The Big Fire Has Everyone Talking

Jim Luff
Posted on May 8, 2013

Theories abound on the stretch limo fire, many that will look silly when the real reasons come out. I won't add to the speculation, but the whole scenario is hard to imagine as an industry. Every single one of us paused to think, “I wonder if that could happen to me?”  “I wonder what I would do?”  Those thoughts will chill your blood.

I know it motivated me enough today to go to and snatch up 30 seatbelt cutter/window breaker emergency tools. My chauffeurs are going to be able to break that tempered glass immediately. They cost $7 each and that’s a pretty cheap investment of safety given the level of tragedy that occurred.

Personally, I’m not going to speculate on what happened. If investigators who examine aircraft accidents say it will be weeks before they know what happened, I’m sure not going to be armchair quarterbacking it.

I will say I don’t believe the age of the car was the cause. While big city operators are forced to upgrade every few years to keep up with the demands of uber metros, small town limo companies nationwide run older cars. The folks around these little towns are just happy to have a limousine service and they don’t care if the car is a 1999. These cars also don’t have nearly as many miles logged each year, since most are used weekends, and as the demand for limos is not the same in a small town.
We maintain a privately owned limousine in our fleet that is a 1997 that was originally owned by us, retired and sold to a doctor. We have continued to maintain it, store it and operate it for him. That’s another story someday. That limo is in mint condition with 250,000 miles on it and I’d take it across the Mojave Desert tomorrow feeling safe.
A car that is well maintained, including replacement of major components like the transmission, can remain in service for 20 years. Over the years, we have replaced the tranny, a/c compressor, radiator, upper and lower control arms and the rear axle of the ‘97.

Being from Bakersfield, we don’t have a huge demand for stretches and it is typical for us to run them for 10 years. They go through various cycles where they are the premier display car, the high-roller, frequent flyer car. They move on down to doing your daily airport work and then eventually become the car you bring out during prom season or for a really large funeral or event. At this point in their lives they are no longer racking up big miles but logging maybe 50 miles a month if they go out at all.
I don’t think we need to enact new laws on the age of limos as I saw suggested online. I don’t think we need a public outcry insisting they ride only in a newer car only for “safety reasons.” I do think that vehicles should be inspected on an annual basis by a law enforcement agency that enforces DOT laws such as the highway patrol or even FMCSA (Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration).

— Jim Luff, LCT contributing editor 

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