Mark Giammalvo specializes in driveability diagnostics at his family business, Sam Giammalvo's Auto Sales & Service, Inc. in New Bedford, MA.
Mark, who has been with the business for
over 20 years, is an ASE
Master Technician and Parts Specialist. He also holds the ASE
L1 certification, and has an associates degree
in business management.
(Printed in the Journal
of The Alliance of Automotive Service Providers, AASP)
This past month I have had two separate 2000 Mercury Sables that both came in with dead batteries. The cause in both cases? Defective stop light switches keeping the brake lights on. In each case I promptly called the dealer to set up appointments. There was one little problem though. After checking the VIN numbers, neither car had any open recalls. When the first car came in, I advised the customer that her car was not involved in the recall. The customer gave us permission to replace the switch. When I found out that the second Sable had no open recalls, it was time for some investigative work on my part. Since we had the second car in inventory, I called Ford Customer Assistance, (FCA), to question the situation. I advised the woman at FCA that I owned a 2000 Sable and that it needed a stop lamp switch. I also told her that I had found out that 2000 Sables had been recalled for this issue. After looking up the history of the car from the VIN number, she gave me some interesting news. She found evidence in the Ford database that my particular car had already had the recall performed several years ago. I asked her why the switch would have failed a second time but she said she did not know. Then I asked her if Ford would replace it again since it was a recalled item in the first place. Her answer was kind of confusing. She said that the factory warranty had expired and there were no open recalls on the vehicle. She told me that the Mercury Sable was a Ford Five Star Vehicle and that the Sable is rated top in its class for reliability. Now, I thought that was odd since I did not ask for a product history on the car. Finally, she suggested that I contact a Ford dealer to see if they might assist me in the repair of the car. I thought to myself: "Lets get serious here. Like my local Ford dealer is really going give me a goodwill repair and pocket the cost themselves. I wouldn't expect them too anyway. They didn't sell this particular car retail in the first place. Maybe if I were the first owner and I was taking it back to the selling dealer, but that's a big maybe. In the end we replaced the switch in the shop. However, that still does not resolve the question as to why the switch failed again. Drawing on my past experience with GM products, I came up with 2 main possibilities:
1). Old inventory was used for the initial first replacements until that stock was depleted. This would explain the second failure. I can remember the GM service action to replace the steering racks back when their cars had no power steering assist after a cold start. Remember, back then, when they called that problem "morning sickness?" At that time, right in the bulletin, GM mandated that the current (old design) supply of steering racks be used before they would start shipping the redesigned ones. Unfortunately, the customers that got those were doomed to have the same problem again, years later.
2). The dealership billed for the Recall but never performed the repairs. Although this is rare today, it can happen. My oldest brother happens to be a GM district service manager. He has told me how his internal audits have revealed dealers that put in for completed recall and warranty work on cars that they never repaired. What a way to drive up service department revenues. No parts and labor cost going out but full payment coming in. Talk about a money machine. It's all well and good until "big brother" (no pun intended) finds out and pulls their new car supply for three months. That always seems to correct the situation.
I guess I'll never know what the cause of the repetitive failures was. Then again, perhaps I just happened to get the only two cars with that problem. Then again, somehow, I doubt that.
UPDATE: In late 2003 I received quite a few e-mails from consumers reporting a similar repetitive problem with their Taurus/Sable stop lamp switches. Some of the customers sent copies of my above article to the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration, (NHTSA). I am not sure if the article had any influence but I am happy to announce that this March 2004 NHTSA has asked Ford to again recall the 2000 Sable and Taurus for the stop light switch failures.