NHTSA Investigating Reports of Mini Cooper Vehicle Fires

Federal safety officials are investigating a possible defect in certain Mini Cooper “S” cars that has led to increasing reports of vehicles catching fire—sometimes when they were not even running.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) launched a preliminary investigation on Oct. 11, after the agency’s Office of Defects Investigations (ODI) received a dozen complaints of fires that started in the engine compartments of 2007 and 2008 “S” models of the Mini Cooper, Cooper Clubman and Cooper Convertible.

Five of those fires reportedly caused vehicles to be totally destroyed, according to a statement from NHTSA, and eight complainants claimed that fires had broken out while their cars were parked, with the ignition off.

NHTSA officials say the number of complaints has picked up, with most of them coming within the past year. The agency says a preliminary evaluation will be conducted to gauge “the cause, scope and frequency of the alleged defect.”

ODI stated that it has also reviewed field reports submitted by manufacturers that relate to the alleged defect in the “S” models, a high-performance variant of the standard Mini Cooper made by BMW.

The automaker issued a recall in April for about 28,500 of the same model vehicles after reports that owners were burned by exhaust pipes while removing cargo from their trunks.

There were 50 complaints of people suffering burns, sometimes more than once, from the tips of exhaust pipes that extended beyond the vehicles’ rear bumper.

“The 50 injuries reported in this investigation include significant second-degree burns causing blistered and scarred skin and one incident (that) resulted in a third-degree burn,” according to ODI.

The recall applied to vehicles manufactured between Nov. 2006 and July 2008, according to an ODI statement that said dealers would install modified exhaust pipe tips that did not reach past the rear bumper.

Beyond the obvious safety concerns, vehicle defects can make life difficult for motorists in terms of their insurance coverage. Although motorists would likely not be found financially liable for damages that are proven to have been caused by defective automotive equipment, they could still face the sometimes lengthy process of seeking reimbursement under their automobile insurance coverage policy.

About Gregor McGavin
Gregor McGavin is an award-winning journalist who has reported across the country for such publications as The Associated Press, the Arizona Republic, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and the Press-Enterprise.

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