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This horrific story is why you should take recalls seriously

A 2002 Ford Escape caught fire while aboard a cargo ship

The 2002 Ford Escape can light its own fire. ORIGINAL PHOTO FROM FORD

Despite originally having minimal media coverage, the ongoing legal battle between BMW, Ford and the US government has finally found its way into the media spotlight. This all started three years ago when a Ford SUV owner—unaware of the safety recall on her old vehicle—had it transported via a cargo vessel in Europe. During the journey, the Escape caught fire while situated below deck, incinerating $45 million worth of cars and burning a huge part of the ship as well as more precious goods, roughly amounting to another $55 million in damages. Fortunately, there were no reported casualties from this incident.

Apparently, the 2002 Escape had a tendency to start a fire on its own while the engine was off. From the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration:

On certain sport-utility vehicles equipped with antilock brakes (ABS), the ABS module connector may have missing or dislodged wire seals. This condition could allow contamination to enter the module connector, creating a potential for an electrical short. An electrical short might cause an ABS malfunction that would illuminate the ABS warning light, and in some cases, the module may overheat resulting in burning odor, smoke and/or fire. This condition could occur either when the vehicle ignition switch is in the off position or while the vehicle is being operated.

Due to the details of the recall and the investigation surrounding the source of the fire, the Ford SUV was pinned as the culprit, leading BMW and insurers to file a lawsuit and claim compensation from Ford, as the ship carried brand-new production cars by BMW and Daimler, not to mention military and government vehicles. From Jalopnik:

All told, the fire damaged 187 BMWs worth $7.3 million, 757 Daimler vehicles worth $33.1 million, and a fleet of 221 personally owned vehicles valued at $4.75 million, according to legal filings. By the National Transportation Safety Board’s account, there was another $45 million of cargo lost and $10 million in damage to the boat—$100 million of damage overall.

The owner was oblivious to the 10 recall notices that had been sent out for her vehicle and which needed immediate attention

The Escape owner was apparently employed by the US Department of Agriculture and had been based overseas for some years. She was thus oblivious to the 10 recall notices that had been sent out for her vehicle and which needed immediate attention. She hasn’t been officially found liable for the incident, and it is still unclear how the litigation will eventually pan out.

One thing is crystal clear: Recalls are no laughing matter. This mishap should be a wake-up call for both the automotive industry and its customers. Once a recall has been officially released by a manufacturer, distributors and dealers should hasten steps in ensuring that every single owner gets notified as quickly as humanly possible, with persistent follow-ups until all affected vehicles have been appropriately fixed. Easier said than done, but there’s definitely room for improvement here.

As most tragically demonstrated by the above-mentioned incident, even just one overlooked unit can endanger the lives and destroy the property of the owner and other people, capable of causing a catastrophe of unimaginable proportions. To all car owners out there, be responsible by staying informed about safety-related issues that might involve your vehicle. And never, ever ignore a product recall.

Heed the cliché: Better safe than sorry.

Manskee Nascimento

Manskee is a music-loving petrolhead who specializes in car care. He finds peace in long drives to and from his home in La Union.