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Transmission-Top 10 Defects

  Norman Taylor & Associates
  November 24, 2008

The sample data for this study was taken from approximately 100 of our most recent Lemon Law case files. Many of these cases had several of the defects listed below. The data is very recent (it covers a couple weeks of cases).

Defects by Type

  1. Engine/Engine Control Systems = 39
  2. Transmission/TX Controls = 22
  3. Software – General = 21
  4. Safety Systems = 21
  5. Suspension & Steering = 14
  6. Fuel Systems = 10
  7. Electrical/Electronics = 9
  8. Brakes = 5
  9. Structural = 5
  10. Air Conditioning = 4

When the stats noted above were collected, I wasn’t surprised by the top three categories at all. I admit #4 was a bit of a surprise and we will talk about that in another post. Engines and transmissions are certainly the most complex parts of the modern automobile and they are made more so by the fact that they are controlled by very complex computer software.

I am old enough to remember manual transmissions. I was sitting here reminiscing about some of the cars I’ve had with manual transmissions, and whether I had ever experienced any of the problems that people have with modern, computer-controlled transmissions. I can’t remember a one. Maybe I was lucky. I do remember my 1969 BMW Bavaria, a six-cylinder sedan with a buttery smooth 5-speed transmission that I drove for eight years without any problems.

Things have changed. Technology, much as I love it, has wrinkles and it takes time and more patience than I have to iron them out. I went for a test drive with a client a while back to verify a defective transmission that the dealer cheerfully called “normal operation.” This was an $80,000 Mercedes. Lest you think I am picking on those fellas from across the pond, I have seen these same defects in a variety of manufacturer’s vehicles.

The owner told me to tighten my seat belt firmly before we started. I didn’t like that much. We headed for the nearest freeway. On the way I noticed that the shift points didn’t seem to be in sync with the speeds and I mentioned it. He replied, “You ain’t seen anything yet.”

We started to accelerate up the on-ramp, probably in second gear. The car seemed to lose power and actually slow down, then about the time I am getting really nervous about the guy in a Ford 450 dually behind us, the transmission slammed into gear hard enough to chip teeth, mine or the transmissions.

I am thinking to myself, “This cannot be good for the transmission at all!” We accelerated up the on-ramp onto the freeway. Fortunately we avoided having the Ford’s logo permanently impressed on the trunk of that fine, new Mercedes: The shame of it! We’d probably have been sued for copyright infringement. This same transmission defect was experienced in varying degrees throughout the rest of the test drive.

I felt like going down to the dealership and having a few choice words about their definition of “normal operation.” I knew what was going on. I reviewed the repair orders for the vehicle and noted that of the six visits to the dealer, three had been for transmission control computer software updates. The other visits where they said nothing was wrong to the same symptoms were obviously identical to those where software problems were admitted. They didn’t get it right. I didn’t go down there and say harsh things.

Of the many transmission cases we take, I know more than half are the result of software problems. Perhaps it is sign of these modern times. However, if I have an $80,000 car, I better not be hearing “normal operation” after I feel like I have been kicked in the butt by an irate mule. We took case and got a full buyback for our client.

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