Investigate cause of vehicle fires


Malaysia has experienced a spate of vehicle fires of late, some of which involving luxury cars and an SUV. These fires were not caused by collision as the cars caught fire while they were moving and some others while they were parked. The causes of these vehicle fires remain unexplained and unresolved.

Without proper knowledge of the causes of these car fires and subsequent remedy, Malaysian car owners are subject to risks of loss, injuries and even deaths. Malaysians also want to know how safe their cars are from fires. Car fires are a huge problem all over the world involving hundreds of thousands of vehicles yearly and it is time that the Malaysian authorities do something serious about this deadly risk.

CAP calls for proper investigations of all vehicle fires and the results of these findings to be made public. The reporting of all cases of vehicle fires must be made mandatory so that our authorities can monitor and study the problem.

CAP is alarmed at the number of vehicles going up in flames. In the last 8 months alone the media reported 8 instances of various types of vehicles going up in flames under mysterious circumstances. CAP believes that there must be other cases which go unreported by the media. When CAP contacted the Insurance Services of Malaysia for statistics we were told that they “do not collate such statistics from the industry”.

According to the US Fire Administration there were 215,500 car fires in the year 2010, resulting in 310 deaths, 1,590 injuries and a loss of US$1,376 million.

In Malaysia, the following car fires were reported by the media in the last 8 months:

— In September 2011, a Lamborghini Gallardo was reduced to ashes at Bukit Damansara while the owner was taking the car for a warm-up spin.

When CAP wrote to BOMBA enquiring what was the cause of the fire, we were told that it was due to a technical fault. The Ministry of Transport replied, based on the BOMBA and JPJ reports, that it was due to fuel leak. Such replies are simply not good enough an explanation of what is at fault and whether the car manufacturer was liable.

— In October 2011 a Peugeot Sport 308 which had been in the garage of the owner suddenly burst into flames at midnight.

— In March this year a Ferrari F430 while travelling along the highway near Mantin was destroyed by fire.

— A Porche Boxter Sports also experienced a fire in Malaysia while it was being parked in March this year.

— In October 2010, a Honda Civic 2.0L exploded into flames 2 hours after it had been parked in the garage of the owner in Sungei Petani.

BOMBA put out the fire and in their report said that the fire started from the engine. Honda Malaysia reported that they did not find any unusual symptoms to cause the fire. The insurance company removed the wreckage and paid the claims but did not give any technical report. The car was never seen again. The owner was unhappy that she was not given a proper report and finally complained to CAP.

— In April this year, a van was reported to have burst into flames along the North-South expressway, near Sungiei Buloh Hospital.

— In January this year a bus ferrying passengers burst into flames near Malacca.

— In April this year, a SUV exploded when the owner started the car in front of his house, in KL. He died a few days later.

It is surprising that exotic cars made up a high percentage of these car fires. When expensive cars have such poor record of fire safety, how safe are ordinary cars? It seems that cars are not designed and manufactured safe.

When a safety defect is reported to manufacturers the customers expect them to take it seriously and do an in-depth investigation. However, this seldom or never happens in Malaysia. Instead, manufacturers distance themselves from the issue after a brief visual examination and give a one sentence statement.

The authorities should take this seriously and put in place penalties for violations by manufacturers and suppliers. An exclusive independent agency should be set up to cater to recall activities for road vehicles in line with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in USA.

When modifications are done to a vehicle it has to be approved by the Road Transport Department. Repair to cars also may cause potential problems.

Therefore, workshops and auto workers should be certified for the services. Auto spare parts, especially electrical parts and cables, should conform to SIRIM Standards.

CAP calls on the authorities to implement the following:

— Set up a body to register and investigate all vehicle fires, determine causes and seek ways to remedy the problem.

— Proper procedures should be in place for total write-off of vehicles.

— Car owners should be provided with a full report of the investigations.

— Compile statistics on vehicle safety defect and fires.

— The compiled data should be used to ensure new vehicles rolling out of plants are manufactured safe.

— Ensure spare parts in the market conform to safety standards.

— Auto workshops should be certified to conform to good standards of service.

— Automotive technicians should be certified before they handle safety parts of cars.

— Set up a recall mechanism with an exclusive agency to deal with all car recall activities.

— Penalties should be put in place for violations by manufacturers and suppliers.

Press Statement, 17 May 2012