A Sydney woman says she is too terrified and traumatised to ever sit in another Jeep again after narrowly escaping her Wrangler, which spontaneously burst into flames.
Kate Anderson and her partner Chris decided to enjoy a daytrip on Sunday away from the chaos of Bondi before the working year began, with a swim at Thirroul near Wollongong.
The fashion designer said the couple began to smell smoke on the drive back along the M1 towards the city but confessed the scent was more akin to a bushfire than an engine fire — a smell all too familiar for Australians in early January.
Five minutes later, Chris, who was driving the well-cared for Wrangler that had been serviced in late August, was fortunately seduced by a stall on the side of the road selling boxes of mangoes.
When they pulled over, he inspected the bonnet as smoke began to stream from the engine and two men working at the fruit stand spotted flames dripping from beneath the vehicle.
“They yelled to him and said to get your girlfriend out of the car,” Ms Anderson told NCA NewsWire.
“So I turned the ignition off and grabbed our phones and sunglasses and took shelter where the fruit stand was.
“Within 10-15 minutes, the whole car was up in flames. I’ve never seen something burn that quickly.”
An off-duty firefighter who happened to be driving past helped the couple clear the area as flames poured from the sudden wreckage.
“There was a lot of adrenaline and emotion running through the body. Lucky Chris likes mangoes,” the fashion designer said jokingly, still traumatised and shaken by the horrific experience.
“Watching your only asset go up in flames is awful, but also just the thought that we could have been in the car.
“You can replace material items and you can replace cars but you can’t replace human beings.”
Ms Anderson said she would be forever grateful for the kindness of the strangers who helped her and Chris to safety as the fireball consumed the sky above the vehicle.
She’s also appreciative of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA), the manufacturer of Jeeps, who contacted her soon after the incident promising to conduct a thorough review of the cause of the fire.
But the fashion designer said she couldn’t comprehend how a car bought for $42,000 about six years ago, which was regularly serviced and had only travelled 35,000km, could spontaneously explode into such a horrific fireball.
“I’m now terrified when I even see a Jeep drive past me. It’s hard to envisage owning a Jeep ever again,” Ms Anderson said.
“I keep thinking about it and it feels like a dream and then I look at the photos and I can’t believe it happened.”
The couple only emerged with their phones and sunglasses with all other items destroyed.
“Replaceable items, but still worth a fair bit of money and more than what they’re going to pay out for contents of the car,” she said.
The car manufacturer told NCA NewsWire it had “immediately commenced a review” of the incident after it was made aware on Monday of the exploding engine.
“FCA Australia is relieved no one was injured as a result of this incident and is empathetic to the customer’s situation,” a company spokesperson said.
“FCA Australia takes customer care and safety very seriously and will work closely with the customer to ensure a timely resolution.”
But the reliability of the manufacturer has a notorious record among consumers and car experts in Australia, riddled with complaints, recalls and customer service failings.
Reporting by News Corp in 2019 revealed two families had been left stranded with faulty Grand Cherokees.
Both failed vehicles had cost more than $50,000 with the manufacturer initially refusing to offer compensation.
Following the reporting, News Corp was contacted by dozens of Jeep owners across Australia claiming to have similar stories of faulty vehicles and ineffective customer service.
The 2018/19 Jeep JL Wranglers were recalled by the consumer watchdog due to a failed transmission harness.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission claimed the risk was significant because it was capable of causing a vehicle fire or it could possibly disable safety systems and lead to an engine stall.
“This could result in a crash without warning, increasing the risk of injury to vehicle occupants and other road users,” the ACCC report said at the time.