Optima Battery Problems

OptimaJim

Observer
Jim, I apologize for the delay in getting back to you, but at your request, I had one of our engineers review this thread and my response. In reference to HenryJ's comment about testing a YellowTop manufactured in our Monterrey facility in 2006, he wanted me to point out that ground may not have even been broken on that facility in 2006 and it certainly wasn't producing batteries at that point.
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He also appreciates Jim's (teotwaki) suggestion for a new product in post #51. He agrees that not all vehicle charging systems are created equal, but that a stock vehicle charging system in proper working order will have no trouble maintaining our batteries. He also mentioned that the batteries in teotwaki's dual system are seeing substantially different use, with the starting battery only seeing very shallow discharge due to starting. He also asked if the voltage measured at the posts of both batteries while the engine was running was identical?
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He indicated the charging sequence in post #56 is for a battery charger is a “generic” description of AGM charging. While the voltages may not be exactly correct for a specific AGM battery brand or type, they're pretty good for an Optima. He also noted the voltages for Stage 1 and 2 are the same- 2.4-2.45/cell (14.4-14.7 volts), which is where the battery is charged and the voltages noted are pretty close to the typical alternator output voltage range discussed in this thread and should result in a good state of charge with an Optima battery. From our engineer's perspective, flooded and AGM starting batteries don't need much of anything different to be charged by an alternator. Similarly, an AGM or flooded deep-cycle battery don't need much different to be charged by an alternator. The charge ranges can be different between a starting or deep-cycle/dual purpose battery, but they probably overlap.
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I cannot speak on behalf of other AGM manufacturers, but as you indicated in the first line of our recommended charging information that you posted, if your alternator is putting out 13.65 to 15.0 volts with no amperage limit, we feel it can properly-maintain any of our batteries under normal operating conditions. However, even if your battery only operated your refrigerator for 40 hours every month, it would be good practice to periodically check the voltage level of the battery and fully-charge it with a battery charger, if needed.
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Vehicles with significant electrical demands, whether they are lavishly-equipped new luxury cars (many of which come with AGM batteries from the factory) or older vehicles with aftermarket components, place heavy demands on their charging systems. Even if those charging systems are theoretically up to the task of maintaining those batteries, driving habits may not allow those systems to keep pace with the electrical demands of those vehicles. To a vehicle's charging system, there is a world of difference between 40 hours of drive time on the highway and 40 hours of commuter traffic driving.
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I'm sorry you feel as if I'm attacking anyone, as that certainly isn't my intent. I'm merely pointing out the sales brochure you previously-linked stressed that vehicle charging systems are limited to 13.8 volts, which I personally have not found to be the case at all, nor have you or even the third Jim in this thread. Optima doesn't have a vested interest in selling people new alternators or wiring, but I spend all day telling folks the best battery in the world is only as good as the charging system that maintains it and the wiring that connects it.
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As you compare the quality of our batteries with others, you are basing your comparsions on dissimilar applications- the apples of a starting battery to the oranges of an auxiliary battery. I understand you don't feel your batteries are being abused and you certainly don't strike me as the kind of person who would intentionally abuse anything you own.
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In the end, it may not be an issue of a charging system, wiring, battery or specific charging sequences, but rather how the vehicle is used. Reverting to a simplistic example with the Corvette owners, if any C6 owner only drives his car to shows on the weekends and leaves it sit unused on the other days, he will likely find his battery (regardless of brand) won't last very long. Honestly, if the starting & auxiliary positions were reversed and you were having trouble with any other brand of battery, I'd offer the same advice- try swapping the battery positions, if you are convinced they are the issue.
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Do you recaall the voltages of the two YellowTops and BlueTop when you replaced them and the circumstances surrounding their replacement?
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Jim McIlvaine
eCare Manager, OPTIMA Batteries, Inc.
www.facebook.com/optimabatteries
 

HenryJ

Expedition Leader
...In reference to HenryJ's comment about testing a YellowTop manufactured in our Monterrey facility in 2006, he wanted me to point out that ground may not have even been broken on that facility in 2006 and it certainly wasn't producing batteries at that point. ...
Very good to know that the Optima Rep. here was lying to me and gave another "bogus" battery. Funny that he was very careful to point out the label and differences when he presented me with the new battery? It does explain quite a bit in that there was no difference in performance and had similar faults matching the others.
I will be sure to print this information and give it to him next time around.
For the record, when did the Mexico plant begin producing batteries?

EDIT- Did a little searching for more information:
Answers.com said:
...Of all of the company's diversified operations, its battery unit was the least profitable, partly because prices for batteries had not increased in a decade, and partly because the unit's unionized plants had to compete with nonunion plants of other companies. In mid-1991 Johnson Controls attempted to sell the battery division but could not find a buyer. The unit was further battered when it lost its contract to supply DieHard batteries to Sears in late 1994. Since that time contracts were signed or renewed with such retailers as AutoZone and Wal-Mart, and the company also supplied the largest battery distributor in the nation, Interstate Battery System of America. In October 1997 a contract was signed to supply Sears with DieHard Gold batteries, the top of that product line. The battery unit also began to target overseas markets more aggressively, opening a plant in Mexico in 1994, forming a joint venture in China in 1996 to make batteries for Volkswagen, and creating another joint venture in 1997 with Varta Battery AG of Germany to make batteries in South America.
...in late 2000 Johnson acquired Gylling Optima Batteries AB, a Swedish maker of high-performance, leak-resistant lead-acid batteries marketed under the Optima brand name...

Read more: http://www.answers.com/topic/johnson-controls-inc#ixzz1jIdRel3h
R McGraw said:
Its official now. I have worked at Optima Batteries for 11 years. In 2000, Johnson controls bought Optima and immediatly began construction of a plant in Mexico. We were told that our U.S. plant could not produce enough product so the plant in mexico would be to supply Europe. Slowly but surely, our product lines began being transferred to mexico. Then the week before Thanksgiving, we were told that the U.S. plant will be closed Jan.24 2009.
While it may not have been producing batteries for the US market at that time, it seems reasonable that I could have received a battery from the Mexico plant in 2006? Maybe the JC/Optima rep. was not feeding me BS?
 
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teotwaki

Excelsior!
Optima Jim, here is the baseline electrical system info for the (nameless) Optima Engineer to review :elkgrin:

My modest test setup: two Fluke 8060A DMMs on right and Fluke Model 36 clamp-on Amp meter on the Optima. The DMMs seem to be reading correctly but I'd like to run some tests later on to see how the Fluke-36 is doing. The highest reading observed was 14.7 amps and later on at low RPM it was reading a little under 6 Amps. I think that the alternator seems to be working correctly.


Here is the nice set of mil-grade battery clamps on the Optima


Both DMMs read the same voltage at the same time on the same battery so relative readings should all be good.


Initial reading of battery voltages without running the engine. Optima left meter, DieHard right meter. The truck had been run briefly about 30 minutes before this reading. The Optima had not been under a load since the fridge was running on AC


To address the question about the voltage drop across the cables between batteries there was 0.029 volts of loss with 8.3 Amps measured at the Optima. The roughly 0.003 ohms of resistance seemed about right with other readings. The battery cable should have about 0.0016 ohms in 10 feet so if I throw in loss for cable crimps and so on I think my losses are reasonable. This loss also includes the 200A relay that connects the two batteries together.



The Scan Guage reads about 0.1 volts lower than the Fluke meters. I've only seen 14.2 volts early in the morning for a short while when starting the truck.


Voltage reading at a lower RPM (add in the 0.1 volts for the battery reading)


All in all I think that my electrical system is just fine. There may be other tests that can be run to look at the Optima's performance. I have a Watts Up meter that I might be able to use to track the Engel Fridge load on the Optima
 

teotwaki

Excelsior!
This reply is sooooo long that I'll insert my replies where possible and delete the rest

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He (Optima Mystery Engineer) agrees that not all vehicle charging systems are created equal, but that a stock vehicle charging system in proper working order will have no trouble maintaining our batteries. He also mentioned that the batteries in teotwaki's dual system are seeing substantially different use, with the starting battery only seeing very shallow discharge due to starting. He also asked if the voltage measured at the posts of both batteries while the engine was running was identical?

See my detailed sets of voltage measurements in the other post. My stock vehicle charging system appears to be in proper working order. And yes, the batteries do see very different use. That is exactly why I have a dual battery system. See my comments about Optima continually swirling the completely different issues of QUALITY and battery application
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He indicated the charging sequence in post #56 is for a battery charger is a “generic” description of AGM charging. While the voltages may not be exactly correct for a specific AGM battery brand or type, they're pretty good for an Optima. He also noted the voltages for Stage 1 and 2 are the same- 2.4-2.45/cell (14.4-14.7 volts), which is where the battery is charged and the voltages noted are pretty close to the typical alternator output voltage range discussed in this thread and should result in a good state of charge with an Optima battery. From our engineer's perspective, flooded and AGM starting batteries don't need much of anything different to be charged by an alternator. Similarly, an AGM or flooded deep-cycle battery don't need much different to be charged by an alternator. The charge ranges can be different between a starting or deep-cycle/dual purpose battery, but they probably overlap.

My 4Runner had an ordinary flooded starting battery which was very high quality and lasted 5 years. I replaced it with a Sears Diehard AGM starting battery and over 2 years later it is doing great. In a 4 year time frame I am now on my 4th Optima battery. See my comments below about continually confusing the topics of QUALITY and battery application. The starting batteries exhibit quality over a longer period of time (than Optima) while fulfilling their intended application In contrast, the Optima batteries using the same charging system do not last more than a year and their only task is to run a small Engel Fridge..
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I cannot speak on behalf of other AGM manufacturers, but as you indicated in the first line of our recommended charging information that you posted, if your alternator is putting out 13.65 to 15.0 volts with no amperage limit, we feel it can properly-maintain any of our batteries under normal operating conditions. However, even if your battery only operated your refrigerator for 40 hours every month, it would be good practice to periodically check the voltage level of the battery and fully-charge it with a battery charger, if needed.

I guess "good practice" means that the automotive system isn't able to properly charge the battery?? I check the Optima voltage every day because it is essential that my Fridge can run unattended for two days without charging the battery.
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Vehicles with significant electrical demands, whether they are lavishly-equipped new luxury cars (many of which come with AGM batteries from the factory) or older vehicles with aftermarket components, place heavy demands on their charging systems. Even if those charging systems are theoretically up to the task of maintaining those batteries, driving habits may not allow those systems to keep pace with the electrical demands of those vehicles. To a vehicle's charging system, there is a world of difference between 40 hours of drive time on the highway and 40 hours of commuter traffic driving.

But my vanilla SR5 4Runner is not "lavishly" equipped with much of anything so to me this statement just muddies the water. I did mention previously that a long day of driving (6 to 10 hours) or local freeway commuting did not seem to adequately revitalize the Optima's end state of charge compared to my AC powered charger at home recharging the battery. In my other post it can be seen that the charging system appears to be working fine
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I'm sorry you feel as if I'm attacking anyone, as that certainly isn't my intent. I'm merely pointing out the sales brochure you previously-linked stressed that vehicle charging systems are limited to 13.8 volts, which I personally have not found to be the case at all, nor have you or even the third Jim in this thread. Optima doesn't have a vested interest in selling people new alternators or wiring, but I spend all day telling folks the best battery in the world is only as good as the charging system that maintains it and the wiring that connects it.
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Mentioning it once is pointing it out. This is the third time so I am unsure why the idea of an add-on charging system is so bothersome to Optima other than that it potentially undermines the idea of an ordinary car's alternator being able to properly charge any Optima battery. Having said that, my experience is that while my system is capable of supplying 14+ volts, it only seems to do so when I first start the truck in the morning. It may even be only on cold mornings so I'll keep an eye on it as the weather warms up. In today's measurements 13.9 volts was the highest reading.

As you compare the quality of our batteries with others, you are basing your comparsions on dissimilar applications- the apples of a starting battery to the oranges of an auxiliary battery.

Dude, you are mixing apples and bananas. I am talking about manufacturers' quality irregardless of application. If you remodel your house you want to get the best sinks and the best tubs for your family. They have dissimilar applications but you will not buy a cheap Chinese Pep Boys sink and an expensive Italian DieHard tub because of dissimilar applications. You'll buy the best of both and expect the best performance of both. If the Optima sink starts to rust and the Diehard tub does not then we are talking about how much quality each item has built in and NOT that one is used for bathing and one for brushing teeth. They are both used to store water and they are both fed from the same water pipes.

I understand you don't feel your batteries are being abused and you certainly don't strike me as the kind of person who would intentionally abuse anything you own.

No, I don't abuse my gear, especially as I often stake my life on it. Please don't abuse my technical knowledge either. I may not be a battery expert but I learn quickly and have a double Electrical/Electronics Bachelors degree and over 40 years of experience. If you give me opinions about Optima batteries I'll call them just that: opinions. If you give me technical data and other facts I can chew on those, learn, modify my thinking and improve my dual battery system. That includes replacing batteries that don't perform.
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In the end, it may not be an issue of a charging system, wiring, battery or specific charging sequences, but rather how the vehicle is used. Reverting to a simplistic example with the Corvette owners, if any C6 owner only drives his car to shows on the weekends and leaves it sit unused on the other days, he will likely find his battery (regardless of brand) won't last very long. Honestly, if the starting & auxiliary positions were reversed and you were having trouble with any other brand of battery, I'd offer the same advice- try swapping the battery positions, if you are convinced they are the issue.

I have no idea how replacing a deep cycle battery with a starting battery and vice versa will do anythng other than show an Optima battery might have adequate CCAs to start my truck and the DieHard can run my fridge. Other than that, if all of the sales literature is correct I will shorten the lives of the batteries by placing them in an improper application.

From Optima's web site:
13. What does deep cycle mean?
Deep cycle means using the battery in an application that will typically discharge 60% to 70% or more of the batter y capacity. An automotive battery is an SLI (starting, lighting, ignition) battery. It's plates are designed to deliver maximum power for a short duration. Starting a car typically discharges an SLI battery only 1% to 3%. When an SLI battery is used in a deep cycle application, or in a vehicle with heavy accessory loads, the battery life will be shortened proportionally to how deeply it is cycled on a regular basis.
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Do you recall the voltages of the two YellowTops and BlueTop when you replaced them and the circumstances surrounding their replacement?

We are talking a 4 year span so I can't provide useful engineering data. In a nutshell, after a year of use the Optima batteries would not have an end state of 12.6 volts even after long drives. More and more often they had to be babied by the external charger. At the same time my Toyota OEM Panasonic battery never needed to be babied and neither does the DieHard. Those starting batteries also have to deal with headlights, electric windows and so on. Not "lavish" but they continue to deliver quality while fulfilling their intended application. The Optima battery simply has to run my Engel Fridge for 2 days without charging after I drive 6 or more hours non-stop to my destination. I am finding that while on location that I have to either run the truck to charge the Optima or set up my solar 50 watt panel.
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teotwaki

Excelsior!
Before the question pops up, my Optima does not supply any of the cranking amperage when the truck is started.
 

teotwaki

Excelsior!
Many, many other similar threads to this one at other forums. Probably hundreds. My head hurts from reading about so many failed batteries. Here are a few:

http://forum.ih8mud.com/chit-chat-section/512641-optima-batteries-bogus.html

http://www.jalopyjournal.com/forum/showthread.php?t=589071

http://www.jeepforum.com/forum/f9/optima-battery-flat-dead-1142928/

http://www.rv.net/forum/index.cfm/fuseaction/thread/tid/24950002/srt/pa/pging/1/page/1

http://www.maseratilife.com/forums/quattroporte/12204-optima-battery-issues-resulted.html

http://www.race-dezert.com/forum/showthread.php/95876-Optima-batteries (comments from Camburg Racing are interesting)


In all of them there is a similar pattern to the complaints and problems discussed. You'll find Optima Jim is in many of those discussions too. He admits to being on "1,000" forums so it is obvious that he is paid to be present and share Optima's POV. While I (and many others) really don't get the answers that we want I can only hope that some of my noise at least gets back to Optima's bean counters. I don't feel that I need to be an expert on the care of Optima batteries just to use one. I've never had to put so much effort into any other brand of battery that I have ever used. I'm not sure I've heard of other vendors that have to pay someone to be on so many forums but a lot of Optimas are sold so go figure.... :ylsmoke:
 

bfdiesel

Explorer
Seems they must be making money to do that and from the one red top optima I have had for the last 6-7 years that is treated horribly ( used a few times a year till discharge from an inverter, occasionally as a jump start box and at times a stand alone for the winch when it isn't on the front of the suburban) they are good batteries. An old acid bath would not have put up with the crap I pull on the optima.
 

teotwaki

Excelsior!
Seems they must be making money to do that and from the one red top optima I have had for the last 6-7 years that is treated horribly ( used a few times a year till discharge from an inverter, occasionally as a jump start box and at times a stand alone for the winch when it isn't on the front of the suburban) they are good batteries. An old acid bath would not have put up with the crap I pull on the optima.
It isn't clear to me who you mean is "making money" so maybe you can clarify? If you look at the threads that I posted there are hundreds of issues the are described. For every one person that posts up that they love their Optima there are 100 who post that they have had problems. But if Optima sells a million batteries (or more) a year then 1,000 bad batteries is an insignificant manfacturing defect rate to the company (but not to a thousand off-roaders). Because Optima cannot give out their manufacturing defect rate we'll never have exact numbers.

If your battery is that old it is possible that it was manufactured in Colorado. I don't know how it can be told by the date codes and serial numbers. It is a sure thing that some if not all of the Optimas that I have owned have been made in Mexico.

2008 article
Aurora Battery Maker Moves Operations To Mexico
Reporting Rick Sallinger
E-mail AURORA, Colo. (CBS4) ―

CBS4's Rick Sallinger speaks with an employee of the Optima battery factory, located near the intersection of Interstate 70 and Airport Road.

This Thanksgiving is a tough one for 140 employees of a battery production firm in Aurora who learned this week their jobs are going to a new plant in Mexico.
For a decade Optima Batteries has produced its product in the United States, but earlier this year employees were informed a new plant was being constructed in the Mexican city of Cienega de Flores. "When they built that plant in Mexico, what did they tell you?" CBS4's Rick Sallinger asked one employee. "That half of the production would stay here and the other half to Mexico." "And now it's all going to Mexico?" Rick asked. "Yeah," the employee said. Optima workers in Aurora told CBS4 they were asked to train Mexican employees for the new facility.

The company issued a statement saying "the economy has changed dramatically over the past several months and we find ourselves in a very difficult market." Doors will close on Jan. 31.
No time is a good time to lose your job, but especially not now. "It kind of puts a damper on it knowing in a couple months you don't have a job (and you'll be) going down to unemployment," one worker said. A spokesperson for the city of Aurora said the timing is unfortunate and they understand the impact on the employees and their families.
The company is part of a much larger firm called Johnson Controls, which said they will provide support and placement services for the employees in Aurora who are losing their jobs
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If you read even some of the other threads there is the popular boogey-man theory right now that "something" changed when the US operation closed down. But "something" is too vague for me. Maybe how much sodium sulfate in the electrolyte was changed, maybe not using ultra pure lead. In the last 10 years lead has gone up roughly a factor of 5 so cutting the costs or rasing the price is a normal result. Maybe the blend of the plates was changed for the ratio of lead or calcium or silver to what was previously made? Maybe it was the Rocky Mountain spring water...?

Anyhow, I want to figure out how to quantify what sort of charge and load the Optima is getting in my truck versus what sort of charge the Vector 1089A gives it. That notion is about the only thing that Optima has given me that I can work on but I don't know if the simple instruments that I have can properly capture the data. How much time it is worth to argue with a company that will pay a full-time employee to monitor all the forums and rebut any notion of quality problems?
 

HenryJ

Expedition Leader
...If your battery is that old it is possible that it was manufactured in Colorado. I don't know how it can be told by the date codes and serial numbers. It is a sure thing that some if not all of the Optima that I have owned have been made in Mexico.
The older Optima have a burn code:
The Optima batteries are dated with a "burn code" this is the four digit number melted in to one end of the case. The first digit is the year and the last three are the number of days into the year. Example: 8365 = the 365th day of 1998 another 6090 the 90th day of 2006
The burn code was still being used through 2006. The new Mexico battery that I received did not have a burn code and I believe that they no longer burn codes into the cases.
I still have two very old RedTops and one BlueTop performing very well. All are at least a dozen years old now. Something happened/changed in the years after 2000. I have not been able to nail down what exactly it was. I used to be a diehard Optima believer too...no longer. I have personally experienced too many problems. Well beyond three strikes, they are out.

Everyone looking for alternatives should know that there are several clever marketing techniques. Many do not advertise their reserve capacity. That can make comparisons difficult. There is not a standard rating system. Pay close attention to the temperature at which a given rate is delivered and the time.

As mentioned above, nothing performs like virgin lead. I think it is great that companies are using recycled material. East/Penn (Deka) uses a great deal of recycled material in their batteries. They can recycle nearly 100% of the materials in their various facilities. I think that is fantastic! However the recycled lead content does degrade the performance. I guess it just does not exchange ions as readily, or in great enough numbers? It is a huge help in keeping costs down. You will have to weigh the pros and cons to determine if the recycled material and performance meet your needs.

After our Optima failures we put two dozen Deka Intimidators into the project. They are a flat plate compact design absorbed glass mat battery. I recall my first impression being the huge difference in weight! All those voids in the spiral cell battery are plates and more lead in this design. I like that idea. More lead , more plate surface area in the same footprint.
The Dekas are doing well. Better in some applications than others. No failures yet, but the jury is still out as the oldest one has been in service for about four years now.

I am told the Diehard Platinum , also a flat plate compact design, uses only virgin lead. I have seen better performance from these thus far. It is not likely we will use them on the project as long as the Deka will do the job since there is no local retailer here. If that changes it is likely we would migrate to those. I will continue my real world testing on them though as I do have four in service to watch.
 
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bfdiesel

Explorer
It isn't clear to me who you mean is "making money" so maybe you can clarify? If you look at the threads that I posted there are hundreds of issues the are described. For every one person that posts up that they love their Optima there are 100 who post that they have had problems. But if Optima sells a million batteries (or more) a year then 1,000 bad batteries is an insignificant manfacturing defect rate to the company (but not to a thousand off-roaders). Because Optima cannot give out their manufacturing defect rate we'll never have exact numbers.
Optima is making money. I was replying to your mention of them having Optima Jim for PR.

As far as finding all the negative threads and the 1 to 100 number. For every 1 that gives a positive feed back there are a lot that don't post. People are more likely to feedback on negative experiences than positive ones.

It would be interesting to see the defect rate compared of all the major batteries I read about in ExPo.
 

brussum

Adventurer
For every 1 that gives a positive feed back there are a lot that don't post. People are more likely to feedback on negative experiences than positive ones.
Agreed. I have 150,000 miles on my F350 and I've never posted about the countless times it's started perfectly or the thousands of gallons the fuel pump has pumped. However, you can bet you'll hear about it that one time when the engine won't crank or the fuel pump dies.

Thank you, Optima, for paying Jim's salary. He's a great resource, especially when paired with an anonymous battery engineer. Participating in forums is probably money well-spent for a relevant business (I'm sure Martin and others would agree).
 

teotwaki

Excelsior!
Agreed. I have 150,000 miles on my F350 and I've never posted about the countless times it's started perfectly or the thousands of gallons the fuel pump has pumped. However, you can bet you'll hear about it that one time when the engine won't crank or the fuel pump dies.

Thank you, Optima, for paying Jim's salary. He's a great resource, especially when paired with an anonymous battery engineer. Participating in forums is probably money well-spent for a relevant business (I'm sure Martin and others would agree).
Poor analogy. Martin is the owner of a very small business. I can personally attest to the service and the extra effort Martin & Mario taken to fix something gone wrong. Show me the owner of Optima's reply to this or any thread.
 

brussum

Adventurer
Refer you to the phrase "a relevant business"...in other words, a business who sees the forum participants as potential or current customers. I never equated the size of Optima to any other business, only pointed out the utility for a business to engage with customers. Using your logic, I should be angry at Ford, Goodyear, etc. because their ownership isn't personally involved and leaving comments on Expo, Mud, and others.

I, too, have dealt with Martin and have been very, very pleased with his company and customer service. Small businesses are great, especially when they're creating, marketing, selling, and servicing their own products.
 
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