Two Year Old SUV Caught Fire While Driving, Dealership Refusing to Cover under Warranty/Consumer Guarantee

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.

TLDR Situation:
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?

In detail:
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?
Options:
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
3) Bikies?

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!

UPDATE
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.

UPDATE 2
Added photo of underside of engine bay
https://ibb.co/dk8RP8t

Comments

        •  

          Was it "news"?
          .

  • +2 votes
    • +2 votes

      Suggested Tucson above and got downvoted 🤷‍♂️

      • +5 votes

        A lot of Hyundai/Kia fanboys in Australia - there's this fella on YouTube that pretends to be a reviewer but is pushing them really hard because of his car broker business.

        • +1 vote

          lol…. ;-)

        • -1 vote

          and he claims that the Sportage looks ugly but has never looked into a mirror!

        •  

          Yup, I don't mind the Korean cars but I still don't trust them (have temporarily owned a few), the jury is still out. All in all I'd generally go a Japanese car over a Korean, at least for now.

          If we're talking new with long warranty, then it's a different story, but I'd still like vehicles to hold up for over 10 years/200k without huge issues.

    • +1 vote

      Different fault for the Tucson though… electrical fault in the ABS unit not the radiator.

  • +2 votes

    Very unlikely this occured from a coolant leak from a 'cap' being removed. Coolant smokes like crazy when hits hot surfaces. Its mostly gylcol so lits like ecig vapor. You would notice this on the highway unless you are completely blind and not checking rear view mirror. (I've had a coolant hose blow off before on the highway). Moreover if the engine ran out of coolant it would very likely cease up before it would catch fire.
    Most likely a cracked fuel line in the engine bay. or sudden excessive oil / transmission oil leak hitting exhaust manifold.

  •  

    Contact head office and lodge a complaint.
    I did this with my father's car when he had an issue and they took action. You won't get anywhere with the local dealership. My dad spent weeks fighting them to no avail.

  •  

    Pull the diagnostics if possible. That will tell you some info on the temp if there were alerts. With the cap off, alerts will be well in advance of the fire.

    An overheating engine makes odd noises before stopping. I thought overheat protection was standard these days?
    It was in my 2007 PUG.

    •  

      Too late if he took it to the dealer, they would have deleted all traces to screw his chances of a recall claim etc.

    •  

      Yes only the one relevant error that came up after the sound/smoke. Sadly nothing timestamped, but thankfully we had already made statements that included when the error came up as the car was pulling over. The error was unmissable in that it overwrote the display completely. There were no other errors logged except for one that presumably occurred when they were trying to tow the car.

  • +3 votes

    No photos, No model, No details, No Op.

    Waste time.

    • +1 vote

      OP username checks out, just the tip.

  •  

    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.

    Don't quote me on this, but I think most insurers have new for old replacement if you're the first owner and its still under warranty.

    •  

      Some have a 2 year limited km clause, others a 15k km clause etc, very difficult to get that kind of deal these days, several years ago it was not uncommon. Also new for old only meant it was more costly to repair than to replace, so most insurers were repairing some pretty badly damaged cars, pretty darn funny.

      •  

        Sadly it's 2 years new-for-old :(

    •  

      I don’t think this is avoidable. If you won’t take the manufacturer to court and try to prove a fault then you have had 2.5 years from a new car and the market value is of course below what you paid for it.

  • +1 vote

    Why would insurance cover the car? I thought insurance was for accidents?

    Shouldn't mechanical failures be cover under the car's warranty?

    • +1 vote

      Mechanical failure no. But fire due to mechanical issues will cover. At least the insurance companies that i know of.

      However for OP case it might be too late to lodge a claim.

      •  

        I’m with NRMA and when I lodged my last claim they said there is no time limit as long as I retain the evidence.

      •  

        Thankfully there's no limit on time for making a claim. And we've let the insurer know about it, just haven't officially made a claim yet.

    •  

      This was essentially our thoughts too.

  •  
  •  

    I don’t get this…

    Best case senario with deal you get a similar market valued car in return.

    If you go through insurance (provided you have comprehensive) the only difference would be you pay the excess?

    You can probably try to argue manufacturer defect and the insurance company should fight for you. If they win you won’t have to pay excess.

  •  

    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 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.

    • +1 vote

      I disagree with your conclusion that the temperature error did not appear before the fire as you yourself state it was not time stamped. As other posters mentioned earlier the driver could have easily missed the high temp warning and continued to drive until the car caught fire. If the coolant was empty then could have the engine overheated at caught fire? Can low coolant level result in an increase in steam and force the radiator cover off the radiator?

      It seems there is some reason why you aren’t naming the manufacturer other than what you say above because it doesn’t make sense. You could perhaps say the engine model instead of the manufacturer of the vehicle if the engine is shared across models.

      •  

        The temperature error was seen and reported to the police, crash repairer and dealer ahead of the computer being read. It wasn't ignored, it was witnessed to occur after the issue began as I've written above. Aside from my partner's statements, I can verify that while I was on the phone I heard the alarm start and my partner tell me she saw it come up.
        I'm not sure why you're so suspicious of us. Why would we want our car to catch on fire? Especially with all our valuables and our dog in the car. And if it were our fault, wouldn't we have just gone straight through insurance as to get it over and done with as quickly as possible. The fact we're pushing to find the cause of the fire is counterintuitive to getting away with something dodgy.
        As for the car make etc I've tried to explain my position but if you can't get it then I guess that's on you. I'll look up the engine model when I can and if it's not identifiable to this particular car then I'll try and share it.

      • +1 vote

        Cars don't catch fire if you keep driving them when they overheat. The engine will just seize with a serious overheat.

        •  

          Yeh, it was oil that caught fire. So oil had to have got to flashpoint temperature or an ignition in contact with the oil was required. Neither should really happen with an overheated engine I would have thought, and certainly not one without any warning of overheating from the car itself.

          • +1 vote

            @Justtip: Is it a diesel? You really aren't providing enough info to help out. If a diesel, dpf can get extremely hot during a regen.

            •  

              @brendanm: Don't bother. Apparently the exact model of vehicle is irrelevant to the OP.

              My guess is they've been forced to sign an NDA by the manufacturer to ensure the news doesn't get out before they have the situation under control.

              Happens all the time.

              •  

                @mab5125: Wow, that's a big assumption and if it were true I would just tell you we have an NDA. And why would we sign one if we were quite literally getting nothing back in return? Your theories are getting wilder and wilder. Wouldn't it be easier to consider what I'm telling you as the truth instead of trying to come up with wild conspiracy theories to prove I'm lying? Smh

                •  

                  @Justtip: The only wild theory I've seen on this thread is that a 2.5 year old car caught fire under 'normal freeway driving' and without any warning.

                  The fact that you are so strongly guarding the make and model proves there's more at play than you're willing to admit.

                  I've seen posts naming companies over shipments being late by a day or two or shopback refunds of 13 cents not being honoured. I'm just amazed that something as serious as a car catching fire is so closely guarded.

                  Anyway I've wasted enough time here. I look forward to hearing about the recall in a few months time :)

              • +1 vote

                @mab5125:

                My guess is they've been forced to sign an NDA by the manufacturer to ensure the news doesn't get out before they have the situation under control.

                Reminds me of a story where one guy's falcon's tranny blew because the ring gear slipped and spun around inside the shaft thingy( the name eludes me). Ford accused the driver of trashing the car right before it happened but the guy behind the falcon driver had dash cam footage of it happening and shows the entire time before it happened that he was not thrashing the car, so all that got blown away…I don't know how it got settled but it was definitely covered up so they didnt have to recall all affected falcons back to fix this issue….can't seem to find an article about it… He probably got paid the entire worth of the car including whatever's in it at the time. He had some golf clubs he wanted back that were in the boot but Ford was like "Nah, beat it son, you got your money now shooo!"

                •  

                  @Zachary: Yep, these things happen a lot more than people know!

                  I'd still fight for my golf clubs though! Haha

                  •  

                    @mab5125: Hahhaha I would too especially if they're like collectors limited edition or whatever that have some sort of sentimental value to you.

                    Can you imagine how many unknown potential recalls car manufacturer's have tried to cover up so they wouldn't have to pay up?

            •  

              @brendanm: Petrol

              •  

                @Justtip: No clue then. I've seen oil on engines overheated to the point of seizing not catch fire.

  •  

    Check your insurance a lot of companies offer new for old in the first 3years then you have to get changed to market value or agreed value

    •  

      Sadly that's only within 2 years for our insurer

  •  

    If you give out the model, you might be surprised to find out someone else who went through the same ordeal as you. It's not a name and shame. It's more bringing awareness to others. Good luck in your fight!

    • -1 vote

      Thanks for the well wishes. That's a fair point, but so far none of the research I've done has suggested this has occurred before - so either its the first time, or others are doing the same thing as me. We have specifically asked the dealer if this has happened this model before but they've assured us it hasnt. I'll keep looking and if I discover any pattern I'll let you all know.

  • +3 votes

    I see we have a picture now. Stamped steel lower sump with that style of oil level sensor suggests a Hyundai/Kia. Can't think of anything else off the top of my head that uses that combo.

  • +1 vote

    Don't understand why he can't upload a photo of the front. What is he hiding?

    •  

      Apparently he doesnt want to bad mouth the brand and model of car….

  • +1 vote

    Any update?