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Defective Paint Jobs Can Never Be Entirely Fixed

August 20, 1996|RALPH VARTABEDIAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Question: I have a 1988 Taurus that has lost virtually every square inch of its clear coat. Please help me with any information you have about Ford paints.--K.R.

Answer: Ford has obtained a court order in U.S. District Court in New Orleans effectively blocking the dissemination of what opposing lawyers say is eye-popping information about its paint problems that has come up in a class-action suit. The company has also declined my requests for interviews with its paint experts to explain how they paint their cars.

Consumer groups have estimated that as many as 400,000 Ford vehicles, mainly pickups, have potentially defective paint. The U.S. Supreme Court earlier this year threw out a $2-million judgment against BMW, resulting from an Alabama case in which it was alleged that BMW had failed to disclose that it had substantially repainted a car.

Paint problems are among the most costly non-safety related defects, easily costing more than $2,000 to remedy. A defective paint job can never be entirely fixed, because once a car is assembled, new paint can never be oven-baked as done in the factory.

Kurt Chadwell, a Waco, Texas, attorney representing Ford owners suing Ford, said he has determined that Ford essentially used a two-step paint process in which the vehicles were dipped into an electro-coated primer and then painted. More than 3 million Ford vehicles were produced with the potentially defective two-step paint process, Chadwell said. Other manufacturers have used a three-step process that includes a sprayed primer coat that improves paint adhesion.

Chadwell's cases involve allegations that paint on various Ford models has flaked off. The problem of clear coat falling off is a different issue. No major class-action suits have been brought on that issue, although Chadwell said some owners have successfully sued Ford in small claims court.

* Vartabedian cannot answer mail personally but will attempt to respond in this column to automotive questions of general interest. Do not telephone. Write to Your Wheels, 1875 I St. N.W. No. 1100, Washington, D.C. 20006 or e-mail to Ralph.Vartabedian@latimes.com.

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