Toxic interior smell caused by service (spray to cover mildew)

Discussion in 'Gen 1 Prius Plug-in 2012-2015' started by Windhorse23, Nov 6, 2017.

  1. Windhorse23

    Windhorse23 Junior Member

    Joined:
    Feb 17, 2017
    25
    10
    0
    Location:
    Felton, CA.
    Vehicle:
    2012 Prius Plug-in
    Model:
    Plug-in Advanced
    Dear PiP community,

    Wondering if any of you know
    1) about consumer rights when it comes to a dealership disclosing the MSDS of chemicals they used in your car?
    2) if there's a way to get rid of noxious chemicals from interior

    Background: A/C line leaked into interior of my 2012 PiP, causing strong mildew smell in carpets. Dealership "fixed" the problem by spraying something horrible to cover up the smell. Finally they agreed to replace carpets to actually get rid of the mildew rather than cover it up. But their first "fix" still stinks as much as it did 2 months ago. The smell is overwhelming--even the Asst. Manager agrees, but Manager wants me to move on and is hopeful I'll give a good Yelp review because he was nice enough to replace carpets. Fair enough, but how to mitigate what could be dangerous, mysterious, residual chemicals?

    To play nice, I have tried to do my due diligence to see if odor goes away like manager said it would in a month: cleaned everything with vinegar and baking soda, bought steam cleaner, used S02 Odor eliminator, air it out in sun as often as possible, have a plug-in HEPA filter. Nothing working.

    I have written emails to service mngr asking what the chemical is, but they are opting not to tell me. He said jocularly, "It's just new car smell!" Let's hope nobody would opt to spray that on purpose. I'm worried there are all kind of aldehydes (formaldehyde being just one), but chemical testing is super pricey and you have to know what you're testing for. Nobody can stand to be in the car--esp. not my 10 yr old daughter.

    My end game would be for them to let me trade in the PiP for one of equal value without losing $ given that they caused the problem. But worried they don't have to tell me the chemicals. I've spoken with D.A.'s office and I can file a complaint but would rather negotiate first. BTW, Toyota Consumer Care has no ombudsman and backs away as soon as you say "rights."

    Need to know rights going in before I try to negotiate for a trade: do I have a right to know what they sprayed and how much? Or can they just opt not to tell me?

    And IS there a way to get rid of the actual chemicals? Seems to have soaked into all the works, including plastics (e.g. putty inside a plastic tub smells like that chemical, so it soaked through the plastic tub).

    Thanks all for any insights on this tricky one.
     
  2. Prodigyplace

    Prodigyplace Senior Member

    Joined:
    Nov 1, 2016
    10,506
    10,045
    0
    Location:
    Central Virginia
    Vehicle:
    2017 Prius
    Model:
    Two
    IMHO they need to disclose what they used to prove the fumes are not toxic.
     
    Windhorse23 likes this.
  3. bisco

    bisco cookie crumbler

    Joined:
    May 11, 2005
    84,579
    37,187
    0
    Location:
    boston
    Vehicle:
    2012 Prius Plug-in
    Model:
    Plug-in Base
    talk to your state department of environmental protection about the meds, see if they can help.
    as for the smell, i would take it to a detail shoppe and get their opinion.
     
  4. ChapmanF

    ChapmanF Senior Member

    Joined:
    Mar 30, 2008
    8,039
    5,682
    0
    Location:
    Indiana, USA
    Vehicle:
    2010 Prius
    Model:
    IV
    I was once in such a hurry to replace a car that got stolen that I bought something whose previous owner must have smoked like a chimney.

    Phase one of recovery was to get one of those cheap wet-vac upholstery/carpet water-extraction attachments, and go over the seats and carpets repeatedly until the extracted water stopped coming up gray. A nice side benefit of this was discovering the real color of the interior.

    Phase two was just to drive everywhere, including long highway trips, with all the windows all the way down, any time it wasn't raining, from about midsummer when I had bought it, well into the fall when it got too cold to do that. Of course there needed to be a comb in the glove box.

    By that time it got too cold that fall, it really smelled fine inside. I was astonished how well that worked. It never again smelled like it had been smoked in.

    -Chap
     
    jerrymildred and Windhorse23 like this.
  5. Raytheeagle

    Raytheeagle Senior Member

    Joined:
    Jul 1, 2016
    9,412
    12,742
    0
    Location:
    Bay Area, California
    Vehicle:
    2019 Prius Prime
    Model:
    Prime Plus
    What did the work inventory invoice from the dealer say when they performed the work?

    It sounds like you are doing this over email, what about going down there and asking a service advisor (not the one you have worked with in the past) or ask them to speak with a mechanic?

    While the manager is being cheeky, you can get to the bottom of it;). The service advisors usually are the easiest way in.

    As someone who works in the chemical industry and works around some nasty ones, can you describe the smell and it’s affects on you or your daughter?

    All chemicals used in a facility must have the msds available to the workers (its an OSHA mandate). So there shall be a binder or Internet access to the MSDS at all times.

    I would go down to the dealer and see what loose lips you can find.

    Keep us posted (y).
     
    Windhorse23 likes this.
  6. kenmce

    kenmce High Voltage Member

    Joined:
    May 4, 2004
    1,241
    312
    0
    Location:
    NY
    Vehicle:
    Other Hybrid
    Model:
    Limited
    Dealership I got my car from apparently used some kind of dry cleaning chemical before they put it on the lot. Had the interior of the car shampooed, but couldn't shampoo the air ducts. Years later the smell still comes out sometimes. The only thing you haven't done is circulate hot air through the car. Heat should encourage it to come out some.
     
  7. Mendel Leisk

    Mendel Leisk Titanic Social Director

    Joined:
    Oct 17, 2010
    36,995
    25,777
    80
    Location:
    Greater Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
    Vehicle:
    2010 Prius
    Model:
    Touring
    The more likely cause: regular AC use, and shutting the car down with the AC still running, results in a lot of humidity, just regular water, sitting in a warm dark place, the innards of the heat/vent system. And it starts growing mildews and moulds.

    Even if they spring for a new car, with the same behaviour the problem will more than likely return.

    To prevent the issue: limit AC use, and try to shut it off a mile or two before your destination, but continue running fan for the duration.

    It shouldn't be thus, but that's how it is.
     
    Windhorse23 and Raytheeagle like this.
  8. Windhorse23

    Windhorse23 Junior Member

    Joined:
    Feb 17, 2017
    25
    10
    0
    Location:
    Felton, CA.
    Vehicle:
    2012 Prius Plug-in
    Model:
    Plug-in Advanced
    Thanks, bisco. Today I contacted Bureau of Automotive Repairs (CA state dept) who will ask for the repair report if I want to file a complaint. Wanting to play nice first to see if they'll just trade my car in then tell them I'll report if they won't. Environmental Health Dept no help yet. Talked to a couple of detailers today, both of whom sound like they will put more chemicals in but not be able to help me identify chems.
     
    bisco likes this.
  9. Windhorse23

    Windhorse23 Junior Member

    Joined:
    Feb 17, 2017
    25
    10
    0
    Location:
    Felton, CA.
    Vehicle:
    2012 Prius Plug-in
    Model:
    Plug-in Advanced
    Glad to be talking with someone who works in the chemical industry, Raytheeagle! What does it smell like? Cheap cherry cigar smoke, if that's a thing. But concentrated, like someone let off a "flea bomb" of a chemical cigar (you remember those from old cartoons?) in my car. Everyone who even gets close to the car says "Whoa, chemicals!" They don't even want to put their head in. I pick up my daughter from the bus stop every day after airing it out and keep the windows open on the way home and ask her if it's improved. "Nope."

    Symptoms? I've had a cluster migraine for the same amount of time and a lot of sinus issues. I've been attributing it to stress because of 2 jobs, etc., but perhaps in denial because I know it's going to be hard to get to the bottom of it. I spend a lot more time in the car because my commute is 30 min. each way each day. Only subject my daughter to 5 min. from bus stop for the most, but still I worry. And now, I'm ready to take action.

    In Aug., communication was mostly email. But since Sept/Oct, I have been to the dealership twice and found one nice Asst. Manager who agreed the smell is abhorrent still, over a month after they first sprayed the mystery chemical. I haven't yet met the manager but have talked to him on the phone. He was the one who had my car sprayed to mitigate the mildew smell. Then I held my ground and asked if he did anything to mitigate the mildew from the A/C leak. So he had me bring car back in. He said he he took it off site to a carpet place and had seats removed and all carpets replaced. He never showed me the documentation of that off site fix. He said he's absorbing the $1800 cost (he said) and would love a good Yelp review. I agreed to the positive Yelp review but never gave it because when I picked it up, the toxic smell was still there. At that time--6 weeks ago--the Asst. Manager agreed it was still there and he'd never experienced anything like this, and thought maybe the headliner absorbed it and asked service to spray a little Febreze on it. Ha! The service guy below him was just not as nice: "You'll have to deal with your insurance company now," and handed me a vanilla scented deoderizer.

    So it's embarrassing to admit, but they sent me on my way that day 6 weeks ago without documentation of any fixes other than fixing the leaking A/C line. Now that I've spoken to the Bureau of Automotive Repair today (a CA. state consumer protection agency), I was told they could definitely get the documentation if I file a complaint. BUT they can't do anything beyond give the dealership a bad mark. They have no authority to make sure they "make me whole," so to speak. And that's what I want. A trade-in of the same value without the smell.

    Why have I waited 6 weeks to go back and deal with this? Because the manager told me it would take up to 90 days for the smell to go away. Being a proactive type and wanting to work in good faith, I bought a steam cleaner and some chemical-eating spray (S02Pur), aired it a lot, etc. No change.

    I also wanted to research my rights so I have some leverage when I go in and ask them to
    1) smell the car
    2) tell me what they sprayed
    3) trade for another PiP of same value

    I anticipate they will say, "Sorry, your car stinks so we can't resell it for same value." Obviously, i will say, you made it stink. Then I will play the "filing complaints" card.

    Raytheeagle, if you have any idea what chemical a detailing shop at a dealership might spray to cover the smell, I'd be grateful.
    Industrial hygienists are very expensive--around $1000 for a test--and you have to know what chemical you're testing for. I'm guessing formaldehyde, but god knows what else.

    Thanks and sorry for length.
     
  10. Windhorse23

    Windhorse23 Junior Member

    Joined:
    Feb 17, 2017
    25
    10
    0
    Location:
    Felton, CA.
    Vehicle:
    2012 Prius Plug-in
    Model:
    Plug-in Advanced
    Interesting analysis--thanks. They did say it was an actual blocked A/C line that backed up and leaked rather than being behavioral. If I'm lucky enough to convince them to trade without much more cost to me, I will follow your advice and limit AC us and not shut off car with AC running.
     
    Mendel Leisk likes this.
  11. Windhorse23

    Windhorse23 Junior Member

    Joined:
    Feb 17, 2017
    25
    10
    0
    Location:
    Felton, CA.
    Vehicle:
    2012 Prius Plug-in
    Model:
    Plug-in Advanced
    This sounds like the spirit of my approach so far. And I'd probably wait for months like you and drive with windows open and steam clean repeatedly *except* that it's not cigarette smoke: it's some truly toxic chemical cocktail. Thanks.
     
  12. Windhorse23

    Windhorse23 Junior Member

    Joined:
    Feb 17, 2017
    25
    10
    0
    Location:
    Felton, CA.
    Vehicle:
    2012 Prius Plug-in
    Model:
    Plug-in Advanced
    And BTW, you guys are awesome! Wish I'd written earlier rather than trying to puzzle this all out alone. I'll try to keep my posts shorter. ;)
     
  13. Raytheeagle

    Raytheeagle Senior Member

    Joined:
    Jul 1, 2016
    9,412
    12,742
    0
    Location:
    Bay Area, California
    Vehicle:
    2019 Prius Prime
    Model:
    Prime Plus
    I wouldn’t guess formaldehyde based on the stated odor (cherry-ish smell). It sounds like benzaldehyde, which has a common almond like odor ;). This might be used simply as a masking agent.

    Does the odor emanate from a particular area (is it stronger in one location)?

    Good luck (y).
     
    Windhorse23 likes this.
  14. Windhorse23

    Windhorse23 Junior Member

    Joined:
    Feb 17, 2017
    25
    10
    0
    Location:
    Felton, CA.
    Vehicle:
    2012 Prius Plug-in
    Model:
    Plug-in Advanced
    Interesting, thanks! Makes sense they'd use a masking agent. Want to get ahold of the product name to see what all's in it.

    Just looked up benzaldehyde which, if that's what it is, supposedly isn't carcinogenic when used in foods (almond flavoring) and and cosmetics. But according to quick Wikipedia search, "in high concentrations as seen in industrial settings, however, it can be dangerous. For a 70 kg human, the lethal dose is estimated at 50 mL.[9] An acceptable daily intake of 15 mg/day has been identified for benzaldehyde by the United States Environmental Protection Agency.[18] Benzaldehyde does not accumulate in human tissues.[14] It is metabolized and then excreted in urine.[14]. "

    As someone who works in the chemical industry, do you know if one could or should test for quantity? Would you test for benzaldehyde
    for any particular reasons?

    It's not stronger in one location more than another. It's just unmistakably part of the general air you breathe in the car. :eek:

    Thanks! :)
     
  15. Raytheeagle

    Raytheeagle Senior Member

    Joined:
    Jul 1, 2016
    9,412
    12,742
    0
    Location:
    Bay Area, California
    Vehicle:
    2019 Prius Prime
    Model:
    Prime Plus
    There are ways to measure quantities, called head space analysis. But this is not cheap.

    I would continue to press the dealer for information and if you continue to hit a wall, let them know you’ll contact a local news station.

    Hope that helps!
     
    Windhorse23 likes this.
  16. Mendel Leisk

    Mendel Leisk Titanic Social Director

    Joined:
    Oct 17, 2010
    36,995
    25,777
    80
    Location:
    Greater Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
    Vehicle:
    2010 Prius
    Model:
    Touring
    @NutzAboutBolts has a video on AC system cleaning, pinned at top of 3rd gen maintenance sub-forum. It might shed some light on the chemicals used, and/or how to clean, and possible problems. Worth a watch anyway.
     
    Windhorse23 and Prodigyplace like this.
  17. Windhorse23

    Windhorse23 Junior Member

    Joined:
    Feb 17, 2017
    25
    10
    0
    Location:
    Felton, CA.
    Vehicle:
    2012 Prius Plug-in
    Model:
    Plug-in Advanced
    Very smart. Good to know head space analysis exists, though all industrial hygienists so far have said I'd have to know what I'm testing for chemical by chemical and each test would be expensive, as you say. I like your idea of saying I'd contact a news station. Given the manager was mostly motivated that he receive a positive Yelp review, this might have an effect...:sneaky:
     
    Raytheeagle likes this.
  18. Windhorse23

    Windhorse23 Junior Member

    Joined:
    Feb 17, 2017
    25
    10
    0
    Location:
    Felton, CA.
    Vehicle:
    2012 Prius Plug-in
    Model:
    Plug-in Advanced
    That's great to know! Been thinking that if I have to keep this chemical bomb of a car, I'm going to need to "defuse" it, so to speak, from the inside out. Clean deeply into the workings, if that's even possible. Wondering if frequent replacement of cabin filter would help, and if there are other filters to replace. Thanks.
     
  19. Prodigyplace

    Prodigyplace Senior Member

    Joined:
    Nov 1, 2016
    10,506
    10,045
    0
    Location:
    Central Virginia
    Vehicle:
    2017 Prius
    Model:
    Two
    I believe @jerrymildred had to clean one of his vehicles.
     
  20. Mendel Leisk

    Mendel Leisk Titanic Social Director

    Joined:
    Oct 17, 2010
    36,995
    25,777
    80
    Location:
    Greater Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
    Vehicle:
    2010 Prius
    Model:
    Touring
    Cabin filter just sits atop the system. Deeper in is a "radiator" (aka evaporator), that the AC freon (it's different stuff, new and improved, but similar) flows through. It has fine fins, and there's various passageways. Running the cleaners through it (per the video) helps, may quell anything growing in there.

    The one 100% sure way is to completely open everything up, and that is not a lot of fun: the dash does not give up easy, lol. I'd be hesitant to go there.
     
    Prodigyplace likes this.
Loading...