Automaker Claims Problems Not WidespreadPOSTED: 7:43 pm EST March 1, 2006
BALTIMORE — The WBAL-TV 11 News I-Team has discovered car owners in Maryland and across the country have claimed their car engines are not only defective, but unsafe.
But as the owners demand the automaker take responsibility, the I-Team found they may be out of luck.
WBAL-TV 11 News I-Team reporter Barry Simms said style and an affordable price have powered sales of the Dodge Intrepid.
But Lisa Wharton’s 2001 model isn’t going anywhere.
"I started hearing this loud clinking noise and the car just died," she said.
Wharton said she’s baffled by the car’s breakdown. She said the 2.7-liter engine blew after only 44,000 miles.
It was found that inside the engine ran thick, black sludge instead of free-running oil.
"I’m aggravated because if I go to a store and buy a piece of meat, and it’s old and moldy, I can take it back and they’ll accept it back. This is a defective item," Wharton said.
Brad Butts used to own a 2001 Chrysler Sebring. He now drives a Toyota. Butts gave up on his Sebring after the engine died at 60,000 miles.
He said the repair shop gave him a choice: "They said, ‘You have to get an engine or take it home.’"
Butts bought the car used and couldn’t afford a new engine along with his car payments. So, he let Chrysler repossess the car.
Wharton and Butts aren’t the only ones complaining about engine failure. The Center for Auto Safety claims the 2.7-liter engines found in some Chrysler and Dodge models are prone to catastrophic failure.
"You have a car that goes from being a usable car to what some call a lawn ornament — you park it on the lawn if you don’t have money to fix it," said Clarence Ditlow, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety.
Simms reported Chrysler has used the 2.7-liter engine since 1998. The engines are found in some Dodge Intrepid and Magnum models, as well as Chrysler Sebring, Concorde and 300 models.
The Center for Auto Safety is pushing for a recall after receiving about 1,000 complaints, all for the same thing.
"The real issue is what happens if the engine seizes and you’re hit and killed? There are no witnesses to tell what happened," Ditlow said.
A representative for the Chrysler group claims, "It’s not a widespread issue … or a safety issue. It’s a maintenance issue." The representative said owners "were not changing their oil" as outlined in the owner’s manual. And, if the car was purchased used, "the sludge existed because the past owner had not changed the oil."
Wharton and Butts both said they maintained their cars properly. Although Chrysler stands by the 2.7-liter engine, it revised its owners manual in 2004, in some cases, recommending more frequent oil changes at 6,000-mile intervals rather than 7,500 miles.
The automaker said the change was not in response to complaints about the engine.
Simms reported the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has the authority to order a recall, but NHTSA officials told the 11 News I-Team they has no plans to do so.
A NHTSA representative said the agency doesn’t consider the engine complaints a safety issue, but they will continue to monitor them.
Meanwhile, consumers have some hefty expenses.
"This is an economic disaster for consumers," Ditlow said.
Butts still owes $8,000 on his car.
"I’m still paying on it, I’m still paying on it," he said.
Wharton still owes $6,000. She took out a loan to buy another engine.
"It upset me because I don’t have $5,000 to put out for a new motor," she said.
Chrysler has hired an independent company to investigate complaints. Chrysler has reached agreements with some consumers who were able to prove they had the oil changed according to the company’s guidelines. But others, like Wharton and Butts, did not have enough evidence to satisfy Chrysler, and are simply out of luck.
The Center for Auto Safety said, at the very least, Chrysler could do what other automakers have done. Faced with consumer complaints about oil sludge in some of their engines, Volkswagen, Audi, Saab, Mercedes-Benz and Toyota have all extended engine warranties to eight years or more.