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Faulty seat heater burned 6-year-old, scorched through car’s seat, mom says

Published: Aug. 26, 2021 at 1:00 AM CDT
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WOBURN, Mass. (WBZ) - A Boston-area couple says a faulty seat heater in their car malfunctioned, burning their 6-year-old son, melting his sweatshirt together with his blanket and scorching the seat and the boy’s pillow.

As her 6-year-old son Nico slept in the back seat, Lisa Montanaro smelled smoke and her eyes started to burn while driving from Pennsylvania to their Massachusetts home. So, the mother pulled off the highway to check the 2013 BMW X5 and fill the gas tank.

When she checked on Nico in his booster seat and pulled his pillow out from behind him, the car filled with smoke.

“I started freaking out. I had gas being pumped into my car at the time,” Lisa Montanaro said.

She rushed Nico out of the car and pulled out his scorched pillow, which was burned to the seat. When the mother ripped it off, she revealed a gaping hole in both the pillow and the car’s rear seat. Nico only sustained a small burn to his hand, but his sweatshirt and part of his blanket had melted together.

Lisa Montanaro says her 6-year-old son Nico turned on the car's rear seat heater then dozed off...
Lisa Montanaro says her 6-year-old son Nico turned on the car's rear seat heater then dozed off in his booster seat. The heater malfunctioned, burning a gaping hole in both the pillow behind the boy and the rear seat.(Source: Lisa Montanaro, WBZ via CNN)

“It could’ve ended up deadly for all I know,” Lisa Montanaro said.

She learned that Nico had turned on the car’s rear seat heater before he dozed off, and it malfunctioned. She and her husband, Tony Montanaro, say they won’t drive the car again, and Nico says he’ll never take another nap in the car.

“If I didn’t pull over and he woke up on his own, he would’ve gotten up. No matter how he moved, he would’ve moved that pillow. He most likely would’ve burned himself and would’ve been screaming,” Lisa Montanaro said.

For now, the family is using a loaner vehicle while the dealership figures out next steps.

Auto safety expert Sean Kane says seat heater malfunctions often go unreported but can be dangerous.

“They’re not common, but they are certainly known and have been subject to a number of recalls over the years,” he said. “Fact is you’re driving a vehicle, and you get smoke inside the vehicle you can see [how] that can be really problematic and can lead to a crash as well.”

The family hopes their story makes other parents and drivers more aware of potentially faulty parts.

“I think that any car that has those heating coils in them, or those electrical components that malfunctioned, anyone who has one and turns that button on, if you’re on a long car ride, you are at risk of that car catching fire,” Tony Montanaro said.

Lisa Montanaro says the X5 had been a great car until this incident.

Reporters reached out to BMW for comment but did not hear back.

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