WASHINGTON (March 11, 2005) — DaimlerChrysler A.G. is offering repairs or extended warranties to owners of a million Dodge sport-utility vehicles (SUVs) and pickups because the vehicles' upper ball joints may wear prematurely, affecting tire wear among other things.
The recall program is expected to cost the company more than $100 million.
But the auto maker insists the trucks are safe and claims “prejudiced'' reporting by CBS News led to escalating consumer complaints and regulatory pressure.
The allegation appears in the normally dry bureaucratic document a company submits to federal regulators when it conducts a recall. In a cover letter, Stephan Speth, DaimlerChrysler's director of vehicle compliance and safety, said the recall will cause “significant customer inconvenience due to unnecessary repairs to many vehicles that do not need them.''
In reply, CBS spokeswoman Donna Dees said: “We fully stand by the integrity of these reports.'' The network's Web site headlines the reports “Four-Wheel Drive Dangers.''
CBS got interested in ball joints in part after a wheel came off a Dodge Durango SUV driven by a reporter for Black Entertainment Television (BET), which is owned by CBS' parent company, Viacom Inc.
DaimlerChrysler initially maintained that motorists have ample warning that ball joints are going bad, through such indicators as grinding sounds and uneven tire wear.
No one has been hurt in any substantiated reports of ball joint separations, the auto maker said.
In later remarks, company spokesman Max Gates sought to close the books on the incident. Ball joints “were failing prematurely. We had to do something,'' he said.
Car dealerships are to replace upper ball joints on about 600,000 four-wheel-drive versions of Durangos and Dodge Dakota pickups built for the 2000 through mid-2003 model years.
About 400,000 two-wheel-drive versions of both trucks from the same years will get upper ball joint warranties covering as much as 10 years or 100,000 miles.