Mazda VVT (Variable Valve Timing) Lawsuit Dismissed

Judge grants motion to dismiss most of Mazda VVT lawsuit alleging engines fail from timing actuator.

Posted in News

— A Mazda VVT (variable valve timing) lawsuit has been dismissed after a federal judge threw out most of the claims against the automaker.

Lead plaintiff James Stevenson says his CX-7 experienced engine failure in 2012 related to the VVT assembly when the car had 63,562 miles. Mazda refused to cover the repairs under warranty, which left the plaintiff with a $3,384.87 bill for repairs and $960.02 for renting a car.

Stevenson filed the VVT assembly lawsuit in August 2014 alleging he bought the 2008 Mazda CX-7 in August 2009, not knowing the engine had an alleged defect. The car was sold with two warranties: a new vehicle limited warranty of 36 months or 36,000 miles and a powertrain limited warranty of 60 months or 60,000 miles.

The CX-7 has a VVT-equipped engine that according to the lawsuit, has defects that cause the timing chain to loosen or detach. The class-action lawsuit says the Mazda CX-7, Mazdaspeed3, Mazdaspeed6, Mazda6 (2.3L), Mazda3, Mazda5 and Mazda MX-5 all have defective VVT assemblies.

The VVT lawsuit alleges failure of the VVT assembly can cause total engine failure that requires engine replacement. The plaintiff claims Mazda knew about the VVT problem as early as 2007 because the automaker sent a technical service bulletin (TSB) to dealers in November 2007. The bulletin applied to the 2006-2007 Mazdaspeed6, the 2007 Mazdaspeed3 and the 2007 Mazda CX-7.

According to the TSB, "[w]hen the engine is started, some vehicles may exhibit a loud ticking noise from the variable timing actuator at first start for a couple of seconds. This is caused by the lock pin of the variable valve timing actuator not fully engaging."

The November 2007 TSB was then superseded by another bulletin dated January 16, 2008, authorizing dealers to replace additional parts related to the VVT assembly and permitting new repair procedures.

According to the lawsuit, from there it was a TSB festival as the VVT bulletin was updated at least seven times through February 2011, with each new TSB expanding the models and years of production.

The plaintiff says Mazda failed to warn owners of the VVT problems and instead, allegedly "restricted dissemination of this knowledge to its authorized dealer service departments." Furthermore, the bulletins allegedly told dealers to repair VVT assemblies only if the problem was brought up by verified customer complaints on cars still under warranty.

In January 2012, Mazda sent the plaintiff a letter that said the automaker would "conduct a Special Service Program ("SSP") to extend the warranty coverage for the specific repair of variable valve timing (VVT) noise and/or timing chain noise concern." This would extend the warranty coverage on the VVT assembly by one year or 10,000 miles.

The letter informs owners that "a loud ticking noise may be exhibited from the VVT when the engine is first started at cold condition."

However, there are conditions that apply to be eligible for the warranty extension. First, the extension excludes vehicles made in certain years and second, the warranty extension "does not apply if the problem is caused by poor vehicle maintenance."

Stevenson filed the VVT assembly lawsuit alleging violations of the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act (Count 1), violation of the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act (Count 2), breach of express warranty (Count 3), breach of implied warranty (Count 4) and fraudulent concealment (Count 5).

In its motion to dismiss, Mazda successfully argued it wasn't aware of the VVT problems when the plaintiff purchased the CX-7. The plaintiff claimed the automaker must have known about the VVT engine problems because the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration had received five complaints about the subject.

However, the judge agreed five complaints out of all the allegedly affected Mazda vehicles weren't proof the automaker knew of problems.

The automaker also said its motion should be granted because the plaintiff admits his CX-7 started having problems over 3,000 miles beyond the end of the warranty.

Mazda argued claims of consumer fraud, breach of implied warranty and concealment should all be dismissed because the plaintiff failed to allege facts to satisfy the pleading requirements to establish any of the claims.

U.S. District Judge Freda L. Wolfson granted Mazda's motion to dismiss by tossing out most of the claims. The judge completely dismissed three claims and partially dismissed the warranty claims. According to the judge,

“Count 1, violation of the NJCFA, and Count 5, fraudulent concealment, are dismissed in their entirety without prejudice; Count 4, breach of implied warranty is dismissed in its entirety. In addition, Count 2, violation of the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, and Count 3, breach of express warranty, are dismissed except with respect to Plaintiff’s claims resulting from the extended warranty on the VVT assembly.” - Judge Freda L. Wolfson

That left the only recourse the extended warranty angle, something that might have been a tough sell. The extended warranty says “if the noise is caused by poor vehicle maintenance (insufficient oil changes or using engine oil of viscosity lower than 5W-30), this warranty extension does not apply.”

Stevenson claims he "regularly maintained the vehicle by performing his own oil maintenance,” but Mazda says a lack of maintenance records means the extended warranty doesn't apply.

Once the judge had tossed the claims other than claims concerning the extended warranty, both parties agreed to voluntarily end the Mazda VVT lawsuit.

The Mazda VVT lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey - Stevenson v. Mazda Motor of America Inc.

Lead plaintiff James Stevenson is represented by Simmons Hanly Conroy LLC, Richardson Patrick Westbrook & Brickman LLC, and The West Law Firm.