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Apr 18, 2007: Water hazard; Wheels on fire

Published: 3:40PM Thursday April 19, 2007

Reporter: Kevin Milne

Mark Gillings of Queenstown came back to his car after a few hours fishing to find a burn mark on the back seat of his Chrysler Jeep Cherokee. It turned out that a full 1.25-litre Pump water bottle, which was sitting in the rear seat centre drinks holder, had focused the sun's rays like a magnifying glass on the seat about three centimetres from the holder.

Mark Gillings believed this was a design fault with the bottle-holder. He said when he raised the matter with Chrysler, they refused to repair the seat in terms of the vehicle's warrantee.  Mark thought that Chrysler should not only repair the damage, but also alert all owners of these vehicles about the fire danger if they left water bottles in the car on a sunny day.

Fair Go established that there had about eleven similar incidents in New Zealand in the past year or so involving a range of other vehicles including VW, Subaru and Volvo. Strangely, it appeared this had not been an issue anywhere other than New Zealand.

The Motor Industry Association, which represented manufacturers, said the major problem was mainly to do with the shape of some water bottles available in New Zealand.  Coca-Cola, which sold Pump, said it was re-designing its bottle. 

Fair Go thought the Association should inform all car owners with similar drinks holders of the possibility of danger. We thought it would be useful to place warning stickers on all these holders.  The Motor Industry Association's chief executive, Perry Kerr, told Fair Go  warning labels was not an option because the danger of fire not only affected new cars manufactured by Association members, but more than one-thousand used vehicles imported into New Zealand each year.

Chrysler agreed to fix Mark Gillings' leather seat, and thanked him for bringing the issue to their attention.

Reporter: Erica Wood

Hamilton mother, Janice Smith,  was desperate to help cure her son's eczema.  She noticed he itched more after a bath or shower.  Convinced the chlorine in the water supply made her son's skin condition, Janice looked for ways to purify it.  She discovered  Hamilton-based Ecoworld New Zealand Ltd, who sold her a water purifier for $359 and  convinced her to buy a Grander Living Water System, which the company said energised water, for another $3,996. 

The system was invented by an Austrian, Johann Grander.  His device held a sealed chamber of water taken from the glacial melts of the Tyrollean Mountains.  Johann Grander's theory said  that by simply flowing "untreated" water past a sealed chamber of his glacial water, but not coming into contact with it,  would change tap water in many ways.   Ecoworld New Zealand Ltd made several claims about the benefit of the Grander system.  One that  appealed to Janice was the idea that it would reduce skin and allergy disorders.

Janice Smith was later advised by the Commerce Commission that it was investigating Ecoworld New Zealand Ltd for making false claims about the Grander Living Water System.  The Commission took the company to court in 2005.Ecoworld New Zealand Ltd was found guilty of making eight false claims.  It was fined $60-thousand and ordered to refund 14 of its customers. Janice Smith was not  on that list, but she took action of her own and in September, 2006, the Disputes Tribunal ordered Ecoworld New Zealand Ltd to refund the Hamilton mother $3996.

Months later, Janice came to Fair Go because the company had failed to re-pay her.  She discovered that Ecoworld New Zealand Ltd was in liquidation, had no assets, and was no longer trading.  The same directors that ran Ecoworld New Zealand Ltd, Ruby and Fred Walker, operate a new company, Ecoworld New Zealand 2003 Ltd, which sells the Grander Living Water Systems and other products which Fair Go has no issue with.  Fair Go visited  the Walkers' office to try to find out why they had not paid their court-ordered fines or refunds.   The Walkers said they felt they were not under any obligation to pay up because it was their old company, Ecoworld New Zealand Ltd,  that was prosecuted not them as directors of that company. 

The Walkers' new company, Ecoworld New Zealand 2003 Ltd,  still sells the Grander Systems and advertises them on their website.  That website no longer makes the same claims discredited by the courts about the device, but the site does point to overseas ones where some of those claims are repeated.  The Ecoworld office also had  reading material which contained some of the claims.  Fair Go has alerted the Commerce Commission, who said they were unaware that the Walkers were still selling the Grander system.  The Commission said they will keep an eye on the situation.  In the meantime, Fair Go has warned people to be wary of buying the Grander Living Water Systems. 


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