NHTSA Wants to Know Why Smart ForTwos Keep Bursting Into Flames

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has opened a preliminary evaluations in response to complaints that Smart ForTwo engines are catching fire before quickly engulfing the car in flames. Eight complaints have found their way to NHTSA about fires in 2008-2009 Four Twos, with six of the incidents occurring while the cars were being driven.

According to the agency, the incidents began with the illumination of the vehicles’ check-engine light, followed by smoke and odd noises. In every occurrence, owners claim the fires quickly spread to the entire car.

In one complaint, the owner of a 2008 Fortwo told NHTSA that he heard a deafening pop behind his head, emanating from the tiny car’s engine compartment. Alarmed, the man pulled over to investigate, only to see flames shooting from the back of the Smart. “Had I not pulled off to the shoulder when I did, my story would not be coming directly from me but from my obituary,” reads the owner’s report. “Mercedes-Benz has been notified of this death trap, yet have not chosen to recall or check into the issue.”

NHTSA will now run a micro-investigation to evaluate if further inquiry and engineering analysis is warranted. If the investigation does leads to a recall, it would affect 42,875 vehicles sold in the U.S. market. Mercedes-Benz, which builds Smart cars, said it is unaware of any injuries related to the incidents.

However, the company may be conducting its own investigation already. It is safe to assume that the fire risk is already on Mercedes’ radar. There’s even an entire website — Smartcarsucks.com — devoted to documenting the fires. The site went up after a Smart owner who watched their Fortwo go up in flames in 2012 decided to warn potential Smart buyers and existing owners of the potential hazard.

[Image: Smartcarsucks.com]

Matt Posky
Matt Posky

A staunch consumer advocate tracking industry trends and regulation. Before joining TTAC, Matt spent a decade working for marketing and research firms based in NYC. Clients included several of the world’s largest automakers, global tire brands, and aftermarket part suppliers. Dissatisfied with the corporate world and resentful of having to wear suits everyday, he pivoted to writing about cars. Since then, that man has become an ardent supporter of the right-to-repair movement, been interviewed on the auto industry by national radio broadcasts, driven more rental cars than anyone ever should, participated in amateur rallying events, and received the requisite minimum training as sanctioned by the SCCA. Handy with a wrench, Matt grew up surrounded by Detroit auto workers and managed to get a pizza delivery job before he was legally eligible. He later found himself driving box trucks through Manhattan, guaranteeing future sympathy for actual truckers. He continues to conduct research pertaining to the automotive sector as an independent contractor and has since moved back to his native Michigan, closer to where the cars are born. A contrarian, Matt claims to prefer understeer — stating that front and all-wheel drive vehicles cater best to his driving style.

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  • Shortest Circuit Shortest Circuit on Dec 22, 2016

    From experience, either the boost tube blows off or the I/C gets a hole rubbed into it from the console that is supposed to hold it in place (yeah!) and if the turbo seals are worn ('08-09? you betcha) it will spill oil onto the exh. manifold. Said all that, a good shop that knows how many spark plugs are in the 3cyl engine (6, natch) should be able to catch this before an unfortunate conflagration. But that needs experience with Smarts not just any car.

  • NeilM NeilM on Dec 22, 2016

    "According to the agency, the incidents began with the illumination of the vehicles’ check-engine light, followed by smoke and odd noises." Odd noises? Like terrified screaming?

  • Lou_BC Blows me away that the cars pictured are just 2 door vehicles. How much space do you need to fully open them?
  • Daniel J Isn't this sort of a bait and switch? I mean, many of these auto plants went to the south due to the lack of unions. I'd also be curious as how, at least in my own state, unions would work since the state is a right to work state, meaning employees can still work without being apart of the union.
  • EBFlex No they shouldn’t. It would be signing their death warrant. The UAW is steadfast in moving as much production out of this country as possible
  • Groza George The South is one of the few places in the U.S. where we still build cars. Unionizing Southern factories will speed up the move to Mexico.
  • FreedMike I'd say that question is up to the southern auto workers. If I were in their shoes, I probably wouldn't if the wages/benefits were at at some kind of parity with unionized shops. But let's be clear here: the only thing keeping those wages/benefits at par IS the threat of unionization.
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