BMW Blues

August 29, 2003

Gnashing and bashing the riders of any particular bike serves no purpose beyond creating hard feelings among a great group of enthusiasts. There is no greater supporter of a brand of bike than the guy who has no problems. Then again there is the disparaging curmudgeons who have a list of problems to tell the world on the same brand of bike.

BMW has failed to meet the basic obligation to the consumer of providing customer service.

At first I metaphorically figured that the rear drive issue was similar to the stator problem on the earlier version of the Goldwing. The stators on the 84 Wings were a sore spot for many owners, but Honda stood behind the bike. They fixed them on the spot, at service intervals, and even covered owners who weren’t the original purchaser.

Then I started thinking that maybe it was more like the bearing problem in the new EVO Harley motors. The manufacturer isn’t going to admit anything, and fix only those few that complain loud enough. That ended in a law suit and a lot of non-disclosure signing.

Finally I’ve started to come to the opinion that the issues with motorcycle build quality is an industry issue. The problem is that motorcycles aren’t considered transportation. They are a luxury vehicle that a 80 percent service rate and on the road rate is just fine. For all of our spouting that motorcycles can be ridden as replacement transportation the fact remains that they are inherently inferior machines in quality/reliability to current day cars.

In the past a company like Yamaha would create a bike with an expectation of service obsolescence (early Seca’s). Then quality and longevity in service became an important consumer requirement. Harley’s with 100K’s of miles, and BMW’s with the same kind of mileage. I notice though that those bikes are often owned by exemplary consumers who have extensive training in the repair and maintenance of those vehicles.

All of the bike builders have issues with quality and engineering. Polaris currently has another recall on their top of the line bikes. Indian just issued a recall, Honda is fixing the wings, and Yamaha had bikes braking frames also. Motorcycle Consumer News details all bike recalls each month.

We as a consumer group often make excuses for our bikes like “They are machines built by fallible humans”, or “Nothing is ever perfect”. The fact remains this is true and the difference is that some manufacturers step up and take care of problems, acknowledge those problems when they don’t have a clue, and work with owners to fix the problems they can fix.

In closing let me talk about my Land Rover. Land Rover has the lowest build rating of any manufacturer according to Consumer Reports. They have one of the highest customer satisfaction ratings though. I can go to any Land Rover dealer and know what items are recall items on my Rover, find out if they have been fixed, and if there are any special problems being noted on similar models that I might watch for. I don’t have to have a special relationship with a dealer. I don’t need to bring the dealer donuts. I don’t need to wiggle my way into their good graces. I just get awesome customer service at any Land Rover dealer I visit.

I’m a mobile person. The nature of my hobbies makes me an ultra mobile person. I can’t afford to buy every BMW dealer donuts so I can get good service. So, slam BMW all you want. I would try and keep things from being personal. I will tell you that I’m probably BMW’s largest critic at this time. I own two. I haven’t had a failure in the rear bearing, but I’ve been watching. I will keep watching and hoping nobody dies when the rear bearing throws a plume of hot sticky oil all over the rear brake and rear wheel.

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