Woman says her Hyundai started on fire, blames seat warmers


Hilton Head, S.C. (WSAV) – Beth Higgins is finding out what it really means to have “car trouble.” We are standing in the driveway of the home she shares with a friend in Hilton Head. Beside us is her 2011 Hyundai Tucson which at first glance looks driveable but when you look more closely you can see the line of soot around the top of the car on the driver’s side. When Higgins opens the vehicle, there is a strong smell of smoke

“It was Thursday morning that I discovered it,” she tells me.

What she discovered is that sometime Wednesday evening, after parking and locking her car as usual, a fire on the inside started. When she came out of her home Thursday morning she couldn’t open the driver’s side door. Then she saw soot above the door. When she was finally able to pull open the door she realized the inside had burned.

“I could smell the electrical smell and I called 911 and the fire department and the police came and they said the heating seating exploded,” said Higgins. “If I would have been in it I would be dead.”

Higgins says she loved her Hyundai Tuscon and had no “trouble” before that day.

We found one recall for her vehicle which involved an oil leak which if left unrepaired, could cause possible engine problems. The recall notice said “in limited cases, a vehicle fire” may result.

Hyundai offcials emailed me that there is no recall pertaining to any complaints regarding seat warmers. They also indicated they would evaluate Higgins’ claim.

Higgins told me after she was able to file a claim online that she had heard from Hyundai and was told they would provide a rental car to her. She had indicated financial concerns about renting a car.

Higgins also says she just bought the 2011 Tucson two years ago and still owes about two years in payments. She is convinced all you have to do is look t the front seat of her vehicle to see where the fire seems to have started.

“And the fire offcials said that my roommate’s car would have blown up if that little bit (of smoke and heat) hadn’t escaped from the top,” she told me.

In terms of recalls, the general idea is to present the public with information that there have been enough complaints about certain safety issues in a car/vehicle that the car must be recalled so the faulty part can be repaired. If there is no recall, then issues like Higgins experienced may become known somewhat through social media but there is no official remedy for any reported safety issue. (Hyundai does say it wants to provide excellent customer service to Higgins and again that it will evaluate her claim.)

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration does urge any motorist with a safety concern to file a complaint with the federal agency.

Higgins has been given information to file that complaint. Her immediate concern is how she will get another vehicle. She also worries there might be other owners out there who have no warning just as she didn’t.

“It was driving fine, I had absolutely no idea that anything was wrong,” she told me.

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