Can a Car Be Unfixable?

Are there cars that are unfixable? The short answer is yes, and they may seem easily fixed at first. These are repairs that usually require multiple or remedial attempts to get right, but can creep back. Let’s take a look at some. 

We’ve all heard about vehicles purchased back by the manufacturer because dealer technicians couldn’t fix an issue. But it is mostly a rare occurrence. For used vehicles, what is common are issues either too big, like a crash, or needing multiple attempts, like a sunroof leak. Those can eventually end up costing more than the vehicle is worth.  

What makes a car unfixable?

Dealership service
Dealership service department | Getty

But unfixable new cars do exist, with Lemon Laws proving they’re real. The general way it works is that within the first year of ownership if after four attempts, or more than 30 days in the shop, a vehicle isn’t fixed, it is deemed a lemon. The manufacturer must take it back. 

Usually, after a couple of attempts by dealer technicians, the manufacturer will send out special technicians to solve the problem. But if after two more attempts it can’t be fixed, the car must be returned. It happens, though it seems almost impossible. 

Can any car problem be fixed?

Dealership service
Dealership service department | Getty

The problem facing automakers these days is that cars are a lot more complex, due mostly to its advanced electronics. The ECU monitors every component, even door handles Components send hundreds of messages or “handshakes” to the ECU every second. It is a way of checking in to alert the car’s computer that it is working properly, or there is a problem. 

If a couple of control monitors fail, it can be difficult to trace the issue. You can start replacing modules, but it is time-consuming, and a gamble. And you only get three or four tries before the Lemon Law kicks in.

Dealer technicians may start by going for a software fix. From there, replacing components in something like a transmission is the next step. If that doesn’t work, it may replace the whole transmission. If the problem continues, where do you go from there? Maybe replacing the transmission a second time? 

Can’t a technician just replace a bunch of parts?

Dealership service
Dealership service department | Getty

In the end, a technician can have many hours of chasing problems and replacing components, sometimes re-replacing parts. It becomes cheaper and easier for the manufacturer to just replace the entire vehicle. And believe it or not, that car invariably gets sold again at an auction, where it is resold eventually. The new owner takes it to a dealer, for the whole fixing drama to play out a second time, under warranty. In the end, how much did the manufacturer make on that car? 

A recent example involving a new Mustang Mach-E shows it is still happening. Over-the-air technology was supposedly the fix for a couple’s Mach-E. After the second attempt by the local Ford dealer to find the problem, the Mach-E bricked. It couldn’t move. 

At that point, the dealer threw up its hands and told the couple their Mustang was “unfixable.” So while the vast majority of the millions of vehicles manufactured each year fulfill owners’ wishes, finding new cars unfixable can and does still happen

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