|NEWARK – Acting to protect consumers against potentially deadly safety defects in minivans that had been modified for wheelchair accessibility, the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs today announced a settlement with the Kansas-based company that performs the modifications.
The potential fire and explosion hazards were discovered by the Division of Consumer Affairs, during its investigation into complaints by a New Jersey consumer who was concerned about a check engine light in her modified minivan.
The defect was found in Toyota Sienna minivans that had been modified for wheelchair accessibility by ElDorado National (Kansas), Inc. The New Jersey consumer had purchased her vehicle from a New Jersey Toyota dealership; it was then shipped to ElDorado for wheelchair accessibility modification. The Division’s investigation found the same defect and various stages of damage in a total of six ElDorado-modified Toyota Sienna minivans in New Jersey. ElDorado asserts that a total of 82 minivans nationwide were affected.
In response to the Division’s investigation and findings, ElDorado issued a nationwide recall of all affected Toyota Sienna minivans that it had modified, and has corrected all defects at no cost to consumers. The company also provided free loaner vehicles to the six affected New Jersey consumers. ElDorado asserts that it has changed the way it modifies Toyota Sienna minivans, in order to prevent similar defects. No injuries were reported as a result of the defects.
“Our investigation and swift action potentially saved lives, plain and simple,” Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman said. “I am very proud of the Division of Consumer Affairs investigators who acted with alacrity to help this consumer, found a potentially deadly problem, and worked with the company to get these vehicles off the roads in New Jersey and across America.”
Division of Consumer Affairs investigators, and an expert mechanic and vehicle inspector contracted by the Division, inspected ElDorado’s correction of the defects. The Division representatives inspected each replacement part, attended the training of ElDorado technicians who would perform the correction, and watched the technicians perform several vehicle corrections.
“We have achieved a real victory for the safety of those whose mobility is impaired, and for their families,” Eric T. Kanefsky, Director of the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs, said. “I commend ElDorado for cooperating with us in order to correct these defects and provide for the safety of their current and future customers.”
In the settlement announced today, ElDorado agreed, among other things, to provide consumers with clear and prominent notification about the weight limits of its wheelchair-modified vehicles, as well as the dangers of exceeding those limits. Wheelchair-modified vehicles contain heavy equipment that significantly reduces the total occupant and cargo weight they can safely carry. This safety information will be conspicuously placed in owner’s manuals and hang tags placed on the vehicles.
ElDorado also will develop reporting requirements for its dealerships when they receive complaints from consumers. The dealerships will be required to report all complaints and related information to ElDorado in a timely manner. ElDorado also has paid $10,000 to reimburse the State’s attorney’s fees and investigative costs.
The safety defects came to light after a consumer residing in Monroe Township filed a complaint with the Division of Consumer Affairs about concerns regarding her Toyota Sienna minivan, following its modification by ElDorado.
An independent mechanic and vehicle inspector, contracted by the Division of Consumer Affairs, examined the vehicle and was alarmed to find that its fuel filler neck was coming into contact with the left rear shock absorber, allegedly as a result of ElDorado’s modification.
The fuel filler neck was visibly worn. Damage to a vehicle’s fuel filler neck can allow gasoline or gasoline vapors to escape, potentially resulting in a fire or explosion that could cause injury or death.
In its settlement with the State, ElDorado also agreed that it will continue to comply with all National Highway Transportation Safety Administration laws and regulations, particularly those that pertain to reporting known safety defects and responding to safety concerns.
ElDorado voluntarily and fully cooperated with the Division of Consumer Affairs and provided information to assist with its investigation.
Investigator Gilbert Horrach and Supervising Investigator Joseph Singh, in the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs’ Office of Consumer Protection, conducted this investigation. Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Koziar, within the Division of Law, represented the State in this matter.
Consumers who believe they have been cheated or scammed by a business, or suspect any other form of consumer abuse, can file a complaint with the State Division of Consumer Affairs by visiting its website or by calling 1-800-242-5846 (toll free within New Jersey) or 973-504-6200.
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