By George E. Jordan
New Jersey yesterday sued Nissan North American for allegedly
failing to warn consumers about the epidemic theft of high-intensity
headlights on its Maximas.
The lawsuit also accuses Nissan of profiteering from the
sale of headlight replacements, which cost $1,800 a pair,
and antitheft devices that the state said should have been
provided for free.
"Nissan knew that its headlights were being stolen from
its cars and did not notify consumers," said state Attorney
General Peter Harvey. "These were being stolen with impunity,
in some cases in less then 90 seconds."
The lawsuit in Superior Court in Somerset County makes New
Jersey the first state to take action against an automobile
manufacturer in the rash of thefts occurring around the nation
of bright, blue-tinted headlights, also known as xenon lights.
The lights have joined fancy rims and expensive sound systems
on the list of car accessories coveted by thieves. The burgeoning
black market for xenon bulbs has law enforcement officials
across the country searching for ways to stop the thefts,
which are targeted mostly at 2002 and 2003 Maximas.
New Jersey's lawsuit, meanwhile, accuses Nissan of violating
the state's Consumer Fraud Act and seeks restitution of an
undetermined amount of insurance premiums and repair costs.
The company said it had taken efforts to help consumers.
"While nothing can completely eliminate the thefts of
parts from vehicles, we believe the proactive steps taken
by Nissan will help deter criminals from stealing headlights
from our customers' Maximas," the company's statement
Nissan recently launched an identification program in Massachusetts
and Connecticut, where Maxima owners can have an identification
number printed on a small chip affixed to their highlights
so law enforcement can recognize stolen headlights in auto
Company spokesman John Schilling declined comment on the
core allegations in New Jersey's lawsuit: The automaker knew
about the pattern of thefts long before it warned customers
and offered a free securing kit that provided less protection
than the antitheft kit customers had to purchase.
A survey by New Jersey officials found 756 thefts or attempted
thefts of the moon-blue lights from 2002 or 2003 Maximas over
the past two years. Newark led the state with 277, followed
by Bloomfield with 135, Jersey City with 108 and Butler with
The total included 50 pairs of headlights stolen in December
from a Nissan dealership on Route 22 in Hillside.
Hillside police Capt. John Frize said thieves made off with
the equipment in less than an hour, causing about $200,000
in damage. "I really don't know what could be done to
stop this. I just know, and I've also heard from other agencies,
that it takes as little as 10 to 12 seconds to get the assembly
out," he said. "All you've got to do is put in a
crowbar, pry it, snip the plastic and metal, and you got it."
Jose Cabezudo, an emergency room assistant at Mountainside
Hospital, said the headlights were stolen from his 2002 Maxima
on two separate occasions, once outside a movie theater and
the second time in Mountainside's parking lot.
"My insurance paid for the repairs, but that's not the
point," he said. "It's traumatizing when you come
out of work and your headlights are gone. It's a hassle. I
don't even drive the car. My car is in a garage. It's not
After the second theft, Cabezudo said, he unsuccessfully
pleaded with Nissan to install the cheaper, less-coveted halogen
light bulbs. "I was willing to install some other headlight,
but they said all they could do was install the same lights,"
High Intensity Discharge headlights emit light so close to
sunlight that it looks blue. They provide about three times
the light output of standard halogen headlights while using
less energy and generating less heat.
The special bulb has no filament like the conventional halogen
light bulb. Instead, the light is created by high-voltage
electricity that charges xenon gas between the two electrodes
inside a sealed tube.
The thieves, authorities said, resell the stolen bulbs on
the street to street racers and car modification enthusiasts
who view the piercing blue glow is a status symbol.
Nissan said it began an antitheft initiative last fall, sending
letters to consumers informing them that they can bring their
Maximas to a dealer where a bracket would be installed, free
of charge, to make the headlights more difficult to steal.
But the lawsuit alleges that a year earlier Sept.
26, 2002 a service bulletin went to its technicians
about an antitheft connector kit available for headlight assemblies
damaged by theft.
Two months later, the complaint alleges, Nissan sent out
another bulletin to service reps informing them that a $175
antitheft deterrent was available "if a customer requests"
and "for customer pay only."
The lawsuit does not name other automakers whose headlights
also are frequently stolen, including Acura, Audi, BMW, Lexus,
Porshe and Mercedes-Benz.