‘Jumpstarting my car left me with a £650 bill’

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Andrea Winter was shocked beyond belief when an emergency jumpstart badly damaged her car’s electronic ‘brain’ and left her footing a £650 repair bill.

The 34 year-old care assistant from Waterlooville parked her car at the Queen Elizabeth Country Park while she enjoyed an afternoon out with her twin boys.

But when they returned two hours later, the Peugeot 108 (with just 11,000 miles on the clock and still under warranty) refused to start. The battery was flat.

It wasn’t long before another visitor noticed her plight and offered to try to start the car with his emergency set of jump leads.

Despite connecting the leads the correct way round, the car still refused to start, so Andrea called the AA, which arrived about half-an-hour later.

Their mechanic went through the same procedure using a portable jumpstarter, but the 16-month-old vehicle stubbornly refused to start, so was towed to a Peugeot dealership.

The following day Andrea received the bad news. Peugeot technicians couldn’t find anything mechanically wrong with the car but, after trying to jumpstart it using a starter pack, the engine still wouldn’t fire up.

When Andrea explained what had happened, they said it should never have been jumpstarted because the car’s electronic control unit had been spiked, knocking out its engine-starting functionality.

Because the car had been ‘misused’, the cost of repairs was not covered under the warranty.

A bewildered Andrea immediately checked the car’s manual and to her fury discovered that two whole pages were dedicated to describing how to connect up jump leads if it failed to start.

Andrea said: ‘I just don’t believe it, you couldn’t make it up. I can’t imagine anything more ridiculous. If the car isn’t meant to be jumpstarted, why on earth does the manual provide instructions about how to do it? It’s completely bonkers.

‘And why did the garage use a starter pack to try to get the car going instead of jump leads? It’s totally confusing and inconsistent.’

Andrea desperately needed the car back on the road to get her children to school, so she agreed to pay up under protest.

She added: ‘It was ludicrous. When I complained to Peugeot about it they just kept insisting it was all down to me because the manual was just for guidance.

‘If the car was at risk from a jumpstart, then there should be a warning in the manual or a sticker under the bonnet.’

Andrea asked Streetwise to take up the issue with Peugeot, but after examining a copy of the 108 handbook and the jumpstart instructions we decided to check with the online user forums for jumpstarting problems.

The general consensus was that the apparently simple process of jumpstarting modern cars was not the doddle it used to be. Unless a precise sequence was followed, inadvertently knocking out the ECU was high on the risk list.

A senior AA engineer told us that although jump leads were a handy way of recharging a battery, they can cause serious damage to both cars if not used properly.

‘For safety and peace of mind’ he said, ‘we always recommend members give us a call and leave it to one of our experienced technicians.’

‘If you’re stuck and determined to do it yourself, it’s essential you read the instructions in the handbook and follow them to the letter.’

We asked Andrea if she could remember how her well-meaning Good Samaritan had connected up the jump leads.

She said she was unable to be precise, but thought he’d just used common sense and connected up the red and black leads terminal to terminal.

Our AA expert confirmed that terminal to terminal connections were the most likely reason the car’s ECU ended up being cooked.

‘That’s definitely not the way to do it and doesn’t accord with the instructions,’ he said. ‘One lead should be attached to a donor car’s earthing point.’

We got on to Peugeot. They told us: ‘A thorough diagnosis was carried out which established the ECU had been subjected to a high voltage spike. Given the circumstances that prevailed at the time, the likely cause was the jumpstarting.

‘Because our investigation and fixing the problem took longer than anticipated, we’ve refunded the cost of the courtesy car supplied to your reader as a gesture of goodwill.

‘To the best of our understanding we’ve never said the vehicle couldn’t be jump started, just that it needs to be done correctly in accordance with the instructions in the handbook.’

Andrea thanked Streetwise for taking up her complaint. Although still smarting from the size of the repair bill she was grateful for the explanation and hoped it would be a warning to other readers.

She said: ‘Your intervention knocked around £100 off the cost of the repair and although it’s been an expensive way to learn I’m satisfied with the outcome, which at least was better than I expected.’