Here’s The Problem With Owning An Unreliable Luxury Car

Illustration for article titled Here’s The Problem With Owning An Unreliable Luxury Car

As you read this, I am currently on vacation in Europe, a fantastic continent that I visit every so often in order to see beautiful sights, and eat amazing food, and flee all of my Range Rover problems.

Ha ha! I am just kidding! My Range Rover isn't really that bad, right? I mean, sure, I've been to the dealer 14 times in the last 28 months. And sure, my various repair costs have totaled over six thousand dollars. And sure, my average mileage between dealer visits is only 2,100. But it's fun, right?! And it's all billable to CarMax!

In general, the answer here is yes: it is fun, and it is all billable to CarMax, and of course the upside is that I get to drive around in a Range Rover, which is a highly capable luxury automobile that I use for driving over parking curbs at the mall. But there's one problem with my Range Rover and other used luxury cars that you don't realize when you're buying them: the issues you simply can't get fixed.


Allow me to explain. A couple of weeks ago, I visited the lovely college town of Princeton, New Jersey (Motto: "We also have a home in Vail"), and I decided to park along the main drag that goes through town. It's called Nassau Street, presumably named for Nassau, The Bahamas, a lovely Caribbean town where people from Princeton get all of their maids.

So I'm parallel parking there on Nassau Street, which is this busy thoroughfare full of buses and Mercedes GL-Classes and Volvo wagons, when I hear it: a thud.

This was a bit curious because I had never heard a thud before. What I usually hear, when I'm parking my car, is this cacophony of parking sensor noises that are so loud and perfectly pitched that every single parallel parking attempt sounds like I'm getting chased by a European police car. "WEEEE" (front parking sensors) "OOOOOO" (rear parking sensors) "WEEEEEEE" (front parking sensors) "OOOOOO" (rear parking sensors) until finally I put the car in park and climb out to discover I'm still nearly four feet from the curb.


But this time, I looked down to discover that the parking sensors weren't working: instead, a light was flashing to indicate a parking sensor fault. And the thud? That was a 2009 Honda CR-V. You know, the one with those awful steel wheels and that horrible window line that made it look like a Honda Pilot had mated with a Volkswagen Beetle.

So the next day, a Saturday, I called up my dealership and I made an appointment to bring in my car on Tuesday to have the parking sensors fixed. But guess what? By Monday morning, the damn things were working again. And for the last two weeks, I've been driving around with the parking sensors in this odd state where sometimes they work, and sometimes they don't, but you never know which it'll be until you're in a situation where you're parallel parking on a busy street, with traffic everywhere, and people honking, and taxis, and buses, and cyclists, and you just want to crawl into a hole, or at least a non-British vehicle.


This isn't the only time this sort of thing has happened.

About a year ago, the CD player stopped playing CDs. I'd turn the car on, press "Next Track" and nothing. Not a single note, not a single lyric, not a single second of a Jimmy Eat World song. So I lived with this for a few days, and then I drove to the dealer. And I kid you not: on the way to the dealership, the CD player started back up again, like a sick elementary schooler who suddenly gets "better" when his parents call his bluff and start driving him to the doctor. And guess what? The CD player then worked flawlessly for the next few months.


Then there was the time the navigation system stopped working. One night I was out with some friends and we made a brief stop. When we turned the car back on, nothing. The stereo wouldn't play, the navigation system wouldn't turn on, the settings couldn't be accessed. Basically the entire center screen had entirely stopped working – and in place of all the normal functions, the car was displaying (this is completely true) a giant Land Rover logo. Of course, this was tremendously entertaining at first – but after two or three drive cycles, it became a little less entertaining and more annoying. But the next morning, guess what? The car started right up, the infotainment system with it, and I haven't had the problem since.

The point I'm getting at here is that used luxury cars have a lot of complicated electronics that don't always just fail. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don't, and sometimes they work intermittently, almost randomly, as if they occasionally decide that they're getting tired and they don't want to work right now, but maybe if you just gave them a little break they'd be back in business.


And the problem with this is that a warranty won't cover these items, no matter how good it is. I cannot, for instance, arrive at the dealer and insist my parking sensors are broken, when in fact they're working just fine. So your only choice, as the owner of an unreliable used luxury car, is to have patience: you must either wait for the sensors to fail completely, or wait for them to start working again. Either way, in the meantime, there are going to be a lot of thuds.

@DougDeMuro is the author of Plays With Cars. He owned an E63 AMG wagon and once tried to evade police at the Tail of the Dragon using a pontoon boat. (It didn't work.) He worked as a manager for Porsche Cars North America before quitting to become a writer, largely because it meant he no longer had to wear pants. Also, he wrote this entire bio himself in the third person.


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Your navigation screen that's stuck displaying the Land Rover logo isn't broken, it's the diagnostic computer displaying what's at fault with the car.