out of the bottom of the glove compartment. Started right after blower turned on. FSR replaced less than a year before. FSR was from ebay, possibly Valeo or Vemo.
https://forum.e46fanatics.com/showthread.php?t=1030308

02-07-2014 Texas | 2000 328i watches chromo
After starting, not driven. Smoke and then fire under glove box, right after starting the car. Blowerer had had a mind of it's own for several days.
https://forum.e46fanatics.com/showthread.php?t=1024348&highlight=caught+fire

08-04-2012 Florida | 2000 323Ci Jonshmoe
While driving, smoke came through cabin vents. Insurance company said it was electrical in nature and originated somewhere in the dash or near the blower motor.
https://forum.e46fanatics.com/showthread.php?t=936985&highlight=

08-05-2013 California | 2003 330Ci ZHP Avetiso
Not known if car was parked or driven. LCM caught fire, car was salvageable
http://www.zhpmafia.com/forums/showthread.php?10654-Dario-s-OB-ZHP-Revival

06-11-2013 New York | 2002 330Ci markgbe
Parked in a light rain, LCM caught fire, totaling the car.
https://forum.e46fanatics.com/showthread.php?t=991717&highlight=fire

08-22-2011 Ohio | 2002 330Ci brandonwish
Parked, LCM caught fire, it had recently rained.
https://forum.e46fanatics.com/showthread.php?t=865387&highlight=

Spring 204 Tennessee | 2003 325i RobertK
Parked, LCM caught fire. Clear, warm weather on the day of the fire, no info on day before. The car was totaled.
https://forum.e46fanatics.com/showpost.php?p=16398738&postcount=89

04-04-2013 Maine | 2000 328i Revsta
Seat heater ignited lower left seat leather.
https://forum.e46fanatics.com/showthread.php?t=980111&highlight=caught+fire

04-02-2014 California | 2000 328i Twin_Guns18
Owner experienced several engine stalls, intermittent loss of electrical power, and a faint burning electrics smell all over the course of a week. A fire at the battery eventually broke out and consumed the rear half of the vehicle. No modifications to the electrical system had been made and the car seemed to run fine in between the symptoms mentioned above. Battery was original from factory (14 years old).
https://forum.e46fanatics.com/showthread.php?t=1031351

09-09-2018 Ohio | 2002 325i hobbyist47
Car was parked outside in heavy rain. The day after the rain, the owner drove the car, parked, and came back hours later to find the interior cabin had burned up. The dash was melted. No electrical mods, no auto headlight feature. Suspect LCM or wiring behind glovebox.
https://forum.e46fanatics.com/showpost.php?p=18361769&postcount=99

11-15-2018 North Carolina | 2004 325i DHov04
Car was parked outside in heavy rain. Owner came back to his car later to find burnt areas on the driver's-side dash, A-piller, and headliner above the LCM. The cabin smelled of smoke and no electronics would power up.
https://forum.e46fanatics.com/showpost.php?p=18361769&postcount=99

Engine Bay

04-06-2013 Tenessee | 2001 325i Sixcombat
Headlight Malfunction, engine bay fire resulted, but car was salvageable.
https://forum.e46fanatics.com/showthread.php?t=980567&highlight=caught+fire

09-10-2013 n/a | 2000 323i JayPreme
While driving, a burning smell followed by gray smoke came into cabin. Parked car and saw flaming liquid plastic dripping onto wheel from driver's-side wheel well. No cause found. No aftermarket lights.
http://www.reddit.com/r/BMW/comments/1m4952/e46_caught_on_fire_last_saturday_any_ideas/

10-06-2012 Connecticut | 2001 330Ci diM3tri
While driving with engine up to temp, burning oil smell followed by smoke pouring out from under hood. Smoke originated from rear exhaust side of engine. No damage. Suspect oil leak on exhaust.
https://forum.e46fanatics.com/showthread.php?t=959540&highlight=fire

07-25-2011 NewYork | 2002 330Ci Omarmarji
While driving, damaged headlight or angel eye started fire in engine bay, which consumed car.
https://forum.e46fanatics.com/showthread.php?t=859411&highlight=caught+fire

06-29-2011 California | 2000 323Ci Tnlinks18
While driving, fire started in engine bay near right front passenger tire. Cause unknown. Car was salvageable.
https://forum.e46fanatics.com/showthread.php?t=853928&highlight=caught+fire

10-22-2009 North Carolina | 2002 330i BimmerBoy323
While parked at gas station, driver's side headlight area caught fire. Aftermarket HID kit. Car was salvageable.
https://forum.e46fanatics.com/showthread.php?t=714976&highlight=caught+fire

06-03-2017 California | 2000 323Ci jonaasmith
While parked and shut off, a buzzing noise preceded smoke coming out from kidney grills. The stock Auxiliary cooling fan was burning up. Battery was disconnected before the damage spread.
https://forum.e46fanatics.com/showthread.php?t=1129625

I hope this helps save some cars and maybe even a life. And in case reading this is freaking you out, remember that BMW made over 4.6 million E46s, most of which are still on the road.

Some recommended steps to ensure your car doesn't suffer the same fate as those above:
  1. Check electrical systems for errors using scanning software like PA Soft. The electronic modules are continuously monitoring themselves and know a lot more than what your dash warning lights will convey.
  2. Avoid modifying the electrical system with aftermarket parts (like angel eyes or audio gear) unless you really know what you're doing.
  3. Check the sunroof drains to make sure they function properly:
    A. Open sunroof, pour water around gutter, then check under the car and make sure that water flows out of each corner (near the wheels).
    B. Peel back headliner enough to make sure that the short flexible hose has a good tight fit on both the hose in the pillar and the sunroof cassette drain. Some have glued or zip tied these connections for extra assurance. (search the archives)​
  4. Check to make sure the drains in the cabin air filter box are also clear.
  5. Check all critical connections/wires near battery and starter alternator for signs of damage: melting, burn marks, frays, or breaks.
  6. Replace any leaking gaskets on the exhaust side of the engine without delay.
  7. Consider replacing the FSU, it's connector (if melted), and the blower motor (if showing signs of age).
  8. Keep a fire extinguisher on board.http://forums.bimmerforums.com/forum/showthread.php?1589962-DYI-for-Fire-Extinguisher

This goes for all cars: If you smell something burning, pull over and shut off the car immediately, then figure out where the smell is coming from. Sniff around and check for smoke in the engine bay, vents, glovebox/fusebox, and battery compartment. Also remember that water will feed an electrical fire, not extinguish it.
 

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If this is going to be a PSA help thread, could you add the full name of the at fault part, instead of the acronym?

Valve Cover Gasket (VCG) <---like that.

That way if someone searches for this thread, they don't have to search for the acronym thread after.
 

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Funny thing too cause when I ordered my 2003 330Ci at the dealers way back when. The rep who was and still is one of my best friends had a lot of pull in BMW mentioned to me if I wanted day time running light option for lower insurance cost. I went for it as soon as he mentioned lower insurance. Which I never had a car before this one that offered the auto lights. Happy to say I've never EVER used that option EVER! I like having control of my head lights and parking lights. My LCM is a European type too since my car has the rear fog lights but I never use them. Same goes for my power fold mirrors. Good thing I have an OCD problem too cause before I turn off my car I always turn everything off one by one before turning off the car. I do it religiously. Threads like this scare the HELL out of me.
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 · (Edited)
^
^ ^

This thread will be most helpful if everyone posts actual specific incidents or discussion, not just anecdotes or things they've seen somewhere***8230;unless you can show where you've read that.

If you can post a link, I'll reformat the info and add it to the list above.
 

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Read through the list. Most of the incidents aren't related to modifications.
Best to leave well alone I guess. I am surprised the insurance companies pay out. Here in the UK you are contracturally obliged to notify your insurer whenever you make a non stock modification to your vehicle so that they can reassess your premium. I can see why they include that clause.
 

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Best to leave well alone I guess. I am surprised the insurance companies pay out. Here in the UK you are contracturally obliged to notify your insurer whenever you make a non stock modification to your vehicle so that they can reassess your premium. I can see why they include that clause.
he just said there DOESN'T appear to be a connection to modified parts and the fires as of yet.
 

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I'll include my incident on here.

About 2 weeks ago, I pulled out from the grocery onto a busy road and stepped on the gas pretty hard (75% WOT). After getting up to about 50 mph, my car sputtered, stalled, and died. I turned the key off and on (while driving) and my car then started right up. I smelled a bit of smoke (electrical scent similar to when you burn a fuse) and quickly pulled over. I popped the hood and after some investigation came to the conclusion that the issue did not come from the engine bay. My car was very well maintained and most of the components that typically have issues / cause leaks were recently replaced. I let the car rest for 2 minutes and the started it back up. I drove home without incident.

Last weekend (March 29) I spent the entire day washing, claying, and waxing my car. On the morning of March 31, I went to start my car and all I heard was a faint clicking noise. Similar to the sound when your battery has died. I turned the key off and then gave it another try 10 seconds later and it started right up. I drove to work and parked in my garage without incident. On the evening of March 31, I carpooled home with a coworker and left my car parked in the garage. The next evening (April 1), I got in my car at around 10:00 pm to head home for the day. The roads were clear so I was able to drive a bit faster than I typically can. After driving for about 20 minutes, I made a turn and got on the case hard (75% ***), and my car once again died. This time I had zero power and it took several turns of the key before my car turned back on. When my car died, I did not even have the ability to turn on my emergency blinkers. I had zero power. After I restarted my car, I pulled up to a light. I started smelling the same electrical smell so once the light turned green, I pulled over to the shoulder. I popped my hood and didn't notice anything out of the ordinary. When I went to get back in my drivers seat, I noticed a strong smell of smoke as well as saw smoke in the back seat. I quickly opened the trunk and when I did, there were flames all around the battery area. I had nothing in my trunk except for a weight lifting belt. All of my electronic components were stock as was my sound system and battery. I tried to extinguish the fire with my interior floormats but the flames were quickly growing as they burned through the plastics, and combustible materials (floor board, trunk lining, etc) in the trunk. I was on the phone with 911 as I was trying to battle the flames. Some kids ran my way with 3 water bottles but the flames had already started spreading to the back seat and gas tank area. We decided to avoid injury and walked away. Within 3 minutes or so, the entire rear was on fire. Shortly thereafter, the gas tank ignited and the flames overtook the entire passenger cabin. The firefighters arrived after most of the big flames had died down. After extinguishing it, they conducted an investigation and determined that the cause of the fire was electrical in nature. They said it likely was caused by a short of the wires leading to/from the battery.

I didn't have comprehensive coverage so I sold my car at a loss yesterday to a BMW dismantler. If there is ever a class action against BMW for this issue, you can be sure I'll be part of it. I will be filing a complaint later this week with BMW NA and the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. These cars should not be randomly catching on fire. Sucks big time.



 

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Discussion Starter · #18 ·
Hey, Twin_Guns. Really sorry to here about your car and I'm glad no one was hurt.

Thanks for posting your account of what happened here. I added your car to the RIP list above.

I have a couple follow up questions for you:
When did you last replace the battery?
Had you ever replaced the alternator, voltage regulator, or starter?
 

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Hey, Twin_Guns. Really sorry to here about your car and I'm glad no one was hurt.

Thanks for posting your account of what happened here. I added your car to the RIP list above.

I have a couple follow up questions for you:
When did you last replace the battery?
Had you ever replaced the alternator, voltage regulator, or starter?
Never replaced any of the items you mentioned. All were in fine working condition and I never had any problems with them.

Which battery did you have installed?
OEM from the factory.
 
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