COBB COUNTY, Ga. — We see them on the road and hear of them on the radio daily: A car fire jamming interstate traffic.
But one prompted Channel 2 Action News to investigate.
Consumer Investigator Jim Strickland has evidence linking the fire to a national oil change chain.
The company in question is Jiffy Lube.
The car had been there moments before the fire. Our expert said that's no coincidence, but more likely the cause.
iPhone video caught the inferno of Brian Heredia’s car.
“It was pretty terrifying,” Heredia said.
Heredia said the first flames came from the back of the engine compartment when he saw tongues of flames coming up the windshield. He stopped the car and quickly got out.
“Thankfully that I had unlocked the car before,” Heredia said. “The car was unlocked so I was able to get out.
Cobb County Fire said Heredia called 911 at 11:17 a.m. Sixteen minutes earlier, he'd been cashing out at Jiffy Lube on Delk Road about 9 miles away.
“I blame Jiffy Lube because my car burst into flame without me making any stops,” Heredia said.
Barrow's Wrecker Service agreed to tip Heredia's totaled Cadillac on its side.
Forensic fire investigator Jeff Morrill talked to Strickland about the charred car.
“In your 29 years’ experience, in your opinion, what started this fire?” Strickland asked Morrill.
“Oil leaking from this filter assembly. It would have run down the side of the engine,” Morrill said. “Oil on a hot surface.”
A Jiffy Lube investigator had been there the day before and he found no signs of oil leaks. He concluded: “This fire does not appear to have been caused by an oil change service.”
Morrill said he found lots of signs.
“Evidence oil on the transmission pad, down the frame on the exhaust system. This is all oil deposits,” Morrill said.
But the oil plug was tight - so where did it come from?
“So really the only other place we can get an oil leak in these is typically from an oil filter,” Morrill said.
The Jiffy Lube investigator wrote the oil filter “shows no signs of leaking ... the plastic top is not melted.”
He didn't open it.
The top of the oil filter canister is metal, not plastic. Morrill needed a saw to open it. The filter was inside, but there's also supposed to be an O-ring to seal the canister. It was missing.
“So that says there was oil most likely coming out of that filter,” Morrill said.
Morrill said a streak on the side of the cannister is confirmation of a leak.
“As soon as he pulls over, you’ve lost all your air flow. Underbody temperatures go up—it only takes a few degrees more to light that oil,” Morrill said. “My car literally shut off on the exit ramp and it literally burst into flames,” Heredia said.
Online complaints against Jiffy Lube's Georgia franchises include an Alpharetta man. He wrote that his tire fell off his vehicle in heavy traffic. He said he had just had them rotated.
A Decatur woman complained oil spilled everywhere after the technician didn't put the cap on.
Consumer Advisor Clark Howard said the options are few.
“Anytime you have a problem with your vehicle right after you’ve had it serviced, odds are you’re going to have to sue that business,” Howard said.
Heredia already has.
“A mechanic’s job is as serious as a doctor’s job, you’re putting your life in their hands,” Heredia said.
Heredia's Cadillac is 10 years old, so he stopped paying for comprehensive insurance. Replacing his car is out of his own pocket, unless he can win in court, or convince Jiffy Lube to make him whole.
Atlanta's stores are owned Jiffy Lube's franchisee of the year, Lucor. Its insurance company is looking at our fire report.
Clark Howard said that you find a mechanic you can use for years to do both maintenance and repairs to your vehicle. You know him or her or the shop. Using a place you know and trust for everything with your car is key.
Cox Media Group