New York State has a “Lemon Law” to protect consumers if they buy a new car that seems to have very bad karma. But what if the car isn’t the problem? What if it’s really your mechanic who’s the lemon? Or what if the unthinkable happens – both car and mechanic have the worst mojo since the dawn of the automobile?
One of the cars I owned, which I purchased from a dealership in New Rochelle, NY, seemed to be cursed with some extra-merciless voodoo. I’ve had three Honda Odysseys over the years, but that is not to say that this particular vehicle was an Odyssey. I’m simply giving you some history. I have no control over your thoughts, and therefore cannot account for any conclusions you may draw as to which dealership or what brand of car I am writing about. I won’t give specifics because I don’t need any more headaches from these people. You’ll see why as you read on…And by the way, as unbelievable as it may seem, this (like all SNORK stories) is true!
From day one, this bad-luck minivan of mine would whistle if I accelerated to over 60 miles per hour. It was a loud, irritating whistle – not a pleasant sing-songy sort of “Old Spice tune” whistle. I like a quiet ride, so I found this especially unpleasant. Other than that, I was pretty happy with my purchase. It was fully loaded with satellite radio, integrated hands-free Bluetooth, GPS navigation (a necessity. I can get lost going to the bathroom.), and voice-activated everything.
I brought it in for it’s first scheduled maintenance, and mentioned the whistle to my service representative, whom I’ll call “Boris.” Boris assured me that the mechanics would take a look at it. I left my car with him and went home in a loaner.
Later that day, Boris called to say that I needed to come in.
“Is my car ready?” I asked.
“Well…” said Boris, hesitantly, “…sort of. I just really need you to come in.”
This did not bode well. Sort of? What the heck did that mean? The fact that he wouldn’t tell me over the phone made Boris seem like a doctor, and as if my car was terminally ill. He could not, in good conscience, break the news to me over the phone. So I headed out to the dealership.
When I arrived, Boris said, “Rather than tell you, I’ll just show you.”
He walked me out to the lot, and there was my minivan with the front hood completely crushed, like an accordion. If I had to guess, I’d say they opened the hood, put the car on a lift and smashed it up against the ceiling of the garage.
My mouth fell open and I gasped.
“We’ll fix it!” Boris was quick to say.
“What happened?” I asked, standing there with my hands up to my face. I looked like Edvard Munch’s famous painting, “The Scream.” I wondered if the man in the painting had an idiot for a mechanic, too.
“I don’t know. Nobody saw anything.” Boris, I immediately learned, was a big fat liar.
“Really? Now that’s very strange, isn’t it, Boris?” My voice was low, the words dripping slowly from my mouth like cold molasses.
“Don’t worry, we’ll fix it,” he repeated, adding, “…for free!” He made it sound like I’d just won some excellent prize on a game show. I could almost hear the announcer’s voice in my head, “Free body work…on your brand new car…that we smashed up without any witnesses! Congratulations from The Price Is Right!”
“You can hang on to the loaner,” Boris assured me, “and we’ll get this repaired as soon as possible.”
So there I was, with a loaner that had nothing in it. No navigation. No satellite radio. No hands-free Bluetooth. No voice-activated anything. I prayed I wouldn’t have to travel anywhere beyond my regular haunts before I got my own car back.
Days turned into weeks. I got lost more times than I can count. I couldn’t make or receive any phone calls, and I missed my favorite radio programs. In other words, I got angry every time I stepped foot in that crummy loaner.
Three weeks later, the minivan was ready. When I returned the loaner, they charged me for gas, because it was down a quarter of a tank from when they gave it to me. Seriously? Then Boris made the most remarkable request I never saw coming, “You’re going to get a survey in your email, regarding our service. It’s really important that you mark off Totally Satisfied for all your answers or I won’t get my bonus this year.” I glared at him over the top of my sunglasses. “C’mon,” he pleaded, “it wasn’t my fault. I don’t even know what happened!”
“Mm hmm,” was my response.
“Look,” he said, “there’s a box for comments at the end of the survey. You can ask for a representative to call you. When one does, you can tell him whatever you want, but the survey’s gotta show 100% satisfaction.”
I was too delirious, about getting my car back, to argue. And Boris is just the bold-faced lying service rep, not the mechanic. So when the survey arrived, I did what he asked. Sucker or softie? You be the judge.
Anyway, on the ride home, I discovered the car still whistled. It was beyond aggravating. I brought this up at the next scheduled maintenance (yes, I went back – not because I’m loyal. I’m just a creature of habit. And maybe a little stupid.)
When I picked up the minivan from the second appointment, Boris told me they finally fixed the whistling problem. It was a gasket around the windshield which, unfortunately, was no longer covered by the warranty.
“Was it covered the first time I wanted you to fix it?” I asked sarcastically.
“Yes,” he answered, seemingly unaware of my scorn.
“So why am I paying for it?”
“Because it’s not under warranty.”
“But when I brought it in the first time, was it still under warranty?”
“Yes, but we didn’t fix it then. We fixed it now. And now, it’s not under warranty.”
Stop the world. I want to get off.
“So you can pay the cashier,” said Boris. “Oh, and you’re going to get another survey, so…”
I decided to just pay the damn bill, but vowed never to return.
When I arrived home, my husband pointed out that the rear sliding doors, on both sides of the van, were scratched and dented. I hadn’t noticed when I picked it up, but surely the guys in the garage knew. I called Boris.
“Boris, do your mechanics drink during lunch?”
“No, I don’t think so.”
“Do they partake of recreational drugs during business hours?”
“Haha! No, I don’t think so. Why do you ask?”
“Because they damaged my car, again!” I yelled.
“Are you sure we did it?” he asked in the most innocent of tones.
At that point, I shared some of my innermost thoughts with Boris about his service department, my minivan, and some other salty tidbits that were on my mind. When I came up for air, he tried to interject, “We’ll…”
I cut him off, “I know! I know! You’ll fix it! For free!”
If you’ve ever been to a dealership, you are probably familiar with the automatic doors, leading into the service bay. You pull up slowly and the door opens. So, there I was, returning to the scene of the crime, to have more repairs. On my way there, I wondered what will they do this time? But then I thought they couldn’t possibly cause any more harm. Could they? I pulled up slowly, and the door opened. Then it came crashing down before I was fully inside the garage, putting a nice big scratch down the rear window, trunk door and the bumper.
When an attendant came to check me in, I told him what happened and showed him the damage.
“Did anyone see it happen?” he asked me.
“Are. You. Kidding. Me?!!!” I took a very deep breath and suggested he get Boris…immediately.
Boris came trotting up, all full of apologies. He surveyed the damage…all of the damage…and assured me he’d take care of it. He also pointed out that one of the tires had a bulge and should be replaced. I concurred.
I left in the same crappy loaner they’d given me before. After another three weeks, the minivan was finally ready.
The paint on the doors did not match the color of the rest of the vehicle – close, but not the same. I told Boris.
He just shrugged, “That’s as close as we could get it.” And then he handed me a $150 bill for the new tire.
It was the last straw. I bought my car from them (giving them sales business), entrusted them with my car’s maintenance (giving them service business), lied for them on their stupid survey so they’d get their bonuses (which they clearly didn’t deserve), paid for things that I should not have had to pay for (because they didn’t fix them in a timely manner), and I was just not going to pay for that tire. I would not be their patsy another minute longer.
“I don’t think so, Boris.”
“I’ve been inconvenienced for over a month, due to your negligence. So, I am not paying for this tire.” I was resolute. Technically wrong…but resolute nonetheless.
“But, you have to pay,” he was kind of in a state of shock. I’d been so pliable up until this point; Boris must have figured I would go along with anything.
“I’m sure you’d like me to pay. I’m sure you expect me to pay. But at this point, I think you owe me some compensation. If you can’t give it to me, then get your manager out here.” I demanded.
There’s an old Hungarian saying, “The fish stinks from the head down.” The service department manager proved to be the extremely odorous head of this service department fish. He argued with me. He sugarcoated how much damage his crew caused to my car. He insisted that I was not inconvenienced because he loaned me a “very nice” car while I waited for mine to be repaired. He conveniently glossed over the fact that, without his cracker jack staff, my car wouldn’t have needed any repairs in the first place.
“Tell ya what I’m gonna do,” he acquiesced, “…you pay for the tire and I’ll give you a free oil change. It’s a $30 dollar value!”
Wow, I thought, another major award. How lucky can a girl get?
I told him what he could do with his oil change, paid the cashier and stormed out. As I walked around my car, this time inspecting it like a CSI agent, I got madder and madder and madder.
“NO!” said my inner voice, “You will not take this lying down.” But how, I wondered, could I get satisfaction? Arguing with the service manager had gotten me nowhere. After a few moments, a sly smile crept across my face. “Yes,” said my inner voice, “You will make a big ugly scene on the sales floor in front of prospective customers. I like it.”
And then I did. And then the sales manager got into a shouting match with the service manager, making a scene of their own. And I got my money back for the tire. And I felt vindicated, until…
Several months later, I decided to unload this cursed coach once and for all. No one would give me a good price because the doors didn’t match the rest of the vehicle. I had no other choice but to return to the dealer, since they knew the whole history and were responsible for the mismatched doors.
When I showed up to trade it in, they inspected the car and came back with an offer. It was $8,000 under the book value because (wait for it)…
…the car had previous damage to it’s hood, doors and rear. Glad I’d waited to fill out that last survey.
In the end, I found a wonderful dealership, which I will name (Mercedes-Benz of White Plains). They gave me full trade-in value and a great deal on a beautiful new car. And their service department was sensational.
As for Boris? I don’t think he, or his manager, wound up getting those bonuses after all.