Thursday

Another Child Dies from ATV Crash

When will regulators wake up? Exactly a week ago I wrote an article about how Atv accidents kill our children. The front page of this morning's newspaper talked of a 13 year old Ohio child who died when his Atv overturned, slid down an embankment and trapped the child in a creek.

About 30 percent of all Atv deaths and injuries involve kids under 16 according to the US Consumer Product Safety Commission. They have proposed new rules that can help but, like many government regulations in the last 6 years, they are watered down and industry friendly.

Let's take an example. When Atv's were first introduced they were 3 wheelers. Those are 3 times riskier to use than the more modern 4 wheeler Atv's. So what does CPSC do? They recommend banning them. Problem is, almost all manufacturers agreed not to sell 3 wheeler Atv's in the US several years ago. Like many of these new CPSC recommendations, it sounds good but it has little real value.

Every four minutes, someone is treated in an emergency room for injuries received in an Atv accident. And more than one of them dies every day. 365 days a year. 24 hours a day. That's the numbers.

That's just for starters, but no matter what we do there are two fundamental problems. First, parents need to just say no when children who can't drive a car say they want an Atv instead. With all the disposable income most parents have (and probably some guilt from all the hours spent working to earn that income), it's hard to say no. I was one of those parents too, once upon a time, so how do you say no? Try this. When little Johnny asks for an Atv, pause for a minute and imagine what Johnny looks like in a coffin. Disgusting thought? Right. Scary? You bet. Parents, however, need to be parents.

Second thing we can do? Kick out the politicians who have no backbone to protect our kids. You know, the same ones who have been catering to big business for the last 6 years (or longer), choosing not to enforce consumer protection laws, watering down long-standing safety regulations and bending over backwards to give big business tax breaks while you and I watch the national debt go up and the economy go down.

Let's start with the elected government officials who are in charge of enforcing the law. The state attorney generals. In Ohio, for too long that office has been occupied by business-friendly politicians who have shirked helping consumers and instead did practically everything they could to help out car dealers and their ilk who made big campaign donations.

Atv Lemon Laws are nice, but what we need right now in Ohio is an attorney general who will enforce the law and who cares about kids. That's Marc Dann. He has 3 kids and he cares. Law enforcement supports Dann for attorney general for a good reason, too. After all, they are the ones who deal with enforcement every day and they have seen how useless a career politician can be as Ohio's chief law enforcer.

This blog didn't start out to be about politics, but then again yesterday a 13 year old boy in Fort Recovery, Ohio, was just another 13 year old boy and not a statistic.

Next month, vote for change in the Ohio Attorney General's office. Why? Because kids don't look good in coffins. It's that simple.

Wednesday

Who Do You Trust?

We've all heard for years about the professions that are the most, and the least, trusted. Teachers and doctors have historically topped the list while, rumor has it, car dealers and lawyers usually pull up the rear of the list.

So this year's list, reported by the Institute for Global Ethics, has no surprises. As usual, Doctors top the list, followed by teachers, scientists, police officers and professors.

The Harris Poll reported that members of congress were distrusted by 63% of people (no surprise). Obviously, people elect people they think they can trust and learn not to trust them after that. Something wrong with the system there, I suspect. It just might be things like the recent vote by the House of Representatives to throw out broad ethics reforms in favor of a narrow measure that some called "one small step" toward partial honesty with voters.

And what politician dropped the most? That's right, the President, with a 17% drop down to an all time low of 48%. Regardless of your political stripes, and that's no tip off on mine, that drop should concern us all because it means that people across this country are losing faith in our elected officials. On the other hand maybe it just means that more people think it's time for a change. That isn't necessarily bad.

Meanwhile lawyers have gone up slightly (now that's a surpise), with 27% of people trusting attorneys. Only thing I can figure out of that is that most people deal with defense attorneys because that's about the percentage of defense attorneys that I would trust, frankly. Okay, that rating isn't great, but as a profession attorneys are ahead of actors and car salesmen are so low they didn't even make the list!

So how do you find a lawyer that you can trust? Talk to other people. Look for a track record in handling your kind of case. After all, you wouldn't hire a dentist to do heart surgery. Don't hire a probate attorney to handle a Lemon Car case either. Not surprisingly, many Consumer Law attorneys know each other. For a national list of Consumer Law and Lemon Law attorneys, click here.

Thursday

Doctors Call for Tougher ATV Rules

An all terrain vehicle can be fun, but it can also be dangerous (even for an experienced adult driver). The danger is even greater for a child.

After a 10 year study on ATV injuries, doctors at St. Louis Children's Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine are calling for a ban on use of all terrain vehicles by children under age 16.

We agree. Young kids usually have no experience or training in driving vehicles and the power and speed of an ATV just begs for dangerous use on equally dangerous terrain. The doctors say the result of kids using ATV's has been increasing numbers of child deaths and injuries. In 1/3 of the cases seen, children suffered serious neurological injuries, including cerebral hemorrhages and skull fractures.

The doctors also condemn 3 wheel ATV's. Those are obviously even more dangerously unstable than their 4 wheel counterparts. The danger was detailed by the Consumer Federation of America in 2002 in their "ATV Safety Crisis" report.

All terrain vehicles were first introduced in 1971 and since then they have led to over a quarter million injuries and 600 deaths. What is worse is the fact that 40% of all ATV deaths are estimated to be children.

Not surprisingly, Consumers Union (publishers of Consumer Reports magazine) and practically everyone else agrees. In fact, ATV dangers have been talked about for years. Consumers Union reported on the data released by federal investigators in 2003 but legislators have done nothing but talk. Meantime, more kids are maimed and injured.

While ATV's are covered by the Lemon Law in many states, the problem here isn't mechanical. It's the fact that the industry just doesn't care who it sells them to or how old the intended drivers are.

If parents don't care, the industry certainly won't. And if federal safety officials don't force changes in the law, many parents will visit their kids in hospitals and some will bury them. Yes, that sounds dramatic but it isn't over dramatic. The death or maiming of a child never is, especially when it is preventable.

Friday

4,700 Mazda Cars Go Down the Drain


A boat load of 4,700 "zoom zoom" cars got waterlogged in July off the Alaskan coast on their way to the US and Canadian markets when the cargo ship tipped some 60 degrees to the side.

The Cougar Ace car carrying ship is nearly 7 football fields long and was loaded with 14 levels of Mazda vehicles (90% are Mazda 3 and CX 7 models) and on its way to Vancouver (British Columbia) and Tacoma (WA) with a stop in California.

Huge ships like this use water as a ballast to distribute cargo weight evenly and when the crew was shifting water into ballast compartments, things apparently got out of hand. At night, 230 miles from the nearest land, the next thing the 23 crew members knew, in less than 10 minutes the ship listed more than 60 degrees to the side. The Coast Guard took the photo above, amidst speculation that water tight compartments were the only reason the ship didn't sink.

The US Coast Guard rescued the crew and the boat was towed to a port in Alaska, where it was uprighted to an even keel before being towed on to Portland, where it was to arrive on Sept. 12. The entire cargo was to be unloaded and then evaluated, Mazda reported.

Mazda's North American President has stated that none of the vehicles will be sold as new and no decision on disposition will be made until the vehicles are gone over to see what can be salvaged and what gets scrapped.

To satisfy customer concerns, Mazda says it will post the vehicle indentification numbers of the vehicles on its US sales website and its Canada sales website. If you are car shopping for a low mileage 2007 Mazda next year, you might want to check Mazda's web site before you buy.

Mazda is to be applauded for not just playing it safe, but for also publishing the VIN numbers so that there will be no temptation by any of its dealers to try to pawn off the water soaked cars as low mileage cream puffs (not that they would, but let's admit just how tempting it would be for a car dealer to give it a try).

Flood cars, like those from Katrina, are nearly worthless but unscrupulous dealers can be sorely tempted to dry out the cars, clean them up, and pass them off for something that they just aren't. For tips on how to avoid buying a flooded Mazda, click here.

Tuesday

The Best Safety Lexus Has to Offer, Isn't for US

The new Lexus LS 460 that goes on sale this fall be able to parallel park itself without the driver touching the steering wheel. Pretty slick! Only problem is, some of the car's best high tech safety features won't be put on cars shipped to the US. They're being kept out of the US market.

Asian and European manufacturers are increasingly at the leading edge of sophisticated automotive safety technologies. Surprisingly, the new Lexus self parker can be had with some amazing safety devices in Japan and elsewhere but not in the US, although engineers in Japan say decisions about which features will hit US shores are still being made.

Cool safety technologies that are not likely to make it to US shores:

1. An advanced obstacle detection system. It's a series of cameras that can detect objects in the road the size of a small child. A forward looking radar detects reflective objects while two cameras detect shapes and distances. The two cameras work together to determine the size of the object also. The system then alerts the driver to the object and starts a precrash system that pumps ujp the power brakes. If the driver begins a panic evasive maneuver, it alters the gear ratio to increase the car's responsiveness. On the US cars the dual cameras are expected to be eliminated or deactivated.

2. A rear precrash safety system. It's a radar system on the rear bumper that determines if the car is going to be rear ended within 1.5 seconds. If so, it flashes the car's hazard lights. If the approaching car doesn't slow down, then it activates an intelligent headrest on the driver's seat within one second of the anticipated impact, to be certain the driver avoids a whiplash injury. The headrest uses sensors to determine the location of the driver's head and then extends the headrest forward to a point close to touching the driver's head.

3. An all speed adaptive cruise control. It works seamlessly from 0 to 85 mph and uses sensors and radar to allow a vehicle to slow down when approaching slower traffic in front and to speed up once traffic clears, all without driver participation in the process. In the US, part of the system will be disabled.

C'mon, Lexus, if it's good enough for everyone else, why not us too? Given the high quality level of Lexus products (after all, who else would recall 29,000 cars just because the seat belt buckles don't unfasten fast enough to suit the designers?), Lexus owners expect the best, so why not give it to us?

Saturday

Big 3 Warranty Repair Costs Reflect Quality

Ford's 2005 warranty repair costs were $3.986 Billion, which was 2.6% of product sales. Maybe a small percentage, but it's a really huge number.

GM's 2005 warranty repair costs were $4.696 Billion, which was 3% of product sales. The only good news for GM is that the warranty tab dropped in the first quarter of '06 to less than Ford's.

Compared with Ford and GM, DaimlerChrysler's warranty claims have been all over the map, but almost always hugely above the other two. From Warranty Week, here's the warranty claims rates for the big 5 automakers from 2003 to 2006:

The chart shows that the perception of Toyota and Honda quality is borne out by the reality of their warranty claims rates: flat. Then take a look at Chrysler. The numbers are significantly higher and erratic. That matches their perception of quality too.

When Chrysler, Ford and GM get their quality up, their warranty costs will go down. And that will mean their profits will go up. After all, you don't hear Toyota crying the financial blues like GM.

Until the quality goes up, if you've got a lemon, don't go it alone. Know your Lemon Law rights and don't let Detroit run over you!

GM Warranties Get Longer

It's about time.

Warranties are about confidence. They are the manufacturer's way of proving to the customer that they built it right and they'll stand behind it if something goes wrong. When you think about the price of a new car or truck nowadays, that's only fair.

In the 1980's Hyundai was the laugh of the auto industry with cheap cars and lousy quality. It was so bad they almost pulled out of the US market. Then they upped the quality but Hyundai also realized that quality alone wouldn't get them invited into the American buyer's garage, so they backed their vehicles up with a 10 year - 100,000 mile powertrain warranty. The result? It took a little time, but buyer's bought and other manufacturer's took notice as their market share started to erode.

Now GM has joined the warranty stretch game. In July Ford increased its powertrain warranty to 5 years - 60,000 miles, in an effort to boost consumer confidence and take market share. It was only a matter of time before GM had to go them one better.

On Sept 7 GM announced that all new 2007 model year vehicles future sales (in all 8 GM lines) would come with a 5 year - 1000,000 mile power train warranty. That's a logical step if GM wants to boost confidence in their product lines again. Just matching Ford would only make GM look like "Johnny come lately" to the warranty party. They had to go one better.

What is curious in all this is DaimlerChrysler. Where are they?

Years ago they were the first Big 3 company to give a longer powertrain warranty, 7 years - 100,000 miles. In their zeal to cut costs everywhere they could, no doubt, they cut the warranty too, eventually all the way back to 3 years - 36,000 miles. Now it's time for them to play catch up, and they probably will.

So if you are bound and determined to buy a new Chrysler, we suggest you wait it out. Sooner or later Chrysler will have to match (or beat) the longer warranty coverage everybody else seems to be offering. Why? Because they know that smart buyers always take reliability over style and a longer warranty promises better reliability.

After all, nobody wants a great looking car that is just another lemon. To find out more about the Lemon Law in your state, click here.