Apologies in advance for the wall of text, this is the first time I've sought help online as we're being given the run around.
2.5yr old car, well looked after and regularly serviced, spontaneously caught fire while driving on freeway. Car dealership not honouring any warranty/guarantee. What are my rights? Do I have to prove there was a fault in the car or is the fact it caught fire enough?
My partner's car, a 2.5yr old SUV worth ~$40k (bought new from dealer) caught fire while she was driving. We were moving house, I was in a car about 40 minutes behind her, and she had driven around 700km (with breaks every couple of hours) before the car started making a funny sound while travelling on the freeway. She called me for advice and after speaking for about 10 seconds, she noticed smoke coming from the car. I told her to pull over and call 000 - which she did. While pulling over, a warning message came up stating the car was overheating. After pulling over, the fire was put out by the fire brigade.
The fire was under the bonnet of the car and we have photos to show the underside plastic melted, but are otherwise unsure of the extent of the damage, as we are not proficient in cars and didn't get to look closely before it was towed. It has been suggested to us by multiple people that have seen the car, that it was oil that caught fire.
The car was towed initially to a crash repairer, and assessed for a couple of days. They were not able to fully assess the car there.
We contacted the dealer where the car was bought (Dealer A) and were told to contact the manufacturer directly (Parent Company). Parent Company called us back and asked to move the car to the local dealer of that car brand (Dealer B). The car has been at that dealer for over 3 weeks under the pretense that it will be assessed for a warranty/consumer guarantee claim.
We have recently been told by Dealer B that they will not investigate any further because they believe they have found the cause of the fire - the radiator cap was found to be off when the car was towed to them. They could not find any damage to the cap on inspection. They state they have assessed the car for 2 hours and will not assess it any further because they are satisfied that this is the cause of the fire. If we want them to assess further it will cost us $140/hr to hire them to do so. They say this is not their fault and not a warranty claim.
We dispute their explanation on a number of fronts:
No-one has touched the radiator cap other than the servicer (Dealer A) before the fire, in which case it would be their fault and should be covered by them.
We deduced that it is more plausible that the cap was removed by the fire brigade after the fire was put out.
Presuming the cap was removed, it seems implausible to me that the car could drive 700km on a hot day (was 45 degrees at times that day) without issue and then suddenly and unexpectedly fail.
Suppose, then, that the cap was instead removed sometime during the trip - which is also implausible because the radiator would have been hot, and my partner simply did not remove the cap nor did anyone else (why would she???). How long could a car drive without the cap on?
Lastly, the warning lights never came on before the issue started and one would expect the car to say it is running low on coolant and/or overheating before such a critical failure.
We have had a lot of back and forth between Dealer B and us. We actually got my uncle to 'represent' us because he is a lawyer and knows cars, and was eager to help. But unfortunately this has become too much work for him to do and now it's back on us to sort it out.
We've tried to get the car assessed but there's no-one privately that can do it and everyone has suggested going through our insurer.
For the record, the car IS insured but we have concerns that it will be a write-off and market value is less than what we would need to replace it (a possible loss of $8k-10k). This would also cost us the excess, any other insurance costs (eg the premiums for the rest of the insurance year) and increased premiums/loss of no-claim-bonus.
My partner had planned to look for work at our new home but has been out of work because we now only have 1 car and this whole fiasco has taken a lot of her time. We have arranged to meet with Dealer B in a few days and I want to be prepared.
My questions are:
What are our rights here?
Do I have to prove the cause of the fire is a faulty car or is the burden of proof on the car company/dealer?
Furthermore, is their explanation enough when it seems so easy to dispute/implausible?
Do we have the right to insist they complete the assessment of the vehicle?
What would be considered a reasonable time-frame for the dispute to be resolved? They have had the car for 3+ weeks and we seem to have gotten nowhere.
What should we do next?
1) Cut our losses and get insurance to pay out.
2) Stick to our guns
2a) Call ACCC
2b) Get a local lawyer and go to town
2c) Keep going ourselves
to make matters worse..
One of the first passers-by that stopped, while the car was on fire, stole my partner's wallet, handbag and a bag of valuables (that we ironically had decided to transport ourselves because we thought it safer than with the removalists…). He also spent up big on her credit/debit cards.
So this fire cost us a hell of a lot more than just the car!!
I am grateful for any help or advice anyone can provide. Thanks for reading this far!
Thanks everyone for your input! I've been very busy in the last few days with work and haven't had a chance to reply to everyone as I'd like.
The update is as follows:
- It's NOT a jeep, nor a tuscon.
- I'm not going to name the make because if the cause of the fire is something like rodent wire damage etc I do not want to tarnish the name of the company.
- I have spoken again with the dealer and they have agreed to examine the car properly. This is after learning a few more facts.
- The fire burnt through the bottom tray of the engine. And the radiator cap was found down there too. But it was not damaged, not by fire or by impact into the bottom of the bonnet.
- The damage is estimated at $20k.
- The fire was engine oil. There is evidence of burnt oil but not sure where it has come from.
- There was coolant was splashed all over the engine. It looks like it either exploded or boiled over but can't say which at this stage.
- The onboard computer logged only 2 errors - one was the overheating error that came up after the smoke appeared (as mentioned above). And an immobilisation/theft warning (that was presumably triggered by the tow truck or something).
- Unfortunately, these errors are not time-stamped but it does prove there was no other warning that came up before the fire, and there was no low coolant or overheating until some sort of catastrophic failure.
- So far, there is still no cause of the fire. No cause of the coolant cap coming off.
Added photo of underside of engine bay