Hidden car dangers you should be aware of

News 6 investigates emerging trends that can put your life in peril

ORLANDO, Fla. – Aside from getting into a serious car accident, most people would lean more towards the idea of their car protecting them rather than putting their life in peril. There are several concerns as of late related to components in your car that you probably rarely think about.

Air Bags

New airbags are so expensive that experts say less-than-reputable vendors and repair shops have turned to replacing damaged airbags with used or counterfeit ones, both of which can easily be found on the Internet.

“Junkyards sell ‘em, they shouldn’t, but they do,” says Steve Alfieri of Russell Automotive in Apopka. “You can get them on eBay. You can get them anywhere. But if you value your life and your safety, get them new from the dealer.”

Alfieri says third party airbags are nowhere as reliable as “OE” or original equipment.

“I wouldn’t buy anywhere but OE," Alfieri told News 6.

In a video released by Hyundai USA last year, the Korean automaker shows a counterfeit airbag failing during a simulated crash. The airbag separates from the steering wheel and covers the crash test dummy’s face like raw pizza dough before the dummy’s head slams into the steering wheel. A pair of videos from the NHTSA shows one counterfeit airbag for a Honda deploying but not holding air. Another airbag literally explodes and comes apart from the steering wheel.

When I asked Alfieri if only using OE airbags from the factory is just a money-grab for the car manufacturers, he replied with this: “Not at all. This is like I’ve been saying all along, this is your safety.”

Push Button Ignitions

Our second concern: push button ignitions.

Here’s a scenario: You pull into your garage, put your car in park, but because you don’t need to physically turn your keys in an ignition lock and pull them from the steering column or dashboard, you in turn exit the vehicle forgetting to turn the car off.

What happens next: A running car in an enclosed space leads to carbon monoxide poisoning.

If this sounds like a fluke or rare occurrence consider this from kidsandcars.org, a nonprofit that brings national attention to vehicular dangers:

  • Since 2003, 20 people have died in the U.S. as a result of carbon monoxide poisoning because they had forgotten to turn off a push-button ignition car.
  • Over that same period, kidsandcars.org says more than 40 people have been injured in the similar scenarios.
  • And here’s the scary part for Floridians: 10 of those 20 fatalities have happened here.

According to Janette Fennell, founder of kidsandcars.org, one possible reason for the high concentration in the Sunshine State is because of an older population that for decades was used to this routine: put car in park/turn key/pull keys out of the ignition/exit car.

​Some elder Floridians are replacing their older cars with newer ones; newer ones that come with keyless entry and push-button ignitions. It takes awhile for muscle-memory to adjust to any new routine. Eliminate two steps and replacing them with one is not something learned and followed overnight, especially when you did it the first way for the previous 30 or 40 years.

Car Batteries

On June 2, 2016, Latifa Lincoln, 46, and her three-year-old daughter Maksmilla, were found dead on the Florida Turnpike in their still-running Porsche Cayenne SUV. When a state trooper broke the window in an effort to reach the pair, he was met with “a strong smell coming out of the vehicle.”

The trooper called in emergency rescue and as things progressed, what was first thought to be a small fender-bender turned into a HAZMAT situation and the Turnpike being closed for hours, complete with emergency responders being decontaminated at the scene.

A preliminary report from the Orange-Osceola Medical Examiner’s Office indicates the cause of death as “being consistent with hydrogen-sulfide-intoxication,” or the inhalation of toxic fumes. Investigators believe those fumes came from the Porsche’s battery, a battery located under the front passenger seat.

So what exactly happened and could it happen to you?

In a typical automobile, the battery is located under the hood in the engine compartment. Porsche Cayennes, along with a few other vehicles, have their batteries in the passenger compartment. Why? Manufacturers will change the battery location for weight distribution, to protect the battery from the elements, and sometimes because there is simply no more room under the hood.

As for the battery itself, you can’t bolt in any off-the-shelf battery in a passenger compartment. Batteries that sit in engine compartments are vented batteries; toxic fumes vent to the air outside and dissipate. Batteries that sit in the passenger compartment are sealed batteries: they do not vent to the outside air, but instead have a small opening that connects to a special vent tube. If toxic fumes are released from the battery, the tube carries them out of the passenger cabin.

“If you do smell something inside the car, then most likely it is the battery,” Alfieri told me. “It’s got a bad egg smell.” His advice if you do encounter that smell: “That’s a serious problem and it should not be in the vehicle at all.”

This past October, county officials confirmed the battery in the Cayenne was “not the original battery for the vehicle, nor the correct battery.” News 6 has learned the Porsche’s battery has been taken to Washington D.C. by the NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) for further tests. Porsche also sent a representative to Central Florida to examine the vehicle.

The takeaway from this tragic event: If you have a car or SUV with the battery in the passenger compartment, make sure any replacement that is done is done with the correct battery.

Alfieri also adds to make sure there are no cracks on the battery and no fluid or liquid is pooling around the bottom. And most important of all: If you can sense a funny smell, or you feel as if you’re getting sick while inside the car, pull over immediately and have the vehicle towed and examined by a certified mechanic.​​

About the Authors:

Lisa Bell has been in Central Florida since 2007, covering the big stories that impact our community. Lisa was promoted to News 6 evening news co-anchor in May 2014.

Donovan is WKMG-TV's executive producer of digital enterprise