How Bad Engine Software Hit the Brakes on 37K BMWsHow Bad Engine Software Hit the Brakes on 37K BMWs


November 1, 2021

How Bad Engine Software Hit the Brakes on 37K BMWs

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“The Recall Notice” is back with another software-related recall impacting the automotive industry. In the past few months, we’ve covered a lot of ground, exploring recalls on a range of vehicles, including the Subaru Crosstrek, the Jaguar F-Type, and the Porsche Taycan.

This month we will be looking at a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recall issued for BMW of North America. This recall was published on the 2nd of August in response to a fault in the engine management systems of cars and SUVs from model years 2019 to 2021. BMW will notify owners of this software-related recall on or by October 1, 2021. 


NHTSA Campaign Number: 21V598000

OEM: BMW of North America, LLC

Components: Engine

Estimated Vehicles Affected: 50,024

Remedy: Free software update at dealership

Estimated Cost to OEM: $15M - $25M

What the Problem Was

NHTSA Recall 21V598 addresses a software-related fault in the engine management systems of certain BMW and Toyota vehicles. Attention was brought to this issue back in February 2021, when BMW began receiving warranty claims regarding damaged oil/vacuum pumps. 

In response, BMW engineers began reviewing potential causes and assessing the scope of the issue. They discovered that the damage was caused by a combination of factors. Specific pump parameters in conjunction with abnormal engine start conditions caused an unanticipated reaction in the engine management software. These conditions were created when the driver did one of two things: 

  • Pressed the engine start button twice in quick succession 
  • Pressed the brake pedal while turning on the vehicle 

As a result, the engine management software triggered a momentary rotation reversal of the crankshaft leading to pump damage and a potential loss of brake assist

Brake assist plays a crucial role in bringing the vehicle to a complete stop during an emergency. It senses the collision potential of nearby objects and responds with proximity warnings. Then it calculates the force required to bring the car to a complete stop based on the vehicle’s speed and distance from the object. When the driver decompresses the brakes, the system responds by applying the force necessary to prevent an accident. A disabled or malfunctioning brake assist increases the chances of a traffic collision with other vehicles, stationary objects, and pedestrians. 

The Scope of the Recall

Over 50,000 units are impacted by this software-related recall. Affected BMW models include the 2020 X3 M40i, the 2020 M340i and M340i xDrive, the 2020 540i and 540i xDrive, the 2020/2021 X4 M40i, the 2020/2021 745Le xDrive, and Z4 M40i from model years 2019 to 2021. Although BMW bears the brunt of this recall with just over 37,000 vehicles requiring software updates, 13,014 Toyota Supra vehicles fall under the umbrella of NHTSA 21V598. 

Toyota Supra cars from model years 2020 and 2021 are equipped with a BMW-sourced engine. As a result, they are susceptible to the same fault in their engine management software and brake assist mechanisms.  

How Sibros Could Have Helped

BMW is determined to bring vehicle-wide over-the-air (OTA) update capabilities to its fleet, as seen here on their website. Unfortunately, their dreams have yet to be fully realized. At the moment BMW OTA updates are limited to infotainment systems and optional equipment features, such as heated seats and Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS). Updates involving key components, like the engine management system, continue to require a visit to the dealership. Instead of being able to correct the error with a push of a button, owners must rearrange their schedules to accommodate such fixes. 

Having a fully functional vehicle-wide OTA system like Sibros Deep Connected Platform (DCP) eliminates the need for in-person updates. It enables fully remote, comprehensive updates for the life cycle of the vehicle. In addition, DCP collects, stores, and analyzes data from ECUs throughout the car. This is an invaluable asset to the OEM, as it allows them to detect and correct issues before they escalate into potentially life-threatening malfunctions.

Impact and Savings 

Manufacturers lose between $300 and $500 for every recalled vehicle that requires a dealer visit. For NHTSA recall 21V598, BMW and Toyota are looking at a combined total of $15 to $25 million, for the software update alone. However, a recall of this nature can impact the OEMs profit on other levels as well. 

Federal law prohibits the selling of new vehicles with an open recall. Therefore, manufacturers must halt sales until all units have received the software fix. At the moment, dealers may continue to sell used cars with open recalls, but this may not always be the case. In recent years there has been a push in the US to pass legislation like the Used Car Safety Recall Repair Act. These laws would suspend the sale of all vehicles with unremedied recalls, regardless of pre-owned status. With vehicle-wide OTA solutions, OEMs are better able to navigate regulation changes and set themselves a step ahead of the competition.  

Recalls also take a toll on government agencies. In 2018 the NHTSA spent 17% of its budget on enforcement programs, such as the Office of Defects Investigation (ODI). The resources poured into researching and issuing recalls could easily be redirected to other programs that are essential to accomplishing the NHTSA’s mission of saving lives and reducing economic costs related to road safety. 

Vehicle-wide OTA software solutions cut costs associated with recalls. They allow for the early detection of faults and simplify the lives of OEMs, consumers, and federal agencies alike. Fixing recalls at the touch of a button is no longer a dream for the future. It is a reality here and now. 

Sibros offers a reliable and convenient solution to your OTA software needs. With Sibros you can ease your recall rollouts, address glitches before they happen, and stay ahead of the competition. Ready to join the future? Contact us to set up a personalized demo.

Albert Lilly
Albert Lilly
Albert brings over 20 years of industry focused enterprise software marketing and business development experience ranging from VC-backed startups to large scale tech organizations. He is a University of Texas at Austin alumnus.