By on January 30, 2012

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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34 Comments on “86 Non Chevy Volts Burn After Improper Recall Service, Prompting Second Recall of 296,920 Non Chevy Volts...”

  • avatar

    Huh… I wonder what the rate of fires was prior to the recall being performed vs after. We haven’t even received our recall notice yet (’01 v6 xlt), and there was supposed to be limited parts availability, so I figured there haven’t been too many Escapes ‘fixed’ yet. 86 additional fires sounds like a lot and makes me wonder if the new caps are defective, or like the article suggests – some of the techs might be using bearing grease in the connector or something.

  • avatar

    Amazing that these vehicles had to be recalled TWICE because people were checking off the work had been completed. That is absolutely terrible and fraudulent. I do think that there should be an investigation into the people who checked a repair and CLEARLY did nothing.

    Now for people who did the wrong thing, it is a more difficult situation. There is no guarantee that the work will be done properly. Even oil changes aren’t always done properly. Chances of recalls being done properly, well, most cases will be fine. But heck, when cars can make it out of the factory with out all of the brake pads, you know it isn’t always going to be correct at the dealership.

  • avatar
    Oren Weizman


  • avatar

    Impossible. There must have been tiny Chevy Volts inside them.

  • avatar

    I hate GM and the Volt as much as anyone who posts on this site but the headline for this article sets a new low for misinformation (unless the editorial staff owns a lot of FordMoCo stock). If you still harbor under the illusion that you are the TRUTH about cars you need to change this headline. I suggest swapping out “Ford” for “Non Chevy Volts” in all cases. I never thought you guys could get me to the keyboard in defense of GM but you have! This headline makes me think that TTAC actually does have some sort of incipient anti-GM bias.

    • 0 avatar

      I agree, this is a terrible headline and something I would expect on a magazine near the check out line at a grocery store.

    • 0 avatar

      As usual, I was too clever by half. Sorry for not making things clearer. My point with the headline wasn’t to bash GM or protect Ford (though this particular recall has more to do with dealer screw ups than Ford per se) but rather to poke fun of those who made too much of the Volt fire issue. If anything, I was defending GM. It was also a comment on how both new and old media are interested in the Volt fire issue (and Tata Nanos and Ferrari 458s) but ignore more serious fire related recalls.

      • 0 avatar

        Any headline that requires that much explanation “to get it” probably isn’t as thoughtful/clever as you think it is. As far a pinning the problem on the dealers, Ford designed and built the vehicles, not the dealers. Perhaps TTAC should go back to the good old days when they didn’t cover industry recalls.

      • 0 avatar


        There is more than one issue here and Ford made the original defective vehicles, but I think the important fact here is that dealers signed off on safety related repairs that were not actually done. If Ford is to be faulted for this specific recall it’s for not having oversight procedures in place to maker sure those repairs are actually done.

        If a recall calls for a visual inspection, this is 2012 and digital cameras are everywhere. Why not take a photo to prove that the work has been done and to get a photographic record of the visual inspection?

      • 0 avatar
        Felis Concolor

        Sorry folks, but for all those who didn’t get the joke by the first “Non Chevy Volts” phrase, I can only point and laugh.

      • 0 avatar

        CHEVY VOLTS don’t CATCH FIRE as much as other cars. I repeat: CHEVY VOLTS don’t CATCH FIRE as much as other cars.

        You’re welcome, GM.

    • 0 avatar

      While I’m sure that this headline set off Neil Cavuto’s Google alert, I didn’t have to get far into the story get the satire.

      • 0 avatar

        LOL. I really hope he has a direct-access phone line next to his bed that rang at 0300 EST to alert him to this story’s publishing.

        “What??? Chevy Volt troubles??? Where’s my Conserva-Cape??”

    • 0 avatar

      Nobody here “hates” the Volt or GM.

    • 0 avatar
      Kevin Kluttz

      Lighten up.

      • 0 avatar

        Commenting as one thats been reading/commenting at TTAC since the beginning, I can asure all that Ronnie is one of the least B*** guys here.

        @ Kevin Kluttz……So your the guy that threw the dime in eh ?

        Sorry dude, I must have forgot to send you my “Thank you card”

        Those retirement benifits,and monthly bank deposit…..sweet!

        Thanks again.

  • avatar

    F ires
    O blige
    R ecall
    D ays

  • avatar

    – 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 –

    You seem to be against government regulation/interference so how do you reconcile this statement? I am genuinely curious. My command line didnt work lol

    • 0 avatar

      In this case there already is a recall procedure that’s managed by the manufacturer with some oversight by NHTSA. They’re already doing it, they might has well have some procedures in place to make sure they are doing it correctly. If there’s one thing you’d want NHTSA to do properly it’s safety related recalls.

      I’m not opposed to all government regulation. The pure food and drug acts, the clean air and water acts, and others were needed. If there’s going to be a USDA, I expect them to keep eColi bacteria out of McDonald’s burgers.

      I will say that I don’t find it surprising that a government bureaucracy has no procedures in place to make sure that it’s actually doing its job.

      • 0 avatar

        The procedure for checking that recalls are performed correctly is actually pretty much the same as the procedure for detecting problems in the first place.

        If the recall isn’t done properly, the manufacturer and the NHTSA will oontinue to receive complains about the problem. As with the original problem, it is the responsibility of the manufacturer to report the issue to the NHTSA, find a resolution and implement another recall as needed under the oversight of the NHTSA.

        There is no cost-effective way for the NHTSA to look over the shoulders of the many thousands of technicians as they perform the recall work. The NHTSA validates and approves the fix, repair procedures and recall schedule, beforehand. The NHTSA also monitors progress, but there has to be some level of trust in the people doing the work.

        The incentive for the manufacturers is that The NHSTA can levy fines for negligence, owners can sue and bad PR leads to loss of sales.

      • 0 avatar

        Thank you both for your responses, I enjoyed reading them :-)

  • avatar

    But wait, what about all the howls for less govt regulation and intrusion into our lives? Isn’t this supposed to be a matter for the free market to address without the heavy hand of the Federal jack-booted thugs? Now we’re going to expand the Fed bureaucracy and burden dealers with add’l paperwork?

  • avatar

    How about Cars that are more serious fire hazards than Chevy Volts for the headline?

    For the record, I got the original joke and I DO NOT think the Volt is at all dangerous.

  • avatar
    Carlson Fan

    For me the headline just reinforces this point:

    “but the Chevy Volt fire story is one huge nothingburger.”

    A CUV burned to the ground, boy what a loss. Maybe they’ll replace it with something that actually has a point/purpose!…….LOL

  • avatar

    I’ve often wondered about the total effectiveness of a safety recall when the number of vehicles is very large. (Toyota un-intended acceleration fix – i.e.. elaborate hand modifications of the accelerator pedal). The numbers of vehicles worked-on (millions) and “hand modification” (not controlled procedure) could result in creating some safety problems that weren’t originally present.
    When working on millions of cars, just a small error rate (from normal human error) can cause a number of cars to have new problems.
    The fact that the accelerator modification involved non-manufacturing procedures and manual inspection of clearances could also result in new problems.
    I never understood why Toyota did not supply a new sub-assembly pedal (of proper length) and clearances for swap-out. (Someone at Toyota decided hand fixing was cheaper but was it faster than swapping out an already “fixed” pedal assembly?)

  • avatar
    Lynn E.

    I loved the headline and the joke.

    I only have 2 complaints with the Chevy Volt: it costs too much and isn’t as convenient as a Ford Transit.

    I am trying to find a Ford sales person who knows what an electric motor is and can tell me how or when I can buy an all electric Transit.

    For those with humor problems my second sentence above contains a type of humor where two dissimilar items are compared to each other.

  • avatar

    So now any call for a Federal govt that doesn’t borrow $58,000 per second (and spend even more) is a “howl” ? If so, we should all be howling 24/7.

  • avatar
    Matthew Sullivan


    Doood. Seriously. Your cleverness is getting in the way of effective communication. Your article didn’t actually talk about what was going on until the 4th paragraph. So for 3 paragraphs I was going, “What am I reading. What is he talking about? WTF is a ‘non-Chevy Volt\'”.

    And after reading the whole thing I *still* don’t understand how a Ford Escape = “non-Chevy Volt”.

    I automatically read any article written by Jack Baruth. Your name is perilously close to going on the *other* list.

    • 0 avatar

      My superior intellect tells me that anything that is not a Chevy Volt = a “non-Chevy Volt.”

      Hence, a Ford Escape = “non-Chevy Volt.”

      Also, my house key = “non-Chevy Volt,” the Eiffel Tower = “non-Chevy Volt,” etc.

      Now, you try!

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