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Daily U-Turn: What you missed on 7.7.09

07/08/2009   [Original: Autoblog]
Category: Maintenance, Trucks/Pickups, Videos, Toyota, Carsumer Advocacy

First Drive: Bugatti Veyron Grand Sport

It began with an e-mail from Bugatti's PR firm: "Give me a call when you have a moment." And then, just like the last time, there came the question: "We have a Grand Sport. Can you do something with it?" Let. Me. See.

Spy Shots: Ferrari F450 prototype

Ferrari normally tests its future supercars wearing body panels from the prior version, and so earlier spy shots of the upcoming F450 have all been mules wearing F430 body panels. Today that ends with shots of an honest-to-goodness F450 prototype in its own skin.

Lear files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy

The supplier filed for Chapter 11 today in U.S. bankruptcy court for the Southern District of New York. The company hopes to operate business-as-usual while it restructures and plans to emerge from bankruptcy within 60 days.

Other news of import

  • Hyundai to offer sporty hybrid by 2012

  • Inside Line pits Ford Taurus SHO against Infiniti G37

  • Found: Rare Michael Jackson commercials for Suzuki Love

  • Honda Accord Crosstour officially confirmed for Fall 2009
  • Volkswagen Routan recalled for owner's manual omission
  • BMW M3 GT4 may be offered to gentleman racers

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VIDEO: Toyota dealer employees caught snooping through customer vehicle, watching porn

07/08/2009   [Original: Consumerist via Autoblog]
Category: Maintenance, Trucks/Pickups, Videos, Toyota, Carsumer Advocacy

Click above to watch video after the jump

Have you ever had the feeling that the service guy at your local dealership is rummaging through your things? Perhaps even a few quarters are missing. A guy named Jason knows all too well about dealership employees going through his stuff - on two different occasions, Jason noticed that things were missing from his Toyota Tundra after getting it serviced at Hampton Toyota of Lafayette. One time, over $10 in quarters were reportedly stolen, and the next time, Jason says about half his quarters were gone.

After complaining about his problems to dealership management, he received no response. So he rigged a digital video camera to the passenger side door and recorded his Tundra's next service appointment. What he saw from the video footage was priceless. In one video clip, the technician rummages through his pills, even licking the medicine's residue on his hand. He also takes some quarters from the truck. Videos that were later removed from YouTube reportedly shows one man watching what sounds like pornography on a diagnostic computer.

Instead of again complaining to dealership management, this time Jason took the DVD to the local media, and sent a copy to the owner of the dealership, along with a letter detailing what happened to him. Consumerist reports that the dealer's owner immediately fired the three workers caught on video, along with the service manager that ignored his complaints. Jason also received an extended warranty on his truck for his troubles. Hit the jump to view the videos showing the technician rummaging through Jason's things. Hat tip to FaLex!

Continue reading VIDEO: Toyota dealer employees caught snooping through customer vehicle, watching porn

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Toyota stung by possible Prius headlight defect?

07/01/2009   [Original: Advertising Age via Autoblog]
Category: Hybrids/Alternative, Government/Legal, Green, Recalls/TSBs, Safety, Toyota, Carsumer Advocacy

2007 Toyota Prius - Click above for high-res image gallery

We'd wager that the last thing Toyota wants in the midst of the super-important launch of its new third-generation Prius is a negative stigma attached to the previous model. Unfortunately, that's exactly what the Japanese automaker may have on its hands as a number of owners of the 2005-2008 Toyota Prius with the HID headlight option are banding together on online forums, message boards and in possible class action lawsuits against the automaker in relation to failing headlamps.

According to Advertising Age, these HID headlight bulbs and their associated electronics can sometimes cost well over $1,000 to replace after they've gone faulty, and Toyota is unwilling to pick up the tab. At least one lawsuit has reportedly been filed last month by Girard Gibbs in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles on behalf of a Putnam County, N.Y., Prius owner. The suit contends that the problem is a "dangerous but undisclosed safety defect" and alleges that "Toyota is concealing the problems from owners" despite having been "long been aware of Prius' HID headlight problem." It's possible that the suit will get class-action status.

The NHTSA has reportedly filed a preliminary investigation into the issue and contacted Toyota on May 13 regarding 338 complaints it has received so far from Prius owners about the HID headlamps. Spokesmen from Toyota have said the automaker is cooperating with the NHTSA investigation, which may or may not end up calling for an official recall.

Gallery: Review: 2007 Toyota Prius Touring

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Consumer Reports lambasts Honda Insight, ranks it 21 out of 22 vehicles tested

06/30/2009   [Original: Consumer Reports via Autoblog]
Category: Economy, Hybrids/Alternative, Green, Hatchbacks, Honda, Carsumer Advocacy

2009 Honda Insight - Click above for high-res image gallery

Calling it "the most disappointing Honda Consumer Reports has tested in a long time," America's most influential product testing magazine has given extremely poor marks to the Japanese automaker's new Insight hybrid.

In a verdict that reminds us of a certain Jeremy Clarkson review (albeit more kindly worded), Consumer Reports blasted the gas-electric hatchback for its "ride quality, handling, interior noise, acceleration, rear-seat, access, and visibility," consigning the hapless Honda to a 21 out of 22 ranking among other small hatchbacks and wagons. Tallying a road test score of 54 points, it was trailed only by the widely panned Dodge Caliber, which managed just 49 points.

Despite the fact that it won't receive a much-coveted CR "Recommended" nod, the Insight still managed to post a "Good" overall road test score (largely on the strength of its 38 miles-per-gallon as-tested fuel economy). Regardless, it was comprehensively beaten by both the Volkswagen Jetta Wagon and the Hyundai Elantra Touring, which scored 80 and 79 points, respectively.

The Insight was the only vehicle in CR's test group to not to be Recommended, save Kia's Soul, which was excluded because the organization hasn't compiled any reliability data on the vehicle yet. Check out the press release after the jump.

Gallery: 2010 Honda Insight

Continue reading Consumer Reports lambasts Honda Insight, ranks it 21 out of 22 vehicles tested

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IIHS: Small car bumpers cost big bucks to repair

06/15/2009   [Original: Insurance Institute for Highway Safety via Autoblog]
Category: Economy, Government/Legal, Safety, Hatchbacks, Chevrolet, Honda, Hyundai, Kia, MINI, Toyota, Carsumer Advocacy

Driving a small car in the urban environs they're so well suited for can add up in big repair bills, says the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Low speed incidents in parking lots and on tight city streets are everyday occurrences that seemingly shouldn't cost a lot to set right, but they apparently wind up costing consumers many thousands of dollars each year. The smallest cars on the market also have tiny price tags, making the price of repairs a much larger percentage of what the vehicle cost in the first place. The IIHS recently evaluated the bumpers of some of the tiniest vehicles on the market in low-speed incidents, and the results dovetail with the agency's equally low impressions of vehicle-to-vehicle impact performance of small-segment vehicles. A new damage assessment criteria was used to more closely mirror reality, and the cars underwent four tests: two corner impacts and two full width impacts on the bumpers.

Of the seven cars tested, only the Smart ForTwo earned an "acceptable" rating, with most of the pack scoring "poor." Worst was the Kia Rio's startling $9,380 total damage tally, by far the most expensive showing in the test. The Honda Fit and Mini Cooper may be more highly regarded in the small car segment, but both of those models also score poorly.

In diametric opposition to what anyone might actually enjoy driving, the Smart ForTwo and the Chevrolet Aveo came out best in terms of repair costs, bashing their way to $3,281 and $4,490 in total damage, respectively. It's clear from the IIHS' testing where bumpers often failed to engage or slid under the test barrier, that the way improve on the tests is to pay closer attention to bumper position in all circumstances when designing a car. If the bumper doesn't match up properly, bodywork ends up bearing the brunt of the impact, making even low-speed collisions expensive propositions. Hit the jump to see a video and a chart of the results along with the full release.

Continue reading IIHS: Small car bumpers cost big bucks to repair

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Move over, Kasem, Consumer Reports charts American Top 40 (new car deals)

05/23/2009   [Original: Consumer Reports via Autoblog]
Category: Car Buying, Carsumer Advocacy

Consumer Reports has counted down the forty best deals on domestic new cars - those you can get from 10% to 25% below MSRP. Since CR doesn't have any Chrysler products that it feels it can recommend, there are no Pentastar products on the list, and General Motors products features but twice (the 2009 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 1LT 4X4 Crew Cab can be had for 15% below retail and the 2009 GMC Sierra 4WD Crew Cab SLT SWB for a 10% discount).

Topping the chart is the 2009 Nissan Titan SE 4X4 Crew Cab SWB, for which CR figures Nissan will slice off upwards of one fourth of the price. Otherwise, dominating the top of the list are Ford products in the 15% to 20% bracket, while the lower half is owned by "domestics" in the guise of Toyota and Honda with a smattering of Nissan and Subaru.

All of the cars on the list have been tested by CR and have good overall safety scores, including rollover results. To come up with the final discount number, the magazine included customer rebates and dealer incentives. If you're looking for any one of these cars, the negotiating tactic you're probably looking for is "hard bargain." Check out the complete list of CR's Top 40 at the link below.

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Chrysler reportedly bouncing checks to owners of lemon law vehicles

05/19/2009   [Original: The Los Angeles Times via Autoblog]
Category: Car Buying, Maintenance, Government/Legal, Chrysler, Carsumer Advocacy

Going through the process of having a troubled vehicle legally branded as a 'lemon' is difficult enough, but now, according to The Los Angeles Times, Chrysler's bankruptcy is making seeking recompense even harder for affected owners in California. According to the daily paper, settlement checks for Chrysler vehicles that have already been agreed upon as defective are apparently bouncing, costing already irked consumers additional time and money.

Apparently, the heart of the issue stems from the fact that financial claims made prior to the company's April 30 Chapter 11 filing can only be paid out if the bankruptcy judge approves the action. To date, Chrysler has apparently not requested the court's permission to make good on these lemon law payments, leaving little recourse for affected consumers.

Many affected owners have apparently spoken with attorneys, who apparently can't do much unless the lemon law payback accounts in question are unfrozen by the bankruptcy court. That means consumers could be out anywhere from a couple of thousand dollars to the entire cost of a new vehicle - one attorney, Alex Simanovsky, is quoted as saying that he has "a stack of six or seven checks in my drawer right now from Chrysler that have bounced" - settlement payments ranging from $2,000 on up to $40,000. Some consumers have already turned-in their defective vehicles to Chrysler, compounding the problem.

For its part, the LA Times says that Chrysler is telling customers with lemon law claims to get in line - by filing a claim with the courts, in effect joining the automakers other unsecured creditors seeking payment. In that scenario, however, defective car owners aren't expected to see much more than "pennies on the dollar."

Consumer groups have reportedly met with auto task force members to discuss the matter, but as of yet, there is no word on any remedy in the works. Thanks for the tip, MopePar!

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Judge disconnects alleged car-warranty "robo-callers"

05/16/2009   [Original: The Associated Press via Autoblog]
Category: Government/Legal, Carsumer Advocacy

It's official. The Feds are pissed, too. On Thursday, a federal judge did what many of us have wanted to do for a long time now. He handed out restraining orders to two companies the Federal Trade Commission says have been calling you, me, all your friends, your 90-year-old blind grandmother, and anyone else without enough sense to ignore unidentified phone calls.

"Today the FTC has disconnected the people responsible for so many of these annoying robocalls," said FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz in a press release. "We expect to see a dramatic decrease in deceptive auto warranty calls, but we are still on high alert.

Voice Touch, Inc. and its partner Network Foundations LLC were ordered to immediately stop making phone calls that violate the Do Not Call Registry. The Feds also ordered the companies' assets frozen and appointed receivers over them to ensure all relevant documents are preserved for a May 29 hearing. Transcontinental Warranty, Inc., a client of Voice Touch, was also given a restraining order.

Does this mean those annoying calls will now stop? Most of them, probably. Does it mean your car's warranty really isn't about to expire? Judging by the number of new cars sold in the last two years, the end of your car's coverage is probably long gone or very near. Leave your number in the comments and someone will get with you soon to discuss your options. (We're kidding, obviously.)

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Ford issues warning on email hoax offering $15k Fusion Hybrid

05/15/2009   [Original: Ford, Gary Settles via Autoblog]
Category: Car Buying, Hybrids/Alternative, Ford, Carsumer Advocacy

2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid - Click above for high-res gallery

We imagine the world of corporate PR to be a little bit of pushing your own message and a whole lot of "We need to respond to what?" We can also only imagine how Ford's PR folks felt today when issuing a statement in response to a hoax email that has been making the rounds.

When we got an email earlier today from the "Ford Motor Company," we assumed it was the company's latest announcement on whatever. But the subject line, "Ford Motor Company OFFERS: Ford Fusion HYBRID Model 2010", seemed a bit fishy, and when we opened the email, the spamminess was unmistakable. The email claims that, because of the terrible economy, Ford would love to sell you a new Fusion Hybrid for just $15,000, or about half of the vehicles $27,270 starting price. The official response (available after the break, along with the spam email text) from Ford is that everyone should just ignore the email.

One person who's going to have a hard time ignoring the email is Gary Settles, who is named in the email as Ford Sales Manager for FoMoCo. In reality, Settles is the sales manager for Paul Miller Ford in Lexington, Kentucky. Settles told AutoblogGreen that he has "no earthly clue" how his name got attached to the email, but speculated that it could be somebody local because of some of the wording in the email that matches letters he sends out to people who've purchased cars from him in the past.

Oh, and if you're curious, Settles will indeed sell you a Fusion Hybrid, but the models he has available are more in the $30,000 price rage.

Gallery: First Drive: 2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid

Continue reading Ford issues warning on email hoax offering $15k Fusion Hybrid

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NHTSA in hot seat after troubling baby car seat tests found

03/04/2009   [Original: Freep, image by NHTSA via Autoblog]
Category: Government/Legal, Safety, Carsumer Advocacy

The Chicago Tribune is shaking a rattle at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Its investigation has found 31 cases of infant seats exceeding injury limits or disconnecting from their bases during federal vehicle frontal impact crash tests. The NHTSA slams countless cars into barriers each year. In addition to the sensor-laden crash dummies, some of the vehicles are also fitted with infant or child seats. According to the Tribune, the unreported child seat failures in those tests - crashes conducted only to test vehicle safety, not the safety of the child seats - has uncovered a serious flaw in infant/child seat testing.

In the United States today, infant seats are only tested on a sled. Before being sold, the seats must demonstrate the ability to survive a "simulated" head-on crash at 30 mph. On the other hand, the NHTSA crashes actual vehicles into a barrier at 35 mph (although it is only 5 mph faster, the impact is significantly greater). Sled tests are effective in some studies, but they fail to test the variables found among different vehicle interiors and the unique seat designs that change from manufacturer to manufacturer.

Responding to the Tribune report, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a written statement Friday that he ordered a "complete top to bottom review of child safety seat regulations." He will also make changes to make the crash-test results "more available" to consumers. Government crash test regulations have held automakers to the fire, and the result has been much safer vehicles for adults. Now it's time to bring infant/child seat manufacturers to the same flame and improve small occupant safety, as well.

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