By Christina Hager

PEABODY (CBS) – “Oh my god! My car’s on fire!”

Cell phone cameras were rolling when Michelle Noriega’s SUV pulled into a Peabody shopping plaza last March.

jiffy1 I Team: Jiffy Lube Denies That Oil Change Caused SUV Fire

Michelle Noriega’s SUV on fire in Peabody in March 2018. (Courtesy photo)

“I grabbed my purse, jumped out, and within a minute it exploded,” Noriega told WBZ-TV. Her 2013 Kia Sorento was destroyed.  “You get an oil change and you don’t think your car is going to catch fire.”

Noriega blames Jiffy Lube for the fire.  She told the I-Team that smoke started coming out from under the hood of her Kia only minutes after she left the Peabody Jiffy Lube.

jiffy2 I Team: Jiffy Lube Denies That Oil Change Caused SUV Fire

The Jiffy Lube in Peabody. (WBZ-TV)

“I could see a little bit of smoke. But it wasn’t a lot of smoke, so I wasn’t concerned,” she recalled. By the time she got to a parking lot, one mile down the road, the engine was on fire.

Noriega said she noticed a trail of oil from the parking lot entrance to where she finally parked the SUV. The police also noticed the oil. In a police report about the incident the officer wrote “as Noriega was speaking, I noticed a pool of auto oil near her feet. Upon further investigation there was a trail of spilt oil.”

Her insurance company hired a third party inspector, SD Lyons out of Seekonk, to analyze the Kia. After examining the charred engine the inspector reported “it is most probable the fire … was caused by the ignition of oil that leaked from the oil filter or drain plug.” And that the fire was, “most likely caused by a faulty oil service change conducted at Jiffy Lube.”

Jiffy Lube was notified in advance of this inspection last May. The inspector “even waited an extra 30 minutes for them [Jiffy Lube] to show and they didn’t show up,” said Noriega.

In a statement, Jiffy Lube told the I-Team, “The report is inconclusive in determining the cause of the fire. Because oil is non-flammable in almost all vehicle related uses, we feel very strongly that the oil change service performed on Ms. Noriega’s 2013 Kia Sorento did not result in an engine fire; there are other, much more likely causes for the fire, which are wholly unrelated to any service performed by Jiffy Lube.”

Jiffy Lube is alluding to a recall of Kia Sorentos. But Noriega’s V6 engine is not part of that recall.

“There are very few cases where we can come to a 100% certainty about the cause of a fire,” said PJ Leiss. Leiss works for Robson Forensics and is an expert in car fire investigations. He told us the challenge of pinpointing a cause in any fire is that the evidence is damaged or even destroyed. We asked him to look over Noriega’s case. “Mr. Lyons’ opinion, it most likely was caused by the oil change, given the evidence that we have… is fairly strong.”

jiffy3 I Team: Jiffy Lube Denies That Oil Change Caused SUV Fire

Michelle Noriega. (WBZ-TV)

“My insurance company paid $12,500. So, I still owe about $4,000 and Jiffy Lube does not want to do anything to reimburse me for my, for my car,” said Noriega. On top of the remaining car payments for the totaled Kia, Noriega is now also paying for her new ride, a smaller sedan.

“I mean within a mile, 10-15 minutes, I lost my vehicle and everything I had in it. Thank God we didn’t lose our lives,” she said.

Jiffy Lube told us they are trying to reschedule the inspection that they missed. Kia also wants to conduct its own investigation. In the meantime, Noriega will keep paying the bank for a car that she will never drive again.

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