SHOREWOOD, Minn. - Steve Pitzl said he always makes sure his 2005 Chrysler Pacifica is running properly.
"You like to think your car's safe. You never know what evils are lurking underneath your vehicle," he said.
Recently his mechanic, Joe Mettler found something even Pitzl had no idea was happening.
"This is junk here. It's just paper thin. You can just start tearing this stuff apart right here," said Mettler as he tore away the material with is bare hand. "You can hear how rotten it is here."
Pitzl's engine cradle was rusting out to the point his mechanic could almost put his whole hand in the hole.
"He said that it rusted to the point that the engine could fall out," said Pitzl.
And when KARE 11 started to investigate, we discovered the Shorewood man was not the only one dealing with rust like that.
"He told me if you were my wife, I wouldn't want you driving this home," said Susan Deneen who recounted a conversation she had with her mechanic.
She lives near Chicago. Her Pacifica looked fine from the outside, but underneath her mechanic found rusty holes.
"I could put two hands through it," mechanic Greg Hoops told NBC affiliate WMAQ. "It's highly unsafe."
And when KARE 11 searched the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's website, we found pages and pages of complaints from drivers dealing with the same problem.
Pacifica owners reported things like their "engine cradle" was "completely rusted through".
According to documents obtained by KARE 11, this isn't the first time a car company has dealt with undercarriage corrosion.
In 1998, the Ford Motor Company recalled more than 2.6 million vehicles after road salt caused "corrosion" on the sub frame that "supports the engine", according to documents obtained by KARE 11. The company said the problem could impact "vehicle control and possible result in a collision".
KARE 11 did not find any reports of engine cradles failing or drivers involved in any accidents because of the Chrysler Pacifica corrosion, but we did find plenty of expensive repairs, including Pitzl's
"The job is $3,000 to $3500. I'm not going to do that," he said.
At first, Pitzl thought he was in luck.
A Chrysler service bulletin did not indicate the rust was a safety risk, but warned it could cause "engine vibration and/or shake".
And he found a copy of a letter from Chrysler on the internet acknowledging an "engine cradle" problem in some 2004-2005 Pacificas and extending the warranty to "10 years or 150,000 miles". The company said it was because some vehicles "operated in areas of high road salt usage may experience engine cradle corrosion..."
A local Chrysler dealer told Pitzl his engine cradle was rusted and needed to be replaced.
But in a letter Chrysler told Steve he was out of luck, writing the warranty extension only "applies to vehicles built between February 23, 2004 and March 31, 2004", a few weeks when there was a production line problem. Pitzl's Pacifica was built a few months later in September.
Frustration settled in until KARE 11 started asking Chrysler questions. Pitzl told KARE 11 he suddenly got a call from the company recently saying Chrysler would cover the repairs after all. He said Chrysler eventually paid for the costs of the repair.
When asked why Chrysler changed its mind, spokesperson Michael Palese said they make decisions on a case by case basis. He said they don't believe the problem is a safety issue after doing their own tests.
Meantime, a spokesperson with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said it's not investigating, believing the corrosion "could be addressed through routine maintenance".
Either way, Pitzl has signed a petition on Change.org demanding Chrysler recall Pacificas with engine cradle corrosion. He is also advising other Pacifica owners to do what he did and check their vehicles.
"I see people on the roads with kids in the back seat, you know and I'm thinking that car could have the same issue," he said.