2008 Smart Fortwo Passion Coupe: Shiftless
April 06, 2009
You might remember that Jon Barrett, a vehicle data editor at Edmunds.com, has been driving a 2008 Smart Fortwo pretty extensively in the last few weeks. Here's his report of his latest adventures:
"Lately I've been spending a lot of time in a Smart that a friend of mine has bought for promotional purposes. The other weekend when I fired up the Smart and attempted to put it into gear, I couldn't get the brake interlock to disengage the shift lever. I tried turning the car on and off a few times, stepped on the brake pedal a bunch of times, and even smacked the top of the shifter. But all of this was to no avail; the button on the shift lever just wouldn't depress.
"Finally I called Smart USA for roadside assistance. They informed me that the car would have to be towed to the dealer for repair and said that a tow truck would be there in 90 minutes. Cut to nearly 4 hours (and many phone calls) later, and a huge flatbed finally arrived.
"While waiting for the tow truck, I jumped on-line to check some forums for Smart car owners to see if anyone else had experienced a similar problem. To my surprise, this shift lever issue appeared to be an all too common occurrence. Even the tow truck driver admitted that he sees this problem quite often. According to members of the 451s.com forum (www.451s.com), the problem seems to stem from the unique center console that the U.S.-market Smart gets and a lack of proper lubrication of the parts inside the shifter.
"When I picked up the Smart after its warranty repair, the work order showed that the shift knob had been removed, the interior parts had been lubricated and then the knob had been replaced. Everything has worked perfectly since.
"But some good did come out of this whole episode. I learned from dealership personnel that an upgrade is on the way for all 2008 and some 2009 Smarts. It includes a software update to modify shift timing for better drivability, replaces the battery with a larger-capacity one and substitutes some misprinted VIN stickers on the car (NHTSA TSB 10025723). Apparently Smart owners will be modified by VIN number to bring in their car. My car is due for an oil change soon, so I'll get the upgrade then and then let you know how it works out."