With the best of will and effort, sometimes things still go wrong. When that happens, the way we deal with the problem can make the difference between an unhappy customer and one who is actually happier than he was before the problem happened. This letter tells about such a time.

In this letter, I’d like to report and comment on events relating to a serious failure in my 2003 BMW Z4, and BMW’s excellent response to the situation.

Executive Summary

The executive summary is this: My Z4 coded, lit up EML and DSC lights, and went into “limp home” mode, somewhere in the middle of Wisconsin. After shutting it down, I was able to restart the car and it seemed to return to normal operation. BMW Roadside Assistance hooked me up with Enterprise Motorcars in Appleton, Wisconsin. We got there at 3 PM on Friday, July 11th. Kevin Berggren got the car in and diagnosed, and had their tech Ryan install a new throttle body, getting us on the road by 6 PM. Impressive service for a Friday afternoon, for a customer they had never heard of. We curtailed some of our more rural adventures and stops, and continued without further event to Okoboji, Iowa, where our family reunion takes place.

I posted a report about the problem on the Z4 message board on the roadfly web site (http://bimmer.roadfly.org/bmw/forums/e85/), expressing my extreme displeasure with the car and my intention to get rid of it upon return home. The day we were to leave for our return, I checked messages on the home phone and found a call from Donald Hyde of BMW North America. He had seen my posting, had gotten some information on the car’s problem from Enterprise, and said that the car needed a new wiring harness which could be installed if we wanted to go back to Appleton. It turns out that Appleton wasn’t on our planned return route. We played a little phone tag along our route through Minnesota, and finally hooked up. I told Donald that we were planning to be going through Madison the next day and asked if we could have the fix done there. He called back as we drove along, said that he had arranged for the part to be there the next day, and that he had made an appointment. Next day we arrived at Zimbrick European in Madison, where Brian Rawls took charge of the car, arranged an X5 loaner so that we could explore the Madison area, and even lined us up with a Zimbrick employee who knew the area and could advise us where to go. Zimbrick had us back on the road by early afternoon. We completed our vacation without further event, and the car is discernibly running better than it ever did before.

Owing to Donald Hyde’s efforts, and the outstanding service we received at Enterprise and Zimbrick, who knew that we were just an owner passing through their towns, a very bad customer situation was turned around. At this writing, if the car continues to work well, I intend to keep it and to continue to get new BMWs every couple of years. The experience, in spite of its bad start, has left me with a very positive feeling about BMW and its customer service.

Details

The car had been in for service twice at my dealer, Autostrasse in Ann Arbor, for a problem with erratic running. The first time, they reprogrammed the DME on instructions from BMW national service, and the second time they were informed that my car had a 2.5 computer, though it is a 3.0. They replaced the computer and reprogrammed it again. The car was still not running quite right in my opinion, but we agreed that replacing more parts right before vacation was unwise, so we set off. Even though the car did fail on the way, I’m OK with the decision not to have done more work, since at that time Autostrasse had no indication from BMW of a general problem or any idea what to do about it. I would not have been comfortable with replacing some additional part with no real indication that things would be better.

From my participation on the roadfly site, I was aware that a small number of Z4s had been dropping into limp home mode. I knew that the first fix was to replace the throttle body, and that a subsequent fix was to replace the wiring harness. I was not then, and still am not, aware of any cars that have failed after both fixes have been made. My knowledge from roadfly had two effects when my car failed.

First, I was somewhat prepared when it failed. I recognized the situation and was able to deal with it effectively and calmly. I knew what I was going to try when it happened, and so I shut the car down and attempted a restart. Fortunately, the faults cleared. I knew where my roadside assistance card was, and made the contact that got us set up at Enterprise. I wasn’t pleased, but I wasn’t panicked either. Second, though Enterprise had done a great job of getting me a new throttle body, I had some reason to fear that this wasn’t the complete fix. This concern was exacerbated when Enterprise told me that one of the codes thrown by the car indicated an inability to read the cam sensor. This sounded more to my naive ears like a wiring harness problem than a throttle body problem. This was why we were willing and quite interested in getting the harness replaced when Donald offered, rather than waiting until we got home. I knew that some cars had failed again within a few hundred miles of the throttle body being replaced.

In spite of my preparedness for the fault, I want to comment strongly that a known situation where the engine suddenly shuts down is in my opinion a very serious safety hazard. We happened to be cruising along a fairly quiet road. We could just as well have been executing a high-speed pass or doing something else where a sudden failure could have been disastrous. This was the source of my original intention to get rid of the car. In the face of an unexplained, intermittent, but complete shutdown, the car and my driving style could lead to real trouble. At the moment, I feel fairly confident that we have the problem fixed. Of course, it would only take one more shutdown to completely change my mind on that, but I don’t expect that to happen.

It seems to me that this must by now be a fairly well-known and well-understood problem, though it may not have been even a few weeks ago. Clearly it only affects a very few cars out of hundred or thousands. I can appreciate, and agree with the inability to replace all these parts on all the cars out there: practically none of them probably need it.

However, I’m not entirely satisfied with the level of information that was in the hands of the dealers about recognizing and correcting this problem. Perhaps there’s more information out there now: I hope there is. In addition, I am disappointed that BMW chooses not to be more forthcoming with information on roadfly and similar sites. I can see why you might choose not to be, but in these days of incredibly rapid communication over the Internet, I think you need to be proactive and more forthcoming.

I’m not sure how many Z4 owners are represented on roadfly, but every one of them knew that I had had a problem on the road, within 24 hours of the problem. Many of these individuals belong to car clubs, and most of them are influencers, and powerful ones, in your market. News travels fast. When I mail this letter, I will also post it on my web site, which gets thousands of hits per month. I’ll inform the roadfly community to look for it, and I’ll announce the article, as I do all my articles, to a few thousand people, all with a couple of e-mails. This report is a very positive one: I am quite pleased with the way that BMW supported me, and I’m pleased with the outcome. Still, things could have gone the other way.

I believe that BMW is one of the most technically strong auto companies in the world. As such, you need to be equally outstanding in the Internet age. Perhaps this situation, which is a positive one but known world wide, can serve as a bit of a wake up call for you.

To sum up: my car did a bad thing; your company did some very good things, and turned a bad situation to your advantage. There are opportunities to serve your customers, and the community, even better. I hope you will take them under due consideration, and take appropriate action.

Thank you,

Ronald E Jeffries etc