Why won’t Jaguar repair my failing brakes?

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The brake light on Irene Sherman’s pre-owned Jaguar is flashing on and off, but the fix is proving to be impractical. Can these wheels be saved?

Question: I hope you can help me resolve a dispute with Jaguar North America. I live on the island of Kauai in the state of Hawaii. Last fall, I purchased a pre-owned 2009 Jaguar Vanden Plas with 19,800 miles. It came with an extended warranty that is in effect until June 2015.

Last October I began having a problem consisting of an intermittent ABS warning light. At times, it would come on while I was driving. At other times, it would come on when I first started the car. After a short time, it would go off. Unfortunately, there was no discernible pattern.

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Kauai does not have a Jaguar dealership. We do have a licensed repair facility, where I took my car in for diagnosis. The shop owner is a former Jaguar employee. He said that the car has a computer which records codes for all system failures. Based upon the codes recorded in my car’s computer, the ABS controller was failing and should be replaced.

He explained that if it should fail completely and I had to stop suddenly, I would lose steering control and enter a skid. This is especially dangerous on Kauai. We are a small, rural island. We have no freeways, only two-lane roads – one in each direction. Such a failure could result in my car swerving into the lane of coming traffic and a head-on collision. A new controller would cost me $5,000.

I contacted Jaguar for warranty service requesting that they send the part to the licensed repair facility for replacement. But Jaguar’s policy requires that any such repair be done at a dealership. The nearest one is in Honolulu, on a neighboring island. This required shipping my car on a barge – a risky proposition in itself.

My car sailed on January 31, at Jaguar’s expense. Since then I have spoken with numerous Jaguar representatives. Their position is that until and unless the ABS light comes on, they will not replace any part, unless I pay for it. They refuse to accept the evidence of the car’s computer codes.

They now want to send my car back to me in exactly the same condition that I sent it to them. So after almost one month of not having my car, my choice is to pay for a new ABS controller myself — despite my warranty — or accept the car back in its unsafe condition.

I have tried unsuccessfully to contact a Jaguar executive empowered to grant an exception to their general policy, which does not fit the circumstances of this case. I am hoping that you will have more success. — Irene Sherman, Kauai, Hawaii

Answer: Jaguar should have fixed your car if its own diagnostic systems showed the ABS system wasn’t working. They’re making you feel like a guest on that old public radio show “Car Talk” where they ask you to duplicate the engine noise.

Let’s have a look at that extended warranty for your Jag. It’s right here on the auto manufacturer’s site. Or is it? Yes, it makes vague promises, such as, “up to” 6-year/100,000-mile coverage without deductibles. But it offers few specifics.

“See your local authorized Jaguar Retailer for complete terms and conditions of the limited warranty and service coverage,” it says.

And those specifics are your problem. Jaguar sets the rules and Jaguar also gets to interpret its own warranty. So if it can’t duplicate the ABS problem, then yes, it can ship your Vanden Plas back to you in an presumably unsafe condition.

This is one of those times when a company isn’t taking the time to review the circumstances of your request. I have driven in Kauai before, and second the need for reliable brakes. The roads are small and punctuated by chickens.

My resolutions team helped find an executive contact at Jaguar, to whom you appealed your case.

Jaguar held firm on the repair, insisting that they would not replace the ABS system until the warning light went on. But it bent a rule to fix the problem. It returned the car to you at no cost and agreed that the next time the ABS light flashed, you could return the vehicle to the repair shop in Kauai, instead of sending it all the way to Honolulu, and the repair would be covered under your warranty.

You’ve indicated that you’re happy with that resolution, but please, drive safely until this is fixed, OK?

Is Irene Sherman's car safe to drive?

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45 thoughts on “Why won’t Jaguar repair my failing brakes?

  1. Brakes and steering.. two things you should NEVER compromise on your car! Sad that Jaguar won’t believe what the computer (their computer) tells them.

    1. Reading the story, I get the impression that the dealer thinks the other mechanic may have overreacted and assumed the computer was failing when it could have been something else (a loose wire, bad battery, etc.) It’s like seeing a “check engine” light and saying “Well, the engine needs to be replaced!”

      Heck, many of the parts that mechanics claimed needed to be replaced… don’t. For example, a joint in my exhaust system had a hole in it and Midas said I should replace the whole thing for a grand. I found the joint on the internet for $40 from canada and got my local mechanic to simply cut it out of the assembly with a hacksaw and then affix the joint in with a bracket for $40.

      Heck, I’d advise going to another mechanic. Or two. Same thing with doctors. AND ESPECIALLY lawyers!!!!

      1. The story does not state the tech thought the computer was the issue. Rather the computer is detecting an issue with the ABS module.

        1. It’s useful to quote the original text: “Based upon the codes recorded in my car’s computer, the ABS controller was failing and should be replaced.”
          Ok, my apologies. It’s not the computer but rather a controller. I spoke loosely when referring to the controller as a “computer” but that’s what I meant.

  2. Sorry but it stories like these that absolutely send me through the roof. The problem here is actually her mechanic and not Jag…

    His account of what will happen if the module fails and she uses the brakes is a little bit like the Direct TV commercials. Here’s a hint… Almost none of us will get slammed by a lowland gorilla if we stick with cable. In the same manner, if her ABS module fails, she might completely lose control … or nothing may happen. When the ABS module fails, the car reverts to pre-ABS days. Pump the brakes like anyone older than 35 was taught in drivers ed and you’ll be fine. You won’t have a steering issue unless you put your car into a skid.

    Beyond that, Jag is correct on troubleshooting an intermittent failure. First, codes don’t say “BAD ABS Module.” They say things like “ABS SENSOR 1 Low voltage.” Some of them are easy fixes, where a module dies, its is easy. You don’t normally see that in an intermittent failure. So she might have a loose connection or a loose wire or a bad sensor but Jag can’t troubleshoot it until it fails for them and they verify the problem. I suspect her mechanic was going to use the “poke and hope” method of troubleshooting and just start changing out parts, at her expense, until it worked. Charging her the whole time.

    There are very few times that cases really upset me. This is one of them. She should be upset but she’s upset at the wrong person. I’m really happy she got the resolution she was happy with but really annoyed that the mechanic on Kauai is getting anything out of it.

    1. Thank you for explaining the codes. I want to change my response now. I had a mechanic replace some parts before based on codes at my expense, perhaps I was ripped off too. Though it was a while ago and the mechanic is now out of busienss. A funny side note is that my current car kept having the ABS light come on randomly, especially after starting the car, this was when the car was under warranty. I took it to the dealer, it did replicate the issue, and they determined it was a bad battery cell. They replaced the battery and ind the ABS light hasn’t come on since, its been 3 years.

      I already thought that the mechanic on Kauai was trying to scare her, but this makes him look even worse.

      1. Error codes are tricky. One time, my wife’s “fuel tank sensor” light/mechanical code came on her dashboard. I hooked up the reader to it (good investment of 30 bucks) and looked up the code and others suggested maybe she put on the gas cap on too light. I put the gas cap back on, cleared the signal, and haven’t seen the light since for 2 years.

        Replacing the whole computer is a tremendous expense and I don’t blame Jaguar for balking. I do think they should have gone through the system, if necessary, to make sure that there wasn’t a loose wire or bad battery and reassured her they did their best.

        In addition, it’s worth considering that if the brakes DO fail and something really bad happens, then Jaguar is liable. I agree the compromise is good in this case though.

        1. The infamous EVAP Sensor code… For those that don’t know, if you ever get a SES (Service Engine Soon) Light that stays on but doesn’t blink shortly after filling up, tighten your gas cap and then cycle the car (start -> turn off) 5 to 10 times depending on the manufacturer. It will cause the system to recheck and send the code into history.

          1. Yup, and after you tighten it and it happens again, get a new gas cap……and off goes the light!

          2. I got scammed by this once. I had a lease car when I was working in Wisconsin (It was cheaper than renting) and the light came on. I went to the dealer and they wanted $300 to fix something which I paid, a few days alter the light came back on, and I went to the dealer again and they said it’s because the new part is breaking in and it would go off eventually. I finally went to another non-dealer mechanic who told me the gas cap needed to be tightened. He told me that we the original cause of the light going on as well. he charged em nothing as he felt badly I was scammed out of $300. The lease management company I used paid for the repair, and I let them know so they could dispute the charge with the dealer. They said they will just let it go as ti wasn’t worth their time.

    2. I got a kick out of the part in the letter where she says ABS going out in rural areas is particularly dangerous. (As if big city driving with tons of traffic and high speed interstates is a much better place to go into skids and lose control?) Also pretty comical how the account implies ABS being off somehow directly impacts your steering. Like if you’re driving 5 miles per hour and ABS fails you’ll suddenly be incapable of steering the car. Poor lady was fed the worst case scenario and came away thinking that was the only possible outcome.

  3. So the warning light has been coming on at random times for a while. The shop on Kauai verified the computer log showed the ABS is failing. I really don’t understand the reluctance of Jaguar to replace it if the codes really say the unit is failing. Unless the checking of the computer also reset everything and the log now shows no errors because the issue has not occurred since. Glad a reasonable compromise was reached.

    But I think there is quite a bit of unnecessary hyperbole in the article. The ABS system is failing, not failed, and Jaguar says they would be happy to replace it when it does fail. This means it could continue to function at a usable level for quite a long time. Or it could completely fail the next time the brakes are applied. Cars have been without ABS for literally centuries and have not all gone into skids at the press of the brakes and it is doubtful that would happen to this car unless it was in a situation which would cause a skid to occur anyway. And if this car is in actual ABS failure indicated by the warning light you would hope that the driver would be a bit more cautious in the drive to the shop. (Yes, those chicken are everywhere and can be a huge nuisance!)

    I would hate to think that Jaguar is simply dragging its feet in the hope that the extended warranty will expire before the ABS system completely fails and they would not have to cover the replacement. Or the mechanic in the shop on Kauai is only trying to pad his pockets by claiming the ABS needs replacing. Maybe Jaguar cleaned the plugs on the unit and tightened up the connectors and that was all that was needed.

    1. “Cars have been without ABS for literally centuries and have not all gone into skids at the press of the brakes.”

      He’s right! I have an 1837 Ford and it still runs fine 177 years later.

  4. I believe loosing the hydraulic servo-brake system is a little worst than loosing the ABS system…

    The ABS is useful in emergency situations. Most of the time, you aren’t using it (but it doesn’t mean it doesn’t need to be fixed!). The servo-brake, in other hands… without it, the brakes turn very heavy. I had this problem several years ago – it was almost impossible to stop the car in the usual distance, I always needed more space.

  5. I voted yes. My last car had the ABS controller fail. It didn’t have a warranty, so I didn’t replace it. I think the repair person was trying to scare the OP. When the ABS controller fails it doesn’t cut steering and force the car to skid, it just means if the breaks lock they won’t pump themselves like they do with ABS. The OP would simply have to pump the breaks herself.

    That said, I still think Jaguar should replace it under warranty if the computer code says so. I understand the dealer wanting to see the issue themselves, but the computer recorded it for them. That bothers me. It does make since that they would only do warranty work at a dealership, I think the OP should have read the terms before making the purchase and then decide whether or not it was worth it living on an island with no dealership. But she sent them the car and they could see the codes, so they have no excuse for not replacing it. Bad Jaguar!

    1. @emanon256:disqus You’re assuming that the same mechanic that gave her the scare story on the ABS model (edit: module) failing was correct on what the TC meant and what the Jaguar Tech manual says about the code. Given his scare story on that, I don’t believe anything that he told her. Especially since if it was a TC that didn’t need troubleshooting, they’d just repair the car and move on.

      1. You are right. I was actually replying to your comment right after I wrote my comment, but then got a phone call and just finished replying 🙂

    1. He’s a consumer advocate with a specialty in travel. Recent stories included electronics (broken laptops) and cable/satellite issues.

      1. Well, excuuusssseeeeeee me! When I have a car question, I’ll ask you next time instead of the “Click&Clack” brothers.

        Gerry Pong

  6. “This is one of those times when a company isn’t taking the time to review the circumstances of your rental.” Rental?

  7. She should just take it into her mechanic now. It seems like this guy would be happy to tell Jaguar that the light was on, or to just trigger it himself.

  8. Ridiculous. If the ABS controller goes out your brakes still function normally, you just lose the ability to avoid a skid. You avoid a skid by no slamming on the brakes. Simple.

  9. Car Talk has a “Mechanics Files” section. My own advice is see if there’s a mechanic in Kauai that shows up as a trusted mechanic and get a second, local, opinion. Not sure why the original local mechanic would have cleared the codes or not have printed them out. My local mechanic (found via Car Talk) would have printed out the codes to take to the dealer. My local mechanic even called the Subaru dealership for me to go over what needed to be done when my car needed work that the local shop couldn’t provide. (They also gave me a list of things to check to ensure they were done, since there’s a reason my local mechanic gets my business and not the dealership. Caught a major mistake that way before I drove off and melted the engine.)

    1. Interesting. I am a loyal Subaru customer. The local Subaru dealer here in White Plains, NY is also a Jaguar dealer. Two weeks ago, I had my Outback serviced and the Jaguar service guy took my call. I asked why he was also doing Subaru work. He said Subaru was getting more and more popular for his dealership. Anyway, we talked about Jaguar being an Indian company already since it was sold to Tata. I hope they have not gone the way of those infamous Indian call centers.

  10. Jaguars look nice, and they’re prestigious, but I never was very impressed with the engineering behind them

  11. A previously-owned Jaguar. Did this woman not do any research before buying it? Did she wonder why someone was selling a car with such low mileage? Jaguars are well known for their gorgeous styling and unreliability. People who buy Jags should know they are making a commitment to working hard to keep the thing running. Buying one on Kauai with no dealer? Barging the thing to Honolulu? They are gorgeous tho!
    My personal experience with extended dealer warranties is dismal, my new Navigator had “congenital” electrical issues but every time I presented him to the dealer for repair, nothing got fixed, a new diagnosis was presented and I was charged another deductible. After about 5 years (I was a chump to not take him back under the lemon law but I loved him), I found an honest, skilled mechanic with his own shop. Mike & John kept him running for 13 years before I finally gave up. You can’t imagine the fun of having your radio blast on when you roll down the window … or getting up in the morning to see all the interior lights on and the heater running on high.

    1. It was possessed!

      I doubt I would have had that amount of patience with a car. My current vehicle had issues when I first got it (fried 4 radios, electric windows would work only when they felt like it, and a few other things), but all got fixed when they replaced the wiring harness in the steering wheel. Still don’t know how that had anything to do with it. 🙂

  12. I was looking into buying a used Jag recently, and after this article and my research I have decided to stay clear of Jag’s, they have far to many mechanical and reliability issues.

  13. i’m old enough that i learned to drive long before ABS brakes were ever invented. and i’ve never had to use them myself. but i was scared to death years ago in the first car i had with ABS. my ex was driving and failed to see a light turn red, so slammed on the brakes and the ABS kicked in! the car started shaking and almost started to skid! fortunately, he had enough sense (questionable at times, but not on that occasion) to back off the brakes and stop the “old fashioned way”!
    i no longer have the ABS system hooked up on my vehicle because one of the ABS brake rotors was replaced with a non-ABS rotor (same ex did the replacement), and it doesn’t bother me at all. sure, the ABS warning light comes on briefly when i start the car, but goes away immediately. not a problem. i trust my driving a lot more than some mechanical gizmo, tyvm.

  14. The ABS system will not adversely affect the steering in hard braking except if the front end is poorly aligned.

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