The frequency of non-crash fire claims for passenger vehicles subsequently recalled was 19% higher than non-recalled models, according to the Highway Loss Data Institute. After the recall, the difference in non-crash fire claim frequency dropped to 11%, the study also found.
The new study highlights the fact that recalls for other problems like improperly installed fuel hoses or faulty alternators can significantly reduce the risk of non-crash fires, but does not eliminate the risk entirely.
For this reason, notes the report, it is critical that owners pay attention to recall notices and get repairs for electrical issues or fuel system problems completed in a timely manner.
Specifically, the institute report found that the incidence of non-crash fire claims for 2007 to 2017 model passenger vehicles recalled for a fire-related defect was 14% higher than the frequency of claims for vehicles without a recall.
Industry-wide there have been approximately 62 non-crash fire-related recalls affecting 6.8 million vehicles from 2017 through early August 2018.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), approximately 25% of recalled vehicles never get repaired — leaving ample room for non-crash fires to occur due to a host of unaddressed problems.
In an effort to reduce non-crash fires, the institute and NHTSA have joined forces to identify vehicles that may have fire-related defects and need to be recalled. For example, in 2017 NHTSA requested non-crash fire claims data from the institute on the 2008 to 2009 Smart Fortwo cars after motorists' reports of engine compartment fires while driving or after turning off the ignition.
A subsequent institute analysis of 2008 to 2009 Smart Fortwo models found a sharply higher frequency of claims for non-crash fires for the microcar than other comparable vehicles.
Based on the NHTSA investigation, Mercedes-Benz issued a recall for nearly 43,000 2008 to 2009 Fortwo vehicles because the rear insulation mat in the engine compartment may deform, deteriorate, and loosen over time, allowing the mat to contact hot exhaust system components. This, in turn, could result in a vehicle fire.
Mercedes-Benz discontinued the gasoline-powered Smart Fortwo after the 2018 model year, and announced that the division would focus on the Smart Fortwo Electric Drive, which was introduced as a 2017 model.