Over recent weeks there have been stories about Jeeps being hacked and FIAT Chrysler losing a law suit over a wrongful death due to a fire after an accident – They have also been fined a record US$105M for recall “lapses” and in Australia the ex head of the local company is being sued by his former employer for fraud. All of which deserve separate posts on this blog, however I want to analyse an incident that intrigued me and now the story has gone quiet, it is time to review it and provide some commentary. It involves a man in Queensland who bought a Jeep and found it to be a “lemon” so he took matters into his own hands. When I first read the story, some parts didn’t make sense so I thought I would investigate further.
The story as other media outlets described it:
A Queensland man, Ashton Wood, bought a Jeep Cherokee in 2010 for $49,000 and he claimed it had been so unreliable that he created a campaign called “destroymyjeep.com” and invited people to pay to destroy the vehicle. He claimed that the fuel line broke when he went to pick it up from the dealer after the initial registration and that it had a wide range of faults including:
– Loss of all climate controls (twice).
– Rattling in driver’s door.
– Clock couldn’t keep the correct time (for two years).
– Bash plate falling off.
– Turbo inlet manifold cracked (tow required).
– Rain sensor failed.
– Major coolant leak inside vehicle (tow required).
– External mirrors getting loose all the time.
– Ignition failure (tow required).
– Faulty seat belt tensioner.
– Heater exchange cracked behind dashboard.
– Starter motor intermittently running after the engine has started.
– Drivetrain Control error (tow required).
– Wipers intermittently coming on when driving in dry conditions.
– Rear strut leaking oil and had to be replaced.
This is quite a long list of faults that occurred over the four years of ownership, so Mr. Wood spoke to the dealer and wasn’t satisfied, so he contacted FIAT Chrysler Australia (Chrysler) and still wasn’t satisfied so took his case to the Office of Fair Trading. He even met with Chrysler and they offered him $22,500 to buy back the car, however he felt that he could sell it privately for $28,000.
However he didn’t want to do that – he set up a kickstarter campaign to destroy the vehicle. He even admitted that he still owed $31,000 when the campaign finished. It had become personal – he was not going to allow Chrysler to make money by reselling his vehicle and also said that if they paid him the full amount for the car he would not accept it. At the end of the campaign he had raised $19,000.
Interestingly he claimed at one point that the vehicle had only done 12,000 kms yet in another article it had done 50,000 kms. Chrysler disputed the first number putting an accurate figure of between 30-40,000 kms on the table when they offered to buy the vehicle back.
Chrysler stated that they fixed every problem that was under warranty when they were advised of them and the offer of $22,500 was the market rate for such a vehicle with the amount of kilometres on the clock. Mr. Wood said that the car was off the road for much of its life including one 53 day period, however Chrysler’s records showed that it had been off the road for 2 weeks in 4 years!
The car was destroyed using a range of tools including heavy equipment after quite a long social media attack on Chrysler.
The missing or strange items:
Firstly, when the diesel line split on the first day, he could have (and should have) asked for another vehicle. He says he gave the dealer the “benefit of the doubt” and had the vehicle repaired. Why? If you bought any other item and it failed them you would expect a refund or replacement and Mr. Wood should have done this and saved himself a whole lot of pain.
The ignition failure is interesting – as it is a diesel, it doesn’t have an ignition “system”. Diesel is compressed to cause the fuel mix to ignite, it doesn’t use electricity to cause the mix to burn. Therefore having an ignition failure is not strictly true – it sounds more like a fuel delivery issue and this could be caused by many factors outside the vehicle’s design.
The main concern I have with this story is that Mr. Wood at one point admitted that he had been taking the vehicle to a local mechanic and not to an authorised dealer or repair centre – and it is this comment that is confirmed by Chrysler’s records. Had the car been sent to an authorised mechanic then the records would have been much more complete. The main problem I see is that Chrysler have not been responsible for much of the servicing and repairs and as such cannot guarantee them. In addition, it is quite possible that the repairs undertaken have caused other problems to surface – which were blamed on Chrysler, when in fact were possibly caused by someone else.
There was also a comment that some of the defects were only raised after the warranty period had ended. This has to be questioned – why wouldn’t all defects be documented and dealt with much earlier on and not in the fourth year of ownership?
The marketing genius (?):
Clearly Mr. Wood is a marketing genius – so many people commented on the story online stating that they would never buy a Jeep based on this one story (without doing any research). Every manufacturer would love that sort of influence! 580 people wrote at least one comment!
Another reason for calling him a marketing genius is that he persuaded enough people (150) to hand over $19,000 for him to destroy the vehicle leaving him out of pocket by only $12,000! That is genius – get other people to pay for your car!
I was quite fascinated by this story, partly because I had experienced “problems” with cars in the past that on reflection were not product defects but issues caused by inexperienced mechanics. One with a Honda was finally fixed under warranty and I could track the problem back to recall work that I know damaged another part. This was definitely a human issue not a design fault.
So in reading the story, I started to get suspicious of the motives of Mr. Wood, why wouldn’t he accept the money instead of “making it personal”. He appeared to spend an inordinate amount of time on “problems” that could have been resolved very quickly if he had been more open with Chrysler. I also thought it was quite cheeky to get others to pay off his finance instead of taking the money from Chrysler. Guess what they would have done with the car? Either written it off or fixed it properly and sold it at a loss. They offered, yet seem to be criticised for not being able to resolve the issue quickly. It takes two to tango and I felt that Mr. Wood was not willing to dance – he made a lot of media noise but wouldn’t take the resolutions offered.
Had Mr. Wood presented Chrysler with invoices from an authorised dealer to show all the work done, then he would have got a result much quicker.
My other fascination was with the comments written by other readers – so many claimed that they would not buy a Jeep based on one story rather than empirical evidence of reliability. That to me was interesting, can one person really influence so many strangers?
So many people wrote incorrect comments about the issue, many simply blaming the “poor” quality because it was a Jeep, and when someone suggested that there was more to this story than written, they were accused of working for Chrysler! Many people thought that Chrysler had stolen the Jeep name because only Willys made Jeeps, some claimed that Chrysler haven’t made a car in years because they had been bought by Daimler and the Jeep name was to hide that fact. This is a problem with online forums, so many people have no knowledge yet still want to comment!
In conclusion, we will never really know the truth behind this story because much of the evidence of reliability (or not) was destroyed by Mr. Wood at the end of his campaign when the vehicle was smashed and burned.