Recreational Risk: Polaris RZRs still catching fire despite years of recalls

Oct 28, 2022, 9:38 AM | Updated: 10:16 am

SALT LAKE CITY — It’s safe to say thousands of people own and operate Polaris RZRs with absolutely no issues.

The issues that do arise have had deadly consequences. Recalls over the years show one thing in common: fire.

An explosion of flames

Brian and Terah Jones bought their 2018 Polaris RZR 1000 Turbo Dynamix side-by-side just after their daughter, Indy, completed her cancer treatments.

“It was her thing,” said Brian. “It was like, every day, we would park outside and every time she would see us, she’d want to go for a RZR ride, even if it was around the neighborhood.”

For three years, the Joneses used their RZR without incident, even after Indy passed from her cancer battle.

That changed in July 2022, when the family’s three-hour ride through Dixie National Forest abruptly came to an end.

“We were about 60 seconds from our trailer when I started smelling gas,” said Terah. “I looked over and there were flames next to my face.”

“I heard an explosion,” recalled Brian. “It wasn’t like a firework explosion, like a pop. It was like, if you’re familiar with fuel, like a ‘whooooof.'”

Brian said fire came shooting over and under the back seat, where 8-year-old family friend Ruby and the family’s dog were sitting. Terah and Brian sat in the front seats, with their toddler, Birdy, strapped in between them.

“My first thought was, ‘I gotta get these two away from the flames,’ and so I rip the door open, and I rip the harness off of (Ruby), and I pick her up and set her off to the side,” recounted Brian, “and I’m telling Terah, ‘Get Birdie out!’ Then I went back, and I grabbed the dog. The whole thing was engulfed in, I don’t know, 30 seconds maybe.”

The Jones family escaped with singed hair and some burns, something they call a miracle.

Once everyone was safe, they watched the RZR burn to its frame. They prevented a forest fire by putting out smaller fires with a fire extinguisher. It took an hour for a fire truck to arrive.

“Tires started exploding,” said Brian. “I still don’t know exactly what it was that started on fire. I know that the gas tank was over on the passenger side, and luckily Ruby was sitting on the rear driver’s side because the rear passenger side was completely engulfed.”

The family started recording the fire and posted it to their social media account. They were shocked when comments started coming in saying their experience wasn’t isolated.

Terah said even law enforcement and the park ranger who showed up shared their stories of Polaris fires.

“They said, ‘Oh yeah, we’ve seen Polaris RZRs start on fire multiple times,” said Terah. “I was shocked. It was just mind-blowing.”

Years of recalls for ‘fire hazard’

A quick internet search of “Polaris RZR fire” brings up a multitude of burning UTVs, with individual accounts of spontaneous ignition.

KSL Investigators found 22 recalls of various RZR years and models in the past decade, with 13 recalls involving fire hazards. The recalls involved 302,050 machines.

Some years saw multiple fire recalls, most recently in 2021. So far this year, there have been two RZR recalls for fire hazards, and one stop ride/stop sale order from the company.

The reasons for the fire hazard recalls varied from year to year, including the fuel line, fuel pump, turbocharger, fuel tank and oil drain line.

KSL Investigators asked Polaris about the cause of the fire hazards and if it was a design flaw. In an email, their company spokesperson wrote, “our product development processes focus on safety and quality, both during the design and production of our off-road vehicles. If an issue is identified in the field, we stand behind our products by correcting the issue. This includes using the CPSC’s voluntary safety recall process as we’ve done in the past.”

Seven years since Baylee’s death

One recall, for a 2014 model, did not list a specific reason for why the machine can catch fire. But it pointed to a death.

That death was 15-year-old Baylee Hoaldridge of Provo, Utah, who was burned in a RZR accident on July 4, 2015.

“She was like, ‘Daddy! Daddy! Help! Help! Help! Help!’” Baylee’s father BJ Hoaldridge emotionally recalled. “Just screaming as loud as she could.”

Their RZR tipped over and caught fire, with Baylee trapped inside.

A family member was able to get her out, but she suffered third-degree burns over more than half of her body. After four and a half months in the hospital, going septic six times and 27 surgeries, Baylee was taken off life support.

“I think about the accident every day,” Hoaldridge said. “I can’t get it out of my head. What happened? How hot? I hear Baylee’s voice.”

The recall for the RZR Baylee was riding in didn’t come until April 2016, nine months after the accident. The recall detailed 160 reports of fires and 19 reported injuries, including first-, second- and third-degree burns.

Lawsuits abound 

A search of Utah court documents revealed at least three lawsuits against Polaris due to fire hazards.

In July 2016, a case was filed by the Moss family, alleging their RZR spontaneously caught fire two years prior, severely burning John Moss. The case was dismissed in 2017.

Maria and Jose Pina sued Polaris in 2016 after their RZR caught fire and started a forest fire that burned more than 100 acres in American Fork Canyon. Maria and her daughter sustained burns.

In 2018, Scott Eckersley filed a small claims case against Polaris after his RZR caught fire as he was pulling into his driveway in 2015. The complaint detailed how the fire burned the RZR to the frame and destroyed his driveway and landscaping. The case was dismissed.

Eric Olson is a Salt Lake City lawyer who has filed 18 cases against Polaris due to fires, dating back to 2015. His most recent filing was from a mother whose daughter was killed in a RZR fire on Sept. 4, 2021.

Olson said the recalls offer a false sense of security to owners and riders.

“It’s easy to think, ‘Well, there’s a recall. That means it’s fixed,’ and that is not the case, unfortunately, because fires continue to happen,” said Olson.

Olson said the resolution of these cases — usually involving non-disclosure agreements and secret settlements — means important details about these fires have not been made public.

“Some of it’s available, a lot of it is not,” said Olson. “If there was a trial, there would probably be a lot more available.”

More available, Olson said, because information that comes out in court becomes public.

Getting notification of recalls

Polaris reached a $27 million settlement with federal regulators in 2018 for failing to immediately report “defects” in their side-by-sides and creating possible “hazard(s)” and “risk of serious injury or death.”

It’s the largest penalty ever assessed by the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Since that settlement, Polaris has issued six more recalls citing potential fires, including the Jones’ model.

Brian said he didn’t get the notice.

“We’ve never gotten any sort of recall from Polaris or anybody,” Brian said. “We’ve changed address and they obviously have our new address because it’s on the insurance, it’s on the registration. They have all the new information, but we’ve never seen anything.”

By email, a Polaris spokesperson told us they notify owners of recalls by “email (if available) and traditional mail,” also posting recalls on “Facebook and Twitter social media channels. Once we have a validated solution, we will release a follow-up communication to owners that they should reach out to their dealer to schedule a free repair.”

Recalls are also posted on the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s website and are searchable by year and model on the Polaris website.

The Jones’ RZR was hauled away to the wrecker. They will tell you this machine is attached to some of the best memories they’ve ever made.

But in a matter of seconds, it created a memory now amongst one of their worst.

“This is not a rare fluke thing,” said Terah. “It’s happening, and something needs to be done.”

Polaris leads recalls due to fire hazard

For perspective, KSL Investigators dug into recalls for other popular UTVs similar to Polaris.

In the past 15 years, we found these companies had recalls for similar UTVs or side-by-sides due to fire hazards:

  • Yamaha (1)
  • Kawasaki (5)
  • CamAm (1)
  • Honda (2)
  • Arctic Cat (5)

To search for recalls, visit the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s website.

Have you experienced something you think just isn’t right? The KSL Investigators want to help. Submit your tip at investigates@ksl.com or 385-707-6153 so we can get working for you.

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Recreational Risk: Polaris RZRs still catching fire despite years of recalls