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Toronto-area family seeks answers after Chrysler Pacifica fire

Fire erupts in parked Chrysler hybrid minivan
WATCH ABOVE: A Toronto-area family is grateful they escaped serious injury after an unexplained fire consumed their parked minivan. The Chrysler Pacifica hybrid was not running when it caught fire. As Sean O’Shea reports, the owners say FCA Canada, which manufacturers the Pacifica, has not investigated after more than two months.

A Toronto-area family would like to know why their Chrysler minivan caught fire in a parking lot, a year after the vehicle was recalled and repaired following a warning from the company about a faulty component that could cause a fire.

“People have no awareness of the risks,” said Eric Fabroa of Aurora.

Eric and his wife Marisa bought a new 2018 Chrysler Pacifica plug-in hybrid van after what they considered careful research. It was their second Chrysler vehicle.

About five months after purchasing it, the Pacifica broke down on the highway during a family holiday in Florida and was immediately repaired under a voluntary recall from Chrysler. The company warned that an engine control module failure could lead to a fire.

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That recall covered about 10,000 Pacifica vans, including 1,000 sold in Canada.

But almost exactly a year later, the family watched their Pacifica catch fire in a parking lot.

“It happened in a minute,” said Marisa. She said she was with her children at a martial arts class when she discovered heat coming from underneath the floor in the back seat of the van, which was not turned on or charging at the time.

Firefighters were called and worked for about two hours to extinguish the fire, she said.

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“We could have died if the car wasn’t parked and we were driving, if our daughters were in the back seat,” said the mother of three, who says she’s distressed every time she sees a Pacifica on the road.

“We are lucky. It could have been much worse.”

But more than two months after the December 2019 fire, Chrysler is only now prepared to investigate the cause to determine what happened.

For weeks, the Fabroas say they called FCA Canada, which owns the Chrysler brand, and also tried to deal with a local dealership without success.

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Only after publishing photos and videos of the fire on social media and contacting Global News is the company assigning a fire investigator to the case.

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“FCA Canada regrets that Global (News) would not wait for this vehicle to be inspected,” said company spokesperson LouAnn Gosselin in an email statement.

“The Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid is highly acclaimed, a leader in its segment and — like all FCA vehicles — it meets or exceeds all applicable federal safety requirements. We are unaware of any systemic issues,” she continued.

In addition to the recall in 2018, the Pacifica Hybrid was recalled a year earlier over faulty battery diodes. At the time, Chrysler halted production while it worked out a solution.

The Pacifica is built at the Chrysler assembly plant in Windsor, Ont.

Gosselin said 93 per cent of vehicles recalled in 2018 have been serviced. She said it is premature for anyone to suggest a link between the Fabroa fire and the earlier recall issue.

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“Every vehicle fire is complex and unique and can be linked to factors unrelated to design, such as vehicle use, storage and maintenance,” she said in an email.

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The Fabroas say they have not settled a claim with their insurance company yet. A vehicle rental was discontinued by the insurer and FCA Canada has not provided a temporary replacement.

After the fire was put out, Marisa said she contacted Chrysler’s roadside assistance provider to have the damaged vehicle towed from the parking lot to a dealership. She said she was told that Chrysler service will not tow burned vehicles. It was later towed by CAA.

“They should care about customers more,” said Marisa, who added that no one from the company contacted her family at any time to show concern that the vehicle had mysteriously caught fire.