WHEN LISA Adams parked her Vauxhall Zafira at the side of the road and walked the short distance to her son’s school to collect him at the end of the day, she had no hint of the drama that was about to unfold.
As she arrived at the school gates a woman rushed up to her and told her a car was on fire nearby. Lisa hurried back to her Zafira.
“Because of the fires that have been affecting Zafiras, I immediately thought it might be my car,” said Lisa, 50, who lives in Worthing, Sussex. “When I turned the corner, my worst fears were confirmed.”
As Lisa approached her Zafira, flames were already licking at another vehicle – also a Zafira – parked just in front of it.
“I couldn’t believe how quickly the fire had taken hold,” she said. “Three minutes before, I’d been sitting in the car with the engine running, the heater on and the blower at position two while I waited for school to end. All was fine: there was no excessive heat and no burning smell. As 3pm approached, I turned off the engine, got out of the car, locked it and walked to the school gates.”
Fortunately, a quick-thinking resident called the fire brigade the moment they saw flames. Firemen were at the scene in a couple of minutes and put out the blaze before it could spread from the front of the vehicle.
Driving has been following the story of the Vauxhall Zafira fires since last summer, when the first cases were reported. The fires are claimed to affect so-called ‘Zafira B’ models built between February 2005 and October 2014, and fitted with manual air-conditioning or none at all (models with electronic climate control are not affected). Worried owners soon set up a Facebook page dedicated to the problem.
By November 2015, Vauxhall had inspected 20 Zafiras destroyed by fire. Given their condition, establishing the precise cause of the fires was difficult but Vauxhall concluded that a faulty repair of a thermal fuse in the resistor within the car’s heating system was the likely culprit.
Adams’s Zafira was checked by her local Vauxhall dealer under the recall programme and declared to be operating correctly
Later that month, the company began contacting the owners of 240,000 Zafiras inviting them to take their cars to their local dealers for a free inspection and, if necessary, repair. In December the DVSA issued a formal recall notice for the vehicle.
Vauxhall has so far inspected 130,000 Zafiras. Dealers have been checking the alignment of the plastic windscreen scuttle shield that protects the car’s electrical system from water ingress. They have also checked the condition of the blower motor and replaced its resistor, and inspected the wiring harness and pollen filter and, if necessary, replaced these, too.
A Vauxhall spokesman said the resistors in all the inspected vehicles had been replaced as a precaution and that 25% had been fitted with new blowers.
“We’re satisfied with where we are with the recall programme,” the car maker said.
What makes Adams’s case particularly shocking, beyond the fact that her car burst into flames at all, was that three months previously, on December 22, 2015, her Zafira was checked by her local Vauxhall dealer under the recall programme and, following the replacement of the blower motor resistor and the pollen filter, declared to be operating correctly.
Adams claims the car, a 2008 Vauxhall Zafira 1.6 Exclusiv that was registered in 2008 and had done 38,521 miles, was in good condition. The Adams were the third owners but she says it had been regularly serviced. The vehicle health report that accompanied the car’s recall inspection reported that only the front brake pads were mildly worn.
“We never had an issue with the fan, and never had any work done to it,” she said.
After the fire, Lisa’s husband Brian telephoned Steeles of Worthing, the Vauxhall dealer that inspected the Zafira, to tell them what had happened.
“They told me, ‘We’re not trying to pass the buck but cars do spontaneously catch fire’,” he said.
Driving contacted Steeles to find out if they could offer an explanation for the fire that had destroyed the Adams’s Zafira, which, only three months before, they had checked and approved under the terms of the recall programme.
“As the vehicle hasn’t been inspected since the fire, we don’t know the cause,” said Alan Steele, the company’s managing director. “Cars of all shapes and sizes do burst into flames for no apparent reason. We’re suspicious because it was associated with the recall but we don’t yet know the cause.”
Steele said he hadn’t reported the Adams case to Vauxhall, despite the possibility that other families may be driving Zafiras which, like the Adams’s car, had also been inspected and approved, but which might also burst into flames.
“The insurer does that, so there’s no need for us to tell Vauxhall,” he said. “We don’t know there’s a link but I should think Vauxhall have their fingers crossed that it’s unrelated.”
However, Lisa Adams did contact Vauxhall to tell them of her experience.
“They asked me if I had a solicitor,” she said.
Driving contacted the Vauxhall Zafira Car Fires Facebook page for a reaction to the Adams case. An administrator for the page said that this was not an isolated incident and that they were aware of 10 fires affecting Zafiras that had been recalled, checked and declared fit.
“The repairs are clearly not working,” he said.
A spokesman for Vauxhall admitted the company was investigating three fires involving Zafiras that had been recalled.
“Only their resistors had been replaced,” he said. “One of the Zafiras was totally destroyed. Investigations are going on in conjunction with the owners’ insurance companies. A thorough report is being prepared but until we have it, we can’t be sure about the cause of the fires. These things take time, especially when the vehicles and relevant parts are so badly damaged.
“Meanwhile, we are well through the half-way point with the recall and are soon to send out another reminder to owners to chase those who have not yet responded.”
“You just don’t know if it’s going to happen to your car. It’s like Russian roulette.”
Lisa’s husband Brian contacted Driving to express his shock and dismay at the fire that destroyed his family’s Zafira.
“It is evident that Vauxhall’s investigation has still not uncovered the root cause of these spontaneous fires,” he said. “Had we been in the vehicle when the fire started, there is the possibility we could have become trapped as it completely knocked out the electrical system, including the central locking, and as a result, lost our lives.”
Brian posted the following video to Facebook in an attempt to raise awareness of the issue and created a government petition calling for the House of Commons to “refer this matter, and the approach that Vauxhall and the DVSA have taken, to the Transport Select Committee for its consideration.”
Responding to the video, Vauxhall told Driving it wasn’t aware of the Adams’s car catching fire. A spokesman said:
“We have no record of this gentleman or his case. If he would like to ask his insurance company to approach us we would welcome the opportunity to forensically inspect his vehicle along with his insurance company. This is the normal investigation process that is used in such cases. Any information that we could glean from such an investigation would be helpful.
“As we’ve discussed before, speculation on the cause of fires is dangerous. This fire could be completely unconnected with the recall activity, that’s why a full forensic inspection has to take place.”
Meanwhile, his wife, Lisa, is still reliving the nightmare of seeing her Zafira in flames, just a short walk from her son’s primary school.
“I was in total shock and very upset, and I’m still shaky,” she said. “Nothing suggested it was going to catch fire.
“You just don’t know if it’s going to happen to your car. It’s like Russian roulette. There are all these Zafira owners who don’t want to have their car anymore but they can’t sell it because they don’t want to live with the guilt over what might happen to it.
“I must have seen a dozen Zafiras today on my way to school and I wanted to wave a placard at every one of them saying ‘Don’t trust the checks’.”