Current Events in September 2006

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    PayPal Settles Customer Service Complaints

    28 states had taken action against the company

    Online payment company PayPal has settled a consumer complaint with the attorneys general of 28 states. The states had brought action against the eBay subsidiary because of some of its customer service policies.

    The company said it will shorten and streamline its user agreement and provide more information about its protection programs. The company will pay $5.2 million to customers and to the states to cover their investigation costs.

    The state officials said they received a number of complaints from consumers using PayPal. Many consumers said their accounts had been frozen without notice. Some said their bank accounts were debited by PayPal when they expected their credit cards to be charged, and some said they never received refunds for items they had purchased online but never received.

    "The consumer has rights, and PayPal must explain those rights," said Maryland Attorney General Joseph Curran.

    "Under this agreement, consumers will no longer have to click through multiple hyperlinks to get critical information about their financial transactions," said Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna.

    PayPal is the largest company providing payment services for consumers making online purchases. It was acquired by online auction site eBay in 2002.

    PayPal Settles Customer Service Complaints...

    Sony Battery Recall Tops 10 Million

    Fire Hazard Prompts Further Recalls

    The bad news continues for Sony. The electronics giant says it will now recall more than 10 million of its lithium ion batteries, used to power laptop computers, because of concerns about a possible fire hazard.

    Previously, nearly seven million batteries had been recalled from Dell, Apple, Toshiba, Lenovo and IBM computer users.

    The company announced the recall Friday, saying it would provide replacement batteries.

    The latest recall came earlier this week when Chinese computer maker Lenovo said it would recall 526,000 batteries. The same day, Toshiba Corp. and Fujitsu Ltd. also announced they would recall Sony-made batteries from users.

    Sony's batteries are also used in Sony-made computers and those of Hitachi Ltd., Sharp Corp. and Hewlett-Packard.

    Published reports say Sony reached its decision to increase the recall after talks with the Consumer Product Safety Commission, but a company spokesman in Tokyo said the recall remain voluntary. Sony has yet to announce which types of computers will have batteries recalled and how replacement services will take place.

    However, soon after the announcement, Japanese electronics giant Toshiba said it was recalling batteries from the dynabook, Satellite, Qosmio, Tecra and Portege laptop models, a move expected to affect 830,000 computers worldwide.

    The Consumer Product Safety Commission reports that it is aware of at least 47 incidents related to defective laptop batteries. Among the most alarming incidents - a laptop that caught fire during a flight and another that burst into flames in a pickup truck, totally destroying the vehicle.

    A man in South Venice, Fla. believes his Dell laptop is the cause of his house burning down. Louis Minnear said he found his couch engulfed in flames in the middle of the night.

    Sony Battery Recall Tops 10 Million...

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      Canon Class Action Denied

      Judge Blocks Suit On Behalf of Shutterbugs

      In a heartbreaking loss for the many consumers affected by faulty Canon cameras, a United States District Court judge in New York has decided not to allow a class action lawsuit against Canon.

      "He (the judge) considered only the defendant's version," Richard Doherty, the lawyer who filed the case, said.

      Doherty was seeking to file a class action case against Canon because many of their cameras have a number of known defects.

      Probably the most commonly known defect is the E18 error. Every camera with a zoom lens feature has what is called a bellows claw. This part is essentially the gear that physically extends and retracts the lens.

      Doherty said a piece that holds the lens, the barrier plate, is not large enough and can sometimes cause the bellows claw to malfunction, resulting in a stuck lens and a message on the LCD screen that says: "E18." has received over 60 complaints about Canon cameras failing. It is almost the same story every time.

      "I bought a Canon Powershot digital camera to take family pictures and upload to my computer," wrote Lupe of Salinas, Calif. "I have had it for just over a year. It took great pictures and then one day I got 'e18' on the display screen. It will not turn on or do anything else. I emailed cannon and they want $155 to repair. This camera cost almost $300."

      Canon cameras also have a known defect with their Charge-Coupled Device (CCD). The CCD is to digital cameras what film is to 35mm. It captures the light and converts it to a form that can be understood by a computer and finally, the user. Canon's CCD can sometimes yield blurred images or distorted colors.

      In April of 2005, reported that Canon's Asian website admitted there was a problem associated with the Sony-made CCD found in Canon's cameras. Canon still has not made this news public to U.S. consumers.

      One other known issue is that the LCD screen found on the back of the camera is prone to breaking. Canon increased the size of the screen, but did not increase its support -- meaning it takes less pressure to crack.

      To make matters worse, the case that comes with many cameras is often the cause of the LCD cracking. The case does not indicate which way the camera should be placed. There is a snap-on button on one side. If the user chooses wrong and places the camera LCD in the case facing the button, that button with the right amount of pressure can crack the screen.

      Finally, Canon cameras also have issues with memory cards that store the photos.

      When a digital camera takes a photo, it sends the image to a flash memory card for storage. If the photo does not arrive in the memory within a set time period, the photo is lost.

      Some flash memory cards require more time than others. However, Canon has set their cameras to send the photo in 100 milliseconds, or one tenth of a second. Some memory cards require more time than this and thus, the camera will not work with those cards. Doherty said Canon has offered fixes for some of their cameras to fix this problem, but not others.

      "I don't see any reason why it needs to be set that fast," Doherty said.

      Documentation proves that Canon is well aware of the defects in their cameras, but is doing nothing for the consumers who purchased these cameras, Doherty, of Horwitz, Horwitz & Associates, a Chicago law firm, said.

      "Canon has refused to stand behind the cameras, and offers consumers who paid approximately $400 for what they thought was a high-quality digital camera the option of a repair costing at least $150 or the opportunity to purchase a refurbished, used camera for $175," Doherty told in November 2005 when he originally filed for class status.

      Although Doherty has appealed the judge's decision, he said he does not know how long it will take before the appeal is considered.

      What To Do

      Canon-lovers, what are your options? Well, be sure to hang onto your purchase receipt. Keep a copy of your warranty. Keep copies of any repair records. And keep your fingers crossed. It's always possible you'll be one of the lucky ones who cameras don't experience any of these problems.

      If your camera does fail, notify Canon in writing, citing this article and the numerous complaints on our site. File a complaint with Complaints filed with our site are made available to class-action attorneys, including Doherty.

      If you are willing to spend a little time and a few dollars, head for your local Small Claims Court and file against Canon. Check our state-by-state listings to learn more.

      Are there more reliable cameras out there? Maybe, but it's important to note that the internal workings of most digital cameras are pretty much the same, and are often manufactured by the same supplier. It's the optics and the "packaging" that differentiate one brand from another.

      Digital cameras are arguably more convenient than film cameras and, while they are generally more expensive to buy, they may be cheaper to use over the long run, depending on what process you use to print your photos. But more reliable they're not, at least not yet.

      For those can't-miss moments, it's still a good idea to keep a small film camera in pocket or purse. Nothing beats a back-up.

      Canon Class Action Denied...

      States Cracking Down on Dating Sites

      With federal agencies showing little interest, several states are taking the lead in tightening oversight of the online dating industry, considering new laws that would, among other things, mandate criminal background checks on all those looking for love on the Internet.

      New York is so far the only state that has a law regulating online dating sites, but six other states have introduced similar legislation mainly in the last year, according to the National Law Journal. They are California, Florida, Michigan, Ohio, Virginia and Texas.

      Lawmakers say the industry isn't doing enough to police itself and is putting vulnerable people at risk of meeting up with predators.

      Some states want to make criminal background checks mandatory while others want sites to alert surfers upfront that background checks on potential dates have not been done.

      Regulating Internet sites is easier said than done, though. They operate in Interstate commerce and many of their operations are protected by First Amendment considerations.

      Attorneys for the services complain that it would be nearly impossible for a worldwide Web site to comply with a patchwork of state laws.

      Attorney Michael Marin of Houston is currently defending in a Texas case involving a 14-year-old girl who claims she was sexually assaulted by someone she met on Myspace, and is seeking to hold the Web site liable.

      Last year he successfully defended an online dating company that was sued by a user who allegedly was raped by someone she met on the company's Web site. Marin got the case dismissed, citing the 1996 Communications Decency Act (CDA), which grants broad immunity to Internet companies for content provided by third parties.

      Marin said consumers must take some responsibility for their safety.

      "If you're a consumer and you meet someone online you can go and pay for a background check," he said. State laws requiring such checks would "create a false sense of security," he added.

      But Marin said such checks are often incomplete and are no guarantee of safety.

      A few sites, including and True, have recently started offering background checks to their paid members.

      Sites like offers background checks that can sometimes include criminal records. But, like all services that rely on public records, it cannot guarantee the accuracy of its results.

      States Cracking Down on Dating Sites: With federal agencies showing little interest, several states are taking the lead in tightening oversight of the onli...

      GE Loses Laptop Left in Hotel Room

      50,000 Employees & Retirees Records at Risk

      September 27, 2006
      Industrial giant General Electric's current corporate motto is "imagination at work." Now the company's imagination will be working overtime to find a missing laptop containing data on 50,000 current and former employees.

      GE reported on Sept. 26th that the laptop containing the data had been stolen from an employee's locked hotel room.

      The company did not provide any information regarding whether the laptop was password-protected, or why the unidentified employee had the data on his computer in the first place.

      GE spokesman Russell Wilkerson made the usual claims regarding the theft -- that the laptop was stolen for its own value, rather than for the data contained on it, and that there was no sign that the data had been used improperly.

      The company is notifying employees via mail if they were affected, and is setting up free credit monitoring and insurance against identity theft.

      One irate former GE employee complained to the Albany Times-Union about the theft. "Why do you need 50,000 names and Social Security numbers?" he asked. "Why is this person even carrying this information around? What are you doing with it?"

      Good Question

      The unidentified GE retiree's question has been echoed many times by victims of data breaches caused by laptop or equipment theft.

      Stolen or lost computer equipment containing vital personal records has been a major contributor to the nearly 94 million American consumer records exposed to potential identity theft.

      Recent instances of disappearing laptops include the theft of a laptop from the Miami offices of the Department of Transportation, containing records that were being used in an ongoing fraud investigation.

      Washington state mental health care provider Compass Health recently suffered the theft of a laptop containing the Social Security numbers and medical information on an unspecified number of patients in its care. The company discovered the theft in June 2006, but waited two months to report it.

      Last month the Philadelphia-based bank Sovereign Bancorp informed customers that three laptops containing "thousands" of customer records had been stolen from employees' locked cars in Massachusetts.

      The bank declined to identify how many customers were affected in specific, but said it would set up new accounts for any customer caught in the breach.

      Congressman Tom Davis (R-Va.) introduced a bill that would ostensibly provide better policies for government agencies to prevent data theft, but the bill was criticized for offering little in the way of actual solutions.

      GE Loses Laptop Left in Hotel Room...

      Saab Stories: Saab Owners Not Impressed by the Company's Aeronautical Heritage

      Saab Owners Not Impressed by the Company's Aeronautical Heritage

      Saab is promoting itself these days as "the car company that's born from jets" but most Saab owners would prefer that company engineers keep their feet on the ground and focus more on theirs car instead of their airplanes.

      While Saab claims to incorporate aircraft-inspired design features such as cockpit-like ergonomics and green instrument illumination, Saab owners report to that the gadgets are high maintenance and repeatedly malfunction.

      Problems consumers are encountering with Saabs include seat belts, transmissions, brakes, keys, timing belt, radio, the onboard computer, heater, air conditioner, air bag light, fuel pump, oil leaks, engine service light and OnStar equipment.

      General Motors Corp., which owns Saab, brags that "the innovative spirit of those early aircraft engineers, including their pioneering attention to safety, continues to be reflected in Saab's unconventional approach to car design."

      "Unconventional" is one way to describe it, but many Saab owners say "uncongenial" would be a better description of the customer service they encounter when problems crop up.

      Anne of Arlington, Vermont, found dealing with Saab customer service a continuing struggle.

      "Now, I am trying to work with customer service to get reimbursed for a towing expense and have submitted a lemon claim. No one from customer service will call me back. Between the hours spent out of work dealing with this car and the frustration of customer service, the only thing I'm sure about is that this is my last Saab," Anne wrote

      Since Anne bought her new Saab 9-3 in 2003, the battery and transmission both failed. Saab recalled the seat belts, brakes and keys.

      Michelle in Manalapan, New Jersey, is just as frustrated with repeated trips to the repair shop after buying a car advertised as a luxury vehicle.

      "I purchased a new Saab in March. Since then my car has been in the shop 6 times. It has received 2 new radios, a new computer and the heater and air conditioner do not work properly," she wrote

      Michelle reports the same level of rudeness in New Jersey that Anne encountered in Vermont: "The service department is extremely rude and unhelpful and I have several sarcastic remarks made at me."

      In Albany, New York, Ross tells ConsumerAffiars.Com that while he has encountered multiple problems with his Saab9-3, he has even more problems with the Saab dealer.

      "At this point the car is parked outside my house and will not go anywhere. I've been to the Saab dealer at least 40 times in the year and a half I have owned the car," he wrote.

      Jeff bought a Certified Pre-Owned Saab in Santa Monica, California. He reports that he is fortunate that a warranty came with the used Saab.

      "My Saab 9-3 convertible has been in the shop steadily for the past year. At 13 times, don't you think it's a bit ridiculous? Here's the list. The air conditioning goes in and out randomly, the courtesy lights pop out, the car has blown a head gasket, blown a rear main seal, the passenger window cracks going up. There is an oil leak, the turbo pressure sensor cracked, the purge valve goes out, an air bag light emblem fell off, the fuel pump was recalled, the antenna is broken, the grill is peeling, the leather seats are coming apart and Saab won't replace the cup holder."

      Suffice to say, Jeff is not happy with his Saab 9-3 and he is not alone. Kelli in Reading Massachusetts says her Saab 9-3 has been nothing but trouble since she bought it.

      "We dread the day the 3-year warranty runs out," she wrote "The OnStar equipment was inoperable for months at a time, and went into the shop three times within the first year for service. Eventually they replaced the unit. The car would not restart at a gas station within the first six months or so. OnStar broke down again. The ignition was replaced," she wrote.

      "Earlier this year, the side passenger window fell and broke so it had to be fixed. The window was stuck open. Today one of the back windows is stuck the same way. This summer, while on vacation in Maine the battery died suddenly. We jump-started the vehicle but it kept losing its charge. We took it to a local Saab dealer in Maine who replaced the battery and expressed his sympathy and surprise that the vehicle had received so much service."

      But Kelli's problems with her Saab 9-3 did not end in Maine.

      "The radio system stopped working entirely. Last weekend the rear locks were going up and down all by themselves. These are just the problems I can remember off the top of my head, without looking at the maintenance records."

      In Detroit, Donyell now knows his Saab Service manager better than he would like.

      "I have a 2003 Saab 9-3. In the last two and a half years this car has been in the shop at least 13 times. Most recently the transmission went out on the car and they had my car for five weeks," Donyell wrote. "I am frustrated with this car beyond means."

      Marc understands what his fellow 9-3 owner must deal with in Detroit and Marc lives in Buffalo Grove, Illinois.

      He has encountered "over 15 headlight and taillight failures; problems with the radio preset on the steering wheel; the transmission slips; there is a sulfur smell in the car and the solution offered was to use premium fuel when it is not stated in manual that you must use premium fuel."

      Marc asks if we have another moment so he can go through the entire list of problems with his Saab 9-3. "The car has been to the dealer for repair over 25 times and I still have several of the issues and will never receive resolution to several of the issues," he told us.

      Saab has built more than 4 million cars and 4,000 aircraft. The name Saab belongs to two unaffiliated companies. Saab Automobile AB, headquartered in Trollhttan, Sweden manufactures cars and is a subsidiary of General Motors Corp.

      Saab Automobile USA is the Saab importer and distributor. Beginning in 2007, Saab offers vehicle warranty coverage for five-years or up to 100,000 miles. Based on reports from previous Saab owners, people buying a new Saab are going to need the newly extended warranty.

      Saab Stories: Saab Owners Not Impressed by the Company's Aeronautical Heritage...

      Airport Security Rules Change Again

      Both U.S. and U.K. Modify New Anti-Terror Rules

      To say airport security policies are liquid would be the understatement of the year.

      Rules seem to change daily, confusing passengers, airport officials, and agents charged with enforcing them.

      In the latest switch, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has eased tight restrictions enacting last month after British authorities thwarted a terrorist plot involving liquid explosives.

      British authorities relaxed their stringent rules a few days ago. Larger bags and musical instruments are now allowed, though liquids of all kinds remain strictly prohibited.

      For U.S. passengers, however, security restrictions remain much more stringest than they were before revelation of the plot on August 10.

      Not all liquids are banned anymore but not all are acceptable either.

      According to the latest TSA move, liquids are allowed through security checkpoints if they are in 3-ounce containers (such as trial-size toiletries commonly available at drug stores). In addition, they must be placed in a single, one-quart, clear plastic bag that must be sent through the security X-ray machine separately from carry-on bags.

      Some liquid medications are also allowed, including four ounces of non-prescription medications (i.e. Visine and other eye-care products) or five ounces of juices, baby formula, and breast milk. Prescription medications that match the name on the ticket are also allowed, but apparently must be in their original bottles - and not in the plastic day-by-day containers so many travelers (including this columnist) use.

      Easing the iron-clad ban makes life easier for women worried about mascara, lip gloss, and other beauty items disappearing in transit but may make for longer waits at security checkpoints -- at least until passengers and officers indicate they understand and will abide by the new regulations.

      At the same time, however, relaxing the ban should ease the strain on the airline baggage handlers, who had to cope with a 20 per cent increase in checked luggage since the imposition of the Aug. 10 ban.

      The ban was imposed in mid-August after authorities uncovered a terrorist plot that would have involved mixing liquid chemicals and detonators in flight. Thousands of flights were cancelled, hundreds were delayed, and fifteen alleged conspirators were jailed in England.

      According to TSA chief Kip Hawley, the ban on liquids was relaxed after FBI tests indicated that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to make a bomb from liquid components while in flight.

      Critics of the relaxed rules suggest that the near-return to old rules will make aircraft cabin compartments overcrowded again and cause considerable delays in boarding. They also suggest that loopholes remain in the system used by the TSA to screen checked bags for explosives.

      Critics also contend that the TSA bowed to public pressure in relaxing the ban on liquids.

      U.K. Rules

      In London, passengers flying to the United States still cannot carry any liquids -- even those purchased at the airport after the first security checkpoint. A second search, at the departure gate, is designed to enforce that ban.

      On the other hand, passengers can now board with a carry-on measuring no more than 22 inches long, 17.7 inches wide, or 9.8 inches tall. Large musical instruments can also be carried on board, though some passengers may be required to buy an extra ticket to accommodate them.

      As in the U.S., constantly-changing security procedures have confused passengers, airport officials, and even the security officers assigned to protect outbound flights. To make things easier for all, the European Union, the United Kingdom, and the airlines themselves are trying to find common ground in their requirements and restrictions.

      A meeting of EU ministers in Finland earlier this month addressed airport security issues, emphasizing new technology designed to detect explosives.

      The slight relaxation of security standards at United Kingdom airports does not mean safety will be compromised. In fact, the Transport Department said it was working to enable passengers to travel as freely as possible but would not compromise its "rigorous" security regime.

      The key, according to government and security officials, is to balance safety with convenience. In England, they call that task a sticky wicket.

      Airport Security Rules Change Again...

      Hospital, Health Insurance Costs Skyrocket

      Healthcare, insurance costs rising twice as fast as wages

      American consumers -- and their health insurance providers -- pay nearly $800 billion a year in hospital bills, while health insurance premiums are rising twice as fast as wages, according to three new reports.

      A study by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service's Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality put the national hospital bill at $790 billion in 2004, the last year for which data is available.

      Meanwhile, two nationwide surveys show that the health-care premiums of employers and their workers have climbed twice as fast as wages and inflation in 2006 -- to nearly double their cost in 2000 -- and look to rise at a similar clip next year.

      The nation's cumulative hospital bill represents the total amount charged for 39 million hospital stays in 2004.

      The federal report also found that:

      • Nearly $500 billion, or 60 percent, of the national hospital bill went to the federal and state governments for Medicare and Medicaid patients.

      • One-fifth of the national hospital bill was for treatment of five conditions: coronary atherosclerosis, mother's pregnancy and delivery, newborn infants, acute myocardial infarction, and congestive heart failure. Hospital stays for coronary atherosclerosis incurred the highest charges ($44 billion); mother's pregnancy and delivery had the second highest charges ($41 billion).

      • Medicare, which provides insurance for the elderly, had pneumonia and osteoarthritis among its top five most expensive conditions. Medicaid, which covers certain groups of low-income patients, had treatments for pregnant mothers and their deliveries, plus care of newborn babies, as its two most expensive types of hospital stays.

      • Medicaid's top five most expensive conditions also included pneumonia, schizophrenia, depression and bipolar disorders.

      • Private insurers' biggest bills were for pregnancy and delivery, care of newborn infants, hardening of the heart arteries, heart attack and back problems.

      • Brain trauma and stroke were among the expensive conditions billed uninsured patients.

      AHRQ, a part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is charged with improving the quality, safety, efficiency and effectiveness of health care in the United States.

      The data are from the agency's Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project -- the nation's largest source of statistics on hospital inpatient care for all patients regardless of type of insurance or whether they were insured.

      Insurance Costs

      The average family health insurance premium rose 7.7% in 2006, marking the third year employer health-care cost increases have slowed since soaring nearly 14% in 2003, according to a 2,122-employer survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation and Health Research and Educational Trust.

      After several years of steady steep rises, the cost for family coverage under an employer health plan is now $11,480, well over the annual wage of a full-time minimum wage worker, more than many smaller business and their employees can afford.

      As costs climb, the number of firms offering health insurance falls. The study found that while 98% of firms with more than 200 workers still provide some sort of employee health benefits, only 60% of smaller companies do.

      The share of workers covered by health insurance through their own employer has fallen to 59%, down from 60% last year and 63% in 2000, according to the Kaiser survey.

      American consumers and their health insurance providers pay nearly $800 billion a year in hospital bills, while health insurance premiums are rising twice ...

      Consumers Rejecting Vehicles with Poor Gas Mileage

      J.D. Power Study Finds Increased Sensitivity to Fuel Economy Despite Falling Gas Prices

      Despite the recent dip in gas prices, several months of higher prices have taken a toll on consumers as new-vehicle shoppers are more frequently citing gas mileage as a reason for rejecting a vehicle, according to J.D. Power and Associates.

      The study, which examines why consumers consider a model, but ultimately purchase a different make or model, finds that nearly 17 percent of new-vehicle shoppers cite gas mileage as a reason for vehicle rejection -- up from 13 percent in 2002.

      Poor gas mileage is the third-most cited reason for rejecting a vehicle, following "total price too high" and "total monthly payment too high," respectively.

      "Although gas prices have begun to recede, new-vehicle buyers are likely to continue to be wary of volatile gas prices," said Jeff Zupancic, director of retail research at J.D. Power and Associates. "Considering that fuel prices did not increase significantly overnight, consumer demand for more fuel efficient vehicles has also been gradual. This is especially evident across certain vehicle segments."

      In particular, heavier models with poor fuel economy, such as utility vehicles and pickup trucks, have the highest rejection levels due to gas mileage. Utility vehicle shoppers who reject a vehicle due to gas mileage will typically purchase a smaller utility vehicle that is similar in configuration to the larger vehicle they rejected.

      For example, nearly one-half of all shoppers who consider a vehicle in the compact utility segment (EPA average fuel economy of 18 MPG) end up purchasing a vehicle from the compact CUV (crossover utility vehicle) segment (24 MPG average fuel economy).

      "In the long term, vehicle models that offer a choice of engines, such as fuel efficient four-cylinders for those more sensitive to fuel prices, as well as more powerful six-cylinder engines for those seeking power, will have a distinct advantage in the market place," said Zupancic.

      "Manufacturers have responded to these consumer needs by introducing CUVs as replacements for, or alternatives to, their truck-based utilities. These CUVs combine the high-seating position and passenger/cargo carrying capacity of utility vehicles with a car-like ride and better fuel-economy," he added

      Price continues to be the most cited reason for vehicle rejection, with 36 percent of shoppers rejecting because the "price is too high." Despite the common perception that premium shoppers are less concerned with the cost of their vehicle, both premium and non-premium brands are rejected due to price at a similar rate --59 percent and 58 percent, respectively.

      Consumers Rejecting Vehicles with Poor Gas Mileage...

      Airbags in New Cars Seldom Fail, Experts Insist

      The Bags Aren't Designed to Deploy in Every Accident

      All Chad H. of Charlottesville, Virginia, wanted was a safe vehicle for his family. And that's what he thought he found when he purchased a new 2005 Ford Expedition.

      "I thought this was a safe vehicle because of all the claims Ford makes about its safety record," he says.

      But the secure feeling that Expedition gave him shattered in a matter of seconds on May 29, 2005.

      Chad was involved in a head-on collision and the Expedition's frontal airbag failed to deploy.

      "I was going 35-45 mph on a rural, two-lane road," he recalls. "The other driver, who was in a Ford Explorer, was going about the same speed, and came into my lane and hit me head-on. His airbag deployed. Mine did not.

      "I'm convinced I would have fewer injuries if my airbag had deployed," says the chiropractor, who suffered whiplash in the accident and still has ringing in his ears. "When I bought the car, the salesman kept talking about how Ford was using Volvo technology. I thought it was a safe car, but that didn't show (in this accident). I have a seven-year-old daughter. What if she'd been in the car with me?"

      Similar Concerns

      A special investigation uncovered more than 160 consumers nationwide who share Chad's concerns about airbags failing to deploy in serious accidents.

      Some of those consumers own new vehicles, like Chad. Others have older models, but they're the original owners.

      Many, who suffered the most debilitating injuries or lost a loved one, drove used cars. One consumer drove a rental car.

      Our investigation found these accident happened in cars, trucks, minivans, and SUV's made by Ford, General Motors, DaimlerChrysler,Mitsubishi, Kia, Volkswagen, Nissan, and Honda (follow links to carmakers' responses).

      We also learned that authorities who responded to many of the consumers' crash scenes -- including paramedics, firefighters, state troopers and tow truck drivers -- expressed concerns about their airbags' failures to deploy.

      New And Original-Owner Vehicles

      This story focuses on the problems and injuries suffered by consumers with new and originally-owned older vehicles because their airbags failed to deploy.

      They're consumers who are angry, scared, and confused because their airbags -- a safety feature the federal government has required in all passenger vehicles since 1998 -- didn't protect them when they needed them the most.

      "I'm convinced there's something wrong with this vehicle and someone is going to die," says Susan B. of Norwalk, California. She's the original owner of a 2001 Chevrolet Suburban, and her side-impact airbags didn't deploy when she was broadsided by another vehicle.

      "I had just started through a green light when another person ran a red light going approximately 40 mph and hit me," says Susan, who suffered neck, shoulder, back, hip, and knee injuries in the accident. "I paid extra for side airbags so I could be safe, and I was under the impression they were there to protect me. But I don't feel safe anymore."

      Neither do many of the other consumers we interviewed.

      They say no one has told them why their airbags didn't deploy -- and they're worried about what will happen if they're in another accident.

      Most of their accidents weren't minor fender-benders, either. They were serious ones -- the type most drivers would expect an airbag to deploy: broadside collisions and head-on crashes.

      "A Perfect Scenario For Airbags To Deploy"

      Scott A. of Chagrin Falls, Ohio, for example, suffered a broken knee, cuts and bruises, in a head-on collision. But his airbags didn't deploy.

      "I was driving a six-month old 2004 Jeep Grand Cherokee when I avoided a deer and hit a tree straight-on going 35-40 mph," he says, adding the accident totaled his SUV. "It was absolutely a head-on collision. You could not have asked for a more perfect scenario for the airbags to deploy."

      Airbags Fail in Broadside Collision

      Mark T. of Mount Morris, Michigan, sustained injuries to his neck, back, arm, and shoulder when he broadsided another vehicle in his new 2004 Chevrolet van.

      "I was coming down the road when an older woman pulled out right in front of me," he says. "I didn't have time to brake and I broadsided her going 45 mph. I hit her directly in the driver's door.

      "My airbags didn't go off and they should have," adds Mark, who used to work at the General Motors Assembly plant in Flint, Michigan. "I'm a mechanic and everything that happened in this accident was well within the operational parameters for an airbag to deploy. Those airbags are designed to initiate at 15 mph; I was going 45. I think there should be a recall of this vehicle because of the airbags."

      Head-On Collision With Guardrail

      Charles M., of Galveston, Texas, suffered head injuries and three broken vertebrae during an accident in his 2004 Dodge Quad Cab.

      "I hit a guard rail head-on going 70 mph, my truck then rolled three times, and my front airbags didn't deploy," says Charles, who spent five months in the hospital and still has vision problems. "I should have been killed. That's what the tow truck driver said to my son-in-law. The airbags failed me ... they put my life in risk. My question is: 'Why have a safety feature if it doesn't work?'"

      Car Is Hit Multiple Times

      That's a question Teresa H. of Columbiana, Alabama, has wondered since she had an accident in her new 2003 Mitsubishi Lancer.

      "A lady ran a red light and hit my car several times," says Teresa, who underwent neck surgery after the accident. "She was going about 40 mph when she hit my car and caused it to spin around. My car was hit on the left front side, the right front side, and the back.

      "I am complaining because the airbags did not deploy. I was hit very hard ... and no one has explained to me why my airbags didn't deploy. Mitsubishi sent me a brochure that said airbags should deploy in 'near frontal collisions.' That's misleading. My accident fit that category and my airbags didn't deploy."

      Conflicting Reports

      Randy R. of Brownsville, Oregon, is still in pain from the injuries he suffered during a head-on collision in his 2004 Dodge 3500 4x4 Quad Cab pickup.

      "I broke my back, my nose, and have facial injuries from hitting the steering wheel," he says. "I also have chest injuries and ribs that are dislocated and bruised."

      Randy says the accident happened in Washington State when he blacked out after taking some prescription medicine.

      "I went off the road going about 60 mph, went up on the bank, and was airborne. The truck came straight down and landed nose first into the bank. It was literally standing on its nose.

      "I contacted DaimlerChrysler and they sent an independent firm to inspect the pickup and take a reading off the computer," he adds. "Then I got a letter from Dodge saying there was nothing wrong with the airbag system -- they said the airbags didn't deploy because I had an 'angular wreck.' But the police report shows it was a head-on collision."

      Mechanics at a local Dodge dealership also inspected Randy's truck, and they discovered a problem with the pickup's airbag system.

      "They said there's supposed to be a light on the dash that tells you the system isn't working," he says. "When you turn on the car, the computer is supposed to check the airbag and plug that information into the system. But they (the dealership) said that wasn't working and that's why the airbag failed to deploy."

      He adds: "I didn't get killed in this accident, but I was hurt pretty badly. What worries me now is that I have five other Dodge pickups and I wonder if the airbags in those are going to fail?'"

      Why Didn't The Airbags Deploy?

      But why didn't the airbags deploy in these and other accidents? Are the airbags defective? Should the vehicles be recalled?

      We posed those questions to the top car and safety experts in the country, including ones with various automakers, The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), and The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).

      They all agreed the airbags in new vehicles seldom fail to deploy when they're supposed to give consumers added protection.

      Airbags In New Vehicles Rarely Fail

      "In the crash testing we do, airbags are very reliable and only rarely do we discover a problem," says Russ Rader, director of media relations for the Insurance Institute For Highway Safety (IIHS). His non-profit agency tests new vehicles and reports any problems the automakers.

      "In most of those cases, the problems we discover are airbags deploying too late ... we rarely hear about airbags failing to deploy at all."

      Nationally recognized car expert Richard Diklich of Missouri agrees.

      "My experience has been that about 75 percent of the time people have insufficient knowledge about their airbags to know if they should or shouldn't have gone off," he says. "It's pretty rare to have a non-deployment case ... it isn't something that happens that often."

      If that's the case, why didn't the airbags deploy in these accidents?

      Diklich and other car experts say only a crash scene investigator -- someone who has inspected the vehicle, the accident site, and all the data -- can determine if an airbag failed to deploy when it should have gone off.

      Every accident, they say, has a different scenario. And a different set of circumstances.

      And all those factors must be considered on a case-by-case basis.

      Misconceptions About Airbags

      Car experts say many consumers have misconceptions about how their airbags work and when they should deploy.

      Specifically, they say consumers don't understand:

      • Air bags are not designed to deploy in every accident;

      • Certain criteria -- or deployment thresholds -- must be met for airbags to deploy;

      • A totaled vehicle is not an indicator of whether an airbag should deploy;

      • Air bags are a supplemental restraint system. They are not designed to replace seat belts.

      When Should Airbags Deploy?

      Most vehicles on the road today have two types of airbags: frontal and side-impact.

      Frontal airbags are designed to protect the occupants' heads and chests from hitting the steering wheel, instrument panel, or windshield, experts say.

      Side-impact airbags are designed to protect the occupants' heads and/or necks from striking objects inside or outside the vehicle in side impact crashes.

      Air bag systems have three main components -- an airbag module, crash sensors, and a diagnostic unit -- that determine if and when the airbags should deploy.

      "The airbag system is tuned to deploy when it thinks there's enough energy in the crash to cause harm," says the director of NHTSA's office of data acquisition and the former head of the agency's special crash investigations division. He didn't want his name used in this story.

      "You have to look at the energy in the crash. If you're doing 30 mph and you lift your foot off the petal and gradually slow down to zero, do you need you airbag? No.

      "But if you're going 30 mph and strike a hard object, like a tree or wall, we'd expect to see your airbags deploy," he says, adding his agency investigates 4,000-5,000 accidents a year.

      "If you drive down the road and sideswipe something at 30 mph, you might not have high enough energy to trigger an airbag deployment. The question you have to ask is: 'Is there enough energy from the crash to trigger an airbag deployment?'"

      Frontal Airbags

      Frontal dual airbags

      Side airbags offering torso protection

      Side airbags to protect the head or head and torso
      Photos courtesy of Insurance Institute for Highway Safety

      Car experts say frontal airbags are designed to deploy in moderate or severe crashes that equal hitting a solid barrier going about 8-14 mph. NHTSA says that's the equivalent of hitting a parked car of similar size -- going about 16-28 miles per hour. A parked car absorbs some of the crash's energy, NHTSA says.

      Some car makers have different "thresholds" that determine when an airbag should deploy, experts say.

      Those thresholds often depend on whether the occupants are wearing their seat belts. The 8-14 mph threshold is generally designed for unbelted passengers; it's higher for belted passenger.

      NHTSA say the deployment threshold is lower for unbelted passengers because they continue to move forward -- at the vehicle's original speed -- until their movement is stopped by the steering wheel, instrument panel, or windshield.

      Car experts also say there's a 30 degree angle -- on either side of a vehicle's front center -- that generally must be hit for the frontal airbags to deploy.

      Car experts also say frontal airbags are not designed to deploy in side impacts, rear impacts, or rollover crashes. Also, these airbags deploy only once -- in about 1/20th of a second -- and deflate immediately. That means they offer no protection if the vehicle is hit -- or rolls over -- multiple times in the same accident.

      Side-Impact Airbags

      What about side-impact airbags?

      Experts say these airbags deploy when the vehicle is hit on its side. Sensors detect if the crash is severe enough for the airbags to deploy.

      Side-impact airbags are usually smaller than frontal ones and deploy quickly from the vehicles' seatback, door, or roof to protect front and -- sometimes -- rear-seat passengers.

      Some side-curtain airbags may stay inflated longer than other airbags to protect passengers in rollover accidents. This can also prevent passengers from being ejected from the vehicle.

      NHTSA says on rare occasions -- and if the crash involves multiple impacts -- the side airbags on the non-struck side of the vehicle may deploy.

      Why Didn't My Airbag Deploy?

      "I totaled my car, so why didn't my airbag deploy?"

      That's a question car experts say they often hear, and it illustrates another misconception many consumers have about their airbags.

      Expert says there's no correlation between the crumpled remains of a totaled vehicle and an airbag deployment.

      "A totaled vehicle is a monetary measure of whether it would cost more to repair the vehicle than the vehicle is worth," says Diklich, who showed us several smashed cars and trucks during our interview and explained why the airbags did not deploy in some of those crashes.

      "I've seen cases where an insurance company has totaled a vehicle and the airbags didn't deploy. This has happened in rollover accidents, and the airbags should not have deployed."

      Jim Khoury, manager of advanced safety development for General Motors North America, says he's heard from consumers who are upset because their airbags didn't deploy in accidents that transformed their vehicles into crumpled piles of metal and broken glass.

      But there's a scientific -- and safety -- reason their vehicles crushed during those accidents, he says.

      "Your vehicle is made to crush, it should crush, and it's crushing to protect you," he explains. "The idea is to minimize the force on your body ... and absorb energy efficiently so that when you hit something, the structure crushes as evenly as possible. There's a whole science behind this technology."

      Seat Belts Are Primary

      Car experts say some consumers have the dangerous misconception that their airbags give them so much protection they don't need to wear their seat belts.

      That's a false -- and potentially deadly -- notion.

      "Your seat belts and your airbags work in unison," car expert Diklich says, adding the seat belts hold you in the proper position, which is critical for the airbags to do their job. "But your seat belt is your primary restraint system and your airbag is a supplemental -- secondary -- restraint system."

      GM's Khoury echoes that message.

      "Air bags supplement seat belts in severe crashes," he says. "They work together. Your seat belt, though, is your primary restraint system. Seat belts save 40,000 lives a year; airbags save approximately 4,000 a year. That shows which restraint system is the most effective and why we tell drivers to please wear their seat belts."

      Advanced Airbag Technology

      Advances in science and technology, experts say, have made the airbags in most vehicles smarter and safer than earlier models.

      Some of these smarter airbags include:

      • Advanced frontal airbags, which are designed to reduce injuries and deaths that happen when children and small stature adults sit too close to the airbags when they deployed. NHTSA estimates that more than 100 children have died in these types of airbag-related accidents in recent years;

      • Air bags that deploy at different degrees of force -- based on the severity of the crash and the occupants' weight. Experts say most vehicles also have special systems that prevent airbags from deploying if the sensors detect a child in the front passenger seat. Air bags can be dangerous to children 12 and younger because they inflate at speeds up to 100 mph, and that force can severely injure or kill a child who sits too close to the airbag;

      • Computer-controlled airbag systems, which let car makers adjust the algorithms that determine when an airbag should deploy. Some earlier model airbags deployed too easily -- or when they weren't needed;

      • Rollover canopy systems, which determine if there's going to be a rollover, how fast the vehicle is going to roll, and then deploy the side curtains if needed. The curtains drop down and are designed to stay in place up to six seconds.

      What If My Airbag Failed To Deploy?

      Despite all these advances, experts say there are still a few, rare cases, when airbags fail to deploy when they should.

      Car and safety experts say consumers involved in those types of accidents -- ones that meet all the deployment criteria and the airbags still don't inflate -- should contact NHTSA.

      "We want to hear from anyone who thinks their vehicle didn't give them enough protection in a crash," says the director of NHTSA's office of data acquisition. "We especially want to hear from them if they were injured -- particularly if they had facial injuries -- in a crash and their airbags didn't go off. Those cases should be reported to us and we'll investigate.

      "We also want to hear from someone who was involved in an accident and a first-responder, policeman, or highway patrolman told them they couldn't believe the airbags didn't deploy," he says, adding his agency has authority to recall vehicles with safety defects.

      We learned NHTSA has recalled some vehicles specifically because of problems that could prevent the airbags from deploying in an accident.

      The agency, for example, recalled 488 of Dodge's 2000-model year Neon's because "some frontal (passenger side) airbags may not inflate properlyand in the event of a crash, the passenger may not be adequately restrained, increasing the risk of personal injury."

      This is a copy of NHTSA's recall summery on that vehicle:

      Recalls Summary
      Make / Models : Model/Build Years:
      DODGE / NEON 2000
      Recall Number: 99V043000

      We also learned NHTSA recalled 85,154 of Honda's 2005 model-year Odyssey minivans because some had corrosion problems that could "cause a delay in, or loss of, frontal airbag deployment, which can increase the risk of injury in a frontal crash."

      This is a copy of NHTSA's recall summary on that vehicle:

      Recalls Summary
      Make / Models : Model/Build Years:
      HONDA / ODYSSEY 2005
      Recall Number: 05V344000

      Consumers can file complaints about possible safety defects with their vehicles on NHTSA's Web site: They can also call the agency's Auto Safety Hotline at 1-888-327-4236 to report any problems. NHTSA says consumers need to have their vehicle's VIN (vehicle information number) handy when they contact the agency.

      Consumers should also report their experience to, which investigates consumer grievances and shares its complaint database with class-actiion attorneys, law enforcement agencies and media outlets.

      Consumers can also check for any recalls or safety defects with their vehicles -- or find out its crash and rollover ratings -- on NHTSA's Web site.

      "We're trying to do all we can to make vehicles safer," NHTSA's director of office of data acquisition says, adding 17 million vehicles are sold each year. "We want to hear from consumers who think their vehicles aren't safe. We want to know -- and investigate -- what's working and what's not working. After all, our kids drive cars and we want every vehicle out there to be as safe as possible."

      So does Chad, the chiropractor involved in the head-on collision.

      "I remember after my accident the tow truck driver came around and told me the airbag didn't go off. Then he said: 'I see this happen all the time in Fords.' If this is such a common problem, I'd like to know why Ford hadn't done anything about it. Maybe it's a bad design. This was the top of the line Expedition. It was supposed to be a safe vehicle."

      When we interviewed Chad, he hadn't contacted NHTSA about the Expedition's airbags failing to deploy in his accident.

      He now plans to make that call.

      Airbags in New Cars Seldom Fail, Experts Insist...

      Certified Dangerous: Used Cars' Airbags

      Many "Certified" Used Cars are Rebuilt Wrecks with Bogus Titles

      A grieving mother -- haunted by her 16-year-old son's death on a dark, two-lane road in Hoke County, North Carolina -- repeatedly visited the crash scene.

      She combed the area for clues into the 2004 death of her son -- a national honor student who volunteered at a nursing home.

      "I became a Crime Scene Investigator," Diane W. of Fayetteville, North Carolina, recalls. "Nobody was giving me any answers. I had to find out what happened -- why my son died."

      What she discovered shattered her faith in a safety feature she believed would protect her son in a serious accident.

      Now she's convinced that safety feature -- one the federal government has required in all passenger vehicles since 1998 -- failed to protect her son and contributed to his death.

      October 22, 2004

      To understand how she reached that conclusion you have to journey back to the night of October 22, 2004.

      Diane's husband and son, Torian, went on their regular, Friday night outing to shoot pool and swap stories.

      "My husband was driving and my son was in the passenger's seat," Diane says, adding they were in the family's 2002 Ford Explorer. "A dog suddenly came running out and my husband swerved to miss him. His front tire got stuck on the soft shoulder of the road and the Explorer flipped eight times."

      Diane learned the Explorer rolled to the right and landed first on Torian's side.

      Startling Discovery

      Diane then made another discovery -- one she's still struggling to understand. The side airbag -- the one she believed gave her family added protection in rollover accidents -- did not deploy on Torian's side.

      Torian and the wreckage of his Ford Explorer

      "The death certificate says my son died of severe head trauma," says Diane, who took Torian out of the body bag to inspect his injuries. "The right side of his head took the brunt of the accident. His skull was pushed in ... when I identified him, I could see on his skull where his head took the brunt of the accident."

      Diane is convinced her son -- a 5'9", 300-pound football player who dreamed of being an architect -- would be alive if the side airbag had deployed.

      "That would have saved his life because his head wouldn't have taken the brunt of the accident and the injuries wouldn't have been so massive," she says, adding the Explorer had six airbags and only the one on the driver's side deployed in the accident. Her husband survived the crash, but has a permanent shoulder disability. "When we bought that vehicle, our main concern was having airbags. We wanted a safe vehicle."

      Similar Concerns

      A five-month investigation reveals the problem of airbags not deploying in serious accidents like the one that claimed Diane's son is not an isolated instance.

      We examined more than 160 complaints from consumers nationwide who echoed Diane's concerns and say their airbags failed to deploy and protect them in an accident.

      Most of the accidents were the type that drivers expect will cause their airbags to deploy: head-on collisions, rollovers, and broadside crashes. Few were minor fender-benders.

      Many consumers suffered serious and life-changing injuries when their airbags failed to deploy.

      Others lost loved ones.

      During our investigation, we interviewed more than 60 consumers -- from Hawaii to New Jersey -- about their accidents.

      Many told us authorities who responded to their crash scenes -- paramedics, firefighters, state troopers and tow truck drivers -- expressed concerns about their airbags' failure to deploy.

      Our investigation found these accident happened in cars, trucks, minivans, and SUV's made by Ford, General Motors, DaimlerChrysler, Mitsubishi, Kia, Volkswagen, Nissan, and Honda. One happened in a rental car.

      Some occurred in new vehicles, even though national car experts say airbags in new vehicles rarely fail to deploy when needed because of the systems' advanced technology. They also say airbags aren't designed to deploy in every accident. And only a crash scene investigator -- someone who has inspected the vehicle, the accident site, and all the data -- can determine if an airbag should have deployed in a particular wreck.

      Many accidents we examined also happened in older, one-owner, models.

      But the majority of the complaints we received about airbags failing to deploy in different accidents involved used vehicles. We also discovered the accidents in which consumers suffered the most serious injuries -- or lost a loved one -- happened in used vehicles.

      Diane's son, for example, died in a used Ford Explorer.

      Certified Dangerous

      Her complaint -- and the scores of others we investigated -- led us into a seedy world where unscrupulous individuals haphazardly rebuild severely damaged vehicles and then sell them as safe and "certified" used cars, trucks, minivans, and SUV's.

      We learned these unsavory "rebuilders" often disable the airbags when they put the wrecks back together. And in some cases, they don't even bother to replace the deployed airbags.

      A rebuilder stuffed a used airbag back into the steering wheel on this retitled wreck.

      These shady rebuilders conceal all signs of previous damage to the vehicles -- and their titles. Unsuspecting consumers who buy them have no idea they're getting a rebuilt wreck -- until it's too late.

      "I'm here to tell you there are a whole lot of these cases where the airbags aren't deploying in rebuilt wrecks," says nationally recognized consumer attorney Bernard Brown of Kansas City, Missouri. His specialty is car fraud and he's represented clients who've been duped by car dealers selling rebuilt wrecks and vehicles with rolled-back odometers.

      "Unlike Ford, GM, Honda, and other car makers, there are no safety standards that protect consumers from these rebuilders," he said.

      During our interview with Brown, we reviewed some of the complaints we received about airbags failing to deploy in different accidents -- specifically those in which consumers suffered serious injuries or lost a loved one.

      "Are those used vehicles?" Brown immediately asked. "I would suspect that's what you have ... that would be at the top of my list."

      Brown was right.

      The accidents we discussed with him all happened in used vehicles.

      Does that mean our consumers unknowingly purchased rebuilt wrecks? Our investigation reveals many of their vehicles had problems that are typical -- and telltale signs -- of rebuilt wrecks: airbags not deploying in serious accidents and seat belts not holding occupants in place.

      But the consumers we interviewed didn't have a car expert -- someone specifically trained to identify previous damage -- inspect their vehicles after the accidents. And their vehicles have since been repaired, totaled, or crushed.

      Consumer experts also say reports that list a vehicle's history, like Carfax, don't always reveal previous damage.

      Fiance Dies In Head-On Collision

      During our investigation, we interviewed a woman whose 26-year-old fiance died in a head-on collision.

      Alicia S. of Mountain View, Arkansas, says her fiance, Ricardo, was driving a used 1998 Dodge Neon.

      The car's airbags didn't deploy when he hit a tree.

      "The accident occurred at night on a single lane, paved road in Arkansas," Alicia says, adding Ricardo had just started working for a company that raised chickens. He was driving from one chicken house to another when the accident occurred. "Ricardo had three co-workers in the car when he fell asleep at the wheel. He left the road and struck a tree head-on. The airbag on the passenger's side deployed, but the driver's side did not.

      "His cause of death is listed as blunt force trauma to the chest," Alicia says, adding Ricardo's co-workers survived the crash. "If the airbag had deployed, he would be alive because he might not have had the chest trauma that killed him. That's what the state troopers told me. They also said they couldn't believe his airbag didn't deploy."

      Single Mom Suffers Head Injury

      Beth R. of Albany, Oregon dreamed of becoming a veterinarian. But that dream vanished when she sustained a head injury in a roll-over accident.

      The single mom went from a straight "A" college student to someone who can no longer solve simple problems.

      Her accident happened in a used 2000 Dodge Neon. Its airbags didn't deploy, either.

      "I was driving a few miles under the speed limit, on a straight flat road in Albany, on my way to college" she says of the January 18, 2005, accident. "As I approached an upcoming wide turn, I took my foot off the gas. When I did, the rear of the vehicle began to fishtail. I had the knee-jerk response to brake. The car immediately began to do 360's and eventually rolled over several times until I ended up crashing head first into an irrigation ditch.

      "My head hit the windshield," adds Beth, who is still going through rehabilitation. "I physically walked away from the accident, but my brain no longer has the same capacity. If the airbags had deployed, I would not have the injuries I have. The airbags not deploying took away the remainder of what I thought was going to be a great life."

      Pregnant Woman Injured

      Shantel C. of Henderson, Nevada, was eight months pregnant when she was injured in a head-on collision.

      Her baby is fine, but she's still struggling with debilitating headaches.

      She was driving a used 1999 Chevrolet Camaro. And its airbags didn't deploy in the accident.

      "I was hit head-on by a guy doing 50 mph," Shantel says of the January, 2006, accident.

      "Thankfully, I was wearing my seatbelt and my baby is all right. But I did do some nerve damage when my head smacked into the windshield, and I'm now working with a neurologist.

      "My dad said the airbags should have deployed," she adds. "He's been in the towing business for 35 years and has seen a lot of accidents. My car had two front airbags and you could see that both sensors were hit. When we called the dealership, though, they told us: 'Even if the airbags are faulty, it's not our fault you got in a crash, and next time watch where you are driving.' And then they hung up."

      Car Dealers Assured Consumers

      Shantel and other consumers we interviewed say the main reason they bought their vehicles is because they had airbags. Those airbags, they say, gave them an added sense of safety.

      So did the dealerships, which assured them the airbags -- and their used vehicles -- were in perfect condition.

      "We were told the car had gone through an inspection and had never been in an accident," Shantel says. "We specifically asked about the airbags because we wanted that protection. We had them run a Carfax report (which checks the vehicle's history) and we were told everything checked out." also ran a Carfax report on Shantel's Camaro, and confirmed it doesn't list any previous damage.

      The report also shows Shantel's Camaro now has a junk title the state of Nevada issued two months after her accident -- in March, 2006.

      Remember Diane, who lost her son in a rollover accident? Her husband, Willy, says the dealership convinced his family the Explorer was in mint condition.

      "They gave us a checklist of everything on the vehicle and said it all checked out fine. That's why I went to a dealer ... I thought they were reliable."

      Willy, however, recalls one comment the dealership made that -- in retrospect -- makes him question the Explorer's history.

      "They said the vehicle had all new airbags. At the time, I really didn't get the concept of what that meant or why the car would even need new airbags. I didn't think about that until later." ran a Carfax report on Willy's Explorer, which shows the SUV was a previously leased vehicle and its airbags have never deployed. The report also shows the SUV had a clean title when an auto auction sold it as a fleet vehicle in April 2004.

      Willy bought the Explorer one month later.

      The Carfax report also reveals Willy's Explorer is now flagged as a "salvage" vehicle -- one that's apparently back on the road. We learned the Explorer was registered as a lease vehicle on March 15, 2005.

      When Alicia and her fiance bought their used Neon, the dealership said it had examined the car and found no problems.

      "They said the car had been inspected, the airbags had been checked out, and everything was fine," Alicia recalls. "Having airbags was important to Ricardo. He asked the dealer if everything worked and he was told the car was fine."

      But Alicia later made a troubling discovery -- one that also makes her question the car's history.

      "We ran the car's VIN (vehicle identification number) after the wreck and it came back to a completely different person ... someone other than the name (listed as the previous owner) on the title."

      That doesn't surprise Ira Rheingold, general counsel for the National Association of Consumer Advocates.

      "This is a typical thing where folks buy a used car and they don't know what has happened to the vehicle," says Rheingold, whose non-profit group is comprised of attorneys and consumer advocates. "On a federal level, there is very limited protection for consumers. There is no national data base and people often times buy a vehicle and they don't know its real history."

      Next: Insurers and the Rebuilt Wreck Scam

      Certified Dangerous: Used Cars' Airbags...

      FCC Clears the Way for AT&T-BellSouth; Merger

      Merger will create the world's single largest telecommunications company

      Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chair Kevin Martin is planning to endorse the merger of two of Ma Bell's biggest children without any conditions, insiders report.

      The AT&T-BellSouth merger will create the world's single largest telecommunications company and cost $67 billion to complete.

      Martin has recommended that the merger be placed on the FCC's agenda for its next formal meeting, scheduled for Oct. 14th. Martin's request is unusual in that the Justice Department has yet to complete its review of the proposed merger for potential harm to consumers and competition.

      Spokespersons for both AT&T and BellSouth predictably hailed the move and urged a speedy approval for the massive telco merger.

      Consumer groups such as Consumers Union criticized it as too hasty and not fully recognizing the potential price hikes such a merger could create.

      The merger would give AT&T full control of Cingular Wireless, the nation's largest wireless service provider, and extend AT&T chair Ed Whitacre's reach into the South, BellSouth's largest market. receives a regular stream of complaints from disgruntled former AT&T customers regarding Cingular's billing practices, customer service, and product reliability.

      Although Martin proposed the merger unconditionally, sources say that the other FCC commissioners may want to weigh in on the merger rather than offer rubber-stamp approval.

      The newest appointee to the FCC, Republican Robert McDowell, was a lobbyist with COMPTEL, a telecommunications association that represented competitors to AT&T, and may have to recuse himself from the case as a result.

      Without McDowell assuring a Republican majority vote on the FCC panel, the Democrat members of the FCC may push for conditions such as ensuring the new merged company respects the rules of "net neutrality," the right to access all content on the Internet freely and equally.

      Similar restrictions were placed on the approval of other mega-mergers such as Verizon and MCI, which Martin also wanted approved without conditions.

      The FCC circulated a memo asking for public comment on the net neutrality issue, leading observers to say that the move was designed to prevent the issue from impeding the specific AT&T-BellSouth deal by making it an "industry-wide" issue.

      Martin, a close ally of the Bush administration and former Special Assistant to the President, has echoed the White House's stance on net neutrality by saying no serious net neutrality protections are needed.

      During his tenure as FCC chief, the agency has focused the bulk of its attention on indecency issues on television, levying record fines on television networks for profanity, displays of sexual activity and so forth.

      During Martin's tenure, the FCC moved to grant telecommunications companies exclusive use of their phone lines, freeing them from having to share them with independent Internet services such as Earthlink.

      When one Internet company challenged the move, the case went all the way to the Supreme Court, which upheld the FCC's position that Internet providers were "information services," not "communication services," and didn't have to ensure competition.

      The ruling led to the current battle over net neutrality, as the major telcos want to roll out high-speed "triple play" products that combine voice, phone, and Internet access in one, along with special subscription television programming, in order to compete with cable companies.

      Supporters of net neutrality fear that Internet content providers such as Google, YouTube, MySpace may be charged extra fees to ensure timely delivery of their services. Major sites already pay millions of dollars for Internet bandwidth.

      The FCC recently challenged BellSouth and Verizon over the issue of mysterious new fees they were charging consumers. Both companies had recently won relief from having to pay into the Universal Service Fund (USF), designed to fund broadband and other telecom development in low-income and rural parts of the country.

      But rather than lower their prices on their DSL offerings to consumers, the telcos started charging "regulatory cost recovery fees" which almost precisely matched the old USF fees. The move set off a firestorm from angry subscribers and consumer groups, leading the FCC to threaten an inquiry. Both companies quickly backed off, at least for now.

      The FCC's move came as a surprise to observers, given its generally pro-telco environment under Martin. Some observers suggested the fee issue might be revisited after the upcoming elections. Some said that Martin's move was designed to keep the rapacious natures of the telcos in check temporarily, so as not to endanger the massive mega-merger of Ma Bell's offspring.

      FCC Clears the Way for AT&T-BellSouth Merger...

      Airbag Safety Tips

      The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) says frontal airbags have saved thousands of lives since the federal government started to require this safety feature on all passenger vehicles in 1998.

      Frontal airbags, however, deploy with tremendous force, NHTSA says. And that explosive power -- generally at a speed of up to 100 mph -- can cause serious or fatal injuries to children and small adults who sit too close to the steering wheel or dashboard.

      To prevent airbag-related injuries, NHTSA and other safety groups recommend:

      • Children 12 and under, and smaller adults -- especially senior citizens -- ride in the back seat. They should always wear their seat belts;

      • Infants should never ride in the front seat of any vehicle that has a frontal airbag on the passenger side;

      • Small children should ride in a child safety seat that is approved for their age and size. They should always ride in the back seats. NHTSA says the safest position for a child safety seat is in the middle of the back seat;

      • Drivers should sit as far back as possible from the steering wheel. There should be at least 10 inches from the driver's breastbone to the center of the steering wheel;

      • All occupants should wear their shoulder harness and lap belts. NHTSA say the combination of frontal airbags and lap/shoulder belts reduces the risk of serious head injury in an accident by 85 percent.

      On/Off switches for airbag systems are available, but NHTSA only allows consumers to install those devices if:

      • They have a medical condition that puts them at risk;

      • They can't adjust the driver's seat to keep them at least 10 inches from the steering wheel;

      • They can't avoid situations where a child 12 or under rides in the front seat.

      Before consumers install an on/off switch, NHTSA advices they:

      • Discuss their medical condition with a physician to confirm the device is appropriate;

      • Get more space between themselves and the steering wheel by moving the seat farther back or adjusting the angle of the seatback. Pedal extenders are available for some vehicles;

      • Remember that children are safer in the back seat, with or without an airbag. Studies show that in more than 70% of accidents in which a child in the front seat was killed, a vacant seat in the back was available;

      • Contact their carmaker to see if an on/off switch is available for their vehicle. They're not on all models.

      Consumers also need permission from NHTSA to install an airbag on/off switch. Forms are available on NHTSA's Web site: Consumers can also call NHTSA to request a form. The number is 1-888-327-4236.

      The NHTSA says frontal airbags have saved thousands of lives since the federal government started to require this safety feature on all passenger vehicles ...

      TSA Backs Off Registered Traveler Fee Hike

      Screening companies complained loudly about proposed $70 fee

      Registered Traveler is back in the saddle again.

      After a strong protest from companies planning to promote the advance-screening program -- designed to speed members through airport security lines -- the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has dropped to plans to impose a $70 fee to offset the salaries of additional screeners.

      Backers of the program say such hires are not needed.

      The TSA backed down after a lengthy meeting with company officials who claimed the projected $200 annual fee would be too steep for millions of potential applicants.

      The fee, primarily for an anti-terrorism background check, is now $30 -- plus whatever individual companies will charge passengers who enroll. The typical company fee is in the neighborhood of $80.

      An additional $20 surcharge is possible if the TSA decides to tack on a criminal background check as well as the anti-terrorism check. Even if it does, the $130 total is much more affordable than $200.

      Registered Traveler, operating as a pilot program in Orlando for more than a year, has nearly two dozen airports anxious to add the system. Many of them hope to do so before year's end.

      Companies operating the program, such as the New York-based Verified Identity Pass, will issue ID cards bearing fingerprints of members. New technology, now in the testing stages, will determine whether passengers can pass through security without doffing coats and shoes -- which will also speed up the process.

      Another possible breakthrough is an on-site fingerprint sample, designed to detect explosives residue on the hands of passengers.

      Last week's meeting at TSA headquarters in Arlington, Va. included Kip Hawley, the agency's chief executive, and executives of companies that complained about its proposed fee hike.

      Public complaints about higher prices also contributed to the TSA's decision to rescind the rate hike, according to participants at the meeting.

      TSA Backs Off Registered Traveler Fee Hike...

      Airbags in Used Cars -- How To Protect Yourself

      How To Protect Yourself

      Bill Brauch, director of the consumer protection division for the Iowa attorney general's office, says consumers should always be wary when they buy a used car.

      "Most reputable car dealers don't want these rebuilt wrecks on their lots," he says. "But a lot of used car dealers are hard up for inventory and they may step over the line because of economic pressures and sell something they should not sell."

      Brauch and other consumer experts say before you buy a used car, you should always:

      • Check the vehicle's history. Companies like Carfax can research a vehicle's title, but experts warn their databases are "seriously deficient in protecting consumers from flooded and rebuilt wrecked cars" because information about those vehicles is often not entered into those systems;

      • Get the vehicle inspected by an independent body shop, which can check for previous damage;

      • Get the vehicle inspected by an independent mechanic;

      • Be wary of companies that sell "certified" used cars. "People need to know these so-called certified cars are such a boondoggle and the name means nothing," says Shahan.

      CFA's attorney Rachel Weintraub adds: "Unscrupulous dealers may sell certified used cars ... without representing that the cars have been salvaged. Certified used cars are sold at a premium to consumers because of the more rigorous inspection required. However, sometimes the inspections either knowingly or unknowingly fail to identify a salvaged vehicle.

      Consumers are hit extra hard by having paid a premium for what they thought was a more thorough inspection, but then end up with an unsafe car (and one) with a warranty that is void due to prior damage." Some car makers won't honor the warranty on a vehicle that has previous damage;

      • Find out if the vehicle has been recalled for safety problems. That information is available on The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's (NHTSA) Web site:;

      • Check the vehicle's crash test results with the Insurance Institute For Highway Safety (IIHS). Its Web site is: The IIHS is a nonprofit research and communications group funded by auto insurers. You can also find crash test results and rollover ratings on NHTSA's Web site;

      • Check for signs of previous damage, including mold, paint that doesn't match the rest of the vehicle, frayed safety belts, fenders and doors that don't align, silt in the trunk, and uneven tire tread;

      • Check the airbag indicator light on the dash board. (It's sometimes marked "SRS" for supplemental restraint system). If the light doesn't come on, it could mean the airbag system isn't working. Car experts say the airbag warning light in most vehicles comes on when you start the car and stays on for a few seconds. If the light stays on longer, there could be a problem with the airbag system.

      • Inspect the airbag cover to be sure it's original and not a replacement. Most original covers are marked "SRS" or "S/R"; most replacement covers have no marking. Some unscrupulous companies sell replacement airbags covers on the Internet;

      • Find out if there are complaints about the car dealer. Check with your attorney general's office, local district attorney's office, or other consumer protection agencies and publications, including You can also report companies that knowingly sell rebuilt wrecks to these agencies.

      Consumers we interviewed say education is the best way to protect yourself from getting seriously injured -- or losing a loved one -- in a vehicle that doesn't have working airbags.

      "My message to other consumers is to get as much information as you can about a vehicle before you buy," says Diane, who lost her teenage son, Torian, in a rollover accident. "Find out how the vehicle did in crash tests. Find out if the airbags work and if they'll protect you in a roll-over accident. Find out if the seat belts work and will hold you if you're in a wreck. All this is especially important if you have kids."

      Her husband, Willy, agrees.

      "We never want what happened to us to happen to anyone else."

      Bill Brauch, director of the consumer protection division for the Iowa attorney general's office, says consumers should always be wary when they buy a used...

      A Baffling Airbag Case

      For the past five months, has investigated complaints about airbags failing to deploy in serious accidents.

      Many consumers we interviewed suffered debilitating injuries in these accidents. And they blame those injuries on their airbags' failure to deploy.

      We examined more than 160 complaints about this problem and discovered:

      • The consumers who suffered the most serious injuries and even deaths drove used cars -- ones that might be rebuilt wrecks;

      • The airbags in newer vehicles rarely fail to deploy when they're supposed to protect consumers. Advance technology, experts say, has made airbags smarter and safer;

      • Consumers often have misconceptions about airbags, including when they should deploy. Air bags, for example, are not designed to deploy in every accident. Certain criteria must be met. They're also not designed to replace seat belts. Seat belts are the primary restraint system in a vehicle and car and safety experts say motorist should always wear them;

      • Only a crash scene investigator -- someone who has examined the vehicle, the accident site, and all the data -- can determine if an airbag failed to deploy when it should have gone off.

      But we discovered one case where even a crash scene investigator couldn't determine why the airbags didn't deploy in a consumer's accident.

      Andrea P. of Helotes, Texas, was in a head-on collision in her 1995 Chevy Z710 extended-cab pickup. She suffered a head injury, had to have staples put in her skull, and still has chronic headaches and neck pain.

      "I was heading home from work and came upon a green light," Andrea recalls of the August, 2005, accident. "A car was coming in the opposite direct and turned in front of me and hit me head-on. I was going about 45 mph. My vehicle then re-directed itself and hit another vehicle -- again head-on. So I hit two other vehicles, head-on, and my airbags never deployed."

      She adds: "I think my injuries would be less serious if the airbags had deployed. The seat belt stopped me, but not enough to stop my head from hitting something inside the car."

      Andrea contacted General Motors after her accident, and the car maker sent an investigator to inspect her truck and other crash data.

      "He looked at the truck and took some 200 pictures of the pickup," she says, adding she knew the truck's previous owner and is certain it had never been wrecked. "He also said GM has a computer in its cars that will tell you if there's a problem with the airbags. He checked my truck and said the computer showed the airbag system was operable and the airbags had deployed."

      The bottom line?

      "When he finished, the investigator told me there's no reason why the airbags should not have gone off in my accident."

      A Baffling Airbag Case...

      Hotel Bathtubs Down the Drain

      Large, walk-in showers replacing tubs

      Consumers who like to collect their thoughts in hotel bathrubs had better request one in advance.

      Hotels are ripping out tubs and replacing them with larger, walk-in showers often featuring better showerheads and curved curtainrods that provide more room.

      For hotels, the reasons for the change are economic.

      Showers consume less water than baths. Removing bathtubs lowers hotel insurance premiums. Shower stalls are easier to clean than bathtubs. And fancier shower stalls justify room rate increases

      Installing walk-in showers in hotel rooms costs about

      • 5,000 but hotels are convinced the cost is worth it -- especially if they wish to stay competitive in a hot market.

      Occupancy levels are up 11 per cent over the past two years and are projected to increase further.

      Hotels are not only hoping to provide more comfortable bathrooms but more luxurious ones. Here's how some of them are proceeding:

      • The Park Hyatt of Washington, DC doubled the size of its bathrooms

      • Suites at Manhattan's Shoreham have new walk-in showers

      • Some of the suites at The Inn at Perry Cabin, in St. Michael's, Md., have bathrooms bigger than the typical hotel room

      • Gansevoort, set for a spring opening in Miami's South Beach, will have bathrooms that measure 9 x 10 feet, twice the size of the typical hotel bathroom

      • Bathrooms at the Renaissance Shaumburg, near Chicago, and Washington's St. Regis have mirrors with built-in TV monitors

      • Marriott hotel bathrooms have new multi-streaming showerheads

      • New Embassy Suites and Staybridge Suites will have walk-in showers.

      Among other physical changes to hotel bathrooms are the installation of double vanities and even permanent fixtures for sprays, fragrances, and gels typically found in small plastic containers.

      The idea, hoteliers insist, is to give customers a bathroom experience as good or better than what they have at home. Hotel advertisements will soon be promoting that theme.

      Hotel Bathtubs Down the Drain...

      Target Matches Wal-Mart's $4 Generic Rx Price

      Walgreens Sits It Out, Small Pharmacies Rattled

      One step behind rival Wal-Mart, Target says it will also sell generic prescription drugs for $4 -- setting off what's likely to be a chain reaction that creates a completely new and cheaper pricing structure for America's off-patent medicines.

      Target said that it would match Wal-Mart's prices in the Tampa, Fla., area, where Wal-Mart began offering the cut-rate prices Friday. The Minneapolis-based company didn't say whether it would match the $4 price elsewhere.

      Another major competitor, Walgreens, is so far on the sidelines.

      "We have no plans to do a program similar to Wal-Mart's," said spokesman Michael Polzin. He noted Wal-Mart's program covers only a fraction of the 2,000 generics Walgreens and others sell.

      What's more, 95 percent of Walgreens customers have insurance, and for the 291 medications Wal-Mart is selling for $4, the average co-pay of $5.30 for nonseniors and $3.18 for seniors with Medicare Part D, Polzin said.

      Wal-Mart has said it will expand the $4 price on nearly 300 generics to all of Florida by January 2007 and, if it proves successful in Florida, extend the program to other parts of the country.

      The news was unsettling to small pharmacists, already facing tough competition from large grocery and pharmacy chains, as well as difficulties grappling with the new Medicare Part D program for prescription drugs.

      But for retirees and others struggling to pay for prescription drugs, the news was greeted as a life-saver.

      "Holy moley, this is phenomenal," Barbara Waks, an Aventura, Fla., resident told the Miami Herald. For her drugs, she has been insisting on brand names, either begging doctors for samples or purchasing them from Canada. "But now that I hear this I'm going to see if I can substitute generics," she said.

      The Herald cited one example of the new savings: Enalapril, a frequently used blood-pressure medication, costs $18.09 at most CVS pharmacies, $19.49 at Target, $21.95 at Publix, $25.99 at many Walgreens and $45.29 at Friendly Drugs of West Hollywood, according to, a state-operated website.

      Wal-Mart's price at a Pompano Beach store is currently listed as $18.54. It will be less than a fourth of that in January. The new $4 enalapril will even be cheaper than the price at CanadianDrug, which charges $9.36, the newspaper said., an anti-company site run by a union, criticized Wal-Mart for not including generic Zocor in its bargains and noted that, while the company had boasted it was lowering prices on nearly 300 generics, the company's list showed "only 124 separate medicines," many in multiple doses.

      Still, of the top 10 selling generics in 2005, Wal-Mart and now Target will be offering six of them for $4.

      "Each day in our pharmacies we see customers struggle with the cost of prescription drugs," said Wal-Mart CEO H. Lee Scott, Jr. "By cutting the cost of many generics to $4, we are helping to ensure that our customers and associates get the medicines they need at a price they can afford. That's a real solution for our nation's working families."

      The Alliance for Retired Americans applauded the action.

      "The federal government should look to its friends at Wal-Mart and see that negotiating bulk discounts on prescription drugs can reduce the cost to consumers," said Edward Coyle, executive director of the Alliance.

      The company said the $4 price will be available to both the insured and the uninsured alike. The generic drugs included in the program are used to treat and manage conditions including allergies, cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes.

      Some antibiotics, antidepressants, antipsychotics and prescription vitamins are also included, the company said.

      Should the program prove successful in Florida, company officials say they expect to expand it to other states during 2007.

      "Competition and market forces have been absent from our healthcare system, and that has hurt working families tremendously," Scott said. "We are excited to take the lead in doing what we do best driving costs out of the system and passing those savings to our customers and associates."

      The announcement comes at a time of growing frustration with the new Medicare Part D drug benefit, that features a so-called "donut hole" of liability.

      The program covers drug costs up to a certain level, then provides additional coverage at a higher level. Consumers whose drug costs fall between those two points receive little or no benefit.

      Wal-Mart officials say their generic drug program will help alleviate a major challenge for seniors who have fallen into the "doughnut hole" coverage gap in their Medicare Part D prescription drug plans and now find themselves responsible for paying 100 percent of their prescription medicine costs.

      "Fifty-bucks for a year's supply of prescription drugs is a pretty darn good deal for consumers," said Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), an outspoken proponent of giving people access to lower-cost prescriptions. "Because Wal-Mart has the ability to shape the market, maybe other retailers will follow suit."

      Target Matches Wal-Mart's $4 Generic Rx Price...