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Tips to Chrysler: Saving Money on Transmission Repairs (2004)

"Tips to Chrysler" is a regular feature in which we propose obvious and credible actions which can increase Chrysler's sales and/or cut their costs, and hope against hope that someone at Chrysler is listening.

Since its introduction in 1989, the four-speed automatic has been a sales marvel - for Toyota, Ford, General Motors, and Honda. Thanks to one simple design flaw and many more complicated flaws, it has probably been the single greatest contributor to Chrysler's current weak reputation for quality. When the transmission fails, especially when it fails many times, customers simply put Chrysler onto their "never buy again" list. Most do not research the problem and find a way around it. Amazingly, the cure for (what we estimate to be) 90% of Chrysler transmission failures is using the wrong transmission fluid! (For more details, click here.)

Does every mechanic know about Mopar transmission fluids? NO!

Does every customer know about Mopar transmission fluids? NO!

Does this lack of knowledge result in the death of Chrysler transmission? OF COURSE!

What happens when the transmission fails? The customer tells their acquaintances that Chryslers are garbage, and goes out and buys a Honda.

Here's the amazing thing: not only does Chrysler seem to keep the transmission fluid requirement a secret, noted only in the depths of the manual - which few read - but many transmission fluid dipsticks actually say that you can use Dexron when the proper fluid is not available. Sure, you can do it. Then you can get a new transmission a few months or a year later.

Many dealers and rebuilders even seem to use Dexron, resulting in the premature failure of rebuild or repaired transmissions. Many probably do not retrain the transmission computer, also a no-no.

Thus, our tip of the week:

Put a bright yellow sticker near the transmission fill tube with a warning that you CANNOT use Dexron or Mercon fluid.

Print the SAME warning ON THE DIPSTICK and into the owner's manual.

Send out a post card to each Chrysler, Dodge, and Plymouth owner with an under-hood decal to retrofit the existing fleet. By all means, explain the reasons why a special fluid is needed for Chrysler's unique adaptive transmission, but get those warnings out there.
Fixing this one simple problem - customer and mechanic ignorance - via a simple, cheap solution would save Chrysler literally thousands of dollars (we suspect tens or hundreds of thousands a year), probably saving the company the entire cost of the project within a single month. But it would do more - it would start to wrestle the company's reputation up from the mud.

Every fixed transmission would keep one person from telling ten friends about their "crappy Chrysler."

One of every two or three would, we estimate, keep one person within the Chrysler/Dodge fold, instead of sending them to the Honda dealer for an Odyssey.

It's insane for Chrysler to have gone on this long without taking action. It would be even more insane for them to keep on building those specialized transmissions without any clear, blatant, non-ignorable warnings to customers.

The ball's in your court, Chrysler.

Long term / higher investment solutions

Four-speed automatics seem to be on their way out as a new crop of five-speed automatics, including a very good one used by Chrysler in the Jeep Grand Cherokee, take the field. We suggest that Chrysler phase out, as quickly as possible, its current four-speed automatic - whose inefficiency some estimate adds one second to the zero-to-sixty acceleration of the 300M! - and replace it with a newer one from, say, ZF. In the long term, Chrysler should, presumably together with Mitsubishi, develop a new five-speed or six-speed automatic capable of replacing the current four-speed in all front drive applications.

Too many customers have been burned by this one. Too many potential customers have been turned off by disaster stories - and by Consumer Reports' articles and comments on the automatic. It's time to move on to something better - or at least something with a better reputation.

If you work at Chrysler, or know someone who does, can you pass this along to them?

1.How to sell Neons - now - and with minimal investmentMay 2001
2. How to save lots of money on repairs, while increasing your reputation for qualityJune 6, 2001
4.How to increase customer retention and bring back "lost" customersJuly 2001
5.How to regain the faith and loyalty of enthusiastic boosters and customersAugust 2002
6.How to avoid incentives and still sell more carsSeptember 2002

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