Special Report: Carsick?

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Special Report: Is Your Car Making You Sick?

Mold Can Be Spread Through Air Conditioning
From NBC 10 Consumer Reporter Tracy Davidson (nbc10.com)

John Consalvi and Jeanette Hallak both told NBC 10's Consumer Alert Team that their cars' heating and cooling systems are making them sick.

"We went to turn on the [air conditioning] one day, and it had a horrible smell – I call it a toxic smell," Hallak said. "You immediately have to shut it off. I do have allergies [and] this probably made it worse."

"I get a little dizzy whenever I smell the odor from the [air conditioning] unit. I'm allergic to mold and mildew, so I have to roll down the windows so I can feel better," Consalvi said.

Experts call it "toxic car syndrome."

"A lot of new vehicles have mold in the air conditioning system," said Clarence Ditlow, with the Center for Auto Safety in Washington.

Ditlow said that mold in ventilation systems is a common problem.

"It results in water accumulating in it, promoting the growth of the mold, and whenever you turn on the air conditioner, the first thing you do is get hit with a blast of moldy air," Ditlow said.

The challenge for car owners is how to fix the problem. Some car manufacturers have put out advisories on the problem and have told mechanics how to fix the problem. Many times it involves a disinfectant sprayed into the ventilation system.

The fix can cost you a few hundred dollars, and it doesn't guarantee the moldy smell is gone for good.

"They sprayed it and installed the part, per the bulletin, and the odor was still there. I brought it back three times," Consalvi said.

"What will happen, is that when you dump the chemicals into the (air conditioning) system, you will kill off the bacteria and the mold for awhile, but it will come back again," Ditlow said.

Ditlow said that if a car has the problem, you are stuck with it for the life of the car.

Attorney Jacqueline Herritt has advice for consumers:

"If they turn it on and they smell any odd smell, they should definitely take it back into the dealership. Don't settle for any excuses from the dealership – make sure something is done or it could affect your health," Herritt said.

The Consumer Alert bottom line is, if you have a smell, you should complain to the manufacturer in writing and use the Lemon Law in your state to try to get the manufacturer to buy your car back.

Both Consalvi and Jeanette Hallak filed lawsuits against the manufacturer. They both have General Motors cars. General Motors has since bought back Consalvi's car. He got a new truck from the company. Hallak settled with the company.

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