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dealer rip off?

my wife recently brought our 2009 ford flex to the local ford dealer for service. the passenger side airbag light would not go off. while she was there, she asked about the driver's side heated seat (which no longer worked).

the airbag issue was a wiring harness issue that they replaced under warranty.

the heated seat was not covered, but they told us the part would be $300 installed. we decided to have them fix that too, so after several weeks of waiting for parts, my wife dropped off the car and picked it up later that day.

here's the problem. the heated seat part they replaced (controller module) did not fix it. they said that when they connected to the computer the module would not communicate, so they replaced it. however, that was not the problem. when the new module was installed, and they could then communicate with it, the module indicated that the seat heater itself was bad, and that would be another $500 to replace that.

heated seats are not worth $800 to us. the dealer says that now that they have installed the module, they cannot remove/return it.

i say BS. they made an incomplete diagnosis. if i (or my wife) had been aware that the total cost of the heated seat repair would be so high, we would have just suffered with cooler than optimum posteriors.

all the dealer has offered us is about $50 off the bill.

what can i do? the dealer has been pretty good so far, but this is the first real repair we have brought the car to them for (its just been oil changes and scheduled service up till now)


  • edited May 2013
    I would write a lengthy, but polite, letter to the service manager. Explain you are long time repeat customer (hopefully, you are), and if they don't make this right by refunding your money in full, you will take your business elsewhere. The last time I did that, they mailed me a check for the full amount.

    Losing a few hundred dollars is smarter than losing your business permanently. Take advantage of that logic. Tell them you paid them to solve your problem, not throw parts at the problem.
  • I agree with Whitey, but be prepared to be told to pound sand. The whole reason I learned how to wrench on cars is because I got tired of paying mechanics (both independent and dealership) to throw parts at problems without ever actually finding the problem. None of them ever even gave me $50 back.

    On the one hand I understand mechanics not guaranteeing repairs - it is possible to replace one bad part, and then to have another bad part show up that couldn't be diagnosed before because the first bad part prevented the second one from being able to work.

    On the other, I find it tantamount to criminal the way some mechanics just throw random parts at a problem and want you to pay the bill for their lack of diagnostic skills.

    Without seeing the shop manual for your Flex, I can't tell whether they followed proper diagnostic procedure here, but it seems odd to me that there wouldn't be some sort of basic "Will the seat heater turn on if I hook this test module up to it" test that would isolate the control module as the bad part, and would at the same time tell you if the heater works.

  • I dunno. To replace the heater requires the upholstery shop to take the seat cover off and put it on again so maybe that price is not way off, but seems to me one of the first things they would check would be continuity in the heating element itself. Can't that simply be done with a meter? So was the module bad too or just an extra part now? I understand they cannot return the module but if they just put the old one back in, now they'll have one in stock to use for the next one that has a bad element instead.
  • yes, that was my point. they should have been able to put a meter on the element connector itself and seen if it was good or not. its a seriously lazy diagnosis to say "module's not talkin, let's replace the module and see what happens"
    i don't think the price is out of line with the effort (but i personally think stuff that can burn out, should be easily replaceable)
  • The reason they replaced the wiring harness for the air bag for free was because it was a safety issue.

    The inoperative heated seat is a luxury issue. They probably connected a scanner to the vehicle to check for body control codes and found that the Body Contol Module was defective which controls the heated seats. So, before they can figure out why the heated seat wasn't working the BCM had to be replaced because that could have been the reason why the heated seat wasn't working. Once the BCM was replaced then they were able to determine that heating element in the seat had failed because the BCM was communicating.

    I don't see how they did anything wrong.

    The problem is, once an electrical component is removed from its' package and installed it's no longer returnable.


  • I have to ask what is the benefit of running the heated seat control through a computer. It seems that manufacturers are making simple circuits into Rube Goldberg contraptions by add a computer.

    To err is human, but to really screw things up, use a computer.
  • I also can't fault the dealer on this. Many repair issues on modern cars do not have clear-cut answers at best and some can be downright nightmarish to sort out at worst.
    In fact, even some factory service manuals will state that if tests show Part X to be good no matter how many times it's tested then to replace it and hope.

    It also could be that a failed seat heater may have taken the module with it. That kind of thing is not uncommon at all with any make of car or system and could be thought of as a line of dominos with each one affecting the next in line.

  • Now that the BCM is replaced, maybe you can replace the seat heater yourself. I think you could do it over a weekend. Are you up for it? The part is probably about $100 and the labor around $200 in you quote. It should involve removing 4 bolts and disconnecting a couple of electrical harnesses.
  • edited June 2013
    I think there are 2 ways to look at this.

    One is that the dealer did an incomplete or improper diagnosis. If/when they told you that the control module would fix this then I might fault them for not stating that there may be other issues with your seat heater. The service adviser should have said to you: "Our testing showed a failed body control module. We need to replace this part for $XXX and then continue our diagnosis and testing to determine if there are any other faults with your seat heating system."

    The second way to look at it is that the dealer did nothing wrong. They didn't short out your control module or break your seat heater element. There would be no reason to expect that the mechanic would check your seat heater without being directed to by some fault code or live data stream that indicated that's where the problem lies. Could have been a switch, relay, fuse, wiring connector, etc.

    It's not a lazy diagnosis to say "This control module is not talking, let's replace it." If a control module is powered and grounded and connected to the data bus and not communicating, it gets replaced before anything else is done. You always start with the basics.
  • It depends on what the dealer wrote in their estimate. If they wrote that they were going to replace the module, you're technically out of luck since that's the contract you signed.

    If they indicated they were going to diagnose and fix the problem, they didn't succeed. If that is the case, you paid them to fix the problem, not to take a gamble on what the problem might be.

    It would be their risk, not yours.

    I agree with Whitey's idea but I would cc the Ford Regional Manager and everyone higher in the chain of command.

    Also, I would not threaten them that you will take your business elsewhere. I would stick to the facts without placing the blame on them (they can figure that out) and mention that you have been a good customer and are unhappy with this particular service.

    The strategy can work. My brother had a problem similar to yours and got good results using the above method.

    It's worth a try.

    Good luck.
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