People have asked what keeps me interested in automotive forensics after 25 years. I tell them it is the thrill of the chase. Insurance investigators, Fire investigators, Cops, Engineers understand this all too well.
Every situation whether it is a vehicle crash, a theft, a vehicle fire, a potential defect have one thing in common. That is the huge question of what happened? What happened to cause the current question.
The thrill of the chase is when one finds the undisputed answer as to what exactly happened preceeding the event. Let’s take the Dodge Ram that was known for dash fires at the instrument panel. The first one I ran across was a full burn out, but I found exactly where the wires arced which would have been consistent with the instrument panel. To the layman, this vehicle was totally destroyed by fire and yet the answer was found as to the origin and cause of the fire.
What was really cool was that a couple months later, I was assigned to do an O&C on another Dodge Ram of the same make and model. The difference was that the windows were closed and the fire was starved of oxygen and self-suppressed. Everything was intact except for one gauge package on the instrument panel. The origin was exactly in the same place as the total burned, which sealed the deal! There was no question as to where the fire initiated and the reason was the same arced wires. This situation was so prevalent Chrysler had a stop build and transport orders. These vehicles were burning up on the trains! Chrysler managed to get the issue taken care of, but this is the thrill of the chase when you can answer with full certainty that the reason for the fire was because of a theory and that theory was found t be accurate!
GM Fuel Line fires under the hood. This was a common scenario in which, the main pressurized fuel line would rupture and spill fuel on ignition sources such as a hot exhaust manifold, puddle and ignite the plastics in the area. The plastic fuel lines would decompose and turn brittle. Any movement directly or indirectly would cause the line to fracture. If there was a tune up performed and the tech had his hand on the plastic line it could rupture. One Aurora had an engine mount changed and just by moving the engine around caused this calamity.
Just on the 1997 Olds Aurora there were over 100 consumer complaints of under hood fires and never a recall issued. Complaints of a fire that would go out when the ignition was turned off. The reason was that the fuel pump was no longer powered.
Finding this event to be true was another thrill of the chase moments.
Ford had claimed their first generation PATS transponder system made the statement that such equipped vehicle was virtually unstealable. Dealer techs, locksmiths all stated the system could not be beat. I studied the wiring schematics and had a theory. Ford used a very common Bosche relay controlling the system. I came up with theories as to how to bypass the relay by taking terminals 87 and 30 putting a wire across them. The end result by me thinking like a thief was that I had successfully bypassed the system. My bypass was applied by others and worked on every Ford SUV and truck! This was definitely a thrill of the chase moment!
I had a Chev Truck with a fatality crash. The air bags did not deploy and there was no obvious reason they didn’t. We checked the air bag system. No faults. I had to drive to the Tennessee mountains to find the answer to what happen. After recreating the event with a like kind truck, I found the answer. This vehicle only had one recall for the Takata air bags exploding and sending missiles into the occupants. There were a couple consumer complaints where the air bags did not deploy, but the number was not significant.
I thought about a recall I had been involved in, but this truck was not recalled for a faulty ignition switch. However it had the same ignition and style of key of the recall. I then took into consideration as to the terrain the truck passed through before crashing. Everything was consistent with the recall. If the vehicle hit a bump, the ignition could rock back to off and shut the engine off and air bags would not deploy. This vehicle crossed a median and approached the step up of the black top of the entrance ramp it crossed causing the truck to launch with the wheels at least 41″ above the pavement to clear the guardrail and hitting a bunch of trees on at least a 6% grade until it landed where it was found. Weather was considered, pavement conditions at 3 am with a 25 mph warning on the ramp with a hair pin curve.
When all was said and done, everything matched the on site crash investigator’s report a couple years previous. I generated a report for the estate to consider a case against GM for the ignition recall.
That is why I do what I do. Not always are answers to questions so stark, but finding the answer is an emotional high! That is the thrill of the chase!
c Copyright 2019. Rob Painter. All rights reserved.