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NHTSA Investigating 2009 Dodge Journey After Fatal Electrical Fire Locks Driver Inside

The driver reported the car's electronics going haywire on a frantic call before a fire consumed the vehicle.
2009 Dodge Journey

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is investigating the 2009 Dodge Journey crossover after an electrical fire trapped its driver inside. It’s an unusual instance of the NHTSA investigating problems in a vehicle that has been out of production for years.

As noted by Automotive News, the NHTSA’s Office of Defects Investigation has commenced a preliminary evaluation of the 2009 Dodge Journey. The evaluation follows a December 9, 2022 incident wherein a Journey driver pulled over after experiencing a variety of electrical malfunctions, including electronic door locks that would not unlock. The car then caught fire and burned to a husk, killing its driver.

Remains of 2009 Dodge Journey destroyed in suspected electrical fire.
Remains of 2009 Dodge Journey destroyed in suspected electrical fire. Dane County Sheriff’s Office via Newsweek

The incident is believed to be the one reported in January by Newsweek. The driver, 73-year-old Mary Frahm of Wisconsin, reported in an emergency call to her fiancé that the vehicle’s electronics were malfunctioning; the speedometer was “going crazy,” the wipers had activated on their own, the horn was blaring, and the dashboard warning lights were flashing. Frahm reportedly pulled over and placed another emergency call, but by the time responders arrived, the vehicle was destroyed and Frahm was dead.

The 2009 Dodge Journey used a combination of manual and electronic locks, which Automotive News reports have been subject to several complaints regarding locks in the NHTSA’s online database. The incident report suggests the electronic locks may have malfunctioned and locked the driver in the vehicle; it’s unclear whether the electronic mechanism jammed the locks in place, or if the driver’s distress led them to overlook the manual controls.

Stellantis reportedly told Automotive News that it would cooperate with the NHTSA’s investigation.

ODI investigations begin with preliminary evaluations, and only escalate to an engineering analysis if a problem is indicated. From there, the ODI will determine whether a recall is necessary. It’d be unusual in a discontinued vehicle like the Journey, but older models are sometimes subject to recalls if problems are found to be widespread, and attributable to design defects rather than normal wear.

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