A BMW customer fears his brand-new leased vehicle could injure or kill someone, all by itself. He says the 2012 X5's transmission came unlocked from the park position twice, causing the vehicle to roll away with no one in it.

"The BMW is not supposed to be a rolling machine. It’s a driving machine," said Adriano Persi, of Hamilton. "I have a rolling machine that goes whenever it wants to go."

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Persi says his BMW was damaged after it rolled away on its own while the transmission was in park. (Submitted by Adriano Persi)

The incidents were caught on tape, by Persi’s home surveillance camera, which is pointed at his driveway.

"The vehicle wasn't slipping … it was actually rolling on all four tires," said Persi. "It was very fortuitous that I had video surveillance and I was actually able to record the events. Otherwise I would have been just another person who thought I did something wrong."

On both occasions, Persi had left the newly leased vehicle in park, locked and with the ignition off. He was inside his house when the vehicle later rolled away on its own.

The first time, his surveillance camera recorded the SUV rolling only a few metres, then stopping. The next time — in the middle of the night — it rolled out of the driveway, across the street and down an embankment, hitting trees before it stopped.

"I think the vehicle is unreliable. I think the vehicle is unsafe," he said.

Previous recall

Persi then discovered that BMW recalled six X5 models in the U.S. — made in 2011 — because of a defect that could cause those vehicles to roll away when parked. The recall notice in January 2012 said the "engagement of the parking lock may not occur even if the ‘P’ position has been displayed."

It then stated, "If the driver believes that the transmission is in park … the vehicle could roll away after exiting the vehicle increasing the risk of a crash or injury."

Persi took the damaged leased vehicle back to Budd’s BMW in Oakville and asked for a replacement.

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"I don’t want it back," said Persi. "I don't think I should play Russian roulette with myself, my family or the public safety. What would have happened when it did roll those two times if there was a child behind or another vehicle behind it and it was crushed?"

Budd’s BMW inspected the unit, including the transmission parking lock mechanism, and told Persi it found nothing wrong. However, an independent appraiser working for Persi’s insurance company concluded the parking lock system had failed.   

"It appears…the BMW service office has expressed little interest in investigating this matter beyond the service inspection carried out by Budd’s BMW and, in our opinion, this creates a potential serious future hazard," reads the inspection report from Niagara Appraisal Services.

BMW response

The dealership didn’t return calls from Go Public about this case. BMW Canada told us it believes the vehicle is safe. It also suggested Persi should have used the parking brake, especially while the vehicle was parked on his driveway, which is on a slight incline.

"[We] are satisfied that all components were found to be functioning perfectly, and the vehicle to be performing safely," said BMW Canada spokesman Robert Dexter, in an email.

"Our vehicles are safe to park with the transmission in the "park" mode, however in conditions including an incline or decline and/or slippery surfaces, we recommend engaging the parking brake, as referenced in all BMW Owner’s Manuals."  

The Automobile Protection Association said BMW is legally responsible for ensuring its automatic transmission park lock works safely, regardless of whether the owner uses the parking brake. Director George Iny added that many drivers with automatic transmission vehicles don't use the parking brake regularly.

"When there is a safety problem the car maker is actually responsible for the vehicle," said Iny. "It is very good practice to apply both the brake and put your automatic transmission in park. The car maker is still answerable under our safety legislation if one of those two systems isn’t working."

Dangers well known

Iny pointed out there have been many recalls over the years for defects causing rollaway problems, with various types of vehicles. Widespread rollaway problems with Fords in the 1980s, for example, caused numerous injuries and several deaths.

"The larger public policy issue — the one dealing with the safety aspects — is still there," said Iny. "Two occurrences [with Persi’s BMW] and existing similar recalls with their vehicles do raise an issue with a broader safety issue."

Persi reported the incidents to Transport Canada, which told Go Public it is still investigating.

"Transport Canada’s defect investigations section is currently in discussions with the manufacturer regarding the technical operation of the vehicle’s rear differential to try to better understand this incident. The department is not aware of any similar occurrences in Canada."

It also said it wants "to take this opportunity to remind Canadian motorists to read the vehicle’s operating manual and follow the instructions as they relate to applying the parking brake."

The insurance company has determined Persi was not at fault for the vehicle damage caused by the second rollaway incident and has issued a cheque to cover the damage.

However, Persi is refusing to authorize the repairs and said he will not take the vehicle back, on principle.

"I don’t want money. I don’t want anything else. The vehicle is not safe for me — and it’s not safe to be on the road," said Persi. "I have hit dead-end after dead-end and to be quite frank I am completely perplexed."

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Document: U.S. recall notice

Document: Independent appraiser's assessment