535d disaster on highway :-( Safety complaint filed w/NHTSA

n1das

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<VENTING>
I need to vent a little here. :(

Wednesday evening this week during my commute home in my 535d, I had the misfortune of being unable to avoid hitting a truck tire "alligator" on the highway.

I was haulin' ar$e in the high speed lane with other traffic around me at 70+ MPH and at night. This was in Marlboro MA on 495N. The truck tire "alligator" was laying flat and nicely hidden on the pavement. The passenger side front took the hit and then it flipped up and hit the underside of the car in the rear as I went over it. Given that I was haulin' ar$e in traffic, stopping somewhere to check for damage was not an option. I was hoping for no damage verything seemed OK, or so I thought. 15 minutes later on 495N in the Chelmsford MA area, I got the warning message "Drivetrain malfunction, engine power reduced. Drive moderately." Uh-Oh, more damage than I originally thought and it dropped in to limp mode. Then I noticed it was worse than limp mode....losing power and slowing down to a crawl. Traffic was light enough and I had the presence of mind to get over to the breakdown lane before it died. It could crank but not restart. DEAD. Electricals appeared to be OK. I couldn't troubleshoot it just yet because I had to stay in the car to stay safe.

Then the fun began. :( I hit the SOS button to use the car's system to call BMW Roadside Assistance for help. I arranged for a tow from Chelmford MA to Tulley BMW in Nashua NH, about 14 miles away. They recommended I arrange a ride home because whoever tows it will likely store the car overnight before getting it to Tulley's. OK, so I called a friend and he's in Manchester NH and he immediately got on the road to get to me. Meanwhile, BMW Roadside Assistance was working on getting a tow provider to handle the tow. I got a call back saying they were having trouble finding a tow provider because none of the tow providers they use will tow a vehicle across state lines. Ridiculous! Totally <expletive>-ing USELESS! :mad: Meanwhile, my friend eventually arrives, and still no tow arrived yet. I finally said <expletive>-it and we used my friend's AAA membership to call AAA to get it towed. I canceled the call with BMW Roadside Assistance. I currently don't have AAA but I will get it after this. OK so I'm almost 2 hours into this and AAA showed up after another 1/2 hour.

When my friend arrived, we checked out the damage....diesel fuel everywhere on the back of the car and a puddle of fuel on the pavement. No obvious signs of any body damage. The truck tire alligator ruptured the fuel tank and it was pouring diesel on the highway while I drove. It eventually died when it ran out of fuel. I did notice the fuel gauge below 1/4 just before it died and I recall it was at 1/2 tank at the start of the trip.

Now comes the REAL fun part and why I filed a complaint with NHTSA as the situation created a serious safety issue and presented challenges for the tow operator. Given that the 535d has AWD (Xdrive), the car can only be towed on a flatbed ramp truck. No other method of towing is possible. I'm OK with that part because of the AWD. To get the car onto the ramp, this requires shifting the car from Park (P) to Neutral (N) and releasing the parking brake so the car can be moved. Releasing the (electrically controlled) parking brake was no problem however shifting the transmission from P to N was a no-go. Starting with 2011 model year BMWs, the shifter on all BMWs is all electric. The shifter is just an electronic control. There is no longer a mechanical linkage between the shift lever and transmission. This means there is also no hardware method inside the car to manually override the interlock to get it out of Park so the car can be moved while disabled. :eek: The car's system software is such that the transmission is not allowed to be shifted out of Park without the engine running. Trying to shift to park while cranking the engine was also a no-go because the car expects to see the engine running and systems OK before allowing a normal shift out of Park while stepping on the brake pedal.

The tow operator and I were digging through the owner's manual and surfing the internet on our smartphones to find out how to override the interlock. Nothing found in the owner's manual. I called BMW Roadside Assistance again using the car's system, figuring somebody SHOULD know the procedure. All I got was "I'm sorry sir, none of our technicians are available at this time to help you with your question. Is there anything else I can help you with?" ARRGGHH!! :mad: Again, totally <expletive>-ing USELESS! :mad: From surfing on our smartphones, we found a hardware method which involves jacking the car up and getting under it to crank on a bolt on the transmission to manually move the shift mechanism. Not going to happen while on the highway with cars flying by at 70+ MPH and a puddle of diesel under the car. From my online searching I found an electronic method to put the car in N that requires a particular magic shifting sequence while cranking the engine. However it was not the correct sequence for my car so this was a no-go after trying it. :mad: So we were out of options at this point and the car had to be dragged with all wheels locked to get it loaded onto the flatbed. :mad:

Fortunately I was able to get over to the breakdown lane before the car died. What would I have done if I couldn't get over and the car came to a stop in a travel lane? :eek: The car can't be pushed from behind by another car without doing a lot of damage. All 4 wheels are locked due to the AWD and being unable to get the transmission shifted out of Park.

Then the challenges began for the tow operator to drag the car onto the flatbed. He jacked up each wheel one at a time and put a skid under each wheel. Although the transmission was in P and parking brake was on, he instructed me to stay in the car and stand on the brake pedal to guarantee no wheel rotation occurs to protect the car. The car's tow hook was screwed into the front bumper and the car was pulled from this point. The tow hook is offset from the center and causes the car to be pulled to one side. The rear wheels were in a puddle of diesel fuel and made the skids slippery enough to cause the passenger side rear wheel to no longer line up with the ramp. I suggested he pull the truck forward a few feet to straighten it out. He tried this and it helped but then there was also another problem. The skids for each wheel needed a way to get over the lip of the end of the ramp where the ramp meets the pavement. He had to get creative with choices of skids that he had available and pull the car a few inches and use some different skids and pull it a few more inches and swap skids again. He eventually got the car loaded onto the ramp. He said unloading the car at the BMW dealer would be no problem since gravity helps.

The tow operator knew what he was doing and worked HARD to get the car loaded and without damaging anything. The whole loading process took over an hour. I have nothing but good things to say about the quality of his work. I highly commend the tow operator for his work however I am officially p!$$ed at BMW.

This was a 4 hour ordeal. The car died just before 10PM and we didn't get out of there until around 2AM. My friend gave me a ride to Nashua and we went to Denny's for some food and it was all on my dime. I reimbursed him for gasoline needed to feed his gas guzzler ride. It was close to 3AM by time I got home. As soon as I got home, I went online and filed a complaint with NHTSA about being unable to get the car out of Park and into Neutral so it could be pulled onto the flatbed. Needless to say I didn't get much sleep that night.

This was a dangerous situation that could have ended very badly. I have filed an insurance claim for the damage and the car is at my BMW dealer. In addition to the complaint filed with NHTSA, I plan to elevate the safety concern to BMW Corporate. I'm also looking into whether the design violates Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS). Being unable to easily get the transmission out of Park while the car is dead on the side of the highway is NOT OK in my book. I later found what I think is the correct magic shift sequence to electronically shift from P to N but it would have been nice to have that information in the car when the tow operator and I needed it most. :(
</VENTING>
 
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Jetter_Sprinta

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Sounds really awful. A guy ran out of gas in a brand new Charger/Challenger in front of my house, blocking the one-way street. I went to help and found its magic button but we too were never able to get it to work. I got my snowblower gas can which got enough fuel to get it in gear and out of the way. If this electronic lock has been in place since 2011, with all the x-drive BMWs around, it seems amazing that the override isn't better documented or that the tow driver had never encountered it.


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325_Guy

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I was about to dismiss this thread as just some owner *****ing, but if everything you said is true you have a valid point. Sometimes you do need a mechanical linkage in place to work something that you might need to operate even in the event of total power failure...steering and brakes come to mind in addition to the transmission.

Surprised that there's no workaround for the situation you described. Do keep us updated...
 

ssamalin

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You have AWD so you couldn't put it in N without starting it?
 

n1das

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You have AWD so you couldn't put it in N without starting it?
That is correct. :eek: The car has AWD and a flatbed is the only tow method possible. In normal operation, the car requires the engine to be running before it can be shifted out of P. The shifter is all electrical/electronic. Starting with 2011 model year BMWs there is no mechanical link from the shifter to the transmission. It is shift by wire. There no longer is any hardware workaround to shift the transmission from P to N that can be done from inside the car if the engine won't run. My BMW dealer confirmed this and said the car has to be dragged onto the flatbed. I did some research and found there are 2 possible methods to get it into N, a hardware method and an electronic method. These 2 methods might be how the design is able to comply with FMVSS.

The hardware method involves jacking the car up and crawling under it to get to a bolt on the transmission and then crank on it with a wrench. The end of the bolt pushes on a lever on the end of a shaft protruding thru the transmission housing. This was not an option with cars flying by at 70+ MPH at night and a growing puddle of diesel fuel under the car.

The electronic method requires engaging the starter and doing a particular magic shifting sequence within a few seconds and then holding it for a few more seconds. If done correctly, the transmission will electronically shift from P to N. The car must stay ON to keep it in this mode and the feature will time out after 15 minutes, long enough to move the car onto a flatbed. The electronic trick will only work if the engine can be cranked but doesn't start. In my searching with my smartphone, I found a procedure for some BMWs and I tried it but it was a no-go because it was the wrong procedure for my car.

Earlier model year BMWs provided a transmission unlock tool for dealing with situations like this. You pull the cupholder assembly up and remove it and then remove a plastic cover underneath that exposes the transmission shift linkage. You then insert the unlock tool and crank it clockwise to manually shift from P to N. The unlock tool and the ability to unlock the transmission from inside the car went away starting in 2011 when the shifter changed to an all electronic control. It is shift by wire now and with no mechanical link to the transmission. My only options were to crank on the bolt underneath the car (not going to happen) or use the magic shift sequence (which I did not have at the time) while cranking the engine. There is no mention of any of this in the owner's manual either.

BMW could solve a lot of this by simply having the procedures well documented and easy for owners and tow operators to find in the car.
 
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tophergrace

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WOW very sorry to hear about all of this, you would think bmw would have it so you can place the car into neutral with the key in accessory mode.

Tow truck drivers are often very friendly and very hard working people and it sounds like yours was no exception. I tipped my towtruck driver one time and gave him a coke and he knocked 50miles off my tow so it ended up being no charge to me.
 

n1das

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WOW very sorry to hear about all of this, you would think bmw would have it so you can place the car into neutral with the key in accessory mode.

Tow truck drivers are often very friendly and very hard working people and it sounds like yours was no exception. I tipped my towtruck driver one time and gave him a coke and he knocked 50miles off my tow so it ended up being no charge to me.
The key is a wireless FOB and the car has a start/stop button. I thought about ACC mode and tried it but was also a no-go. The engine has to be running to be able to shift out of P normally. If the engine won't run then the only workarounds are to crank the bolt underneath the car or do the magic shift sequence while cranking the engine.

The dangerous situation it created while on the side of the highway is what prompted me to file a complaint with NHTSA and I plan to follow it up with BMW Corporate. I love the car but I'm officially p!$$ed at BMW.
 

ssamalin

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Is that just AWD? or just BMW? Can I go to my Mercedes, or any car, put my "chip" key in, put it in ACC and shift to N? So dragging a car in P will damage it, or isn't feasible?
 

Jetter_Sprinta

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A non-AWD car can be tipped and rolled using the free wheels.

It looks like knowing how to get your AWD/electronic transmission out of P in case of catastrophe is a worthwhile skill... Before you need it.


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GoFaster

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If you have two-wheel-drive (not all-wheel-drive), the car can be towed with the drive wheels off the ground, and this is not an issue (unless the car has to be dragged out of wherever it is first, so that the drive wheels can be lifted off the ground).

Many, many, MANY vehicles nowadays have completely drive-by-wire transmissions. Take a look at any Chrysler with the new ZF 8 or 9 speed transmissions (and that ZF 8-speed is what is in n1das's car, by the way). The "shift lever" on many models is a knob that you turn to the position you want. No mechanical linkage there. But even on the models that look like they have a normal shift lever, if it has one of those transmissions, there is no mechanical connection. Doesn't matter if it's BMW, Audi, Chrysler, Land Rover, Acura, or anyone else that uses one of those transmissions, and they're not the only ones. Some Lincoln models have pushbuttons for shifting. That's indicative of the same underlying situation even though those don't use the ZF transmissions.

What I don't know, is what provision other manufacturers make for shifting out of "park" when normal shifting is not possible (e.g. engine not running).
 

IndigoBlueWagon

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Manual linkage disconnect is a common practice. I've had to have tow drivers do that on cars where the key was not available (don't ask). Simple process, and I'm surprised the tow driver didn't do it.
 

Tin Man

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The last time I had a tire carcass damage my car, I already knew that insurance would cover it only if the carcass was flying through the air from being launched by another car. If the tire carcass was stationary when the car runs over it, it is considered a road hazard that the driver is expected to avoid. Insurance would not cover hitting a road hazard, so I was told. I found this out when a previous incident with a stationary object damaged another car of mine. Good luck, sorry to hear about this incident.

TM
 

temporaptor

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That's crazy. My x5 has a release under the cup holders.
Here is the procedure from under the car
 

Cool Breeze

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NHTSA complaint is useless because it's not a safety issue.

The problem is that you were dealing with a flat bed instead of a tow truck. A tow truck would've placed the rear wheels on a dolly and you would've been on your way.

OR the flat bed would've had dollies for each wheel and been done with it.
 

LRTDI

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Yes I am a AAA member. Longest tow was from somewhere on I89 to Holliston Mass when a radiator suffered an internal collapse causing a blockage and overheating. It was in my Land Rover. So it was flatbedded all the way.

Kudos to AAA for realizing something I hadn't....I told them I was on I93....having forgotten (stressed out perhaps?) that I'd just turned on to i89
 
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BuzzKen

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1: Push start button or attempt to start the car (even if it doesn't turn over, just push it down anyway
2: Push the lever twice in to N
3: Push the lever to N and hold for 5 seconds
4: Transmission is now disengaged for 15 minutes after which it will re-lock itself.
 

IndigoBlueWagon

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This really makes me want to stick with cars with manual transmissions. And physical linkages.
 

oilhammer

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There are just too many to list....
Good tow companies have a full set of roller jacks on the truck. They put one under each wheel and roll the whole car up on the flat bed. No big deal we get cars tows in like that all the time.
 

ssamalin

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Please update on your repair process. Was it covered by your insurance? Was it correctly repaired?
 

IndigoBlueWagon

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Since this happened late Friday I bet the dealer hasn't even looked at the car yet.
 

whitedog

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So David, if you ever need a tow again, make sure that you know the procedure or the tow company knows what you are driving so they can send a tow truck that is correctly equipped.
 

Jetter_Sprinta

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Since this happened late Friday I bet the dealer hasn't even looked at the car yet.

First line from n1das:
Wednesday evening this week during my commute home in my 535d, I had the misfortune of being unable to avoid hitting a truck tire "alligator" on the highway.
I bet they don't *want* to look at it! :eek: Give the owner a few days to cool off. ;)
 

cevans

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That's crazy. My x5 has a release under the cup holders.
Here is the procedure from under the car
Right, there is ALWAYS a manual release. I agree with n1das though that the BMW roadside assistance people should have known what to do to use the manual release.
 

Jetter_Sprinta

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The Chrysler roadside assistance people had no idea either. I just pulled trim from around the gearshift till I found it but it also didn't work in a non-running car.


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cevans

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1: Push start button or attempt to start the car (even if it doesn't turn over, just push it down anyway
2: Push the lever twice in to N
3: Push the lever to N and hold for 5 seconds
4: Transmission is now disengaged for 15 minutes after which it will re-lock itself.
...and thats what its all about!
 

n1das

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1: Push start button or attempt to start the car (even if it doesn't turn over, just push it down anyway
2: Push the lever twice in to N
3: Push the lever to N and hold for 5 seconds
4: Transmission is now disengaged for 15 minutes after which it will re-lock itself.
I found this procedure in my frantic online searching while the car was dead on the side of the road. I tried the procedure several times without success. I also didn't want to keep cranking the engine due to it being out of fuel to protect the HPFP. I later (after this 4 hour long ordeal) found a slightly different procedure which I believe is the correct procedure for my car (F10). There is also no mention of the magic shift procedure or the manual method in the owner's manual. The magic shift procedure should be printed on a separate card and kept with all the other documentation in the car.

UPDATE:
  • The fuel tank had a large hole punched into it and was dumping fuel on the highway as I drove until it ran out.
  • A new fuel tank installed by the dealer (Tulley BMW in Nashua NH) is ~ $2200.00. The repair job is waiting on parts to arrive.
  • The insurance adjuster inspected it and called me today and gave me an update. The whole job is being covered by insurance, minus my $500 deductible.
  • If all goes well I should get the car back by the end of the week.
 
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whitedog

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So funny story.

The Boss's son just bought a BMW 328XI and we have it on the lift while I do the valve cover stuff. They called a guy to come in and do some leather seat repair and he needed the doors open farther than the lift would allow, so we set the car down, turned the key on and tried to put it in neutral to roll it.

The alternative way to move the car on concrete is to lift it up with a jack on each end and roll it. Actually, if we were well set-up we would have dollys to go under each wheel so we could roll it around.

As soon as I saw our problem, I came right to this thread and then realized we would need to try to start it and with all of the stuff off of it, that's not a good idea. Hence, the jacks.

But at least this thread helped me with knowing why it wouldn't go into neutral.LOL
 

oilhammer

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There are just too many to list....
We learned about his kind of nonsense years ago with Priuses and many MB products. Also, years ago, Rolls Royce had something similar (they used a big motor mounted on the frame rail to move the GM TH400 3sp slushbox's gear selector lever :p ).

The wheeled jacks (we call them "skates") work perfectly for these cars.

Even the 02E cars don't easily have a way to move out of Park with no power IIRC. But at least those rarely get towed in, so we don't have to worry much.
 
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