Why can't I get reimbursed for my Mini Cooper's faulty footwell module?

Why can’t I get reimbursed for my Mini Cooper’s corroded footwell module?

The automaker, BMW Canada, does not participate in the industry’s arbitration program, but there are steps the car owner can take.


Photo by Devon Janse van Rensburg on Unsplash

Q. The footwell module was replaced on my Mini Cooper S in 2017.  BMW (the manufacturer of the Mini) told me that a freak accident of the sunroof drain tube not being aligned caused all the water damage that corroded the electronics in the module. Then, in November 2018, I received a recall notice informing me that the same footwell module was to be replaced as part of a recall.  The Service Manager told me that BMW would reimburse the original replacement of the module, only for BMW Canada to reject the claim, and I was out for the original repair work of approximately $3,000.

When I called BMW Canada, they insisted that because the module was replaced due to water damage, it was not included in the recall, even though part of the recall repair is to encase the module in a plastic protective sleeve to prevent water damage. So, although they would have had to replace the module either way due to the recall, they are essentially charging me to repair a safety defect on my car. How is this right?
– Joel

A. It isn’t right. When it comes to recalls, the convention with automakers is to reimburse prior repair costs incurred by the customer when a problem is later recognized as a safety defect. Your dealer appears to have suffered a case of selective amnesia, as the Mini has earned a reputation for water leaking into the interior from various locations, including the windshield seal or sunroof drains, since its introduction in 2002. Several models and years of the Mini from 2007 to 2017 are covered by programs to address corrosion of electronic components that may become contaminated by a mixture of humidity coupled with salt tracked into the interior by boots in winter. Corrosion can cause a short circuit and overheating of the module with a risk of fire. As you now know, dealers are supposed to inspect the recalled module and replace it if it has sustained significant damage from corrosion, and install extra waterproofing protection.

Occasionally, reimbursement from the manufacturer for repairs performed prior to a recall is held up because the consumer obtained the repair at an aftermarket shop, or used a non-standard repair that predates the recall; the automaker does not want to guarantee the efficacy of third-party repairs or non-original parts, even if the work is identical to the eventual recall correction. In your situation, the modification with a protective sleeve was likely not yet available for a 2017 model to correct your “freak accident,” which may explain why Mini is balking at reimbursing you the cost of repairing a problem they have now admitted to. Mini likely wants to recheck your nearly new module to ensure it is corrosion-free and install a plastic sleeve.

Here are a couple of suggestions:

  1. Check the carpet under the rubber floor mats in the front occupant footwells to ensure the floor is dry; if not, water infiltration from one or more areas may still be an issue.
  2. Escalate this issue with the automaker by sending a written letter summarizing the facts. Make it short, and inform the automaker you will be sending a copy to the Defect Investigations and Recalls Division at Transport Canada. This will alert investigators to a possible recall compliance issue.

You may have heard of the industry-run Canadian Motor Vehicle Arbitration Plan (CAMVAP), which can help in obtaining the refund of a paid-up repair (although it’s chancy for getting a bad vehicle bought back). However, BMW and Mini don’t participate in CAMVAP arbitration, so if your letter fails to convince the automaker, you cannot apply to CAMVAP; your next stop would likely be your provincial small claims court. Be sure to bring the recall notice and letter from Mini, and ideally an expert to support your claim. You could argue that the recall is an admission by the automaker of liability for the earlier correction.