The Truth About Cars » fire The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Tue, 15 Jul 2014 13:19:48 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » fire Toyota Instructs Dealers To Halt Sales Of Eight Models (Updated With Additional Information) Thu, 30 Jan 2014 23:11:56 +0000 girlfire

A lot of Toyota dealers are going to find it difficult to grind out their end-of-month goals, thanks to a stop-sale directive from the company that covers eight different models. Approximately 36,000 vehicles in dealer stock and an unknown number of additional vehicles inbound to dealers will have to be held.

Automotive News reports that a South Korean supplier notified Toyota that the parts used in its seat heaters did not meet United States standards for flame retardation. The company is preparing to replace the seat heaters with regulations-compliant parts.

The affected vehicles:

  • 2013 and 2014 Camry sedans
  • 2013 and 2014 Camry hybrids
  • 2013 and 2014 Avalon sedans
  • 2013 and 2014 Avalon hybrids
  • 2013 and 2014 Corolla
  • 2013 and 2014 Sienna
  • 2013 and 2014 Tundra
  • 2013 and 2014 Tacoma

Vehicles on the above list with heated fabric seats built since August 2012 are at risk. NHTSA has yet to issue any findings or opinions on the matter.

If you’re in the market for a fabric-interior Toyota with heated seats, you’re facing a wait. If you’re in the market for a leather-interior Toyota with heated seats, now’s the time to move. Like now. Oh, what a feeling!

Update: Toyota contacted us regarding the use of the word “fire” in the initial post, noting that “The fabric in the seats is flame retardant, it is a matter of HOW flame retardant when tested. Per NHTSA regulations Toyota will file a petition for a determination that this non-compliance issue is inconsequential relative to motor vehicle safety. NHTSA will determine if the petition will be accepted or denied.” To prevent a misunderstanding, we’ve amended the text. The picture at the top of the article stays, but now only because we enjoy the music of Alicia Keys— JB

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A Deer In The Headlights: Update Tue, 16 Jul 2013 12:19:57 +0000 Driver quarter

Last week I wrote an article called A Deer In The Headlights about my parents hitting a deer a few days prior. In the story, I talked about the impact and reported that the RAV4 they were driving caught fire as they were being pulled out. Fortunately the good men and women of the Monroe, WA Fire Department arrived on the scene and, in short order, got things under control before the entire car melted down.

I sent a link to that article to my stepfather, Guy, and he responded yesterday with the attached photos. I thought I would go ahead and post them up so any of you who were interested in seeing the results for yourselves could take a look. It looks like a bad accident, but both my mother and Guy were uninjured. They were released without a trip to the hospital after being checked over by paramedics at the scene of the accident.

Thanks to all of you who expressed your concerns and best wishes, my entire family appreciates your kind thoughts. The good news, if there can be anything of the sort in an event like this, is that this is the first buck anyone in my family has managed to get since my father took one out armed with nothing but stealth and a ball peen hammer back in ’75.

Right quarter Rav interior Rav engine Driver quarter ]]> 41
Balls Of Fire, Then And Now Fri, 07 Jun 2013 14:12:10 +0000 Burned-Jeep-jpg

Chrysler’s recent decision to snub a recent NHTSA recall request is big news. I need not restate the facts of the story, if you are a “car guy” and haven’t heard the sordid details, or noticed the dramatic photos of burned out Jeep Grand Cherokees and Liberties posted all over the internet in the past few days, you must live under a rock. With 2.7 million vehicles involved the costs of conducting such a recall would be staggering but, ultimately, inaction may cost the company even more money if consumers lose confidence in the brand.

Because the root cause of the recall is said to involve rear-end collisions, ruptured fuel tanks, and the possibility of a death so gruesome that most of us shudder to even think about it, people are drawing a natural comparison between the current case and the Ford Pinto debacle of the 1970s. They appear the same on the surface but that’s only because, as much as I am loathe to admit it, the ‘70s were a long time ago and public awareness of the details of that earlier case has wasted away. In their rush to assert that history is repeating itself, people leap over a critical piece of the story that makes what happened almost 40 years ago much, much worse. Namely that Ford knew about the tendency of the Pinto to explode before the cars even left the factory, and, because it would cost an extra $11 per car to fix, they elected not to act.

The case against Ford was laid out in great detail by Mother Jones News in their October 1977 issue – view the original article – and it makes chilling reading. In a nutshell, that article states that the problems with the Pinto’s fuel tank became apparent during pre-production crash tests, but that Ford elected to go ahead with the car as designed because the tooling for the cars was already in place and because the overall cost to upgrade the car was deemed to be higher than the cost potential settlements to the families of those people unfortunate enough to be burned alive in an accident. Mother Jones backed up this assertion with a leaked Ford memo that revealed that an internal cost-benefit analysis had determined that the company’s average estimated payout in the event of a death caused by the defect would be $200,000. Crunching the numbers, then, was simple: $11 times X million cars over the car’s product cycle vs $200,000 times a projected 180 burn deaths per year. Chillingly logical, isn’t it?

Click here to view the embedded video.

Once Mother Jones blew the lid off this story, people got enraged and Pinto sales dropped precipitously. In 1977, seven full years after the car’s introduction, Ford finally made the required modifications and the car continued to appear on Ford lots where it sold in much smaller numbers until it finally went away in 1980. Today, the Ford Pinto has virtually vanished from the streets and, when they do appear, they seem more an oddity than a rolling death trap released upon the world through corporate duplicity.

I suppose that those whose lives have been effected by current “alleged” defect in Chrysler’s Jeeps will care little about the distinction I make between a vehicle that is determined after the fact to have a possibly deadly defect and one that left the factory with a similar defect with the full knowledge of the people running the program, but to me the difference is an important one. One is a mistake, the other is murder. One deserves to be prosecuted and the other made right. Both, however, need to be remembered in their correct context.

Even so, Chrysler should not ignore the lesson that Ford learned in the ensuing debacle. People don’t like to be burned alive in their cars. We don’t even like the thought of it. Over time we may forget the specific details, but we will remember the part about the burning. Don’t forget that. Make this right before its too late.

Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He writes for any car website that will have him and enjoys public speaking. According to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

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Did Government Meddling Cripple The Dodge Dart? Fri, 25 Jan 2013 22:25:47 +0000

As we come to yet another hiccup in the launch of the Dodge Dart, it’s worth taking a look backwards to examine how we got to this point; the elimination of a second shift at the Dundee, Michigan plant that builds the Dart’s 1.4L FIRE engine, as well as the firing or re-assignment of 58 workers.

As both Ronnie and Michael Karesh noted, the same 1.4T FIRE engine that’s so delightful in the Fiat 500 Abarth is weaksauce in the Dart. The 1.4T’s clunky dual-clutch auto doesn’t help matters either. If it weren’t for government mandated fuel economy targets imposed as a condition of the bailout, that engine – and possibly the Dart – wouldn’t even be here right now.

Just over a year ago, UAW members at the plant had just authorized a strike at the Dundee plant over a change in shift schedules – despite an apparent agreement not to strike, as another condition of the bailout. The FIRE engine, widely panned in the Dart, seems to exist solely to satisfy the requirement that Fiat build a 40 MPG car in America – a requirement that TTAC summarily exposed as bogus, since the agreement stated that the car must get 40 MPG “unadjusted”, or roughly 30 MPG combined in the “real world” fuel economy figures that everyone is familiar with.

But without the 40 MPG Dart, the diminutive FIRE engine and U.S. production of the FIRE engine, Fiat would not have received their 20 percent stake in Chrysler, along with the option to increase their share in 5 percent increments once these milestones (the third being Fiat recording $1.5 billion in revenue outside the NAFTA Zone).

Ronnie hit the nail on the head with his summation that the Dart, as Chrysler’s first product overseen by Marchionne, was at best the victim of a botched launch, and at worst a failure made of cobbled together Chrysler and Fiat parts. But the 1.4T seems to have been a victim of meddling by the current administration instructing car companies to build vehicles consumers don’t want – a charge often leveled at the Chevrolet Volt by its more vocal critics. In this case, it’s not a complex hybrid/electric pseudo-hatch, but an underpowered version of a nicely executed compact car that was hamstrung by political pressure – that may or may not have led to a botching of the car’s launch.

The initial batch of Darts that arrived on dealer lots used the 1.4T or 2.0L non-turbo engine and were largely equipped with stick shifts – popular among “Petrol Hipsters”, but poison for the other 95 percent of American car buyers. The mismatch in product mix has been blamed for the Dart’s slow start. Next up, Sergio Marchionne himself blamed the lack of a 9-speed automatic, telling the media that buyers found the 6-speed dual clutch gearbox to be an oddity. Now it looks like the issue may lie with the FIRE engine itself; too pokey and too small for American tastes, let alone for a 3200 lb car (for comparison, the Fiat 500 Abarth that uses the FIRE engine weighs 2500 lbs and provides fairly rapid acceleration). The irony is that only one model, the 1.4T equipped Dart Aero, actually gets 40 MPG or above. Since the government agreement specified that the 40 MPG car be “produced in commercial quantities”  without any concrete definition, it’s impossible to know how many 40 MPG Darts actually made their way into the hands of consumers. Interestingly enough, the Dart Aero is broken out as a separate model on the EPA’s fuel economy website

As a replacement for the FIRE and its capacity at the plant, Chrysler will use Dundee to build the 2.4L Tigershark 4-cylinder engines that will apparently be a much better fit for North American drivers, rather than the small turbo engine that’s more at home in A and B segment Fiat products. The 2.4L hasn’t been rated by the EPA for fuel economy yet – it likely won’t hit the 40 MPG mark, but its smoother, torquier nature is more akin to what American consumers are used to. But if it weren’t for politicians deciding that they knew better, and that filling some nebulous “green car” mandate was a holy task, this whole mess could have been avoided, and the Dart may have had a much better chance to succeeding in an already tough compact car segment.




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Fisker Flambe At New Jersey Port Damages 16 Karmas Wed, 31 Oct 2012 16:50:47 +0000

16 Fisker Karmas waiting at a New Jersey port caught fire, with all 16 cars burning to the ground.

Photos of the aftermath were obtained by Jalopnik, which also obtained this statement from Fisker

“It was reported today that several Fisker Karmas were damaged by fire at the Port of Newark after being submerged in sea water during Superstorm Sandy.  We can report that there were no injuries and none of the cars were being charged at the time.

We have confidence in the Fisker Karma and safety is our primary concern.  While we intend to find the cause as quickly as possible, storm damage has restricted access to the port. 

We will issue a further statement once the root cause has been determined.”

Anyone with a science background (or anyone that got better than a C in Chemistry…): how do the vehicles go up in flames after being submerged in sea water. Anyone? Buller?

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Ford Recalls Fire Escape For a Third Time Thu, 06 Sep 2012 15:10:04 +0000

They say the third time is always a charm.

I don’t think this was what they meant.

As first reported by The Associated Press, a third recall has been issued for the Louisville, Kentucky-built Ford Escape, and the second to involve those with the 1.6L four-pot under the hood. Instead of fuel lines, however, improperly installed coolant plugs will turn your chariot of great escapes into a chariot of fire, the result of coolant leaking onto said engine after the plug falls out onto the highway.

The issue, according to Ford spokesperson Marcey Zweibel, first came about at one of their dealerships, where an employee driving an Escape experienced the conflagration first-hand; the fire was extinguished with no injuries reported.

In all, 7,600 Escapes with the English-built 1.6L engine fall under the recall, where owners can take their crossover into the nearest dealership for a free service appointment to correct the potentially fatal error.

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Fisker: Overheating Cooling Fan Resposible For Fire Sun, 19 Aug 2012 07:39:14 +0000

Fisker concluded its investigation into the fire that consumed one of their Karmas in Woodside, CA. According to a Fisker statement, neither the Lithium-ion battery pack, nor “new technology components, engine component packaging or unique exhaust routing of the Fisker Karma” were responsible for the conflagration. Rather, it was a lowly cooling fan, that, well, overheated. In the guessing game for the fire’s cause, TTAC’s independent accident investigator Ronnie Schreiber came closest when he suspected a low voltage unit.

A recall of approximately 2,400 Fisker Karma has been initiated.

Fisker statement follows in full length:

“Fisker has completed a detailed investigation into the roadside fire involving a Fisker Karma sedan on August 10 in Woodside, CA.

The investigation conducted by Fisker engineers, working with an independent fire expert from Pacific Rim Investigative Services Group, has identified the root cause of the incident.

The investigation located the ignition source to the left front of the Karma, forward of the wheel, where the low temperature cooling fan is located. The final conclusion was that this sealed component had an internal fault that caused it to fail, overheat and start a slow burning fire.

Fisker has today voluntarily elected to conduct a recall with respect to this cooling fan unit. The company is working with the responsible supplier and this recall campaign is not expected to have a material financial impact on Fisker.

Fisker has already contacted its retailer network. Customers are expected to be contacted by retailers, ahead of their receiving formal notice from the company by mail, to have the cooling fan replaced with a unit that meets the required specifications. At the same time an additional fuse will be installed for added protection.

In their investigation, independent experts established that the incident was not caused by the Lithium-ion battery pack, new technology components, engine component packaging or unique exhaust routing of the Fisker Karma.

“We are committed to responding swiftly and decisively to events such as this to ensure total customer satisfaction,” says Executive Chairman and Co-Founder, Henrik Fisker. “This incident resulted from a single, faulty component, not our unique EVer powertrain or the engineering of the Karma. As this situation demonstrates, Fisker Automotive is dedicated to doing whatever is necessary to address safety and quality concerns.”

The owner of the car involved in the Woodside incident, Mr. Rudy Burger commented:

“I have been incredibly impressed with the way Fisker has handled this incident. I have personally started seven technology companies and know from direct experience that the US needs more innovative companies of this type, especially in the automobile sector.

“Fisker is a great company and one that I am personally planning to invest in. I look forward to getting behind the wheel of my next Fisker.”

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Fisker Says Latest Fire Not Caused By Battery, Engine or Exhaust – Which Leaves … Tue, 14 Aug 2012 11:38:42 +0000 After reports of a Fisker Karma going up in flames in Woodside, California last Friday, we published comments that EV expert Jon Bereisa had made about an earlier Karma fire. Bereisa had said that the tight packaging of the engine and putting the entire exhaust system under the hood and exiting out behind the front wheels compromised the heat shielding. Putting that together with photos and video of the latest fire, that showed the firefighters concentrating their water spray behind the front wheel, I speculated that Bereisa’s criticism was warranted. Now Fisker has issued a statement, specifically absolving the engine compartment and  “unique exhaust routing” of involvement in the Woodside fire:

“Evidence revealed thus far supports the fact that the ignition source was not the Lithium-ion battery pack, new technology components or unique exhaust routing. The area of origin for the fire was determined to be outside the engine compartment.  There was no damage to the passenger compartment and there were no injuries. Continued investigative efforts will be primarily focused within the specific area of origin, located forward of the driver’s side front tire.”‘

Well, if the exhaust system wasn’t the source of the fire and if it started outside the engine compartment and instead the origin was “forward of the driver’s side front tire”, what does that leave? Well, forward of the driver’s side front tire in most cars is the wiring for the left headlamp cluster. Headlights draw enough current requiring relays, not simple switches, to be used for electrical safety, but their wiring is proven and reliable. Looking at published photos of the fire’s aftermath, though, in the Karma’s right front there’s also some kind of heat exchanger that I believe, from its size, is the turbo’s intercooler. There also appears to be a sensor on the heat exchanger with some wires hanging out of it though that may not be the sensor’s original location.

Heat exchangers do, after all, get hot but I don’t think there’s any record of hot intercoolers or their leaking coolant causing fires. BMW, though, has issued a series of recalls for MINIs, BMWs and Rolls-Royces over fire hazards caused by electronics associated with those cars’ turbochargers. The burned Karma’s owner, Rusty Burger, told Eric Wessof of GreenTechMedia, who just happened by, that the car was smoking as he pulled into the parking lot. That sounds like a wiring malfunction.

Fire is a primal fear to most people. Electricity probably comes in close behind for a good deal of the population as well. The attention given to the as yet statistically insignificant fires involving electric cars is ample evidence of those fears. Part of the challenge that EV makers face is assuring people that all the volts and amps that power their cars are harnessed safely. They also have to educate emergency first responders on how to work around EVs’ high voltage systems. As probable as it is, it would be ironic if one of the Karma’s low voltage systems ended up being the cause. In part because of $190 million in US government backed loans that Fisker has already borrowed, the Karma has its critics. Those critics might also say that if Fisker can’t design low voltage systems to operate safely, it doesn’t bode well for the reliability of its electric drive.

I could be wrong, and the Karma was a victim of arson.

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Fisker Douses The Flames Mon, 13 Aug 2012 07:52:48 +0000

Fisker responded  quickly to the fire that left a Fisker Karma  a clump of smoldering sheet metal last Friday.  Fisker issued a statement saying that Fisker engineers, working with independent investigators from Pacific Rim Investigative Group, have started examining the Karma. What they found so far does not support speculation put forth on major car blogs:

“Evidence revealed thus far supports the fact that the ignition source was not the Lithium-ion battery pack, new technology components or unique exhaust routing. The area of origin for the fire was determined to be outside the engine compartment.”

The investigation now will focus on where the fire did start, namely the area “located forward of the driver’s side front tire.”

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Second Fisker Karma Burns – Did EV1/Volt Engineer Predict Cause? Sat, 11 Aug 2012 20:46:04 +0000 Flambéed Fisker- - photo courtesy of Aaron Wood

Fisker Karma Fire, Woodside, CA – Photo Courtesy of Aaron Wood

A second Fisker Karma has been reported by Jalopnik to have caught fire and burned yesterday. The owner returned with his groceries to find the car in flames in a Woodside, California parking lot. Interestingly, he first called Fisker who advised him, wisely, to call 911. Back in May, after a Karma started a house fire in Texas, engineer John Bereisa said that the proximate cause of that fire was likely heat, the result of tight engine packaging. The ultimate cause, he suggested, was the hybrid vehicle’s weight, which Bereisa said necessitated a larger, more powerful combustion engine to power the car’s generator that charges the batteries for extended range use. Bereisa is one of the world’s experts on building electric and hybrid cars.

In May, Bereisa told Automotive News:

“That engine is shoehorned into that bay, because they had to use a larger engine, because it was too heavy a car. As a result, there’s no room for exhaust routing and heat shielding to route the heat away… [the Karma is] using the hell out of that motor-generator.”

Bereisa also noted how tightly packed the exhaust system is. In those circumstances leaking fuel, oil, or even coolant (glycol is flammable) could ignite from heat or a hot surface.

Fisker issued a statement to Jalopnik:

We have confidence in the Fisker Karma. Safety is our primary concern and our Fisker staff have been in contact with the customer and are investigating the cause. We are also employing an independent fire investigation representative to assist in the root cause analysis. A further statement will be issued once the root cause has been determined.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can dig deeper at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading– RJS

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Burning BYD EV Gets Frosty Reception Tue, 29 May 2012 12:45:14 +0000

Pictures of a burning BYD e6 sent the already beaten down BYD stock on a nose-dive yesterday.  The e6 is one of the rare BYD electric cars, used in a taxi test in the Chinese city of Shenzhen. A Nissan GT-R had crashed into two taxis, one a conventional Santana, the other an electric e6. The e6 immediately did burst into flames. Two female passengers and the driver were killed.

According to, “investors are extremely worried about implications for BYD’s electric vehicle sales.” Such as they were.

Last year, news of burning Volts and burning charging stations became the fuel of inflammatory anti-EV rhetoric. Earlier this year, GM announced a fix to its battery pack after an NHTSA investigation into why a Volt caught fire following crash testing.

The lithium used in lithium ion batteries can be extremely flammable under certain circumstances.

“Lithium burns really hot,” engineering consultant Sandy Munro told Automotive News. “But it doesn’t happen often. You have to do something pretty dramatic to make it catch fire.”

Such a dramatic incident can occur during an accident when a ;piece of steel pierces the battery case. A chemical reaction can take place and may result in a fire.. If the piercing is small, that reaction can take days or weeks to occur, Munro said.

Today, BYD issued a statement, saying its battery pack is safe because it has passed all tests “required by relevant authorities.” The stock recovered.

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Junkyard Find: Oh, Those Clever Tow Truck Drivers! Sun, 22 Apr 2012 13:00:47 +0000 Every once in a while, you see funny things written on junked cars, presumably by waggish junkyard employees. There was the Bee Careful Cressida, for example. On a recent trip to a Colorado self-serve yard, I spotted this very charred pickup with some more examples of the Funny Junkyard Guy genre.
You have to wonder if it’s even worth putting burned vehicles out on the yard. Maybe the rear axle is still good.
Get it?
Ho, ho!

01 - Fire Sale Truck Down On The Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Phillip 'Murilee Martin' Greden 04 - Fire Sale Truck Down On The Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Phillip 'Murilee Martin' Greden 02 - Fire Sale Truck Down On The Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Phillip 'Murilee Martin' Greden 03 - Fire Sale Truck Down On The Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Phillip 'Murilee Martin' Greden Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]> 11
Kia Gets Flamed, Closes Factory Mon, 19 Mar 2012 12:19:06 +0000

Hyundai’s sister company Kia might want to use some of those hypnotic powers to get badly needed parts. Kia’s U.S. plant in Georgia has been shut down, following a fire at parts supplier Daehan Solution. The West Point, GA, factory makes the Optima sedan, the Sorento SUV, and Hyundai’s Santa Fe SUV.

According to Reuters, the plant will be closed for two days, to resume on Wednesday. Spokespeople at Kia said the closing has a limited impact on sales, because  Kia sits on nearly two months of inventory.


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86 Non Chevy Volts Burn After Improper Recall Service, Prompting Second Recall of 296,920 Non Chevy Volts Mon, 30 Jan 2012 20:12:18 +0000

When Jack Baruth wrote a post about Chevy Sonics being recalled for missing brake pads, some readers thought that TTAC might be cherry picking the recall reports, perhaps because of some institutional prejudices around here. Jack pointed out that recalls are a fairly frequent thing whereas cars shipped without functioning brakes are hopefully a much rarer, and thus newsworthy occurrence. In another newsworthy event, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform called on NHTSA, the federal agency that handles things like car and truck recalls, to explain its actions in regard to how it investigated and reported the events surrounding the reported fire in a Chevy Volt that NHTSA had crash tested and flipped over.


Congressional hearings are newsworthy even though they usually are dog and pony shows. This was no exception. I’m as skeptical of government agencies as anyone but the Chevy Volt fire story is one huge nothingburger. No real world fire hazard probably existed and whatever minor changes GM is making on the Volt are painting the lily. If I was going to grill NHTSA about car fire safety, I’d ask them about how they managed to administer a fire safety related recall so well that they’ve now had to recall the same vehicles a second time because 86 improperly serviced vehicles on the first recall go-round subsequently caught fire.

Now it’s not NHTSA’s fault that the recall wasn’t performed properly. It’s not even the fault of the manufacturer, Ford, because it was the manufacturer’s own investigations that revealed the problem: dealer technicians weren’t doing their jobs properly. In some cases they didn’t do their jobs at all – on a fire safety related recall! Still if the House committee wants oversight, perhaps it should be asking NHTSA and the automakers what procedures are in place to make sure that safety related recall repairs are actually done.

The present recall involves about 297,000 Ford Escape and Mazda Tribute compact SUVs from the 2001 and 2002 model years. The actual defect is a leaking cap on the master brake cylinder fluid reservoir. Leaking brake fluid could drip onto an ABS module connector, causing corrosion and a possible short circuit. In the initial recall, technicians were supposed to replace the cap, visually inspect the wiring harness, and apply electrical grease to the connector. After 86 vehicles that already had been recalled experienced what NHTSA calls underhood fires and Ford calls thermal events confined to the involved components, Ford investigated. They found that in many cases the visual inspection had not been done or not done properly. To do the inspection properly, a factory tie-wrap had to have been removed and the wraps were still intact. In some cases, insufficient grease was used. In other cases the wrong grease was used. Electrical grease is used because of its insulating qualities. Some automotive greases are packed with metallic compounds and can conduct, not insulate, electricity. Finally, in some cases nothing was done. The tie was still in place and no grease had been applied, but the tech checked off on the repair.

Not everything needs to be criminalized. Still, there should be come kind of system in place, by NHTSA and the manufacturers, to make sure that safety related recall repairs actually get done and that if repair fraud is involved, perhaps criminal penalties might not be such a bad idea. At the least a dealer that fraudulently claims to have performed safety related recall repairs should risk losing their franchise and their business license.

In the meantime, NHTSA is warning owners of 2001 and 2002 Tributes and Escapes to park them out of doors so as not to risk a garage or house fire.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can dig deeper at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks – RJS

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GM Considers Volt Battery Redesign, Halts European Deliveries, Will Miss US Sales Goal, Recall Or Buyback Possible Thu, 01 Dec 2011 20:03:52 +0000

In the comments section of yesterday’s post on the ongoing Chevy Volt fire investigation, I noted that GM might

retrofit Volts with crash protection that can maintain battery integrity in all crash conditions… Mary Barra has said that GM is

“continuing to work with NHTSA to investigate additional actions to reduce or eliminate the potential of a post-crash electrical fire.”

I think some kind of update on the battery integrity front is inevitable, but we shall see…

Sure enough, today Reuters is running an interview with GM CEO Dan Akerson, who says that European deliveries of Opel-branded Volts (called Ampera) would be delayed pending NHTSA’s investigation, and that maybe, just possibly, the Volt’s battery might have to be redesigned. Says Akerson:

We want to assure the safety of our customers, of our buyers, and so we’re just going to take a time out, if you will, in terms of redesigning the battery possibly

Unfortunately, Akerson’s mangled syntax makes it tough to know if GM is really going to redesign the Volt’s battery, or what the “time out” in question means. He does tell the AP [via The WSJ [sub]] that a recall or buyback are options as well. Though redesigning the Volt’s battery could be expensive and devastating for sales, GM’s current post-crash safety protocol is incredibly human resources-intensive, and likely very costly as well. And the fact that GM is even considering redesigning the Volt for safety a year after its release is going to create a huge sales and marketing challenge anyway. Volt production edged down by 199 units in November, and now GM’s sales boss Don Johnson tells the Detroit News that the Volt will miss its 10,000 unit 2011 sales goal. At this point, GM may just want to take a mulligan on the Volt’s first year, redesign the battery, and relaunch the thing.

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This Is The Chevy Volt’s Post-Crash Safety Protocol Wed, 30 Nov 2011 22:18:19 +0000

TTAC has received the following protocol, developed by GM in the wake of the June Volt fire at a NHTSA facility in Wisconsin, from a GM source and has confirmed its legitimacy with a second GM source. Though the procedure may be refined based on the findings of NHTSA’s latest round of tests, it gives a good picture of what GM currently does to ensure the safety of Volt driver and passengers as well as rescue workers, towing company workers and salvage yards. And, I have to say, it puts some of my fears about this safety scare to rest. It hadn’t occurred to me that GM’s Onstar system could provide opportunities to respond to crashes in real time, and apparently the system provides a wide variety of data with which GM’s “corporate SWAT team” can tailor its response to any Volt crash event. Hit the jump for the full procedure.

  • Chevy Volt sends Onstar message of just occurred crash event.
  • Onstar team notified of Volt crash and immediately implements standard crash protocol to assist vehicle operator
  • Onstar immediately pulls key crash criteria from crash notification, i.e. vehicle speed, vehicles conditions (rollover), etc
  • Onstar team notifies Volt Battery Team Leader of crash event including key vehicle conditions
  • Volt Battery team leader works with Onstar to ping Volt and check additional data if appropriate (higher severity crash events, battery data, etc)
  • Volt Battery team Leader determines if high crash severity standards met for depowering or if there is any question about battery severity level.  If yes to either, Battery team representative is sent to crash site
  • Volt Battery team works with Volt advisor to contact Vehicle Owner and/or determine vehicle location
  • Volt Battery representative obtains approval from owner and then proceeds to investigate the crashed Volt and depowers battery if deemed necessary
  • Post Crash Volt stable and ready for disposition
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Volt And Consequences: GM Responds To NHTSA Volt Investigation Tue, 29 Nov 2011 17:25:23 +0000

With NHTSA opening a formal defect investigation into the Chevy Volt, GM is moving to defend its rolling lightning rod (no pun intended) and allay consumer fears about its safety. Yesterday I briefly appeared on Fox Business’s Your World With Neil Cavuto show to talk about what the intro to my segment referred to as “the hybrid from hell” and the “killer in your garage.” I tried to explain that the danger to consumers was basically nil, and that the real concern is for rescue, towing and salvage workers. And I would have explained why NHTSA’s tests still leave some serious questions open, but my “fair and balanced” approach meant that my segment ended up being extremely short. So let’s take the opportunity now to look past the hysteria and pinpoint the real issues with NHTSA’s investigation into the Volt.

A recent GM press release on the issue was accompanied by a conference call to reporters [transcript in .doc format here], in which GM’s top product executives, North American President Mark Reuss and Product Development Boss Mary Barra, gave GM’s perspective on the flap. But in a key passage, Barra confirmed that the most reasonable criticism of GM is essentially legitimate, as she confirmed that GM had not fully developed post-crash safety procedures before putting the Volt on the market.

Three weeks after the [initial NHTSA side-pole] test, the Volt caught fire.  This vehicle crash test was conducted before GM had finalized its battery depowering procedure.  We have learned that significant electrical charge, or energy, was left in the battery after the test.  When electrical energy is left in a battery after a severe crash it can be similar to leaving gasoline in a leaking fuel tank after severe damage.  It’s important to drain the energy from the battery after a crash that compromises the battery’s integrity – or you risk potential fire.

That’s why we have developed a process to depower the Volt’s battery after a severe crash.  We have been using the protocol since July of this year and we have now shared this process with the NHTSA and are working to extend this process and the needed equipment to those who handle or store vehicles after a severe crash.

Unable to deny that it should have had post-crash protocols in place before launching its first lithium-ion battery-powered car, GM seems to be trying to broaden the issue to extend beyond the Volt. Said Barra

But I also have to put this into the proper perspective:  Battery safety isn’t just a Volt issue. This is an issue we’re already working within the industry.  In fact, we are currently leading a joint electric vehicle activity with the Society of Automotive Engineers and other automotive companies to address new issues such as a process and protocol for depowering batteries.

The problem is, this does appear to be a Volt issue. Between the Nissan Leafs already on the road and the Prius Plugins that Toyota has been testing for years now, there are no documented thermal events that I’m aware of. Furthermore, the loss of battery integrity that the Volt experiences in side impacts seems to be caused by the lack of a steel battery case, which Nissan fits to its Leafs. Though it’s not clear what post-crash procedures Nissan has proliferated, it seems that its decision to protect its batteries with steel casings maintains battery integrity in government crash testing, eliminating the risks seen in the Volt.

Meanwhile, there is one question that nags at me. In the wake of the June fire at a NHTSA facility, GM shared its post-crash safety protocols. But the latest Volt fire, which happened a week after NHTSA, DOE, DOD and GM engineers test-ruptured a Volt battery, “sparked a fire of a wooden structure” at the DOD’s Hampton Roads facility. Here’s what’s not clear: whether that battery pack was subjected to GM’s post-crash protocols. If it was, this fire proves that GM doesn’t have a handle on this problem, and that its safety procedures are insufficient. If the post-crash protocols were not followed, NHTSA, DOE and DOD were incredibly stupid to store a battery pack they knew might catch fire in a wooden building. Furthermore, GM’s communications team has yet to clarify whether this latest fire was caused because safety procedures were not followed intentionally. One way or another, this needs to be clarified, even if it makes the government testers look foolish.

Based on GM’s reaction, deploying top executives, offering loaner cars, and vigorously defending the Volt in the press, it’s clear that The General takes this situation incredibly seriously… which is why I’m a little shocked that it hasn’t cleared up the circumstances of the most recent fire. After all, the Volt is easily the most controversial car in America, and based on my experience on Cavuto yesterday, it’s clear that many hope to use this investigation as the final nail in its coffin. But there is still much we don’t know about these thermal events, and what we do know indicates that they are not an immediate danger to owners and drivers.

So where is the danger? Clearly to the afore-mentioned rescue, salvage and towing workers… but also to the Volt’s sales. The Volt already has marketing challenges based on its price and association with the bailout. Even the hint of a fire risk is going to add the Volt’s sales headwind, making it even tougher to meet its goal of selling 45,000 units in the US next year. Meanwhile, the White House’s goal of putting 120k Volts on the road next year is pushed even further out of reach.

In short, this does not appear to be the death blow that Volt-bashers were hoping for, and GM appears to be handling the situation as well as can be expected. But this incident does highlight the downsides to pioneering new technologies, and shows how just one overlooked detail can create huge PR issues.

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NHTSA Triggers “Thermal Events” In Volt Batteries, Opens Formal Investigation Fri, 25 Nov 2011 22:48:42 +0000

NHTSA has has opened a formal defect investigation into the Chevrolet Volt, on the grounds that

 Intrusion in a crash may damage the battery, which may result in a substantial thermal reaction and fire

We knew that NHTSA was already looking in to this type of defect after an earlier test incident, but the official investigation resume [PDF] lists three separate thermal events that have occurred as a result of NHTSA tests. Hit the jump for the official explanation of this sequence of events.

On May 12, 2011, NHTSA performed a NCAP side pole impact test, followed by a post impact rollover test on a Chevrolet Volt. In connection with that testing, NHTSA has identified the potential for intrusion damage to the battery
which may result in a substantial thermal reaction and fire. Twenty-one days after the May 12, 2011 testing, delayed thermal heating and pressure release resulted in a fire that consumed the Chevrolet Volt and three other vehicles in close proximity at the test facility.

During the week of November 14, 2011, NHTSA performed follow-up battery-level tests to simulate the incident. NHTSA performed three tests simulating the mechanical damage to a battery pack observed from the first incident. Two of the three tests produced thermal events, including fire. Because of these test results, NHTSA has opened this investigation to examine the potential risks involved from intrusion damage to the battery in the Chevrolet Volt, in coordination with the agency’s ongoing review of the emerging technology involved in electric vehicle

A more extensive NHTSA press release notes

NHTSA is not aware of any roadway crashes that have resulted in battery-related fires in Chevy Volts or other vehicles powered by lithium-ion batteries. However, the agency is concerned that damage to the Volt’s batteries as part of three tests that are explicitly designed to replicate real-world crash scenarios have resulted in fire. NHTSA is therefore opening a safety defect investigation of Chevy Volts, which could experience a battery-related fire following a crash. Chevy Volt owners whose vehicles have not been in a serious crash do not have reason for concern.

GM’s response [via Phil Lebeau/Twitter]:

The Volt is safe & doesn’t present undue risk as part of normal operation, right after a severe crash.

This is the defense that GM has been using throughout this NHTSA/Volt fire investigation, and to some extent it bears a lot of similarity to Toyota’s defense against the test results trumpeted by Professor David Gilbert. The argument is that the investigator is creating defects through conditions that would not exist in normal use. The problem with GM’s position is that the safety protocols it wants NHTSA to follow in order to not prevent these kinds of fires apparently haven’t been circulated. As GM’s spokesman put it last week

We had a process [for draining the battery] internally but I don’t believe it was shared with anyone. The incident with NHTSA raised awareness that we had to develop a procedure and alert all stakeholders.

And based on the fact that NHTSA’s press release on this defect investigation lists the agency’s tips for post-crash safety procedures for plug-in vehicles, it seems that this is its major concern. What’s strange is that GM made quite the fuss about its Volt first responder training (see video at top) when the car was launched. That this issue, and the necessary safety protocol response to it, seemed to slip through the cracks when that program was developed is not encouraging.

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Chart Of The Day: The Truth About Vehicle Fires Edition Mon, 14 Nov 2011 19:40:43 +0000 I’ve suggested in these pages that the several documented fires involving Chevrolet Volts suggest some kind of pattern, as no other major-manufacturer EVs have been involved in any reported fires. But, as Ronnie Schreiber at Cars In Depth points out, even that pattern seems to pale in comparison to the National Fire Protection Association’s tally of highway vehicle fires in the US each year. Though the number of highway vehicle fires has decreased significantly since 1980, 2009 still saw 190,500 fires. And between 2003 and 2007,

On average, 31 highway vehicle fires were reported per hour. These fires killed one person a day.

Of course, if we’re talking about 200k fires (roughly) in 2008, a year in which there were 256 million registered vehicles (roughly) on the road, we’re still talking about less than one tenth of one percent of all vehicles on the road bursting into flame (.078%). On the other hand, with just over 10,000 Volts built and some 5,000 delivered, three fires could be either relatively insignificant (.03%) or comparable to the rest of the cars on the road (.06%), depending on whether you base it on production or deliveries. And because vehicles must be delivered before they can be used in normal circumstances, it seems that thus far the Volt is delivering a slightly lower percentage of fire incidents than the general vehicle population… which is estimated to be over 9 years old on average (whereas Volts are all a year old or less). So, while the evidence suggests that EVs as a class are just as fire-safe as any other car, the Volt still seems to be something of a statistical question mark.


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Amazing Inventions: Fiat Produces Engine That Increases Ownership In Chrysler Mon, 10 Jan 2011 18:59:08 +0000

Want to know how to get a good chunk of the Detroit 3, no money down? Easy: Today, Fiat increased its ownership of Chrysler from 20 percent to 25 percent. What did they pay for it? Niente. Fiat received the extra shares “upon the Company’s achievement of the first of three performance-related milestones,” as a Chrysler Group LLC press release proclaims. And what is that milestone? They started making an engine.

“An irrevocable commitment letter” was sent “to the U.S. Treasury stating that the Company has received the appropriate governmental approvals and will begin commercial production of the Fully Integrated Robotized Engine (FIRE) in its Dundee, Mich., facility. As a result, Fiat’s ownership interest increased automatically under the terms of the Operating Agreement.”

That was easy!

They didn’t invent a new engine. They moved the production of the engine that will go into the Fiat 500 to an American factory. Where it is highly tax efficient, even if it otherwise makes no sense to make Fiat 500 engines there.

Says the Freep: “While Chrysler is assembling the 500 minicar at its plant in Toluca, Mexico, the engines are produced at Chrysler’s newest and most efficient engine plant in Dundee. Chrysler employs 274 workers in the Dundee plant, which opened in 2005.”  Wow.

So now, the ownership of Chrysler is as follows:

UAW VEBA 63.5 %
Fiat 25.0 %
U.S. Treasury 9.2 %
Canadian Governments 2.3 %

If Fiat wants more shares, it has to fulfill the following extremely tough milestones:

  • “The first milestone relates to revenue and sales growth outside of the NAFTA region.” That will get them 5 percent.
  • “The second milestone relates to commercial production in the United States of a 40-mile-per-gallon vehicle based on Fiat platform technology.” That will get them another 5 percent.

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Burned Dodge Truck Makes Us Sad Sat, 27 Nov 2010 19:00:36 +0000
After the Fourmile Canyon Fire in September, charred vehicle carcasses began showing up in quantity in Denver wrecking yards. Completely burned-to-hell-and-gone vehicles don’t seem to offer any usable components for junkyard shoppers, but they still show up.

This mid-60s Dodge pickup showed up at the self-service yard near my house about a week after the fire. I’m betting that exactly zero of its parts will live on in surviving Dardges, but at least it makes a nice subject for artsy photographs.
Burned Dodge truck in Denver junkyard, photo by Phil Greden Burned Dodge Truck Patina, photograph by Phil Greden

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Fire In The Nano! Thu, 11 Nov 2010 10:53:17 +0000

The Tata Nano was seen as the car which will set the Indian car market on fire. Unfortunately, it seems it’ll also roast its owners.

After several reports of pyromaniac Nanos, the BBC reports that Tata offers free safety upgrades for Nano customers.

But this isn’t a recall, insists the company. They say they are merely providing customer with additional safety features. (What, a fire extinguisher? A 112 decal?)

Not only is this a PR disaster, but also a financial one. The profit margin on a Nano is slim at best. So to conduct a recall free safety upgrades will be costly and probably hack away at the already anorexic profit margin.

Tata said that teams of internal and international experts concluded that the fires were “specific to the cars which had such incidents” rather than a general fault. Now that’s reassuring.

While doing their research, Tata also found serious faults. With their customers. They said that instances of “additional foreign electrical equipment having been installed or foreign material left on the exhaust system” had been discovered. “Foreign” meaning non-Nano, not Pakistani, we hope.

Tata also said that it was up to the customer whether to take the upgrades or not.

I’d be extremely interested to meet the person who bought a Nano, read this story and though “Nah! I’ll take the risk…” If they do, that’s natural selection for you.

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Ferrari’s Hot Wheels Thu, 02 Sep 2010 09:47:21 +0000

Ferrari is sending engineers all around to the world to investigate “thermal incidents”. Now what’s a “thermal incident” you might ask? It ain’t a mistake that happens in your long johns, that’s for sure.

It’s corporate speak for “that supercar which you lashed loads of money on may catch fire in a big way.”

The BBC reports that Ferrari is recalling all 458 Italia car that were made this year after investigating reports that they are prone to catching fire. There were reports of the smoking hot Ferraris (sorry, couldn’t resist it) in United States, France, Switzerland and China. Ferrari’s engineers managed to track down the source of these scorching hot Ferraris (there I go again!). It relates back to an adhesive used in the wheel arch assembly. The adhesive can overheat and, possibly, catch fire. Even m ore insidious, the melting of the adhesive could deform the liner that protects the engine. Liner moves closer to the exhaust, woosh, liner on fire.

To make up for this engineering problem, Ferrari has said that the owners that first reported this problem will receive a new model, instead of fixing their current one. In addition, all cars involved in the recall will have the adhesive taken out and replaced with a mechanical fastener instead.

I know people like to burn rubber in a Ferrari, but the wheel arch and engine liner, too…? (baddump-tish!)

Epilogue: When I wrote this article, I asked Herr Schmitt for double the price because I managed to get through the entire article without once mentioning Ford Pintos, the Toyota Recalls, or a Nano. He just told me to “Get lost before I got ‘fired’!” Oh those Germans and their crazy sense of humor(!)

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Nano Develops Burning Desire Thu, 08 Apr 2010 17:56:16 +0000

Eleven Nanos were puttering down India’s National Highway 8 on their way to the dealer (don’t they have car haulers there?) when one of them burst into flames, reports India’s Deccan Chronicle. These cases of spontaneous Nano combustion seem to pile up.

Burning Nanos are a tradition in India.  Just a few weeks ago, a Nano turned into a conflagration on its way from the showroom. Again, the fire developed in the rear, where the Nano’s engine sits, and again, the driver escaped the inferno unharmed.

Last year several Nanos caught fire. Tata said faulty ignition switches were the culprit, and the supplier had been changed.  A Tata Motors spokesman said to Reuters that this time, they “are sure that it is not a design flaw. We are looking into it.”

Be it as it may, the Nano lives up to its image as a red-hot seller.

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