ORLANDO, Fla. — A Jeep Gladiator suddenly burst into flames as it was cruising State Road 520 near Christmas last month. The fire sparked as Jennifer Marion was driving it home to Brevard County following a day of work.
Marion told Action 9, “I started smelling a little bit of smoke with the windows down.” When she pulled off to the side of the road she realized it was a full blown fire. “So, seeing sparks underneath and flame was there I got on my phone and I ran,” she said.
The fire ripped through her 2021 Gladiator and the trailer she was using for her mobile pet grooming business. In a matter of minutes, her Jeep and almost everything she needed for her business were gone.
Marion reached out to Action 9 because at the time of the fire, the Jeep pick-up truck was under a recall for an issue that put it under the risk of fire. The Jeep Gladiator with manual transmission had been her dream truck. She said it was fun to drive on her time off and great for towing at work.
“I like Jeeps, a lot of my friends have Jeeps. So, I wanted to be part of the ‘in’ crowd, I guess,” Marion said.
Model years 2020 through 2023 Jeep Gladiators with manual transmissions are under a safety recall. National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) documents show, “the clutch pressure plate may overheat and fracture” and “overheated clutch components may increase the risk of a fire.”
Michael Brooks, Executive Director at The Center for Auto Safety said, “It’s something that we believe the government should be taking a closer look at.”
In this case, a report from Orange County Fire Rescue shows the heat source in the fire as a “spark, ember, or flame from operating equipment.” It lists a factor contributing to ignition as “electrical failure, malfunction, other.”
Jeep’s parent company, Stellantis, initially denied responsibility for the fire. In an email from July 5th to Jennifer Marion, it wrote, “The mere existence of a recall is not proof as to the cause of the fire.” It went on to say the fire department report stating the “cause as electrical only adds further uncertainty.”
But Orange County Fire Rescue told us the phrase “electrical failure, malfunction, other” is just a drop-down category in their report and it doesn’t necessarily mean the fire was the result of an electrical issue.
“How does your car just start on fire when you’re driving it? That’s the part I don’t understand,” Marion said.
Stellantis told Action 9 it wouldn’t know what caused the fire without a physical inspection.
While Jennifer Marion is frustrated with Jeep, she still likes the brand enough that she just bought a 2023 Jeep Gladiator. Her new truck has automatic transmission, though.
Marion said, “I still want to be in the Jeep family. I do like the vehicle.”
NHTSA documents show dealerships have pulled manual transmission versions of the Gladiator from their lots and right now there is no remedy for the recall.
Michael Brooks told Action 9, “The consumer is basically forced to do their own risk assessment and analysis of the defect to determine whether or not they should be driving the car.”
Marion now wonders if the clutch problem is to blame for putting her through this traumatic incident, that now has her $30,0000 in the hole since much of her work equipment wasn’t covered by insurance.
“I’m in the negative, which I don’t feel is fair because I didn’t start the fire. My Jeep caught on fire,” she said.
At this point, Jeep hasn’t said when it expects a remedy for the recall. It also pointed out, its recall notice shows in some circumstances the driver may smell a clutch odor or experience clutch slippage prior to the clutch pressure plate failure.
As for Jennifer Marion’s case, after Action 9 inquired about it, Stellantis sent a statement saying its denial letter to her was sent prematurely and the case was still under investigation. The company is now exploring a resolution.
Here’s the entire text of the email Stellantis sent to Jennifer Marion on July 5th 2023:
We have reviewed the information you have provided and can certainly appreciate your concerns.
However, the mere existence of a recall is not proof as to the cause of a fire. Fire investigation protocol is very clear as to the efficacy of fire cause and origin determination when there is such heavy damage. The Fire Dept. report stating the cause as electrical only adds further uncertainty.
Your insurance company has a contractual obligation to you to honor your policy. As stated previously, if they have paid a claim, then rights of recovery, including any deductible(s) paid, rest with them.
Should they decide to contact us, we will review any materials they provide in evaluating their claims. In the meantime, we are unable to offer any further consideration in this matter.
While we regret your dissatisfaction, we hope you can understand our position.
Here’s the entire statement Stellantis sent to Action 9 on July 19th 2023:
The denial letter was sent prematurely. The case was still under investigation. We are now exploring a resolution. We sincerely regret any hardship incurred by our valued customer.
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