The excerpted article was written by · CBC News
When Alan Bassett picked up his new 2018 GMC Sierra from a dealership in Alberta on July 19, 2018, he had no idea it would be a flaming heap of metal less than 30 minutes later.
“I heard a pop and my wife, who was driving ahead of me, pulled off [the road] and shouted, “Get Out! You’re on fire!” Bassett said. He then pulled over and “watched it burn to the ground.”
Bassett, who lives in Turner Valley, Alta., said the fire first appeared under the hood on the driver’s side and engulfed the vehicle within three minutes.
“I couldn’t believe that something I had paid fifty-some thousand dollars for 30 minutes ago was going up in smoke,” he said.
Bassett filed an insurance claim and a week after the fire, GMC told his insurance company to cancel the claim. The automaker made a deal to replace the truck and took it to investigate, but Bassett doesn’t know what that investigation revealed.
Transport Canada is the federal government department responsible for vehicle safety. Manufacturers are not obligated to report incidents involving vehicles they manufacture. However, they are required to inform the department and the vehicle owner “when they become aware of a defect that may affect the safe operation of a motor vehicle.”
George Iny with the Automobile Protection Association (APA), a national consumer advocacy organization, is worried some automakers make consumer complaints “disappear” by not logging them. He said this keeps the manufacturer blind to patterns that would reveal safety risks they’re required to address.
“We can do much better than the situation APA sees today, in which some automakers bury safety-related complaints by not recording them properly and not reporting them to Transport Canada, and misinform other consumers who experience the same problem,” said Iny.
Iny pointed to Mercedes-Benz, the Smart car’s manufacturer, who told several owners of burnt Smart vehicles that their experience was unique. Iny said the fires were not reported to Transport Canada by Mercedes-Benz, but the APA and CBC News had reports of six vehicles damaged or destroyed by fire.
On Aug. 22, mechanic Jonathan Gillingham was driving his 2015 GMC Yukon XL in downtown Fort McMurray, Alta., when he smelled something and pulled over.
“As soon as I came to a stop, I could see the smoke billowing out of the hood,” he said. “As soon as I opened the door and looked under the vehicle, I saw light coming from the engine bay, so I knew there was a fire.”
Gillingham said three other drivers rushed to put out the blaze with fire extinguishers, but it did “absolutely nothing, which as a mechanic tells me it’s fuel-related in some fashion.”
He said flames shot out of the back window and within three minutes, the truck was engulfed. In 10 minutes, there was nothing left but the vehicle’s frame.
Gillingham said the truck is his wife’s vehicle that she uses to transport their three kids. He doesn’t know if she would have pulled over after smelling something.
“Would it have been a minute later, two minutes later? And if so, how much time would she have had to get my children unstrapped and out of the backseat before there were flames coming out the back window?” he said.
After the fire, Gillingham said he called GMC for six to seven weeks, leaving multiple messages each week. He finally got a response on Oct. 7 from an official telling him the cause of the fire couldn’t be determined. The matter was settled through insurance and Gillingham is frustrated the company didn’t provide additional compensation.