Hank Investigates: Melting Car Mystery

RANDOLPH, MASS. (WHDH) - It’s a melting car mystery. Why are parts on one local family’s vehicles bending and buckling? You’ve got to see to believe what Hank Phillippi Ryan’s investigation reveals. Hank Investigates this meltdown.

The trims on the two cars parked in a Randolph home’s driveway are warped, damaged, and distorted.

“It starts to like bubble,” Rick said. “I was shocked.”

Rick and his mother-in-law Ellen were baffled when they saw it.

“Very aggravating because the car is brand new,” Ellen said.

Frustrated, Ellen took hers to the dealer.

“They said something must be reflecting onto my car to make it melt,” Ellen said.

Our investigation found it may be the sun reflecting off the energy-efficient windows on their home and the house next door.

The glare hits the cars’ plastic trims, causing them to melt.

“This is crazy,” Ellen said.

Energy-efficient windows are designed to reflect the sun, and as a result, keep homes cooler inside.

But Acushnet Fire Chief Kevin Gallagher, an expert in fire prevention, says when the angle of that reflected sun bounces off the windows and hits a meltable material, that beam of light acts like a focused magnifying glass.

“So this is a significant amount of heat?” Hank asked.
“Correct. Yes,” Kevin Gallagher, the Acushnet fire chief said.

And since a car’s trim is made of plastic, it’s especially vulnerable.

“And in the case of plastic components of automobiles, it can cause it to distort, to melt, to discolor. It’s a phenomenon,” Gallagher said.

This reflection phenomenon can be so powerful it’s actually caused the vinyl siding on local homes to bend and buckle.

And Chief Gallagher says it even caused fires in Melrose and Whitman.

“Reflected sunlight bounced off of the window, went across the driveway, and started the fire,” Gallagher said.

So who’s supposed to pay for Rick and Ellen’s damage? Their car maker told us because the issue is due to environmental influence, it is not a warrantable repair.

And even if Rick and Ellen had the damage fixed, it would keep happening.

They say there’s no place else to park and they don’t want to spend more money on car covers.

“We’re in a situation right now where I just don’t know the best way to handle it so that, you know, this isn’t an ongoing issue,” Rick said.

The Window & Door Manufacturers Association says tens of millions of energy-efficient windows are in homes and buildings right now. They say fires and melting problems are extremely rare.

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