A DESIGN flaw in a new piece of diesel engine technology created to reduce soot emissions in new utes has left hundreds of Australian farmers stranded, unable to drive over their stubbles safely.
There have been reports of stubble fires being started by diesel particulate filters (DPFs), a feature on new model diesel utes as part of a push to reduce particulate matter pollution, and farmers are now unwilling to take utes with the new feature over grassy areas.
It means diesel vehicles fitted with the new DPFs will have to be treated the same way as petrol vehicles, which have catalytic converters that also run hot, and be left only for on-road use.
Late last year Ford issued recall notices for its Ranger series of utes, while Mazda took the same step for its BT-50 range, while there is speculation there may be other popular models set to be called back to fix the flaw.
It has been reported there have been over 20 fires in Ranger and BT-50 utes fitted with the new DPF systems.
A Victorian farmer has said he was lucky a fire started by his Ford Ranger ute at harvest did not cause more damage.
Michael Sudholz, who farms at Natimuk in Victoria’s Wimmera, said 60 hectares of crop and stubble had been burnt due to a fire started by a ute.
He said it was initially a puzzle as to how the fire started.
“Generally at harvest you automatically think of the header, but it was the wrong side of the paddock, we had to go around asking who was where in the paddock before we realised it had to be the ute,” Mr Sudholz said.
“You get pretty used to being able to drive everywhere in a diesel vehicle so it came as a bit of a shock that this DPF was running so hot and that we couldn’t safely drive on stubbles.
“We have had to change the way we do things in terms of paddock access,” he said.
Mr Sudholz said the family was now using an older diesel vehicle, without the DPF, to drive across paddocks.
“We’ve got two Rangers and to not be able to use them in the paddocks is pretty frustrating, you’ve got the ute for work purposes and not to be able to use them is annoying but obviously safety is everyone’s major priority, we want to keep down the risk of a fire at this time of year when everything is so dry.”
Mr Sudholz said there had been no mention of potential fire risk prior to purchasing the vehicle.
He said he had been in contact with Ford since then incident, who acknowledged there was a problem but said as yet there were not parts to fix the issue.
“We’re hopeful they will come up with something soon so we can get full use out of the vehicles, but obviously the main priority is for them to get in touch with everyone just to ensure the flaw doesn’t cause any more fires.”
Ford and Mazda are both contacting all customers with utes fitted with the DPF to inform them of the fire risk posed by driving over long grass.
A spokesperson for the NSW-based Rural Fire Service (RFS) said farmers needed to take care when driving in stubbles and through long grass no matter what vehicle they were driving.
Greg Allan said appropriate caution needed to be taken when driving or parking in long vegetation.
“People need to remember the importance of things like cleaning out any debris built up around the vehicle, on a hot day it only takes a small spark to start a fire.”
“Carrying some fire prevention equipment is also a useful precaution no matter what you are driving.”