4OYS: Are you driving a death trap?

Created: 05/19/2014 10:44 PM
By: Ryan Luby, KOB Eyewitness News 4

If you’ve ever discarded those automotive recall notices that show up in your mailbox, you might think twice after hearing about the man whose minivan burst into flames.

John Bodenheimer was driving on Highway 6 – halfway between Los Lunas and Highland Meadows – when his 1999 Ford Windstar suddenly broke down.  Stranded, without cell service, Bodenheimer walked several miles until someone agreed to give him a ride.  Unbeknownst to him until the following morning, the van caught fire under the hood while he was gone.

“It could have caught fire in a major business area, you know, and caused a lot of damage,” Bodenheimer said.

Roughly a week later, he received a recall notice from Ford which informed him that his vehicle was at risk of catching fire “at any time” due to a defective speed control deactivation switch, including while turned off and parked.

That particular recall has been active for several years nationwide.

“And I said, ‘Now I get that!  A week later after my car caught on fire!’” he said.

Bodenheimer said he had never received the recall notice before.  He bought the van used from a lien auction in California in 2011 and said recall repairs never dawned on him.

“No, it never clicked,” he said.

Although the van had high mileage, Bodenheimer said he highly suspects the defective part is to blame for the fire.  He said he took great care of the van in the time he had it.

“I had the engine rebuilt, I've had the transmission done,” he said.

He admitted he never checked to see if the van’s previous owners ever took care of the recall repairs.

The people at Carfax estimated there are roughly 36,000,000 vehicles across in the U.S. that are in desperate need of recall repairs.  They said more than 20,000 of those types of vehicles were sold online in New Mexico in the last year.

“In a lot of cases, recalls aren't being fixed because the cars change hands or the owners move before the recall notices get to them,” Chris Basso of Carfax said. “Today, recalls have become so commonplace that many of us have almost become desensitized to them.”

Basso credited recalls for helping rather than hurting.  He said a lot of used car buyers don’t realize there are free services available that allow them to easily check to see if specific vehicles, using specific VIN numbers, are in need of recall repairs.  He said used car sellers are not necessarily obligated to make recall repairs.

Outside of the free recall check available through Carfax itself, Basso said drivers could contact a licensed dealership that services specific makes of cars.  He said they could easily pull up a database on any vehicle.

“It's an issue that every car buyer, and car owner, needs to be on the lookout for because they could affect any vehicle that you're driving or thinking about buying,” Basso said.

Through the Carfax service, 4 On Your Side learned that Bodenheimer’s had four recall notices.

Although he lost his van, and only recouped roughly $1,900 for it from his insurance company, he said he learned a hard lesson.

“A friend of mine has a 2003 Windstar, and he's going to have his checked,” Bodenheimer said.  “He doesn't want the same thing happening to him.”

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