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Many drivers miss non-recall warnings from car makers

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COVENTRY, R.I. (WPRI) – Christina Ouimette didn’t realize how bad the rust problem was on her car.

“I had my car at a shop for an unrelated issue and they told me that the rust was so bad that I wasn’t going to pass my next state inspection,” she told Call 12 for Action.

Ouimette bought the 2008 Dodge Caliber used in 2017. A few months later, the manufacturer issued a technical service bulletin for potential front and rear crossmember corrosion.

The bulletin covers certain 2008 through 2012 Dodge Calibers and Jeep Compass and Patriots.

“They never made any attempt that I received to contact me and inform me that there was a problem that they were aware of with my car,” Ouimette said.

The service bulletin came with an extended warranty to fix the corrosion issue, but by the time Ouimette found out about it, the warranty had already expired.

“I called customer service and I asked why they did not contact me to tell me of this potential issue with my vehicle,” Ouimette said. “They said, ‘well maybe you moved,’ but I confirmed my address on file.”

“They said, ‘well maybe it got lost in the mail,'” she added. “Then they told me because I wasn’t the first owner maybe the notice was sent to the first owner and not to me even though my address is tied to the VIN number on the car.”

“They weren’t able to give me a good reason as to why they didn’t contact me to inform me of the problem,” Ouimette said. “Now I have a car that I can’t drive and I can’t sell.”

Call 12 for Action asked Fiat Chrysler for its policy on consumer notification for technical service bulletins. A spokesperson said the company does not mail technical service bulletin information to consumers, though extended warranty information is mailed.

In Ouimette’s case, the company said it sent a notification about the extended warranty to the last known owner in Leominster, Massachusetts, because the company was unaware that the vehicle had changed hands.

Auto safety expert Sean Kane said technical service bulletins are common across the auto industry.

“In some cases, there can be hundreds on a single vehicle, model and year,” Kane said.

Unlike recalls, which are mandated if a vehicle poses an “unreasonable” safety risk, manufacturers don’t have to tell car owners about technical service bulletins.

“Sometimes they notify consumers, sometimes they don’t,” Kane said. “There’s no requirement.”

Even savvy consumers may have trouble searching for technical service bulletins.

“It’s not easy,” Kane cautioned. “It can take quite a bit of time to winnow through to see what’s relevant to your vehicle.”

“When you go to your service shop, ask them to look for bulletins if they have the ability,” he suggested. “Do your own research. There are forums out there, technical forums, places you can go to look for similar types of issues.”

According to a spokesperson for Fiat Chrysler, car makers do not receive registration information from DMVs, so the company urges people who buy used vehicles from private or independent sellers to notify dealers of the ownership change.

Editor’s note: This report was updated from the original to reflect FCA’s response to the inquiry Call 12 for Action made on Monday.

Susan Campbell (scampbell@wpri.com) is the Call 12 for Action and Target 12 consumer investigator for WPRI 12 and Fox Providence. Follow her on Twitter and on Facebook.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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