Jeep #4 Report: New Year, Same ol Leak

All this time I’ve been worried that the leak is still there, and today the leak is undeniable.

One of the theories I developed last year was that the problem is related to weather and develops when we have ice and sleet. I knew our first storm this winter would be the test, and sure enough, my theory held up. (I was hoping it wouldn’t. I was hoping the car really was fixed. It’s not.) The snowmelt is well underway after Blizzard Jonas, and water is getting inside the Jeep again. I’ve logged 8,700 miles to date.

Jeep #4 goes back (for the third time) to see the water specialist on Wednesday. I am one step closer to putting the manufacturer on notice and hiring an attorney.

I made some calls and left some voicemails with the people who previously said things such as:

“We are taking responsibility and we are fixing any defects.”

“The vehicle has been repaired. We have met our obligation.”

  • I called the Jeep Resolution Team (888-542-7239) and got voicemail, of course.
  • I had a live chat with Catherine, who said they would not authorize a loaner car without a diagnosis. Just in case I had forgotten that our battles are not with flesh and blood, but with powers and principalities, my new case number includes the sequence “666.” (See Ephesians 6:10–17 on our battle against evil.)
  • I called up Pam Szuber in Auburn Hills, who reached out to me last year (got voicemail and left message, of course). Her number is 586-274-8087.
  • I called up Rick Simpson, a customer relations manager at the Mid-Atlantic Business Center, whom I also spoke to last summer. Got voicemail, of course. His number is 410-567-1836.

Last but not least, I found a really good article that discusses when you have a lemon law claim, sending notices to manufacturers, getting a lemon law attorney, setting expectations for a settlement. The section on how car companies try to put you off and make you go away was informative, and true to my experience:

The law always allows the other party to send a response to your claim.  This of course will come to you in the form of a letter from the car manufacturer.  Essentially, they will deny your claim every time.  They will tell you that they have reviewed your claim and are unable to do anything.  This of course is their first lie.  They haven’t reviewed a thing.  They have no idea who you are, what the problem is, or the circumstances of the case.  They merely gave it a weeks to make you think they paid attention and then plunked your name into a form letter that merely says “no”.

Here’s the deal.  Car companies put out so many problem cars that if they honored every request under lemon law, they’d go broke.  So their answer is to honor none of them.  They know that if they deny every claim, probably 70-80% of cases will go away at this point with most people believing that they really don’t have a case.  Car companies also know that if they string out the process as long as they can, the majority of the rest of the cases will also go away because:

1) Many people won’t come up with the money to retain an attorney or will become scared of going to court. 

2) Others will simply decide that going through the lemon law process isn’t worth it and just sell the car.

3) Something can happen to the car, you will move to another city/state and have to start over, or something else.

4) If they can delay it long enough for you to put thousands more miles on the car, even if they do make you an offer, it will be reduced because the car is older and has been used more.  If you put on another 30,000 miles and they settle with you for value, that is 30,000 more miles that they don’t have to pay for.

5) Most that go the distance will settle for their attorney fees and a couple of thousand dollars.

Car companies understand that time is on their side and if they wait it out, they can get rid of about 95% of lemon law cases without even getting close to the courthouse steps.

If for some reason Jeep #4 and I end up in court, (and that is the question of the day: will Jeep #4 and I end up in court?), here’s what we can expect:

Here’s a secret.  Car companies do NOT want to go to court on a lemon law case.  The risk of going to court on lemon law far outweighs what they risk in doing so.  Here’s why:

a) Defending a lemon law case is expensive.  By the time a lemon law trial is done, the car company can easily spend $20,000 defending itself.  These cases are rarely done with their own attorneys so it is money out of pocket.  With that much money at risk, defending a lemon law case is already costly, even if they win.

b) In most cases, lemon law allows you to collect up to triple damages.  That means that if your car costs $25,000, they risk losing $75,000 in the hands of a jury, plus their own attorney fees.  Since they can replace your car at cost AND recover some of their loss in selling your old car, replacing your $25,000 car with a new one can cost them as little as $10,000.  Their choices are therefore to risk losing $100,000 or settle with you at their cost for $10,000.  At a 10-1 ratio, settling looks pretty inviting.

c) Car companies do not want lemon law publicity.  Obviously, your case is not going to make headlines in USA Today or the NY Times, but it still registers as a precedent and can be picked up locally.  Public attention to a lemon law case risks more than a loss in court.  It can also represent loss in brand image and therefore sales when new potential buyers dismiss buying their cars because of the public attention.

Related Jeep News

Poor design; inferior parts, pawning known defects off on customers will catch up to you. If not in this world, then in the next.

It’s time to hold auto executives accountable and include jail time for safety issues. Though million dollar fines seem like a lot to the individual consumer, they are barely a slap on the hand for large automakers, who write it off as the cost of doing business.

UPDATE 2/4/16: Supposedly, the Jeep passed the water tests at the dealership. I did notice a small circular stain that remained. The carpet is so thin it can be hard to tell if it is wet or cold or both. The spot seemed to be in the latter stages of the drying process.

Why and how I had wet carpet (beneath the WeatherTech mat) on Monday remains a mystery. I believe that the problem is related to weather. Both incidents occurred after a thaw-out after several days of freezing temperatures and snow/sleet. Jeep #4 is not an all-season Jeep.

The Questions of the Day are as follows: when will this happen again? how do I document it? Do I wait until the next incident to put the manufacturer on notice that #4 does not conform? Will a lawyer take my case (auto fraud against the dealership or lemon law against the manufacturer)?

I have a query in with a new law firm. I should have pushed harder last year, but kept waiting on the firm in Fairfax to review the facts. When the lawyer finally called me, you could tell by the questions she had not reviewed any of my documentation. If she did not want to take my case, just say so. If she was too busy, just say so.

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No Parts Available for R27 & Other Jeep Saftey News

Jeep #4 Report:  Safety Recall R27

About two weeks ago I received a safety recall notice from FCA Chrysler. It’s for R27—the water leak in the power liftgate module that could cause a fire.

Parts are not available.

The notice also informed me that Jeep #4 was affected by R40 (the hacking issue). Three Jeep owners have filed a lawsuit seeking a class action against FCA Chrysler.

The problem is that moisture is leaking down into the liftgate wiring, causing potential electrical issues and creating a fire hazard. In a statement, FCA says it investigated one reported vehicle fire and determined that the fire was likely the result of water intrusion, which had short-circuited the Cherokee’s power liftgate control module. The automaker is unaware of any related injuries or accidents related to the problem. — CarProUSA.com article 06-25-15

Question of the Day:  According to NHTSA, what is an acceptable amount of time for car owners to wait before the manufacturer makes parts available to dealers and for the dealers to fix the cars? (And when will FCA replace Marchionne?) (And why does water keep leaking inside of Jeeps?)

FCA R27

Jeep Safety News

S.1743 Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 2015

The answer to yesterday’s Question of the Day 1 is sort of.

On July 9, Senator Bill Nelson (D–FL) introduced S.1743, To provide greater transparency, accountability, and safety authority to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and for other purposes (or Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 2015), in Congress. The bill was read twice and then referred to the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.

Many of the concepts in today’s bill are not new. Indeed, many of the provisions in the bill have passed the Senate before with bipartisan support. …Like the earlier bills, this legislation is predicated on improving four things: transparency, wrongdoer accountability, vehicle safety, and recall effectiveness. — Senator Bill Nelson, statement on S.1743

That the scope of S.1743 is much narrower than that of S.2615 leads me to ask

Question of the Day 1:  Does each industry need its own custom Do the Right Thing or Else bill? Is one bill for all industries too broad, and was that one of the problems senators had with S.2615?

What stayed the same from S.2615 to S.1743:  the removal of the $35 million penalty cap NHTSA is allowed to impose on automakers and imprisonment up to 5 years.

The bill would remove the cap on NHTSA’s civil penalty authority, which is currently at $35 million NHTSA’s civil penalty authority must be bolstered to deter highly profitable corporations from violating safety laws. Otherwise, we get what we have now: companies treating NHTSA’s civil penalties as a mere cost of doing business. Just look at the GM case, where the maximum $35 million civil penalty represented less than 1/1000 of GM’s quarterly revenues, which is over $35 billion. In addition, the bill would impose criminal penalties on corporate executives who knowingly conceal the fact that their product poses a danger of death or serious injury. Corporate executives who hide serious dangers from the public shouldn’t get off the hook. — Senator Bill Nelson, statement on S.1743

One of the goals of S.1743 is to improve the effectiveness of recall campaigns, and that’s good. But given that I was sold a new car with a defect that caused water damage, quality control is an underlying issue, and perhaps the very root that allowed for safety problems (e.g., GM ignition switches, Toyota unintended acceleration) to reach unprecedented levels today.

Question of the Day 2:  Why are there so many recalls in the first place? At what point are manufacturers burdening consumers by manufacturing cars with defects as a baseline?

The fact that Chrysler was able to produce a defective car, a car that incurred water damage, and was then sold to a customer (me) as new, and then to stick the consumer with subsequent problems isn’t right. No one is holding Chrysler or Dulles Motorcars accountable, so it’s no wonder that this behavior/corporate culture mindset expands to safety issues. So Senator Nelson is right in saying there will be more recalls in the future. Indeed, Fiat Chrysler is recalling 99k 2015 Jeep Cherokees in the U.S. for water leaks that could lead to fire. I’ve read the news reports, but have not heard anything from Chrysler about my Jeep.

The American public demands that we do something meaningful to keep them safe on the road. There will be more recalls in the future–it is inevitable. And the consequences can be deadly. But they don’t have to be. Improving the recall process can and will save lives. I realize our bill may not get us to l00 percent completion of recalls or perfect motor vehicle safety, but I am confident that it would go a long way towards improving recall effectiveness, adding practical safety technologies to vehicles, and making Americans safer on our nation’s roads and highways. — Senator Bill Nelson, statement on S.1743

Of course the recall process will degrade when manufacturers can’t keep up with their own defects and design flaws. What consumers really need

  • Quality products:  safe, reliable cars that will last
  • Fewer recalls in the first place
  • Better warranties
  • Penalties for automakers that have too many defects

What is sad is that these laws need to be enacted at all, because people don’t know what it means to do the right thing, and refuse to put people before profits.

Question of the Day 3:  If manufacturers and dealers think that selling brand new cars with defects and low quality parts with a short shelf life is okay as a baseline, then should we increase the amount of time a consumer has to file a lemon law? (In Virginia, a consumer has 18 months.)

When I took Jeep #4 back the second week, because I believed that lesser amounts of water were still getting in, the service manager took a few minutes to speak with me. Don’t let the title “service manager” fool you, she is a slick salesman like the rest. She tried to play what she perceived as my unhappiness with my new car and urged me to trade it in on something else. (It’s not the car. It’s how customers are treated that bothers me. Defects happen, and they should be the exception not the rule. The right thing for Dulles Motorcars to do was to allow me to return the Jeep and give me a full refund.) Through the grace of God I said none of the things begging to roll off my tongue, but rather told her and the customer service rep “God Bless You” and got into #4 and drove away saying “Lord Jesus Christ, son of the living God, have mercy on me a sinner.”

Vehicle Safety News and Information

S.2615 Hide No Harm Act of 2014

Question of the Day 1:  Will NHTSA’s investigation of Fiat Chrysler revive S.2615?

Yesterday I contacted my U.S. senators (Kaine and Warner, democrats from Virginia) and asked them about the Hide No Harm Act of 2014. I shared the short version of the Jeep #4 story and explained that it led me to become more interested in consumer protection. My experience is benign compared to what has happened with the Jeep fire, GM ignition, and Takata airbag fatalities. The corporate culture and lack of accountability that creates flawed designs and defective products from date of sale, which lead to fires and water leaks and financial and time losses to customers, perhaps loss of life or injury, however, is the same.

S.2615 establishes criminal penalties, including jail time (5 years) for corporate executives who fail to notify appropriate government agencies, employees, and consumers of defects and dangers. At the same time, it would protect executives who take steps and do the right thing.

The bill would eliminate the $35 million penalty that the National Highway Transportation Association can fine Fiat Chrysler. That’s $35 million per recall; NHTSA is investigating nearly two dozen Fiat Chrysler recalls. It sounds like a lot to us regular folk, but as is pointed out in the press conference introducing S.2615, corporations view these fines as “the cost of doing business,” and they don’t effect changes in business practices.

This bill says that in America we put people before profits. — Katherine McFate, president and CEO of Center for Effective Government

Question of the Day 2:  Why wasn’t S.2615 passed? Why was it “referred to committee”?

Some say “referred to committee” means the bill “died.” A similar thing happened with H.R. 4451, S.2615’s sister bill in the House of Representatives.

The press conference introducing S.2615, which occurred on July 16 last year, is worth watching. Following is a quote that reflects the spirit of the bill.

In our day-to-day lives we don’t behave the way we find a corporate executive would behave. A neighbor would not sell a car to another neighbor that he knew had an ignition failure that was going to leave the car stuck on the highway and imperil the driver. A doctor would not prescribe a drug to a patient that she knew was going to lead a heart attack in that patient. A mother or father would not serve peanut butter to a child that they knew was going to give the kid salmonella. The people who run corporations are neighbors, and mothers and fathers and friends, but they behave differently when they are inside the corporation. A different culture exists and different social norms have been allowed to prevail. There is no other way to explain what is going on. They are not held accountable, and they don’t believe that they are supposed to behave the way they would in their day-to-day lives, according to the he same moral code they would exercise in their homes or with their family or with their friends. — Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen

When people feel they can’t trust the management of American companies to behave responsibly, with candor, with honesty, they don’t trust the products that those people produce. — Katherine McFate, Center for Effective Government

America and its politics will change when everyday citizens like you and me stand up and speak up. (I admit I’ve not done enough of this.) I encourage you to write to your political representatives about the issues you care about (even if you did not vote for him or her and you don’t agree with how they want to better the country). Yes, it can be frustrating when you get the boilerplate responses, but keep going.

Americans deserve an effective government, by the people and for the people (not run by corporate and industry lobbying). Effective government includes a Supreme Court that does not have activist judges, but rather judges who uphold the law and understand the limits of their role and the purpose of the checks and balances of the three branches of government we all learned about in school.

Cast your vote. Engage in respectful dialogue and debate (not name calling and silencing people who disagree with you). Find common ground as a base from which to begin. Most people share the same goals of reducing poverty, creating jobs, ensuring everyone has access to decent health care, keeping our country (and the personal information government agencies have collected on us) secure, and so on. The disagreement is often in how to achieve the goals.

Always treat others with respect, especially when you they don’t give you the same courtesy. Be willing to listen and learn and think about the issues in a new way and from someone else’s perspective and experience.

Government reform starts today. It starts with you.

Jeep #4 Report: More Circles

When Pam Szuber, Head of Business Competency at Chrysler (her title on her LinkedIn account), called me on July 2, she offered to send out a field technician to inspect my car and would call me after the July 4 holiday weekend to schedule. After I got off the phone with her I realized that I failed to tell her that I won’t go to Dulles Motorcars for service. I figured I would address this when she called back.

Of course, she never called back last week. Instead, today I received an e-mail from the service manager at Dulles Motorcars. It reads as follows:

Good morning,

Concerning your water leak, I am having a field Rep. come to the dealer on July 22,2015.  Please let me know if this would be a good time for you.

Thank  you,
Diana Chadwick
Service Manager | Dulles Motorcars Inc.
Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, Ram, SRT
KIA, Subaru
107-109 Catoctin Circle SE l Leesburg VA, 20175
703-669-6893

So I had to call and leave Pam Szuber a message that I would need to take my car elsewhere for this “inspection.” Then I sent the following message to the service manager at Dulles Motorcars:

Hi Diana,

When Pam Szuber, Head of Business Competency at Chrysler, called me July 2 and told me she would send a technician to inspect my car, she did not indicate I would be going through a dealership to have this done. If she had mentioned a dealership, I would have told her that it would have to be somewhere other than Dulles Motorcars.

I have stressed to all parties that this is not a warranty issue. This is about Chrysler manufacturing defective cars, sending them to dealers, where they incur water damage, and are sold as new to consumers. As I have stated many times, I deserve a full refund.

I called Pam Szuber and left her a message about this matter.

Jennifer

Um. I don’t need the Head of Business Competency at Chrysler to schedule service visits for me. I can do that. What I need is for Chrysler and dealerships to hold themselves accountable when they sell water-damaged vehicles as new and take the car back and give me a full refund.

Circles and games. Always pressuring the consumer to keep the car so big business and dealers can keep their profits.

There are many others trying to hold Chrysler accountable as well, for much more serious issues. If you read this letter from Paul Sheridan to the Center for Auto Safety, regarding an unsafe Jeep design and failure to remedy the issue through a recall, which resulted in the death of a pregnant young woman, you’ll see how good my chances are.

Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne and NHTSA’s then-administrator, David Stickland, in a last-minute phone call, personally negotiated a deal to recall fewer Jeeps.

Reminder:  The comment period for NHTSA’s investigation of Fiat Chrysler closes on July 17.

Jeep #4 Report: Chrysler Calls Me

I reported June 23 that Dulles Motorcars reached out to me via e-mail asking me to come to the dealership to discuss “the situation with my Jeep Cherokee.” (“The situation” being that Dulles Motorcars sold me a water-damaged Jeep Cherokee and did not feel they were responsible for taking it back and refunding my money.) Since I insisted and the general manager refused to put any offers in writing, the dealership chose to respond to the complaint I opened with the Better Business Bureau (back in March), which they had ignored since March 27.

In the dealership’s most recent letter to the BBB, they indicated that I was unreasonable and unresponsive and were forwarding the issue to the Head of Customer Experience at the Chrysler’s Mid-Atlantic Business Center.

Today an executive referral floor manager called me to discuss “the situation.” She immediately said I did not qualify for a refund from the manufacturer. I explained to her that the Jeep Resolution Team already told me that.

So really, there is no news here:  FCA Chrysler believes it can send defective vehicles to dealerships, where they incur water damage, are then sold to consumers, and both businesses keep their profits. I believe we have reached the point in the story where I need to write letters to my state and federal representatives asking for greater consumer protection. We are not talking about a flat tire. We are talking about water damage. We are talking about a history of water damage in Jeeps that led to a current class action lawsuit in New Jersey. We are talking about a manufacturer that NHTSA is investigating for inadequate safety recall measures and remedies.

What Chrysler offered:  to send a field engineer/technical advisor to come inspect my vehicle. At first I did not want to do that, as I would rather have an independent mechanic do the inspection, but then I accepted. I can watch and document everything he does, I can still find an independent mechanic, and I can still start to make videos whenever things happen like the instrument panel going dim and coming back on after several days of steady rain, and which stopped after the rain stopped and sun came out.

While I had a Chrysler employee on the phone, I asked when I could expect to be notified about the most recent recall on Jeep Cherokees with power lift-gates, which are at risk of catching fire because of…. wait… water leaks! She did not know, as the company is still trying to figure out the extent of the problem. News reports indicate 99k Jeeps in the U.S. are affected.

I asked this question in honor of today’s NHTSA hearing, which is addressing the very issue of FCA Chrysler’s delay in notifying consumers of recalls, in addition to other failures and inadequacies.

This is how Chrysler treats the taxpayers who bailed them out.

…this story continues…

Question of the Day:  What is an FCA Executive Referral Floor Manager?
I found some insight at the Jeep Cherokee Club forum. Seems like they have had to hire a bunch of new ones to handle all the customer complaints.