The Dark Side of Ducati Ownership

A few folks noticed that I never explained what happened to MotorMilt’s Ducati. As some of you might recall Milt’s 999 started smoking during the middle of a ride up to the canyons right after we got both of our bikes back from ProItalia after they had done the 600 mile service. In what I tend to think of as a typically Italian Adventure, Milt’s bike went in for the 600 mile service and also for what seemed like a low revving throttle response issue. When it came back both of those issues were solved, but then it started to smoke. Again as some of you might recall, we pulled the fairing off at a gas station in Malibu and noticed that there seemed to be a small oil leak – well, drip really – that was trickling down the transmission case and dripping on to the hot exhaust pipe running underneath the engine. Hence the smoke. So apparently when you fix one problem with a Ducati, you get another one to deal with free of charge. Being the rock’on dealership that they are, ProItalia picked up Milt’s bike and checked it out the very next day. To make a long story short, part of the 600 mile service is replacing the oil filter. Unfortunately whomever was responsible for this task didn’t screw the new oil filter back on snuggly. So the small oil drip was in fact because the oil filter had just a tad bit of free play in it. Go figure.

Now the good news is that a) I don’t think that this was an intention oversight, b) everything has been corrected and double checked by the ProItalia boys and c) there was no permanent damage. So now that it is all sorted out I’m not all that worried about it. However I do have to say that so far MotorMilt & I have been relatively lucky with our Ducati experience. I continue to read over and over about how poor Ducati’s quality control is on several of the message boards that I frequent. Here’s a bit that got posted yesterday by someone named gixn8r, which I find particularly scarry:

Let me start by saying that this is my first Ducati. It was definitely a bike I never thought of being able to own, but last November, I was able to purchase one brand new…a 2004 749 Dark. When I bought the bike, it had less than 3 miles on the odometer. According to the instructions in the manual, I treated her very gently keeping the revs down until the motorcycle was broken in. I did change the oil at 200 miles so that I can get rid of the metal shavings from the new engine rather than waiting til the 600 mile service. I used a Ducati filter along with a non-synthetic motor oil according to the specs for the motorcycle. I never thought that I would experience what happened 400 miles later.

On my way home from work, which is about 70 miles away, I was close to home when all of a sudden, I saw white smoke coming from all around the motorcycle. I was at a stoplight where I tried to locate the source of the smoke as I sat on the bike, but since the light turned green and it was a very busy street, I rode home since it was just under a mile away. When I got home, I found that the motor oil leaked all over the motor and all over the rear tire kicking it up onto my exhaust and every other part of the bike. I thought to myself how lucky I was in that the oil hadn’t leaked earlier on my ride. I could’ve been killed had I been on the freeway when the oil leaked in the path of my rear tire. I immediately suspected that it may be due to the oil filter or drain plug only to remove the fairing and find that neither showed any leaking. Since oil was also on top of the motor, I knew it had nothing to do with the oil change. I cleaned it up all over to see if I can find the source, but I did not have any luck.

I brought it to the dealer to have them take a look at it and have Ducati pay for whatever repairs necessary being that the bike has under 700 miles on it. I told them how upsetting it was that it may have been due to the oil cooler recall that occurred last August and that it should not have happened to a motorcycle purchased in November. They advised me that they’ll look into it.

And gixn8r isn’t the first person to have this sort of issue crop up with Ducati or Ducati North America (“NA”). There’s a long running thread over at the Speedzilla Forum about how someone named monstaman has sued Ducati using his state’s lemon law. His bike has been in the shop for 8 of the 12 months that he’s owned it for an assortment of issues.

Of course suing Ducati or Ducati NA is only one way to get the attention of the folks at the factory. Now some are using the internet to promote their case, Ducrapi is someone’s personal website where they had until recently published a very detailed description of exactly what had gone wrong with their brand new 999s that was having lemon law problems. Apparently that got Ducati or Ducati NA’s attention as the page has recently changed to state:

In 2004 my brand new red 999s motorbike had done 250km since new and spent three months getting “fixed” by Ducati. Ducati have now delivered to the dealers a new 999s which I will collect after the new year. The site will report on life with the new machine.

As I have read these sort of reports on the various message boards that I checkout on a semi-frequent basis, I’ve had a variety of reactions. At first I thought, ‘gee this must be an isolated incident and it can’t happen to Milt or I’. Of course as I continue to read stories like these and after Milt’s recent oil leak issue anything seems plausible. On the other hand, at certain times I’ve felt that there is something amiss when the people purchasing high end Italian sportbikes – I mean, let’s call them what they are – act as if the motorcycle they just bought ought to work like a Honda Civic. Obviously people, myself included, have spent a great deal of money for these bikes. But they’re also extremely high performance and not run of the mill. If you wanted something that simply worked all the time it exsists. It’s called a Honda CBR or Yamaha R1. Of course neither of those bikes have the character that a 999 does. So perhaps it’s really just one big trade off. Something out of the ordinary that acts like it. Of course I think that’s a rather simplistic response rational.

The reality it seems to me stands somewhere in the middle. You’ve got this fantastic brand that’s stepped in history and heritage, who’s got this old factory that’s trying it’s best to play catch up with modernization. Slowly they have started to embrace more modern approaches but they haven’t caught up with the übber Japanese production assembly system. And until they do, the fact is that while they can assemble every bike in the same manor, they lack the ability control the quality of the products they produce to the same degree that Honda, Sony, Apple or Dell can. A great number of the parts on any of their bikes come from outside vendors, not Ducati themselves and thus I question the level to which Ducati can check the quality control of these items.

Of course I knew all of this when I decided to purchase a Ducati and I choose to do so anyway – not out of ignorance, but because ultimately I was willing to take the chance. The rewards seemed to out weight the risks in my mind. Because at the end of the day owning a Ducati takes some faith, some cash, a great local dealership and/or mechanic and a whole heck of luck.

3 thoughts

  1. That is great commentary, my 750M just began to leak oil from the top of the engine and is collecting in the cooling fins, and now leaking onto the exhaust pipe. It sucks when you’ve got such a sweet looking ride and it’s smoking everything time I stop!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  2. I have a 2005 999, no problems with oil leaking as of yet(hope not too), but my clutch did brake at 3500 miles…ouch.

  3. My first Ducati. I purchased the 1098 back in October and took possession of it in April of this year. Weather sucks in Chicago, so I took advantage of it and picked up the carbon fiber exhaust covers, bar ends and the such. This Memorial Day I wanted to show it off to my brother and his kids. I rolled it out of the garage, started it and gave a quick rev. nothing to substantial, just a pinch.
    White smoke started pouring out of the fairings and I can not remember if I cut the ignition or it died. Either way, the amount of smoke and the smell of electric burning was very alarming. It being Memorial Day and after 5pm, all the local shops are closed and it is at home so it isn’t an emergency for road side assistance to haul away. Today was 83 degrees and partly cloudy, this evening it is 72 degrees and clear. PERFECT riding weather and the Duc is down!
    After the smoke cleared I turned the key back to the on position with some hesitation and I get absolutely nothing.
    Has anyone a clue?
    I will call my dealer tomorrow, but geese. The bike is less than 2 months old, with less than 90 miles on her! ANYONE?

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