The Girl With the Dragon Exhaust: A Magnuson Moss Mystery

Jack Baruth
by Jack Baruth
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the girl with the dragon exhaust a magnuson moss mystery

“Why,” the artist formerly known as Danger Girl snarled, waving a few stapled pages in the face of the frightened-looking, weasel-faced service advisor, “is there a balance payable on this?”

THE STORY SO FAR, IN CASE YOU MISSED IT: Boy meets girl. Boy takes girl for a date in a Rolls-Royce. Boy crashes car. Girl is almost killed. Girl gets better. Girl buys very famous and very tuned-up Fiesta ST. Girl autocrosses it a bunch of times and drives it around racetracks from Palm Springs to West Virginia. Boy and girl get married. Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da, life goes, on, brah, as Paul Walker would say.

Now that we’re all caught up … Danger Girl has owned the Fiesta for five short months, but she’s already put nearly 12,000 miles on the car. The odometer reads just south of 28,000 miles. The Fiesta was put in service by Matt in December of 2013. What this means, nominally speaking, is that the car is still under Ford’s new-car bumper-to-bumper warranty until the odometer swings past 36,000 miles or the calendar flips into January of 2017.

The Fiesta’s been fairly trouble-free in DG’s hands, but there have been a few annoyances. The rear windshield-wiper relay is about as loud as John Bonham’s kick drum, making every wet-weather drive in this egg-shaped, relatively un-insulated car a remarkably faithful reproduction of the recording session for “When The Levee Breaks.” The keyless-entry system complains about low batteries in the remote even when new batteries are installed. And lately there’s been a discernible “clunk” in the right front corner on hard bumps.

When I changed the oil two weeks ago, I did a visual inspection of the front suspension and didn’t see anything obviously wrong. I know from experience that such an inspection is all you’re going to get out of a dealership tech when you complain about what sounds like a damaged or blown front shock. Still, we knew that we wouldn’t need the car during our vacation to Hilton Head last week, so I suggested to DG that she leave the car with the dealer and ask them to look into the three issues:

  • Bonzo relay
  • Truculent keyless entry
  • Clunky right front shock

While we were in South Carolina, DG got a call from the dealer. I was sitting on the beach at the time, so I had no idea the conversation had occurred, but it went like so:

Service Advisor: We’ve looked at your car.

Danger Girl: And?

Service Advisor: There’s nothing wrong with the right front shock.

Danger Girl: Okay.

SA: The relay thing — they all do that.

DG: Whatever.

SA: We changed the battery in the remote.

DG: Did that fix the problem?

SA: (Dead silence for thirty seconds) Uh, yeah.

DG: Alright then.

SA: We looked into the check engine light on your dash.

DG: I didn’t ask you to do that. I know why it’s on.

SA: You have an aftermarket exhaust that is sending a high level to the catalytic converter.

DG: I know that.

SA: That’s why the check engine light is on.

DG: Yes, I know.

SA: Your car’s ready to pick up.

On the way to get the car from the dealer last night, DG filled me in on the above conversation. “So, their actual repair efforts were limited to swapping a battery?” I asked.


“Alright. Well, that was a waste.” When we got to the service counter, the advisor, a little fellow who looked like a 3/4 scale Jeff Foxworthy, told us that our bill was at the cashier.

Our bill?

Sure enough, we had a bill for $105.63. They’d charged $10 for the battery, $25 to drive the Fiesta two miles and determine that the front-end noise was irreproducible, and $50 to diagnose the CEL.

“The car is under warranty,” I said. “Check the in-service date.”

“We go by build date,” the advisor said.

No you don’t,” I hissed. “That’s not how Ford works and you know it.”

Danger Girl was looking through the paperwork. When she realized they’d charged her for the check engine light, she made a swiping motion across the desk at the advisor, papers in hand. It’s at times like this that I remember that she is Native American by ancestry. She’s five foot ten. She says five-nine, but she’s five-ten.

That’s not particularly tall as far as my dating history goes; I had a girlfriend once who dunked a basketball in a Division II college game, and it wasn’t because she could jump. But Wes Studi was only five foot ten in “Last Of The Mohicans” and he basically destroyed an entire British regiment by himself with a tomahawk. She might be able to do something similar. This, after all, is a woman who was rammed directly in the base of her skull by a Hyundai Sonata doing 70 miles per hour and kind of shrugged it off. I try not to get her too angry.

The service advisor squeaked “Wait here,” and fast-marched out the door. He never returned. Instead, a fresh-faced young fellow walked up to me from out of nowhere and said, “It’s all taken care of! No charge!” Then, when I went to get the car out of the parking spot, he explained to DG that ” … we had to charge you because it had aftermarket parts on it. But we can waive it this one time.”

“That’s not right, is it?” she inquired of me once we were headed home.

“Well, if you’d asked them to investigate the CEL, and they spent their time and labor discovering that your aftermarket exhaust had caused the issue, then they could charge you. But they can’t arbitrarily decide to take your whole car out of warranty because of it.” At that point, I explained the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act to her. You should know about it, too: here’s a basic guide. The dealerships don’t want you to be aware of it, because they’d rather charge you for warranty work than have the manufacturer pay them.

Why is that, as KRS-ONE once asked? Well, it’s because the manufacturer has strict rules on what they can and cannot charge. Think of it like healthcare. I recently went to court with my local group of trauma surgeons. My health insurance was willing to pay them $70 a day to look in on me while I was in the hospital. So they “accidentally” filed after the claim date, leading their claim to be rejected by the insurer, and then they took me to court to get the $168/day that they wanted for that work.

Ford’s not gonna pay a dealer $100 to say that nothing’s wrong with the car. But if they can get a customer to pay, particularly a female customer … well, they had no way of knowing over the phone that Danger Girl has a temper and a solid right hook.

And that’s how the story ends, for now: with the two of us driving into the sunset, having paid nothing for a battery valued at up for 89 cents. But here’s the funny thing: the Ford battery worked where two Amazon Basics batteries didn’t. I wonder if the battery has a warranty of its own?

Jack Baruth
Jack Baruth

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2 of 155 comments
  • Jthorner Jthorner on Aug 05, 2016

    Off brand batteries are a real crap shoot. I'm not surprised that a real battery worked where Amazon's lowest Chinese bidder stuff didn't. So, the problem with the remote really was caused by a sub-standard aftermarket replacement part (the battery). A CEL caused by aftermarket parts is indeed the owner's responsibility. If the original repair order didn't call for investigating the CEL, the dealer is out of luck. All in all, the actual facts of this case are not quite a worthy of the easy-to-write dealers-are-scum story as the author has made it into. No, I'm not a car dealer nor am I employed by one.

  • From my experience of 28 years of new car ownership of dozens of different makes it really comes down to the individual service advisor or writer at a particular dealership, imho. Sure, the Service Director may push the writers to do certain things that may be considered borderline against policy ( I have been both writer and management at dealerships), but overall I try to get to know my service advisor and go to the same one every visit. That can be difficult of you own four different marques, however.

  • Kwik_Shift One day I'll bring myself around to trying one of these out, with manual transmission. They look fun.
  • Zipper69 It worked in London, because the center of that city is a medieval layout ON TOP of a Roman layout, both designed for horse drawn traffic.Manhattan's grid and the available public transport options are a different matter.
  • Jkross22 To give a sense of priorities, Oakland has had a 50% jump in car thefts from last year. 40 cars per day are stolen in Oakland. Also in Oakland.... the city has a shortage of 911 operators so if/when you call, you're SOL. That is because they are saying no one is applying to the open 911 jobs. When an audit was recently done, over 1000 applicants applied to the 911 jobs, but no one had contacted them. Any of them. HR still earns the term "human remains". After Xi Xingpeng returned to China from his SF visit, all of the homeless people returned to the streets of San Francisco. They were all magically whisked away for his visit, something our governor was quite proud of doing. Makes you wonder why SF residents can't get that kind of treatment everyday. With all of the big problems solved, CA reps can focus on the real problems in the state.... making those MAGA rural volleyball team buses go all electric no matter whether EV buses make sense or not. And this guy wants to be president.....
  • Kjhkjlhkjhkljh kljhjkhjklhkjh Dear whiny people .. keep a small number of diesel busses. replace the rest .. my god people like sticking poles in their own bike spokes...
  • Canam23 I moved to Los Angeles in 1968 and the air was barely breathable. Thanks to the mandating of pollution controls and the work of the Air Quality Management District, it's 100% better today. When the first pollution targets were set in the 70's, Detroit moaned that it would be impossible to achieve, meanwhile the Japanese sat down and figured out how to do it. As a result of the constant strengthening of the anti pollution laws, our air is much less dangerous for our children. Furthermore, engineering has now created very clean, powerful and efficient engines. So Stellantis, I'm not buying it.