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Lexus LS 460 Spontaneous Fire!

I purchased a Certified Pre-owned 2008 Lexus LS 460 in January 2011 with 29,000 miles. On April 2, 2011 I was parking my car and smelled wires burning and then saw smoke coming out of the hood. I immediately cut the engine, got my kids to safety and called 911. The firemen threw water on the engine and disconnected battery. It was towed to a local Lexus dealer and has been there since. They believe it was the starter, but the repairs as of yet are not complete. I submitted a claim with headquarters to give me my money back or a comparable vehicle. I am concerned about the safety of this vehicle and any residual chemicals and smoke that may remain with the vehicle. What are your thoughts? Michele Anand Naples FL

Since no one responded I guess I will although any advice I give will be pretty bland without knowing exactly what caused the problem and exactly what wire, or cable, burnt up.
I note this vehicle is under a Recall for a fuel rail replacement. This may, or may not, have had anything to do with the problem as I’m not familiar with the details behind the rail replacement.

A fuel rail mean gasoline under high pressure so if something gave way there and caused this problem then I would say there’s a slim chance that Lexus may step in and do something about the vehicle.

That being said, I also note the state of FL has no used car Lemon Law. If you signed an AS IS disclaimer this means any problem car is all your responsibility unless the dealer specifically made exceptions. Odds are they did not and covered their bases.

Keep in mind that the word “Certified” means about as much as a Carfax report. It’s a sale tool that promotes a warm fuzzy feeling and often not much else.

I appreciate your concerns, but you have to wait for the repairs to be completed. Then inspect the vehicle and see if it is acceptable. All the “chemicals” can be cleaned off and remediated. It may take a complete cleaning of the interior, but since this fire was confined to the motor area the passenger compartment should be OK.

If it were me I’d want to see some evidence of what happened, meaning some of the burned wiring and the old parts that were replaced. This might reassure me that the problem was identified, resolved, and the car is good to go again.

If you can’t be reassured it is a safe car then you can file a claim. If this is the way it goes you will need some independant “experts” to examine the car. I’d let the dealer who is repairing the car know that all the old parts should be retained for your inspection. These parts could be the “evidence” you need to win your claim.

I don’t think they’ll give you your money back or give you a replacement vehicle. The only thing you are entitled to is a repair (assuming the car is under warranty). and possibly a full detail job on the car to get ride of any offending smells.

Once fixed I would have the car thoroughly inspected by a good independent mechanic familliar with Lexus. I’d also want a complete explanation of what went wrong and how it was fixed. I would ask my inspector to make sure this car wasn’t in some sort of a previous accident, with the repairs causing the fire.

So you’re already concerned about something that may or may not happen?
Why can’t you actually wait until your vehicle is “fixed” according to the shop, and then take it for a test drive. If, during that test drive, it isn’t to your satisfaction, then you can hand it back to them, and say “Fix it right”.

Why get ahead of yourself, and tip your hand so early?

That’s like being at a poker table, and telling everyone that you already have a pair of Aces from the first deal. It doesn’t serve you any purpose yet to reveal that information so early.


UPDATE: The local Lexus dealer believed what caused the problem was the starter. So they replaced it and assured me it was fixed. I picked it up today April 13th and noticed that same smell of wires burning from outside the car. I thought it might be just residual form the prior incident. I parked it in the garage and started to smell it more strongly. So I started the car up again and backed out into my driveway thinking I didn’t want that odor in my house. I tried to turn off the engine, but after pushing the button, the engine started making a reving noise. It seemed like most of the engine had turned off, but some piece kept going. So then we get the smoke and wires burning AGAIN!!! The fire Dept. came again and used a hose and fire extinguisher on it. They said the battery was way too hot and disconnected it. The car was towed once again to Lexus…What can they possibly say this time??? Any guesses??

A 12V car battery is surprisingly powerful and a short circut can cause enough heat to start a fire. The Lexus dealer did a major screw up in returning the car without fixing it. They are very close to a law suit. You need to tell them that failure to fix the car will result in legal action as they let you drive away in a dangerous car. You could be talking a lot more $$$ than just a new car is someone is in danger of a fire due to their negligence. You need to call the owner, or the general manager of the dealership to let them know how you feel and they will make sure the service dept. gets this fixed. GM’s and owners don’t want to go to court over something like this, and they certainly don’t want a big insurance claim for negligence.

I am going to try to get a different car or my money back, even if that means hiring an attorney. I do not want this car back. I cannot give them a third chance to endanger the lives of my children.

Since this happened a second time there is a problem with the starter solenoid circuit. This could mean a faulty ignition switch/button or ignition relay, problem in the security system, etc.
Apparently the starter motor is engaging and staying engaged even after the engine starts. This in turn is causing a huge, and continous, amperage surge through the starter motor cable. (Think of it as overloading a household extension cord and burning it up.)

This is a bad deal for you but I reiterate that the state of FL site shows there is no Lemon law statute on used car sales in that state.
If you signed an “AS IS” disclaimer then you will be on very shaky ground about demanding anything back. If you did sign an “AS IS” statement you should have a copy of it in your paperwork.
This disclaimer generally trumps any and every thing that a car buyer is told during the sales process; even if it’s a bald faced lie.

This car has a push button to start it, correct? I would think there’s something wrong with that system, causing the starter to continue running.

But I agree, I’m not sure that after twice I would ever fully trust it either, especially if they can’t tell you exactly what was wrong and what was done to fix it. The danger is likely minimal to a driver that could just jump out, but if you have to try and get your kids out while they’re in car seats, that’s a different story. And I’d be paranoid to park it in an attached garage too.

We did not sign an As IS. We signed for a warranty. It is a pre-owned certified Lexus for 3 years.

After 2 go arounds with a problem like this I would be very nervous about this car also. Since it was offered with a warranty then at some point it seems to me that the dealer and/or Lexus corporate needs to solve this problem or perform a vehicle buyback.

Let me add something about the first repair. This could have been done one of 2 ways.
One is that the dealer replaced the starter motor, burnt cables, and pronounced it fixed.
Two is that the dealer did the above but no one asked the important question of WHY did this occur? In other words, they treated the symptom (temporarily) and not the cause of the disease.

While I’m theorizing a bit here, the point could be made that the second time around was caused by water from the fire department that may have gotten into starter circuit electrical connectors and shorted out the starter circuit. Along the same lines, maybe driving through any deep rain water could have splashed water up and done the same thing.
I don’t think this is the cause at all actually; just pointing out a theoretical.

I note there’s a Technical Service Bulletin for a Smart Key issue of some sort although I’m not privy to that info.

Hope some of that helps and good luck. For what it’s worth anyway, I’m on your side in this matter so please do not take any prior comments as being anti-you.