A North York couple has found themselves facing a massive car repair bill mere months after buying a brand new Lexus and it's all because of their attempts to protect their new vehicle — one of the most stolen makes in Ontario.
Mitchell Levine and his wife considered themselves loyal Lexus customers, even after they lost two vehicles, including a Lexus, to thieves within the past 16 months. So when they visited Ken Shaw Toyota last July, the couple say they told the sales person they wanted to add extra anti-theft measures to their new $75,000 Lexus RX 350h.
That's something the dealership didn't offer.
They say the salesperson told them it was OK to add extra anti-theft measures, an assertion the dealership has denied.
Now they're facing a $20,000 repair nightmare and a voided warranty.
"Very upset, very annoyed, sort of at wits end," Levine said last week. "It's at the point where my wife and I stare at one another and say did you sleep last night? And the answer is 'no.'"
Last fall, the number of vehicle thefts in Ontario increased for the fifth year in a row, according to Bryan Gast, vice president of investigative services at non-profit Équité Association, which investigates and analyzes insurance fraud and crime. In 2021, the company said Lexus RX series vehicles were Ontario's most stolen vehicles.
Levine and his wife say they were well aware of that, and that's why they wanted the added protection.
"We were just gobsmacked that after the fact, someone's saying they'd informed us not to install an alarm," Levine told CBC Toronto.
The couple says even before they installed the after-market anti-theft ignition lock, they were noticing problems with the vehicle. They didn't immediately return it, they say, because at first the problems were only intermittent.
Shortly after getting their new car home in July, the fob, and an associated online app, would only open the vehicle intermittently. And starting the car was also iffy, Levine said, because it wouldn't always start.
Lexus vehicles are among the most stolen in Ontario, according to Équité Association, which investigates and analyzes insurance fraud and crime. (Source: Équité Association)
Despite the problems, Levine took his new vehicle to Car Systems Installation (CSI) in North York to have an anti-theft device installed.
Soon afterward, the couple says the problems with the fob and the app became dire. They say they couldn't get the car to start at all, and they had to have it towed back to the dealership.
There, Levine says technicians told him the car's wiring had been compromised, and that he'd have to have his new anti-theft device uninstalled before they could work on the vehicle.
When he brought it back to the dealership a few days later, he says, the technicians told him that the anti-theft device installation had damaged the car's wiring.
Not only would the repair be an expensive one, around $20,000, but he'd have to pay for it out of pocket, the dealership said, since his warranty had been voided by faulty installation of the anti-theft device.
Installer, dealership disagree on cause
Levine requested a second opinion. But Don Valley North Toyota agreed that the warranty should be voided, according to an email from Ken Shaw's general manager Danny Jamal.
Ronen Yoseff, director of the device installer company CSI, says there were no problems with the device's installation.
Yossef said he's installed "thousands" of the anti-theft devices that require that a pin code be entered before the car can be started.
"We have dealers from the same brand, Lexus and Toyota, sending us cars, brand new before delivery to the customer, to install the system, and no issues," he said.
He also said an independent technician had looked over the vehicle and determined that his installation could not have caused the damage, which appears to be melting between wires.
Yossef argues one of the technicians at Lexus must have caused the damage while attempting to troubleshoot Levine's problem.
But both Lexus Canada and Ken Shaw Toyota deny that. In a statement to CBC Toronto, Lexus Canada insists that the vehicle's wiring was damaged by a third party.
"In this case, two different Lexus dealers found that a third party damaged the vehicle's wire harness during their attempted installation of an accessory.
"Since the damage was as a result of this third-party work – and not a manufacturing defect – it is not covered by the manufacturer warranty," the statement reads.
Difficult to determine cause, says expert
As for the size of the bill, wiring issues can be so expensive to fix because of the time it takes technicians to pinpoint where a break is, according to auto expert Mark Sachs-Anderson.
He says modern cars are so top-heavy with complex computer networks that it's difficult to easily determine what's happened in Levine's case.
Mark Sachs-Anderson of Wrench Spinners, an automotive shop in Etobicoke, urges new car buyers to have mechanical issues resolved before adding new devices. (Sue Goodspeed/CBC)
"You're essentially dismantling the entire vehicle just to get that wiring harness out," he said.
He advises new car buyers get any mechanical complaints with the vehicle settled before adding after market parts.
But he also wonders whether the manufacturer could handle this sort of situation differently.
"They should know this is a high theft vehicle and maybe be able to offer something to make that alarm system as a deterrent stronger," he said.
Levine said he asked the dealer if they offered a stock anti-theft device and was told they did not.
For his part, the whole experience has left Levine feeling bitter.
He now has no warranty against wiring issues and an expensive car that will cost tens of thousands of dollars to get back on the road, which will have to remain parked in his driveway, unprotected against theft.
"This has been a surreal experience," Levine said in an email. "We are loyal, repeat Toyota/Lexus owners and have always acted in concert with dealerships, so we have been totally caught off guard by this experience."