Say what you want about problems at The Today Show, their consumer reporters have been kicking butt lately. Especially Jeff Rossen, whose latest piece today exposed how easy it is for used car sellers to roll back a car’s odometer. He reports,
Criminals have been tricking customers for years by rolling back the mileage on the odometer, then selling the car for more money. But now the scam has gotten so profitable, investigators say it's become organized crime.…
"This is a safety concern for everyone, because people are buying cars that have 300,000 miles on (them) and believing they only have 70,000 miles on (them)," said Tom Wilson, central area commander, California DMV Investigations. "Anything can fail. And the concern is, usually they won't find out until it's too late."
Investigators say it's easier than ever for crooks to do it. The reason: Most newer cars have digital displays, simple to hack with little devices widely available online. “You plug it into the car, select the vehicle make and model, and then change the odometer to whatever you want,” Wilson explained.
But there’s more. Just a few days ago, Lisa Myers and Richard Gardella did one of the best expose’s yet on exploding plastic gas cans. The can’s largest manufacturer, Blitz USA, is now bankrupt because it decided to manufacture its plastic gas cans without 4 cent flame arresters and as a result, hundreds have been burned and many have had to sue in court. (We covered this a bit here.) Wal-Mart is the biggest seller of these death cans, which you will likely find in your own garage. Here’s what The Today Show found:
At the request of NBC News, the federal government’s Consumer Product Safety Commission analyzed incident and injury databases and counted at least 11 reported deaths and 1,200 emergency room visits involving gas can explosions during the pouring of gasoline since 1998.
The tests show that under certain limited conditions -- including a very low volume of gasoline left inside -- a flashback explosion can occur inside a plastic gas can, when gas vapor escaping the can contacts a source of ignition such as a flame or a spark. The vapor outside the container can ignite and "flash back" inside the can. If it does, and if the gas/air vapor mixture inside the can is a certain concentration, that mixture can ignite and cause an explosion of flame.
The test findings are the latest development in a long-running legal battle between can manufacturers and plaintiffs who have filed product-liability lawsuits.
Attorneys have filed at least 80 lawsuits during the past two decades on behalf of individuals injured in alleged gas can explosions. They have argued that portable plastic gas cans are “dangerous” and “unsafe” because they are “susceptible” to flashback explosions. Most of the lawsuits have named as defendants Blitz USA, until recently the largest manufacturer of plastic gas cans, and Wal-Mart, the largest seller.
So the problem clearly isn’t new. But until The Today Show did this piece, Wal-Mart did zip about it, although it is still not doing everything it could. Today, the show reports that “Wal-Mart, has agreed to contribute about $25 million to settle unresolved lawsuits filed on behalf of consumers allegedly injured or killed in explosions involving portable plastic gas cans, according to court documents obtained by NBC News.”
The money from Wal-Mart amounts to slightly more than 15 percent of a proposed $161 million fund that would settle dozens of lawsuits against the largest manufacturer of these cans, Blitz USA, records from U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Delaware show. A hearing on the proposed settlement is set for early next year.…
They note that,
According to many scientific experts, a flame arrester – an inexpensive piece of mesh or a disk with holes – can reduce the likelihood of an explosion of a gas/air vapor mixture inside a gas can. They said the arrester can prevent a flame from entering the can by absorbing and dispersing its heat energy.
Long ago, Wal-Mart could have used its market power to ordere this 4 cent fix. Instead, their “hands off” approach to selling lethal products – even after being repeatedly sued – was made crystal clear during depositions in one of the gas can cases:
A former gas can buyer for Wal-Mart, Jacques DesHommes, said when questioned in 2010 for a lawsuit that even after being sued over alleged gas can explosions, the company did not conduct any tests or investigate whether explosions were actually occurring.
"Wal-Mart does not test the can, the products. The suppliers test the products," he said.
Diane Breneman, an attorney who has represented about 30 plaintiffs in gas can cases, claims Wal-Mart should have used its power years ago to demand these cans be made safer.
"If you repeatedly are sued in cases and the allegations are people are being severely burned or burning to death, you can’t hide your head in the sand," Breneman said. "You're making money off of those cans. You have a responsibility at that point to investigate it, to do whatever is necessary, if you're going to continue to sell the product."
Asked why Wal-Mart did not ask Blitz USA to add flame arresters after it became aware of allegations in the lawsuits that the absence of a flame arrester had contributed to those incidents, [Wal-Mart spokesperson Brooke] Buchanan said, "Wal-Mart is a retailer, we rely on the experts."
Buchanan noted that when the issue was brought before the Consumer Product Safety Commission in 2011, the commission decided not to act.
But in response to an NBC News investigation published last week, the CPSC reviewed government reports about injuries from alleged gas can explosions and its own engineering data about flame arresters, then called on the industry to add the devices to portable gas cans.
Want more? We’ve probably discussed The Today Show enough for one blog post, so insteady, enjoy watching Wal-Mart executives joke about exploding gas cans. Just in time for the holidays.