Dealer assured owner after check-up that vehicle was safe
A Port Elizabeth family is in shock after their Ford Kuga burst into flames while they were driving through Gelvandale in a horrifying echo of a similar incident in Wilderness a year ago that left another Kuga driver burnt beyond recognition. The Port Elizabeth incident in the early hours of Saturday will likely put more pressure on Ford, with a Facebook site of angry Kuga owners already set up and an estimated 38 burn-out incidents reported so far.
Maria Daniels, 47, her boyfriend Alton Jantjies, 46, her two children and a friend escaped uninjured, but it could easily have been much worse.
The SUV stalled and flames erupted from under the bonnet just as they were about to roll into a service station.
Daniels, a senior bank employee, said she had heard about the problems with the make but was assured by the saleswoman that they had been assessed and the problems were related to motorists modifying their vehicles with gadgets not approved by Ford.
As a devout Catholic, Daniels, of Aspen Heights, had the car blessed last week and was due to set off on a trip down the Garden Route with her family.
However, they had to delay the trip after the car would not start on Thursday. Ford mechanics diagnosed a faulty battery and replaced it but Daniels, with the prior reported Kuga incidents in the back of her mind and their holiday pending, insisted they do a safety check as well.
“They came back saying everything was fine with the vehicle and I was happy that they had gone through it,” she said. “Our plan was to leave early on Saturday morning.”
On Friday, at midnight, she and Jantjies, together with her daughter Sinclaire, 20, picked up her son Anver, 17, and his friend, Juraldo Maschaka, 15, and were driving back to Aspen Heights when the incident occurred.
Daniels recalled how after she had bought the Kuga she had fielded half-joking warnings from friends to always leave her car doors unlocked to ensure she could escape and not be trapped in a locked, burning car as appeared to have happened in the case of Reshall Jimmy in Wilderness.
Wary of leaving her car doors unlocked in the gangster-plagued northern areas, she had so far avoided adopting this measure.
“But that night, for the first time, I left them open. I don’t know why,” Daniels said.
It was a decision that possibly helped save their lives. The incident went from bad to a nightmare in a couple of seconds, she said.
“Smoke started coming out from under the bonnet.
“We were just about at the Gelvandale Shopping Centre service station and I had just turned the corner to drive in there when the engine cut out and we saw the smoke had turned to flames.
“We scrambled out as fast as we could and Alton went around and opened the bonnet although we were all shouting at him not to.”
“When I opened the bonnet, they just went whoosh right up high, but with the help of some other guys who arrived on the scene we picked up sand from the side of the road and eventually put the fire out,” he said.
Daniels said the whole front of the SUV was gutted, and their holiday plans were shattered.
“It’s a beautiful car, but there seems to be something seriously wrong with it.”
Repeated attempts were made to reach national Ford spokeswoman Rella Bernardes via phone, SMS and e-mail, and an auto-mail said only that she was on leave, with no contact details supplied for a back-up spokesman.