COBB COUNTY, Ga. — Drivers of General Motors' popular Chevrolet Cruze sedan are complaining that the vehicle's new car smell is a nauseating stench.
Not every Cruze driver smells it, but Channel 2 consumer investigator Jim Strickland did.
A Cobb County man said the fumes from his car were toxic. Strickland met him at his Kennesaw home.
"It's been sitting in my driveway since last October," said Rick Scherf.
Scherf said the car poisoned him.
"(It) put me in the hospital for a week and off work for close to two months," Scherf said.
His heavy-duty aftermarket floor mats concealed a puddle of liquid soaking his car. A dealership document shows a mechanic found antifreeze leaking onto the front floorboards.
"The heater core, which the antifreeze runs through, leaked into the interior under my floor mats, and I was in the car for months," said Scherf.
A doctor diagnosed Scherf with chemical pneumonitis.
Federal records show a female Cruze driver suffered second-degree burns when her heater fell apart and spewed hot liquid on her feet as she drove.
"I believe I found over 60 websites that talk about this," said Scherf.
The largest forum is available at Cruzetalk.com. Administrator Andrei Pop said stories of extreme heater failures are rare.
Pop believes he has 1,400 online posts about the odor. He said most cases involve a smelly lubricant in the heating system. The day Channel 2 interviewed him outside Chicago, Pop was getting his car serviced to remove the smell.
"Someone will come into the dealership saying, 'My car smells like antifreeze.' It just so happens the grease smells just like antifreeze, but it's not antifreeze," he said.
Strickland obtained a GM document that also blames the odor on the grease.
"My car stinks," said owner Gina Runkle, of Pennsylvania.
Strickland was introduced to her on the Cruzetalk.com forum. She's had six repairs and no results.
When I get into my car and it smells again, it's very difficult," she said choking back sobs.
"I'm sorry, but it is very difficult to deal with this over and over," she said.
Strickland rented a Cruze while in Pennsylvania and soon his eyes started to burn. Lemon law consulting mechanic Steven Ruch looked at the coolant tank.
"The coolant system is approximately three-fourths of a quart low," he said.
"The heater cores are seeping, causing an odor inside the vehicle: the antifreeze burning smell that they're having," said Ruch, who is an ASE master technician trained by GM.
Ruch said for some owners, the issue goes beyond smelly grease. He's seen numerous slight heater leaks. Ruch said the leaks are not severe enough for a flood, but enough to give off hot, bad-to-breathe vapor. Strickland said with Ruch in the rented and running Cruze.
Ruch has examined several Cruzes as a consultant for Philadelphia-area lemon law attorney Bob Silverman.
"I guarantee you GM knows about the problem. They won't admit it," said Silverman, who's already handled 10 cases and expects to handle more.
He said GM has been responsive.
"They're buying those cars back under the lemon law, and even outside the lemon law, they're buying them back," said Silverman.
GM offered to buy back Scherf's car, but refused to pay $7,000 in out-of-pocket medical bills. Scherf is fighting.
"I just need them to do the right thing," he said.
Scherf's dealer, Day's Chevrolet in Acworth, deferred comment to GM. Strickland made numerous attempts with contacts in Atlanta and Detroit and never received a statement or answers to his questions.
Chevy dealers Steve Rayman and mark Frost of Jim Ellis Chevrolet said they've received no complaints about the issue. Chevrolet has sold more than a half-million Cruzes in the United States.