Sunday, May 06, 2007

What would you do?

We own two vehicles: a 1994 Ford Escort (with 144000 miles and totally paid off) and a 2004 Honda Odyssey minivan (with 51000 miles, and $9500 still owed on it). The Escort has reached the point where it is starting to use oil and requires more and more repairs more and more frequently, so we were thinking that we would replace it this fall with another car in its same size class. We had been thinking about either a Toyota Corolla or a Honda Civic.

Now we are not so sure what we want to do, or what we ought to do. On April 26 (a Thursday) I was headed into town on the van to take something to my husband at work and then go do my grocery shopping. When I was only about 2 or 3 miles from my house I began to notice a squeaking or squealing noise so I turned the radio off to listen better. When I took my foot off the gas, the noise stopped. It wasn't very loud and I just thought I'd ask my husband about it when I got over to his office. As I got closer to his office (which is about 6 miles from my house) I noticed that the noise was no longer stopping when I took my foot off the gas. When I got to the parking lot at my husband's office (which is gated and requires a key card to enter) I rolled down my window down and noticed that the van smelled hot. I looked at the temperature gauge and noticed that it was all the way over to hot. I pulled into a parking space and told my husband, who had come to the parking lot to meet me, that something was wrong with the van. He opened the hood and saw that there was water/coolant all over the engine. He assumed that a hose had probably burst.

When we bought the van, we had purchased the extended warranty and the roadside assistance so we went up my husband's office and called Honda roadside assistance. After a few minutes of automated phone system button pushing, we got someone who said they would send out a tow truck which would tow the van to the nearest Honda dealership. There is not a Honda dealership in my hometown, so it was going to be towed all the way to Enterprise (about 35 miles away). Our roadside assistance only covers the cost of towing up to $100 and it was going to cost $145 so we had to pay the $45 overage cost. That was irritating, but okay. We needed it fixed and we assumed it would be covered under the warranty so we wanted it to go to a Honda dealership.

The van was towed to Sam Boswell Honda in Enterprise on Thursday afternoon. They looked at it and said that there was coolant and some oil on the engine, but they couldn't determine what had caused it to overheat. They said they would keep it overnight and do some more checks in the morning. Ultimately they said that they did a pressure test of the cooling system and that there were no leaks. They said that they even steam cleaned the engine, but could not find any leaks anywhere. They even drove it around and experienced no problems. They assumed that the radiator cap had been loosed (by whom I have no idea, as we told them that no one had been under the hood since it was last service months ago) and that was the cause of the water leakage and the over heating. They assured me that nothing was wrong with the van and we could come pick it up Friday afternoon.

My husband, my youngest son and I were planning to attend a wedding on Saturday in Georgia, just outside Atlanta, so we were planning to leave Friday afternoon. When the guy from the dealership called to say that van ready I told him again that we were planning to take a trip on the van and he assured me that the van had been checked out thoroughly that I should not worry about taking it on the trip, it was fine. So Friday afternoon my husband I went down to Enterprise and picked up the van.

When we got to the dealership my husband went in to pick up the keys, etc. They wanted to be paid. They said that because there really was no problem, the diagnostics were not covered under the warranty. They charged us $66. I was really not happy, because I knew that something was wrong with the van, but there was really nothing that I could do about it, so we paid them.

My husband drove the van home and watched the temperature gauge closely all the way home. There appeared to be no problem. We got home and loaded up the van for our trip. We left our house at about 4:30 PM and headed toward Montgomery. Of course my husband was keeping a close watch on the temp. gauge, because we were very nervous about the van at that point. When we had gone about 20 miles or so, the van began to overheat again. (We were right at Sikes and Kohn's Country Mall for those familiar with the area.) At that point, not only was the temp. gauge going all the way past hot, the engine light was blinking on and off. Needless to say, I was livid!

The first thing I did was call my mother and tell her to look up the number for Sam Boswell Honda and tell them we were broken down and that they needed to do something about it. It was then 5:00 on Friday afternoon and the service dept. was closed. At that point we had to call Honda Roadside assistance AGAIN and have them tow the van again. This is the second tow in as many days. This time we were closer to the dealership in Montgomery and so they were going to have it towed there. The problem was that the service dept. there was already closed also and would not reopen until Monday. That meant that the van was going to have to be stored by the towing company for the entire weekend!

My eldest son came and picked me and my youngest son up while my husband waited for the tow truck. By the time we came back with the car the tow truck was just loading the van up. We finally made it to the hotel in Fairburn at about 11:30 PM local time.

The dealership in Montgomery (McConnell Honda) was able to find the problem. (We are to Monday, April 30th at this point) Apparently, the van had a blown head gasket, but they had no idea what had caused it to blow. Why Sam Boswell Honda couldn't find that, I have no idea. We called them and told them we wanted our money back and they did send us our money back right away. I am, however, still livid over the fact that they assured me the van was fine and safe for the trip and we broke down before even getting to Montgomery on it.

Anyway, the blown head gasket is covered under the warranty. They said that the only thing that would not be covered was the price of new oil and a new oil filter. Okay, I can deal with that. However, it is going to take them a week to two weeks to fix it. The kicker is, that even though we qualify for a replacement vehicle while it is being fixed, we only qualify to get a replacement vehicle for 2 DAYS! Yes, that's right, they will have the van possibly two weeks, but we only get a replacement vehicle for two days. (We didn't bother.)

It is now Sunday, May 6, and we still do not have our van back and the dealership says they do not know when we will be getting it back. They have to send the heads off to have something done to them before they can be reinstalled. Needless to say, we have crossed the Honda Civic off our list of possible future vehicle purchases.

So here are our concerns:
1. Since they don't know what caused the head gasket to blow in the first place, how can we be sure that everything is actually going to be right when we finally get it back.
2. Since the van will now have rebuilt parts, can we trust it be problem free for very long?
3. Since warranty work has to be done at a dealership, do we really want to buy another vehicle that doesn't have a dealership locally?

What would you do?
Would you go ahead and trade the old car like we had originally intended before all this happen and just hope that the van doesn't give any more trouble?
Would you trade the van as soon as it comes out of its warranty? (We really can't afford to have the van die when we still owe so much money on it.)
We had thought we might trade the van for a mid-sized car in a fews years once both Middle son and Eldest son were away at college, so should we trade the Escort for a mid-size car now instead of trading it for another small sedan so we won't be so dependent on the van?
Would you buy from an out-of-town dealership again if there was no local dealership for emergencies or just stick with local dealerships?
Any other suggestions that I haven't thought of?

So, if anyone is still reading at this point, please tell me what you think.

1 comment:

Steven Taylor said...

It's a toughie.

For sure I would avoid Boswell Honda's "service" department.

The lack of a service department in town is a clear problem, to be sure.

I remained surprised about the Honda--so maybe this was just a fluke and all will be well now.

I suppose it all depends on what kind of trade-in value you could get for the Honda, but the oil-burning Ford doesn't sounds lik e long-term fun.

Of course, I am not a Ford Escort fan (we had one when we were first married and Sherry nicknamed it "Judas").