• Families say seat warmers caused car fires

    By: Jason Stoogenke

    Updated:

    CHARLOTTE, NC - Vehicles burned, seats scorched - families blame electric seat warmers for vehicle fires. Some left people with burns.

    "I was petrified.  I was shaking," said Delecia Jenkins, who lives in north Charlotte.  "There were flames."

    car fire damage

    Lauren Rummell, a first-grade teacher in Indiana, shot a Facebook Live as her car burned.  "The inside is completely on fire and is engulfed in flames," she said in the video.  "My car is 100% on fire."

    We interviewed her on FaceTime.  Rummell got choked up thinking about what could have happened had she strapped her son in his car seat and run back inside for a minute. 

    "If I would have gotten him in my car, just two minutes earlier, he'd be gone.  And that's what I think about.  I think about the 'what ifs,'" she said.

    Both women had Cadillacs.  Both say they used remote controls to start their cars, let them warm up, and walked away for a few minutes.  Both believe the seat warmers malfunctioned.

    PHOTOS: Car fires the women say were caused by seat warmers

    We emailed GM for a response.

    "We occasionally receive reports from customers about vehicle fires that appear to originate in or around the seat. We take vehicle fires seriously, and investigate fires that we are aware of. However, reports of fires originating in seats are not common, and there doesn't appear to be any defect trend. (i.e., a common cause or pattern of causes that would indicate a defective part, etc.)" we were told. "Modern vehicle seats often include a number of electrical systems, including heaters, motors, switches, sensors and airbags."

    We searched NHTSA complaints and found 92 in the past 10 years about seat warmer fires.  Some read:

    "burns to hip and fingers"
    "hands charred"
    "my clothes caught fire"
    "my pants had been burnt"

     One man reported a "first-degree burn on [his] wife's back."  One mother said her autistic son was in the vehicle and was "unable to communicate" there was a problem.  She said his "back burned."

    We counted nine complaints from the Carolinas.

    The 92 complaints involve 14 car companies.  Mercedes had the most complaints: 22.  General Motors was second with 16.

    Rummell and Jenkins both want a recall and to warn people in the meantime that, no matter what you drive, don't ignore damage to the seats, warning lights, or blown fuses.  And don't leave your vehicle running unattended. 

    "I feel like it's a safety issue at this point," Jenkins said. 

    "My main thing is just to make sure this doesn't happen to anybody else," Rummell said.

    In 2016, GM recalled the 2011 Buick Regal to repair a power seat wiring harness that could potentially cause a fire

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