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Your Beef: Woman’s Mazda woes caused by infrequent driving?

Published March 26, 2013
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Eric Lai answers readers’ auto questions every week for Wheels.

Q: Although diligently dealer-serviced as per the owner’s manual, multiple unusual problems have occurred on my 2005 Mazda 3, purchased new, despite low mileage.

At 44,000 km, new summer tires were required ($1,100) even though winter tires were used half the time.

At 44,861 km, it stopped on the highway and needed to be towed. The clutch assembly bearings, lever, pin, disc etc. had to be replaced. The dealer called it “driver error” not covered by warranty. I have 17 years manual driving experience, so I’m not a novice. The repair cost was $1,400 plus tow.

At 49,320 km, front rotors machined and pads serviced, rear pads and rotors replaced for $955. These were already “scored and rusted” and machined at 25,406 km.

At 56,000 km, trailing arm bushings were replaced, along with wheel alignment and emergency brake cable for $1,077.

At 70,000 km, rear caliper, rear pads and rotors replaced costing $870.

I’m seeking acknowledgement that this is not normal for a Mazda 3, as well as financial compensation – even a token $2,000 would help my student debt.

Would I have a case for Small Claims Court?

A: Sandra Lemaitre, national manager of public relations for Mazda Canada, replies:

Thank you for providing us with an opportunity to respond.

All Mazda vehicles come with a basic warranty with coverage for 36 months/80,000 km, whichever comes first, and a powertrain warranty with coverage for 60 months/100,000 km, whichever comes first. These warranties apply to repairs that are required due to manufacturer’s defect and not wear-and-tear and/or maintenance items.

According to our records and a thorough investigation by Mazda Canada, it does appear that this customer serviced her 2005 Mazda 3 regularly, so her concerns are understandable. However, the repairs mentioned all appear to be normal wear-and-tear repairs for a seven-year-old vehicle.

This customer mentioned that her Mazda 3 has “very low mileage,” which may (in fact) account for some of the repairs. A vehicle that sits for extended periods of time, or only travels short distances, is more susceptible to mechanical issues due to lack of use. In addition, when a car sits idle, surface deposits form on the brake rotors which will eventually lead to deterioration. Driving the vehicle more frequently can minimize this condition.

Eric Lai adds:

Don’t shoot the messenger but, in general, Mazda’s comments about susceptibility to rust damage for brakes on vehicles used infrequently (or stored for long periods) are valid. Regular use scrapes normal surface corrosion off of brake drums/rotors and prevents rust pitting.

A Carfax vehicle history report on your Mazda shows records of two collisions in April and May of 2006, a $2,548 vandalism incident in January 2008, and an additional collision reported in December 2009. Both the May 2006 and December 2009 incidents are recorded as rear-end impacts with light damage.

I mention this because if you were to file a Small Claims Court action, the defence could conceivably contend that the clutch and steering-component failure may have been directly attributable to the prior collisions or vandalism damage. In court, you’d likely require expert testimony (from a licensed mechanic who has examined all parts in question) to support your case and refute this claim, if made.

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