By on January 16, 2017

ford logoAbout 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]

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12 Comments on “Catch an Oily Whiff of Malaise Era Ford as It Recalls 4,500 Firetraps in South Africa...”

  • avatar

    No, the engineers pointed out what was wrong and what it would cost to fix. The company bigwigs decided that letting people burn to death was a more cost-effective solution. What is it with the burled walnut paneling of old school executive boardrooms that turn people into murderers? Yet more proof if they ain’t forced to do the right thing, the right thing will never happen…

    • 0 avatar

      Cost/benefit analysis is an inherent part of engineering and is not a bad thing.

      Yes, this even applies to safety-critical decisions.

      At some point, the real costs of preventing additional deaths or injuries become “not worth it”.

      That’s not murder, it’s just a inevitable result of the fact that resources are not unlimited.

    • 0 avatar
      Greg Locock

      @golden2husky Actually that cost benefit analysis that the Mother Jones guys dug up was a hypothetical one to do with the cost of new regs proposed by the NHTSA, not actually relevant to the Pinto. But yes, you are correctly reciting the myth.

      So, I am pleased to hear that you do not do a CBA where safety is concerned. I assume you change your tires when it starts raining, and change back when it dries out, and always fit new tires?

  • avatar

    This is a stage worse than the Pinto. With it, you were safe unless someone hit you from behind. These things will catch fire on their own.

    I once brought my first generation RX-7 to my independent mechanic to diagnose a gasoline odor. He found and repaired a leak that dripped fuel onto the exhaust manifold.

  • avatar

    All the numerical analyses I’ve seen of the Pinto indicate that it was about average for overall safety vs cars of similar size from that era; and decidedly better than several of its contemporaries.

    Even considering *only* the relatively rare circumstance of rear impacts causing fires the Pinto was just slightly more dangerous than contemporary cars.

    It’s not a dangerous car, Ford is not a bunch of monsters for releasing it as-is, and if anything it’s a good cautionary tale about how complex technical decisions can be exaggerated by lawyers and the press.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    “Anyone recall the 1970s Ford Pinto?”

    Yes; I had 3 of them.

    And this situation is much different because spontaneous combustion is not the same as a leak and spark resulting from a traffic accident.

    For extra snark, it’s inconvenient that the GM saddle tank fires killed about 5x as many people as Pintos, because the Kuga isn’t a GM product.

  • avatar

    Small-displacement turbo engines will kill us all.

  • avatar

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

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