Rob’s Dodge Intrepid Woes

I loved my 1996 Intrepid ES when I got it. It looked great, it was comfortable, and it drove well. I was quite the evangelist for Chrysler… at first.

In the final year that I leased the car, and especially the last few months of the lease, my enthusiasm dampened dramatically.  After three years, I was glad I leased it—because I wasn’t stuck owning it.  My experience makes me very unlikely to consider Chrysler products in the future, even with the recent changes in corporate ownership.

Rob's burgundy 1996 Intrepid ES

Here’s what went wrong in three years:

  • Right dashboard speakers blown, replaced.
  • Left dashboard speakers blown, replaced.
  • Driver’s door speaker buzzes, replaced. Problem never fully fixed.
  • Compact disc player has difficulty ejecting some CDs that have slick top surfaces. Problem never reported to dealership due to horror stories about Chrysler audio system repairs on USENET newsgroups. Workaround: make sure that there’s plenty of fingerprints on top surfaces of discs, or use upward pressure on the disc insertion opening fascia to assist with ejection.
  • Left rear door interior trim loose, fixed.
  • Trunk lid pours water into trunk when it rains, not fixed—dealership declared this to be “OK.”
  • Brake rotors severely warped, replaced at owner expense with less than 15,000 miles on the car. Research indicates that this is a design flaw in the car: the traction-control system operates by modulating the brakes to slow down the spinning wheel, but the brakes were not designed with this in mind, causing them to overheat and warp. Workaround: in winter, use AutoStick to start the car in second or third gear, reducing torque and wheelspin, but increasing stress on the transmission.
  • Left front turn signal lamp has condensation. Dealer replaces with an early-revision lens assembly from an earlier model year and tries to pass it off as new.  (The 1996 model year had a revised, and visibly different, lens assembly.)
  • Sticky cup holder replaced with redesigned model that requires revamping of center console.
  • Factory tires bald within a year and a half.
  • Oil seeps into spark plug access tubes, requiring replacement of valve gaskets and spark plug access tubes.
  • Rattling noise over bumps; sway bar links replaced.
  • C-pillar plastic mouldings crack at either end, causing paint to flake off. Replaced—twice!
  • Passenger B-pillar plastic moulding sheds paint, replaced.
  • Transmission shifts roughly, doesn’t release clutch; transmission fluid cooler tube leaky and replaced.
  • Car doesn’t start on cold morning; factory dealership replaces factory battery with inferior third-party battery under warranty. Chrysler “Customer One” support line is very surprised to hear this.
  • Cruise control stops working after battery replacement; cruise control relay in fuse block mysteriously missing.
  • Cruise control servo corroded, replaced. Vacuum leak corrected.
  • Transmission leaks and shifts roughly. Transmission pan gasket replaced.
  • A/C makes loud hissing noise. Dealership doesn’t hear it on first trip, but adds dye. A week later, when air only comes from one vent, the evaporator is found to be faulty (dye everywhere). Evaporator replaced, and then air only comes from panel vents. Self-test reveals that mixer door is inoperative because dealership reassembled the airbox incorrectly. Repaired.
  • Left outer CV boot torn, replaced.
  • Steering groans loudly in cold weather. Steering rack requires replacement. Also, power steering pump has large fluid leak, needs replacement. Both parts required a special order.
  • Water pump leaks. Parts require special order.
  • Dealership refuses to replace fuel rail because they don’t have any recall information for it, tells me to wait until I get a recall card. Defect in the fuel rail had been widely reported on TV at this time, and was known to cause the engine to catch fire. (The recall card finally arrived in my mailbox just after I turned in the car at the end of the lease.)
  • Burgundy paint is deeply sworled, despite special care to avoid it.
  • On cold morning, car will not start. Towed to dealership, where battery tests OK. Spark plugs fouled, dealership suggests tune up at $65. Instead, they keep it overnight. In the morning, the Powertrain Control Module fails self-tests. PCM replaced. The next day, the Check Engine light comes on. Strong gas/sulfur odor. Dealership tells me to keep driving it until Monday, as they don’t have any “loaners” available that day. On Monday, no one remembers telling me this. Finally, they grudgingly agree to rent me a car from Enterprise Rent-A-Car, despite the fact that the dealership has its own rental agency. I was given a Pontiac Sunfire, stripped, after a protracted wait. This entire exchange happened at a dealership within walking distance of my home, within two weeks of the end of my lease, even after I made it clear that my lease was ending and that I was shopping for a new vehicle.

In the course of my lease, I visited four different area dealerships for repairs, all of which gave me grounds to think they were either incompetent or pulling a fast one:

  • Dick Ide’s Panorama Dodge, who took two hours to replace a door speaker because the mechanic pulled the wrong one off the shelf, and couldn’t figure out how to make the wrong speaker fit.
  • John Gabriele’s Marina Dodge, where they tried to pass off an old turn signal lens that was discontinued as a “redesigned” lens.
  • Patrick Pontiac Jeep-Eagle, where they replaced a factory maintenance-free battery with a third-party maintenance battery.
  • Cortese Dodge, a Five Star dealership where they’ve performed incomplete or faulty repairs twice, and treated me rather shabbily considering that I was in the market to buy another car.  In fact, when I went car shopping at Cortese with my then-girlfriend around 1999, we left the lot in shock at the unabashed misogyny of the salesman.

Another Chrysler annoyance: A “Customer Care” center that isn’t open weekends.

In recent years, I’ve had the unfortunate opportunity to rent the occasional Chrysler product when my Saab was in the shop.  The rental cars didn’t impress me much.  Both the build quality and the ergonomics seem to have declined.

With all this, I won’t buy another Chrysler product, nor would I recommend that anyone else purchase one, either.

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