Home » Watch An Autopian Reader’s Carbon Fiber BMW i3 Get Smashed By A Huge Box-Truck And Actually Hold Up Quite Well

Watch An Autopian Reader’s Carbon Fiber BMW i3 Get Smashed By A Huge Box-Truck And Actually Hold Up Quite Well

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The Autopian just had a great Trivia Night, during which an Autopian member named Aaron divulged that he — like me — once owned a 2014 BMW i3 (I still have mine). “Oh yeah, you don’t own it anymore?” I asked. “Oh, it got wrecked. I have a video if you want to see.” Aaron handed over that video, and I was so shocked by how violent it is that I shared it with everyone on the Trivia call. Here’s a look at how an i3 holds up to a big box truck.

One of the things that makes the i3 so interesting is its unique construction. Built of plastic panels glued to a carbon-fiber passenger cell, all mounted atop a largely-aluminum skateboard (which contains batteries), the i3 is all about keeping weight down to maximize range with the small 60 Ah battery available back in 2013 for the 2014 model year. At 3,000 pounds, the early i3 is a damn lightweight electric car, especially given its rather large cabin volume.

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

“The carbon fiber body is perfect. You could never get this with steel or aluminum,” Sandy Munro says in the Autoline video above, which shows the carbon fiber “Life Module” and the aluminum “frame.” The carbon fiber body is moulded, and the holes are all cut by waterjets; it’s a precision-built structure, and it’s insanely light — so light that two people can pick up the whole body. The “Life Module” is said to weigh only about 350 pounds.

Screen Shot 2023 08 14 At 12.57.04 Pm

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And if that makes you wonder whether this thing can withstand a beating, check out the car’s safety scores. They’re good everywhere —not amazing, but good, even on IIHS’s tough Small Overlap test:

 

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Anyway, it’s a small carbon fiber reenforced plastic car that I daily-drive, and it’s something that I’ve always assumed — based on crash test results — was quite safe. And Aaron’s crash video reinforces that assumption. Look at how well the i3 holds up!:

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Aaron’s a great guy, so while many of y’all may want to talk about how veering into the left lane wasn’t the move, I’d say just let that be. Aaron knows! In retrospect, it clearly wasn’t the move (though I likely would have done the same!), but Aaron said he was almost certain that left lane was open. Alas, it wasn’t, and the box truck slammed into the little electric car, which held up surprisingly well!

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You can see some plastic panels broken and missing, and you can see the aluminum skin in the doors all mangled; the carbon fiber body structure appears to be mostly in decent shape. And in fact if you look inside the carbon fiber “life module,” you’ll see a cabin that looks mostly unscathed!:

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Obviously, this is just a single accident, and you can’t glean a whole lot from it, other than “Wow, that accident looked violent and the little BMW held up well!” (Aaron is OK, btw).

The i3 was totaled in that crash, though before you say “Well, that’s because if you damage a carbon fiber structure, you’re done” you should read this older piece from CNET  that describes how BMW recommended fixing compromised bits of the carbon fiber Life Module. From CNET:

BMW has segmented the Life Module into five “sectioning points,” basically telling technicians where to cut. A special carbon milling tool has been developed. It attaches to a vacuum to collect the carbon dust, giving a clean cut with no mess. If, for example, the A pillar is damaged (the forward structure that holds the windshield), that section of the composite shell will be cut starting at the front of the roof and again down at the footwell. That entire portion will be removed from the damaged car and a replacement section glued into place. (Yes, BMW techs will use glue, but don’t worry: much of the car is held together with the stuff in the first place.)

That all sounds simple enough, but there’s one major catch: you can’t buy just a small portion of the carbon frame. BMW will offer only the entire left or right side of the Life Cell, which will then be sliced and diced as needed. It remains to be seen whether insurance companies will be required to pay for the entire portion, or if dealers will cut them up and sell the individual segments. It also isn’t known what those components will cost.

Very interesting.

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Man I love my BMW i3. It’s safe, roomy, efficient, reasonably luxurious, feature-laded and just downright comfortable.

Images: BMW

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Xaaronx
Xaaronx
9 months ago

he was almost certain that left lane was open”

Well there’s your problem right there. Well, the one besides not leaving enough distance to stop and then not paying attention.

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
9 months ago

Frankly couldnt see the accident. No speed so cant tell if safe. But reused carbon fiber was used in that Titanic submarine that imploded and killed a bunch of billionaires, what is that called? No math available to decide good or not.

Opa Carriker
Opa Carriker
10 months ago

I’ve spent more time than it deserved trying to say something clever and/or snarky about the fact that the owner is an E-6 in the Navy who happens to be a Yeoman and a submariner. Sadly, came up blank.

Secondly, back in 1966, a young Marine Corporal took his uncle’s turbo Corvair for an evening drive along with his cousin who happened to be an E-4 in the Navy. Lot’s of power for the time. Convertible too. Too many hot chicks on the PCH for two horny guys to “choose” from. Got into a bit of a stoplight grand prix with a couple of girls. As we approached a light I realized I was running out of lane before running out of speed. Quick glance to the left and a dive into the left lane which was sadly already occupied by a nice old guy drivng an Olds. The turbo engine was a bad fit in the back seat. The girls laughed at us, waved and drove away as the light changed.

So, I can relate, sorta.

Aaron Slater
Aaron Slater
9 months ago
Reply to  Opa Carriker

Not a Yeoman, easy mistake though 😉

Harmon20
Harmon20
9 months ago
Reply to  Opa Carriker

I saw the dolphins and thought he must have felt right at home while this was happening. He should be used to being crammed inside a tiny little vehicle while people try to kill him.

Last edited 9 months ago by Harmon20
Tyler Anderson
Tyler Anderson
10 months ago

*Pulls up classifieds to search for i3s*

LuzifersLicht
LuzifersLicht
10 months ago

I had a moment like that years ago, but going at highway speeds. People in front of me started braking (not entirely unexpected, was coming up to a busy interchange) so I hit the brakes, too, but the road must have been slippery because I was not slowing down all that much. With about 3 seconds before slamming into the car in front of me I decided that medians don’t sue and steered into the metal barrier at a shallow angle. Gave me enough friction to slow down before hitting the other guy.
Luckily all that got damaged in the end was my pride and the front driver’s side quarter panel.

J G
J G
10 months ago

What is it with submariners running into things? Boat filled with japanese school kids, underwater mountains, box trucks!

/s

DadBod
DadBod
10 months ago
Reply to  J G

ooof

Ron888
Ron888
10 months ago

Uh oh,he got caught out by the car in front varying braking. Have any of us NOT been caught out this way? (insert very embarrassed emoticon)

I didnt notice at first- the damage is on the driver side.That would have been an eye opening experience!

BMW’s life-cell parts situation is screwed up to hell.It’s bad enough that they (IMO) oversold the benefits of CF, but charging staggering amounts for the parts is just plain greed

Last edited 10 months ago by Ron888
121gwats
121gwats
10 months ago

Parts car David!!

But seriously, glad everyone’s ok.

Col Lingus
Col Lingus
10 months ago
Reply to  121gwats

Read my mind. Except that would be the next step for DT. Then BAM! It’s Michigan all over again. Broken, rusty, janky smelling shit everywhere. We have seen this movie before. This wreck needs to be terminated at once. Make sure the eye stops glowing before walking away.

Last edited 10 months ago by Col Lingus
Phuzz
Phuzz
10 months ago
Reply to  Col Lingus

Carbon fibre shouldn’t rust…but this is David Tracy we’re talking about.

Crank Shaft
Crank Shaft
10 months ago

This totally looks repairable to me. At least after the insurance company total’s it out it will go to auction and someone will probably buy it, fix it, and ship it to Romania. And frankly, someone should fix it because these are amazing cars and every last example should be preserved.

Lokki
Lokki
10 months ago
Reply to  Crank Shaft

Don’t worry. It’s already on it’s way to the Ukraine.

Thiagohpc
Thiagohpc
10 months ago

“veering into the left lane wasn’t the move“

Honest question here, what was the right move? Not trying to stir anything up, nor trying to shame our fellow Autopian, just wondering how could I handle such a situation in a better way and improve as a driver, because I’ve would done the same as he did. As far as I can see, the driver did great, especially in a split second decision, it was a quick, decisive maneuver into a lane that had no obstacles in his line of sight. Unfortunately he had a truck coming up in his blindspot, but that’s why it’s called a BLIND spot.

Fix It Again Tony
Fix It Again Tony
10 months ago
Reply to  Thiagohpc

Looks like the right lanes were open since the car was able to fly across like 3 of them after the impact.

Revolver
Revolver
10 months ago
Reply to  David Tracy

I made an account just to say this. At some point, your survival instinct kicks in and you gotta save yourself. What you did can only be judged in retrospect and it’s best not to beat yourself up about decisions that saved you, the person, thinking guilty thoughts about if that was the right damn thing to do.

I had a guy cut me off in stop-and-go and my foot was on the gas because I was beginning to roll forwards. I swerved instead of braked and my peripheral vision said I was clear to go there. The cops didn’t give a single shit that I had BLIS or that I had two witnesses in the vehicle with me and assigned me complete fault for an unsafe lane change, and my dad repeatedly blamed me while we were on the side of the road. I can sympathize with this situation, you just gotta make some calls and sometimes the calls are right and sometimes the calls are wrong.

Doesn’t help that I had just gotten rear ended 7 days prior and was stuck in Los Angeles traffic, nervous out of my mind. The car I was accustomed to was a ’65 Volvo with manual steering. What I was driving was my parents’ EPS Mercedes, which was an automatic. This was in April. I’m still not over it.

Xaaronx
Xaaronx
9 months ago
Reply to  Thiagohpc

Leaving enough space to stop if the car in front of you brakes and then paying attention to that car. Also, not veering into a lane unless you’re more than “almost certain” that it’s empty.

RootWyrm
RootWyrm
10 months ago

This does, however, illustrate how utterly irreparable these cars are in reality.

Yes, the life module is sectionable – but only by specially trained, specially certified, magical BMW technicians. They never offered or permitted outside training. So your only choice was BMW, who could charge whatever they wanted. If they could get the parts.
Well, they couldn’t. BMW never once offered the ‘pre-sectioned’ life cell, only the complete assembly. With an MSRP of over $33,000. Meaning as soon as you made the first cut, somebody was eating upwards of $28,000. (It’s PN 41-00-2-925-493.)
That’s for a single part before you turn a single bolt. Which per BMW, must be a new part for structural safety reasons. (Which is not wrong; you are not a materials engineer with a scanning electron microscope. You have no way of knowing if the section you got from LKQ is compromised.)

In other words, even a brand new 2021 BMW i3 REX would be instantly totaled as uneconomical to repair by any life cell damage. Those sold $45-52k new.

And no. “That guy” you know, or that “guy on YouTube,” or that “bicycle repairs are easy” absolutely cannot repair this. Period. Anybody that can fog a mirror can handle the fiberglass and epoxy junk. Hell, I can handle it, and I’m an I-CAR certified danger to body panels.
Because that easy to work junk doesn’t hold up in crashes. At all. It breaks. Very, very easily. The composites BMW used for the i3 are highly specialized, have extremely tight tolerances, and are simply not commercially available period. It’s a true composite with high precision bonding.

Col Lingus
Col Lingus
10 months ago
Reply to  RootWyrm

COTD!

Goof
Goof
10 months ago
Reply to  RootWyrm

Yep, and carbon fiber is pricey because it’s not produced in huge quantities, still has a lot of manual, skilled labor (despite a lot of automation advancements) involved in the manufacturing process, etc. There’s not a ton of spares sitting around either, so you might potentially be waiting for a part to be produced in a small batch run, if not a one-off depending on the vehicle.

Hell, want a replacement carbon fiber hood for your GT4 RS? Cheapest number I can find is $17,000, excluding freight shipping, and some things (like the NACA ducts) are not included. That hood is also WAY less complex and important relative to an i3’s safety cell.

Need the matte-finish one (different part!) for your 991 GT2 RS? Cheapest I can find is $30,000. It’s going to be a long while still before carbon fiber comes down in price. Same with molded CFRP, and carbon ceramics. There needs to be serious manufacturing breakthroughs that allow full automation at scale (and in the case of carbon ceramic, “growing” it faster) to have any chance of really knocking prices down — but stuff like a monocoque will take crazy robotics advancements and major advancements in the adhesives/resins to ever get cheap.

Last edited 10 months ago by Goof
Óscar Morales Vivó
Óscar Morales Vivó
10 months ago

Pity the next CEO got “Not My Leadership” syndrome and pretty much threw away all the R&D done for this and the i8.

A modernized i3 with the current state of the art of EV technology (main problem with the original was lacking range) would be a contender, at least outside the US.

Óscar Morales Vivó
Óscar Morales Vivó
10 months ago
Reply to  David Tracy

Even with just a pure EV setup and 200-250 miles of range it would be an incredibly tempting proposition. And as lightweight as it is it ought to need less batteries than equivalent competition to reach that range, keeping it competitive despite the extra cost of the carbon fiber structure.

Sensual Bugling Elk
Sensual Bugling Elk
10 months ago
Reply to  David Tracy

That’s…surprisingly not great. You’ve got extremely low mass and ultra skinny tires, so unless the CdA is much bigger than it looks, your road load should be lower than most comparable EVs on the road today. And those are getting 4mi/kWh or better.

Ron888
Ron888
10 months ago

I have huge doubts the low body mass helps much!
In fact i suggested to David he should put some weights in the car to simulate a steel frame,then test it’s range.I’m super curious how it would go

Iain Tunmore
Iain Tunmore
10 months ago

My i3 has averaged 4.2m/kWh in the first 8000miles I’ve had it.

Toecutter
Toecutter
10 months ago
Reply to  David Tracy

You could fit that 60 kWh of Tesla Model 3 modules without increasing the car’s stock weight. The question is how would you get them to cooperate with the car’s computers?

Slow Joe Crow
Slow Joe Crow
10 months ago

I would guess the i3 was totaled based on the cost of everything else destroyed in the crash. There several specialists who repair carbon fiber bicycle frames and components so it’s an established skill set and while it’s not cheap BMW’s process of cutting and bonding should produce a,structure that is as strong as a new one.

Lokki
Lokki
10 months ago
Reply to  Slow Joe Crow

Beyond the irreparability of carbon fiber structures which have been subjected to stress for which they were not designed (see: Titan submarine), isn’t it stipulated that repair shops are generally uncomfortable about repairing EV’s which ave been in substantial without replacing battery?

Slow Joe Crow
Slow Joe Crow
10 months ago
Reply to  Lokki

I’m mostly familiar with carbon fiber bicycle frames where someone like Ruckus Composites or Calfee can clean damage, wrap new carbon and epoxy and produce a like new frame.

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