Fords are Flaming Up Again

This doesn't look like a safety problem to us, says federal safety investigators.

Ford Triton v-8 engines are spitting out their spark plugs and catching fire ... and federal safety investigators aren’t doing anything about it.

Why? “Limited resources” don’t allow it, says NHTSA, the federal safety agency in charge of vehicle recalls. In other words, they don’t have enough “resources” to figure out why Ford engines are causing consumer’s trucks to burn up.

We’ve complained before about safety regulators who don’t seem to regulate anything at all, and this is just one more example of taxpayers getting the shaft while big business lines the pockets of politicians who keep safety agency bureaucrats from protecting the public.

Thousands of Ford truck owners have paid out thousands of dollars to fix their lemon Ford vehicles because federal safety officials aren’t doing their job. This spark plug blow out problem has plagued Ford for years and it doesn’t look like it’s going away. Clearly, what we need to do is get rid of the fat cat bureaucrats who don’t care enough about safety.

Incredibly, and in spite of spark plugs flying thru the hoods of Fords going back to 1997, NHTSA safety investigators actually fought one court effort that was meant to make them investigate Ford’s flammable spark plug problem. Their excuse? They don’t see it as a serious safety issue.

The exploding spark plug problem reportedly involves Ford SUVs, pickup trucks, Crown Victoria and Mustang vehicles sold from 1997 to 2004. For instance, here’s a 1997 F250 that burned up after its spark plug #3 blew out. Thing is, the first plug blew out 200 miles before this and was “fixed” only to have it happen again and, this time, cause a fuel fire that burned the truck down to the axles in 12 minutes, according to the truck’s owner.

To top it off, Ford apparently hamstrung dealers’ repair effort by locking down the repair costs so bad that dealers are forced to end up working hours on the engine for free because Ford won’t pay for what could end up being more time than Ford wants to allow for the diagnosis and repair.

A local example? Take “Dave” (from Richfield, Ohio) who was driving his 2001 F-150 from Cleveland to Columbus when a loud pop was followed by continuous popping engine noises while he was on Interstate 71, boxed in between two semi trucks. When he managed to get to the side of the road, what did he find under the hood? Melted parts sparking away, in search of fuel to ignite.

The fuel that feeds the Ford engine is directly above in a metal “fuel rail” ... Was Dave's Ford just inches from an explosion? So what does the front seat of a burnt up Ford look like? Not pretty. And definitely not where you want to bed sitting when the fire starts!

There’s lots of stories out there and Ford dealers act surprised when they see a spark plug blown out of its position in the cylinder head with comments like “wow, I never seen nothing like that before!” Well, Ford has!

You may be no better off if the defect occurs and your Ford doesn't burn up, either. Damages and repairs can still result in a diminished value for your vehicle when you go to trade it in or sell it. Any evidence of defects or damage, fire or not, can hurt the trade in value or sales price you might get. Check out diminished value info by clicking here for more details.

If you’ve got one of these potential lemon Ford vehicles, our advice? Get rid of it. You don’t want to be driving a flaming Ford with your family, stuck between two semi trucks on the interstate. Just remember what you bought and where you bought it, and you probably won’t do that again.

If you’ve got a lemon Ford, or another lemon car or lemon truck, contact us. We represent consumers in cases like this every day? Why? Well, for one reason, we had a Corvette back in ‘93 that caught fire while we were driving home one night ... for no reason at all. We know what it’s like and, trust us, it isn’t pretty. Oh yeah, GM replaced that one for free with a brand new one. Okay, maybe it had something to do with the fact that they know what we do for a living here.


Bidding Starts for Chrysler

A few weeks ago we reported that GM was talking with DaimlerChrysler about buying the ailing Chrysler US operation. Turns out they were not only talking, they actually made a low ball bid.

GM offered to take over Chrysler in exchange for a small amount of GM stock and DaimlerChyrsler paying GM money to take on Chrysler's $16 Billion health care liability. Sounds like GM made a low ball bid in order to set itself up for later negotiations. If so, that time may be coming.

DaimlerChrysler is saying they want the Chrysler bids in hand before the next stockholder meeting on April 4 and a sale set up by September. With that kind of timetable, the bidders are circling like wolves around a crippled calf, just licking their chomps.

Possible buyers have been identified as Cerberus Capital Management or the Blackstone Group or Canadian supplier Magna International. All three are reported to be talking to union reps, probably asking for pay cuts, and Magna is reported to have put out the best bid so far.

Once again, you just don't know where the dust will settle in Detroit. And once again, the uncertainty of Chrysler has people saying that this is no time to buy a new Chrysler unless you can get it at one heck of a price.

That's a shame too because a thousands of ordinary people depend on Chrysler for their survival. The bigger shame is that when the Germans staged their $36 Billion buying coup in 1998, it was the blue suits in the boardroom that let them buy it out ... and who made out like a bandit? Why, those same blue suits, of course.

When Daimler took over, everyday Americans in Detroit lost their jobs, the boardroom bandits grabbed their money (lots of it) and ran, and now DaimlerChrysler's "American experiment" has come full circle. The problem is, foreigners are still the ones who are looking at picking up the pieces.

When will Congress change the laws to stop this sort of corporate shenanigans? When people start making their voices heard in Washington louder than the sound of silver dollars being tossed at the politicians in their fundraisers.

These days, maybe what we need is a Lemon Law that covers politicians.

Click here to write your congressman and complain. Let them know you’re watching what they are NOT doing. Politicians don’t like that and maybe that’ll keep them honest.


Washing Machines that Catch Fire ?

You wouldn't think that washing machines, full of water, could catch on fire...well Maytag has a found a way to make it happen! More precisely, Samsung did, and sold it to Maytag.

March 2007: Maytag announced the voluntary recall of 250,000 front-loading washing machines for fire hazards. Samsung Electronics recalled 20,000 of them also. In the US, the models are sold under both names, but made by the South Korean Samsung company. South Korea? Isn't that the country that brought you the $105 million Hundai embezzlement? Is this Korean quality?

The Consumer Product Safety Commission, the federal safety agency in charge of consumer product recalls, announced the recall after it was disclosed that the washing machines can catch fire because of water leaks. Turns out that the water can get into an electrical connection and that can ignite an interior circuit board and ... poof! You're left wondering if your laundry will go up in smoke! To be fair, reportedly no fires outside of the machine itself have disclosed. Still, you take a metal box, toss in some electronics and a tub you fill with water and you've got a fire? Seems just a little odd to me, to say the least...

The CPSC is the same financially crippled and leaderless safety agency that is currently facing Presidential budget cuts for the third year in a row.

The washing machines were sold nationally betweeen April 2005 and August 2006 for prices averaging $1,000 to $1,200.

Washers covered: The recall involves Maytag model numbers beginning with MAH9700 or MAH8700. The Samsung model numbers are WF306BHW and WF316.
Model and serial numbers are located on a tag at the bottom of the door opening. Maytag serial numbers ending in the last two letters announced on the CPSC website are the only ones covered. Samsung serial numbers with the six digit number 1000001 thru 799999 (prior to a letter at the end of the searial number) are subject to the recall.

When washing machines catch fire, we need more safety investigators at CPSC, and not less!
Click here to write your congressman and complain. Let them know you’re watching what they are NOT doing. Politicians don’t like that and maybe that’ll keep them honest.


Crippled Safety Regulators Doing Nothing

The Consumer Product Safety Commission is the one federal safety agency responsible for monitoring millions of consumer products for safety dangers to you and your family. Yet they have been hamstrung with repeated budget cuts and a temporary chairman who is so anti-consumer that she didn't want Congress to give the CPSC more money to do its job.

In a wild understatement, Senator Mark Pryor (Ark) said "This is an agency in distress." In fact, it's the third year in a row that the safety agency has had to trim its staff to fit within its decreasing Congressional funding.

The new CPSC budget will not even cover its rent costs and inflation and forces the public safety agency to fire 19 full-time employees. That means fewer people to make sure manufacturer’s products are safely built in the first place. It also means fewer people to investigate consumer complaints or press manufacturers for recalls of dangerously defective products.

Despite that, acting CPSC chairman Nancy Nord defied Senators who offered to increase her agency’s budget. When repeatedly asked "Could your agency benefit from a larger staff?" Nord dodged the questions before finally saying, "We are not necessarily better equipped with more employees." It’s a rare day in Washington when politicians can’t give away money to a bureaucrat, even one who doesn’t want to use it to do her job.

A good example of how repeated budget cuts have hurt the Consumer Product Safety Commission is their ancient product testing facility, which is actually located in a former missile tracking site built in the 1950's and not updated in 32 years. That’s like living in a house that you haven’t done a thing with in 32 years. Not a new frig, not a microwave, not a new roof, not paying the driveway...nothing. And these are the people who are supposed to make sure every consumer product is designed and built safely.

It probably explains why in February the Associated Press reported that the CPSC purposely did not recall children's lunch boxes that may have contained dangerously high levels of lead. Lead can cause poisoning and here it was being put into kids school lunch boxes.

To top it off, the CPSC is run by a board of commissioners and they don’t have enough people doing the job to even take a vote on any action they might want to undertake! That’s certainly one way to cripple safety investigators.

To take charge of the cash-strapped and crippled safety agency, the President nominated Michael Baroody, a lobbyist at the National Association of Manufacturers. NAM is one of the nation's largest trade groups and it strongly opposes any aggressive product safety regulation. Baroody has a long history of anti-consumer experience. A good example of his organization's self protection efforts can be found by reading their article "Don't Beat Up Big Oil".

Sounds like the fox was hired to guard the henhouse ... may we’ve got the wrong farmer in charge of the farm?

Click here to write your congressman and complain. Let them know you’re watching what they are NOT doing. Politicians don’t like that and maybe that’ll keep them honest.


Identity Thieves Run Rampant

The people dedicated to protecting you, yeah that's right, the FBI, may be easier to steal from than WalMart. Well, maybe not the FBI, but certainly many government agencies are. Take the Veterans Administration, for instance...

The FBI has offered a $25,000 reward for the return of a computer backup hard drive that was found missing from a VA office in Birmingham Alabama in January. Turns out the hard drive wasn't even encrypted and it contains information on 1.8 million patients and physicians nationwide, including social security numbers, names, billing codes, etc. With a red face, the VA admits that the hard drive wsa supposed to have been encrypted but it wasn't. The bozo who was reportedly responsible was put on "leave" and within a few weeks of the January 22nd disappearance the VA gave up looking for the hard drive. No one is talking about why it took them so long to notify the public of this royal foul up.

The whole mess reminds me of the VA computer with 26 million records in it that disappeared in 2006 and turned up months later after a $50,000 reward was posted.

Meanwhile identity theft continues its rise to the top of the heap of criminal activity in the US. The FTC reported that more than 670,000 cases of fraud and identity theft were reported by consumers in 2006. The total damage is estimated at $1.2 Billion. And it's no wonder, after you look at how lousy a job our own government is at protecting the private data it keeps on all of us.
For tips of preventing identity theft, and help if it's happened to you, check out our web site page, Identity Theft is Fraud.


Unions Leary of Chrysler Bidder

Unions aren't happy with rumors of big money moguls buying Chrysler from DaimlerChrysler AG and that just may foul up the investor group's plans, according to Reuster news reports.

The unions' opposition comes just as Cerberus Capital Management company officials are piecing together a takeover team but both US and European labor unions are voicing strong concerns about job security amid distrust of feared large job cuts if the Cerberus group pulls off its bid to buy the Chrysler's U.S. unit. Meanwhile, industry people are tossing out some decent ideas on how to fix Chrysler and its lagging product line, if only someone in the paneled corporate hallways of Detroit would listen...

Cerberus is made up of private investment groups Blackstone Group and Centerbridge Partners LP, and Canadian supplier Magna International Inc. Reports are that they have already met with Chrysler executives and begun reviewing financial and product-development information. They are expected to present their purchase proposals by month's end.

Certainly someone needs to buy the once-proud and now-ailing auto giant before it falls into a deep economic sleep from which it can't recover...and it seems clear that its European corporate parent is about to kick this corporate stepchild out on the streets!

What'll it mean for the drivers of Chrysler products? Who knows? The new owner likely will have to do what Chrysler's corporate parent wouldn't, or couldn't, including slashing the work force, stalling improvements behind closed doors, and more cost-cutting measures, not the least of which is (just as the Unions fear) cutting wages for the people it keeps on board. There's lots of reasons to fear, if you work for Chrysler in the US. And there's lots of reason for concern if you're going out to buy a new car too.

After all, if that shiny new Chrysler 300 has fiery seats, like the recalled 2006 Chrysler 300 cars, will Dr. Z on a beach somewhere, enjoying his bonus money while you're calling the fire department?


Maybe No One Killed the Electric Car?

Not that long ago people were talking about Who Killed the Electric Car? with a lot of suspicion thrown GM's way. Well, maybe it wasn't true after all. Or maybe their conscience got the best of 'em inside that Boardroom?

GM's Vice Chairman Bob Lutz has announced that Gm intends to produce an all-electric car by 2010, with a prototype being rolled out by the end of 2007. The prototype is reportedly going to be based on the much-talked-about Chevrolet Volt, which showed up at the '07 Detroit Auto Show.

If GM stayed true to the specs announced earlier for the Chevy Volt, it would go 600+ miles on a single battery charge. That kind of number would undoubtedly send customers charging into Chevy showrooms nationwide and flood GM's books with plenty of black ink to replace the bleeding financials that have captured much of the GM Boardroom's attention for too many years. Problem is, GM now says it'll get only some 40 miles on pure electric power, which means that it would probably only be suited for commuters. Oh well, at least it's a start.

Meanwhile, critics are wondering if GM is serious in light of GM's gusto for gas guzzling SUV's. It's certainly true that the Volt got a lot of glowing press at the Auto Show. And electric cars have gotten a lot of support from environmental groups looking to cut back on oil consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. As shown in Detroit, the Volt was a hybrid, but GM says it intends to base it on a new generation of batteries and mass market the car.

Okay, so the mileage is down to 40 from the Auto Show's claim of 600+. What else? Well, some of that georgous looking metal body will get shaved off too, GM says, including the extreme front wheel placement (meaning, it'll get much shorter?). "The whole shape of the car is going to have to be a little more traditional," Lutz said (meaning, it'll end up looking like a Yugo?). The whole thing has caused people to wonder about Lutz's credibility all over again (Bob Lutz Screws the Pooch).

GM, you tease us with steak at your Auto Show concepts and then toss us sardines in the showroom. No, I take that back, you sell us lemons. Like the $50,000 SSR with plastic door mechanisms that break shortly after delivery. 804,000 trucks and SUVs with lousy brake designs. And Buicks with bad power steering.

If George Clooney can drive a 130 mph electric sports car right now, how come goliath GM can't build one? Hello!!! GM, are you listening?


Who Builds the Worst Cars?

Okay, so last time we talked about who Consumer Reports thought built the best cars, most all of which we agreed with. In case you didn't rush out to buy a copy of their April auto issue (we told you that you should), here's what they say, and what we think about who builds the worst vehicles...

Relying on their road tests and consumer reporting data covering 1,300,000 vehicles on 250 models, here's the ones they say are the worst:

Least Fun to Drive? For the sports car category it's the Mitsubishi Eclipse. In the small car group it's the Chevy Aveo. For mid size sedans, the Chrysler Sebring wins, if you can call it winning. We've been in all three and yup, CR's got it right on this one.

Worst Miles Per Gallon? In the small car group it's the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution tied with the Subaru Impresz WRX STi at 20 mpg. For midsize and large sedans, the Chrysler 300C ties the Mercury Grand Marquis LSE. In the SUV category, the Dodge Durango Limited bottoms out at 12 mph, beating out even the mammoth Cadillac Escalade's 13 mpg. With the new federal mpg ratings about to come out, maybe we'll get some honesty soon. But in the meantime, these are some miserable numbers...

The Slowest Vehicle? The new Smart ForTwo, which won't be out until 2008, is miles behind the pack when it takes 23.2 seconds to get up to 60 mph. But the Kia Rio LX wins the slow race for now until the cute, but terribly slow, Smart car hits the showroom floor. At this rate you can almost walk faster than the Smart car will go!

The Most Uncomfortable Cars? In no particular order (after all, if you don't like sitting in it, it doesn't really matter what one you're sitting in --- you just want to get out!), the Dodge Viper, Jeep Wrangler, Lotus Elise, and the Smart ForTwo.

The Worst Braking Car? We call this the "First Car to Hit the Wall When the Brakes Don't Stop You" award. It goes to both the Nissan Versa 1.8 S and the Toyota Yaris. They manage to slide more than half way down a football field (163 feet) before coming to a frightening, "say your prayers" stop. The Cadillac Escalade stops only 5 feet shorter, but at least with the Caddy you get lots of metal in front of you to absorb the brick wall before it gets to your front teeth!

CR gave also gave out "Most Disappointing car" booby prize awards to the Dodge Caliber, Jeep Compass, Toyota Yaris, Dodge Nitro, and the Chrysler Sebring too, for various reasons.

If you haven't read the auto issue, it's well worth the couple of books the bookstore charges for it. And it should be mandatory reading if you are thinking about buying a new or a used car anytime soon. We don't want to sound like a commercial, but the whole issue is dedicated to telling you all about the new cars, the used cars, vehicle ratings, recommendations, and capsule reviews of 250 models. It's worth the price.

And who knows...maybe it'll keep you from getting a lemon. But if you do, call us. We'll help you out.

Burdge Law Office
Helping Consumers, and Consumer Law Attorneys, Since 1978


Who Builds the Best Cars?

The popular myth is that the Japanese do, but that's not what Consumer Reports is saying ... sort of.

In its annual car reliability survey, CR says that VW and Audi are tops at building the cars that perform the best "on average" overall. But when it comes to just reliability, Honda, Subaru and Toyota beat all the others. CR analyzed its road test and consumer reporting data covering 1,300,000 vehicles on 250 models.

The top 10? Here they are...

Most fun to drive? Mazda Miata MX-5. No surprise here. This has been a fun car at a reasonable price since the very first one rolled out. And we haven't had a lemon Miata case in years either.

The best small SUV? Toyota RAV4 wins out. Redesigned in '06, this one's bigger and better. Another model we haven't seen problems with for years.

A super small sedan? The Honda Civic, hands down. Honda's got a lot bigger from the tiny car we first saw in college in California. You know, the one you could literally pick up and move into a tight parking space by hand! Now they're roomy and reliable.

Best family sedan? Honda again. The Accord. CR calls it "an excellent balance of comfort, roominess, ride, and handling." Good fuel economy too.

The most for a minivan? Toyota Sienna gets the prize. A model that has won CR's praise for years.

Luxury sedan? The Infiniti M35 has luxury and performance. We can't recall ever having a lemon law claim for a M35. If they build it right, and so far they do, then we never will.

The mid size SUV winner? Toyota's Highlander Hybrid is comfortable and quiet.

Budget car? The Honda Fit just fits right. Fun, compact, impressive, that's CR's take on it.

The Greenest Car? The Toyota Prius, of course. 44 mpg for $23,000. Just why did GM kill the electric car, anyway?

And the best upscale sedan? Infiniti G35 takes it. Sporty luxury and another one that we just don't see build with citrus parts.

See the pattern? Not a single American-built car among 'em. Wake up, Detroit...this isn't looking too good.

CR's April auto issue gives all the details and rates cars on handling, braking, fuel economy, reliability and other factors. For Audi and VW, performance, comfort and safety made them tops but they had reliability problems that are common with what we've seen too.

Mercedes is another example of inconsistent results. CR scores them good on many aspects but doesn't recommend any Mercedes model because of Mercedes reliability problems. Mercedes costs more and are nicely furnished, but a lemon Mercedes sits broken down in a driveway just like a Kia does. Only difference is the size of that check you write each month to the finance company.

The Big 3 automakers' cars were all over the board on reliability. While Ford scored well in the reliability survey, about a fourth of the Ford vehicles had below-average reliability. GM did better with about a third that came in below average. Chrysler trailed the Detroit pack and actually came in next to the bottom of the list. Only Suzuki fared worse.

If you haven't checked out the Consumer Reports April Auto issue yet, go buy a copy. Otherwise, buy that new car at your own peril. And just remember, if you get a lemon, call us. Representing consumers against crooked car dealers and lemon manufacturers is what we do every day.