US car giant Ford has recalled more than 4,500 of its Kuga model in South Africa for safety checks after dozens of them caught fire since 2015.

Investigations show the fires were caused by overheating in some parts of the engine which led to oil leaks, said Ford SA chief executive Jeff Nemeth.

The recall affects the 1.6 litre model, built in Spain between 2012 and 2014.

The firm has been under pressure to act since motorist Reshall Jimmy, 33, burnt to death in his Kuga in 2015.

A total of 48 of the vehicles have so far caught fire in South Africa‚ 11 of them this month, the local TimesLive newspaper reported. 

South Africa’s motor industry ombudsman Johan van Vreden demanded that “Ford must act – now.”

“One or two vehicles in the same model range catching fire is not unusual‚ but almost 50… it’s crazy‚ especially in a small market like ours,” the newspaper quoted him as saying.

‘Senseless death’

Mr Nemeth said he could confirm 39 vehicles burning, but there may be other cases which had not been reported to the firm.

He understood the concerns of owners and the firm would “work with dealers to ensure each case is treated fairly”.

Recalled vehicles would be subjected to a software update and a check on the cylinder head‚ Mr Nemeth added.

He said that an investigation which led to Mr Jimmy’s vehicle burning while he was on holiday had not been concluded, but it appeared to be unrelated to the engine catching fire.

“We are not aware of any injuries that have resulted from our engine compartment fires,” Mr Nemeth added, while offering condolences to Mr Jimmy’s family.

Mr Nemeth spoke at a joint news conference with representatives of the family and the National Consumer Commission, which had been putting pressure on the firm to act.

“This issue has dragged on for too long‚” said commissioner Ibrahim Mohammad.

Mr Jimmy’s brother, Kaveen, said his family was planning legal action against the car giant for a “very senseless death”.

The commission, a regulatory body, has given Ford until 28 February to complete its investigation and report back.

In 2014, Ford recalled about 850,000 cars in North America over a “potential issue” with airbags.