Firemen douse the flames after Nivesh Sewpersadh’s Ford Kuga caught fire while he was driving. Picture: INLSA
Durban – Ford SA has undertaken to conduct free safety inspections on all Kuga SUVs that have been sold in South Africa following reports of them exploding.

The manufacturer met with the National Consumer Commission last week and in a joint statement issued on Tuesday, said the inspections would form part of “precautionary measures” instituted at the insistence of the commission after serious allegations of engine overheating surfaced in the media in recent weeks.

Commission spokesman Trevor Hattingh said Ford would report back to the commission with its findings by the end of February 2017. But Reservoir Hills resident Nivesh Sewpersadh, who escaped death when his Kuga caught fire in Westville North on Saturday, has one question for Ford: How many more disasters before a recall?

Sewpersadh, 39, said he had not slept a wink since the incident.

“I have flashbacks of the incident and what could have happened if I did not get out in time. What if my two daughters were in the car with me? Would I have been able to get them out in time?”

Last week,The Post reported on the one-year anniversary of the death of Reshall Jimmy, whose Kuga exploded while he was travelling to George.

Before this, a Johannesburg woman’s Kuga had caught alight. Other Kuga users, on the Facebook page Ford Vehicles Burning, wrote of similar incidents.

Warning lights

Sewpersadh said that before his 2014 model car was due for a service, its engine and EcoBoost lights had come on and the key remote battery was low.

He booked his car in for service on 8 December at Barloworld Ford Pinetown and collected it later that afternoon. As he was driving home, the warning display on the dashboard indicated the key battery was low.

The following day, while returning home from work in Pinetown, the service engine light came back on.

“The EcoBoost light had also come back on and the key remote was showing low again.”

He said he called the dealer, but without assessing the vehicle, the branch decided the software needed upgrading. As they were unable to pick up the SUV from his office or provide a courtesy car, Sewpersadh drove the vehicle over the weekend.

Formal complaint

On December 12, he lodged a formal complaint with Ford SA, but when he did not hear from them, he demanded his case be escalated. A day later, he said he met the Pinetown branch’s financial manager.

“He said the battery was low and there was a possible air leak in the engine, but they couldn't change the battery as they had no stock and needed to order it," Sewpersadh said. “He said if the lights came back on, they would do a more detailed diagnosis. Before I left, I asked him if the car was safe to drive and he said yes.”

But the lights remained on and on Saturday, while heading towards the Ford branch in Pinetown, he noticed smoke from the exhaust.

“I switched the car off. That’s when I saw the smoke and flames from the engine. I managed to grab the service book and my cellphone and ran across the road. By then, the Kuga was on fire.”

Sewpersadh believes the fire started near the engine.

“I’m lucky to be alive but the next person may not be as lucky.”

Class action

Meanwhile, Reshall’s brother, Kaveen, who hired forensic investigators to probe the cause of the fire that resulted in his sibling’s death, said: “My objective is for Ford to do a recall to prevent further loss of lives.”

Kaveen said 28 South Africans, including his family, were part of a planned class action suit against Ford. They had so far received reports of 33 Ford Kuga fires in South Africa this year.

Barloworld Ford Pinetown declined to comment, but Ford SA’s spokeswoman, Alisea Chetty, said: “We are aware of the incident in Durban this past weekend. We are in communication with the owner, Mr Sewpersadh, and are investigating the incident.”

Chetty said that if a safety recall was needed, Ford would “move quickly”.

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