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The author's 1991 Infiniti Q45

"To Infiniti and Beyond"

How the Internet Is Empowering Consumers

by Jim Bray

If you're planning a major purchase, you may want to do some surfing to find out if the product is any good before you plunk down your hard-earned cash.

This isn't always possible when buying something brand new, of course, though you can still learn quite a bit online thanks to owners' forums, online reviews and the like. But when making a purchase of something “previously enjoyed,” especially a big ticket item, some well-placed time online can be a Godsend.

How important is the Internet in empowering consumers? Here's my personal story:

I recently bought a used car – an Infiniti Q45; lovely car and since they haven't held their value, a relative used car bargain. I did some pre-sale surfing to see how the Q stacked up, and since it rated very well I bought it - and promptly joined an Internet owner's forum called NICO (Nissan Infiniti Car Owners).

I wish I'd joined the forum earlier, before I'd bought; it might have changed my mind about buying the Q (read on), but what can you do?

I fully expected to sink a few grand into the car – stuff like shocks and tires – but much to my chagrin this forum was full of dire warnings about a major flaw in the early Q45's: their timing chain guides wear out and break. What's worse, they go without warning and the repairs would cost more than the car's worth.

Since replacing the guides before they fail means the automotive equivalent of performing open heart surgery on the Q – and a multi-thousand dollar (Canadian$) repair bill – I freaked out. Worse, the owners on the forum strongly advised that I park the car until the guides were upgraded.

But I wasn't sure.

So I called the closest Infiniti dealer – who had no knowledge of the problem and gave me the impression they were just too busy or lazy to give me quote on fixing it. Infiniti's Canadian national office knew nothing about the problem either, and the woman I spoke to on the phone opined that since there was no recall info about that problem it mustn't exist and I should go ahead and enjoy the car. Which is obviously what I wanted to do!

A local shop specializing in Infiniti, though unable to spell it in their Yellow Pages ad, opined that Internet forums were bad, that “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing” when applied to consumers.

But a local Nissan dealer (Nissan is the parent company of Infiniti) took the job. They – joining an ever-growing crowd – clearly thought I was nuts.

But they were savvy enough to want my money.

They had to order the parts in, some from the US, and I finally got the work done.

I got a phone call from the Nissan dealer as they worked on the Q45. "You were right," the advisor told me, amazed. It turns out that one of the guides was already in pieces, the timing chain itself was loose and the pieces of guide were getting chewed up by the chain! I saw the parts afterward and they were getting pretty chewed. Who knows how long they would have lasted?

No damage had been done to the engine itself, they said, so I had caught it in time, thank goodness. As with other cases that had been outlined on the forum, there had been no indication that there might be a problem, no funny noises, nothing.

But it was sure nice having the service advisor tell me I had been right all along, when he had clearly thought I was a crazy dude with more money than brains. He had also advised me, beforehand, to keep driving the car, but I was paranoid enough to ignore him and park the car as the people on the forum had recommended.

I've since suggested that he (rather than the obviously uninterested local Infiniti dealer) contact the other Q owners with whom he deals (he says more and more Q owners leave the Infiniti dealer than bring their cars to his Nissan dealer for service) and tell them of the problem. I've offered myself as a testimonial for those who may not believe (or who balk and spending that horrendous amount of cash for a repair that doesn't seem needed). We'll see if any call me.

So thank God for the fine people at the NICO forum who shared their experiences with me. They saved my Q's life (and, since I'd just bought the car and my wife was a tad - shall we say unconvinced about the car's potential - my life as well).

It wasn't just communication by forum thread, either. One of the forum members even gave me his phone number so I could call him and talk over the timing chain guides issue - allowing me to pick his brain in real time!


So screw the so-called experts! The information I got from the Internet was right – and if I'd listened to the mainstream "experts" I'd have driven the car to its destruction, since the cost of repairing the engine can be more than the car itself is worth.

It isn't just me, either. Nick, another NICO forum member, says "If it weren't for NICO and clubs like it, I would be driving a broken-down red minivan." And my best friend has joined a forum dedicated to his Pontiac Vibe - and he's getting all sorts of good info on what to look for as his car gets more mileage on it.

And of course there are plenty more such groups all over the Internet. A Google search can help you find one that relates to your car (or TV, or just about whatever else you can want). So go for it!

I came away with a new respect for Internet forums that I had dismissed as being, generally, places where flakes and egotists hang out. Guess I'd tried the wrong resources before...

Meanwhile, I have even more disdain for experts than I had before – which I didn't think was possible. And one Nissan dealer is slightly more profitable than one Infiniti dealer.

Isn't cyberspace great? And aren't people great, too?


Jim Bray is a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada. His columns are available through the TechnoFile Syndicate.

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