“Ford People” need to get a lawyer

Dear Car Talk:

My husband and I grew up in “Ford People” families. We personally have been Ford customers for over 20 years, buying nine different Ford vehicles in that time. My husband took care of each of these vehicles meticulously, including our current vehicle, the 2012 Platinum Expedition, following the instruction manual explicitly and having no problems to speak of with any of the nine vehicles. Then, about four weeks ago, the Expedition started making a knocking noise. Since it’s still under warranty, I took it to the dealership I purchased it from. Imagine how alarmed I was when the service adviser called us and said that they didn’t know exactly what was wrong with my vehicle, but that it was our fault! Initially, they said they needed to establish that we’d performed proper maintenance. We told them we absolutely had, and provided receipts for oil and filters, and my husband’s oil-change log. Then they called back and said that the fuel injectors were leaking, putting fuel in the cylinders, and when the pistons come up, it bends the rod. Then they called and said they weren’t going to explore that issue any further because an engineer came in, looked at it with the valve cover off and said that there was sludge in the rocker arms. At this point, we went back to the dealership, along with a close friend who has been trained as a technician for Chevy and BMW. He (our friend) said there was nothing abnormal about the residue buildup. The Ford mechanic pulled out the dipstick and accused us of adding new oil to the truck before bringing it in. He basically accused us of lying and sabotaging our own $50,000 vehicle. After that, they changed the oil and filter, and charged us $360. They didn’t give us a diagnosis on the engine noise; they said it turned out we just needed an oil-and-filter change. We couldn’t believe that they were charging us, but they said they had no warranty claims to turn in to Ford, and they had put over 10 hours into it, and they said we should at least cover the mechanic’s costs. We got into the vehicle to drive home, and it was still making the noise. We went in and complained. The mechanic said to drive it for 300 or so miles and bring it back in. During the next week, it continued to make the same noise — always worse upon first start. We took it back. This time they told me that we needed to give them permission to pull the engine, for $7,600. My husband feels like he is being accused of destroying his own vehicle. And they want to charge us for services that should come under my warranty. I can’t believe it! What do you make of all this? — Jane

Dear Jane:

They need to get their story straight, and you probably need to get a lawyer. First it’s a bent connecting rod, then it’s sludge, then it’s nothing, then it’s time for a new engine. Wow.

Since the vehicle is still under warranty, the only way they can avoid fixing it for free is if they can claim that you neglected to maintain it. But you did maintain it. You say your husband did all the required oil changes, kept the receipts for the oil and filters and made notes. That should cover you in a courtroom.

Obviously, I haven’t seen the car, and I don’t have their side of the story. But what may have happened is that if the fuel injectors were leaky, excess fuel may have diluted the oil, which collapsed your lifters. That would create a clattering sound that would be worse when you first start the car. And the diluted oil may then have damaged the connecting-rod bearings or the main bearings, which is why you need a complete engine rebuild now.

If the problem was caused by faulty injectors, then it’s absolutely Ford’s responsibility. Unfortunately, they’re trying to put the blame on you. And the fact that you did the oil changes yourself does make it harder to prove that they were done. Which is why I think it would be worthwhile to consult a lawyer who has experience in automotive warranty issues.

You also could try going up the chain of command. Ask to speak to Ford’s regional zone representative; the zone rep is authorized to override the stupidity or short-sightedness of dealership warranty decisions, if he so chooses.

What’s really unfortunate is that you guys buy, essentially, a new Ford every two years. And rather than take good care of you and then sell you another 10 or 15 cars over your lifetimes, this dealership has decided to go to war with a great customer, and lose that customer forever. Good luck, Jane.

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