’98 Neon Engine Head Gasket/Transmission Victory in Chicago and in Canada —
Here’s another tale of a consumer getting his money back after following Lemon-Aid’s tips:
LetterHi. I used the sample complaint letter on your site along with references to the supporting documentation to win a 100% reimbursement ($750) for a blown head gasket on a 1998 Plymouth Neon. Interestingly, Chrysler was initially going to refund two-thirds of the cost because it misread the mileage and thought that the car had 62,000 miles. When Chysler learned that the car had only 30,000 miles on it, the company immediately agreed to a full reimbursement. The work was done at a dealer. Is there more that I can do to thank you beyond buying a book? The publisher probably keeps most of the cost to itself…
a Lemon-Aid reader
(Actually, buying the book is thanks enough, since publisher gives me $1.70 on each book sale.)

The following Canadian owner forced Chrysler to buy back back a 2001 Neon under the Canadian Automobile Manufacturers Arbitration Program (CAMVAP). He has made available for free an attached document listing all of the steps and documents assembled to win his case:
LetterPhil: My son bought a new 2001 Neon R/T in Jan 2001 and had many problems with it. They included major engine and transmission problems. Car was in the shop for 128 days in the first year of ownership!

We followed all the recommended steps in Lemon-Aid to the letter in attempting a resolution. We made numerous attempts to get DaimlerChrysler to buy back the vehicle, without success. We even went to the Executive Review Committee (since disbanded) at DaimlerChrysler, again without success. We finally went to CAMVAP and won the arbitration. DaimlerChrysler must now buy it back. The Arbitrator cut the mileage penalty in half. The “Reduction for Use” calculation came out to $2,642.00 for 17,935 km and this was reduced to $1,321.00. You may want to add this to your internet web site of Consumer Victories. The arbitrator commented that we had a very well prepared package that was the best he had seen.

I’ve included my e-mail address if anyone wants some help in preparing a CAMVAP case. I can be reached at [email protected]
[email protected]

’96 Chevy Cavalier Engine Head Gasket $1,100 Refund —
Head gasket failures are commonplace with Chrysler, Ford and GM and owners should feel free to claim a 100% refund up to 7 years/160,000 km (100,000 miles) as the following Chevy owner did.
LetterI am very pleased that you have your site at www.lemonaidcars.com. Today (3/25/02), my wife brought my 1996 Chevy Cavalier (2-dr coupe, 2.2L) in to the dealership for a knocking sound in the motor. The dealer’s serviceman called and said the problem was with the motor mounts and would cost $693. They also mentioned other problems I had were a damaged belt tensioner and serpintine belt ($230) and — this is the big one — a cracked leaking head gasket ($1100)… a grand total of $2023 for repairs on a six year old car!

So I jumped on the net and researched to see if I could fix this stuff myself. I knew I could do the belt and tensioner myself. During my research I came across your site and read your report on secret warranties.

After looking further into these warranties I came across 2 or 3 other sites that mentioned these warranties. They only listed the 1995 Cavalier as being covered, however. So I told my wife about this and she called GM and inquired about the warranty. They confirmed that the 1996 Cavalier IS, indeed, covered by this “secret” warranty!

I jumped for joy because your site has saved me $1100! Information IS power!

It only covers up to 100,000 miles or 7 years… WHICH EVER COMES FIRST! Our car has 96,000 miles on it… whewwwww! I hope this info can be added to you archives to help out others.

Only thing is I still have to pay $693 for the motor mounts… but comparing that to $2000… I’ll take it.

Thank you for your hard work and dedication in informing the people.
a Lemon-Aid reader

GM DEX-COOL Coolant Lawsuits in the Offing. Owners Claim Damages for Leaks, Sludge, and False Advertising —
This is a biggie that’s headed for class action status in the States and possibly a federal Canadian Competition Act charge for misleading advertising. A ton of small claims court filings are also expected (see http://www.geocities.com/b_gillie/dexcool_problems.html).

Owners allege the coolant, used in most GM vehicles since 1996, leads to engine and radiator problems, causing the engine to overheat, poor driveability, and erratic heater/AC operation. Owners report that GM has a secret warranty that will cover damaged engine components up to 7 years/160,000 km (100,000 miles).

The misleading advertising allegation concerns GM’s owner manual assertion (1998 Buick Century in this case, but likely used in other model and year manuals, as well) that the coolant “is designed to remain in your vehicle for 5 years or 150,000 miles (240,000 km).” J. S. from Delta, British Columbia, says the dealer service representative who recently serviced his ’98 Century at 32,000 km, advised him to change the DEX-COOL because the coolant was, “breaking down, jellying, and could plug the radiator.”

After writing GM Canada’s president and calling the company’s toll-free line (1-800-263-3777), an Oshawa service rep insisted to the Century’s owner that the 5-year stipulation was only a guide and refused to issue any refund or accept any responsibility for the coolant’s failure.

The Century’s owner says that at the time of purchase, the sales agent pointed out the advantages of this long-life coolant and the company’s reneging on that claim now places both the dealer and GM in possible violation of the Canadian Competition Act: Subsection 52(1); Paragraph 74.01 (1)(a); and paragraph 74.01 (1)(c).

In addition to filing a formal complaint with the Industry Canada’s Competition Bureau’s Commissioner of Competition, Canadians may use the above law and provincial warranty/consumer protection legislation to back up their small claims lawsuits, for the cost to repair damaged mechanical components, or a refund of the cost of the coolant’s replacement before 5 years/150,000 miles (240,000 km). As far as filing a class action in Canada is concerned, it only awaits Canada’s trial lawyers catching the scent.

For Americans, the Federal Trade Commission’s misleading advertising laws and the federal Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act have similar provisions to clamp down on corporate deception. Affected owners are urged to use these agencies and laws in their court filings. As stated before class action status is pending at http://www.bigclassaction.com.

Here are several emails that have come across my desk during the past several weeks relative to the DEX-COOL failures:

LetterI own a 96 Jimmy. In January at 94,000 km the vehicle developed another leak in the oil cooler lines. These had previously been replaced under warranty. There was also a sloshing noise in the dash. The heater was blowing cold air and the temperature guage showed an overheat. I immediately took the vehicle in to the GM dealership and they found that the coolant had leaked at the block heater. This in turn had corroded the upper and lower engine intake manifold gaskets. There was also rust in the coolant. The repairs came to $1257.75. The technician at the GM dealership confided that he was seeing a sudden increase of similar problems in ’96 model year vehicles and that he felt that Dex-Cool wasn’t all that it was cracked up to be.

I have just written the dealership and GM requesting that a “Goodwill” policy apply in my case. (I’m not optimistic, but it’s worth a try).

I am referencing the following TSB’S which I found on the NHTSA database:

990602012
Summary: CONDITIONS WITH HEATER INOPERATIVE, BLOWS COLD AIR, ENGINE OVERHEATS, AND RUST IN THE COOLANT SYSTEM.

960602012A
Summary: SOME CUSTOMERS MAY COMMENT THAT THE HEATER IS INOPERATIVE, BLOWS COLD AIR, ENGINE MAY EXHIBIT AN OVERHEAT CONDITION OR THE COOLANT RESERVOIR HAS RUST IN IT.

99060201B
Summary: SOME CUSTOMERS MAY COMMENT THAT THE HEATER IS INOPERATIVE, BLOWS COLD AIR, ENGINE MAY EXHIBIT AN OVERHEAT CONDITION OR THE COOLANT RESERVOIR HAS RUST IN IT.

I also checked www.alldata.com/TSB and found the following:

99-06-02-012C
Engine/Cooling – Overheating/Heater Inoperative

01-06-01-013
Engine Oil Cooler – Line Replacement

I’ve also done some further research and found the following:

www.imcool.com/articles/antifreeze-coolant/dexcool-mac2001.htm

This is a very good article about a GM/Texaco presentation about DEX-COOL. After a two-year study of thousands of DEX-COOL cooled vehicles they defended the product’s reputation but admitted that specific models of GM vehicles have specific cooling system contamination problems and that DEX-COOL is not the culprit. However, there is a 14-minute video that is being circulated to technicians at GM dealers nationwide. In the video, GM’s trainers described the problems that have been found and the corresponding corrective actions to be taken by technicians. One of the points in this video said that you “must” replace all suspect radiator caps, especially those with a Drop-Center design.

In the same web-site there is a link to an article by John Brunner “Understanding radiator cap and cooling system contamination”. (John Brunneer has a BS Degree in Automotive Technology. He is recently retired from GM and is now teaching, writing, and consulting). One statement in this articles states that, “all vehicles that showed contamination shared one common condition: low coolant.” (When I spent $36,000 on my Jimmy it was a major purchase in my life next to my house. I was religious about maintenance on my vehicle. The coolant levels were always checked!)

I’ve also been trying to do more research on this subject. A couple of months ago I found numerous articles on the problems with DEX-COOL contamination. When I tried to find these articles again a few days ago they’ve all disappeared. I registered my problem on the Complaint Station.com out of curiosity to see if there were any similar problems and have received a flood of e-mails from others with the same problem (Jimmys & Blazers). All the complaints are from the US.

Many Thanks.
C. F.
Calgary, Alberta

Brian Gillie is an American owner who has set up a website to gather information and complaints relative to the DEX-COOL problem. Here’s some of what he says on his website:
Are you or have you experienced Dex-Cool Engine Coolant crystallization problems in your 1996-98 GMC Jimmy or Chevrolet Blazer? We have and it has cost us over $2000.00+ in repairs, yet GM/Chevrolet refuse to help.

Our 96 Blazer’s DEX-COOL coolant turned a sandy, thick, orange mud. Leading to us having the engine coolant passages acid flushed, radiator, hoses, serpentine belt, water pump, thermostat and heater core replaced. Soon after this service we began hearing a gurgling sound in the heater core area of the dash as if air was bubbling through the system. We were told several times by the dealer that it was a typical sound, even though we had never heard it once before having the service performed. Weeks later the dealer finally agreed that the heater core was damaged and accordingly replaced it, with no further gurgling sounds to date.

GM issued (3)three Technical Service Bulletins (TSB’s) pertaining to this particular problem (#99-06-02-012, #99-06-02-012A & #99-06-02-012B). We also have to wonder about TSB #01-06-01-013. I have found at least 33 others owners going through the same thing on the National Highway Traffic Safety Association website. Type in DEX-COOL in Yahoo or any other search engine and see what you come up with. Some very disturbing articles about others going through the same thing and GM not taking the blame.

My wife and I have gone as far as to contact the GM CEO in Michigan, but were denied the opportunity to speak with him by his ’empowered assistant’. Media attention was another avenue we crossed, we had WRGB Ch6 here in Albany cover our story. It aired but GM service techs would not comment on the situation.

GM is blaming the condition on low coolant levels. Graduating on an auto mechanics diploma, I know where to keep my fluids. How could so many people be experiencing the same problem somewhat around the same time with the same model year vehicles?

I guess GM is saying owners of these type vehicles run LOW coolant levels. We all paid big $$ for these vehicles so why not run our coolant level down and dish out more money in repairs, sound logical to you?

I have heard from and know of owners who also state that rebuilding the cooling system and refilling it with the old traditional green anti-freeze (which is what our dealer did) will not correct the problem, it will just happen again. One owner I know of had the system flushed 8+ times and still has the contamination. Keep an eye on your radiator and reservoir fluid levels!! This does not look like a problem that is easily fixed.

We have to get through to GM. I urge you to visit bigclassaction.com. PLEASE send me your name and address. I have started a list along with a couple in California and maybe together we can move towards getting GM to agree upon a settlement or a Class Action Suit. One owner recieved 50% refund on his damages. GM must be made to reimburse us this costly repair, it is NOT AT ALL FAIR!…”

Other sites worth visiting:

http://www.startribune.com/stories/435/21199.html

http://www.imcool.com/articles/anitfreeze-coolant/dexcool-macs2001.htm

http://www.aircondition.com/wwwboard/current/35038.html

Toyota/Lexus engine warranty extension: clear as mud, er, sludge —
Barely six weeks have passed since Toyota/Lexus knuckled under owner pressure and announced some engine sludge claims for 1997-2002 models would be accepted until March, 2003 —
if owners could show they properly maintained their vehicles. Almost immediately, Lemon-Aid, other consumer advocates, and Toyota/Lexus dealers and customers, cried out that this extension wasn’t long enough and the maintenance hurdle placed an unfair burden on customers and dealers while covering up what is essentially a factory defect.

Toyota/Lexus got the message, loud and clear.

Now the automaker has back-tracked and announced all vehicles will carry a retroactive extended warranty for 8 years, without any mileage limitation. Plus, owners won’t be routinely turned away if they can’t show every oil change receipt. The customer satisfaction program also calls for Toyota or Lexus to pay for repair costs and expenses such as car rental and other out-of-pocket expenses that customers have paid or could incur as a result of damage from the engine sludge problem.

The program is for 1997 through 2002 Toyota and Lexus vehicles with 3.0-liter, V-6, or 2.2-liter four-cylinder engines.

This latest announcement is definitely a “better idea” and is consistent with the company’s earlier 8-year engine head gasket warranty extension applied to 1987-96 six-cylinder powerplants. Interestingly, this turnabout is a slap in the face to Toyota USA’s President who recently bad-mouthed consumer advocates as the auto industry’s “real enemies.”

As for the architects of Toyota’s initial attempts at stonewalling customer claims by blaming poor owner maintenance — they should be given a quart of sludge as part of their annual bonus.

Volvo Quality and Safety Concerns (Seat Heater Fires) —
In my Lemon-Aid guides I have repeatedly said that European cars usually get a free ride from a fawning automotive press, because they are fun to drive and full of gimmicky convenience features. Yet, they are often as poorly-made and unreliable as the worst that Ford puts out, servicing can be part Marquis de Sade and Monty Python, and parts may be crushingly expensive and harder to find than Bre-X gold.

Volvo is a case in point. For years I’ve recommended Volvo models because they had consistently-high crashworthiness ratings and were reasonably reliable. Nevertheless, since Ford purchased the automaker a few years back, I’ve seen a decline in Volvo overall quality as evidenced by internal service bulletins and owner complaints. And, crashworthiness ratings for the 2001 S60 sedan are actually several stars less than the perfect score we have seen on most other Volvo models during the past decade.

Finally, on the safety front, read the following email I just received from “D. G.,” the Edmonton, Alberta owner of a 1996 Volvo 850 that allegedly caught fire from a faulty seat heater:
LetterOn February 23, 2002, my spouse and I left the theatre. I started the car and I recall switching my seat heater on (it was cold that night). We drove a short distance out of the parking lot, then less than one block on 111th Avenue, up to the traffic lights at 135th Street. I noticed smoke rising and heard a crackling sound in the car. I told my spouse that I thought the car was on fire and instructed her to get out soon as soon as I could stop the car.

Once stopped, I put the car into “park”, turned off the ignition and opened the door to get out. As soon as my spouse and I opened our doors, we could both see flames coming from under the front of the drivers seat. After exiting, we both immediately closed our car doors to reduce the oxygen to the fire.

My spouse called 911 and the fire department reports indicate that they were notified at 9:14 pm. We stood back from the car and could see flames engulf the drivers seat, inside the vehicle for about (?) 1-2 minutes after which the windows went black and the flames appeared to stop.

The fire truck arrived at 9:21 pm. When the firemen opened the car doors, smoke came billowing out but I did not see any flames. Dry chemical extinguishers were used in the hopes of minimizing any further damage to the car. Because the firemen felt that this was likely an electrical fire, they disconnected the battery from the car. The seat, dash, steering wheel, driver’s door, roof and visor were all burnt on the driver’s side. All the windows were blackened, and there was smoke damage throughout the entire car.

Once the firefighters felt that the fire was under control, they called the Fire Investigation Team. The Captain Investigator reported that the fire appeared to have started under the driver’s seat, presumably the wire harness that leads to the seat heater.

The extended warranty would not cover the damage. Volvo Canada would not compensate us. We settled with the insurance company. We will not buy another Volvo because Volvo will not acknowledge there is a problem with the seat heaters and the wire harness in the 850 wagons and possibly other models.

Since the fire I have talked with other Volvo owners that have had the seat heaters fail because of broken wires. I have talked to service managers that say they have seen holes in the seats from the seat heaters. I have heard of a seat being replaced that had broken wires to the seat heater. The mentioned situations could very well have lead to a fire just like we experienced we were the unlucky ones.

I firmly believe that Volvo Canada should look seriously at the seat heaters in their cars and even consider recalling all cars with seat heaters. Volvo Canada should look at devising a test to check seat heaters. We were lucky we didn’t get hurt or killed. How many more incidents like this need to happen?”
D. G., Edmonton, Alberta
Incidentally, the NHTSA complaint database lists 103 safety complaints, including a similar fire complaint on the ’96 850 GLE. However, a cursory check of the 1987 850 NHTSA database produced several other reported incidents of seat heater fires. The following complaint lodged by the owner of a ’97 850 in February, 2002, about three weeks before my Edmonton email correspondent’s car caught fire.
LetterTHE WIRING FOR THE SEAT HEATER SHORTED, CAUSING THE IGNITION OF A FIRE IN THE VEHICLE UNDER THE DRIVER’S SEAT. OUR VOLVO DEALER DESCRIBED THE CAUSE OF THE FIRE AS NORMAL USE, I.E., FEET OR OTHER ITEMS UNDER THE SEAT HAD KNOCKED THE CONNECTION LOOSE. ACCORDINGLY, SINCE THE VEHICLE WAS OUT OF WARRANTY WE PAID FOR THE REPAIR.

FORTUNATELY, THE INCIDENT OCCURRED IN OUR DRIVEWAY WITH THE VEHICLE PARKED, ALTHOUGH OUR 10 MONTH OLD INFANT WAS IN THE CAR, STRAPPED IN HER CAR SEAT (IN THE CENTER OF THE REAR SEAT) WHILE THE DRIVER WAS OPENING A RESIDENTIAL GATE. UPON RETURNING TO THE CAR, THE DRIVER NOTICED A LARGE AMOUNT OF SMOKE POURING OUT FROM UNDER THE DRIVER’S SEAT. THE DRIVER RAN BACK TO THE CAR AND IMMEDIATELY TURNED THE IGNITION OFF.

WE ARE EXTREMELY LUCKY THAT THE INCIDENT OCCURRED WHILE THE CAR WAS PARKED, THE DRIVER HAD LEFT THE FRONT DOOR OPEN WHILE LEAVING THE VEHICLE TO OPEN THE GATE AND WE WERE ABLE TO GET OUR BABY OUT OF THE VEHICLE BEFORE SHE HAD INHALED A DANGEROUS AMOUNT OF ELECTRICAL SMOKE.

WE DROVE A VOLVO FOR SAFETY, BUT NO LONGER. VOLVO’S CUSTOMER SERVICE DEPARTMENT HAS BEEN NOTIFIED BUT RESPONDED WITH ONLY AN APOLOGY AND NO RECOGNITION THAT THERE MAY BE A SAFETY DEFECT.

I PREVIOUSLY REPORTED DRIVER’S SEAT FIRE IN ODI #758194 – I SIMPLY WANT TO CROSS-REFERENCE ODI #’S 734813 AND 560677, WHICH HAVE THE SAME FACT PATTERN.

WHY HASN’T ANYTHING BEEN DONE ABOUT THIS DEFECT? MY BABY COULD HAVE DIED FROM THE SMOKE INHALATION, LET ALONE THE FIRE IF WE HAD NOT BEEN ABLE TO IMMEDIATELY REMOVE HER FROM THE VEHICLE. I WOULD LIKE TO STRONGLY SUGGEST THAT THIS DEFECT BE INVESTIGATED ANDREMEDIED AS SOON AS POSSIBLE SINCE THE POTENTIAL DAMAGE IS SEVERE – I.E., DEATH OR SERIOUS INJURY…”
a Lemon-Aid reader
On behalf of my Lemon-Aid readers and supporters, I have formally petitioned Transport Canada to open an inquiry into Volvo seat heaters. I understand that NHTSA is already looking into the issue.

PREVIOUS LEMON UPDATES:
February 2002
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