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YOUR WHEELS / RALPH VARTABEDIAN

Rainy Day Left This del Sol Driver Soaking Wet

August 20, 1993|RALPH VARTABEDIAN

As a boy in 1958, I went to a car dealership in Detroit with my father to pick up his new Mercury Monterey.

On the way home, we pulled into the station where my father always bought gas.

"Haig, your gas tank must be leaking," the attendant said.

Everybody crouched down to have a look. Gas was dribbling out of the tank, just a few miles from the dealership.

Many unfortunate motorists can testify that such problems in workmanship and design are still with us. Ask Laurie Fulton.

Fulton was among the first buyers of the new Honda del Sol when it was introduced last year. The del Sol is a nifty sports car with a roof that comes off.

The car provided a wonderful motoring experience--as long as it didn't rain. But the winter of 1992 was among the wettest on record in California, not only outside but inside Fulton's del Sol. The roof leaked.

"It would pour on me," said Fulton, a Studio City hair stylist. "It wasn't like a dribble. My feet would be soaking wet. I would have to drive to work in a raincoat and cover my feet in plastic."

Fulton returned the car to Honda several times. One time, Honda provided her with a rental car and kept the del Sol for a month, flying in experts from around the country and Japan for a look.

Meanwhile, plenty of other del Sols were having problems. Dealers couldn't leave the cars outside when it rained. At the first sign of a storm, salesmen would scurry to the lots and move the del Sols indoors.

A Honda spokesman said that not all del Sols leaked, though there was a problem with early models, such as Fulton's.

"American Honda looked at the problem," he said. "They are pretty confident that the problem is something that can be solved. There was a correction made and the later cars don't have that problem."

In February, Honda issued an eight-page illustrated technical bulletin to its dealers. It describes how to tighten, caulk and glue del Sol body panels together to hold out water and how to test the repairs by spraying the car with a hose.

The final note of the bulletin advises that repairs done after a car's warranty expires "may be eligible for goodwill consideration by the district service manager."

Honda did more than that for Fulton. It took back her del Sol and refunded the $19,000 she paid for the car. Although she was happy and commends Honda for its professional treatment throughout, gratitude only went so far. She bought an Infiniti G20.

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