Disabled N.J. woman inspires nationwide auto safety fix

Posted: January 31, 2014

When Joananne Teore saw the check-engine light on her minivan's dash last year, she wasn't sure what the problem was, but she soon found out.

Teore, who has nerve and muscular conditions, had had her Toyota Sienna modified for wheelchair accessibility. She learned that the changes had caused the fuel filler neck to come in contact with the left rear shock absorber.

The worn area of the neck eventually could have allowed gasoline or gas vapors to escape and possibly led to a fire or explosion, she said.

The defect came to light after Teore's complaint to the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs and an investigation by a mechanic and vehicle inspector contracted by the agency.

The complaint also resulted in the discovery in New Jersey of six other modified Sienna minivans with the same issue - and the recall of 82 vans across the country.

All had wheelchair accessibility changes made by ElDorado National of Salina, Kan.

"We really could have blown up," said Teore, 56, of Monroe Township, Middlesex County. "I don't want anyone getting injured."

The Division of Consumer Affairs announced a settlement Wednesday with ElDorado, which issued the nationwide recall of the affected minivans and corrected the defects at no cost to the owners. Loaner vehicles also were provided to the New Jersey consumers, the state Division of Consumer Affairs said.

No injuries were reported as a result of the defects. ElDorado has changed the way it modifies Toyota minivans, authorities said. Matthew T. Pisano, a Mount Laurel lawyer representing the company, declined to comment and officials of ElDorado could not be reached Wednesday evening.

"Our investigation and swift action potentially saved lives, plain and simple," Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman said in a statement. Consumer Affairs investigators "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."

State investigators and a mechanic and vehicle inspector contracted by the division inspected ElDorado's corrective measures and each replacement part.

"We have achieved a real victory for the safety of those whose mobility is impaired and for their families," Eric T. Kanefsky, acting director of the Division of Consumer Affairs, said in a statement. He commended "ElDorado for cooperating with us in order to correct these defects and provide for the safety of their current and future customers."

As part of the settlement, the company also agreed to provide consumers with the weight limits of its wheelchair-modified vehicles, as well as the dangers of exceeding the limits.

Wheelchair-modified vehicles contain heavy equipment that reduces the total occupant and cargo weight they can safely carry.

ElDorado also will develop reporting requirements for its dealerships when they receive complaints from consumers. The dealerships will report complaints to ElDorado, which paid the state $10,000 to reimburse attorney's fees and investigative costs.

"My vehicle started the whole thing," said Teore.


ecolimore@phillynews.com

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