Subaru Owners Deserve Transmission Recall, Not Extended Warranty


Consumer advocates from three groups say Subaru should be recalling models with a stalling problem instead of providing owners with an extended warranty on a troublesome continuously variable transmission.

Stalling cars create “potentially dangerous situations for drivers,” said Jason Levine, the executive director of The Center for Auto Safety. “Why isn’t this being called a recall?”

By offering an extended warranty Subaru is admitting it has problems with the transmission, said David Friedman, a top official at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) from May 2013 until July 2015.

“Debating over whether it is an unreasonable risk to safety to me raises the question, who are you putting first: your bottom line or your customer,” said Friedman, who is now Director of Cars and Product Policy and Analysis for Consumers Union, the policy and advocacy arm of Consumer Reports magazine.

But the federal regulators haven’t opened an investigation.

A NHTSA spokesman said the agency is always checking for safety issues, is aware of the Subaru situation “and will continue to monitor the situation as warranted.”

But Levine said he’s puzzled by that.

“Stalling cars creating potentially dangerous situations for drivers have frequently led to recalls before, including multiple recalls this year alone,” said Levine. “Volkswagen had one the other day for 281,000 vehicles.  Subaru had one in April for 33,000 vehicles… and NHTSA is silent – again.”

Subaru spokesman Michael McHale said the automaker takes its responsibilities seriously but he will not discuss “why or why not there are recalls.”

Subaru

Part of the bulletin Subaru sent to dealers early in 2014 telling them how to handle owner complaints that seem like stalling.

Under a recall an automaker is required to fix every vehicle that could have the problem – not just those that fail. In addition the automaker is required to file reports with NHTSA detailing completion rates.

Under an extended warranty the automaker fixes only those that exhibit the problem and it can set a time limit – such as the 10 years or 100,000 miles on the Subarus.

“A lot of these vehicles are going to be at, or very close, to the arbitrary 100,000 mile limitation set by Subaru,” said Levine. “If this is a problem that needs fixing – which Subaru seems to think it is – why not offer everyone who has these vehicles the same repair and the same level of assurance that once fixed their vehicle won’t be stalling out when trying to turn left in a busy downtown intersection?”

In June Subaru began notifying 1.5 million owners of 2010 – 15 models that it was offering the extended warranty. The action covers the 2010-15 Legacy and Outback; 2015 Legacy and Outback with 3.6 liter V-6; the 2012-15 Impreza; 2013-15 Crosstrek; 2014-15 Crosstrek Hybrid; 2014-15 Forester with 2.5 liter four-cylinder; 2014-15 Forester with turbocharged 2.0 liter four cylinder and 2015 WRX 2.0.

The new warranty extends coverage to 10 years or 100,000 miles from when the vehicle was new, whichever comes first. Originally the CVT was covered for five years or 60,000 miles, whichever came first. Vehicles that are already older or have higher mileage have a one-year extension, ending July 31, 2018.

The warranty letter doesn’t detail the specific problems that the driver might experience with the continuously variable transmission. Instead, it says, the automaker’s action was prompted by its “dedication to customer satisfaction.”

At the time a Subaru spokesman said there wasn’t a single problem and instead the automaker was responding to “general customer feedback” involving repairs and performance.

But he acknowledged a portion of that feedback involved complaints addressed in a 2014 technical service bulletin the automaker sent to dealers.

That bulletin said a problem with the torque converter on the 2010 – 12 Outback and Legacy models could result in a condition “similar to coming to a stop in a manual transmission equipped vehicle without depressing the clutch.”

The bulletin did not mention the word “stall.” However, coming to a stop in a vehicle with a manual transmission and not depressing the clutch would make it stall.

It is not clear what percentage of those 1.5 million vehicles have stalling problems. But about 100 owners have complained to NHTSA about stalls. There was no mention of accidents, but some complained about close calls.

“There are times where you may be on a hill and the car stalls. This is very dangerous in Atlanta traffic,” one owner wrote the agency in July. “What does it take for them to realize that they should be fixing these issues and assume responsibility for this? A car to stall in the middle of an intersection and the driver gets hit?”

Consumers Union Friedman says federal safety regulators and automakers “shouldn’t wait for fatalities or injuries to accumulate” and even without any reported accidents consumers shouldn’t be put in “white-knuckle situations” where they felt they were in danger.

And Subaru shouldn’t be allowed to save money by avoiding a recall, said Rosemary Shahan, the president of Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety.

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