In recent weeks the Ford Kuga engine fire issue has been the subject of much controversy and debate, particularly on social media platforms. But in the absence of a recall, and with Ford seemingly slow to react decisively, what must owners of the popular SUV do?
Go to the Ford South Africa website, click on the Kuga link and you’ll find this:
“Attention: Do you drive a 1.6-litre Ford Kuga?
“Ford is currently investigating reports of engine fires in Kuga vehicles equipped with the 1.6-litre EcoBoost engine.
“To help reduce the risk of engine overheating, please urgently contact your Ford dealer to book your vehicle in for a one-hour maintenance check, free of charge. For more information, contact Ford Customer Service: 0860 011 022.”
The advice applies to the owners of some 6 300 1.6-litre Kugas bought between 15 December 2012 and 20 October 2014. The announcement came one year and 18 days after Reshall Jimmy burnt to death in his 1.6-litre Ford Kuga while holidaying in Wilderness. The latest announcement was the first time the company had publicly used the words "engine" and "overheating" in the same sentence as Kuga. This comes after numerous photographs of Kugas pulled over on the sides of various South African roads, their engines on fire, had blazed across social and traditional media for many weeks, striking fear and distrust in the hearts of Kuga drivers everywhere. Some even took to driving around with fire extinguishers and heavy tools to smash their windows should their cars catch alight.
According to Jimmy’s siblings, Kaveen and Renisha, 38 Kugas have caught fire in South Africa to date, and many of their owners have described their experiences on the Jimmys’ Facebook page, Ford Vehicles Burning.
Two days before Ford’s big announcement, the National Consumer Commission issued a press release saying that Ford had undertaken to conduct safety inspections on ALL Kugas “as a precautionary measure”.
Elizabeth Lumley of Durban, who drives a 1.5-litre Kuga, only heard her model was excluded from the fire risk after she’d taken it to be checked at her local dealership – a waste of time and energy for both her and the dealership. “I’d put a wrench in the car, and told my children what to do if the car caught fire,” she said. “It was not fun.”
Ford investigation continues
Then came Ford's big revelation on Thursday. “We are currently investigating reports of engine fires in Kugas equipped with the 1.6-litre EcoBoost engine. While our investigations into the incidents are not complete at this time, we have found that the fires may be a result of engine overheating.” The company has since emailed and SMSd Kuga owners with the maintenance check advice, but the company hasn’t seen it fit to make mention of the Kuga “maintenance check” on its Twitter or Facebook pages (by Friday, December 23).
“No notice or response to owners on @FordSouthAfrica social media channels. Facebook posts ignored, nothing on Twitter..” posted Andrew Fraser (@Arfness) on Twitter.
Wayne Fillis learnt of the check in a press report, and he’s very glad he heeded the advice to get his Kuga checked out. “Mine was taken to Ford in Bellville and it did not pass their inspection which I feel saved me just before I planned to take a road trip,” he posted on Ford Vehicles Burning. But the bad news is the issue couldn't be sorted out there and then. “I am now awaiting parts and I’ll only get the car back from Ford in mid-January.”
When Masindi Mainganye heeded the call, he wasn’t impressed by the response. “I was told they are fully booked and I must bring it next Thursday. “I told her this is an urgent matter and if anything happened to my car in the next few days Ford will be accountable. So then she booked my car in and they did not find anything. “Still I don't feel safe.” Mainganye said he received “a most annoying message” telling him to check his Kuga’s coolant level every day. “Like I am driving an old car - it’s only three year’s old!”
No recall, yet
But still, Ford SA has not issued a safety recall. Why not?
Just three months after Vanilla Nurse died on her second birthday in November 2009 when her family’s Honda Jazz caught fire, Honda issued a recall of almost 20 000 Jazz models, having established that in extreme cases the window switch in the driver’s door could overheat, resulting in a fire. Forensic investigator Dr David Klutzow, who is working on the Kuga case on behalf of the Jimmy family, has urged Ford to follow Honda’s example.
Responding, Ford SA spokesman Rella Bernardes said: “It is inappropriate for us to comment on the actions of others. “Our decisions are driven by the data available, and when the data indicates action is needed, we move quickly on behalf of our customers.”
Sadly, Ford SA is unlikely to be remembered as moving quickly in the Kuga matter.
What to do
If you are among the estimated 6 300 owners of 1.6-litre Kugas bought between 15 December 2012 and 20 October 2014, get your car to a Ford dealership as soon as possible to have the vehicle’s coolant system inspected. They need to check the coolant concentration level and for any leaks or damage to the cooling system, and conduct cooling system pressure tests,” according to Ford SA spokesman Rella Bernardes.
If any engine warning light comes on, stop driving the car immediately and contact Ford on 0860 011 022.
If you drive the 1.5- or 2.0-litre model, relax, the fire risk does not apply to your car, according to Ford SA.