“Dr. Phil,” Canada’s best-known automotive expert, steers buyers through the new and used car market for one last spin.
After 45 years and almost two million copies sold, this is Phil’s last annual Lemon-Aid ― and it’s as tough as ever. Edmonston is a former Member of Parliament, and a board member of Quebec’s Bar Association and Consumers Union. He has won many battles for consumers on picket lines and before the Supreme Court.
The 2016 Lemon-Aid has everything: an encyclopedic lineup of the best and worst cars, trucks, and SUVs sold since 1970; a list of the best and worst automaker presidents Phil has worked with, or been sued by; a collection of the worst auto buys of all time; jurisprudence to get your money back; and new car buying tips that save you tons of mone by using lower fuel prices to get cheaper buys; an essential guide for first-time buyers; and a fun gift to smart-aleck gear-heads who don’t know half as much as they think.
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Phil Edmonston, Canada’s toughest customer, is a former MP and a long-time consumer advocate. For over forty-two years, he has written more than 140 consumer guides in the bestselling Lemon-Aid series. About three decades ago Nissan and Honda sued Phil for five million dollars ― and lost. He regularly gets tossed out of auto shows. He lives in Panama.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved. :
A YEAR OF LIVING DANGEROUSLY
Lemon-Aid published this confidential 2005 GM service bulletin in its 2009 edition. It warns American and Canadian dealers (not car owners) that if a driver is short or uses a large ignition keyring, the car may stall, brakes and steering will fail, and the airbag won’t deploy. An improved ignition switch is offered at no charge under this “secret” warranty extension. Incredibly, neither Transport Canada nor General Motors Canada sent out a warning to owners until February 2014 when 2.6 million cars were recalled. Worse, Transport Canada says GM will face charges only when there is proof GM Canada knew of the danger before 2014. The service bulletin above is that proof. While Ottawa dithers as to whether GM Canada will be fined for delaying this recall, the U. S. Department of Transportation (NHTSA) has set up a website that not only tells car owners if their car has been recalled, but also if the recall correction has been done. All owners have to do is send their Vehicle Identification Number to https://vinrcl.safercar.gov/vin/. The VIN can be found on the driver-side dash or door jamb. Road Kill 2014 was the year that automaker cost-cutting, not assembly line mistakes, bad engineering, or poor design, led to record-breaking safety recall campaigns. The biggest recall was GM’s ignition failures that have cost the company almost over a billion U. S. and allegedly led to 23 deaths (allegedly two deaths in Canada) and hundreds of injuries. A Canadian class action has been filed in Ontario (www.gmclassactionsuit.ca). If GM had replaced the ignitions when first alerted to the defect, the payout would have been $37.7 million, according to confidential General Motors documents released by U.S. Congress. The cheaper $14.2 million repair that GM authorized saved the company $23.5 million—a savings that has ballooned into a $1.5 billion charge. GM’s dangerous ignition switches and the resulting cover-up are the latest confirmation that automakers will deliberately manufacture a vehicle that will kill or maim simply because, in the long run, it costs less to stonewall complaints and pay off victims than to make a safer vehicle. I first learned this lesson after reading the court transcripts of Grimshaw v. Ford (fire-prone Pintos) from 1981. Reporter Anthony Prince wrote the following assessment of Ford’s indifference in an article titled “Lessons of the Ford/Firestone scandal: Profit motive turns consumers into road kill,” People’s Tribune (Online Edition); Vol. 26, No. 11, November 2000: Rejecting safety designs costing between only $1.80 and $15.30 per Pinto, Ford had calculated the damages it would likely pay in wrongful death and injury cases and pocketed the difference. In a cold and calculating “costs/benefits” analysis, Ford projected that the Pinto would probably cause 180 burn deaths, 180 serious burn injuries, [and] 2,100 burned vehicles each year. Also, Ford estimated civil suits of $200,000 per death, $67,000 per injury, [and] $700 per vehicle for a grand total of $49.5 million. The costs for installing safety features would cost approximately $137 million per year. As a result, the Pinto became a moving target, its unguarded fuel tank subject to rupture by exposed differential bolts shoved into it by rear-end collisions at speeds of as little as 21 miles per hour [34 km/h]. Spewing gasoline into the passenger compartment, the car and its passengers became engulfed in a raging inferno. And here are more recent examples of corporate greed triumphing over public safety: six million Honda Takata airbags that spray shrapnel at the driver’s throat when deployed; sixteen million defective Ford cruise-control deactivation switches that catch on fire when your vehicle is parked; millions of Jeeps with unprotected fuel tanks that burst into flames in a rear-ender (Jeep will install a free trailer hitch.); and Toyota, Honda, Chrysler, Ford, and GM minivan sliding doors that suddenly open while underway, or injure passengers when closing, unexpectedly. Putting profits first, carmakers don’t give a damn for auto safety, building quality products, or protecting the environment. Instead, they lobby for “zombie” consumer protection laws, set up “secret” warranties, and slap gag orders on settlements. Where there has been progress in each of these areas, it has been due to successful lawsuits and government intervention, with Washington and California leading the way, while Transport Canada (unsafe vehicles), the federal Competition Tribunal (price-fixing and misleading advertising), and Environment Canada (rigged fuel economy claims) exhibit a determined indifference to consumer complaints. Apparently, when it comes to auto safety, Ottawa is more comfortable singing ‘Kumbaya’ with the Detroit Big Two than being a cop on the beat. (Chrysler, the traditional third Detroit-based company, is now London-based Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and uses Amsterdam as a tax-haven). Henry Ford: Auto Consumer Advocate? In 1916, the Ford Motor Company had a capital surplus of $60 million accumulated through cutting the price of its cars each succeeding year, increasing employee salaries, and sticking to a simple design and colour scheme (which shade of black do you prefer?). As the company’s president and majority shareholder, Ford also wanted to end special dividends for shareholders and invest that money in building new factories that would dramatically increase production, improve quality, lower costs to car buyers, and employ more people with higher salaries at his plant. Ford declared: “My ambition is to employ still more men, to spread the benefits of this industrial system to the greatest possible number to help them build up their lives and their homes. To do this we are putting the greatest share of our profits back in the business.” Ford never expected that this philosophy would get him sued by John Francis and Horace Elgin Dodge who owned 10 percent of Ford shares. In Dodge v. Ford Motor Company, 170 NW 668 (Mich. 1919), the brothers asked Michigan’s Supreme Court to order Ford to drop his pro-worker, quality first policy and funnel the company’s profits to shareholders, instead. The court complied and held that Henry Ford’s first duty was to shareholders rather than the community as a whole or employees. The trial court judgment was upheld, directors were forced to declare an extra dividend of $19.3 million, and Henry Ford was publicly rebuked by the court: “A business corporation is organized and carried on primarily for the profit of the stockholders. The powers of the directors are to be employed for that end. The discretion of directors is to be exercised in the choice of means to attain that end, and does not extend to a change in the end itself, to the reduction of profits, or to the non-distribution of profits among stockholders in order to devote them to other purposes...” Henry Ford got the message; the Dodges got seed money to build their Dodge car plant; and American car buyers got shafted. What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You Secret Car Warranties Automobile manufacturers use secret warranties to compensate car owners for safety-related and performance-related defects long after the original warranty has expired, sometimes up to ten years. These extended warranties, are found in confidential service bulletins sent to the dealer, but seldom seen by car owners themselves, despite the fact that safety may be affected. Part Two has an updated list of hundreds of car models covered by secret warranties that will pay for the repair or replacement of defective parts, including engines, transmissions, catalytic converters, brakes, and computer modules, even if you bought your vehicle used. Look at the following little-known warranty extensions that will pay huge repair bills up to 13 years: GENERAL MOTORS • Catalytic converters attach to the exhaust system, usually last 5 years, and can cost $500 each to replace. GM’s 10-year extended warranty may mean $1,000 savings for two converters. Remember, secret ‘goodwill’ warranties apply whether the vehicle was bought new or used. • 2005-07 SUVs with defective fuel level sensors will have the part replaced for free up to 10 years or 120,000 miles. Previous repair costs will be refunded. Affected models: 2005-06 Chevrolet SSR, Trailblazer EXT, GMC Envoy XL; and the 2005-07 Buick Rainier, Chevrolet Trailblazer, and GMC Envoy. Cite GM Campaign #10054E. HONDA •2006-09 Civic engines may have a cracked engine block. This warranty extension will pay for a new engine block. If the engine is “cooked” from overheating, the entire engine will be replaced, gratis. Engine Block Warranty Extension Campaign No.: 10-048 Date: December 18, 2013 Applies To: 2006-08 Civic - VINs beginning with 1HG or 2HG: 2009 Civic - VINs beginning with 1HG, 19X and 2HG BACKGROUND: On some 2006-08 and early production 2009 Civics, the engine (cylinder) block may leak engine coolant, resulting in engine overheating. To increase customer confidence, American Honda is extending the warranty of the engine block to 10 years from the original date of purchase, with no mileage limit. The warranty extension does not apply to any vehicle that has ever been declared a total loss or sold for salvage by a financial institution or insurer, or has a branded, or similar title under any states law. To check for vehicle eligibility, you must do a VIN status inquiry. CUSTOMER NOTIFICATION: Customers were originally sent a notification of this warranty extension that indicated the warranty on the engine block was being extended to eight years. They will receive another notification that the warranty on the block is being extended to 10 years. CORRECTIVE ACTION: If confirmed by your diagnosis, install a new engine block. • 2006-11 Civics with cracked or chalking paint on the hood, roof, trunk, or front fenders will be repainted at no charge up to seven years. Cite Honda Campaign #12-049. NISSAN • 2002-05 Altima and Maxima models benefit from a 13-year extended warranty that pays for new bushings and seals, plus the complete replacement of the lower suspension assembly, all affected by premature corrosion. There is no mileage limit under Campaign #P5216. TOYOTA, LEXUS Toyota and Lexus have 10-year secret warranties that cover repairs related to oil seepage from an engine oil cooler pipe; a clogged brake fluid reservoir assembly filter; and defective telescoping steering wheel clips. • In TSB SC-ZE2 issued on Aug. 1, 2014, Toyota confirmed that oil seepage could occur in 2007-11 Siennas, 2008-11 Highlanders and 2009-11 Venzas. Lexus 2007-11 RX 350 and 2010-11 RX 450h models, are also eligible for the same free repair according to TSB SC-ZLC issued the same day. The part will have an unlimited mileage warranty through Jan. 31, 2016, and then be covered by a 10-year, 150,000-mile coverage (Since these bulletins are American-inspired; no kilometer conversion is given). • Camry Hybrids with clogged brake fluid reservoirs are covered for 10 years, according to TSB. SC-E0U issued on July 10, 2014. Toyota is inspecting all Hybrids that may develop the problem until June 30, 2017. If needed, a new brake fluid reservoir will be installed. • 2005-12 Avalons get an extended warranty on the steering wheel telescoping clip, says TSB CSP-ZTY issued on April 14, 2014. Toyota has found that the clips may not let the telescoping steering wheel stay in its set position. The part will be covered with no mileage limit until May 31, 2015, on all vehicles, followed by coverage of 10 years from the date of service with no mileage limit. • 2004-09 Prius models with a faulty dash instrument cluster that suddenly goes dark will have the comp0onent replaced for free up to nine years, with no mileage limit. • 2004-10 Siennas with faulty sliding power doors will be fixed for free up to nine years, or 120,000 miles. This is clearly a safety-related defect (see Toyota dealer bulletin, below): Lemon-Aid 1990-2016 Highlights Because this is Lemon-Aid’s last year, I have tried to be as comprehensive and current as possible, knowing that this book will be used for many years as a reference for new and used car purchases. Of course, cases cited in the Jurisprudence section of Part Three will always remain current. In fact, some lawyers and judges may be curious as to where you found so many well-known and obscure legal references. 1. Fifty years of good, bad, and ugly car choices 2. Which vehicles can be kept 15 years or longer 3. Four automaker executives that should have gone to jail 4. Hundreds of new secret warranties and service bulletin defect admissions 5. All the latest jurisprudence on defects and false representation 6. Seven easy –to-write- complaint letters; just fill in the blanks 7. Twelve legal “secrets” lawyers use 8. Which automakers lie on truck towing specs and fuel efficiency ratings 9. How to get a refund if your vehicle is misrepresented, or is a gas ‘hog’ 10. Why Chinese imports can be unsafe and failure-prone 11. Best cars for seniors, families , and young drivers 12. Worthwhile options vs. frivolous gadgets and products 13. Technology takes the wheel 14. Why lease rhymes with “fleece” 15. Love Europeans; hate (some) of their cars 16. Electric cars and hybrids: hype and hope 17. Handy free “apps” for your car, including one smart phone “app” that tells you if your car has been recalled AND if it was fixed. 18. Luxury lemons (Audi, BMW, Cadillac, Lincoln, and Mercedes): dream cars that turn into nigjhtmares 19. Bizarre defects, like rodent-attractant wiring, exploding sunroofs, ACs hit by road debris, and headrests designed by the Hunchback of Notre Dame 20. The Best and Worst auto industry ideas Lemon-Aid’s “Last Ride” Lemon –Aid has had a successful, though bumpy, ride since its debut in Montreal 45 years ago. Running through territory, that establishment auto critics feared to enter, even on tippy-toes, in 1971 this small 100-page bilingual book dared to oppose Allstate’s insurance claims practices and exposed crooked Esso Diagnostic Clinics, car dealer scams, and automaker safety-related defects. The book sold well in 1971, coincidentally, that same year Ottawa passed the Canadian Motor Vehicle Safety Act and Esso began closing its controversial auto Diagnostic Clinics. After 45 years of publishing more than 160 annual Lemon-Aid guides in French and English, I have arrived at where I wanted to be. Thanks in part to consumer advocacy in the courts, in the legislatures, and in street protests, vehicles are more crashworthy, car bodies are better built, and the avenues for consumer redress are less costly and impressively effective. We now have Transport Canada slowly awaking from its slumber, $30,000-limit small claims courts, a legacy of stunning class-action victories, and fifty years of pro-consumer jurisprudence from the Supreme Court down to administrative tribunals. Inasmuch as consumer rights are essentially human rights transposed into the marketplace, Canadians have won the war for safe and reliable products, honest prices and truthful representation of goods and services. And, when we are ripped off, there are myriad government agencies, media organizations, and independent consumer groups who will take up the cudgels to ensure that plaintiffs get an equitable, relatively inexpensive and quick hearing. In less than fifty years, Lemon-Aid has helped transform Canada’s namby-pamby automobile consumer protection philosophy of “buyer beware” or “blame the victim”, to one of “seller beware”—the gist of Henry Ford’s philosophy that high quality and reasonable prices should come first in the automobile industry. Phil Edmonston February 2015
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