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By Jordan W. Charness
In Canada, we get to speak a whole different language than other places. I’m not talking about French; I’m talking about “Weathereez”, as in “windchill factor”, “multiple minuses”, and “freezing your tail off.” Another term that we hear a lot is “my car won’t start” and yet another is “frozen solid” and “cold soaked.”
My SUV was no exception. Although it is less than two years old, I worried about whether it would start after I let it sit outside all weekend in -30 degree temperatures. It started like a charm but certainly behaved sluggishly until it warmed up to operating temperature. When you think about it, however, what is truly amazing is that our cars do start and run in even the most inclement of weather.
The fact of the matter is, most modern cars start and run extremely well. The key word is “most”. For some reason, there is the occasional car that rolls off the assembly line with a mean streak. Sometimes a particular vehicle seems to spend more of its time in the shop than it does on the road. Modern warranties may fix the symptoms but not the problem.
A gentleman wrote to me concerning the fact that during the first three years of operation, his minivan experienced an intermittent problem with the transmission. Occasionally when shifting from Reverse to Drive the vehicle would respond as though it was in Neutral. The van was equipped with an automatic transmission. This symptom would last from 15 seconds to about two minutes. During that time he would shift into Park, turn off the engine, and restart the whole process all over again. Sometimes it would take three, four or five times before the car would finally get going.
The van was always serviced by the dealer, who on numerous occasions advised him that they could not repair the problem because it was not evident when the vehicle was in for service.
Prior to the expiration of the warranty he expressed his concerns about the transmission to the service representative at the dealer. He was assured that the problem was noted in his file and he was told “not to worry”.
A few weeks later the van was once again in for service and he asked that a road test be done because the transmission was not shifting properly and there was an unusual noise. When he picked up the van he learned that no road test was performed but the dealer’s computer had recalibrated the transmission. Exactly 10 days later there was a massive transmission failure and the van was towed to the dealer. The cost of repair would be between three and four thousand dollars. The vehicle was out of warranty and the manufacturer would not cover the repair.
Numerous conversations with the service manager and the manufacturer’s representative were of no use. He bit the bullet and paid $2,500 for a used transmission.
He wanted to know if the car was a lemon and could be returned or if he was entitled to some other type of compensation.
Another reader had a different set of problems with a different car. This car was also purchased from the dealer but was a year-old at the time. It took only a few weeks before the car started to experience problems. It started to leak water from the wheel wells; lots of water. The dealer tried to fix it by adding silicone under the hood. This worked for a little while but the leak sprang up again.
After a while the shifter boot cracked, the radiator sprung a leak, humidity took over the dashboard and all the lenses had to be replaced. The battery blew up and had to be replaced as well. The brake hoses had to be replaced and there was an oil leak. All the while there was still water leaking into the car. The car only had 36,000 km on it. This reader is afraid to sell the car since he knows that it had so many problems. If he fails to advise the buyer of the defects he could be held responsible for fraud.
So are these two cars lemons? The first car had a continuing intermittent problem that was never fixed during the warranty period. The transmission problem was duly noted in the car’s file. If this reader would take the dealer and manufacturer to small claims court he would likely win the cost of the new transmission and possibly a few hundred dollars for having to bother with it. Since the rest of the car was alright, the car was not a lemon and he would not be entitled to any further compensation.
The second car however sounds like one of those rare cars that truly is a lemon. To have this many problems in so short a time is highly unusual. It’s possible that the kilometres on the car were misrepresented at the time of the sale. Another possibility is that the car had been in a collision and repaired. In any case, a lawsuit against the dealer that sold him the car would probably result in the return of the purchase price or a good part of it.
As a general rule of thumb it takes an awful lot of defects before a car is considered to be a lemon but every once in a while it does happen.