ASHEVILLE, N.C. – Valentine’s Day 2012 did not go well for Deb Monauni when she returned home. She got home from work and parked her 2007 Jeep Wrangler in her driveway.
“Literally, as I stopped, it exploded, full on ball of fire explosion in my driveway,” Monauni said. “And I looked down this way and saw little flames coming out from under my jeep.”
Monauni said the fire was fast and furious. “It blew up, became totally engulfed in flames and there was an explosion.”
The fire quickly spread to the house.
“It was going up, which is my bottom floor, so it was taking out my support beams,” she added.
The fire department arrived at Deb’s mountain home west of Asheville. They saved the damaged house, but the Jeep was a total loss and a bit of a mystery.
“I mean, I came home like I normally do, parked it and it caught fire,” she noted
Following NewsChannel 36 I-Team reports of Jeep Fires locally and around the country, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration opened up an investigation because of sudden fires in 2010 Jeep Wranglers.
But the catch is that Monauni’s Jeep was a 2007 Wrangler.
She said she didn’t know that 2007 and 2008 Jeep Wranglers were recalled in 2009 to address transmission problems which could, and did, lead to sudden fires in the engine compartment. The Jeep Wrangler owner’s manual says the hot oil light and a chime will warn that transmission fluid contacting the hot engine or the exhaust may cause a fire, and that if that message appears, drivers should stop.
Monauni said, “now what this warning light was supposed to do was flash ‘hot oil’ and that would let me know I was in danger of a fire. That light never went off.”
Meanwhile, Rob Pyrock said his 2010 Jeep was driving fine when it too burst into flames in January in Indian Trail, and like Monauni, he said, “No warnings, no lights, no nothing. It just died.”
But Chrysler told the Newchannel 36 I-Team that Pyrock’s Jeep fire was his fault, that grass under the jeep, the result of recent off-roading, was the cause of the fire and not a Jeep defect.
NewsChannel 36 challenged the “grass fire” cause in our first two stories, after which Chrysler Spokesman Michael Palese sent NewsChannel 36 an email.
“Look, your reports are simply terrible,” he wrote. “Talk to someone who knows something about vehicle fires... You’re making a mess of this.”
The I-Team tracked down the Union County Fire Marshall who inspected Pyrock’s Jeep. The finding was “mechanical failure in the engine compartment.” Grass isn’t mentioned anywhere in the two-page fire report.
Sean Kane, President of the consumer advocate group Safety Research and Strategies said, “We don’t have an exact origin of the fire and Chrysler has been blaming the drivers for improper maintenance or off-roading them.”
Back west of Asheville, Monauni was also asked questions about her driving and maintenance habits prior to her Jeep fire.
“[Their] commercials have the cars climbing rocks and, you know, going through streams, doing crazy stuff. I don’t do any of that. I just go to work and come back,” she noted.
The Federal Government is now looking at the 2010 models and getting data from model years 2007 through 2012. Is there a connection between Deb’s recalled 2007 Jeep that burned and the federal investigation of the 2010 models?
“Please refer to our previous statements,” Chrysler said. “These vehicles meet or exceed all applicable federal safety standards and have excellent safety records. Vehicle fires are very complex, can occur in any vehicle on the road today and are often caused by many reasons not associated with the vehicle itself. Poor maintenance, faulty or poorly installed aftermarket equipment, etc. are common causes of vehicle fires. NHTSA has opened a preliminary investigation into the 2010 model year Jeep Wrangler. This preliminary investigation is limited to the 2010 model year. This is a preliminary investigation, not a recall, and Chrysler Group, as normal, is cooperating fully with the agency.”
But Monauni is still frustrated.
“I have been in shock, been angry—more angry than anything. I can’t even get a reply, not even an ‘I’m sorry this happened’. Nothing.”
Would she ever buy another Jeep?
“No,” Monauni added.