Helpe me make lemonade from this lemon.
January 13, 2008 6:12 PM   Subscribe

My practically-new car is having serious problems, but the dealers don't believe me. What can I do to get the car fixed once and for all, or else get out of my lease?

My 16-month old car (2006 Audi A4 automatic coupe) is experiencing some heady mechanical issues. A few months ago it started stalling on me in the middle of traffic; I would press the accelerator and the RPMs would be going through the roof, but nothing would happen. I'd be stuck. This happens intermittently (at least once a week), but when the problem begins, it continues until I park it awhile and let it rest. The point is, I took it in to a dealership and they said it was fine. Since they couldn't replicate the issue, they said there was nothing they could do. I continued to drive it a few weeks, and then the problem reoccurred, this time in rush-hour traffic on the 101 freeway (I was nearly rear-ended). This time I had it towed to the dealership where I leased it from, but the service manager, in addition to not giving me a loaner car, told me there was nothing they could do if they tested it and it came out fine. My question is, what are my rights in this situation? If this second dealership tells me they found nothing wrong with my car, I'm afraid to drive it for fear of encountering the problem again! Am I stuck with this faulty vehicle for the remainder of my lease just because two dealerships couldn't "replicate the issue"? Can I withhold payments? If not, how else can I fight this? I only want to contact a lawyer when I've exhausted all other avenues. (My payments are being made to Audi Financial and my lease is up in July, 2009.) Thanks so much to anyone who has any suggestions/similar experiences/advice...
posted by Lillitatiana to Travel & Transportation (17 answers total)
Best answer: If the dealers continue to give you the runaround, you can file a complaint for free with the California Attorney General. I assume you are in California due to the 101 reference, but if you are in another state, you can file a complaint with your state Attorney General. Getting an inquiry letter on state letterhead may move an otherwise reluctant dealership give you a different car or fix the problem. I don't blame you for not wanting to drive it. The whole point of a lease is to not have to deal with crap like this, so if you don't get anywhere don't hesitate to unleash the governmental hounds. Your tax dollars at work.
posted by 45moore45 at 6:21 PM on January 13, 2008

It sounds like you have a transmission problem. Surely the service department would have checked it if you described the problem as you did above. I can tell you that withholding lease payments for any reason will only cause credit woes and eventually the repossesion of your Audi. So if you don't want that hanging over your head then keep paying.
posted by curlyelk at 6:30 PM on January 13, 2008

You could consider putting a sign on the car documenting the problem, park right in front of the dealer's entrance, and plop yourself down in the service area until it is repaired.

And, of course, contact Audi corporate customer relations.
posted by HuronBob at 6:43 PM on January 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

Carry a digital camera and document this happening.
posted by unixrat at 7:00 PM on January 13, 2008

I know nothing about leases or cars or California law, but on an episode of Cartalk, a caller with a similar issue (leased car failing in alarmingly dangerous ways) was told that most states have a lemon law for leased cars. They said if you bring the car in a certain number of times (3?) for the same problem and the dealership is unable to fix it, they have to let you out of the lease or give you a different car...or something like that. I've forgotten the details.

But research your state's lemon laws. You surely have an out.
posted by katieinshoes at 7:07 PM on January 13, 2008

And in response to unixrat, please don't try to photographically document your car stalling while in moving traffic. Your original question suggests that you don't have a death wish.
posted by katieinshoes at 7:08 PM on January 13, 2008

Unixrat, that is a great idea! If I can take it up a notch, a video camera might be more useful because you can record a video of you revving the engine and not getting any response from the car.

Also did you try posting your question/problem to an Audi owners forum? Perhaps a fellow audi-phile can help you with your problem.
posted by bitteroldman at 7:22 PM on January 13, 2008

I want to chime in and say it sounds like your transmission could be overheating. Do you know how to check the transmission fluid?

A similar situation happened to a friend and it turned out one of the hoses that carries the fluid from the transmission to the heat dissipator was bent and eventually sprung a leak.
posted by skwillz at 7:33 PM on January 13, 2008

Best answer: This could be low transmission fluid, or a faulty selector or (as mentioned) overheating transmission.

Are there any common factors that you could give to the dealer next time you take it in? Intermittent problems are the bane of mechanics and customers alike, and sometimes unless they can precisely replicate the conditions, no sign of the problem will arise.

They have no choice but to hand it back. After all, lots of people really do imagine failure and issues. They have no way of knowing which you are unless they can find a problem. Even if they believe you, they still have no more idea what's wrong than you do if there are no symptoms. They simply don't know what to change. They may be as baffled as you and want to help, but just can't get the go ahead to replace the entire transmission with no evidence of a problem.

Parameters to log/remember of the two incidents:
Heat of the day.
Heat of the car/how long it had been going for
How many miles the car had done since it's last cold start
Load (ie max aircon, or lots of electrics lowering the idle speed)
Whether you went over any bumps (especially sharp one) just before the incident.
Also, were you (I know this sounds stupid) resting your hand on the gear lever when this happened? Do you drive like this? If you momentarily knock it out of gear, it will take a while to come back, as the hydraulic pressure in the box drops instantly and needs time to build. Think long and hard about if this is a viable possibility, no matter how slight. If you don't realise you have done this, the sudden shock may prevent you (especially with the fear factor) realising that you wiggled the lever and it came back. It's possible you dislodged it, or it's badly adjusted and not quite in the detente for 'D' anyway. Worth looking at. Does it pop out of gear easily? Try knocking it out of gear when going slow on an empty road and see if it feels the same. If it's the same feeling, tell the dealer that.
How long was drive lost for - was it consistent?

Anything that was common will be important. Take a video camera, and if it does it again, film it if it is safe. Try and stay as calm as you can and recall what you do to get it back, and how long it takes. Record (mentally) if nothing you do seems to make a difference and it really does come back on its own.

More information is key. Failing that, repeated trips to teh dealer and more and more firm insistence may help, but if they really can't find an issue, there is very little the dealer can do - then it's time to check the lease small print.
posted by Brockles at 7:57 PM on January 13, 2008

A similar situation happened to a friend and it turned out one of the hoses that carries the fluid from the transmission to the heat dissipator was bent and eventually sprung a leak.

That's a good point. Has anything happened to teh car just before this? A slight bump over a kerb taking a short cut? Something that you think is unrelated may not be. Record everything and let the dealer discount things.
posted by Brockles at 7:59 PM on January 13, 2008

Best answer: Here is the page for the California Lemon Law.
posted by octothorpe at 8:03 PM on January 13, 2008

Response by poster: Wonderful, thanks. All great suggestions (except the one about not leasing - sorry, pal, not very helpful).

Keep 'em coming if you can!
posted by Lillitatiana at 8:36 PM on January 13, 2008

Response by poster: Oh, and nothing unusual (that I was aware of) happened to the car before it was experiencing the problem. In fact, I was out of the country for six months, during which time the car was only driven once a week to prevent the battery from dying. And it's an automatic, so I couldn't have physically thrown it out of gear....
posted by Lillitatiana at 8:43 PM on January 13, 2008

Dealerships are useless. They are poor shmucks trying to do a dozen different things that they usually don't have the time or the resources to do. Your best recourse is to call the national headquarters.

Barring that, I'd get a second opinion from a good-- by which I mean non-dealership-- mechanic. In writing. To bring to them.
posted by koeselitz at 10:52 PM on January 13, 2008

And it's an automatic, so I couldn't have physically thrown it out of gear....

Actually, it is possible. I do it all the time! If the gear is placed between D and N or D and L then it is possible, as brockles said, that the gears become dislodged a bit.
posted by bitteroldman at 5:16 AM on January 14, 2008

As stated above, you throw it out of gear by moving the selector into 'N'.

Barring mechanical failure, this is the most likely cause of this, either through a badly aligned selector (poor adjustment of the operating system) and the car hitting a bump, or by you driving with your hand on the lever and the same happening.

It is surprisingly easy to do, and is also exacerbated by a low gearbox oil level (although I'd have though the dealership checked this).

Try driving down the road slowly, in drive, and gently push the selector progressively more and more while keeping a steady throttle position. The car will, at one stage, slip out of gear and rev in the way you describe. Then let the lever return. Is the clunk of it coming back into gear at all reminiscent? Make sure you are going slowly on an empty road, though...

If it doesn't feel the same, it's just one more piece of information for the dealership.
posted by Brockles at 6:44 AM on January 14, 2008

Barring that, I'd get a second opinion from a good-- by which I mean non-dealership-- mechanic. In writing. To bring to them

Most Audi dealerships in the UK (and I am assuming it is probably an international standard, German car companies being what they are) insist on a relatively high level of training. I'm pretty sure they weren't lying when they said "We can't get it to do it" as it's not uncommon for intermittent faults to refuse to show themselves when under the proper scrutiny.

Once you can find a way of making it fail, then you have a chance of getting recourse, but of they can't even replicate the fault, then what are they supposed to do? I really don't think that this is devious. That is the stage when they find the fault, but try and claim that it isn't covered by warranty...
posted by Brockles at 6:47 AM on January 14, 2008

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