BMW Service Dept Says 2011 5 Series Not Made for Trips Shorter than 5-10km


My 8 month old BMW 528i recently gave a warning that said “Battery seriously depleted” followed a few blocks later by something to the effect of “battery extrememly depleted . . . shutting down ancillary electrical systems.” The dash started to fade and courtsey lighting shut off. We brought it to the dealership. They say the battery and car both tested fine and then proceeded to tell us that the 5 series is not desgined to be driven repeatedly less than 5-10km and that because the vast majority of the cars trips were less than 5 km, the drain on the battery from start up was too much to recharge during the short trip. This was B.S. because it happened immediately following two consecutive 3 hour driving trips. Now the dealership is stumped. Any thoughts?

In explicit terms, a car is neither “designed” nor “not designed” for very short trips. In general, short trip driving is bad for any car - 1911 or 2011, BMW, Edsel, or GM. It is not terribly good for the battery - among many many other things. (If you mostly drive 5-10km trips, you’re a good candidate for an electric car).

I’m sure there are all sorts of things about the power/power mgmt system in this car that I don’t know about. But if it turns out that you need a battery or alternator, you wouldn’t be the first person whose bad battery or alternator tested good.

FYI: lots and lots of short trip driving will beat the heck out the battery & alternator. That is true on any car.

If it ONLY had occaisional very short trips, then they might have a point, but that’s not the case here. Sounds like a bad battery or other charging system problem.

"Any thoughts? " Sure! The dealers service manager has no clew what is wrong so he tries to blame the problem on you!

But it’s a simple problem…The battery is defective or the alternator is defective…

I think it’s a loose/intermittent connection. Check that cables and clamps are clean and tight.
Even if the battery is chronically under charged from short trips the alternator should keep the voltage from fading out while the engine is running.

Does your BMW have a voltmeter in addition to the warning message? If not, you can get one that plugs into the cigar lighter from a place that sells a variety of auto equipment. Try a WM or a Radio Shack store. Give the voltmeter an occasional glance while you are driving to see if there is an intermittent condition. Normally you should see about 13.5 to 14.8 volts and sometimes even a little more than that while driving and a little less when idling at a stoplight, possibly less yet with the headlights on. After the car has been stopped for a while, you should see around 12 to 12.6 volts.

Watch the voltmeter for a while in a known good car to learn the variety of voltages that are normal in various situations including after a recent start and after being underway for a while and then compare to your BMW. It seems that you must help yourself with this problem.

Quite possibly you talked to a “service assistant” rather than a real mechanic. These guys don’t know nothing but are very creative with telling a customer the most ludicrous original car myths.

You have a problem with your charging system, plain and simple. As circuitsmith points out, a running engine produces more than enough juice to maintain operation; and to recharge the battery as well. A simple voltmeter check can verify you aren’t charging, but it won’t pinpoint the fault.

If your BMW is still under warranty, speak to a real BMW mechanic. Or else find another BMW dealership.

“This was B.S. because it happened immediately following two consecutive 3 hour driving trips.”

I agree after a trip of 3 hours a day, or even a week, before the battery should be fully charged. The BMW dealer rep is full of bull on this one.

Well, if the owner’s manual does not mention anything about “the 5 series is not designed to be driven repeatedly less than 5-10km”, then tell them they sold you the car without proper warning, it does NOT fit your needs and request a full refund. That would get them to find the problem and fix it.

The dashboard lights going out sounds like a safety issue. The headlights are a much bigger draw. Did they dim too?

If the dealership is “stumped” (lazy) take the car to another dealership. This sounds like a warranty repair.

Be sure to get a receipt for every visit on this problem. You may eventually qualify for a lemon law replacement. I am not suggesting your car is a lemon, but you need to be ready to take advantage of you state lows if you exceed the number of visits. Become familiar with your state’s laws on this subject. Do a web search for “lemon law” and your state to see what the documentation, time, and mileage requirements are.

“This was B.S. because it happened immediately following two consecutive 3 hour driving trips.”

On the surface, this appears to eliminate the issue of short trips, but my experience is that these sorts of statements are generally self-serving and not accurate. Let me give you an example:

Immediately after = last week

" We brought it to the dealership. They say the battery and car both tested fine and then proceeded to tell us that the 5 series is not desgined to be driven repeatedly less than 5-10km "

Could you get them to put that in writing? That would be fun.

They are just trying to brush you off.  

It is totally true that no car is designed for only very short drives. However what you indicate (some shorter some longer trips, should not really be a problem (not desirable, but not a problem.)

Any car will have problems with only a few short trips, but your description is not all that bad.  

Frankly if your regular driving usage does not include regular longer trips, you might be better off with a hybrid, or put your car on a battery charger once a week or so.

My mother used to have a 1987 Dodge Diplomat. This car was ten years old when she paid $2k for it. For several years, the only use this car saw was to take her six blocks to work, then six blocks back home five days a week, then ten blocks to church and ten blocks back home on Sundays. They would use my father’s car for longer trips. Never had a battery or charging system problem out of that car. I would think a brand new $50,000 car could do the same thing. If they keep giving you the line about the car not being designed for short trips, tell them to buy it back so you can use the proceeds to buy something that can handle your driving needs.