European Stars and Stripes, Darmstadt, Germany
Maj. Steven Schlosser was not about to drive his Ford Bronco backward for 75 miles, no matter what the German mechanic said.
“I drove it there forward, and I expected to drive it home the same way,” Schlosser said.
But after more than four months of repair work, German Ford mechanics in Wiesbaden had reduced the Bronco’s balky transmission to one working gear — reverse.
Frustrated, the mechanics wanted Schlosser’s dream machine, now their nightmare, out of their lives.
“They told me to drive it back to Fulda backward or tow it away, but just get it off the lot,” Schlosser said.
The Bronco became “the Ford from hell” at the hands of the German Ford garage, said Schlosser, who took it in for transmission repairs in June 1990.
“Oh, yes, we can do anything. Our mechanics are trained in the States,” is how Schlosser recalled the promises of the Ford salesman who sold him the $20,000 top-of-the-line Bronco.
“The German mechanics I dealt with had never been to the United States, and I doubt they had ever worked on an American transmission before,” he said in a telephone interview from his new home in Fort Knox, Ky.
Officials for Ford Germany said their mechanics are not trained in the States, but do receive specialized training on U .S.-specification vehicles from mechanics who are trained by Ford engineers.
They say Schlosser’s Bronco had a defective transmission and was unrepairable.
Schlosser, who was stationed in Fulda at the time, bought the Bronco in 1988 through the AAFES new-car sales program.
With just over two years and about 22,000 miles on the vehicle, the transmission would no longer shift automatically, the major said.
Following the directions written in the warranty, Schlosser took the Bronco to the Ford dealership in Fulda. Mechanics there referred him to the dealer in Wiesbaden, 75 miles away.
Schlosser drove the Bronco to the Wiesbaden garage and was told the repairs would take a few days. During the next five months, the Wiesbaden dealer removed, rebuilt and reinstalled the transmission at least three times, Schlosser said.
Each time, the major was notified that the Bronco was ready.
“On the first test drive, it broke down,” he said. “The next time the transmission locked up. The last time they claimed to have fixed it, the transmission locked in reverse and the truck would only drive backward.”
That’s when the German mechanics gave up. And that’s when the major “went off.”
Schlosser refused to move the Bronco and instead wrote the Ford Motor Co. in Detroit, demanding that the vehicle be replaced. He also asked to be reimbursed for his insurance payments during the months the vehicle could not be driven and for long-distance telephone calls from his home to Wiesbaden and Ford’s German headquarters in Cologne.
Ford’s Consumer Appeals Board responded to Schlosser’s complaint with an unsigned form letter. In the letter Ford rejected Schlosser’s requests on the grounds that “German residents” are not protected by U.S. consumer appeals laws.
Schlosser now laughs about the “idiotic” response.
“I’m not German,” he said. “I know that for a fact.”
About that same time, Ford’s German headquarters in Cologne sent an engineer to Wiesbaden to tackle the transmission. Five months after Schlosser had taken the car in, he received his fourth notification that the Bronco was fixed.
A skeptical Schlosser went to Wiesbaden and found that his Bronco was indeed repaired.
“It’s been driving fine ever since,” he said.
Schlosser is back in the United States. He has written to Ford asking that it rethink its policy of excluding overseas military members from the consumer appeals process. Ford has yet to respond, he said.