Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Peeling paint on my Lexus RX400h




In May, 2005, I purchased a brand-new 2006 Lexus RX400h - the world's first hybrid SUV. It was a car that was in high demand. At the time I was living in Boulder, Colorado. My local Lexus dealer had a multi-month waiting list. After a search, I found the car at Lexus of Lincoln, in Lincoln, Nebraska. The Lexus RX400h has been a terrific car for going on nine years. It offers a great combination of comfort, carrying capacity, four-wheel-drive traction, and fine performance, in a package that provides impressive fuel economy for vehicle of its size and weight.

In addition to the price of the car, I also paid $495 for a Chip Guard treatment. Sometimes referred to as a “clear bra”, this is the application of a 3M plastic film to forward facing portions of the car. The film protects the paint from rock chips and other dings.

Recently, I discovered a line of peeling paint directly behind the Chip Guard on the hood. This was especially odd, since the finish on the rest of the car has held up extremely well. Clearly the problem had something to do with the Chip Guard treatment. The only place where the paint was showing damage was in a precise line exactly at the upper edge of the Chip Guard on the hood. Though I now live in California, far from Nebraska, I called Lexus of Lincoln to find out if they were aware of any problems occurring with the Chip Guard on their cars, and if there was anything they could do for me. The service agent that I spoke to directed me to email photos of the problem to the service director, Jim McCauley. I took a number of pictures from different angles and emailed them as requested.





   
Left side of hood Right side of hood
(click photos for larger view)


Since email can be notorious fallible, I sent one photo per message, and I also sent a separate email noting that the photos were being attached to subsequent messages. After three days I had not received any reply, so I emailed him again, merely asking for confirmation of receipt of the pictures. Finally, four days later, McCauley replied that he had the photos and would get me a response by the end of the week. All good… maybe.

Fifteen days later I hadn't heard a word. I sent a reminder message asking if there was anything he could tell me about the status of my issue. I also decided that it was time for me to go online and see what problems other people might be having with Chip Guard on their cars. I didn't find anything specifically related to Lexus vehicles, but I did see postings on a variety of auto forums (mostly BMW) about Chip Guard problems.

Of particular interest, some people complained that Chip Guard installers had used razor blades to cut the plastic film while it was on the car, cutting into the paint in the process. This was the“ah ha!” moment for me. Clearly the installer had cut the film to shape on the hood of the car, cutting through the paint. It took time, but eventually the cut line had allowed water to get underneath the paint, causing it to pucker and flake. I had assumed that the film was delivered to the installer pre-cut and ready to be applied. That assumption made me wonder how the line of damage could have occurred. Now, knowing that the material was cut by the installer, the source of the damage was obvious.

A few days later I happened to be at a Porsche dealer. There, I asked the service manager if they did Chip Guard installation. He said yes, and proudly informed me that the guy that did their Chip Guard had been installing it as long as anyone in the business and was “a true artist.” The installer had a few spare minutes and was happy to chat with me about my Lexus problem. He told me that at the Porsche dealership they have a machine that precisely cuts the material to shape prior to application, so no cutting is ever done on the car. Then I told him my Lexus was nine years old. “Oh”, he said, “yes, nine years ago it was a common practice to trim pieces on the vehicle, especially if the installer didn't get the film on perfectly straight.” He added, “You had to be very careful not to cut the paint.” He went on to opine that if the installer had cut through the paint, then one would expect to see exactly the problem I described.

Eventually I received my reply from Lexus of Lincoln, a mere 24 days after my initial inquiry:


Hi Andrew,

After reviewing the pictures it appears that there is paint chipping on several areas of the hood not just around the chip guard, this is caused by rocks or debris and there is no warranty coverage for that. The warranty on the chip guard is for 5 years and has expired, and it doesn't appear to be any damage to the chip guard so it would not apply to the chip guard warranty at this time.

Thank you,
Jim McCauley
Lexus of Lincoln
Service/Parts Director

So, it appears that the service director at Lexus of Lincoln took over three weeks to look at my photos, and then ignored obvious evidence of a straight line of chipping paint, focusing instead on one small blemish above the Chip Guard cut line. He also seemed to think that I was concerned about the Chip Guard itself, whose warranty had indeed expired. If Lexus of Lincoln had replied quickly and efficiently with a baseless “no” reply, resting on the Chip Guard warranty, I might have just dropped it. But, asking me to put in the effort of supplying photos, making me wait weeks and requiring multiple reminders, then coming up with such a bogus reply, certainly does not speak well for their service department. I replied to this email immediately, expressing my disappointment at the poor quality and tardiness of the response. I also cc'ed the general manager of Lexus of Lincoln. To date I have heard nothing more.

It has been almost nine years since the purchase of the car. At the time, I was quite pleased with the sales process. Since I didn't live in Nebraska, I never had any service done at Lexus of Lincoln, so this paint problem was my first and only interaction with their service department. I can only speculate about how other Lexus of Lincoln customers feel about this dealership. However, the failure of their service department to stand behind their installation of an aftermarket Chip Guard product certainly does not speak well for them. Something to consider when shopping for a Lexus vehicle in Nebraska.

2 comments:

  1. I suggest calling the customer service line at Lexus US in Southern California. Part of what they keep track of is inappropriate dealer response. Maybe there's a remedy to be had based on poor installation practices by the dealer.

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  2. It really is disappointing how the company is not ready to own up to the situation. I mean, I think basing on your post that the fault lies in the assembly of the car itself that has caused the paint to peel. I do hope you were able to have the problem remedied Andrew.
    Taleen Kizirian

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