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Tesla Says Garage Fire Not Charger's Fault; Firemen Less Sure 253

Posted by timothy
from the was-it-plugged-into-8-extension-cords-at-once? dept.
cartechboy writes "It looks like Elon Musk and Tesla Motors find themselves in another PR war over the cause of a fire involving a Tesla Model S. Authorities in Irvine, CA are currently investigating the reason for a fire in a garage that, yes, contained a Tesla Model S. While the actual cause of the fire remains unknown, Tesla Motors and the Orange County Fire Authority are already publicly disputing possible causes, thought to center around the Tesla charging system. Tesla says the fire was not caused by any part of the car nor its charging system, reports Reuters. For what its worth — we've seen a version of this movie before. In 2011, investigators determined that a garage fire that destroyed a Chevrolet Volt had started away from the car, later spreading to engulf and destroy the car."
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Tesla Says Garage Fire Not Charger's Fault; Firemen Less Sure

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  • Musk's Hubris... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mythosaz (572040) on Thursday December 19, 2013 @05:01PM (#45740065)

    This is where Musk's Hubris is going to be a problem.

    There's no way that he can know for sure what happened in the fire, and he's going to risk having to eat crow -- lots and lots of crow -- if he's proven wrong.

    I love the guy, but hubris is clearly among his worst qualities.

    • by hsmith (818216) on Thursday December 19, 2013 @05:06PM (#45740119)
      More annoying is anything having to do with Tesla is apparently news. Car crashes? Front page news!
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        When it's a fledgling industry who successes or failures could have ramifications for years to come, and who has people actively trying to discredit, because it's success will damage their outdated business model, than yes, it's news.

      • Whatever.

        If, in 2007, Ford suddenly started having Mustangs catching fire, it would have been front page news to.

        Tends to happen with new stuff - anything that happens is considered "news-worthy."

        Considering some of the other offal they put on the front page these days, I wouldn't be too butthurt about it.

        • by jandrese (485)
          I guarantee you that at least one modern generation Mustang has been destroyed in a garage fire. Heck, it might have even caused it (there are certainly ways for gasoline engines to catch on fire after they are parked), but it's not really news. You wouldn't have heard about it except maybe on page 37 of section D of the local paper where it goes "home damaged by fire" in the police report section.
          • I guarantee you that at least one modern generation Mustang has been destroyed in a garage fire.

            Wow, that's not science.

            • by jandrese (485)
              It's statistics. Garage fires are not uncommon, and Ford has manufactured a lot of Mustangs since 2007. The two are pretty much guaranteed to meet at some point.
              • It's statistics. Garage fires are not uncommon, and Ford has manufactured a lot of Mustangs since 2007.

                Whereas Tesla has only sold about 20,000 Model S'. Since 2012.

                Which is why the Model S fires are considered newsworthy, and Mustang fires are not.

          • I guarantee you that at least one modern generation Mustang has been destroyed in a garage fire.

            Sure, but was it one of the first 20,000 units out the door, and less than 2 years old when that happened? Because those are important factors to consider.

        • by Wookact (2804191)
          Date of article: 08/04/2007 http://www.consumeraffairs.com/news04/2007/08/ford_massive_recall.html [consumeraffairs.com]

          Ford Motor Co. is recalling as many as 3.6 million cars, truck, and vans because a switch that deactivates the speed control can overheat and catch fire according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The agency warns in its recall notice that the switch problem can cause a fire under the hood. The latest recall covers 16 brands of cars, sport utility vehicles and trucks from model years 1992 to 2004. The models include the Ford Ranger, Ford Crown Victoria, Mercury Grand Marquis, Lincoln Town Car, Lincoln Mark VIII, Ford Taurus SHO, Mercury Capri, Ford Explorer, Mercury Mountaineer, Ford Explorer Sport and Explorer Sport Trac, Ford E-150-350, Ford E-450, Ford Bronco, Ford F-150 Lightning, some models of F-Series trucks and Ford F53 Motor Home chassis.

          Well sir I expect you to eat some crow. You may proceed immediately.

          • by abigsmurf (919188)
            So... there was a recall and it was big enough news to be reported on. That is kinda proving his point...
            • by Wookact (2804191)
              Not really, That is one article, did you see weekly articles about burning fords in 2007. I did not. I see weekly articles about Teslas, and there are way fewer then 3.4 million of them.
          • Date of article: 08/04/2007

            http://www.consumeraffairs.com/news04/2007/08/ford_massive_recall.html [consumeraffairs.com]

            Ford Motor Co. is recalling as many as 3.6 million cars, truck, and vans because a switch that deactivates the speed control can overheat and catch fire according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

            The agency warns in its recall notice that the switch problem can cause a fire under the hood.

            The latest recall covers 16 brands of cars, sport utility vehicles and trucks from model years 1992 to 2004.

            The models include the Ford Ranger, Ford Crown Victoria, Mercury Grand Marquis, Lincoln Town Car, Lincoln Mark VIII, Ford Taurus SHO, Mercury Capri, Ford Explorer, Mercury Mountaineer, Ford Explorer Sport and Explorer Sport Trac, Ford E-150-350, Ford E-450, Ford Bronco, Ford F-150 Lightning, some models of F-Series trucks and Ford F53 Motor Home chassis.

            Well sir I expect you to eat some crow. You may proceed immediately.

            Why? That doesn't disprove my contention, you know.

            "Might catch fire" != "caught fire"

            • by Wookact (2804191)
              They would not have recalled 3.4 million vehicles if none of them caught fire. Your contention is wrong. Teslas are receiving a disproportionate amount of coverage over this. This may be because they are electric, but claiming the coverage is not disproportionate is silly. We did not see weekly articles concerning every ford fire in 2007 but we get them for the Teslas.
          • by tompaulco (629533)
            Hmm, no articles about Fords catching fire, but they issued a recall just in case because the switches got hot.
            Tesla ACTUALLY CATCHES FIRE, with no recall notice.
            Elsewhere, a Fisher Karma ACTUALLY CATCHES FIRE, with no recall notice.
            Sounds like the crow's on the other plate.
      • It's because Musk is a massive publicity whore with a tremendously thin skin. Anything happens with a Tesla anywhere in the world that isn't perfectly positive he has to comment.
    • by hawguy (1600213) on Thursday December 19, 2013 @05:21PM (#45740281)

      Musk's Hubris? Is that some new cologne?

    • by icebike (68054)

      This is where Musk's Hubris is going to be a problem.

      There's no way that he can know for sure what happened in the fire, and he's going to risk having to eat crow -- lots and lots of crow -- if he's proven wrong.

      Ah, the car wasn't damaged: From the Link:

      The incident caused up to $25,000 of damage, though the Model S itself sustained only light smoke damage. Nobody in the house was injured.

      So if the car started the fire it must have been playing with matches and went running to its owner when its pile of legos actually caught fire.

      Faulty house wiring is the source.

      • Re:Musk's Hubris... (Score:5, Informative)

        by Bill_the_Engineer (772575) on Thursday December 19, 2013 @05:41PM (#45740529)

        The fire authority didn't blame the car. Here's the quote from the article:

        The Fire Authority, however, released a report stating that the fire occurred "as a result of an electrical failure in the charging system for an electric vehicle".

        Fire broke out in the garage on the campus of the University of California-Irvine on November 15. The blaze was noted by the car's owner just before 3 am, and it was promptly extinguished by fire crews.

        The incident caused up to $25,000 of damage, though the Model S itself sustained only light smoke damage. Nobody in the house was injured.

        While the Fire Authority's report stated the most likely cause was a "high resistance connection at the wall socket or the Universal Mobile Connector from the Tesla charging system", Tesla says its own data shows the car was charging normally, with no fluctuations in the temperature and no malfunctions capable of causing a fire.

        Tesla also notes that the car's charging cable was fine where it was connected to the car, and was damaged only on the wall side. This could suggest issues with the building's electrical supply, rather than with the vehicle.

        This doesn't completely rule out the charging system. The fire was started between the wall socket and the charger.

        • by icebike (68054)

          The fire was started between the wall socket and the charger.

          It says no such thing. You seem to practice selective reading.

          This could suggest issues with the building's electrical supply, rather than with the vehicle.

          The high resistance connection was most likely inside the wall socket, usually bad connections of the house wiring, or undersized wiring.
          This is very typical of aluminum wiring. Although the mainstream press won't report that even if it is discovered to be such.

          • by mythosaz (572040) on Thursday December 19, 2013 @06:00PM (#45740741)

            The conspiracy of the mainstream media to hide the dangers of aluminum wiring from us?

            Sounds like the sort of thing I might have in my house that could kill my children... ...tonight at 11.

            • by icebike (68054)

              Its killed a lot of children already.
              But that isn't why they would hide it, they would hide it because its not sensational and leaves no avenue to envy attacks on people who own tesla cars.

              • Aluminum wire, before it was phased out, was front page news on every newspaper on the country and the first story the nightly news. It was, and is, a well known problem.

                • by peragrin (659227)

                  It should be noted that aluminum wire is used constantly in homes in the USA right now. It is just limited to systems above 50A draw.

                  So your electric or induction stove. yea that is probably wired with aluminum. Your clothes dryer most likely not. The main supply lines for your home yep aluminum too. You have a sub panel, that is most likely being feed with aluminum. it wouldn't be hard to guess that the installer used aluminum even if the instructions say not to feed it with aluminum as I have seen t

                  • by Khyber (864651)

                    "It is just limited to systems above 50A draw."

                    If it's not safe for 20A house circuits (I know of many Aluminum Romex cables that have fried in-wall,) why in the world would it be considered safe for 50A or higher, unless the wire was incredibly thick?

                    "So your electric or induction stove. yea that is probably wired with aluminum."

                    Brand-new model. 100% copper wiring excepting the heating elements and brass connections for the wiring/plug, internal and external.

                    "The main supply lines for your home yep aluminu

          • So you are quoting Musk? Unlike Musk, the fire authority have no vested interest in the product and only want to describe what caused the fire. Musk is only looking at a log file while the fire authority were at the scene.
            • by X0563511 (793323)

              Looking at the scene after the fact really only tells you that there was a fire at the interface between the building and the car.

              The wall outlet doesn't have sensor logs to show it was or was not hot, the Tesla charger apparently does.

              • The article only reads that the log file on the Tesla S itself was read and showed the car charging normally. It does not mention any log data from the charger itself. The car could charge normally up to the point where the charger caught fire.
                • by X0563511 (793323)

                  True, but if the charger was overheating, you would expect the performance characteristics to change.

            • by icebike (68054)

              Logs tell a lot more than some volunteer fireman. Especially a fireman who can't determine
              which melted first, the connector or the wall outlet.
              (Not surprising since the field of fire investigation is full of voodo and disprove pseudo science.)

              All that is know is where the fire started at the outlet.
              We know it wasn't a short circuit. Breakers would have tripped.
              We know it wasn't an arc, AFCI (required in garages) would have tripped.

              Most likely cause is shade tree electrician swapping in a bigger breaker to

    • Re:Musk's Hubris... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by tippe (1136385) on Thursday December 19, 2013 @05:33PM (#45740431)

      Yes, I've heard that Musk's hubris is very large (heh, heh, heh), but perhaps he does have a point. According to the article, all the damage was done at the wall connection (not the car connection), and a review of the car logs indicated that charging was proceeding normally at the time the fire started.

      I'm going to make an assumption here that the tesla charger was probably safety tested[1] and approved for sale by UL, but what about the installation itself? Maybe California is different than the rest of North America, but most garages aren't natively wired with 240V sockets (quit laughing, you Europeans). So who did the 240V installation? The home owner or a certified electrician? Was it inspected? The article certainly doesn't say. Knowing how previous Tesla fire stories have been pounced on by the media, I'd probably do the same if I were in Elon's shoes and say the problem had nothing to do with the charger, and would change my tune later on if it turned out to be true. It wouldn't be the first time that crappy wiring has caused a house fire, and I don't think it's necessarily wrong for him to point this out.

      [1] Not that safety testing means that a unit failure can't happen, but they do check (or should check, if they are doing their jobs right) that the design is robust to various abnormal conditions, and that fail-safes are built into the product to prevent fires or other dangerous conditions in the event of a malfunction. However, all the safety testing on earth won't save you from a shitty installation...

    • by ackthpt (218170)

      This is where Musk's Hubris is going to be a problem.

      There's no way that he can know for sure what happened in the fire, and he's going to risk having to eat crow -- lots and lots of crow -- if he's proven wrong.

      I love the guy, but hubris is clearly among his worst qualities.

      He has the power of the Force.

      He just knows things.

      Don't let him find your lack of faith disturbing...

    • I'm normally one of the first people to bust his balls, but this time around I'll give Elon a little credit: Denying any wrongdoing right out of the gate is SOP with American corporations.

    • Agree that there are lots of unknown. However, Musk has not given me a reason in past to believe that he talks out of his rear end.
      Between the fire department and Musk proposing conflict theories, I'll take Musk's side.

      • As will I, since he has logs in-hand that demonstrate that the charger was working normally. A poorly wired outlet is a much more likely culprit.

        When a smart person believes something because it's supported by the data, a less-informed bystander might mistake their competence for arrogance or hubris.
    • It's a win-win strategy.

      1. Deny it all before the crazies run amok with unchallenged media coverage of the fire.
      2. If wrong, eh, it happens. Apologize, deliver an update, and good will. No one will hate him for it. Just business as usual.
      3. If he's right, or it's ambiguous as to what happened, he wins.

  • My educated guess is oily or gas soaked rags that were not disposed of or stored properly.
    • by D1G1T (1136467)
      While this is usually the cause of garage fires, I'll bet it is less likely in garages that store vehicles that use neither oil nor gasoline.
      • by Anrego (830717) *

        Well, assuming they don't have other gas powered equipment (lawn mower, snow blower, etc).

        Actually I imagine those probably result in more minor gas/oil spills and oil/gas soaked rags than a car.

      • Teslas don't use oil? I didn't know that, I assume there had to be at least a little metal on metal somewhere on the drive train.

        • by weilawei (897823)
          Nope, they're printed using PLA on giant RepRaps. ;)
      • by TheCarp (96830)

        Is the oil used in cars usually involved in those kinds of fires? I thought those were usually more caused by things like linseed oil: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Linseed_oil#Spontaneous_combustion [wikipedia.org]

        Never heard of anyone using linseed oil in their crank case.

        Normally improper disposal of motor oil may make a fire situation worst, but doesn't, as far as I know, tend to cause them. Whereas, improper disposal of rags soaked in linseed oil (normally used in paints) has been the primary cause of a few fires.

    • by Russ1642 (1087959) on Thursday December 19, 2013 @05:11PM (#45740169)

      I always keep my linseed oil soaked rags piled up together in a nice dry place covered in sawdust.

      • A point the OP failed to grasp. The only oils that spontaneously burst into flame are natural oils that decompose. Motor oils certainly wont. The majority of first are caused by either space heaters or older electrical wiring with too high of a fuse/breaker on it. Who installed this guys charger? Himself? I can't imagine finding a breaker big enough for that charger is easy.

      • by JWSmythe (446288)

        Remember to keep that 50' 18 gauge extension cord running, that you're using to charge your new Tesla, under it. It helps keep the garage smelling nice. :)

         

    • Re:Oily rags (Score:4, Informative)

      by weilawei (897823) on Thursday December 19, 2013 @05:12PM (#45740173) Homepage
      Not a bad guess (still, I'll wait for the official report) in a garage, since most people don't seem to realize that an oily rag will if left for a few hours. You can try it yourself. [youtube.com]
      • Re:Oily rags (Score:5, Informative)

        by weilawei (897823) on Thursday December 19, 2013 @05:13PM (#45740195) Homepage
        Whoops, butchered that comment. Meant to say an oily rag will spontaneously ignite [youtube.com] if left for a few hours. You can try it yourself.
        • by icebike (68054)

          Whoops, butchered that comment. Meant to say an oily rag will spontaneously ignite [youtube.com] if left for a few hours. You can try it yourself.

          Not likely if its just motor oil.

          You have to watch the video you posted almost half way through before he reveals its Rosewood Oil, a natural oil used for furniture finishing.

          Further, the pile has been manipulated during the video, the most obvious time is just before he says "About a half hour later".

          Be that as it may, there was no oily rags involved in this garage fire. A faulty outlet, with cardboard boxes stacked nearby.

          • by Kaenneth (82978)

            I really hate how my sister insists on keeping the wrapping paper, cardboard puzzles, and stock of TP directly over her clothes dryer.

          • by steelfood (895457)

            Not just this.
            1) The rag was left out in the sun.
            2) There's no temperature gauge, so you can't tell if it's 0F or 110F.
            3) There's some kind of unnatural glare going on. It could just be the rag is soaked with so much oil that it's outright reflecting the sunlight, but not knowing how the rag was prepared, I wonder if there's something say, concentrating the sunlight.

            While spontaneous combustion is pretty cool to see, the reliabilty of this video is questionable.

      • by OverlordQ (264228)

        An oily rag, left outside, in the sun, on hot asphalt.

        Garage conditions are usually the exact opposite.

      • by X0563511 (793323)

        That video isn't a very good example. He keeps moving the camera around, and it seems whenever it moves back out so you can see the whole rag pile, it appears to have been disturbed while it was not visible.

    • by swb (14022)

      I always burn any rags that I get soaked with oil or gasoline immediately. I keep a large metal can for this purpose. Take it out in the driveway well away from any structure and let them burn.

    • by X0563511 (793323)

      In the electrical outlet's enclosure? That's an odd place to put them...

  • On the other hand (Score:4, Insightful)

    by suso (153703) * on Thursday December 19, 2013 @05:03PM (#45740087) Homepage Journal

    Garage fires aren't a very common topic on Slashdot.

  • Ah, the old "Hey, I don't know what this is, so it must be the cause of the fire" argument.

    Of course fire investigators will point to a piece of new technology as the cause of the fire. It's easy and they are lazy. Just like videogames are the cause of all school shootings.

    And before that, it was cell phones causing brain cancer,
    And before that it was rock and roll music causing children to misbehave.

    • Of course fire investigators will point to a piece of new technology as the cause of the fire. It's easy and they are lazy. Just like videogames are the cause of all school shootings.

      And before that, it was cell phones causing brain cancer,
      And before that it was rock and roll music causing children to misbehave.

      How, considering the complete lack of evidence at this point, is that any different than Musk claiming that it had to have been anything but his products?

      The correct answer, BTW, is that it's not different at all.

  • by perpenso (1613749) on Thursday December 19, 2013 @05:10PM (#45740157)
    Even if it is the charger it may be the wiring not the device itself. A friend had an attic fire that was caused by a hallway smoke detector (AC powered) of all things. The fire investigator determined the smoke detector was wired incorrectly.
    • by Carnivore (103106)

      It may be terminology missing; In actual fact all the charging equipment is onboard the car, but the fire officials may be referring the the exterior power cable as "the charger" especially if it's Tesla's High Power Wall Connector. The abbreviation for that, HPWC, could reasonably be assumed to mean High Power Wall Charger.

  • clickbait headline (Score:5, Informative)

    by Chalex (71702) on Thursday December 19, 2013 @05:15PM (#45740211) Homepage

    "garage fire started by improperly installed electrical outlet" just doesn't get you as many clicks.

    The garage fire was Nov 15, the Tesla S did not sustain any damage. The damage was all on the wall socket side.

  • Where there's smoke there's (Tesla) fires.
  • by weilawei (897823) on Thursday December 19, 2013 @05:25PM (#45740327) Homepage

    "The fire occurred as a result of an electrical failure in the charging system for an electric vehicle," said a report by the fire authority, a copy of which was obtained by Reuters.

    The report also emphasizes that the cause of the fire is unclear.

  • These cause more fires than anything elseExcept gasoline powered vehicles.

    Several hundred thousand car fires occur per year, but they don't make the news.

  • by Todd Knarr (15451) on Thursday December 19, 2013 @05:38PM (#45740503) Homepage

    If the cable was damaged at the wall side but not the car side, my immediate thought is a problem in the wall socket or wiring. I've run into that with regular outlets, old hardware causes high resistance and a very hot outlet and plug (thermal conduction through the metal parts). The most common cause is age causing corrosion of the connection plates inside the socket or looseness of the plates so the prongs of the plug don't make good tight contact with them. Either way it raises the resistance of the connection inside the socket and creates a lot of heat (it's doing exactly what the heating elements on an electric stove do). My fix is to open up the outlet and replace the socket with a new one, cleaning up and tightening the wires in the process.

    The #2 problem is the actual in-wall wiring being old and just not up to gauge for the current draw of modern electronics. In 1970 we didn't have home computers and Xboxes and the like, 14-gauge wiring was common and hooking up a modern home-entertainment center and computer would have the wiring in the wall hot to the touch. Plug a Tesla into older wiring like that and you've got a fire waiting to happen.

    • Circuit breakers on 14 AWG are supposed to throw at 15A. 12AWG for 20A, 10AWG for 30A. Drawing 15A continuously over 14AWG is fine.
      • by weilawei (897823)
        That's in open air [powerstream.com], where each strand of conductor has proper cooling. Wiring for power transmission, you only want to shove around 5.9A through 14AWG. For 15A, you'd want at least 10AWG and more likely 9AWG to give you a safety factor. Yes, this is by rule of thumb, and doesn't take into account the length (increasing length increases resistance) , type of insulation, etc., but do you really want to take the cheapest possible approach when it can potentially burn your house down?

        The Maximum Amps for Power Transmission uses the 700 circular mils per amp rule, which is very very conservative. The Maximum Amps for Chassis Wiring is also a conservative rating, but is meant for wiring in air, and not in a bundle.

        • by Spoke (6112)

          NEC says that for continuous loads, you can pull up to 80% of the circuit's rating. Charging an EV qualifies as a continuous load. Below is a list of common copper wire sizes found in your typical home and it's 100% / 80% ampacity (assuming 60C rated insulation which is most common):

          14AWG: 15/12A
          12AWG: 20/16A
          10AWG: 30/24A
          8AWG: 40/32A
          6AWG: 55/44A
          1AWG: 110/88A

          Note that for the last two, you typically would be using that wire on a 50A or 100A circuit, the max continuous loads on those would be 40A or 80A respe

    • by Kaenneth (82978)

      Our house was built in the 1940's, and we'll have to make a decision, refit everything plumbing and electrical, tearing open every wall; of tear the whole thing down and start fresh.

      It'll probably depend more on the legal bullshit (remodel permit vs. new building...)

  • This is why you don't use an aftermarket charger!
  • by sl4shd0rk (755837) on Thursday December 19, 2013 @06:08PM (#45740831)

    A war over public opinion. I don't know why the struggling U.S. automakers have not embraced electric vehicles. They will make a "zombie" truck [motorauthority.com] which everyone thinks is funny, but nobody actually wants. But tend to be disposed to doing everything in their power to resist that which is (probably) better for the environment and more efficient for a good portion of the population commuting just a few miles every day. Did they learn nothing from the Nissan Leaf sales?

    • Indeed, Tesla is fighting a war. That is when an obvious FUD attack is launched causing the stock to drop, I buy a few shares of TSLA. It's not a lot, but I'm helping screw over the shorters and the ICE/oil cartels.

  • We don't have Jerry Reed to make a new song for all these fancy new eee-lectric autymobiles.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4jOMcAlO7rQ [youtube.com]

  • by Anonymous Coward

    NEC requires derating circuits with continuous loads to 80% of their breaker value, so a 15A circuit can only provide 12A on a continuous basis (which by NEC definition is more than 3 hours).

    If Tesla takes more than 12A for more than 3 hours, then by law it cannot be charged from a standard home wall socket, which is a 14AWG branch circuit rated for 15A at the breaker.

    If Tesla overlooked this requirement and put a 15A plug on their charging cable, then they are liable for any damage caused by their improper

  • FTA, the car owner said she set "the timer" to start charging at midnight. Where is this timer, in the car or on the charger connection? Maybe she is using one of those $4 light timers. Does anyone know if the Tesla can turn on its own charging system at some designated time? For that matter, how does the Tesla know what time it is? The fire department might be familiar with historic causes of fires, but (1) hardly any fireman knows anything about electricity as such, and (2) they could scarcely know a
  • If it's Tesla, it's news.

    Those who followed the MANY years of Ford ignition system and later cruise control switch fires might notice a double standard.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2006/08/27/automobiles/27FORD.html?_r=0&gwh=376B79D2A392CB21E4879B859797FE30&gwt=pay [nytimes.com]

    "Fordâ(TM)s response to the fires â" first refusing to acknowledge that the switches posed a fire hazard, then conducting four recalls over seven years â" angered fire victims and consumer advocates. It does not hurt their cases t

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