Ford/Lincoln $53,000 (US) Blackwood pickup bites the dust —
Talk about bad product decisions: only 137 Blackwoods were sold last year while GM’s Cadillac Escalade EXT sold 2,236 units during the same period and is expected to sell between 12,000 to 15,000 trucks a year.
Touted as Lincoln’s luxury pickup, the Blackwood only came in black, offered only rear-wheel-drive, carried a permanently closed top, and had a bed that was shorter and shallower than that of most entry-level pickups.

What was Ford thinking?

Psssst! Ford’s gonna dump the Taurus and Sable, too —
Ford insiders tell me the Taurus and Sable won’t be around much longer. Ford will soon slash production by half and sell the cars only to rental and commercial fleets. The 2004 Five Hundred (a tall sedan) and CrossTrainer (a car-SUV hybrid) will replace the two models which were once North America’s best-selling family cars.

Ford’s move will cause an immediate drop in value of those Taurus and Sables now in dealer showrooms and on the road, and the fleet subsidies will further erode their value. My advice: get rid of your Taurus or Sable now (throw in the Windstar, too), before plummeting resale value and generic powertrain defects wipe out your savings.

Watch out for GM “stealth” price increases —
GM may charge extra for some 2003 safety features like side-impact airbags and antilock brake systems that were standard items on many 2002 models. Although they cost the automaker $120 US and $160 US per vehicle, respectively, Canadians can expect to be charged between $500 and $700 for these options. (Mind you, neither safety feature has proven to be as effective as front airbags and a crashworthy chassis in any case.)

Oh, and keep your eye out for outrageously high PDI and freight fees (Toyota charges $1,245 Cdn.).

Daewoo: damned if you do, damned if you don’t —
Talk about being in a lose-lose position. If GM doesn’t buy Daewoo, the company will likely go bankrupt. On the other hand, a GM takeover of the troubled Korean automaker would likely spell the end of Daewoo sales in the United States and Canada, threatening almost 600 dealers and about 11,000 employees, a top executive with Daewoo Motor America has told Automotive News. Dealers are expected to sue. Are you surprised Daewoo models are listed as Not Recommended in Lemon-Aid?

Mazda Colour “scheme” in British Columbia? —
Many Lemon-Aid readers have written me wanting to know how I get information relative to sales practices and automotive defects so quickly. The answer is that most of my info is garnered from Lemon-Aid reader complaints and compliments, industry whistleblowers, and confidential service bulletins (TSBs).

Take for example the following alert sent to me this week by a BC Mazda shopper. I checked with carcostcanada.com and found that this was a legitimate surcharge suggested by Mazda Canada, but, like freight and PDI charges, the amount can be bargained down, considerably (I’d suggest by at least by 50 percent). Yes, I will put in a warning in next year’s Lemon-Aid New Car Guide.
LetterPhil, I’m dickering with our local Mazda dealer for a Protégé. I can’t find anything on Mazda’s web pages for a surcharge for “metallic paint”, but the local dealer is trying to charge me $105 for any color but white. I’m going to refuse to pay it, but is this charge frequent? Nice if you respond, or at least think about it for next year’s book…
D. H., Victoria BC

Ottawa makes it easy to file misleading advertising complaints online —
For years I’ve complained both as an MP and consumer advocate that Ottawa doesn’t want to handle many consumer complaints. I’ve found user-unfriendly websites like Transport Canada’s limp road safety website to be illustrative of this attitude (just compare it with the US government’s informative and easy-to-navigate website, with info on recalls, service bulletins, owner complaints, and defect investigations.)

Fortunately, Ottawa doesn’t display the same lack of initiative with misleading advertising complaints lodged on Industry Canada’s Competition Bureau website. Consumers are encouraged to file complaints on-line and the procedure is both quick and easy to perform. I’ve just filed a complaint over GM replacing DEX-COOL coolant before the expiry of its 5-year stipulated warranty (see the March update), and will monitor how effectively the federal government investigates the matter and enforces its Competition Act. Stay tuned.

Saturn Fuel Line Fires —
From time to time, safety researchers and mechanic experts request consumer complaint info from Lemon-Aid readers:
LetterI’m working on a case where a young man died in a Saturn. The fuel lines on Saturns are in the dumbest most unsafe location you could possibly imagine; they are unprotected rubber lines running right in front of the rear drivers side tire. In this case the young man ruptured the lines and the car exploded. Worse yet, upon impact the PCM DID NOT shut down the fuel pump as it’s supposed to and the fire department described it as a flamethrower coming out of the back seat! This can happen by merely running over a curb or hitting a pothole! Put it this way, 99% of car makers do one of three things, they use steel lines, they run them inside the unibody frame rail, or they cover them with a plate, most makers employ all 3 methods described. Saturn does none of these!!!! We need more cases, especially some from the New York area, but any cases will help.

If you have ANY info on any Saturn car fires PLEASE, email me…
If you know anyone who has had the problem described below, please email me at [email protected] and I’ll forward your information to this researcher.

Saturn’s “Magic” Timing Belts —
For the past several years I’ve been concerned over the large number of Lemon-Aid readers reporting expensive timing belt failures occurring just after the powertrain warranty has run out (at the 60,000-80,000 km mark). These failures can cause from $3,000-$5,000 worth of engine damage and the carmakers usually reject all warranty claims, as they blame car owners for not replacing the timing belt under normal maintenance.

Now, the Saturn Corporation is touting 100,000 km timing belts. This ad campaign is likely to lead to further owner confusion and a flood of damage claims, similar to GM’s DEX-COOL coolant that often needs replacing after just three years (see March update), instead of GM’s promised 5-year longevity.

Here’s what Saturn Master Mechanic Joe Cutrone says about the practice on his Saturn website:
Saturn is telling new L series owners that the timing belt should be changed at 100,000 km. Personally, this is a huge marketing mistake by falsely claiming the lifespan of a belt to reduce cost of ownership. It is also a mistake to use this 100K belt as a selling point…

No other manufacturer has claimed this yet. Has Saturn invented a magic belt? Should they sell this wonder belt to the rest of the automotive world so the other 99% of automakers don’t have to tell their customers to replace them every 60-70K, or 6 years (which is the accepted norm)? I don’t think so.

Let me explain what happens in an “interference” engine when the belt snaps. An interference engine means that there is no clearance between the valves and the pistons should the belt cut loose, what happens is catastrophic engine damage, usually resulting in astronomical repair bills. Replacing a belt before it fails usually costs between $200-$600…Your car will be off warranty when your belt snaps and you will be left with a very expensive repair bill. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. I have nothing to gain by warning people on this — as far as I’m concerned, it’s suicide for your car…
Joe Cutrone

2001 Windstar Transmission Failure and Overheating —
I’ve put the following complaint on this website as an example of how worrisome some defects can be for parents transporting children. I advised this reader to email Brant Noltie, Ford Canada’s Customer Assistance Centre Director, in an effort to get the Windstar’s problems resolved quickly and not have to worry about her children’s safety. Other Ford vehicle owners who are dissatisfied with their vehicle’s performance may contact Mr. Noltie at [email protected] If you have compliments, they, too, would be appreciated, I’m sure.
LetterMy husband and I purchased a new 2001 Windstar in St. Catharines, Ontario, less than 6 months ago. The van broke down twice in a two week period. The transmission fluid ran out and it was towed to the dealer. The CAA driver said the front pipe should never had come loose, it was a manufacturer’s defect. Then the van overheated, sending fumes throughout the back. Vehicle was towed again. Apparently we were told at that time a wire to the alternator was loose.

Our children were in the van both times. What’s going to happen next? Will this defective van come to a standstill on the highway, or what’s going to fall out of it?

The van still stinks of some odour and is going back to the dealer tomorrow. I have phoned and e-mailed, the dealer, manufacturer’s top executives, their customer service, BBB, CAMVAP etc., and am continuing to e-mail until this lemon is replaced. We have a 3-month-old baby and a 2-year-old. This vehicle is major unsafe for our babies. So far no one seems to be concerned about our children’s safety. It makes me sick to see the ads Ford runs about 5-star safety, and precious cargo.

They do not stand behind their defective products…
a Lemon-Aid reader

Cellphone Radiation: Safety Hazard or Marketing Scam —
I don’t like cellphones. Granted, they can be invaluable for emergencies. However, I feel this advantage is far outweighed by their distracting influence upon drivers (why do you think bus lines prohibit passengers from speaking with bus drivers when they’re driving?). Nevertheless, cellphone use while driving can’t be effectively curbed, despite new laws passed by some districts to restrict cellphone use in motor vehicles. It’s just too tempting to call one’s office or friends while doing the daily commute.

Radiation dangers from cellphone use is an entirely different problem that may become the news story of the decade as more scientific research shows the health dangers posed by emitted radiation. My gut feeling is that there is a quantifiable danger, however, studies are contradictory as to how much radiation can be tolerated by the human body. And, cellphone makers aren’t to be trusted any more than tobacco companies or carmakers, to give the whole story. In the meantime, the cellphone market has been flooded by sellers of so-called “safe” phones that purport to eliminate the radiation danger. I’m wary of their claims, as well.

I predict will see a number of “scare” stories drummed up by some marketers to sell their “safe” products, that may or may not be safer, followed by government standards, once the hazards are confirmed through more independent research.

Here’s a good general discussion of cellphone radiation dangers.

GM Bulletin Confirms 1994-97 Vehicles that Have an Engine Knock, Rattle and Tap Noise and Lose Power, Likely Have a Defective 2.2L, Four-cylinder Engine. —
Yep, GM TSB #77-60-01A says that the problem requires the replacement of the engine pistons and/or rod assemblies. Owner feedback tells me the company is carrying out the repair free of charge up to 5 years/100,000 km; partial repair refunds are given out until the 7th year or 160,000 km. Models Affected: 1994-96 Buick Century, Chevrolet Beretta and Corsica, and Oldsmobile Ciera. Additionally, the 1995-97 Pontiac Sunfire, the 1994-97 Chevrolet Cavalier, and all 1994-97 Chevrolet and GMC S models are afflicted by the same engine defect. Contact Alldata (see Gripe Sites link) for a copy of the above-mentioned bulletin.

1997-2001 GM Minivans Show Premature Hood Corrosion and Blistering. —
Just when we thought the Big Three corrosion and paint problems were ending (don’t forget a BC class action against GM and Chrysler is still winding its way through the courts on 1987-96 models), along comes GM TSB # 01-08-51-004 telling us that some of the above model years may have blistering or bubbling paint on the top of the hood or under the hood. A dealer whistleblower tells me that dealers have been authorized to repair the hoods free of charge (refinish and repaint) up to 6 years/100,000 km. Second owners are eligible. Models affected are the 1997-2001 Pontiac TranSport (export only), Chevrolet Venture, and Oldsmobile Silhouette; 1997-98 Pontiac TranSport; and 1999-2001 Pontiac Montana. Alldata has the original bulletins.

PREVIOUS LEMON UPDATES:
March 2002
February 2002
January 2002
December 2001