Lemon-Aid Has 2 New Publishers
Lemon-Aid is now published primarily by Viking Press, a division of Penguin Canada after Stoddart, the books’ publisher for over 30 years, went bankrupt this summer. The Viking books include Lemon-Aid New and Used SUVs, vans, and Trucks 2003; Lemon-Aid New Cars and Minivans 2003; Lemon-Aid Used Cars and Minivans 2004; and the Lemon-Aid New Driver’s Guide. Tundra Books will publish the Lemon-Aid Backseat Driver’s Guide for children during the first quarter of 2003. To order a copy of these books go online to Amazon, Chapters/Indigo, Penguin, or Tundra.

Consumer Alert: Phony Private Sellers
You’ve seen the movie “The Sting?” Well, used car dealers have their own flim-flam operators, called curbsiders, that put Newman and Redford to shame. First some background.

Individuals sell about three times as many used vehicles as dealers and get higher prices because buyers trust them. This attracts crooked dealers who get in on the action by posing as private sellers. They lure unsuspecting buyers through lower prices, and a song and dance about the wife’s car, or some relative who has left the country, and BANG, you’re the not-so-proud owner of a junker..

This scam is easy to detect if the seller can’t produce the original sales contract or show some repair bills made out in his or her own name. You can usually identify a car dealer in the want ads section of the newspaper-just check to see if the same telephone number is repeated in many different ads. Sometimes you can trip up a curbsider by requesting information on the phone, without identifying the specific vehicle. If the seller asks you which car you are considering, you know you’re dealing with a dealer.

Legitimate car dealers deplore the dishonesty of curbsider crooks, yet they are their chief suppliers. Dealership sales managers, auto auction employees, and newspaper classified ad sellers all know the names addresses, and phone numbers of these thieves, but they don’t act. Newspapers want the ad dollars, auctions want the action, and dealers want someplace they can unload their wrecked, rust-cankered, and odometre-tricked junkers with impunity. Talk about hypocrisy, eh?

Curbsiders are particularly active in large cities like Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver, reselling vehicles sold by dealers, wreckers, insurance companies and junkyards (after having been written off as total losses). They then place private classified ads and the scam begins.

If you get taken by one of these crooks, don’t hesitate to involve the publication carrying the ad. If the newspaper won’t intervene to get you a refund (after all, the scam wouldn’t work without their ads), hold both parties responsible in small claims court for conspiring to rip-off used car buyers.

Price-Fixing/Misleading Ad Complaints
Lemon-Aid readers have reported a number of industry practices in 2002 that I referred to Ottawa for action under the federal government’s Competition Act statutes relative to price-fixing and misleadind advertising. In addition to my GM Dex-Cool misleading advertisin complaint I covered in the March 2002 Updates, here are two more petitions I filed later last year:

1. Toyota ACCESS: New Car Price-Fixing?
I’ve always liked Toyota for its high quality vehicles, but I’m very angry over the company’s attempt to fix prices by introducing across Canada its ACCESS Toyota pricing program. I’m so disappointed that I’ve asked the federal government’s Competition Bureau to take action to stop this rip-off. Here’s the text of my petition for a formal inquiry sent to the government, following which, the feds seized Toyota documents in Montreal, I believe:
LetterCompetition Bureau
July 22, 2002

Gentlemen:

I wish to bring a formal complaint against Toyota Canada relative to its ACCESS program which appears to me to be a classic example of price-fixing carried out on a monthly basis by Toyota dealers who secretly set prices each month in complicity with Toyota Canada. My evidence is comprised of Toyota’s own statements to the media through its executives and dealers and findings from a recent undercover APA survey of Toyota dealers across Canada, that was financed by your ministry.

I must also add that I have spoken with Toyota Canada executives about the price-fixing ramifications of this ACCESS program, however, the automaker seems intent to expand the program (now used in Quebec, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and British Columbia) throughout Canada.

You are Canadian consumers’ last recourse to prevent this Taliban price-fixing by Toyota dealer Mullahs meeting monthly behind closed doors.

You must stop this price-fixing now, or forever give up the pretence that price-fixing is illegal in Canada.

Phil Edmonston
Author, Lemon-Aid
Former NDP MP for Consumer Affairs

Toyota ACCESS Program Descriptions by Toyota executives and dealers show clearly intent is to fix prices.

Access Toyota expands to the Montreal area
(http://www.canadiandriver.com/news/020122-1.htm)

Montreal, Quebec, January 22, 2002 – Toyota Canada is expanding its Access Toyota system to the greater Montreal area after its successful introduction in Manitoba, Alberta and Saskatchewan. Access Toyota is a buying process which Toyota says “reflects the demands of today’s consumers in terms of transparency, access to information and interaction with car dealers.”

At the heart of the Access Toyota program is Toyota’s drive-away pricing system where vehicle prices are set for a geographic market area using a confidential electronic poll of Access Toyota dealers…all Access Toyota dealers in a given area will honour the drive-away price.

How can confidential dealer polling be “transparent?”

The following description taken from Automotive News:

Quebec Toyota dealers adopt one-price system
MONTREAL, March 18, 2002 – The 38 Toyota dealerships in the Montreal have adopted a controversial system of setting uniform, no-haggle prices by secret ballot each month. Participating dealerships set prices by electronic ballot, taking into consideration the market, their inventories and the competition. The price then is applied for the following month and posted on www.acces.toyota.ca.

Toyota promises that the price always will be below the sticker price….Area dealers said they welcomed the one-price approach because it ends the tedious, time-consuming process of negotiating deals. At the same time, it will end competition between Toyota stores. “At least we no longer have to worry about losing a customer to another Toyota store for a $50 sweetener on his deal,” said Claude Chasse, dealer principal of Chasse Toyota in Montreal. But the Automobile Protection Association, a consumer watchdog organization, cautions that the Access Toyota program ultimately will push prices higher. The monthly “voted” prices, the group contends, are in fact set by Toyota….

The price is set by a cartel,” said George Iny, the organization’s president…

The group said it found Toyota prices universally higher where the program has been implemented.

Toyota’s regional director for Quebec, Gilles Pelletier, says the type of price variances found by the study are self-limiting. “If our Access price is not competitive, we won’t sell any cars,” he says. “And we are here to sell cars.”

The following quote is taken from the Edmonton Sun:

“It’s much more than just a website,” said group vice-president for business innovations Karl Schlicht, in Alberta last week for the launch. “Access is really an entirely new way to buy a car.”

“It’s not a better or worse deal than before. The point is, we’ve eliminated the haggle time.”

ACCESS also eliminates the frustration, he said, pointing out only about 16% of car buyers enjoy the haggling process. “The salesperson in today’s automotive environment doesn’t like to haggle either.”

Toyota started planning the program three years ago, after putting together a committee of company staff and dealer representatives. “Having dealers in with us from the beginning on the committee, they quickly brought their concerns to the table,” said Schlicht.

APA/W5 April Survey Conclusions
“Consumers in Western Canada better watch out when they shop for a new car, according to the results of the latest undercover probe released by the Automobile Protection Association. A report on the annual investigation, funded by Industry Canada’s Office of Consumer Affairs, will be aired on CTV’s W-FIVE, on Sunday April 28 at 7:00 p.m. APA researchers posing as ordinary buyers visited 42 dealerships in four Canadian cities to shop for new cars and minivans. According to APA president George Iny, 45% of the dealerships visited earned a failing grade…

…Toyota dealerships provided complete and polished sales presentations, but their non-negotiable fixed prices were a mere $85 off full list on a Toyota Echo…The APA says Access Toyota has resulted in higher prices virtually across-the-board in Montreal, by several hundred dollars in many cases…”

APA President’s May 27, 2002 letter to Automotive News
“…Actually, the salespeople at the dealerships we shopped said Toyota controls the prices… As for Toyota’s notion that cartel pricing is ultimately self-limiting, the answer is yes, but at a distorted point on the price curve. A result of Access Toyota is to deliver consistently higher margins without pricing yourself out of the market. Toyota dealers understand that. As a consequence, some of them are considering caps on their commission structures, presumably because sales force compensation is too generous with the new margins… In Montreal, the dealer who offers the highest trade-in allowance agrees to buy the vehicle at the high price, even if the customer buys a Toyota somewhere else – a form of bidder’s cartel… Toyota has chosen to make retail pricing the cornerstone of the program. The consequence is significantly higher real-world selling prices, from about $125 (Canadian) on a base Echo to $2,000 on a Highlander…” How ironic that the federal government’s Office of Consumer Affairs (part of Industry Canada) funded the APA surveys upon which the APA’s Toyota price-fixing conclusion hinges, yet the same department hasn’t carried out a formal inquiry into the APA charges that Toyota is fixing prices with impunity.

Incidentally, the above complaint email was forwarded to the Competition bureau’s Criminal Matters Branch, and is listed as file #3014339.
2. Hyundai Can’t Count Horsepower
My second complaint to Ottawa claims Hyundai lied to its car buyers for ten years straight. Horsepower is one of the primary reasons why people choose one vehicle over another when they go shopping.

Over the years, I only remember one instance where horsepower was deliberately fudged by an automaker and that was a few years back when Ford lied about the power put out by its Taurus SHO engines for one model year and then offered owners their money back.

Now we learn that Hyundai has been systematically lying to its customers from 1992-2002 in falsely stating horsepower ratings for its entire lineup of vehicles.

I believe Hyundai makes some great cars, but its ethics stink!

There is no way the company will ever convince me their 10-year charade was an oversight. Look at the facts:
1.3M vehicles advertised with false horsepower ratings
Worst case: 1997-1998 Sonata with actual hp of 125, but published number of 137, a 9.6% falsehood
Korean automaker caught by Canadian regulator, says false ratings were an “oversight”
Now that the jig is up, Hyundai is offering owners an extended warranty or road assistance if the false rating tops 4%. Who are their advisors? Enron or Tyco? Unbelievable!

Hyundai should give owners the choice of taking their cars back for a 100% refund and give them a cash settlement equal to the percentage of the false horsepower claim. For example, a 4% exaggeration on a $10,000 car would result in a $400 refund. A $20,000 Sonata with a 9 % falsehood would be eligible to receive an $1,800 refund.

If Hyundai doesn’t act quickly, the courts will. Already the lawyers are circling in the water.

New GM Secret Warranties

GM Engine Piston Slap (Google: GM Piston Slap)
According to several well-documented and user-friendly websites (see http://gmpistonslap.tripod.com/), General Motors has a major problem with defective engines in its 1999-2002 vehicle fleet. The problem is referred to as “piston slap” and is caused by too much clearance between the pistons and the cylinder walls within the cylinder bore of the engine. It is conservatively estimated to affect over 800,000 GM vehicles.

Here’s what the websites say:

…An abundance of documentation by automotive industry experts is readily available that states “piston slap” engines waste fuel and have significantly higher vehicle emissions due to incomplete combustion, combustion of excessive amounts of lubricating oil and combustion chamber blow-by. The higher levels of fuel consumption and vehicle emissions increase exponentially as the miles accrue, due to the accelerated wear of internal engine components that are the result of critical clearances being excessive.

…Upon researching the US Environmental Protection Agency’s fleet certification process for emissions, it is obvious these factors were not taken into account. GM’s own documentation in the form of several technical service bulletins (TSBs) confirms the extent of the “piston slap” engine defect. GM TSB #’s 01-06-01-022, 01-06-01-028 and 01-06-01-005 discuss the problem on 1999-2002 3.1, 3.4, 4.8, 5.3, and 6.0 liter engines. 5.7 (LS1) and 8.1 liter powerplants are also affected. These bulletins state the noise “Cold Start Knock” is caused by an interaction between the piston and the cylinder wall. They also explain that this condition should be considered “NORMAL”. GM TSB# 01-06-01-011 was released in spring ’01 stating the consumption of a tremendous amount of oil (3.75 quarts of oil between oil changes) on new engines (0-36k miles) is to be considered “NORMAL” as well.

…It’s obvious to even the most casual observer that this TSB on oil consumption was put in place in an attempt by GM to prevent having to repair these defective “piston slap” engines. The fuel and oil consumption problems on these vehicles cause them to have the levels of emissions one would expect from a vehicle with 200K plus miles.

…GM did in fact admit it had a problem and that its engineering department was working on the fix. The fix was promised in December of 2001 and January of 2002. As the number of defective engines grew and the cost to repair them grew, as well, GM changed its policy called the defect “NORMAL,” therefore, not needing any correction.

…Many thousands of 1999-2002 GM 3.1, 3.4, 4.8, 5.3, 5.7(LS1), 6.0 and 8.1 liter engines are defective due to design and manufacturing quality consistency problems…We’re not talking about a small amount of light tapping upon startup that disappears completely upon engine warm-up. We’re talking about a loud, embarrassing, self-destructive and damaging internal engine knock…

GM Intake Manifold Defects
Persistent owners are getting these repairs carried out free of charge up to 6 years/100,000 km. This site tells of one ’99 GM Venture owner’s campaign against leaky plastic intake gaskets affecting 1995-2002 3.1L, 3.4L, and 3.8L V6 engines as well as the V-8 used in the Tahoe, trucks and Suburbans. Good links and tech info. A related site details through TSBs, photos, and other sites the 4.3L engine defects caused by GM’s Dex-Cool coolant.

GM Minivan Roof Rust
LetterHi Phil. Your Lemon-Aid book has saved me HUGE, and given me some ammo, however, just wondering if you can help with this.

I have a 1997 Pontiac TranSport with rust and perforations in the upper right hand roof, just above the window and below the luggage rack on the passenger side (right on the corner).

Is this common to this model or GM? Anything recent with other people? I mean the vehicle is only five years old!!!!!…

I am the second owner, bought off lease from GM optimum used cars. It runs great, and has been rustproofed every year since I’ve had it.

Before I squawk at GM, any thoughts, ideas, or inside info to go by?

Dan, Montreal

Dan, it is a common problem covered by a secret warranty up to 6 years 100,000 km from what I’ve gathered from anecdotal feedback and GM’s own bulletin reproduced below. I suggest you make a claim, even though you bought the van used. Let me know how you make out.

Rear Roof Rust Formation/Perforation

Bulletin No.: 02-08-67-006
Date: June, 2002
Subject: Roof Perforation (Replace Roof)
Models: 1997-2002 Venture, Silhouette, TranSport,
and Montana
Important: Implementation of this service
bulletin by “GM of Canada” dealers requires
prior District Service Manager approval.
Condition: Some customers may comment that there
is rust forming around the front or rear portion
of the roof.
Cause: During production, the E-coating
(ELPO primer) may have been missed in concealed
areas of the front or rear portions of the
outer roof panel.
Correction: Important: Partial repairs to the
roof panel are not permitted.
Phil, I made the claim to GM and ‘lo and behold’, the service manager came out and took one look, took the serial # down, and said somebody would be in contact with me. Not long after that, the van was in the body shop from Tuesday to Friday, and they had replaced the whole roof, back to front…sheet metal and all…new weather stripping around, roof rack strips, and fresh paint on the roof.

Apparently, GM used to repair just that corner, but sent out a bulletin to replace the whole top! Seems like they wanted to eliminate (eradicate the source) the Problem. Essentially, the roof is tack welded, so they remove the old one and glue on the new one. They did a pretty clean job.

Needless to say I was quite impressed with the cordialness of it all. Once again, thanks and keep up the great work and publications!
Dan, Montreal

GM Diesel Fuel Pump Secret Warranty
Oops, I mean “Special Policy Adjustment.” Whatever GM wants to call it, owners of 1994-2000 trucks and school buses equipped with a 6.5L diesel engine are eligible for free fuel injection pumps up to 11 years or 193,000 km (120,000 miles). See the warranty.

New Website Contacts

BBC TV’s Top Gear Car Reviews
Britain’s automotive equivalent to Canada’s CBC Marketplace, Top Gear rates the best and worst European-sold vehicles, auto products, and industry practices. Also, The Truth About Cars by British journalist Robert Farago (http://212.100.225.147:81/home.asp) has biting comments on everything from German automakers’ quality decline (“German Brands Sluts”) to auto show models (“Motor Show Hookers”):

“…You could almost forgive Rover and Ford for their crass exploitation of the female form. The former sells downmarket motors redesigned for boy racers, and the latter currently carries more debt than Paraguay. But Audi? You wouldn’t expect carmakers that sell interiors so dour they make funeral homes look cheerful to send show-goers an automotive mammogram…”

DaimlerChrysler Vehicle Problems Group
A compendium of 1998-2002 300M, Concorde, Intrepid, and LHS owner complaints relating to steering, suspension, automatic transmission, and engine failures. Comprehensive and well-written, with plenty of photos, links, and tech info.

JD Power Consumer Center
Check the quality ratings. You will find that the Japanese competitors such as Lexus, Toyota, Acura, and Honda all will generally have higher ratings in quality.

R. L. Polk & Company
Check their statistics on recalls and owner loyalty. Dodge and Chrysler marques are conspicuously missing from any positive ratings in recalls and owner loyalty.

U. S. Class Actions
This site lists pending complaints, lawsuits, judgments, and settlements. Pending actions and investigations: Audi defective windshields and TT electronic malfunctions; Cooper Tire; DaimlerChrysler engine oil sludge, Neon engine head gaskets, paint delamination, and faulty seatbelt buckles; Firestone Steeltex; Ford/Lincoln faulty heater blend door; GM Dex-Cool coolant which may corrode the heating system and Astro van rear axle failures; Hyuundai horsepower mis-representation; Kia Sephia stalling; Mazda defective transmissions; Mercedes-Benz price-fixing; Nissan Pathfinder engine manifold studs, Saturn defective timing chains, Toyota engine sludge; and VW New Beetle dash fires.

Driving Data Recorders (“Black Boxes”) for Sale
Selling for about $280US, the Road Safety Teen Driver system is an on-board computerized data recorder that should be available by mid-2003. The system can be installed by simply plugging the computer into the vehicle Data Link Connector on 1996 and newer vehicles. Pre-1996 vehicles will require system installation by a qualified automotive technician. For the past 10 years, Road Safety has been helping “high risk” fleets reduce vehicle crashes by monitoring driver behavior and giving immediate, in-vehicle feedback if they start driving unsafely. The Road Safety system tells you where and when your teen was driving on a second by second basis. If you say “I don’t want you to go to the beach” and they go anyway, you will know it. If curfew is at 12:00 AM and they get home at 1:00 AM, you will know it.

As frequently as you like, simply pop the memory card out of the “black box” and plug it into your family computer to display the reports and graphs. Review them with your teenager and let them know that you care how they operate the vehicle-no speeding, no aggressive driving-just like being in the car with them every second they drive.

Ford Sued over Taurus SHO Engine Failures
LetterPhil: Just an update on the camshaft failures with the 1996-99 Ford Taurus SHO. A couple of owners have started a class action suit against Ford. Check it out:

http://www.v8sho.com/SHO/CamFailureClassActionSuitFiled.htm
http://www.v8sho.com/SHO/autoweek_online_cam_story.htm
http://www.auto.com/industry/taurus13_20021213.htm
http://www.v8sho.com/SHO/BlueOvalNewsCoverageofCamSprocketLawsuit.htm

We’re up to 150 documented failures now. I’ve got my sprockets welded to my cams now. I had to drive down to Atlanta to get it done.
Ian, ’97 ES/BS Taurus SHO, Ottawa, Ontario

Used Car Mis-representation Victory
Goldie v. Golden Ears Motors (1980) Ltd, Port Coquitlam, June 27, 2000, British Columbia Small Claims Court, Case No. CO8287, Justice Warren.
In a well-written 8-page judgment, the court awarded plaintiff Goldie $5,000 for engine repairs on a 1990 Ford F-150 pickup in addition to $236 court costs. The dealer was found to have mis-represented the mileage and sold a used vehicle that didn’t meet Section 8.01 of the provincial motor vehicle regulations (unsafe tires, defective exhaust, and headlights).

In rejecting the seller’s defense that he disclosed all information “to the best of his knowledge and belief,” as stipulated in the sales contract, Justice Warren stated:

“The words ‘to the best of your knowledge and belief’ do not allow someone to be willfully blind to defects or to provide incorrect information. I find as a fact that the business made no effort to fulfill its duty to comply with the requirements of this form…The defendant has been reckless in its actions. More likely, it has actively deceived the claimant into entering into this contract. I find the conduct of the defendant has been reprehensible throughout the dealings with the claimant…”

This is an important judgment because it closes a loophole sellers have used to justify their mis-representation and it allows for recission of the sale and damages if the vehicle doesn’t meet highway safety regulations.

Honda Pays for Transmissions
LetterHey Phil! Just thought I’d pass along a bit of info we received in the mail that you may already know about. It’s interesting in light of the TERRIBLE problems we’ve had with Ford to get the transmission replacement paid for. Honda has apparently had some problems with their 2000-2001 Odyssey transmissions. They sent us a letter out of the blue telling us they’re extending our transmission warranty to 7 years 100,000 miles, and offered to pay us back (including a claim form) if we had it repaired at a non-Honda dealership. THAT’s service. I’m EXTREMELY impressed with this gesture, especially when contrasted with our Ford experience. Acknowledge problems and FIX them, don’t deny them and hope no one finds out.
Cheers! Vic

BMW M3 Engine Failure Settlement

Six-cylinder S54 engine failures on 2001, 2002, and 2003 M3 coupes, convertibles and roadsters are now covered by an extended warranty for 6 years or 100,000 miles (160,000 km), whichever comes first. All the details can be found at http://www.voy.com/118069/.

Ford Paint Settlement
LetterPhil, I wanted to let you and your readers know that the information you publish about Ford’s paint failure problem is invaluable.

Having read through your “Art of Complaining” addressing this issue, I filed suit against Ford for the “latent” paint defect. The day prior to our court date, I received a settlement offer by phone for 75% of what I was initially asking for.

This settlement was for a 9 year old car. I truely believe that Ford hedges a bet that most people won’t go to the extent of filing a lawsuit because they are intimidated or simply stop progress after they receive a firm no from Ford when asking for assistance with this problem.

I am angry at Ford for requiring me to hack through the nonsense and frequent denials and I am greatful for your site as it gave me the roadmap and confidence on how to proceed and win.

I hope this inspires others to act.
MP, Lehigh Valley, PA

Chrysler Neon Engine Settlement
LetterThanks Phil, One day looking around the net for information about my “blinking” check engine light on my 1995 neon, I came across your website and remembered dishing out close to $600 US for a head-gasket replacement on my Neon @67,000miles. I was now @131,000 miles and decided to roll the dice and see what would happen if I sent in a claim against the “secret” warranty.

I just got a call from their “customer” service desk and they are going to send me 75% of the claim. Once I do get the check, I will take your advice and take the rest to small claims court, (admission of guilt?).

Thanks for the help. I will be sure to pass this on to others.
Johnny

GM Killer Corvettes

Defective steering columns on 1977 thru 2001 models lock while underway or parked, a widespread problem, says the following Corvette owner:

This item has failed on an estimated 3000 Corvettes throughout the USA. Please see Internet site www.corvetteforum.com. As a safety professional, I see this as a hazard that Chevrolet needs to address with more severity. The loss of steering control because the steering wheel locks can lead to property loss, as well as death.
NHTSA is looking into 350 complaints, 24 crashes, and 10 injuries related to steering column lockups; GM admits it has processed 24,000 warranty claims and sent its dealers three bulletins about the problem.

I Agree, Honda Accord Shouldn’t be Recommended
LetterPhil, I just read parts of your book, Lemon-Aid Car Guide 2001, from the library. As an owner of 4 Honda Accords over the past 20 years, I am glad to see that you no longer consider the Accord as a ‘recommended’ new car. I agree with your decision.

You listed numerous safety related problems with the redesigned 1998 and ’99 models and I have experienced many of them with my ’98 Accord. I purchased all of my Accords new. The ’98 Accord had a engine hesitation problem from the onset. After a year, the CPU was finally replaced, which solved the problem. After 5 years and 70,000 miles, the transmission failed. The dealer could only offer to replace it with a remanufactured one at a cost of $5400. I went to Aamco.

About the same time, the car went through a period of stalling at any time unpredictably. This was finally solved by replacing the ignition switch. Honda Motor Co. eventually issued a recall for ignition switches that prematurely failed. Other minor problems such as the throttle plate gumming up with carbon deposits about every 15000 miles.

I do not believe the Accord is as good a car as it was in previous years. It appears that cheaper parts that fail sooner are being used and replacement parts have increased in price greatly. People who have transmission failures will be shocked at the cost to replace it. A blower resistor failed and the replacement part cost $72. I purchased a resistor for a ’97 model, which appeared identical, for $39.

This very simple part should have lasted the life of the car.

My first Accord, an ’82 model, went over 80000 miles before it had any problems, although it started to rust out quickly. The ’89 Accord, which I bought for my wife, went over 85000 miles before it had a minor problem. It was the best car I ever owned. The ’90 Accord, which was the first year for the redesigned model, had numerous minor problems, but I am still driving it today.

Today I tell people that I don’t recommend buying an Accord the first two years after it is redesigned, because these cars now have the same major problems that American cars had in the 80’s and 90’s, which is why I quit buying American cars in the first place.

1998 Passat Quality Decline
LetterPhil: The wires for door locks and windows between the body and the rear passenger door frayed broke and shorted out which cost me $330 to get fixed.

Since this should never happen in a low use door and in a car that is 4.5 years old I contacted VW CANADA and spoke to John McLeod (905) 428-5554 who told me that this was considered NORMAL wear and that I was fully responsible for the repair.

This is NOT NORMAL and the position of VW is sad indeed.

If I were to combine this problem with several others, it seems that the RELIABILITY of VW products is nowhere near the Japanese.

Needless to say that there is no way that I will ever purchase another VW product and I think that this car merits downgrading to above average status at best.
Rick, Ottawa

1996 Volvo 850 Brakes a Safety Hazard
LetterPhil, I own a 1996 Volvo 850 GLT which has seen its fair share of repairs over the course of my almost 4 years of ownerhship (bought used). I have done a substantial amount of research on this model concerning rear main seal failures and ABS control module failures and find that this is a very frequent problem. Although the 850’s are notorious for A/C problems, bad windshield wipers (drivers side), peeling door panels, loose windshield trim, and so forth, it seems to me that we have a safety issue with both the rear main seal (oil leaking on exhaust = fire hazard) and ABS control module resulting in loss of ABS function and Traction Control. Although my vehicle is out of warranty, as many others from this vintage already are, Volvo certainly is not in a position to cover these problems. However, in a recent letter to them, they responded by denying any knowledge that these problems exist. I feel the ABS issue is a serious safety concern for folks like myself that live in a cold, snowy and icy climate. Mind you, this repair runs anywhere from $450 to $800 depending on the dealership. The rear main seals run about $1,000 due to the labor required (to replace a $15 part). Since the word/name Volvo is synonomous with safety, what can be done to “make some noise” that the 850 isn’t all that safe afterall and to let folks know that their $30,000 cars are not being backed by the manufacturer for design defects that appear to be rather commonplace and expensive?
Kevin, Windsor, Connecticut

Kevin, we are making “noise,” right now.

Leasing: A Close Call
LetterPhil, I’m finding it difficult finding a reasonably priced used car in the Toronto area. Many of the ads for private sales here turn out to be dealers or mechanics selling cars pretending to be private persons. Also, the prices are ridiculously inflated.

Your books are a great read and have made me at least slow down and ask questions. For example, I almost got caught in a lease the other day and pulled out at the last minute. All this advertising had me believe there would be zero down, zero delivery, etc. until I found out there would be a $350 lease acquisition fee and a $250 admin. fee and all kinds of other charges, some legitimate such as licensing. However, my zero down turned into a whopping $1200!

I’m just now getting into your leasing section… Thanks for being out there.
J. C., Toronto…

Paint Colour Makes a Difference
Choosing a popular colour can make your vehicle easier to sell at a good price. DesRosiers Automotive Consultants says blue is the preferred colour in Canada, but green and silver are also popular with buyers. When choosing a colour, be sure to also consider its resistance to discolouration and how well it keeps the interior cool. For example:

White: Although grime and rust looks terrible on a white car, it’s the easiest colour to care for and reflects sunlight, making for a cooler car interior.

Red, black and other dark colours: These colours are the most susceptible to sun damage because they easily absorb ultraviolet rays that break down the clearcoat protective layer and weaken or bleach the paint. Plus paint delamination is more visible and sunlight is absorbed, heating the interior. These vehicles should be garaged.

Pearl and metallic colours: These are the most difficult to work with. If the paint needs to be re-touched, it must be matched to look right.

Pets in Vehicles
LetterPhil: Our son gave me HIGH AND MIGHTY for Christmas, and have just finished this interesting book. It seems as if, during the SUV development, manufacturers discontinued making utility station wagons and hatchbacks, and at the same time, cars became lower to the ground. Also, definitions of “off road” seem now to include gravel and dirt roads and even a few inches of snow on unsalted, unsanded pavement. Is this true? How is “off-road” defined?

I am enjoying the 2003 Cars and Minivans LEMON-AID, and will soon buy the 2003 volume which includes SUVs. We already own the 2002 editions. Soon in the new year, will continue a systematic trek from dealership to dealership with my measuring tape. I hardly ever drive on a highway and never exceed the posted limit, but drive every day to get groceries and go retriever training. We live in Southern Ontario, where there’s lots of opportunity. The training hardly ever takes me off road onto dry, mown fields, but frequently onto gravel and dirt roads with grassy median strips and mud puddles, and occasionally these have been filled with brush to provide a bit of substance–firm up the mud. Road clearance is important, and that the bottom of the vehicle is relatively invulnerable.

In the summer months, I carry a kayak used in dog training, and occasionally a canoe, and canoes must be tied front and rear, of course, and so one needs solid bumpers and decent tiedowns on the vehicle.

Also, I carry a dog crate, and you and I have corresponded about this requirement before, and the difficulty of finding a vehicle which can accommodate a crate. At the time when we corresponded, I wasn’t familiar with a crash-test-study published by Allianz Centre for Technology (AZT) 05/99. AZT used small and large dog-dummies in crash tests, and concluded that, with the exception of an airline-approved dog-transport box optimally secured in the loading space of a station wagon, commercially available systems (wire barriers, dog-seat-belts) are inadequate.

This conclusion supports my own experience: forced to a quick stop on a highway by a car cutting me off in in process of being pulled over by a police officer, my dog, who was in a dog-safety-harness attached to the human safety belt on the rear seat of a Corolla sedan, flipped between the front seats and into the windshield (he was uninjured, which likely would not have been the case had he not been wearing the seatbelt).

However, a dog carried in a crate in the cargo portion of a station wagon is travelling unsafely in the vehicle’s “crumple zone” so that, in fact, the lives which are potentially being saved are those of the human passengers. Common sense dictates that it is safer for the animal to travel in the non-crumple (human) portion of the vehicle.

Sure enough, AZT has developed an alternative system: a massive steel frame designed to anchor in the back-seat-space of a sedan (subsequent to installation, this space is not available for carrying human passengers). Similiarly, an Ontario custom-crate manufacturer removes the seat portion of the back seat of a sedan, replaces this with a frame resting on the vehicle’s floor, and places on this a dog crate, which is accessible from either back door. This crate is secured by the rear seat belts, and depends upon secure tie-downs existing at the front of the bottom of the back seats. It also depends upon no crucial element existing under the back seat cushion, for example, in the 1994 Corolla there’s a fuel sensor.

Visibility for the driver is an important consideration when planning a dog-crate for a vehicle. The crate can’t interfere with rear or side vision. Fortunately, a dog (mine is 26″ at the shoulder) does not have to stand in a crate; in fact, the animal is safer if required to lie down, as in the pick-up-truck commercially-available double-dog-box, which are usually 48″ inches wide but only 24″ high. (These are not suitable for a sedan, since they open on the long side.) The flatness of the surface on which the crate will rest is important, since although one can level up a crate with shims, this raises the crate, which may decrease visibility. Optimal crate size for a vehicle can be established by determining sightlines. So, you have to measure, and also, in the instance of a sedan, you have to request that the dealer take the back seat out so you can see what sort of space you’re left with.

Toyota’s new RAV-4 is pleasant to drive, but it has a fuel sensor in the floor of the back, just where one would permanently install a crate, and, more important, it lacks a rear bumper. (I back into about three trees a week.)

We put the Subaru Forester up on a hoist, and discovered that if you’re planning to drive off road, one must buy a plate from the manufacturer to protect vital parts, also the plastic underneath of the Subaru bumper is fragile, I could rip that out in a nanosecond (just like that of my brother’s Jetta–I didn’t do it, he did), also the rubber tubing for the ABS rear brakes could be ripped out in with brush designed to solidify a mudpuddle, and finally, most ridiculous of all, the Subaru Forester’s forward tie-downs for shipping, where one would normally tie a canoe in the front, are under the front wheel wells.

Oh, yes, and in the new Honda CR-V, when the back seats are folded down to accommodate a dog crate, one cannot access the rear passenger doors. What were they thinking of? There’s a new Honda coming out shortly, the Element, which looks unsafe in a side-collision–the whole side opens wide–but it’s great for the dog-crate: it seems self-defeating to buy that vehicle for the sole purpose of everyone travelling safely.

In relation to vans, there’s a space-excess: the smallest van these days is the Mazda, but even this seems vastly overkill in relation to space: we just need enough for a 70 lb. dog and two people.

As you observe in the new LEMON-AID, there are some nice new wagons out. Uh… Have you tried to measure the new small Volvo wagon for ripping out the back seat and putting in a dog crate?

While I was underneath the vehicle outside in the parking lot, the Volvo salesman told me we needed a Subaru Forester–so, trotted off to Subaru and put the Forester up on a hoist. There’s the Mazda Protege5, but the bumpers are soft plastic and so low, how would one carry a canoe in that? Also, I don’t think Mazda imagined dirt roads, when they designed the Protege5. Similarly, the new Toyota Matrix has a clearance of only my recollection is 5.9 inches (low! We often get 6 inches of snow!), but very shortly I will take my measuring tape and trot along to a dealership. The Ford Focus wagon measures out, and several friends have turned this vehicle into a very satisfactory “dogmobile” but, it’s a Ford. It’s a Focus…Wouldn’t you know it!

As the engineers at AZT observe, dog ownership is common, and most people who own dogs enjoy their constant companionship, and take these animals in their cars, if not always, then whenever possible. One would think that how to carry a dog safely in a car would be a routine consideration for manufacturers and dealerships, as routine as how to strap a baby into a rear-facing, rear-seat fixed with an adult safety-belt, but this is not the case. People often refer with enthusiasm to the solved problems of carrying the neighbourhood junior soccer team in, say, a Honda van, but it’s far more common to carry a 70 lb dog.
Best, Emily

Thanks for the update, Emily, I was pleased to see you writing again.

As the owner/companion of 2 cats, I agree with your conclusions 100%. Transporting animals safely has become increasingly more difficult. Wagons and hatchbacks have been replaced by SUVs. Off-road is defined quite broadly these days as people try to justify their purchase of an SUV. There’s really no standard definition.

My solution to the problem of carrying my animals has been to buy a used full-sized GMC Vandura and wedge the airline-approved carrying crates between the second- and third-row seats. I sometimes use tiedowns anchored to the chassis. For my kayak, I have a roof carrier.

Works for me, Idi, and Rex.

BTW: here’s a link containing the Allianz research conclusions on safely transporting dogs in automobiles.

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