O'Brien Auto Group

Seattle, WA

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2008 SmartCar Style: Pure Color: Sliver VIN: WMEEJ31X78K168493 Purchase Date: September 20, 2008 Purchase Price: $17,000 Beginning Mileage: 417. Dealer Information Smart Center Seattle O'Brien Auto Group Baker Boulevard Seattle, Washington 98188

Beginning in June 2008 to September 20, 2008, I spent time doing my due diligence regarding the new Smartcar and the performance possibilities it would have in my forestry consulting business. I typically drive 4500 to 5000 miles per month and my Ford F-150 was using approximately 26 gallons of fuel per day at a cost of $4.25 per gallon. This due diligence included meeting with the general manager of Smart Center Seattle and giving him a full description of what work I would be doing and determining how I thought the car would hold up. We even measured the clearance of a showroom car which was acceptable. I was scheduled for a test drive and was completely sold on the car and the benefits of utilizing this vehicle in my profession. I ordered a car and was told it would take up to 15 months before my car would be built and delivered.

There is a program where the dealership can sell cars that were ordered and not purchased for one reason or another. The car I eventually purchased was one of these cars. I was called to see if I would like to buy this one instead of waiting the months for my car to be manufactured. With the current cost of fuel at the time, I decided to purchase the car and surplus my ordered car when it came into the dealership. The cost of the vehicle was $17,000 plus the dealer prep, tax and so on, for a total price of $19,000. The vehicle had a standard 24,000 mile warranty and I was given the option to purchase an extended warranty for an additional fee, approximately $2000 if I recall correctly. Because of the high mileage I drive each year, approximately 70,000 miles, I decided not to purchase the extended warranty because it would be expired in one year and a car should last longer than 50,000 miles. My Ford F 150 had 271,000 with no maintenance issues except brakes and oil changes. My experience showed that good preventative maintenance, oil changes and routine servicing, would prove far move valuable than the extended warranty which would last no more than one year.

I picked up the car and was given strict instructions on the oil change schedule and strict adherence to Mobil 1 oil. The first oil change was done at the dealership and the remaining oil changes were done by me at my home in Shelton, Washington. The second oil change required me to take the car to the dealership because the drain plug was over tightened and I was unable to break it loose. I met with the service manager and he had a difficult time getting it loose as well. I then changed the oil at the 10,000 mile interval, sometimes at 9,500 miles. All oil filters were purchased from the dealership. Oil changes were logged in the vehicle mileage log which is kept in the car at all times. Other maintenance required included the replacement of the clutch on the transmission. At approximately 23,500, the vehicle would not back up and required the clutch replaced as it was not sliding along the shaft correctly. This repair appeared to have solved the issue.

The motivation of buying the Smartcar was to save in gas usage, save money, and prove this type of vehicle could be utilized in a variety of environments. I truly loved the car, answered many questions about it and let numerous people sit in and image owning this car. The big concern with nearly everyone was the size, safety, and power. No one was disappointed with the results of what they saw in my car and I know of at least one and maybe 2 people who purchased these cars as a result of my application. This vehicle was used daily in my forestry consulting business. I could go nearly anywhere and did so on 60% less fuel and nearly all the comforts of my truck.

The first signs of oil consumption were noticed around November 28, 2009 during a routine oil check when fueling. A week later, the low light was flashing on another occasion. Sometime near December 3, 2009, I took my car to the dealership because I could not see any visible indicators and there were no oil smoke clouds when the car was running or when it started. The dealership evaluation of the engine produced the same observations: no visible signs of oil leakage, no drips or seeps, no smoke when starting or during operation, no buildup or abnormal conditions on or in the exhaust pipe. The dealership then did some tests that did not identify a cause for excessive oil usage. They needed to know how excessive the oil usage was, so, the car was filled by the dealership with the required oil and I was instructed to return to the dealership when I had driven 1000 miles. The service department would then calculate total oil usage and determine what may be causing the problem.

I was going to Port Townsend in December when the low oil light began flashing, total miles was 867. I stopped on the road and called the service manager to let him know the light was flashing and he instructed me to add oil and bring the car into the shop the next morning. I added 3 quarts of Mobil 1 oil to bring the oil level to "Full". The car was taken to the dealership and left for the next phase of evaluation on approximately December 16 - 19, 2009. The next process involved the car being left at the dealership so they could run a series of pressure test and whatever needed to be done to determine what was going on with the engine.

After a several days, there were a few conversations regarding the results of these tests. The tests had failed to prove any reason for the oil loss. During this time, I was approached by the general manager of the dealership with a proposal to sell my car at the auto auction "as is" and he figured it would sell for nearly $8000 and that money could be applied to a new car. There were cars on site that I could purchase for another $2000 and I would be in a new vehicle. The "as is" sale would mean we would not be required to disclose anything about the oil usage issue. Part of the reason for this conversation was due to my warranty being expired and my concern about the cost of the repairs. My feelings were that a car should last more than 53,000 and the repairs should not be totally my burden. My initial response was I still needed to know what was wrong with my car as I do not know if the new car was going to have the same problem.

My refusal to sell "as is" led to the removal of the engine to check what was going on inside the engine and to see if it could be determined why the car was using oil. Getting the head off and evaluation the valves showed some indicators on the first cylinder of some type of buildup on the valve and some minor blow by streaks on the side of the exhaust valve. Other cylinders appeared in good shape and had no indicators of a problem. The head was to be sent out for some other type of testing. I told I would be informed when the test results were complete.

Approximately January 10, 2010, I talked to the service manager again about my car. We discussed it not doing them any good in their shop and certainly was no good to me at their shop and we needed to fix it. We could work out our differences about who was going to pay the bill, me or Smart Car USA later. I did not hear anything so I called again a week later and he said their must have been some confusion as he could not start any work until I prepaid for the parts which were coming from Germany and that total was $1504. Payment had to be cash or cashier's check only. I delivered the cashier's check on January 19, 2010 for $1500 and he said that was good enough and the parts would be ordered and should be in by January 26 and it would take three days to put the car together.

Again, we discussed the cost of labor and that I felt Smart Car should be doing it, was again reminded I had been given an opportunity to sell the car on the auto auction. He also said they would do what they could to keep the cost down. He told me too that I would need to prove no abuse, i.e. oil changes, etc. He said he had many pictures of the engine which he would provide me for my packet to Smart Car USA, documentation of the vehicle not being abused. The labor quote for the engine repairs was approximately $1500, which equaled a total cost for labor and parts of $3000.

Over a month goes by until I called near the end of February 2010. The parts are still not in and there was no idea of when they would be. They were waiting for the rings and could not put the car together because the rings had to go in first. No further contact with me, per my records until April 9, 2010. I became frustrated e-mailed Mercedes Benz in Germany requesting some assistance in getting the parts for my car and assistance on the cost of repairs. I was sent the information of Smart Car USA and directed to contact them for assistance. I did contact Smart Car USA and submitted a formal complaint with a full explanation of events. I was told I would receive a contact within 30 days, I did not and still have not received anything from Smart Car USA. This has added to the frustration and feeling that there is no one available if there is an issue with the car. Smart Car USA also said they would contact the dealership to solve this issue as quickly as possible. During my conversation with the general manager at Smart Center Seattle, he indicated he had not been contacted by Smart Car USA.

On April 8, 2010, I called Smart Center Seattle and asked for the name of the owner of the O'Brien Auto Group and where I might find his office. The person who answered the phone at the dealership was very helpful and gave me the name, number and location of Michael O'Brien who I called on April 8 and 9. I received a call from the general manager and service manager of the dealership within a couple of hours of my call on Friday, April 9 at approximately 9:30 am. I did not return the calls from the dealership that day as I was very upset and could not have dealt with them in a professional manner. Instead, I called Michael O'Brien again, leaving a message that I was having some issues with the dealership and wanted to discuss it with him. On Monday, April 12, 2010, I received a call from Mr. O'Brien telling me he had discussed the issues with the dealership manager and if I still wanted to talk to him, please call for a time we could connect.

I returned calls to the manager of the dealership and we discussed the lack of communication and the anger and frustrations I have been trying to manage. The service manager has not kept me informed and I have had enough. The conversation ended with the general manager telling me they had all the parts and the car would be done by the end of that week, April 16, 2010. Also, part of the conversation returned to the labor costs and who is going to pay the bill for the labor. I was again reminded that I was given an opportunity to sell the car "as is" and declined. I told the general manager that was something I simply could not have done. I reminded him that they had not determined what was wrong with the car and with that knowledge, would the new car have the same problem. He added that there were hundreds of cars in the USA and none of them had the problems they were experiencing with my car. Also, I told him I have to look myself in the mirror every day and could not have sold the car to someone else, knowingly. Besides being morally wrong, there are legal issues associated with willingly and knowingly misrepresenting something you are selling. I also talked to the service manager and he told me that he was directed to get my car complete by the end of the week. We determined e-mail may be a better way for communication.

The next communication was one where the service manager said he had good and bad news. The good news was that the parts had all been replaced and the car was back together. The bad news was cylinder one was about 80% off of what it should have been. The remaining cylinders were fine. He said they were going to take it back apart and send the head out to someone to have it ground to see if that would correct the problem. When I asked what that meant, he told me if grinding the head did not correct the issue, then, it was likely the first cylinder was odd shaped (warped) and with the aluminum block, the engine not having replacement sleeves which can be put in the cylinders, the block would need to be replaced. The cost of the block would be $13,000 plus shipping and delivery of $5000 for a total of $18,000. I explained to him that was $1000 more than I paid for the car to start with.

On May 10, 2010, I received an e-mail from the service manager explaining they were still having a problem with cylinder one and compression loss and did not know what to do and told me the general manager would be getting in contact with me to discuss options. On May 18, 2010, I received an e-mail from the general manager asking me to contact him for a time to discuss options, in which, I sent an e-mail back to him on May 19 to give him times we could talk. I work in the woods and do not carry my phone with me during the day. I called the dealership to talk to him again between May 25 and 27 and the person answering the telephone needed to check if he could take the call and she told me he was not available. I also sent an e-mail on May 28, 2010 in an attempt to connect and have not talked to the dealership as of May 31, 2010 at 3:38 pm.

I have maintained my composure, been very professional and understanding throughout all of many processes, tests, failures, delays in parts, lack of communication and additional costs associated with not getting my car repaired. Throughout the process there were discussions on payment of the repairs. Nearly all of these discussions came back to the decision I made to not sell the car at the auto auction. In addition to the auto auction, I was told that if I could prove to Smart Car USA that I did not "abuse" the car, we may be able to get them to pay a part of the labor. My experience and training in the past as a Certified Ford Mechanic would suggest that if the dealership and manufacturer cannot find what is causing the problem, the likelihood of abuse to the vehicle is non-existent. Also during the past 5.5 months, my initial reasons for getting the car have disappeared. All of the initial goals and expectation for using less fuel, reducing impacts on the environment, saving money from fuel usage, exciting others to step up and do the same, and the excitement of being a part of something new has slipped away and are hidden behind the many problems associated with this repair.

The frustration from being told by the service manager and general manager of the dealership that there are thousands of these cars on the roads in the USA and Europe and none of them have had a problem such as my car does. I was also told by the service manager that the manufacturer does not even have service manual to do the work and they are figuring this out as they go. I find it very hard to believe that there are thousands of these vehicles on the road in the USA and Europe and there is not a book that tells them how to fix it. I have been told that there are no parts sold independently and all parts were a kit, and, the parts in the kits were not always the parts they thought they would be and this caused delays.

I have contacted the Washington Attorney General's Office inquiring about the specifications surrounding the "Lemon Law" and was told the law does not apply in this case as there was no indicators of oil loss before the warranty expired. Only if it had been taken to the dealer for oil use issues prior to 24,000 miles could I pursue the benefits of this law. I have spent over $7500 in fuel since my car went into the dealership, $750 for insurance while the car was sitting in the shop, all of which, adds to the complete frustration associated with the lack of Smart Car USA and Smart Center Seattle just taking care of the problem quickly. I no longer feel I am responsible for payment of the repairs. The dealership has had my car in their shop for nearly 33% of the time I have owned the car.

I purchased the car for several reasons, one of which was to serve as an example of doing something to support the "Go Green" movement in my working environment. The Smart Car could have been a great example of what we can do. However, the general feeling is changing and I must admit, I no longer have faith in Smart Center Seattle or Smart Car USA. The main focus with the manufacturer was sales and by what I have seen, that must be working for them. Vehicle service and customer service will always be more important than sales as nearly 80% of most business comes from referrals. I have been willing to wave the Smart Car flag, now, I am not.

At this point, I do not want the car. I want my money back, interest paid on my loan, insurance I have paid while not having my car. I no longer trust the management of the manufacturer or the service departments of their vehicles. Car has been at the dealership going on six months. Costs incurred related to this incident would be the cost of the car $19000, plus interest paid, plus incurred fuel costs, plus insurance costs for vehicle while it has sat in the service dept unrepaired.

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