A potentially fatal flaw in a new car that Renault will not fix

If you’re thinking of buying a 2016 Renault Duster, hold on until you read this.

I’m Heeraz Marfatia, a filmmaker in Mumbai.

I’ve never written a blog.

I’m not on Facebook or Twitter. I’m a dinosaur that way.

But I love my cars. I read car magazines when I am stressed out. What reliable friends say porn does for them; cars do for me. They turn me on and they shut the world out.

That’s why I’ve started writing this blog. Man, I don’t even know how to start a blog. I got a friend to start this thing for me. But I need to say this, so stick with me, please. 

However, if you would prefer a brief summary of events, scroll down to the bottom of the page for the timeline.

I had keenly been awaiting the showcasing of the new Duster 2016. It happened at the Delhi Auto Expo. And I was hooked. I probably saw more footage and read about the Duster thanks to Google baba then I should have. I had to sell my lavish dream purchase to my 7 and 4 year old daughters first. That would clear the path for my wife to get on board.

The girls loved the off-road driving videos of the Duster. They wanted a car that could drive through streams and drive up mountains! But my wife saw it as a jump from a Rs 6 lakh Swift to a Rs17 lakh Duster! She thought I was crazy, but finally agreed.

I was the first customer to book the car in the Gen-Next Motors showroom at Andheri West. (Or so I was told by the general manager of the showroom).

Booking receipt
Booking receipt

I had read so much of new owners writing about their cars I thought I would do it too. Once I told my car enthusiast friends I was one of the first people to book the Duster 2016, they suggested I do a piece on my experience from following the showcasing at the Auto Expo in Delhi to the first service. It sounded fun but I didn’t take it too seriously.

The Gen-Next Motors general manager, Kunal Naik, kindly invited me to unveil the Duster 2016 in the Andheri showroom. I guess I was the first one to book the first car there & also get the first delivery so maybe that’s why. I thought it was super cool. They asked me if my father-in-law would agree to be the chief guest at the event. He is a retired IAS Officer, and was Principal Secretary to the government of Maharashtra for many years.Launch invitation

The event was -I have to use the word – sweet. We cut a cake! My Father in law lit a Diya! I had a mike to talk into! I extolled the virtues of the Duster 2016 in my speech. It was a bizarre but funny day!

In a week or so I got delivery of my Duster. The km gauge said 200 km, and I wondered if they had taken it for a joy ride or something. Anyway I ignored my bawa instincts and moved on. My girls named it ‘The Vampire’. It was all going to be fun and happily ever after. Or so I thought.

Delivery 2
Car delivery at Gen-Next Motors, Andheri

I drove the car a little bit. There was something wrong. It was pulling a touch to the left. I dismissed it, reasoning that it was a new car. I had to get used to it, and anyway I was keen to change to better quality rubber. I went in for thicker treads. The on-vehicle tyres were MRF Wonders (215/65 R16) and I got Continental Cross Contact LX2 (235/60 R16). The original radius & tyre pressure in both tyres is the same.

After the change, the drive quality was good. But the more I drove the car, the monster pull came back to haunt me. My tyre guy changed the front tyres around. But the pull to the left continued to happen. I showed it to the Gen-Next Motors Workshop at Jogeswari. They are Renault’s dealers in Mumbai.

They did the wheel alignment, but the pull to the left persisted. They tried to blame it on the new tyres I had purchased. So we tested spec MRF’s on my car. The pull was a little less, but it was there. The MRFs were brand new tyres taken from another car. But I know my cars well enough to know that new tyres will, as a rule, compensate for any flaw in the car for a few hundred kilometers.

I believe in problem solving. So I asked them to arrange to get a Test AWD Duster 2016 vehicle and put the Continental tyres on it. If there was a problem with the Continentals it would be an easy solution to change them. The workshop people agreed to do this, and said it would take a couple of days to get the test drive vehicle. 

I didn’t wait. On a hunch, I took the car to Premji Tyres’ Shailesh Jogani who helped me out. Premji are the tyre experts in this fair city for donkey’s years now. Incidentally I also found out that Premji Tyres does wheel alignment and balancing for Gen-Next Motors workshop, among other company’s workshops like Toyota etc. I thought that was a plus. At least their opinion would matter to Gen-Next Motors. Premji tested the alignment again and did a few more tests for a few hours. Shailesh’s conjecture was either it’s a manufacturing defect or the car could have been dropped hard from one of the rams of the trailers that carry them, it could have happened during transportation of the vehicle. Anyway the report given to me was that “a chassis check was required on the Car-O-Liner or Celette bench. And the wider tyres were not the reason for pulling.” 

Premji Report
Premji’s wheel alignment report

 Just to make the guys at Gen-Next Workshop comfortable and make them understand the problem – and more for my peace of mind – we tried to test-drive the AWD Duster 2016 vehicle and put the Continental tyres on it. The test vehicle drove perfectly. There was no pulling at all. So it was deduced that car had an issue. It was agreed upon by the Gen-Next tech person Sunil. Hence proving to them that nothing was wrong with my tyres and the defect was clearly in the vehicle that was sold to me. 

(By the way, I nearly forgot to mention another defect: a leak from the A/Cs defogger vent, which they promptly repaired.)

Leakage from defogger
Leakage from AC defogger vent causing moisture on windscreen

But back to the story. I gave my car to Gen-Next Motors Workshop in Jogeswari on 4th April 2016. To fix both the problems. There was radio silence for a few days.

Then I was informed by the workshop manager that there was nothing wrong with the car. It works fine with the MRF tyres. I escalated the issue with the CEO of Gen-Next Motors Deepak Rao. He said he would look into the matter personally. And try the Continental tyres himself on the test drive vehicle. I had met Deepak Rao at the unveiling in the Andheri showroom and had praised his organization.

Again there was radio silence for a few days. And then I was told by Asif Iqbal  – Area Manager After Sales Renault & the CEO of the dealership that according to their test there was nothing wrong with the car. I asked them how was it that Continental tyres did not work in one car (mine) and work well in the other car (the test drive vehicle)?

They said no employee of Renault or the dealership can try the continental tyres on the test vehicle. Even if it was to just figure out the problem. They said they couldn’t talk about Continental tyres as are they not a brand recommended by Renault. Hence it couldn’t be discussed anymore. This is what they really said!

I asked them if deductive logic is not understood by them or do the laws of physics not work for them? I asked them if they had tried to figure out the problem. Did they change something or scan the alignment of the chassis to see if anything was wrong? They said we have done none of the above because they felt there is nothing is wrong with the car.

They felt nothing was wrong with the car. Remember, folks: Renault’s cars are inspected on parameters like feelings, not evidence.

I asked them again. They were sure about their feeling that nothing was wrong with the car. (As you can tell, I can’t get over this. Just don’t give them a plane-servicing contract because I like engineers using their heads, not their hearts.)

I said I would take them at face value and accept the car back with the MRF spec tyres at my own expense on the condition that they were willing to give me an official letter stating that they would replace my car if in the next 6 months the car continued to pull left.

There was silence again.

I can only conclude from this episode that they aren’t sure of their own car.

And if they aren’t sure, how am I expected to risk my family’s safety in it?

Vampire with kids
My daughters and their ‘vampire’

What I can understand from this is they all had a closed door meeting. Rather than trying figure what was wrong with car they were hiding behind a policy that only a certain brand name of a tyre that is manufacture approved can be spoken of. No one bothered about their own product – the car itself.

I am assuming if my ‘Vampire’ was the first vehicle in Andheri. It was probably the first 50 or 100 units that were manufactured. If there was a flaw in one of them, will any auto company not try to correct it ? And see to it that no other cars are effected. Safety issues at hand.

The issue is not that there is a problem with the car but really Renault’s inability or lack of caring to want to even try and correct it. 

 I tried to get the situation escalated with Lalit Jogani (Shailesh’s brother) who had very kindly agreed to help & even intervene with Dhruv Gupta his friend, the owner of Gen-Next Motors, but to no avail. Shailesh Jogani of Premji Tyres is not taking my calls anymore, neither is Lalit. God bless them they tried to help but they have a business to run, I understand.

Now in frustration I sent an email to the PR person at Renault Jatin Aggarwal (jatin.aggarwal@renault.com). He said my problem would be addressed.

Finally I thought some top management level person will call & my problem would be understood & taken care off. After follow ups, the Regional Business Head of Renault, Mr. Jatin Lakra called me & said that he was already briefed I was just expected to use the MRF tyres. And that if there is a problem later we would “see” what to do. Mr. Lakra may have been briefed badly or maybe he had made up this mind already that an issue could not exist with the car. Anyway it was beautifully patronizing… he had a meeting with the CEO of Renault and had to rush in for it, promised to call me back I am still waiting . I should write to the CEO I guess …. maybe he will write me back.  

I think I am past the “we will see”. I need answers. The business head told me that they can’t vouch for how another company’s tyre behaves. But again that’s not the point I am willing to put their spec tyres on my car in good faith if they are willing to give it to me in writing – if the pulling comes back again they will replace the vehicle.

I didn’t know how to break it to the fine people at Renault that it’s possible to use more than one brand of tyres. Not just the tyre company they may or may not have a deal with. The Duster is a cult car, takes on bigger rims, bigger tyres – no problem. And yet like good diligent Parsi, I put tyres that were of the original radius – same as company spec and yet I am being punished.

The company refused to see beyond its tyres, especially when the problem lay with the car. Let me state it again: the car pulls to the left no matter which tyre brand I use.

Here’s what they said to me. “If you changed the brand of the tyre; it is your problem. Drive away with your car. It’s your issue now. We are saying its fine.”

I never expected a response like this from a major automotive company.

I am not getting any satisfactory response from anyone. It’s like we’re talking different languages.

So we’re at an impasse.

This car is defective, and I’m not accepting a defective car.

They’ve delivered a defective car, and they’re not accepting responsibility.

So we’re stuck.

I think I’m being reasonable. Fix the car to my satisfaction, or change it. Don’t insult my intelligence & don’t stonewall me. I’m not asking for my money back. It’s done less than 500km. Fix it. It’s that simple.

I thought it was my right as a customer to be satisfied. Or do those rules not apply to Renault?

As they say never come between a Nazgul and his prey, or a bawa and his car.

Although, in this case, I’m the one feeling preyed upon.

Heeraz Marfatia

My phone number: +91 9820537144

Renault Duster AWD 2016 timeline

  • First person to book at Gen-Next Motors Andheri showroom, & first person to get delivery
  • Car collected on April 20th at 12 noon
  • Drove, noticed slight pull to the left, didn’t think much of it
  • Changed tyres from MRF Wanderers 215/65/R16 to Continental CrossContact LX2 235/60/R16. Original radius and tyre pressure same. As I drove more, pull became more and more apparent
  • Revisited tyre dealer, rotated front tyres. Pull remained
  • Visited Gen-Next Motors workshop at Jogeshwari. Did wheel alignment & balancing. Pull remained. Gen-Next blamed Continental tyres for the pull.
  • Tried new MRF Wanderers from another identical model and pull was definitely less, but still there
  • Told Gen-Next to arrange for identical model (Renault Duster AWD 2016) test drive vehicle
  • Took my car to Premji Tyres, Mahim. Report: New tyres not the problem. Chassis check required on the Car-O-Liner or Celette bench
  • Tried new Continental tyres on dealer’s test drive AWD vehicle. No pull at all, tyres performed perfectly. Tech person from Gen-Next, Sunil, was present and agreed with the finding.
  • Gave car on May 4th to Gen-Next to fix both problems (also leakage in AC duct on dashboard).
  • Few days later, Gen-Next refused to acknowledge problem with car, saying new Continental tyres were not approved by manufacturer (Renault).
  • Some more days later, got conference call from Asif Iqbal – Area Manager, aftersales Renault, & Deepak Rao, CEO, Gen-Next. They refused to acknowledge Continental tyres, and how those worked perfectly fine on the test drive vehicle, as the tyres were not approved by manufacturer. So it could not be discussed.
  • Asif requested me for a test drive with stock (original) tyres on my car. I refused, as I had already done that. My condition was that the Continental tyres issue couldn’t be ignored.
  • On May 13th, mail from Asif stonewalling me, summarising – no issue with car with stock tyres. Continental tyre problem cannot be discussed or resolved as they are not approved.
  • Contacted Jatin Lakda, business head, western region, Renault. He suggested that I collect my vehicle and drive it for a few months. If problem reoccurred, “they would see”. Continental tyre issue, of course, could not be discussed.
  • Till date: Apart from wheel balancing/alignment, no chassis or other check has been done on my car, to my knowledge.
  • My final stand: I will accept everything Renault offers, provided I get a letter from them stating that if the car begins pulling left again within 6 months with the stock MRF tyres, they have to replace the vehicle. This is because they seem certain that the vehicle has no problem. I am endangering my safety and my family’s, just on Renault’s word.