Car recall confusion: I-Team uncovers loopholes

CHICAGO (WLS) -- The ABC7 I-Team investigated multiple recalls issued to one vehicle, and the engine fire that could have killed a young suburban woman. The I-Team also found loopholes in the notification process.

"Oh my God, it's still on fire," Emily Olson said in a frantic 911 call. "My car is on fire!"

The Morton Grove woman says her 2013 Ford Escape burst into flames in March, as she was driving near her college in Plover, Wisconsin.

"That was the scariest moment of my life," Olson said. "I saw a flame just roll underneath the hood up the windshield... I grabbed my keys. I grabbed my purse and started running."

Olson and her mother said they had no idea the car was named in four "voluntary" recalls until after it burst into flames. One of the recalls was for the engine - and warned of a risk of fire.

"It was a dangerous vehicle. She could have been killed. Angry? Angry is not the word. I am absolutely furious," Amy Olson said.

The dealership where Olson bought the car referred the I-Team to the manufacturer. A Ford spokesperson said: "Ford Motor Company sent seven different mailings to this customer during 2014 alerting her to the safety recalls and encouraging her to contact a dealer... she never brought the vehicle in to be serviced..."

Ford encourages customers to get recalls fixed, which they say is at no cost to the customer.

The Olsons say they never received those notices and argue the vehicle was regularly brought in for service at two Ford dealerships for routine maintenance.

"Unfortunately, right now, for the consumer, it's on them to do the research," said Kevin Pollack, who works for Stericycle, a Chicago area company that helps manage recalls.

He and other experts say dealerships aren't legally required to inform, check or fix open recalls during regular maintenance.

"It's a real problem in the industry right now and it's something that's being talked about quite a bit by NHTSA and by consumer groups and even the auto manufacturers," Pollack said.

The I-Team found five other voluntary recalls for the 2013 Ford Escape issued before the Olsons bought the car. None were specifically for their vehicle's build date, but some were related to potential engine fires.

The family admits they wish they'd done more research.

"Well, yeah. I mean hindsight is 20/20," Amy Olson said.

ABC7's Jason Knowles says: "But most people wouldn't know."

New car dealers have no legal obligation to inform buyers of a vehicle's recall history. They do have to fix recalls before selling.

"It's just that the car has to have open recalls fixed before the new car would be sold," Pollack said. "You are trusting the dealer will do what's required."

After the I-Team got involved in Olson's case, the Ford Motor Company made this one-time cash offer of $16,000 - but the Olsons say they paid about $25,000 for the vehicle, so they refused the offer.

"I just felt neglected from Ford and that was my life and my safety that was put into danger on that day," Emily Olson said.

Ford says it takes the safety of its customers very seriously. Proposed federal legislation would require dealerships to notify customers of recalls when they bring cars in for routine maintenance and require new vehicles to be built with a flashing "recall notification system."

In the meantime, you can check or for recalls on your vehicle.

On, if you search by make and model , you'll get a full history of recalls - but those may not all be linked to your specific vehicle. To search for your specific vehicle's open recalls, you should use the "VIN" option.
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