While electric vehicles get the most press whenever they go up like a match, it’s important to remember that combustion vehicles pioneered burning themselves up back when the horse was still considered a viable transportation option. Things are better now of course, with flaming cars being primarily relegated for important riots, large-scale sporting events, and decoration along the West Side Highway. We can also add high-speed chases taking place in the United Kingdom to the list because there’s reportedly a bunch of BMW police vehicles that are giving new meaning to the term “heat.”
For the last few weeks, various departments scattered across the U.K. have been issuing advisements not to use certain diesel-powered vehicles in pursuits that exceed the speed limit. It’s a rather curious request, though one that’s allegedly tied to a serious incident from 2020 that killed Police Constable Nick Dumphreys.
PC Dumphreys died in January of 2020 on the M6 motorway near Cumbria, with the press originally calling the incident a tragic accident. However, later investigations appeared to indicate that his diesel-powered BMW caught fire before the wreck, encouraging other departments to begin looking into the matter. By the end of 2021, several departments had opened investigations into pursuit vehicles equipped with the automaker’s N57 3.0-liter straight-six diesel engine and opted to keep them off the road.
In January of 2022, The Chronicle reported that Durham Constabulary had similarly advised against using N57-equipped cars not to engage in any high-speed chases. As news spread of there being a possible fire risk, BMW issued a public response saying that the problem would be limited to police vehicles due to aggressive the way in which they’re driven.
As the N57 is reserved for the Bavarian automaker’s “high-performance pursuit vehicle,” a fire hazard that has a propensity to manifest during the very task that gave it its namesake is pretty embarrassing. Car and Driver reported on the situation in February — suggesting fires that took place in 2016 (Kent), 2019 (Liverpool; London), and 2020 (Swindon) were all related.
With the BMWs under observation, Durham said it would be leaning on Peugeots equipped with 1.2-liter turbocharged engines to handle traffic duties. But other departments seem less worried, especially considering the N57 is an older powertrain that’s currently in the process of being phased out.
From Car and Driver:
BMW was first named as a “key supplier” to police forces in the U.K. in 2010 by the National Policing Improvement Agency. The 330d Saloon Interceptor was particularly selected as a “high-performance pursuit vehicle” at the time. The N57 engine has been superseded by the newer B57, meaning the newest at-risk car is now more than three years old, and volumes will diminish as police fleets replace older models.
Many constabularies are choosing to move away from BMW altogether, and these days police-liveried Volvos an increasingly common sight on Britain’s roads. And, yes, the Swedish company does indeed remove the 112-mph speed limiter that is fitted to all the cars it sells to civilians.
Meanwhile, BMW has continued assuring the public that any fire risks were exclusive to law enforcement.
“This issue is associated with the particular way in which the police operate these high-performance vehicles. This unique usage profile puts extra strain on some components and therefore BMW has specified a special servicing program for these vehicles,” stated a spokesperson for the brand. “There is no need for action on any civilian vehicles.”
Perhaps not. But Brits sitting behind a 3.0-liter N57 still might want to take it easy on the motorway. Something tells me this story will be cropping up again, either to better explain the isolated nature of the fires or to formally announce a recall.
[Image: Sussex Photographer/Shutterstock]
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