“Dr. Phil,” Canada’s best-known automotive expert, steers buyers through the new and used car market for one last spin.
After 45 years and almost two million copies sold, this is Phil’s last annual Lemon-Aid ― and it’s as tough as ever. Edmonston is a former Member of Parliament, and a board member of Quebec’s Bar Association and Consumers Union. He has won many battles for consumers on picket lines and before the Supreme Court.
The 2016 Lemon-Aid has everything: an encyclopedic lineup of the best and worst cars, trucks, and SUVs sold since 1970; a list of the best and worst automaker presidents Phil has worked with, or been sued by; a collection of the worst auto buys of all time; jurisprudence to get your money back; and new car buying tips that save you tons of mone by using lower fuel prices to get cheaper buys; an essential guide for first-time buyers; and a fun gift to smart-aleck gear-heads who don’t know half as much as they think.
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Phil Edmonston, Canada’s toughest customer, is a former MP and a long-time consumer advocate. For over forty-two years, he has written more than 140 consumer guides in the bestselling Lemon-Aid series. About three decades ago Nissan and Honda sued Phil for five million dollars ― and lost. He regularly gets tossed out of auto shows. He lives in Panama.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Go ahead, choose your poison: 30.4 million GM cars using poorly-designed, “deadly” ignition switches (50% recalled, leaving 15.2 million to maim and kill); Toyota and Honda with detonators that spew out shrapnel making sashimi of your face and throat; or 2007-15 Chrysler/Jeeps that stall out, lose steering and brakes, and disable their airbags. These are all real dangers making 2014 a record year for safety-related recalls, not due so much to assembly line mistakes, but as a direct consequence of factory cost-cutting run wild, bad engineering, and poor design. Worst of all, 30% of the affected vehicles will never get fixed. The biggest recall last year was GM’s ignition failures that have cost the company over a $4.6 billion U.S. and allegedly led to 23 deaths (two deaths in Canada) and hundreds of injuries. A Canadian class action has been filed in Ontario (www.gmclassactionsuit.ca). The fix rate for this safety defect is only 56% despite massive publicity given to the hazard. This recall would not have happened if GM had replaced the ignitions ten years ago when first alerted to the defect. The payout would have been $37.7 million, according to confidential General Motors documents released by the U.S. Congress. The cheaper $14.2 million repair that GM authorized saved the company $23.5 million ― a savings that has ballooned into a loss of almost $5 billion.
GM’s dangerous ignition switches and the company’s coverup are the latest confirmation that automakers will deliberately manufacture a vehicle that will kill or maim simply because, in the long run, it costs less to stonewall complaints and pay off victims than to make a safer vehicle.
I first learned this lesson after reading the court transcripts of Grimshaw v. Ford (fire-prone Pintos) from 1981. Reporter Anthony Prince wrote the following assessment of Ford’s indifference in an article titled “Lessons of the Ford/Firestone scandal: Profit motive turns consumers into road kill,” People’s Tribune (Online Edition), Vol. 26, No. 11, November 2000:
Rejecting safety designs costing between only $1.80 and $15.30 per Pinto, Ford had calculated the damages it would likely pay in wrongful death and injury cases and pocketed the difference. In a cold and calculating “costs/benefits” analysis, Ford projected that the Pinto would probably cause 180 burn deaths, 180 serious burn injuries, [and] 2,100 burned vehicles each year. Also, Ford estimated civil suits of $200,000 per death, $67,000 per injury, [and] $700 per vehicle for a grand total of $49.5 million. The costs for installing safety features would cost approximately $137 million per year. As a result, the Pinto became a moving target, its unguarded fuel tank subject to rupture by exposed differential bolts shoved into it by rear-end collisions at speeds of as little as 21 miles per hour [34 km/h]. Spewing gasoline into the passenger compartment, the car and its passengers became engulfed in a raging inferno.
And here are more recent examples of corporate greed triumphing over public safety: 35 million vehicles worldwide equipped with “grenading” Takata-made air-bag inflaters used by 10 automakers since 2008; 16 million defective Ford cruise-control deactivation switches that catch fire while the vehicle is parked; millions of Jeeps with unprotected fuel tanks that burst into flames in a rear-ender (Jeep will install a free trailer hitch.); and Toyota, Honda, Chrysler, Ford, and GM minivan sliding doors that suddenly open while underway, or injure passengers when closing unexpectedly. Putting profits first, carmakers don’t give a damn for auto safety, building quality products, or protecting the environment. Instead, they lobby for “zombie” consumer protection laws (neither dead nor alive), set up “secret” warranties, hide behind bankruptcy filings, and slap gag orders on settlements. Where there has been progress in each of these areas, it has been due to successful lawsuits and government intervention, with Washington and California leading the way, while Transport Canada (unsafe vehicles), Canada’s Competition Tribunal (price-fixing and misleading advertising), and Environment Canada (rigged fuel economy claims) exhibit a determined indifference to consumer complaints. Apparently, when it comes to auto safety, Ottawa is more comfortable singing “Kumbaya” with the Detroit Big Two than being a cop on the beat. (Chrysler, the traditional third Detroit-based company, is now London-based Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and uses Amsterdam as a tax-haven.)
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