Vauxhall Zafira fires: latest on Zafira B model recalls

19 Jul, 2016 3:20pm Steve Fowler

Second round of Vauxhall Zafira B model recalls to start in early August, and will cost General Motors around £40 million

The second round of recalls on Vauxhall Zafira B models to protect vehicles from catching fire will start in the first week of August with Auto Express estimating the cost to General Motors at around £40 million.

Vauxhall's customer experience director Peter Hope and GM's senior chief Charles J Klein confirmed details of the second recall at a special hearing in front of the Transport Select Committee in July.

Addressing committee MPs, Hope said: "Our focus is on getting the safety recall completed. We don't have current plans for inconvenience and worry. We will address further steps" after the recall is complete.

"We have the first recorded case in a Zafira B that can be clearly attributed to the heating and ventilation fire that we are talking about here on the 11 February 2009." 

"We are truly sorry and I apologise for customers who have been inconvenienced."

The new fix - originally announced in May - aims to "improve the overall robustness of the system” by replacing the current soldered fuse resistor with a wax fuse resistor, reducing the opportunity for manipulation. All owners will be contacted with work scheduled to begin from the first week of August.

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With the estimate cost of around £40 million, a Vauxhall spokesman said: “Money is never any issue these days with General Motors as far as safety is concerned.” However, the firm also said all resources were focused on addressing the issue and there would be no compensation for owners. 

Last year 234,938 UK Zafira owners were warned about improper repairs to the blower motor resistor potentially creating a fire hazard, and Vauxhall began to fix thousands of affected cars, following a spate of vehicle fires. 

And like the first recall, owners will see all work conducted free of charge, and when the recalls are complete, all vehicles will have a new wax fuse resistor, a new blower motor and a new moulding at the base of the windscreen to address water ingress problems.

How did the original recall start? 

Last year, Zafira owners began reporting problems with the heating and ventilation system in the Zafira ‘B’ models, on sale from 2009 to 2014, while the London Fire Brigade  said it has extinguished 71 such fires - not including arson attacks - since 2013, compared to just 38 in the previous four years. Concerned owners started their own Facebook page and brought the problem to the attention of the BBC Watchdog programme.

Vauxhall immediately initiated an ‘inspection and rework’ programme, contacting owners of the 234,938 affected cars – which was swiftly upgraded to a full safety recall, with the Driver Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) helping to ensure no potentially affected cars slip through the net.

What is causing the Vauxhall Zafira fires? 

The DVSA has now agreed with Vauxhall’s root cause investigations, which have identified the cause of fires to have been faulty repairs of a thermal fuse in a resistor that forms part of the heating and ventilation system of cars with air conditioning or with no air conditioning – cars with climate control are not affected. 

In the first recall Vauxhall replaced the thermal fuse in affected cars, while also replacing the cabin pollen filter and checking for a hole in the windscreen surround that might have been caused by the refitting of a windscreen and could let water into the system, causing corrosion to the fan. Corrosion of the blower unit, or wear and tear through use, is the most likely fault, which should trigger the safe activation of the thermal fuse.

Vauxhall’s inspections have involved random checks of 1,000 cars, of which 2.6% have been found to have badly repaired fuses. The fuse is designed to deactivate the system in event of a fault, to prevent overheating. However, Auto Express was given exclusive access to some of the unauthorised repairs where the fuse has been bypassed through highly dangerous, yet ingenious means – including using copper wire to reconnect the fuse terminals, holding it together with a crocodile clip or even screwing it back in place.

Healthy fuses use a metal spring that is held in place by a special copper-free solder, designed to release the spring and break the circuit if the temperature reaches 184 degrees Celsius. A replacement unit would cost less than £30, but some repairers have made their own attempts to reconnect the system, including using normal plumbing or electrical solder, which means the fuse won’t break at the required temperature. That can lead to unwanted high temperatures which can cause a fire in the system, with the investigations and correct repair method now being approved by the DVSA.

Vauxhall Chairman Rory Harvey told Auto Express: “We want all Vauxhall owners to be safe in their cars - safety is paramount to us at Vauxhall.

“We recognise that some of these cars could be on their third, fourth or even fifth owners and they may have vehicles which have been improperly repaired without their knowledge or before they bought the vehicle. That’s why we wanted to instigate this safety recall."

Vauxhall advised owners of affected cars who are aware of repairs being carried out to the heating and ventilation system or with a currently faulty system to only use their fans on the fourth speed to demist the windows, which uses a different fuse system to the first three fan speed. 

After replacing the blower motor, Vauxhall's 400- strong dealer network will now begin to work on replacing the current soldered fuse resistor with a wax fuse resistor to make sure no improper repairs are made to the system again.  

How Facebook raised the Zafira fires issue

Worried mums Sue Freemantle, from Ivybridge, Devon, Claire Wheatley, from Plymouth and Jade Hellewell, from Preston, Lancs, joined forces to start a Facebook campaign to bring the Zafira fires issue to light when their Vauxhall Zafira models unexpectedly caught fire with children and pets inside.

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The group garnered the support of more than 3,000 members, with several other owners claiming on the page that their MPVs went up in flames, too.

Owners reported that thick, black smoke had filled the cabin through the dashboard with many having children or pets on-board at the time. Some drivers had purchased their car just days before it ignited and gutted the interior.

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Sue told Auto Express: “I started the group to raise awareness about these car fires after Vauxhall essentially washed their hands of my plight. I’m gobsmacked by how many others have been through what my family have had to endure.” She added that the group has been set up not to gain compensation but in order to save lives in the future.

Following complaints Vauxhall launched its internal investigation and that led to the recall. A spokesman said: "While the number of incidents is very low in proportion to the number of vehicles on the road, we take this issue very seriously and will take further action.

"The safety of our customers is the number one priority. Our investigations have found that a number of incidents have occurred due to previous repairs being performed improperly or using certain non-genuine parts."

Owners are advised to contact their Vauxhall dealer if they notice any "unusual characteristics" with the heating and ventilation system - for example a squeaking noise from the dashboard. Dealers have been told to arrange inspections free of charge.

Concerned Zafira owners can find more information here.

Have you seen or experienced a Vauxhall Zafira catching fire? Let us know in the comments section below...