TAVARES, Fla. - Ford Motor Co. has been ordered to pay $209,652 in triple damages to the buyer of a motor home that was found to be a lemon.
The company brought the suit against Robert Starling, who complained of loud noise from the differential. He paid $59,590 in November 1994 for a new 1995 Coachman motor home built on a Ford chassis by Coachman Industries Inc. of Elkhart, Ind. The vehicle was declared a lemon in April 1995, by three members of the Florida New Motor Vehicle Arbitration Board at a meeting in Orlando.
In December 1995, the board ordered Ford to pay Starling $69,884, which was the price of the truck plus a daily penalty. Ford appealed, but the board's decision was affirmed May 27 in Fifth Judicial Circuit Court here by Circuit Judge Jerry Lockett, who ordered the hefty penalty.
Florida's lemon law says a judge 'shall double, and may triple' lemon case awards.
Starling said that after one trip, he was afraid to drive his RV long distances - and driving long distances was the reason for his purchase. Arbitrators called the sound 'very loud and annoying' to those in the back seat. Ford said the whining, howling noise was normal.
The vehicle was examined by a Ford field service representative and was in the shop several times. On one occasion it was in a Ford dealership for 70 days, but Starling said the noise resumed after just one mile of driving.
An expert witness for the plaintiff testified that parts of the differential, like the ring gear and pinion, were out of specification and showed signs of abnormal wear. Also, analysis of rear-end oil showed it carried excessive metal shavings, a sign of 'a dramatic increase in wear.'
In one test, a Ford employee ran the RV while it was on jack stands. The court said that was not an accurate replication of conditions under which the noise was heard.
Ford said Coachman did not install Ford body-insulating mounts, called pucks, which are designed to reduce chassis noise. Instead, Coachman welded the coach directly to the chassis, the court was told.
Early in the proceeding, Ford waived its right to claim Coachman was liable for the noise problem. The judge said Ford acted in bad faith by later trying to place liability on the converter.