Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Curmudgeon finds automotive vindication, of a sort, but only after 10 years

One of the few posts I still remember from my long-abandoned first blog (which is how this blog got named, get it?) concerned the demise of our 1991 Plymouth Grand Voyager.

It was maroon in color and we drove it, literally, to death. At the end, even the automobile service representative said attempting to fix it would be a complete waste of time. Think about that for a moment: A guy selling auto repairs saying further repairs would be futile. He may have had some vestigial remnants of a conscience.

Small wonder, then, when the auto industry collapsed early in the Great Recession, his dealership was one that did not survive. How could a dealership that allowed such people to remain employed possibly hope to compete in today's world?

Anyway, we replaced that maroon van with a silver one. We did buy it from that dealership. It wasn't that we particularly wanted a silver car; it's just what they had on the floor. The type of van was essentially unchanged in form and function from what we'd had before. The new one had power door locks; that was pretty spiffy for many years -- I can't remember now, though, how many years ago the power locks stopped working -- and the vehicle was no longer labeled as a "Plymouth." The Plymouth nameplate had been retired. In 2005, then (I'm pretty sure it was 2005), we became the proud owners of a Dodge Grand Caravan.

The van now has over 116,000 miles on it and it is looking a little haggard. In addition to the no-longer-functional power locks, there are visible rust spots creeping up from the undercarriage and a hole in our plastic front bumper. I think the hole was caused by a recent encounter with a particularly deep, and well-hidden, pothole in our neighborhood, but I might be mistaken.

I am not mistaken about a particular quirk this van has had since we acquired it: When we fill it up with gas, it has a tendency to stall out on the way back from the gas station. Over the years, particularly early on in the life of this vehicle, I would take the van in and complain. But I am not a "car guy" (as the linked post will illustrate). So the various service departments into which I've taken the van for repair could -- and did -- dismiss my complaints with attitudes ranging from condescending to patronizing to dismissive. We could find nothing wrong, they would tell me, as they presented yet another bill. You are ignorant in matters mechanical. You are wrong.

Well, I know when I'm licked. So I developed, over time, coping strategies: One of the best strategies was to time my gasoline purchases for early Saturday morning, when there were few cars on the road, so I could keep giving the van gas. If I could accelerate smoothly enough there might be a bucking bronco moment or two but, after the shudders ceased, I'd be home-free. If a light changed to red unexpectedly, or if I otherwise had to apply the brakes, however, the car would certainly die. However, when there were few cars on the road, this was not nearly so dangerous as it was during rush hour.

But we can't always time these things -- when kids borrow a car it's a cinch it will come back needing gas -- and my Long Suffering Spouse began letting me 'handle' the gas purchases as often as possible because she didn't like to fight to keep it from stalling on the way back from gas station.

So I devised other strategies. I noticed how cab drivers would sometimes put their cars in neutral and gun them at intersections. I think some of them may do it just to scare pedestrians crossing in front of them... but it gave me an idea. If I could put the van in neutral and gun it before it stalled, I might get through the rough patch without incident.

The years went by. I learned. I coped.

Now we come to yesterday. I was sorting through the day's collection of catalogs and bills when I came across a letter from Chrysler. "Important Warranty Information," the envelope said. Well, my van has been out of warranty since before Mr. Obama went to Washington. Even the people hawking extended warranties don't bother with me anymore.

So I opened the envelope. I read:
This letter is to inform you that the warranty period (3 years or 36,000 miles) on your vehicle's fuel tank has been extended to a period of 15 years/unlimited miles. This extended fuel tank warranty coverage applies to certain 2004-2005 model year Chrysler Town and Country and Dodge Caravan / Grand Caravan minivans. * * * We are extending the fuel tank warranty period because some of the affected vehicle population may experience a condition where the fuel shut-off float, in the multifunction control valve sticks, which may result in the vehicle stalling after refueling.
That's when I laughed out loud. Youngest Son happened to be in the room when I whooped. He looked at me quizzically. I read him what I just quoted.

But, no, that's not the punch line. The letter continued: "If you are experiencing this condition now or in the future, simply contact your dealer to have the appropriate repairs performed."

Really? Do you believe that they really know now how to fix what they had so long denied was even a problem?

Me neither. But if I take it in to give them a chance, I'm sure they'll say they made an attempt -- and find a thousand dollars worth of non-covered stuff to fix, too. (Go back to the link for details.)