ATLANTA - Some Mercedes-Benz owners don't just smell trouble, they see it -- gasoline seeping from the tank into the back seat of one of the fanciest car models on the road.
It’s video you have to see to believe.
The complaints come from owners of the Mercedes-Benz E class, model years 2003 to 2009. The car's fuel tank is right under the rear seat, inside the vehicle's cabin. In some models, when the seat is lifted, high-octane gasoline can be seen pooling and shimmering.
The gasoline mixes with oxygen and the gas fumes are more explosive than the gas itself. So imagine the alarm for a driver enclosed in a passenger compartment reeking of raw gasoline.
"You have to drive with all the windows down, the sunroof open. The smell is sickening," Mercedes-Benz owner Ronan McCabe told Channel 2 consumer investigator Jim Strickland.
McCabe smelled gas soon after buying his 2006 E55. When new, the car went for nearly $90,000.
"This is where the gasoline was pooling," McCabe said as he showed Strickland the top of the fuel tank under his back seat.
He had repairs totaling $1,935.12. In a letter, Mercedes-Benz told McCabe it had thoroughly reviewed his case and respectfully declined to foot the repair bill.
"Mercedes is all about safety, reliability and quality. Not in this situation," McCabe said.
In 2008, Mercedes-Benz recalled 8,000 2003 through 2006 E and CLS models blaming, the smell on cracks in the fuel filter. A year ago it recalled 5,800 more cars from 2011 and 2012, but Ronan McCabe's car wasn't covered either time.
Tony Albanese's wasn't either.
"In a word, what’s wrong with your car?" Strickland asked Albanese.
"It stinks," Albanese said.
Strickland went to Dallas, TX to meet Albanese. Albanese said before he gets his 2004 E55 fixed, he wants to get it exposed. He's not under the recall either.
"I don't feel like it should fall on me to pay them several thousand dollars to fix something that's their fault," Albanese told Strickland.
Devices in the top of the tank feed information to the gas gauge and they’re supposed to be sealed tight.
Strickland used a turkey baster to siphon out gasoline from Albanese's backseat. There was enough to nearly fill a 12-ounce cup.
"It pours all over the back seat," Albanese said.
On the Internet, Strickland found another problem. A driver shot video of gas pouring out from under the car onto the ground.
Strickland found hundreds of complaints filed with federal safety officials. They've been investigating for two years.
McCabe is lead plaintiff in a class-action lawsuit.
"This isn't a problem just for Mercedes owners. This is something that affects everyone who rides with or next to a Mercedes-Benz vehicle on the road," attorney Matt Wetherington told Strickland.
Mercedes-Benz told the owners of the 5,800 cars that are recalled they did it, "because we are concerned about your safety."
Now that 250,000 cars are under investigation, company lawyers wrote less than three months ago: "A safety related defect does not exist."
"How does that hit you?" Strickland asked Albanese.
"That's the absolute most ridiculous thing I've ever heard," Albanese said.
Strickland asked Mercedes-Benz spokesman Rob Moran why they first called it a safety issue, then said it wasn't.
Moran responded in an email, “Thank you for your inquiry. We have no comment on this issue. Happy New Year.”
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration also refuses to comment about its ongoing investigation.