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The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recently opened a new investigation into nearly two million 2013-2018 RAV4 vehicles, after receiving at least 11 reports of fires starting from the 12-volt battery. The agency is not aware of any accidents or injuries related to the problem.

At the time of this writing, none of the vehicles had yet been recalled.

NHTSA Investigates the Cause of the Engine Fires

According to Early Warning Report (EWR) data from the affected Toyota RAV4 vehicles, the fires originated on the left side of the engine compartment. The 12-volt battery B+ terminal shorts to the battery hold-down frame, which may result in the sudden loss of electrical power, vehicle stalling, and/or fire originating the engine compartment.

Most of the fires occurred while the owners were driving the vehicles, with those drivers experiencing stalling before the fires ignited. In 4 of the 11 reports, the fires took place when the car ignition was off. According to EWR data, at least part of the problem occurred during improper battery installation during a prior front-end collision repair.

The NHTSA opened the investigation into the issue in the hopes of better understand what is causing the fires, and to determine the frequency of vehicle fires originating from the battery region of these RAV4s, compared to other similar vehicles.

Toyota is cooperating with the probe, but according to the Associated Press, has not answered questions about whether the vehicles should be parked outdoors until the matter is resolved.

Toyota Has Been Dealing with Engine Fires for A While

About a year ago, Toyota recalled 44,000 vehicles from the 2019-2020 model years with 2.5-liter inline-four engines. That recall was initiated because of the potential for cracks to form in the engine. Those cracks could then lead to coolant or oil leaks, which could cause stalling, overheating, and engine fires.

The recall affected the following vehicles:

  • 2020 Camry and Camry hybrid
  • 2020 Avalon hybrid
  • 2019 RAV4 and RAV4 hybrid
  • 2020 RAV4 and RAV4 hybrid
  • 2020 Lexus ES300H

The issue occurred when a water flow meter that regulates the casting of engines failed, leading to some engines not cooling properly.

Owners of vehicles experiencing this issue may notice engine noise, engine smoke, warning lights, and/or engine overheating. Toyota estimated at the time that about 250 of the vehicles were affected by cracked engines, but told owners of all the recalled vehicles to have them checked at their dealerships.

If upon investigation, the dealer determined that the engine was one of those affected by the improper cooling, Toyota promised to replace the engine, including the engine block.

To see if your vehicle may be affected by this or other recalls, check the NHTSA’s recall site.

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