Why are so many Fords catching fire?
If spontaneous combustion were an Olympic sport, Ford will go for gold in Tokyo - yes! In this report - how Fords have the unenviable reputation of being most likely cars to catch fire.
Frankly, it’s an engineering mini-miracle every car on the road does not spontaneously combust a minimum of three times a day. After all, you’ve got the unholy quaternity - four key progenitors of fire ‘down there’, under the hood. Every day.
They even call that metal panel in front of the passenger compartment a ‘firewall’ - almost certainly not a coincidence.
There’s fuel, heat, electricity and copious airflow - and by ‘fuel’, I mean the actual fuel, plus of course lubricating oil, power steering fluid, plastics, etc. Your engine bay is basically Molotov and napalm hooking up on Grinder before taking a flamethrower to petrochemical refinery.
Of course, the only thing that stops every car self-immolating is a strict set of engineering protocols - design and manufacturing safeguards - or not, in Ford’s case.
43,000 FIRE-PRONE FORD FOCUSES
Just a few days ago, Ford issued a recall for 42,988 shitheap Focuses - the same ones the ACCC is suing Ford over, thanks to Ford’s alleged unconscionable and/or deceptive conduct orbiting around the epically under-engineered PowerShit transmission.
Apparently the carbon cannister, which recovers fuel vapour in those heaps of crap, can burst at the seams and rupture the fuel tank. On balance: That’s bad.
THE TV EXEC'S FLAMING TERRITORY
When that recall was announced, my ‘spider sense’ started tingling. There was a bigger picture here. It began six weeks earlier when I got - let’s call it an interesting SMS from a senior TV news executive.
My first thought was that he’s a bloke with young kids. So I asked him if the kids were in the car. Thankfully, they were not.
Pretty chilling answer (right). All over in 10 seconds - and if the kids were in, they could have been killed.
Put yourself in another position. Same shitbox Territory, but a young mum, on the freeway, in dense, fast traffic. Everything’s fine, three kids in the back - young ones, strapped in. Engine dies. You stop. Car is enveloped in smoke.
Joining the dots… That would take a short interval. Holy shit - the car’s on fire. Gotta get the kids to safety. Cars rushing past on both sides at 100 kays an hour.
Good luck with that. Either way, it’s going to be a memorable 10 seconds, right?
JOURNO PUNTS EVEREST UP ON FIRE MOUNTAIN
Australian motoring journalist Peter Barnwell - a straight shooter in my view - was driving a Ford Everest that burned to the ground in December 2015. He said the dash lit up and then the engine just shut down:
“As I rolled to a stop it just burst into flames. There were flames licking out from under the bonnet.”
Mr Barnwell escaped and called the Fire Brigade.
“They couldn’t put the fire out for ages. Some of the material wouldn’t extinguish. There were explosions and bits of shrapnel firing 50m down the road. I got as far away from the thing as I could.”
Ford later brushed the fire as a one-off and heaped the blame on a lowly technician in Thailand who allegedly botched a battery reinstallation.
If that is in fact true, then why even design a friggin’ battery such that it can be mis-installed to the extent that getting it wrong burns the vehicle to the ground?
This is a life-and-death engineering design decision. So my view on that is: You’re either serious about engineering or you’re not. Tellingly, no comment - that I could find - from Ford that they had identified a design deficiency and rectified it. It’s called learning from your mistakes.
KUGA: FORD DOES NOTHING AS PEOPLE DIE
In December 2015 a 33-year-old South African man named Reshall Jimmy, was burned beyond recognition and killed when his Kuga spontaneously burned to the ground.
His death spearheaded a heavy social media campaign pressuring Ford to recall the vehicle on public safety grounds.
Lest you think this was just some grief-stricken family’s leveraged outcry of emotion, there were actually two forensic reports in play - one from the cops and one by an independent investigator, which both reached the conclusion the fire was the result of an electrical fault.
Ford, of course, went on a tirade of denial - not our fault, they said.
39 South African Kuga fires later they were still saying it. The internet is awash with images of South Africans standing in front of burning Kugas.
14 months after Reshall Jimmy’s unpleasant death, in January 2017, Ford South Africa recalled 4500 Kugas - minus the 39, of course, which were no longer a problem.
Later, when he was grilled on TV, Ford South Africa boss Jeff Nemeth lamely claimed his company was doing the best they could. What a breathtaking untouched by reality lying arsehole. Personal opinion. Substantially true. Well done, Mr Nemeth - you’ll go far.
So that’s January 2017. South Africans getting their Kuga recall. Late, but getting it. Finally.
FORD AUSTRALIA - STILL OBFUSCATING
Remember the South African Kuga and Australian Kuga both come from the same factory in Spain and use the same 1.6-litre turbo petrol engine. It’s the same friggin’ car.
Yet even in February this year Ford Australia still had not issued a Kuga recall, despite at least one fire here, which destroyed a Kuga in Queensland. Here’s what those obfuscating tools said about that:
“Although the base engine is similar, there can be differences that cause the engines to perform differently including engine installation, transmission systems, cooling systems, under-hood airflow, calibrations, and emissions among others.”
I think by ‘perform differently’ they’re trying to imply ‘not burning to the ground and killing you’. Because, if true, that would be the salient difference. If you’re interesting in being a bullshitter - that’s a pretty good effort. Of course, why stop there?:
“If customers have a specific concern with their vehicle, they should take their vehicle to a dealer for investigation.”
You arseholes: the whole point is that vehicles catch fire without warning. Can you imagine the conversation with a dealer: Mate, I’m concerned my Ford might catch fire. Why what’s it doing wrong? Absolutely nothing - it seems to be working just fine. That’s why I’m worried.
Can you picture the look on the service manager’s face? I certainly can. That’s a bullshit versus reality check right there. Of course what Ford said next is really, off-the-chart offensive.
“As outlined in the owner’s manual, we encourage customers to maintain regular servicing of their vehicle and monitor the vehicle for normal operation via all instruments and gauges in line with good driving practices. As vehicle fires can result from a range of different causes, the established process when a vehicle fire occurs is for the owner’s insurer to investigate as the first step.”
Allow me to translate: If your car catches fire it’s your fault, and if you live, fuck off and see your insurer because we really do not want to know.
Inverting the blame pre-emptively is a masterstroke of PR bullshit in my view. So it could be two gold medals in Tokyo for Ford, right there. Yes!
Of course, they did issue the recall ultimately - but not for another six weeks or so, on the 30th of March, according to the ACCC’s website. Check out the Australian Ford Kuga fire recall here >>
RECALLS DOWN UNDER
I should point out that recalls in Australia are issued only for serious safety defects. But what you probably don’t know is that the system is voluntary - it’s an honour system.
(The ACCC does have the power to compel manufacturers to recall products, but I cannot remember the last time they did that on a car.)
This of course leads to unscrupulous turds like Ford, which pretty much held the door open when ethics were handed out, dragging the chain like the epic motherlovers they aspire to be, whenever they want to. And clearly this is a practise they enjoy.
UNDER-DONE ENGINEERING: THE EVIDENCE
Fool me once - shame on you. Fool me twice - shame on me. Well, last week’s recall of 40-something-thousand Focii shitheaps covered vehicles manufactured from 2011 to 2015.
So, with my spider-sense buzzing its tits off, I went back in the ACCC archives and looked for other Ford fire safety recalls this decade - for vehicles built from 2010 onwards. Here they are (in addition to the Kuga and Focus, above):
In addition to the Focus and Kuga, Ford also recalled 1400 Mustangs because the battery cable could contact the exhaust manifold, and the vehicle could burn to the ground, presumably killing the occupants in screaming, brutal agony.
ACCC details on the Mustang fire recall >>
That’s the same car, of course, that earned a two-star safety shitbox rating because Ford knowingly stripped vital active safety equipment from it from it because they bet on the fact Euro NCAP would not test that car (a bet they ultimately lost). Happily enough.
ANCAP details on the Mustang's appalling safety rating >>
My report on Mustang's failure to meet acceptable safety standards >>
Then there was the 2013 and 2014 Ecosport, in which a fuel leak could potentially kill your loved ones, perhaps on the way home from the movies by catastrophically burning to the ground without warning.
ACCC details on the Ecosport fire recall >>
But let’s not forget a small but poignant recall: the 2010 and 2011 Fiesta Econetic diesel, an evil little shitheap apparently mis-designed so that the glow plug module could overheat - even with the ignition off - and burn whole houses to the ground, killing you in your sleep. Unless of course you wake up at the last moment, on fire. Well done there.
ACCC details on the Fiesta Econetic fire recall >>
But wait - there’s more. 2011 and 2012 LPG Falcons were potentially assembled without a critical O-ring, allowing highly flammable LPG to vent into your garage. Yes! That’s a small oversight with big consequences.
ACCC details on the LPG Falcon fire recall >>
LPG is heavier than air and therefore quite happy to pool in low-lying areas and then wait to explode when you introduce a source of ignition several hours later … before dying in agony hours to days henceforth in the burns unit. 3256 cars on the road under that particular cloud.
And finally, there were the 3400-ish Ford Territories built in 2011 that might have the fuel return hose just pop off, just like that, inconveniently, perhaps one balmy summer evening on the way home from the beach, killing or scarring your loved ones for life, unexpectedly, following an otherwise pleasant day out.
Bit of yin and yang there. Most people would probably be happy to go exclusively with ‘yin’ on this, though, I’m tipping.
ACCC details on the Territory fire recall >>
CONCLUSION: WELL ENGINEERED CARS DO NOT CATCH FIRE
That’s a total of seven official Ford fire safety recalls - just the fire ones - here in Australia. Only for post-2010 vehicles. The ones we know about, on an honour system that allows carmakers to bullshit and obfuscate as they please - sometimes for months on end, seemingly.
As a lapsed engineer I can tell you the recall system generally functions well - but only if carmakers act in good faith. It’s also not a system best employed to apologise for under-done engineering or poor quality control at the factory.
Well designed cars simply do not catch fire. One or two fire risk recalls is an example of a mainstream carmaker tidying up a few loose ends. Seven different fire recalls covering 58,000 Ford vehicles is a disgracefully unjustifiable advertisement for poor engineering and not giving a shit about the safety of your customers.
Especially for a carmaker - because all they do is make cars. Safety of the product is not, like, some tangential issue. It’s the exact opposite of being blindsided by an unknown unknown. Like: Fire safety? I didn’t realise that was an issue. Jesus.
I sincerely hope this report illuminates a broader picture, and helps you make an informed choice if you are in the market for a new car right now.
For more information on recalls in Australia visit the Federal Government recalls website: Recalls.gov.au >>