Chrysler Urged to Act on Engine Complaints

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Oil Sludge > Chrysler
8/28/04
Christopher Jensen
Plain Dealer Auto Editor

A consumer group is demanding that Chrysler Group extend the warranty on hundreds of thousands of its 2.7-liter V-6 engines and start reimbursing consumers whose engines have failed.

"The 2.7-liter engine introduced by Chrysler in 1998 is a nightmare for consumers. It doesn't cause accident and injury, it causes severe economic damage," said Clarence Ditlow, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety, in a statement.

In a letter sent Thursday to Dieter Zetsche, the president of the Chrysler Group, the center charges the 2.7-liter V-6 fails because sludge builds up even when consumers perform the proper maintenance.

Sludge is a thickening of the oil because moisture and contaminants build up and break down the oil, causing it to jell. That may reduce the flow of oil through the engine, causing excess wear or a failure.

Chrysler on Friday cautioned against making "sweeping statements" about any engine. "If you maintain the engine . . . the chances of sludging are drastically reduced with any engine," spokesman Sam Locricchio said in a telephone interview.

The center, based in Washington, is complaining about the V-6 used in the 1998-2002 Dodge Intrepid and Stratus and Chrysler Concorde and Sebring.

Ditlow said the center's Web site (www.autosafety.org) has 92 complaints while the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's site (www.nhtsa.dot.gov) lists about 400.

Some of those are from consumers who felt there was a safety problem because their engines failed while driving, sometimes at highway speeds.

On average, the engines are failing around 63,000 miles, Ditlow said.

Toyota and Volkswagen have both acknowledged that some of their engines are vulnerable to sludge, and they extended warranties on those engines for consumers who follow proper maintenance.

Chrysler should follow that example and extend the warranty to 10 years and unlimited mileage for oil-sludge damage, Ditlow said.

For the Stover family of Green Springs, southwest of Sandusky, the failure of the V-6 on their 1999 Intrepid at 54,000 miles has been a serious burden, Sharon Stover said.

Stover said the family bought the Intrepid used, with about 26,000 miles, and changed the oil themselves more often than the owner's manual requires. But because the Stovers don't have records, Chrysler refused to assist them, she said.

While they still owed about $9,000 on the vehicle, they had to pay about $6,400 for a new engine.

Stover said she didn't know whether the first owner changed the oil regularly. "But our mechanic said even if the oil hadn't been changed, the engine shouldn't have done what it did," she said. "We're sick about it."

Chrysler issued a statement Friday saying consumer happiness is "vital to our continued success and we will continue to work with customers."

Meanwhile, some owners are turning to salvage yards, trying to find used 2.7 V-6 engines in good condition but they are often hard to find, consumers complained on the center's Web site.

"In our very modest little business, that engine is probably one of the top five as far as demand," said Maury Leiser, the co-owner of Ridge Road Auto Parts in Cleveland.