Car Fires

There is nothing the Guardianistas on the Today programme love more than a good scare story. This morning it was rising food prices and 138,000 Toyotas going on fire. Even its interviewee on the price of wheat was cautious about its effect on the cost of a loaf. Scott Brownlee did a decent job of saying Toyota’s recall concerned a window switch in danger of melting, and 138,000 Rav4s and Corollas were not about to incinerate themselves. Silly woman presenter kept claiming Toyota’s press release said there was a fire risk. It said nothing of the kind, but in her efforts to show how nasty big corporations are she exaggerated, and Toyota had to issue an amendment.

Toyota Window Switch Recall: Clarification On Media Reports Of ‘Fire Risk’ Issue Toyota has today announced a recall of 138,000 Yaris, Auris and RAV4 cars in the UK. This involves the electrical contact in the driver’s side Power Window Master Switch (PWMS), which may over time come to feel ‘notchy’ or sticky during operation.

If commercially available cleaning lubricants are applied to the switch to address the notchy or sticky feel, the switch assembly may overheat and/or melt. In the USA, issues of melting or erosion are categorised under ‘fire’ by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. If a car's power window switch feels notchy, owners should not attempt to address the issue themselves with commercially available lubricants. Toyota engineers have conducted various simulation tests, including using commercially available lubricants. In no instance did a fire result. There has been only one case related to this issue in the UK, and no reported accidents.

Trouble was, this is the second recall of door window switches in as many days, and Honda’s press release was more alarmist. Honda said it would be trying to contact everyone who owns a Swindon-made CR-V, “because of a potentially dangerous defect that could lead to it catching fire”. The problem was spotted after one owner in Britain, and four in the United States said they could smell burning. It seems to be a faulty seal on a master switch inside the driver’s door that controls the automatic windows. If liquid seeps inside, it could overheat and the door could catch fire. Are they all using the same switch? The same supplier? The same door trim manufacturer? I think we should be told.

The pictures are of a Volvo that caught fire on a Scottish road. It started as a small conflagration under the bonnet (top), but as I watched the car comprehensively destroyed itself, with much crackling and banging as windows broke and fuel ignited. Another memorable car fire I watched was when a colleague in the Glasgow motor trade was trying to sell a VW Beetle (old air-cooled sort) to an overweight Glasgow lady. She thought she would try the back seat but was so heavy that when she sat down the batteries underneath shorted out through the seat springs. The upholstery caught fire, then the whole interior, the paint blistered and the tyres caught light. The fire service came and put it out. She didn’t buy the VW.