Catch an Oily Whiff of Malaise Era Ford as It Recalls 4,500 Firetraps in South Africa

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky
catch an oily whiff of malaise era ford as it recalls 4 500 firetraps in south africa

About a month after Ford began deliveries of the 2013 Escape, it suddenly recalled every single unit equipped with a 1.6-liter EcoBoost engine. A faulty fuel line in the engine compartment posed a fire risk so bad that Ford actually urged people not to drive their cars until the necessary repairs had been carried out.

However, the 1.6 liter Ford Kugas sold in South Africa — essentially renamed world-market Escapes — never received the same sort of attention. Almost 50 Kugas have spontaneously combusted so far, leading to one fatality, and the Blue Oval is just now issuing a “voluntary” recall.

Anyone recall the 1970s Ford Pinto?

According to Reuters, the company will take back 4,556 Kuga SUVs after dozens of reported incidents where vehicles quickly bust into flames. Jeff Nemeth, Ford South Africa’s CEO, announced today that all 1.6-liter Kugas produced between December 2012 and February 2014 absolutely must be taken into a Ford dealer as soon as possible.

At a press briefing facilitated by the National Consumer Commission, Nemeth said that Ford believes the fires are the result of oil leaks caused by an overheating engine — not a split fuel line. Instead, the company claims that insufficient coolant circulation can overhead the motor enough to crack a cylinder head. The resulting oil leak then starts a fire.

However, the company admits that it is still in the midst of its investigation and has shipped 15 vehicles to Europe to further inspect the cause of the fires. Ford also said that it believes a fatal incident in December 2015, where Reshall Jimmy was trapped inside of his burning Kuga, was unrelated to the other fires.

“We are not aware of any injuries that have resulted from our engine compartment fires,” Nemeth stated during the briefing.

In emails given to South Africa’s Times Live, fire investigator Larry Jenkinson had purportedly informed Discovery Insurance about his findings in two Ford Kuga investigations from January 2016. Jenkinson claimed the conditions surrounding the fires were consistent with problems facing recalled Ford Escapes in the United States:

The nature of the oil leakage condition is entirely consistent with other problems apparently caused through localized engine overheating conditions that have already been identified by Ford USA and Europe and recall campaigns have already been introduced to attend to the problem.

Jenkinson stated that he could find no other reasons for the fires.

Depending how right that insurance investigation turns out to be, Ford could be facing a small-scale rehash of the Pinto fiasco of the late Seventies. At the time, Ford knew its small car has a severe design flaw that made it a fire hazard but stuck with the design for a full eight years (after engineers decided a redesign was more expensive than simply compensating crash victims).

In the case of the Kuga, Reshall Jimmy’s sister Renisha launched a campaign to raise awareness after his death, reaching out to the company directly. Ford SA had also been sent both of Jenkinson’s reports and was under growing pressure form the National Consumer Commission to take action on the matter.

Back in the U.S., a search of auction listings shows a number of older Escapes, most with 1.6-liter engines, that have been damaged or destroyed by fires that seemed to originate in the engine compartment in recent months. Ignore recall notices at your own risk.

[Image: Ford Motor Company]

Join the conversation
2 of 12 comments
  • Ajla Ajla on Jan 16, 2017

    Small-displacement turbo engines will kill us all.

  • Rocketrodeo Rocketrodeo on Jan 17, 2017

    I wonder what's different between the 1.6GTDI as installed in the Escape versus the same engine installed in the 2013 Fusion.

  • Inside Looking Out You should care. With GM will die America. All signs are there. How about the Arsenal of Democracy? Toyota?
  • DenverMike What else did anyone think, when GM was losing tens of billions a year, year after year?
  • Bill Wade GM says they're killing Android Auto and Apple Carplay. Any company that makes decisions like that is doomed to die.
  • Jeff S I don't believe gm will die but that it will continue to shrink in product and market share and it will probably be acquired by a foreign manufacturer. I doubt gm lacks funds as it did in 2008 and that they have more than enough cash at hand but gm will not expand as it did in the past and the emphasis is more on profitability and cutting costs to the bone. Making gm a more attractive takeover target and cut costs at the expense of more desirable and reliable products. At the time of Farago's article I was in favor of the Government bailout more to save jobs and suppliers but today I would not be in favor of the bailout. My opinions on gm have changed since 2008 and 2009 and now I really don't care if gm survives or not.
  • Kwik_Shift I was a GM fan boy until it ended in 2013 when I traded in my Avalanche to go over to Nissan.