According to one report to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), a 2017 Toyota RAV4 hybrid owner in Colorado was driving along at 50 mph when the check engine light came on. Then, white smoke emerged from the hood of the vehicle. There was a fire in the engine.
Although the vehicle is unlikely to explode as it would in a movie, the fire could easily get out of control or damage crucial engine components.
If your car catches fire, you should immediately pull over and shut off the engine to stop the flow of gas and oil, which are both highly flammable. All occupants of the vehicle should quickly exit and stay at least 100 feet away in case the fire gets out of control. Find a safe spot to wait, out of the flow of traffic, and call 911. Do not go back to the car to get forgotten belongings. Do not open the hood or truck if there could be fire inside, as this could cause the fire to get larger. Do not attempt to put out the fire yourself but wait for the professionals.
The Colorado driver’s case was just one of 11 reports of fires in 2013-2018 RAV4 vehicles, and NHTSA has opened an investigation. The probe involves almost 1.9 million RAV4 sport-utility vehicles and could eventually result in a recall of these vehicles.
In half of the reports, according to Reuters, the driver said the vehicle stalled while in motion before the fire became apparent. NHTSA has identified the vehicle’s 12-volt battery as the origin of the fire in the majority, but not all, of the incidents.
Otherwise, NHTSA has said that improper battery installation may be a factor, as may a previous front-end collision repair. However, even taking those factors into account, the agency says the number of vehicle fires in the RAV4 appears to be larger than the rate for similar vehicles.
NHTSA says it opened the investigation “to better understand the contributing factors and frequency of vehicle fires originating from the battery region of the subject vehicles.” A Toyota spokesperson said that the company is aware of the investigation and is cooperating.
The RAV4 is the best-selling Toyota vehicle in the U.S.
If you have experienced an engine fire in your RAV4, you can file a vehicle safety complaint with NHTSA online. If someone was injured, you should talk to an attorney who handles auto product liability to protect your rights.