How to make sure that the transmission that's almost failing now gets covered by your warranty in the future.

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Jun 01, 2001

Dear Tom and Ray:

Please help me before my 3-year/36,000-mile warranty runs out. I have a 1999 Dodge Grand Caravan All-Wheel Drive with 30,000 miles on it. The car drives fine, but I believe it has a transmission problem in the making. Dodge dealers have been unable to find anything wrong with it. After putting the car in Reverse and beginning to back up, I hear a metallic "clunk" sound. Sometimes it's so strong that it feels like I've hit something. Also, sometimes when I put it in gear, it doesn't engage. I have to go back to Park first, and then put the car in gear to be able to drive it. Since both of these problems are intermittent, the dealers have been unable to duplicate them, and they say that their transmission tests show no problem. What should I do? -- Marnie

TOM: Here's what you do, Marnie. You make a service appointment, go to your Dodge dealer and describe the problem to the service manager. Make sure he writes on the repair order that you "hear a loud, intermittent clunk in Reverse" and that "the transmission sometimes fails to engage in gear." Then you make sure that the date and mileage are properly recorded on the repair order (so it's clear that you complained about this while the car is under warranty), and then you wait for the transmission to fall out.

RAY: There are laws on the books that prevent manufacturers (all manufacturers, not just car makers) from "waiting you out" until the warranty period is over. If you can prove that you complained about a problem during the warranty period, and the problem is not fixed by the time the warranty expires, the manufacturer is still obligated to fix it.

TOM: Think of the worst-case scenario. Your transmission blows up the day before your warranty expires. An unscrupulous dealer puts a bunch of bananas in the tranny and sends you on your merry way. Two days later, the transmission dies again and he says, luck, you owe me 3,000 bucks for a transmission, lady." Can he do that? Of course not.

RAY: So as long as you have proof that the transmission was starting to die during the warranty period (the repair order), Dodge will be obligated to fix or replace your transmission when it finally kicks the bucket.

TOM: So get your complaint on record, and then just keep driving, Marnie. Although I wouldn't go on any long trips without an emergency Hyundai in tow.

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