Intermittent Problems – Why Can’t My Dealer See It?

by Harry Bradley on September 23, 2011

Intermittent ProblemsWhen presenting your dealer with an intermittent or otherwise hard-to-troubleshoot problem you may receive a brush-off.  Why?  The simple answer: they don’t want to get involved with difficult problems. Manufacturers, like all businesses in this recession marketplace, are cutting costs, especially warranty service. End result: the manufacturer’s cost cutting impacts you, the consumer. You can quickly find yourself stuck in a situation where the manufacturer and dealer refuse to acknowledge a problem exists, even when you know it does.

Intermittent Problems and Lemon Law

Warranty Service Cutbacks

While dealers love to change parts as the focus of their business, diagnostics are increasingly not part of the services offered from any dealer repair shop.  If you present your dealer with an intermittent or difficult problem do not be surprised if you receive an invoice that says NPF (no problem found), CND (could not duplicate), or even operating as designed.

Warranty repairs represent a necessary service after the sale, but also represent a pure profit loss for the manufacturer.  It’s no surprise, as every business is now trying to scrape together and retain every penny, warranty expense has become a prime cost cutting target to preserve margin and offset reduced sales revenue.

Manufacturers Are Reducing Their Warranty Costs (and their service)

Diagnostics are expensive and increasingly avoided as a loss or low margin service, meanwhile, hanging new parts to cure obvious failure remains a secure profit source. Through attempts to minimize warranty expense, warrantors are subjecting many consumers to a corresponding reduction in services provided by their dealer.  To be fair, this is not the dealer’s fault.  Manufacturers completely control the warranty repair process. When a manufacturer cuts back the dealer must cut back as well, or risk self-funding the manufacturer’s warranty.

Dealers may make multiple attempts on a difficult problem, experiencing reduced profit (or no profit) for each attempt, while the manufacturer’s original profit margin erodes with each paid attempt.  In response, manufacturers are discouraging these attempts, and have taken the approach of laying an ever increasing portion of the cost and inconvenience of difficult problems back on the consumer and instructs dealers to attempt a repair only when a solution is readily apparent.  For consumers, this creates a Groundhog Day scenario where you relay the same information over and over to a dealer who merely advises you to bring it back when it gets worse (and is easier to see and diagnose).  You still have the problem, yet no fix is in sight.

Understanding the Manufacturer-Dealer Relationship

It is important for a consumer to understand the motivations of any service department in a warranty situation in order to know what service should be expected, and what should not be expected.  For example, you will almost never convince a service department to attempt a repair for which it is certain to not be paid by the manufacturer.

Understand, for any complaint made by a consumer, the manufacturer instructs its dealers when (and if) a repair will be authorized.  If the manufacturer instructs a dealer to perform “no repairs” for any given issue, the dealer must follow its instructions.  Once the manufacturer has determined the cheapest solution to any given problem, if they offer any solution at all, they will release the service information to the dealer and authorize a specific repair procedure.  Until the manufacturer authorizes a repair, the dealer will not risk unpaid parts and labor.

You may have heard the dealer say “I can’t fix what I can’t see” or “Bring it back when it gets worse.”  Or you may have received a service invoice describing the dealer’s investigation results as CND or NPF.  These results are all classic responses to customer complaints the manufacturer has already instructed the dealer not to touch.  Your recourse at this point is to merely document the visit for later use (see below).

Again, if the dealer knows they will not be paid for any repair attempt, your chances of receiving a repair are slim.  Document the visit and see if the problem recurs.  If the problem happens again, get it back to the dealer and make an accurate complaint.  Present your complaint, await the dealer’s results.  Rinse and repeat.  If, after the dealer makes three attempts or refuses to accept the vehicle for further diagnosis, it’s time to call the manufacturer into the situation.  Look to your warranty book for direct contact info and make the call.

What Can You Do?

Even in a dispute with the dealer, you still have the lemon law on your side.  It protects you, not a manufacturer or dealer who does nothing in response to your complaints.  To protect yourself, keep your service records.

In most states you are entitled to an invoice for every instance you went to the dealer with a problem.  It does not matter the dealer decided no repair attempt was necessary.  If the dealer refuses to give a receipt, write a letter to the dealer’s general manager describing the problem and when you demanded service.  You experienced it, the dealer simply refused to do anything about it.  Repeated subsequent failures are the responsibility of the manufacturer, but only if you can prove you gave them a chance to fix it first.

The documentation of your complaints and dealer visits will become key support for you in any future discussion if the issue is not resolved.  Even if the dealer says they couldn’t duplicate the problem, demand that receipt!  If problems continue, escalate the situation to involve the manufacturer.  If the problem still is not resolved, seek professional advice and contact an attorney to find out your rights as a consumer.

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