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Automotive Motive: Know Your Rights and Act

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Louisville, OHWhile a vehicle lawsuit over allegedly defective engines in 2004 Ford F-250 Super-Duty trucks proceeds, owners continue to have problems with the power plant of a supposedly rugged truck that succeeds in costing owners in time, lost productivity and headaches.

Truck RepairsThe allegation is that Ford used an earlier model engine prone to trouble in it's 2004 model year trucks. Specifically, it's the engine in the 2003 F-250 that is described as being notorious for deficiencies. To that end, last Wednesday the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati ruled that Kenneth E. Corder Sr. of Louisville could go ahead with his suit against the automaker. The ruling came down in a 2:1 split in favour of the plaintiff, finding that Corder suffered "an ascertainable loss of money or property" according to the definitions of the Kentucky Consumer Protection Act.

In a nutshell, a consumer assumes that purchasing a new vehicle will serve to mitigate the kinds of headaches and never-ending maintenance inherent with older models. Sure, you can buy a cheap car or truck for a couple of thousand bucks, but while you save on the purchase price up-front, you pay and pay, and pay some more after the fact with regard to ongoing maintenance that never seems to quit. Frequent breakdowns and parts replacement is the trade-off for going in on the cheap.

To avoid all of that, you pay the piper up front for a nice, new vehicle that comes with a spiffy new warranty. And if you want even more rugged quality, you buy a truck. Go one step further and you put yourself into a Super-Duty. Sure, you pay a small fortune. But you feel like you're driving a tank with leather seats.

However, that didn't appear to be the case in 2004 with the Ford F-250 Super-Duty, which is said to have a defective and troublesome engine. Judge William Schwarzer, in his written opinion, said "the engine in the 2003 F-250 truck was notorious for its deficiencies, which were widely publicized, including leaky fuel injectors, oil leaks, broken turbochargers, wiring harness troubles, faulty sensors, defective exhaust gas recirculation valves and bad computers."

The allegation is that Ford knew all about the engine deficiencies for the 2003 model year, but went ahead and used the same engine anyway in its 2004 models.

But did it stop with the 2004 model year? Fast-forward to 2008. The Ford TV ads lauding the 2008 Ford F-250 Super-Duty trucks are laughable according to one Clearwater, Florida resident who has owned his 2008 since last March and has had a litany of problems with the engine—problems that sound eerily similar to those linked with the 2003 engine.

Within seven months of taking delivery of his new truck and putting 17,000 mils on it, the blogger from Clearwater had already racked up 45 inactive service days while the truck was in getting fixed.

He reports that the problems began after only the first 2000 miles, after which he had to have two fuel injectors replaced. The owner complains that the truck idols at 1300 RPM—a maddening speed given today's diesel fuel prices—but he was told that the fast idle was normal.

By mile 7500 the engine was leaking oil, and the cab needed to be removed in order to access the engine. Total time in the shop: 27 days. The wiring harness was also replaced. No more than 5000 miles later the truck developed a coolant leak at the radiator tank, followed by a whining noise that the owner suspected was a worn or faulty bearing in the turbocharger. The subsequent trip to the shop revealed yet another oil leak from the hapless engine.

All this, from a supposedly rugged, bullet-proof truck.

Could the owner have treated the truck badly? Fat chance, given the advertising that features the F-250 in-tough, championing rugged terrain and unforgiving job sites as any good, super-duty truck should. Thus, how could our F-250 owner from Clearwater abuse his vehicle so badly, in its first 7 months, to earn such a poor return on his investment?

He's checking his legal options to see just what he can pursue. In the meantime, automakers not only have a responsibility to be square with their customers, but absolutely need to foster more trusting relationships in this era of high fuel prices. It's becoming way too easy for cash-strapped Americans having finally awakened to the new era of oil, to trade in the domestic behemoth and opt for a Japanese hybrid, or small sub-compact.

Time will tell how Ford, and other automakers with problem vehicles on the road respond to both their customers concerns, and the new realities of the market. At the end of the day however, no one has the right to sell you a bill of goods, or decide not to correct obvious problems with a vehicle's design, knowingly take your money and sell you something that is defective.

And yes, there are new vehicle warranties to protect the owner from costly repairs. However, even the best warranties will not compensate you for the time, and the frustration inherent with attempting to keep a lemon on the road. There are laws designed to hold manufacturers accountable, and to protect the consumer from vehicles that are poorly designed, defective, or an out-and-out lemon.

There are just too many variables: roads are busier, with more truck traffic traversing ageing infrastructure. People are in a hurry, stressed and frustrated at the high cost of fuel. The last place you want to be is in the midst of all that with a new, but unreliable vehicle, for which you have paid plenty.

Hold the manufacturers accountable. If you've been involved in an accident caused by a defective vehicle, or taken advantage of, in any way by someone in the automotive sector—fight back.

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