BMW: The Ultimate Exercise in Customer Disservice


UPDATE: In the end, after I made enough noise, BMW came through and paid for the repair.  I am grateful to them and glad that they did the right thing in the end.  But still a bit of a black mark that it took so much work to get some satisfaction.

One of my key marketing rules is “Know Your Brand.”

BMW has always seemed to get this–they understand that they sell more than a car… they sell an experience and a lifestyle.

Maintaining this experience and keeping customers happy helps BMW continue as one of the most successful luxury car companies with one of the best brands.  They continually win brand awards but they also realize the need to always make a strong effort to please customers.

In 2002 the then CEO, Helmut Panke, summed it up when he said. “What I see as our biggest risk is the possibility of complacency. We need to make sure that nobody leans back. We have to remain hungry and to keep up our desire to outperform others.”

That is why I was so shocked when I tried to get a defect fixed on my wife’s 2004 325i.  BMW has refused to take responsibility or pay for the repairs.

Fixing a defect, in warrantee OR out should be one of the easiest customer satisfaction actions BMW performs.

Here is what happened: Intermittently an indicator comes on showing there is something wrong with the rear lights.  I took the car in to the BMW dealer and mentioned this to my service advisor.  I was really surprised when he guessed at the cause before even getting up from his desk.  Upon checking the car, his hunch was confirmed.

Here is the issue as BMW states in their service bulletin: “Minor corrosion at the 8-pin rear lamp connector creates high resistance causing damage to the connector housing.”  In other words, your rear light can melt!

So what makes this a “defect” and not something that should be the responsibility of the owner?  Well, first, the fix is not just to replace a broken or worn out part.  The fix is to actually modify the original configuration.  From BMW’s Service Information Bulletin (SIB 63 03 06) “Correction: Repair the damaged wire(s) and replace damaged connector housing. Install additional ground wires to both left and right rear lamps.” (emphasis added)

Second, this defect seems very common and BMW is well aware of it as evidenced by the service bulletin, the 100s of postings on BMW forums and the numerous filings with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration–one of which claims there was a fire involved! (Office of Defects Investigation ID Number : 10263031)

I have asked the service manager at my dealer to look into having BMW pay for these repairs but he said they declined.  I also called customer relations, opened a case but was told that they also would not step up to the plate.

We are a loyal two-BMW household who purchases the highest level maintenance packages and always services our car at the dealer (who we love along with our service advisor) so it’s very surprising to see how little BMW will do keep us (and the other owners with the same problem) happy for a problem that is clearly a defect and not a run of the mill maintenance issue.