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Do Ongoing Electrical Problems with 1995 Chrysler Cirrus Make it Eligible for th

QUESTION: I have a 95 Chrysler Cirrus that has been in the shop a total of nine times for electrical problems. The symptoms of the car have been hesitation at acceleration, loss of power while driving at highway speeds. At idle, the engine would some times race then suddenly drop to almost stalling. Recently the engine warning light comes on.

The Dealership has replaced the upstream O2 sensor three different times, the Sensor, Oxygen twice, replaced or repaired the engine harness or related parts three times, and the Dealership has replaced the distributor once.

The dealership has stated that the problems are all electrical related caused by "shorts". The dealership seems to be treating the symptoms, but what do you think could be causing all these electrical problems?

The car is 30 months old with 27,000 miles. Obviously we have lost all confidence in a supposedly reliable vehicle. Any suggestions would be appreciated!!

Thank You, C. Henkel

ANSWER: Your inquiry is a classic "lemon" law problem. In most states, when a vehicle has been out of service due to repair attempts three or four times, and the problems continue, there is a presumption that the vehicle is a lemon, and that its owners have made reasonable efforts to accomplish warranty repairs. Each state has a "window" during which formal notification should be made to the manufacturer. For example, in Virginia, this window is during the first eighteen months. I suggest that you immediately send a certified letter to Chrysler. Use the address in the warranty manual that came with the vehicle.

Chrysler has free arbitration. The document package from the glovebox should have included a beige folder for its Dispute Board in Texas. Chrysler, in my experience, has been about the best of the manufacturers in attempting to resolve complaints outside of litigation. Usually the first "offer" is another vehicle; the swap is done at "invoice-to-invoice" price.

My greatest concern is that you may not have given formal notification within your state's prescribed "window." You should contact an attorney familiar with warranty litigation and "lemon" law. The Center for Auto Safety in Washington, D.C., has a listing of attorneys in each state -- you might give CFAS a call right away. If you retain counsel for promoting your demand for a repurchase, there is a 50-50 chance Chrysler will make some effort at compromise without need for filing suit. However if you do have to retain an attorney, make sure he or she is willing to go the distance all the way to trial... some lawyers mistakenly believe that auto manufacturers will always offer settlement, which is just not true!

Other options:

  • Go to another Chrysler or Plymouth dealership

  • Check for technical service bulletins from Chrysler; sources include DOT's NHTSA in Washington, and ALL-DATA computers accessible by many garages (of course a good dealership will have all the TSBs from Chrysler)

  • Trade the car (very expensive)

  • Sell the car in the market (also very expensive, and failure to reveal the existing problems would probably be fraud!)

If you are outside your state's lemon law protection, there is a Federal statute that may provide alternative relief: Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act. Although this statute does not provide a full cash refund, it does give as a remedy a dollar award reflecting the amount by which one overpays for a lemon. For example, if the car cost $20,000, but was only worth $10,000 due to the engine/computer problems, a jury might award $10,000, plus litigation expenses. The cite is 15 USC 2301 et seq. (If you interview a lawyer, check his/her familiarity with Mag-Moss before signing-up.)

The ultimate danger for a manufacturer is defending a lemon law suit. I tried a case against Lexus that went to trial in July, 1997; for a $43,000 vehicle, the final judgment was almost $84,000. My client was pleased, even though it took us 20 months to win a trial. (The car had over 70,000 miles when he drove it back to the dealership after trial.) Good luck and keep us posted on your progress.

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