Our BMW i3’s First Trip To The BMW Service Center

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Yep, our new (used) BMW i3 REx already made a trip to the BMW service center, approximately 3 weeks into its time with CleanTechnica.

That may sound like a disaster — and it sure felt like one for half a day or so — but it ended up being a somewhat minor, zero-cost, and smooth (well, sort of) fix.

First of all, if we rewind a couple of weeks, approximately one week after buying the car, I started noticing a message upon turning on the car that said “Increased battery drain while charged” or “Battery discharging while stopped.”

I didn’t notice any hit in my range, though, so I was a bit confused. Given how extremely hot it is in Florida and the fact that I was often pre-cooling the car for our young ones and then taking a while to get them buckled in, I thought maybe that’s all it was about. Anyway, I intended to bring it in for service — and actually tried calling the service center once or twice — but then ended up in a less flexible situation.

The other day, I went to the car, turned it on, released the parking brake, and then got a message on the same screen that said, “Parking brake malfunction.” After a short moment, everything turned off. I couldn’t even lock the doors. (Though, the one thing I could do was unlock them.)

So, I called up BMW Service. I explained my situation to the lady who answered the phone, and she said she’d ask someone there some questions and get back with me. Oddly, instead of the normal hold music, the phone started ringing on the other end again. Another lady picked up the phone and had no background on my situation, so I told it all again and this new lady again said she’d talk to an expert (Genius) about it and get back to me. (Yes, at this point I had already long wished I had a Tesla whereby instructions would pop up on the screen in the car, or they would at least be on the ball and quick to diagnose the problem virtually, if not fix it via an over-the-air software update.)

This second lady then got back on and connected me with a Genius, who I had to tell everything to again. He said to hold on and he’d check on something. Again, instead of hold music, I heard ringing. The lady who answered the phone the second time answered again and seemed a bit confused. I explained that I had just talk to the Genius and he said he was going to check on something. She asked me to hold on and then after a brief pause told me that the Genius told her it was a parking brake malfunction … which is what I had already told people three times. “This is not a good start to the situation,” I thought.

The end conclusion: I had to get the car towed in to have them check it out there. So I called roadside assistance and had it order me a tow truck. After a few minutes, I realized I had some remaining questions for the BMW Service Center. When I called back with these questions, I was connected to a “Client Advisor.” She was very helpful, and she also emphasized that I should make sure the tow truck company brought a dolly since the i3 can’t be put into neutral when the computer system shuts down. I figured that was clear from my initial explanation to the warranty company calling in the tow truck, but I called back and left a note to this effect.

45 minutes or so later, as I started to feel like things were under control, the tow truck arrived. The guy was very “Central Florida” + tats but was nice and cool. He seemed excited to approach his first BMW i3 tow. I explained the car was fully electric and I couldn’t do anything — all the electronics were shut down — and checked to make sure he had a dolly. After a moment, he realized that, yeah, he couldn’t tow it because you can’t put the car in neutral and he didn’t have a trolly. One truck in their company did, so he called someone up and said they’d be here in a while. After a long wait, shit got weird, but I’ll leave that for the comment thread since it’s getting quite far into off-topic rant territory. But the short of it is the warranty company’s roadside assistance team called another tow truck company, and they did have my earlier statement that the car needed a dolly in their notes, but I made sure that got passed on to the tow truck company. Another hour and a half wait … but it actually ended up more like 45 minutes.

The new tow truck guy and lady were also very nice, which was cool, since they again were dealing with a situation they weren’t familiar with. I explained again that it was fully electric, all the electronics were off, and I couldn’t do anything — not even shift gears. For a moment, he thought about hooking it up the normal way, but after prepping for a moment it hit him that I said I couldn’t do anything, even put it in neutral, so we really did need a dolly. It took a while, but he carefully hooked it up and found it quite easy since the i3 is so light. 😀

One more hiccup in the process was with the rear headlamps that he had to stick on the car. Because the i3 doesn’t really have any metal on it, he couldn’t get them to stick onto the hood or room. He couldn’t get them onto the dash because we couldn’t roll the windows down. Eventually, he had the idea of sticking them under the windshield wipers. Man, the i3 is certainly one weirdmobile! And a weirdmobile I love. 😀

I have to say, the tow truck people were really cool, considerate, careful, and patient. I told them I’d give them a plug as a big thanks for all of that, so definitely consider Mr. Quick Pick if you’re in the Southwest Florida region and need a tow!

They towed the car approximately 30 mins south to the BMW of Sarasota dealership while my mom and I drove in her Nissan LEAF. We got there just after hours, but a BMW sales guy happened to be in the parking lot working late and was extremely friendly and helpful. He said he’d get me a good tech guy and that service tech would call me in the morning. It felt like a good start to the real service center experience (beyond the initially clunky intro on the phone).

I got a call the next morning and the service tech made sure to get the full story from me himself. I tried to get a clear answer from about whether these two issues — the “increased battery drain while parked” warnings and the and parking brake malfunction — were issues he had dealt with before, or even common issues. He indicated he had dealt with such issues but it could entail replacing different parts and he’d have to check to say more. He somewhat sheepishly warned me the work might not be done till tomorrow morning. I thought, “Just one day?! Awesome!” Frankly, I didn’t know what I was in for — how hard it would be to fix, if it take days or weeks to get a part, etc.

The next morning, I got a text message that the car was ready to be picked up. They had to replace the 12V lead-acid battery that controls all the electronics. During the course of everything, I got word from a few people that 12V batteries often don’t last more than 3 years in super hot Florida. I heard this about Ford C-Max Energis, Toyota Camrys (Camries?), and others. Being a 2015 BMW i3, it was apparently our car’s due date for a battery replacement.

The BMW service people were again helpful and patient as I asked more questions than I imagine they were accustomed to. Except for the phone mixups/repeats at the beginning of the whole process, I couldn’t really complain about anything. And at the end of it all, I got an “invoice” for $0, since the replacement was still under the original BMW vehicle warranty, which lasts until 2020 or 50,000 miles, whichever comes first.

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Zachary Shahan

Zach is tryin' to help society help itself one word at a time. He spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as its director, chief editor, and CEO. Zach is recognized globally as an electric vehicle, solar energy, and energy storage expert. He has presented about cleantech at conferences in India, the UAE, Ukraine, Poland, Germany, the Netherlands, the USA, Canada, and Curaçao. Zach has long-term investments in Tesla [TSLA], NIO [NIO], Xpeng [XPEV], Ford [F], ChargePoint [CHPT], Amazon [AMZN], Piedmont Lithium [PLL], Lithium Americas [LAC], Albemarle Corporation [ALB], Nouveau Monde Graphite [NMGRF], Talon Metals [TLOFF], Arclight Clean Transition Corp [ACTC], and Starbucks [SBUX]. But he does not offer (explicitly or implicitly) investment advice of any sort.

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