Applying Some Smarts to a Failed Fortwo Repair

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | May 24, 2016

Dear Car Talk:

I took my 2008 Smart Fortwo to a dealership about three hours away (that's the closest one), due to the car occasionally not going in reverse. We left it with the dealer and went on vacation close by, with plans to pick it up on way home. I got a call, saying the problem was the "clutch adjudicator," at $750 just for the part. With fewer than 48,000 miles on the car, I agreed, but received another call on our way to get the car. That's when they told me I needed a new clutch motor, for $450. So now they wanted $1,675 for the work.

At that point, I said "no," and told them to put the old part back in; I'd live with it refusing to go backward once in a while. They said they couldn't put the old part back in because the car was now permanently stuck in park. They kept it for a while, and I finally got it back some weeks later with both new parts. But it still has problems going in reverse. And now the service manager is not returning my calls. Would any mechanic be able to tell me if these parts really were replaced? What should I expect as far as reimbursement from this dealership, since the car is still having problems?

-- Bonnie

I'd expect full reimbursement. They presumably charged you $1,675, left you walking for weeks and didn't fix the problem.

If they were decent guys, they'd be falling all over themselves apologizing and offering to come to you, pick up the car, give you a loaner, $1,675 in credit, then fix it, return it and refund whatever portion of the $1,675 is left.

But they have no idea how to fix it, Bonnie. They're guessing. That's why they all run into the bathroom and hide when you call. I have to say that in my opinion, this car has been the opposite of Smart. We find it unsafe, uncomfortable, unreliable and, worst of all, mediocre on fuel economy. What exactly is the advantage of driving one of these things? That three-hour buckboard joy ride to the nearest dealership?

OK, some people say parking is easy. Sure. If you live in downtown Rome, I can see why you'd want a car with a tiny footprint. But in the Youuu-nited States? You could buy a Prius C, a Ford Fiesta or a Honda Fit and get room for four, cargo space and the same or better mileage in a real car.

I think it's unlikely that you'll find an independent mechanic who knows how to fix this thing, Bonnie. Even the dependent mechanics can't figure it out. These are oddball cars, and there weren't many sold, so experience on them is very limited. So if the dealer won't return your calls, you may have to resort to small-claims court to get your money back. But do it quickly, before he goes out of business.

Get the Car Talk Newsletter

Got a question about your car?

Ask Someone Who Owns One