L.J. Blake was driving his new Jaguar X-type 2.5-liter sedan on a frosty morning in northern California when the car emitted 'a very loud, screaming sound.' It sounded like a tuning fork.
'It happened as I shifted through each gear. It slowly stopped as the car warmed up,' said Blake, a 51-year-old illustrator from Sausalito, California, USA.
But the sound has come back repeatedly, even though Blake's dealer has replaced the car's propshaft - the shaft that takes power to the rear axle.
Blake is far from alone.
Jaguar is risking alienating some of its newest owners who complain that their X-types have numerous irritating quality problems. While none directly affect safety or functionality, some first-time Jaguar buyers are ready to leave.
'I am very frustrated at Jaguar's lack of interest in solving this problem,' said Mike Price, a 58-year-old retiree from New Orleans. 'There has been no follow-up by either Jaguar or my dealer on this matter. This is my first Jaguar purchase and because of their lack of interest in customer service, it will probably be my last.'
Through the Internet, Price said he found 40 other X-type owners with the same whining drivetrain.
This customer service issue could cause problems for Jaguar, which is seeking to grow from a niche brand to one that sells 200,000 units annually. The X-type will represent half those sales (see story, Page 4).
'I can't think of a carmaker that doesn't have an occasional glitch in its new models,' said Charlie Moss, an independent industry analyst in London. 'A drivetrain noise isn't the same as people being stranded or killed, but what they do about it is still very important.'
The approach is vital, Moss added.
'Jaguar can be the greatest friend these consumers ever had,' he said. 'The alternative is for people to be sick of the product and say, 'Sod it. Next time, I'll buy an Audi.''
Spokesman Colin Cook said Jaguar first became aware of the problem in January and engineered a fix in eight weeks.
'We've obviously taken steps to rectify the problem, with customers as well as in the production process. We put a process change in manufacturing and that has cured the problem,' Cook said.
Technically, there are two separate drivetrain problems. When decelerating from 110kph, a high-pitched whine comes from the X-type's all-wheel-drive differential unit. It happens often enough that Jaguar issued a technical service bulletin to US dealers. The simple fix: Add mass to the differential mounting bracket.
But the cold-weather noise is another matter. It occurs anywhere from 30kph to 110kph. For some owners it goes away quickly; others hear the 'tuning fork' sound for minutes at a time.
Some owners find the second problem more irritating because Jaguar has not officially acknowledged it exists. Some owners have had their propshafts replaced repeatedly under warranty - one is on his sixth.
Steven Miller, a 41-year-old attorney from Long Beach, New York, has both drivetrain problems. He said he loves his X-type, but is frustrated by his dealer's inability to repair the problems despite three efforts.
'I made a tape-recording of the noise. The attempted fix was to put some sort of additive into the all-wheel-drive system. This quieted the noise for several days, and then it came back. I am not satisfied with the way the dealer has been handling the matter,' Miller said.
Jaguar service technicians say they have heard two explanations for what is causing the noise. One is that the rubber bushing in the propshaft hardens in cold weather and squeaks when it rubs against moving parts. The other is that the middle bearing in the propshaft is slightly off-center, and cold temperatures keep the grease from heating adequately to prevent metal-on-metal contact.
Said Cook: 'We certainly do extensive cold-weather testing, but obviously this wasn't picked up. It's something that comes to light when you build thousands of cars, rather than hundreds. It affects a very small minority of the cars under certain conditions.'
Jon Kennedy, a 41-year-old registered nurse in Charlotte, North Carolina, has had his X-type's propshaft replaced twice, with two different part numbers listed on his repair orders.
The propshaft is only one of several problems with Kennedy's X-type. Others include a rocking driver's seat; 'weeping' windshield-washer nozzles; vibration from the tires above 70kph; and an apparent knocking when turning from the constant-velocity joints.
'Jaguar doesn't know how to handle my problems and it's taken them a long time to get this under control,' Kennedy said. 'I'm trying to give the dealer every reasonable chance, but the general manager knows this is their last chance.'
GKN Hardy Spicer in Birming-ham, England, supplies the X-type's propshaft and half-shafts. GKN declined to comment.