5 months ago, we had a beautiful red car, it was a stunning performer – fast, slick, economical, prestigious and fun to drive and own. One year of enjoyable driving experience, no complaints. The car that defined driving pleasure and transformed me as an accomplished driver, who could stop the car right from 160km/h to 0 in no time, and hence transpired great confidence on any road. We clocked over 20000 happy kilometres and covered north, south, west and east of the peninsular during this one year with fun packed adventures. Indeed the car had delivered its promise, it has brought back driving pleasure in my life. It taught me how to drive fast and safe, and when I got stuck in heavy traffic congestion, the sophisticated stereo entertainment system helped to overcome the stress when I was able to listen to ‘halal’ music, favourite ‘nasheed’, Quran recitation or lectures, and take calls on my handphone automatically or get guidance from the GPS navigation using the bluetooth system.
The BMW 320d, a turbo diesel powered car that behaved like its petrol counterpart, with a more powerful torque, was indeed a genious machine. On a long journey it could hit almost 800km with one full tank (57 litres), a distance that could never be covered by any of my previous car including diesel, even with larger tanks. In the city it would not disappoint you since it still offered good economy, covering over 600km with one full tank. We treasured the spacious cabin, comfortable ride and its prestigious look.
The car came with full 3 years warranty, and we enjoyed the compliment of free maintenance services at 10k intervals. We had not done any modifications, the only little things we did was fixing the headlight beam and had the passenger front door repaint due to a dent that was accidentally caused by a friend’s car while reversing at our workplace’s car park. No signs of trouble at all from the engines, electronics, mechanicals etc., the car was a sweet companion that willingly took me anywhere long or short distance, day or night, in rain or darkness.
The last drive
That was the night just before the event. I drove the car to a friend’s son’s wedding at Hulu Langat during the day. There was this spacious parking spot on the field. I parked the car at one corner, and as we walked towards the house, I looked back at the sparkling beauty and took a shot. That was the last shot, the striking red sporty car standing proudly on the parking spot, waiting faithfully for its lucky owner to come back. With me was the whole family of 5 children (2 little ones). That was 7 too many in a car alright, as when we left the wedding, driving to Shah Alam to attend the Global March to Jerusalem event to take place later at night, I decided to divert to the hospital to change car. Back in my mind, I began wondering, well, we used to cope well with this number on a car with similar capacity, perhaps now all the children are grown up and they knew how to complain, whilst we are spoilt with choices. I gave up, and chose to please them by exchanging the bimmer with our Starex which I parked at the hospital. So we left the red bimmer at the basement car park, to be picked later that night.
It was not till close to midnight that I came back and took the car home. My wife who usually loves driving the bimmer chose to stay with the Starex to avoid the hassle of walking down the basement parking. I drove the red car instead. There was nothing absolutely wrong, the car behaved normally, singing and dancing the pleasant diesel engine tune along the way, filtering the traffic delightfully with its powerful muscle. Some remote thought lingered on. Yeah. its over a year, everything seemed fine. Just like any other car owner, one would sometime have that funny thought of when, if the car would suddenly misbehave or breakdown. But I could sense nothing, everything felt normal and the pleasure of driving this seductive machine made me forget how short the journey was, and now I was already in front of my house gate.
For the last good while we had swapped parking spot. The rather unsightly Starex occupied the roadside parking facing the neighbours. Our smaller car Satria Neo given the priority of staying under the shade at the front porch, while the bimmer was parked in the open, half over the grass, the half over the mosaic, front bonnet facing the neighbour’s. It was to sit there quietly, following the last drive, till the moment of disaster.
The Dream Machine on Fire…
Everything was so quiet that night. It was just going to be like any other night, except it had sparked fire. The red car was standing there quietly, just like any other day or night, except tonight it decided to ignite itself to its own destruction. Little did we expect an abrupt end to this companionship….in a most shocking way.
It was past 11pm at night when everyone about to settle in bed. Then my wife brought my attention to voices yelling from outside…I ran to the lounge to check. At first nothing obvious, then I noticed neighbours shouting in commotion…smoke…fire…or so. Then Harith our son was the first to notice, immediately shouted to me that there was fire coming from the car.
As I ran out I saw the horror, flame mostly from under the car, burning the grass. There was smoke coming out of the bonnet. We tried to put the fire off to no avail. Everything happened so fast. Now I realised the entire house and family members were at stake. I shouted “call the fire brigade!” While aimlessly trying to extinguish the fire with the hose that did not produce much water. We have two other cars and 4 motorcycles nearby now in danger. So off I drove the other cars away. And the two small kids safely escorted out. Then it took a few minutes to get our daughter Widad to get up and out as she was already deep asleep.
The fire got wilder and several explosions heard. We managed to salvage important documents out…at this moment we thought the possibility of fire spreading to the house was imminent.
Everything happened so fast. I forgot the fact that I was still suffering from bad flu, just woke up from a 2 hour long nap after swallowing the first dose of antibiotic. I forgot to put on the sandal, and I was running barefooted all the time!
The Fire brigade arrived swiftly and in no time they competently doused the fire off completely…of course the entire car was burnt beyond recognition.
The fireman and police have quizzed us repeatedly and we didn’t know of any reason how else the fire started if not spontaneously. However this would be a subject of further investigation later.
The Fire has been extinguished, but the nightmare remains…
The fire had been extinguished. The car was completely burnt. It would be towed away soon, however the agony and puzzle over the sudden horror still lingered on. Memory of the event replayed vividly, every moment I stepped out of the door, or even looked out through the front sliding door. Walking down to the lounge that led to the view of the car, brought the painful memory instantly. Usually (in the last while since I parked the bimmer there) each time I walked to the lounge, the sight of beautiful red car will immediately appear, as if greeting me, ‘come on, take me for a ride!’. But now, no more, only the ashes and the charred body can be seen.
For the first few days, weeks or months we lived in uncertainty and perhaps some fear of the unknown. Is my family in danger, if the fire was started by some ill hearted buddy, or…it was just a spontaneous fire, one of those rare things that happen to car, to any car, anytime? That, too hard to digest. I could recall, several occasions of falling asleep in the car while the engine running – an act that many of you occasionally do, nothing happened. What if, the fire just broke out while I was sleeping in the car?
There were, worst moment. I recalled, one day, I left my daughter who was asleep in the car with engine shut down. We just arrived home, and about to go out again, so I thought, maybe I left her there for a few minutes. I left the window open slightly, and unintentionally locked the car using the remote control.
Just while I was busy organising things at the lounge, I heard something very unusual, like a kid screaming. Then I remembered my little girl, oh no, I was just a few minutes away from committing a gross act of negligence! I rushed out and disarm the alarm to open the car door, and quickly took my daughter out. She was yelling in panic, locked inside unable to unlock the door to get out, apparently the remote central locking was designed to lock the car so secure that someone who is sitting in the car will not be able to open the door, that was harrowing! I tried imagining, what if, the fire broke out then, at that moment, while my daughter was trapped inside?
Imagining all sorts of worser scenarios, I felt thankful to God. Yes, something worse could have happened? The fire could have spread to the house any moment should the fire brigade was delayed, even by a few more seconds, that was a real possibility. Our two other motorcycles already suffered severe burn that required major repair. The small glass windows above the sliding doors of my house lounge had cracked and marks of burn can be seen. Yes, it was just a matter of few minutes, or seconds that made the difference.
What if the fire broke in the middle of night, while everyone including our neighbours were asleep? It would have not taken long before we are awaken in horror trying to escape fire and smoke that spread inside the house the extent which only God knows.
Yes, something worse could have happened, and thinking of this, we considered ourselves lucky, despite the trauma and loss.
Nevertheless, the memory of the whole event can never be wiped away. Poor little Hazim who would repeatedly uttered the words ‘car is on fire’ randomly. He refused to step out of the house for many, many days since the fire incident. One day, 3 months after the event, my wife drove home an old Mercedes which was loaned by a friend, who sympathise with her loss and noticed her struggling trying to park the massive Starex at school. While we were driving the car, Hazim slowly remarked, ‘umi bawak kereta ni sebab kereta merah umi dah terbakar’ (mum is driving this car because the red car was torched).
Since I posted the news on my FB wall, many have sent their condolences, even up to these days, whenever I meet friends I still got quizzed about the incident, and each time, I would patiently answered by giving narration of the event. One of the best consolation words sent by one of my staff: May God replace the lost with something better, if not in this world, in later life in the hereafter.
Since the bimmer was our only compact family car, we had to live without one for almost 4 months. It was not a major problem since we still have the Starex, which my wife drove to work everyday. Fortunately I do not need a car to work, I ride the Triumph Street Triple bike everyday, even when it rained.
Will I ever drive a BMW again?
Yes I will. But to own one, would be a big NO. Sorry, it may have not been the fault of the car. As to the question whether there was any electrical or mechanical faults that led to the fire, only God knows. The investigating team from the Fire-brigade Forensic had given their reports which basically concluded that the fire started internally. Auto Bavaria, whom I purchased the car from, towed the car away two days after the event, sent it to the BMW paint and repair service for analysis. I requested the report but was declined. Later the head engineer called and tried to explain apologetically, and defensively what their finding was. Basically, the conclusion was: surprisingly, inconclusive. I begged further explanation but the guy repeated the same explanation, basically during their investigation, they could not conclude whether the fire started externally, or internally. From my understanding, inconclusive meant that the fire did not start externally (no foul play), whilst they failed to identify the source of the combustion. Do I get any compensation, since the car was still under warranty? I asked the guy. He again apologetically said, well, since…the fire may have started from some external source….(as if he wanted to reinvent the finding of the investigation himself) we can offer nothing in return. Basically what I understood, they had washed their hands off, refused to take responsibility in whatever form. Fortunately the insurance company, Etiqa Takaful, professionally handled our case and settled the claim for fire (total loss) – of note, we only moved to the new insurance policy for less than a month, in this regard we are thankful to Etiqa, despite the fact that my wife (the car was insured under her name) had lost her non-claim bonus.
Again, what do I think of the BMW 3 series
Despite the loss and trauma, I must admit that I have had, yes, a most enjoyable driving experience with the 320d. It was the best car we ever owned – in all sense, prestigious, beautiful look, great performance and driving fun, economical, everything really. I remarked with friends one day, that even after experiencing such trauma, I found it extremely hard to find another car that would replace the 320d bimmer. There are several alternatives, but they are either too expensive, not economical, no match for driving fun, or don’t look as good. It is ironic that the car that we regard as a dream machine and an icon of fun had turned into a deathtrap. Only God knows the truth.