FOX 8 Defenders: Car app helps consumers spot dangers on the road

METAIRIE, LA (WVUE) - You could be driving a dangerous car and not even know it, but a new app can help spot serious problems and help drivers figure out what could be a free fix. I hit the streets to try it out in an all new FOX 8 Defenders investigation.

We're hearing it more and more with car manufacturers issuing auto recalls. Just this month, BMW and Nissan made safety recall announcements. The BMW recall is tied to the defective Takata airbag, and Nissan reported to consumers that in some situations, rolling down a back window could open a door.

While there's been so much attention paid to auto recalls over the last couple of years, for some consumers, there's not a sense of urgency to get their recalls fixed.

"Today, there are more than 63 million open recalls still on the roads in the United States. There's more than a million open recalls here in the state of Louisiana," said Carfax Communications Director Larry Gamache.

Carfax is an online company that tracks the history of vehicles. Gamache says consumers can also keep up with important car recalls that haven't been fixed through its free smartphone app, MyCarfax.

"All you need is the license plate and the state," he said.  Plug those details into the app, and recall details load within seconds.

Together, we tested the app in three area parking lots, the Yenni building in Elmwood and Lafreniere Park, both in Jefferson Parish and our own employee parking area at FOX 8 in Mid-City.

After plugging in a license plate, the app showed the first vehicle we checked had no open recalls. A station live truck and several other cars passed with flying colors as well, but we found two vehicles with open recalls, including a Jeep Laredo.

"If the ignition switch actually fails, the vehicle could in the most extreme catch on fire, but more importantly, it may just stop working.  It may just you know, leave you stranded," explained Gamache.

The other vehicle that caught our attention was a Jeep Liberty Sport that happened to be a photographer's station vehicle. The words "active head restraints" were listed in bold font.

"This suggests in an accident, this vehicle might not protect you the way that it was designed. The front passengers have a higher chance of being injured," Gamache told us.

The app also gives detailed descriptions of each open recall. This station vehicle showed the recall isn't new. It's been open since 2013. The plus with both vehicles that stood out is that a free fix should be available on both cars at dealer locations.

Over in Elmwood in the Yenni building parking lot, we found several vehicles with open safety recalls. In red font, one woman's Mazda minivan showed an open recall on the passenger air bag inflator. During our conversation, she explained that she had been in an accident recently, and her airbags did not deploy.

"You actually have an open recall on your airbag system. Your airbag may not have deployed because it's under a manufacturer recall," Gamache told the driver.  The woman wasn't aware of any recall, and expressed concern because she uses the vehicle to transport kids everyday.

Nearby, we discover another recall. In this case, we found a van that happens to be a taxi cab.

"This taxi does have an open recall, and this particular safety recall can cause a window switch to overheat and catch fire," Gamache said.

I tried talking to the driver about it, but he told me he didn't speak English. We have since reached out to the cab company to explain the concern, but have not heard back from anyone.

Then we tested Claude Shelton's vehicle.

"You have a problem with your tires, and Toyota is asking you to bring the car back so they can fix it for you," Gamache told Shelton.

When we hit Lafreniere Park, it was apparent how far-reaching airbag recalls are.

"I know that there's been issue with Toyotas," driver Walter Lourie said.

The first vehicle we zeroed in on was a Toyota Four-Runner with an open airbag recall.

"That means your airbag will not deploy properly if you are in an accident," Gamache said.

While the driver told us it's an inconvenience, she still planned to bring the SUV in to the dealer for a fix.

Then we found Rita Lambert's Toyota Scion had an open airbag recall. The app goes into even more detail about the Takata front passenger airbag inflator. It says, they "may degrade after prolonged exposure to high absolute humidity and fluctuating high temperatures," causing an inflator to rupture. In that case, "metal fragments could pass through the airbag cushion...striking the occupants."'

"I certainly wanna make sure my airbags are okay. Thank you so much," Lambert said.

But in her case, the app showed Toyota is currently preparing a remedy, so a fix isn't yet available.

Car manufacturers issue recalls for a reason. Sometimes owners may not open the notice that comes in the mail or maybe they don't get it.

"It's really become a big concern with the auto industry because we've had so many types of recalls whether it's airbags, brakes," said Joe Valiente, a Jefferson Parish driver.

In a short period of time using the MyCarfax App, we found more than seven vehicles with recalls that still need to be fixed. It's a sample of a much greater number that exists statewide.

"About 25 percent or one in four of the vehicles in Louisiana currently has an open recall, and they're driving," Gamache said.

The FOX 8 Defenders staffed with volunteers from the National Council of Jewish Women also field consumer complaints at 1-877-670-6397 or you can fill out an online complaint form.

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