Case of the Month: An SUV Fire

May 1, 2014 by

GEI was assigned to inspect the insured’s 2005 Ford Excursion and to determine the point of origin and cause of an engine fire.

 

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According to Edmunds, the Ford Excursion holds the distinction of being the longest and heaviest sport-utility vehicle ever produced.   With seating for up to nine and a tow rating of 11,000 pounds (when fully equipped), the Excursion was great for buyers with super-sized hauling needs.   The Excursion was built on Ford’s F-250 Super Duty truck platform and, in 2005, the most powerful engine offered was a 325-hp, 6.0-liter turbodiesel V8.   However, 2005 was the last year that Excursions were built, primarily falling victim to high gas prices.

Our expert examined the exterior of the vehicle. The heat and paint damage found at the center rear area of the hood was the only exterior body damage.

 

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The remainder of the body panels were found in very good condition.   The exterior of the vehicle was highly modified with aftermarket headlight and taillight assemblies, aftermarket wheels and tires, a painted grille, an aftermarket front power supply plug, an aftermarket front exterior speaker/siren, aftermarket strobe lights in the front and rear lighting assemblies, aftermarket side and rear flasher lights, and aftermarket GPS antennas.

Our expert then examined the interior of the vehicle.   No pre-fire issues, failures, or fire activities were found in the interior, which was also highly modified.   Modifications included an aftermarket stereo head unit, Citizen Band radio, and various aftermarket controllers’ mounting holes.

He then examined the engine compartment.  He found fire damage at the center of the engine, turbocharger, and various upper rear wires and hoses, with an emphasis on the upper rear engine and engine compartment wiring harness.   This was also the center of the fire area.

 

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The batteries were undamaged and disconnected.   Most of the supporting aftermarket power cables and wires had been disconnected prior to our inspection.   The alternator was found slightly fire damaged on its left rear side facing the fire but still turned. No short-circuits or other pre-fire issues were found at the engine compartment wiring harnesses.

Step by step, he examined the power steering lines and hoses, the air conditioning system, the radiator and its hoses, the hydraulic brake system, the automatic transmission system, and the fuel injection system.   None of these systems caused or contributed to the fire.

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The point-of-origin of the fire was located at the center of the engine near the turbocharger vane control oil pressure line junction.   The vane control oil line at the intake manifold failed due to a wear and tear issue, which was evidenced by metal fatigue and cracking.

 

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The cause of the fire was the ignition of the leaking vane control line oil by the heat of the turbocharger.   The fire remained localized in this immediate area within the engine compartment.

 

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No other contributory fire causes such as an act of vandalism or the use of incendiary materials were located within the vehicle.

One other possible contributing factor could have been the vehicle mileage.   The electronic odometer was unreadable, but the mileage on a service sticker dated a year earlier was 140,287.

Expert of the Month: Tom Lepper

Mr. Lepper’s areas of expertise include auto/tractor trailer/RV/motorcycle, vehicular component failures, brakes, suspension, power trains, air bags, fuel systems, vehicular fire cause and origin, tire failure analysis, and vehicle theft and forced entry issues.   He has been involved with automobiles and racecars, which he drives, for more than thirty years.   He is a Sports Car Club of America, and Porsche Club of America, Safety Technical Inspector, and a member of the Southwestern Association of Technical Accident Investigators.

He has completed seminars in Bosch CDR technology, Vehicle Fires (Lee S. Cole and Associates), Tire Failure and Analysis (National Police Training Institute), and Accident Reconstruction and Low Speed Impact Classes (Southwestern Association of Technical Accident Investigators).  He is a registered locksmith (#LOC 13420) with the Bureau of Security & Investigative Services. He is also a member of the Association of Investigative Locksmiths (IAIL) and the Association of Locksmiths of America (ALOA #61458).

He has handled more than five thousand cases relating to issues involving automobile component failures, thefts, or fires.   His experience includes extensive photography and video use.   He has extensive deposition and trial experience where his hands-on experience is very effective.   He is also a Bosch Certified Event Data Recorder Technician.

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