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South Korea bans driving BMWs under recall due to fires

South Korean Minister of Land Infrastructure and Transport, Kim Hyun-mee, center, speaks at a press conference at the government complex in Seoul, South Korea, on Aug. 14, 2018. (Kim Seung-doo/Yonhap via AP)

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) -- South Korea will ban driving recalled BMWs that haven't received safety checks following dozens of fires the German automaker has blamed on a faulty exhaust gas component.

South Korea's Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport said Tuesday the ban taking effect Wednesday affects about 20,000 vehicles.

Drivers cannot use the cars except for taking them to safety checks. While violating the ban is punishable by up to 1 year in prison, the ministry said the focus will be on persuading drivers to take their vehicles for safety checks as soon as possible. However, the government will "aggressively" pursue charges against drivers if their vehicles catch fire after they had continuously defied the ban, ministry official Kim Gyeong-wook said.

Nearly 40 fires of BMW vehicles this year are suspected to have been caused by engine problems. Images and videos of BMW sedans engulfed in smoke and gutted by fires caused alarm among drivers. Some parking lots reportedly refused to let in BMW drivers and other drivers said they were trying to avoid BMWs on the road.

BMW last month recalled about 106,000 vehicles of 42 different models. The company has identified the cause of the engine fires as leaks in their exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) coolers, which it said caused fires when the vehicles were driven at high speeds for long periods of time.

The ministry says 27,000 recalled cars hadn't received safety checks as of Monday but it expected a portion of them to be checked before the ban goes into effect.

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