Police fear 60,000 cars could explode

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Police fear 60,000 cars could explode

A Mercedes-Benz owner named Heo drove to a repair shop in June and complained about problems with his luxury sedan’s air conditioning. Heo told the repairman that he had replaced his refrigerant two months earlier. When they popped the Mercedes’ hood, they found the compressor covered in orange rust.

A police inspection revealed that the new refrigerant was a cheap and dangerous type imported from China that contained flammable chemicals.

Police believe about 60,000 cars being driven in Korea contain the faulty refrigerant.

“If the leaked refrigerant comes into contact with a cigarette butt or anything of the sort, it will explode,” said a police officer investigating the case.

“The refrigerant was sold in car centers in Seoul, Gyeonggi, Incheon and Busan. Car drivers who replaced their refrigerant between April and June should check their products at the closest car center to prevent accidents,” the police said.

“Our test results show that chloromethane can cause an explosion, even if it comes into contact with air,” an officer said.

The police investigation showed that the imported refrigerant contains chloromethane, a highly toxic and extremely flammable colorless gas, as well as other flammable chemicals.

Heo’s car was the first of four other cars seen at the auto shop in the following weeks, and all of the owners complained of similar problems.

The Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency yesterday applied for an arrest warrant for the head of an importing company, surnamed Lee, 32, for bringing in the faulty auto refrigerant from China.

The police are also investigating 11 dealers who bought the refrigerant from Lee. The police believe Lee imported the cheap refrigerant because refrigerant prices doubled in price in Korea as the weather got hotter.

Lee sold 41 tons of the 50 tons brought in from China, which were 40 to 60 percent cheaper than legitimate brands, authorities believe.

The chemicals found in the faulty refrigerant can lead to the corrosion of iron and aluminum. They can also weaken rubber materials, which can result in leaks.

The police have confiscated 13 tons of the illegal refrigerant, but 28 tons are still missing - inside those 60,000 cars.

By Jeong Seon-eon [christine.kim@joongang.co.kr]
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