Transport Canada investigating Smart car fire on Ottawa highway

Transport Canada said it has launched an investigation into a Smart car that burst into flames on an Ottawa roadway earlier this month.

Woman had to pull over on Hwy. 417 after car filled with smoke on Oct. 18

The 2008 Smart Fortwo that caught fire and burned on Highway 417 on Oct. 18 sits in a towing lot. (Susan Burgess)

Transport Canada said it has launched an investigation into a Smart car that burst into flames on an Ottawa roadway earlier this month and sent its driver into a panic.

Aurélie Rossier, 34, was alone and heading west on Highway 417 near Bronson Avenue on Oct. 18 when the interior of the 2008 Smart Fortwo she was driving suddenly filled with smoke. After she pulled over and called for help, the car caught fire with flames shooting into the air.

"I couldn't see the road anymore. I couldn't breathe," Rossier told CBC News in French. "To see a car burned like this, it was really crazy for me. I was really, really scared."

Aurélie Rossier was driving her friend's Smart car on the highway when the interior suddenly filled with smoke. After she pulled over and got out, the car was engulfed in flames. (Marc Caron)

Witnesses reported seeing flames coming from the back of the car, which is where the Smart car engines are located. 

In an email to the CBC, the federal agency responsible for transportation said it has opened an investigation after being contacted by the car's owner. 

Government asking drivers to call tip line

The email said it is aware of two other Smart car fires — one involving a 2008 model Smart car, which was not due to a safety defect, and another one that happened in 2010, the cause of which remains undetermined, according to Transport Canada spokeswoman Annie Joannette. 

"To enable Transport Canada to investigate and identify potential vehicle safety defects, vehicle owners and insurance companies are encouraged to contact the defect investigation hotline at 1-800-333-0510, if they suspect a safety defect issue," Joannette wrote in the email. 

Rossier had been borrowing the car from a friend, Aaron Matharu, at the time of the fire. Matharu said he was told by Transport Canada that his car would be taken to a facility in Gatineau. He reported the incident to Transport Canada himself, and learned that neither Mercedes-Benz nor the insurance company had contacted the department about it.  

Firefighters were called to extinguish the blaze. (Marc Caron)

It's not the first time a Smart car has been investigated for catching fire. The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is investigating several unexplained fires in Smart cars.

A preliminary investigation of eight complaints of alleged engine compartment fires has so far identified 27 incidents. Authorities in the U.S. could recommend a recall of the vehicles if a safety-related defect is found. 

About the Author

Joe Lofaro

Web reporter

Joe Lofaro is a CBC News web reporter based in Ottawa. You can reach him by email at and on Twitter @giuseppelo.

With files from Susan Burgess