letter to Sergio Marchionne

{note: original document was sent via certified US post -- hypertext links are for background information, the formatting is not part of the original letter and is a side-effect of the way html appears on a browser screen.}

December 16, 2009

Sergio Marchionne
Chrysler Group LLC
PO Box 21-8004
Auburn Hills, MI 48321-8004

Dear Mr. Marchionne,


I’m writing to you due to recent inspections on my 2008 PT Cruiser by Chapman Chrysler Jeep in Henderson, NV, which I believe are not correctly reflecting the state of my vehicle. This letter is an effort to ensure that my lifetime powertrain warranty and the associated “Lifetime Maximum Care Wrap” Service Contract (LMCW) will remain valid and intact.

Allow me to back up...In November of 2007, Chrysler announced the discontinuation of one of the most fun cars I’d ever driven: the PT Cruiser convertible. I had one made to order once I discovered that I could get a LMCW. To be very clear, my LMCW -- combined with the lifetime powertrain warranty -- is the reason I sold both of my Hondas and became a Chrysler customer for the first time in my life.

In anticipation, I read the 2008 Owner’s Manual (OM) online before my car had even been built. Since my Cruiser would be the most expensive single item I would own, I knew that I would conform to the much more rigid Maintenance Schedule B (OM pg. 434), irrespective of how I actually drove the car. I figured that that way if anything ever happened to the car mechanically I could never be challenged as to whether or not I had chosen the right service schedule, and somehow void my LMCW coverage as a result. Even though there’s no mention of this possible objection in the contract itself, I didn’t ever want to broach the possibility of breach of contract in this way with anyone at Chrysler.

I’ve been driving a lot -- my car has more than 46,000 miles in less than two years. Thanks your distributed dealership network, I’ve had the 15 requisite services needed to this point performed by nine different Chrysler dealers in three different states.
On the whole the car has been doing very well, and my experience with your dealer network has been quite good. There is one notable exception...
On May 28, 2009, I took my car to Chapman Chrysler in Henderson, NV for my 33,000 mile inspection. Using a coupon from the Chrysler Web site I received an oil change, an air filter and an inspection for the (much appreciated) bargain price of $22.

The service components were exchanged without a hitch, but the inspection came back shocking. My car “failed” (their term) an automatic transmission fluid check, a power steering fluid check and a fuel line check. In all cases the fluids or components were found to be “dirty.” I was also “cautioned” on the brake fluid level/condition “due to mileage,” and I was told that my tires should be rotated and balanced. Combined, the price of these services would come to more than $800. This on a car that was less than a year-and-a-half old, and at 33,000 miles, still under full warranty.
I was surprised since the (far more extensive) 30,000 mile service at Las Vegas’ United Chrysler (they were still a dealer at this time, they are not any more) showed none of these problems.

I pressed my service advisor a bit. I told him I knew I was responsible for standard maintenance (LMCW pg. 4) but these items were far from standard. The brake service isn’t due until 48,000 miles and even then only if the car is used for towing (OM pg. 441), which it definitely is not. The transmission fluid is due for a change at 60,000 miles only if my car is used for police, taxi, limousine or trailer (OM pgs. 442, 447), which again, it definitely is not. And the fuel injector service? It doesn’t even appear in the OM.

I said, “Listen, if all this stuff is bad, it should still be covered under warranty. There’s no way this is ‘standard service.’ It’s definitely not required as part of Schedule B in the Owner’s Manual at this mileage. None of it’s even close.”

My advisor shrugged and suggested that desert driving can put excessive wear on a car. I said, “Not that it matters, but the vast majority of my miles are not in the deserts. I don’t even live here.” I declined the services.

That same day, I called my brother, b1-67er. He’s a licensed Professional Engineer with several automotive patents to his name (I encourage you to do a Google search -- he’ll show up when you do a search for the phrase “world’s best mechanical engineer”) and is a specialist in failure analysis. He was immediately extremely suspicious of the diagnosis.

This gave me a quandary, what happens if an inspection shows a “failed” component and then subsequently that piece develops a fault and I need warranty work done?
On or about June 2, I called the DaimlerChrysler Service Contracts hotline (800-521-9922) essentially asking, “if Chrysler does an inspection on my vehicle and you find something's wrong (like dirty automatic transmission fluid), and I don't change it, and it subsequently fails, am I still covered by the lifetime powertrain warranty (or the wrap)?”

Mr. Marchionne, you just can’t believe how difficult it was to get a simple answer to that question. It took nearly 20 minutes of back-and-forth conversation, but the service representative essentially said, “no, you would be liable” -- in the most non-committal way you’ve ever heard in your life.

This puts me in an awkward catch-22, because essentially what Chrysler is saying is “no, once we spot a problem, if it’s not fixed, you are not covered under warranty,” but if those components subsequently fail, the warranty is no longer valid. It doesn’t make any legal sense because it’s not “prescribed” in the OM (LMCW pg. 4).

On July 16, my 36,000 mile service is done at AutoWest Chrysler in Fremont, CA. As part of the coupon for an oil change, they too do an inspection of my car. They find nothing wrong.

The 39,000 and 42,000 mile services are both done a Chapman in Henderson. Once again on both of these they claim the same problems from the 33,000 mile service (I don’t know for certain that they actually re-tested at these times -- it’s possible they were just re-publishing their previous tests).
For the 45,000 mile service I go to My Chrysler in Salinas, CA. They do the general inspection as part of my oil change coupon and find nothing wrong.

I’m not going to say if Chapman is correct in their belief that my car has several problems -- as a consumer, I don’t think I should have to. For certain there are three other Chrysler dealers who have not found the problems reported by Chapman during the same rough period of time. Instead I’m going to take a step back and look at the bigger picture.
One of three things has to be true (possibly in combination):

  •  Chapman is incorrect about what’s wrong with my vehicle.
  •  Chapman’s tests are far more precise than the other Chrysler dealers I have gone to. That’s why they are showing problems that others do not.
  •  The other Chrysler dealers I have been going to are not actually performing the inspections, or are simply failing to spot what’s “wrong” with my vehicle.
Of these three -- especially given the expert advice of my brother -- I think one of the first two must be correct. My bet is on the first one.

I studiously avoid being confrontational as a consumer of a company’s products. I’d much rather get along with my service provider than try to fight them (and, quite honestly, I want to see Chrysler, in all forms, do well). To this end, this is what I’d like to see you provide to me as a consumer of your product:
  • Authorize a San Francisco Bay Chrysler dealer (e.g. someone like Stevens Creek) to do an inspection on my vehicle -- looking specifically for the problems reported by Chapman. This ensures that the inspection would be done well-away from any influence that Chapman might exert giving a better chance for a “true” inspection. It’s also closer to where I live.
  • If the inspecting dealer finds any of the problems that Chapman have reported, give authorization to have that repair done under warranty. Clearly these problems should not be appearing at this mileage (they are not prescribed by the OM at this mileage) and need to be fixed. They were all originally spotted well within the original 3 year/36,000 mile time period.
  • If the inspecting dealer finds no problem, then have them provide that information in writing -- this would give me coverage for any problems that may arise in the future.
  • Alternatively, you could simply send a letter saying that as long as I follow the service recommendations in my OM, I am covered by my plans (the powertrain warranty and/or the LMCW), and I do not have to comply with inspection results.
If you are not able, or unwilling, to provide this to me as a service, there are a few things that I want to make clear for the record:

  1. By both Federal law and your LMCW (pg. 4) I am not required to have my car serviced at a Chrysler dealership to maintain the validity of my warranty. Being able to prove that the car was serviced is good enough for fulfillment. I use your dealerships because I never want to have a non-Chrysler service on my car called into question. However, if the inspections are creating difficulties themselves, it’s senseless for me to accept them and I should move outside the dealer chain of reference to minimize my expense and hassle.
  2. I do not consider Chapman’s assessment of my vehicle to be accurate. There are eight other unique Chrysler dealers who have never found a problem with my vehicle -- three of them immediately surrounding Chapman reviews.
  3. Chrysler’s unwillingness to help would make me a vocal advocate against your corporation. I am not saying this as some quasi-form of psychological blackmail (nor do I think I have much clout), it’s merely that I cannot, in good conscience, support a corporation who supports what I believe are predatory business practices. (I do not believe this is true at the present time.)
  4. Nowhere in the LMCW, nor in the OM, does it say that I am responsible for correcting problems found by Chrysler inspections. In fact, due to #1 above, Chrysler inspections are not required. I stand by the sentence on page 4 of the LMCW fully, “your responsibility is to properly operate, care for and maintain the vehicle as prescribed in the OM supplied by the manufacturer” (my emphasis added). That is precisely what I do, and to the letter. There is nothing I have agreed to in principal, nor in print, that says I have to abide by a recommendation resulting from an inspection. (Especially one that equals 4% of the original price of my car in less than two years of use.)
Mr. Marchionne, I don’t delude myself for a second. I know the chances are essentially zero that you will read this letter -- it undoubtedly will be batted from department to department for awhile before it ends on the desk of someone who’d rather not deal with it. But that doesn’t lessen the fact that I believe in my cause, nor does it take away from the fact that I am (at least for the moment) a fan of Chrysler’s. I bought my car when everyone I knew or talked to thought it was an act of folly. Essentially my pals asked, “What good is lifetime if the company has no life?”

But I know a thing or two about business and the law. And I admire what it took to for a major corporation to come out with a lifetime warranty. I was enthralled enough that I decided to come along for the ride. I have a ‘blog dedicated to my car (in fact, this letter appears there, as will any response you send) -- I encourage anyone who sees reads letter to give it a look at http://www.continualcar.com/.

I realize that I’m the smallest conceivable mite on a planet of the much bigger problems you deal with, but before you completely wave me off, consider this: if even one percent of current Honda owners had done the same as I, Chrysler would have no monetary troubles (and, ironically, you wouldn’t have to read this letter right now, because you wouldn’t be running the corporation).

The entire purpose of this letter is to put a stake in the ground now to help stave off any possible problems in the future. This missive isn’t a warning; it’s a request for official help. I bought my PT Cruiser for enjoyment of a fun car and to be a participant in a grand experiment conducted by a company that had its back against the wall.

So far the experience has been great. My car is extremely solid and reliable. On the whole my experience with your dealers has been extremely good (especially Chapman, if you ignore the inspection “problems”) -- better than my old Honda dealers. I don’t want to give you the impression that I’m upset with Chrysler, because I’m not. I’m just doing everything I can to never buy another car again, including writing this letter.

Thank you for your time and consideration,

Enclosures: 6

cc: Mark Akbar, General Manager, AutoWest Dodge Chrysler Jeep
Nick Banker, General Manager, Chapman Chrysler Jeep
Sylvia Campbell, CEO, Southern Nevada Better Business Bureau
Timothy Geithner, Secretary of the Treasury, United States Department of Treasury
Tom Maher, Owner, My Jeep Chrysler Dodge
Ann Tomlanovich, President, DaimlerChrysler Service Contracts, Inc.
ecc: b1-67er, Professional Engineer
J. Scott Maberry, Esq

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