Car Care: Time to take an angry pill
Insist on written evidence of any concerns you raise with a dealer
A frustrated owner of a late model SUV rang me about issues with his vehicle and the franchise dealer he had purchased new from just over three years ago.
I happen to know this chap and he would be one of the most placid individuals you would wish to meet. He runs a successful business which operates on old-fashioned values, including trust and excellent customer follow-up. His vehicle issues started when the automatic transmission started displaying some uncharacteristic, disturbing shift pattern changes.
At the time the transmission was playing up, the vehicle was still covered under its three-year new vehicle warranty, had travelled less than 55,000 kilometres and had always been regularly serviced by the selling dealer.
Concerned about the transmission performance, he returned the vehicle to the dealer to report on and, hopefully, rectify any fault. History now suggests a job card was never raised and the vehicle was tested by service staff who said the transmission was fine and it was a driver issue: A change in driving style was required to help the transmission change more smoothly.
For a mechanically minded person that comment would ring instant alarm bells; but for this owner the trust factor kicked in and the decision was made to take the advice given and continue driving.
In hindsight, he thought the comments were odd. He had been driving for more than 20 years and had driven this particular vehicle for nearly three years without any issues.
As an astute businessman, and because the warranty had only a few months left to run, he asked for his concerns to be recorded on the dealership’s electronic vehicle history file in case there was a need to refer back to his concerns during his ownership.
Roll forward a couple of months and, with the vehicle barely out of warranty, the transmission developed major shift change issues in forward gears and lost reverse gear.
A phone call back to the dealer to ask for assistance and to refer back to the vehicle’s history file drew a major disappointment. No comments had been entered against the vehicle and the service staff insisted because the warranty had expired, the tow back to the workshop plus any further investigation would initially be at his expense.
They did say once the fault and cause had been confirmed, a call to the NZ distributor may be made with a view for some sort of out-of-warranty assistance to be negotiated.
The advice I gave was to bypass the service front line and ask for an urgent meeting with the service manager and business owner. I also advised him to take an angry pill beforehand and to not leave the dealership without receiving the keys for a loan vehicle at least.
This occasional major mechanical failure is nothing new in the industry. What is important is how such problems are dealt with in the field to help retain/restore owner confidence. It’s obvious some dealerships run a far better and more customer-focused business than others.
How the customer knows exactly what they are dealing with is the unknown question however.
The bottom line is they don’t, so it pays to take nothing for granted. Being a little pedantic and demanding at times and insisting on sighting evidence of any agreements made can save an awful lot of stress later.