- the sight of a bmw police car in the u.k. is not unusual at all: 3-series, 5-series, and x5 suvs are all relatively commonplace.
- however, you won't see them doing the high-speed pursuit work they were intended for, now that a series of engine fires have happened.
- one town has resorted to peugeots with 1.2-liter engines to take their place. we feel sure that will be only temporary.
american gearheads visiting europe are often quick to notice the radically different police vehicles working on the other side of the atlantic. plenty of police interceptors come from mainstream automakers, but european forces also often use upmarket brands, especially for high-speed duties. in the u.k. these are often bmws, with 3-series, 5-series and x5 vehicles regularly seen patroling britain's motorway network in police livery.
but now some have been restricted to light duties following a recent history of catastrophic fires that have affected bmws fitted with the company’s n57 3.0-liter straight-six diesel engine. some police forces, including durham in the northeast of england, have reportedly ordered n57-equipped cars not to be used for high-speed pursuits.
as bmws are primarily used as interceptors and to transport firearms officers—keep in mind, police in britain are not routinely armed—the enforced light duties mean that less appropriate cars are now being used instead. according to one media report, in durham that means peugeots equipped with 1.2-liter turbocharged engines are being used by traffic cops. some other british police services have apparently chosen to dispose of n57-equipped bmws in their fleets early.
the hiatus is understandable after a series of fires involving police bmws. while we don’t know if the n57 was a common factor to all, media reports in the u.k. have documented numerous infernos in recent years (in kent in 2016, liverpool in 2019, southeast london in 2019, and swindon in 2021 for example). the most serious fire happened in december 2020 when a police officer in cumbria, nick dumphries, died after the bmw he was driving caught fire as he responded to an emergency call.
bmw hasn't confirmed the exact nature of the issue but has said it won’t affect the many privately owned cars fitted with the n57 engine.
"this issue is associated with the particular way in which the police operate these high-performance vehicles. this unique usage profile puts extra strain on some components and therefore bmw has specified a special servicing program for these vehicles," the company said in a statement. "there is no need for action on any civilian vehicles."
bmw was first named as a "key supplier" to police forces in the u.k. in 2010 by the national policing improvement agency. the 330d saloon interceptor pictured above was particularly selected as a "high-performance pursuit vehicle" at the time. the n57 engine has been superseded by the newer b57, meaning the newest at-risk car is now more than three years old, and volumes will diminish as police fleets replace older models.
many constabularies are choosing to move away from bmw altogether, and these days police-liveried volvos an increasingly common sight on britain's roads. and, yes, the swedish company does indeed remove the 112-mph speed limiter that is fitted to all the cars it sells to civilians.