Pants on fire

I have a 2002 Volvo V70 estate. This week my wife was driving the children to school in the morning and had the heated seats on to combat the cold. Suddenly and without warning the car started to fill with smoke and fumes. My wife looked down to see that the seat edge was smouldering, at which point she turned the seat heaters off and pulled to the side of the road. She managed to get the children out and, with a fair amount of banging and dabbing, put out the seat that by this stage was smouldering extensively and starting to catch light. As she is a non-smoker we could only attribute the fire to the heated seats, a view which was later endorsed by the AA patrolman who attended to confirm the car was safe to drive home, albeit with a hole now in the seat. He also stated that she was lucky to get out at all as seats can propagate fire and burn very quickly. I cannot understand why the seats do not have a thermal link fitted that fails in the event of an overheat rather than let the heating element ignite the seat foam. Volvo initially seemed disinterested, citing the fact that the car is 8 years old as a possible contributory factor (until I asked whether 8 years old Volvos were expected to burst into flames). They have now agreed to have a cursory investigation as to the cause. Have you or your readers experienced anything similar? I know that 850s had a problem, but have not heard of the same with V70s.

Asked on 29 May 2010 by AT, via email

Answered by Honest John
Many thanks. I’ve included a warning in Car by Car Breakdown not to use and preferably to disconnect heated seat elements on Volvo V70s once they get to 8 years old. After all, would you trust an 8-year-old electric blanket? The car is now past the end of its design life so problems are to be expected. This one is obviously due to wear eventually exposing the elements of the seat. VOSA does not generally take the view that manufacturers are responsible for this sort of fault with this age of car. The seat elements will be fused. But once an electrical element sets fire to a piece of upholstery, cutting the circuit will make no difference.
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