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Some Consumers Never Forget

It was the early 1990’s. The car I was driving at the time was a 1991 Ford Taurus.

I had really done my research before purchasing that particular model. I had read all the consumer reports and reviews and I could find nothing but good stuff. Even though the price of that particular model was a little out of my price range at the time, I had my heart set on a Taurus and was determined to find one I could afford. I knew it would be a used car, but I had hoped to find one no more than a couple of years old.

It took a while but I finally found one that I fell in love with immediately. It was on the showroom floor of a Chrysler dealer in Acton, Massachusetts. As expected, it was used, but you would never have known it by looking at it. I guess that explains why it was selected for the showroom floor instead of being left out in the lot with the rest of the used cars. If I had not known better, I would have presumed this was a brand-new car. It was about a year old at the time and had 34,000 miles on the odometer. I knew I had found the car I had been searching for.

I had not had the opportunity to drive the car even for a full year when a curious thing happened early one morning on the way to work. After stopping at a stop sign and attempting to continue on my way, the car did not seem too willing. I barely made it out into traffic and immediately pulled over because something was definitely wrong with the car and it was serious. I managed to get it home and called a local dealer to make an appointment to have it checked.

A week or so later, I was writing a check for $1023.56 to the dealership for the repair of a faulty transmission. Basically, the transmission had completely failed. This on a car that had 51,540 miles on the odometer. A magic 1,540 miles over the 50,000- mile powertrain warranty. I had not even had the opportunity to drive the car for 20,000 miles before it died on me.

Since my neighbor at the time owned a 1990 Taurus, I talked with him about it and discovered that his car had a 5-year/60,000 powertrain warranty which had me believing that the dealer that sold me the car must have been mistaken when they told me that my car was covered by a 4-year/50,000 powertrain warranty. After all, my car was a year younger than his, and with all the improvements in quality Ford had been advertising, what sense would it make to degrade the warranty coverage on a newer model with quality that certainly must have improved with the passing of a year?

Well, to my surprise, a little investigation confirmed that my car did in fact have a 4-year/50,000 mile powertrain warranty. I found it interesting that the complete failure of the transmission in my car came 1,540 miles after the warranty expired. Perhaps it was no accident that they picked 50,000 miles as the cut-off point. I was, of course, denied any coverage under warranty and had to foot the entire bill myself.

Having retired my trusty 1982 Chevrolet Monte Carlo less than a year earlier with 186,000 miles on the odometer and no, I repeat no, major repair bills beyond the usual expected repairs (brakes, muffler, etc.), to say I was disappointed with the quality of my new car was an understatement. Surely, I thought, a big car company like Ford Motor Company would stand behind it’s product after such a serious failure just barely over the 50,000 mile mark! I guess I was too naive to appreciate the intent of the 50,000-mile powertrain warranty at the time.

I decided to hit the Internet and do a little research. Before you think I’m nuts for using the Internet before it existed, I assure you, it did exist at the time but was not as available to the general public in 1993. It was still mostly restricted to access by computer companies, universities and the military at the time and since I worked for a local computer company we had access to it and I regularly used the newgroups for research with excellent results.

It didn’t take long to discover that I was not the only one to have this experience. There were many others around the country reporting this exact same problem with the Ford Taurus. And this was when the Internet was not as available to the public! This problem was very obviously a serious design flaw and the company had to have known all about it.

I decided to write a letter to the Ford Headquarters and share my experience with them. I was not happy that a problem this serious was being ignored by them and I thought I might shame them into doing something about it with one of my long-winded consumer complaint letters that had often served me well in the past. I was mistaken.

I received a canned response from Ford telling me how “sorry” they were, blah, blah, blah. They kindly reminded me that my car was not under warranty at the time and there was nothing they could do. Yeah, right.

The point of this article is that I have not forgotten this experience and I don’t think I ever will. To this day, and likely for the rest of my life, my reaction to hearing the name Ford is to think “junk.” I have sworn to myself that I will never again own another Ford again as long as I live. Period.

What prompted me to write this article? The TV was on a short time ago and Ford was advertising their products and telling me how wonderful they are. As always, my first thought was “junk” and at that point I decided to sit down and write this article. I know the big wigs at Ford will probably never see it, but I felt as if I just wanted to put it out there and remind anyone who cares to read it that some of us never forget.

By the way, a year or two later I received a check in the mail from this company that covered the cost of my transmission repair. This, from what I can recall at the time, was due to the fact that they were more-or-less forced into doing some recalls and reimbursements for this problem that they finally admitted was, in fact, a serious design flaw.

It was nice to get the check, but it was obvious they did not issue it out of the goodness of their heart. It also didn’t do much for me the second time the transmission failed a few years later and cost me $1,700 for a replacement. I didn’t bother raising a stink the second time around since I am not an unreasonable person, and would not expect a free repair once a car has been driven well beyond 50,000 miles. It was at that time, however, that I vowed to never own another Ford vehicle.

You can say what you want about quality and warranties and perhaps you are a devoted fan of Ford like my neighbor seemed to be, and have had much better luck with them than I have had. Well, I’m happy for you, but it’s very hard for me to overcome the feelings I was left with after my experience and nothing that anyone says can change that.

The bottom line is this: I understand warranties and the fact that they expire and all that. However, for a company to turn their back after a failure that serious just beyond the 50,000 mile mark in a two-year old vehicle is inexcusable. One should expect at least 100,000 miles from a modern vehicle, especially considering the amount of money consumers are expected to lay out for them.

Ford should have admitted their mistake and covered all the problems stemming from this particular design flaw with a recall. They might have a few more satisfied and loyal customers today, and a lot fewer dissatisfied former customers who are reminded how much they dislike them and their products every time one of their commercials comes on TV.

Companies take note: Some of us truly never forget.

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