Gracee Arthur is a California real estate agent who spends a lot of time behind the wheel of her 2010 BMW 528i. But while driving through Malibu six months ago, she noticed something strange on the screen of her navigation system: while it got the street name right, it placed her in Calabasas -- a town more than 20 miles away.
Arthur snapped photos of her navigation screen errors and took them to her dealer, Bob Smith BMW of Calabasas. But after several days in the shop, the dealer was unable to fix the problem and advised her to contact Tele Atlas, the vendor that supplies U.S. map data for her BMW navigation system -- which retails for $1,900.
Although Arthur was irritated at being forced to contact Tele Atlas herself, she called and reported the errors via the company's web-based "Map Insight" system.
"I received only an auto response and never heard another thing. I also left a phone message with the appropriate person and again, never heard back," Arthur told Consumer Ally. "In my mind it is BMW's responsibility to deal with their vendor, not mine. I had the car at a dealer for three days and they did nothing about it. Since then I have phoned and written to BMW customer relations about this program flaw multiple times for over six months to no avail."
Arthur's not the only BMW customer experiencing problems with her navigation system. A quick search of "Bimmerfest," a BMW driver's forum, turned up similar complaints from other frustrated owners.
One New Jersey owner, "Tfulci,"wrote: "The navigation system is terrible ... I have provided over a dozen addresses that the system cannot find ... It is very frustrating to have a Navigation system that I paid $1,900 for that I cannot rely on." Another user, "hawk94," wrote this in reply: "I have the same problem with the NAV ... Can't believe a $50,000 car does stupid things like that."
Another Bimmerfest thread full of similar complaints included a post from "dfochil," which included an excerpt from an August 2009 BMW service information bulletin addressing the navigation problem:
"The navigation system route guidance is incorrect; navigation to certain addresses is not possible; or road data is missing ... "This is not a problem in the BMW navigation systems. The road map is the responsibility of Tele Atlas (which) has been the world's most trusted source of fresh, rich and accurate digital maps and dynamic content for more than 20 years ... Therefore, a road map error or missing data must be reported directly to Tele Atlas."
dfochil, who said his navigation system is plagued with "multiple defects," vented his disbelief about the service bulletin: "I'm not making this up! BMW is saying loud and clear that the fact that the BMW navigation system in the 2010 750 doesn't work is not their responsibility! And my dealer, which has contacted BMW about it, cannot give me any assurance that the system in my car will be fixed ... Most recently, he told me that other dealers are also complaining to BMW about this situation."
BMW spokesman Thomas Plucinsky confirmed the service bulletin, and said if the problem resides with the software rather than the hardware (for which BMW is responsible), it simply makes more sense to refer users to Tele Atlas for faster, more efficient resolution of their problem.
Plucinsky said errors in the map data are usually due to heavily built-up areas where one street can run through several towns, as well as new developments and other factors which require and receive regular updating. "The system works incredibly well," Plucinsky said. "Occasionally, there are some glitches in the data, which is what the bulletin was meant to address."
Tele Atlas spokeswoman Erin Delaney was unable to say if BMW owners are submitting an unusual number of map errors, since the information they receive is specific to the map, rather than the product.
Despite road information changing approximately 18% per year in the U.S., from new streets to speed limits to street names, "countless users of our technology obtain accurate, expert guidance to their destinations, " Delaney said. "With this constant rate of change, our maps are constantly refreshed with professional sources as well as real world experience and feedback from millions of drivers worldwide."
As for Arthur's problem (who Consumer Ally put in touch with Delaney), she said it's too soon to tell. "We don't have all of the specifics at this time, we cannot confirm if the issues are map-based or are more related to other components of the navigation system on whole."
Arthur says she's already made one decision, regardless of the outcome.
"My biggest beef is BMW, who uses outside vendors for many parts on the car, saying they are not responsible for the quality of the vendor's product and it is up to the customer to work it out," she said. "I will never get another BMW because they do not take responsibility for their problems."
BMW navigation system steering some drivers wrong