The sample data for this study was taken from approximately 100 of our
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
- Engine/Engine Control Systems = 39
- Transmission/TX Controls = 22
- Software – General = 21
- Safety Systems = 21
- Suspension & Steering = 14
- Fuel Systems = 10
- Electrical/Electronics = 9
- Brakes = 5
- Structural = 5
- 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
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
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.