A respected research firm released figures yesterday showing that damage to automobiles running into a concrete barrier at 5 miles an hour ranges anywhere from $15 (Volkswagon Dasher) to $421 (Datsun B210).
And Federal Trade Commission Chairman Michael Petschulk told a congressional subcommittee that motor vehicles generate more than four times as many warranty problems as other consumer products.
Stating that "unacceptably high amounts of damage still are being sustained" by auto's, an official of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safett told a Senate subcommittee that the American consumer "can and should expect much more from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration".
NHTSA regulations on bumpers will be tightened in the coming two years, but according to the study, one car-a Buick Skylark-which General Motors Corp. claims thas bumpers that already meet 1980 NHSTA standards, still sustained $237 worth of damage in a 5 mile-per-hour impact.
IIHS official Ben Kelley also testifield that "bumpers are continuing to override and underride on some cars, despite the stated intent (oc federal law) to eliminate bumper mismatch in low-speed, front-into-rear impacts."
Kelley told the Consumer Subcommittee of the Senate Commerce COmmittee that "watefull and unjustified increments of repair costs are being added to the low-speed damage manifested in our tests by manufacturer decisions to include cosmetic filler panels in their bumper desings." The bumper filler panels serve no functinal propose, kelley added.
A 5 mph crash into a concrete barrier created $421 of damage to the front of a Datsun B-210. But a 5-mph rar collision into a pole found the Volkswagon Dasher winning top horrors with $406 in repairs. The Dasher scored best on the front-end test, however.
At 10 miles an hour-into a concrete angle barrier- the highest repair bill of those cars tested would go to the owner of a Volvo 244dDL: $1,306.
At the same hearings, FTC Chairman Pertschulk called for several specific changes in the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act of 1975, which he said "in the case of autos (is) not solving problems."
Perschulk said that warranty problems are often the first, and most frustrating problems faced by newcar owners.
He said his figures show that 30 percent of all motor vehicles have problems covered by warranties. That figure compares unfavorably withall other consumer products, which exprience warranty work at a 7 percent rate, according to pertschulk.
Pertschulk called for the four specific changes in the Magnuson-Moss Act, which was desinged to protect consumers in warranty complaints:
Make the award of attorney's fees and other costs mandatory in all cases where the plaintiffwins a suit for breach of warranty. (The present law says this should occur "where appropriate.")
Eliminate the 100 plaintiff requirement for class action suits that can be filed under the act.
Successful plaintiffs hould be entitled to recover all costs incurred as a result of warrantor foot-dragging. This means that the consumer should be reinbursed for incovenience suffered before filing the suit.
Consumers should be able to sue under the act to make a company buy back a "lemon", even under a limitde warrantly, and the consumer should be allowed to keep the car for his or her use until the dispute is resolved.,
Pertschuk also called on the auto industry to adopt some impartial process for settling disputes with consumers.
He pointed to the Montgomery County office of the Maryland Consumer Protection Office which altready is operating a dispute-resolution program.
Although the Magnuson-Moss Act has a provision to "encourage" settlemant of disputes informally, "None of the auto companies has adopted its procedures," Pertschuk said.
"If the industry does not accept some such impartial process for settling these disputes, Congress should seriously consider whether the imposition of mandatory, impartial, informal dispute-settlement procedures for auto warranty disputes are feasable and necessary," he added.