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Nearly 400,000 vehicles on the road could catch fire and there is no fix for the problem

HOUSTON – Nearly 400,000 Nissan vehicles on the road right now could catch fire.

Nissan has issued multiple recalls about the problem, impacting some Muranos, Maximas, Infinitis and Pathfinders, but the company has no fix for the defect that has burned down vehicles, homes and even caught a car dealership on fire.

Drivers whose Nissans have gone up in flames said the carmaker ignored them and took no responsibility for the fires.

“It smelled like plastic burning, and I just thought I probably shouldn’t drive it home, even though my house was close by,” explained Ellen Erwin. She said she parked her 2016 Nissan Murano at the community mailboxes in her Texas City neighborhood and started walking home after her ABS light came on.

“Within a couple of minutes, it was engulfed in flames,” she said.

Ellen and her husband, Julian, said they didn’t know the SUV was under recall. They said they did not receive the recall notice that Nissan claims it sent in December 2019. Even if they had, Nissan said there is still no fix for the problem that could cause the fires in 394,000 vehicles.

“We weren’t aware until it caught fire,” Julian Erwin, Ellen’s husband said.

The Erwins said they contacted Nissan on May 8th the day after their Murano burst into flames, but it took at least two weeks for someone to call them back. One representative told them they lost their claim. They said when a Nissan representative finally told them they would send someone to inspect the vehicle, the rep said the earliest the investigator could get there was June 26th -- seven weeks after the fire. By then, the Erwins had settled with their insurance company, and they said Nissan washed its hands of the matter.

“They told us we have no standing or claim with Nissan because we don’t own the car anymore,” Ellen Erwin said.

A Nissan spokesperson confirmed with Davis that it is the insurance company’s responsibility to pay the Erwins for their loss, but claims the Erwins didn’t help facilitate the inspection of the vehicle with their insurance company.

The problem

Nissan said an inadequate oil seal may cause brake fluid to leak, leading to an electrical short in the ABS actuator circuit. That could cause, what Nissan called a “thermal incident.”

The carmaker warned drivers that if the ABS light comes on and stays on for more than 10 seconds after they start the engine, they should not park the vehicle in their garage or near any other structures or vehicles.

History of issues

Many of the same vehicles were recalled, but not repaired for the same issue in April 2016, September 2016, and September 2018.

When Brad Bruner, of Denver, heard about the Erwins’ experience, it was like deja vu.

“It’s just push back, deny, disregard ... no communication,” he said, describing his experience with Nissan trying to get the car company to take responsibility four years ago when his brand new 2016 Nissan Murano burned to the ground. The SUV only had 6,000 miles on it. When the ABS light came on, Bruner’s wife pulled into a shopping center parking lot and noticed flames coming from the wheel-well of the vehicle.

“Nissan would not allow the dealership even to give us a loaner,” Bruner said. “They grabbed the car as quickly as they could, wrapped it in tape ... put it out behind the building. I mean everything smelled like a cover-up.”

Bruner said Nissan told him to just file the claim with his insurance company.

In frustration, Bruner started a blog to compile other reports of Nissan fires all over the country from the same ABS brake fluid leak. In Georgia, a 2016 Nissan Maxima caught a car dealership on fire when it went up in flames in the garage.

“They’re just experts at sweeping things under the carpet and disavowing any knowledge,” Bruner said.

Nissan’s response

A Nissan spokesman sent the following statement to KPRC 2:

“Customer’s request for assistance: An interim notice was sent to this particular customer on December 19, 2019. Nissan has requested the customer’s coordination with their insurance provider to allow us to inspect the vehicle to determine the root cause of the incident but were not given the opportunity.

“Recall: Nissan is committed to the safety, security and satisfaction of our customers and their passengers. Nissan and INFINITI are conducting a Voluntary Safety Recall Campaign on certain MY2016-2018 Nissan Maxima, MY2015-2018 Nissan Murano, MY2017-2019 Nissan Pathfinder and MY2017-2019 INFINITI QX60 vehicles to replace the Antilock Braking System (ABS) actuator.

“The ABS actuator pump seal may leak brake fluid onto the control electronic circuit board. If this occurs, an ABS warning lamp will illuminate to warn the driver. If the vehicle continues to be operated in this condition, the brake fluid leak may create an electrical short in the actuator circuit, which in rare cases could potentially lead to a thermal incident. If the ABS warning lamp is continually illuminated, Nissan recommends parking the vehicle outside and contacting Nissan or INFINITI Roadside Assistance to have the vehicle towed to an authorized retailer as soon as possible.

“Nissan mailed interim notices for recall 19V-807 to owners during December 2019 and January 2020. Nissan is preparing parts, and once the remedy is available owners will receive a final notification letter asking them to bring their vehicle to an authorized Nissan dealer or INFINITI retailer to have the remedy work completed at no cost for parts or labor.”

Vehicles included in recall

  • 2016-2018 Nissan Maxima
  • 2015-2018 Nissan Murano
  • 2017-2019 Nissan Pathfinder
  • 2017-2019 Infiniti QX60