Burnt out Ford Kuga. Picture: NIVESH SEWPERSADH
Burnt out Ford Kuga. Picture: NIVESH SEWPERSADH

Finally‚ Ford SA has confirmed that the risk of its Kuga sport utility vehicle catching fire is confined to a particular model — the 1.6l EcoBoost — "possibly" as a result of engine overheating.

If you are among the estimated 6,300 owners of Kugas bought between December 15 2012 and October 20 2014‚ get your car to a Ford dealership as soon as possible to have the vehicle’s coolant system checked out.

"Dealers will check the coolant concentration level and for any leaks or damage to the cooling system‚ plus conduct cooling system pressure tests‚" Ford SA spokesperson Rella Bernardes said on Thursday.

The 1.6l engine was replaced by a 1.5l engine in the Kuga two years ago: neither the 1.5l nor the 2l models are affected by what Ford is calling a "dealer maintenance check".

Until now‚ Ford SA has failed to be drawn on the possible cause of the fires, which have broken out in an alarming number of Kugas — 38 at last count‚ according to the siblings of Reshall Jimmy‚ who lost his life when a Kuga caught fire while holidaying at Wilderness a year ago.

Earlier this week the National Consumer Commission (NCC) said Ford would instruct its dealerships nationwide to conduct "safety inspections" on all Kugas sold in the country as a "precautionary measure instituted at the behest of the NCC".

That announcement had many owners of 1.5l and 2l Kugas making unnecessary trips to dealerships.

On Thursday‚ Ford announced: "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."

Yet the company continues to maintain that the fire in Jimmy’s Kuga on December 4 last year started at the back of the vehicle‚ not in the engine compartment.

"That is clearly evidenced by the level of fire damage to the rear and the relative lack of damage to the front of the Kuga‚" Ford SA said yesterday.

"We have requested access to the police report and other investigative materials to better understand all the facts concerning the case."

The claim that the fire started in the rear — and the forensic report it is based on — does not sit well with the Jimmy family and renowned forensic investigator Dr David Klatzow‚ who has been hired by them.

"The forensic investigation Ford did was very amateur‚ and it has come to the wrong conclusion‚" Klatzow said.

"And Ford knows that two independent witnesses have stated in affidavits that the fire began at the front of the vehicle‚ and they also know we have a video shot by a passer-by which supports this view‚" he said.

Klatzow also claims that one of Ford’s forensic experts initially said the fire in Jimmy’s Kuga started in the front‚ then later changed his view‚ but Ford denies this.

First-hand accounts of Kuga owners who escaped their burning vehicles are uncannily similar in describing where the fires started — in the engine.

Last Thursday‚ Nivesh Sewpersadh of Reservoir Hills‚ outside Durban‚ had his 2014 Kuga checked out by a Ford dealership in Pinetown — which had serviced his vehicle from new — when a service light flashed up before the vehicle’s service was due.

He was assured that it was safe to drive.

But two days later‚ ironically on his way back to the dealership because the service light was back on‚ things went very wrong.

"I saw black smoke in my rear-view mirror and realised it was coming from the exhaust. Then smoke started coming from the engine‚ followed by flames.."

He stopped the car‚ leapt out and ran across the road.

The next day‚ Sabelo Cele had the same experience in Gauteng.

"I was driving to Lanseria Airport on the N1 south to drop off my wife and young son‚" he wrote in a Facebook post. "I checked my rear-view mirror and I saw smoke coming from the back of the car.

"Then smoke started coming out from the engine as I stopped on the yellow line. My wife and I both jumped out the car and she unbuckled our son from his car seat. Flames started coming out from the bonnet while I was grabbing some of our belongings from the inside the car… "I ran to join my wife and son… and looked on to watch our Ford Kuga go up in flames."

Ford SA’s customer service helpline is 0860-011-022.

TMG Digital/ConsumerLIVE

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