Sunday, June 5, 2011

Dealer's Choice

Is it just me, or does everyone go in for service at the car dealership prepared for a fight?

Yeah, yeah... I know... you're probably thinking "Why the hell would you take your 10-year-old car to the DEALER for an oil change? They charge so much more than other places!" Well, first of all, in the last few years I think dealerships have realized they need to get their service pricing in line if they want to keep that part of the business. For standard routine maintenance, my dealer's prices are about the same as most other places. Plus, when I bought my vehicle they had a "free tires for life" program, wherein they replace my tires when needed as long as I get all my scheduled service done there. (And yes, I have received a new set of tires... sweeet!) And lastly, I like knowing that all my service records are in one place, and that there's usually at least one service advisor on staff that I've worked with before. The downside is that is that I often feel like they're trying to sell me stuff I don't need... brake pads, A/C filter, blah blah blah. Then again I think ALL the places do that these days. Fortunately I do have a little common sense about car maintenance, so I'm not a COMPLETELY easy target. And at least I have history with my dealer, so they're not gonna want to piss me off TOO much because I'm sure they'd like me to purchase my next car there.

Now let me relate a little recent history. Last time I took my car in for service I ended up sitting in the customer service lounge for FOUR HOURS! Not because they were backed up, but because my check engine light was on. It's been on for over three years now... I'm fully aware of it, and I know what's causing it. It's a bad O2 sensor. I've already replaced two or three of the four O2 sensors... faulty O2 sensors are a known issue with my vehicle model. Since my engine is running fine and I've had no change in gas mileage the would indicate there really IS a problem with my fuel mix, I'm happy to continue to bask in the check engine light's amber glow. I certainly don't want to pay the dealer $80 to run the diagnostic on it when several auto parts stores will do it for free. I always tell the service this when I bring my car in... "I know the light is on, I know why it's on, no I don't want you to check it for me than you very much". But apparently, my service advisor (who was new) wasn't listening when I said this, and he evidently also didn't pay attention when I told him I'd be waiting in the customer lounge. He tried to call me at home to tell  me my check engine light was on, and left me a message asking if I want them to check it. Obviously, I wasn't home to get that message. When I finally tracked him down to find out what was taking so long, I was fuming. However, I kept myself in check and maintained a calm (though clearly furious) demeanor. I got sincere apologies and a card for a free car wash on my next visit. Oh joy.

Fast forward several months later to this past Saturday, when I had to take my car in for its 75,000 mile service. Just a simple oil change, tire rotation and courtesy inspection, just like last time. I had made an appointment for 9:15. When I got there, the place was jammed with customers. My service advisor said it would be at least two hours. Now, I was prepared to wait that long... it was a Saturday after all and they do get busy on Satrudays... but I asked him out of curiosity what the point is of making an appointment when it ends up first come, first served anyway? He was apologetic, said it could be even longer than two hours, and when he brought me into is his office to write up my work order, he authorized a one-day car rental for me. ***Wha???*** Then he said  they'd go ahead and check the check engine light for free. ***Wha? WHA??***

Hmmmm... sounded too good to be true, but with this lingering cold/sinus thing making me feel like crap, I really wanted that rental car to drive home in. I wondered aloud to the rental agent why the service department would write off a $30 rental fee and waive the $80 check engine light diagnostic fee for a simple oil change and tire rotation. I figured they'd surely end up telling me my car needed some type of expensive repair based on that diagnostic. But no... my advisor called me at about 3:30, and said the diagnostic showed it WAS the O2 sensor ($375 if I want to replace it), but other than that everything looked good. Only my battery tested low, and he said they'd match the average price if I wanted them to replace it for me. I agreed, since I couldn't remember the last time I replaced it and probably DID need a new one anyway.

So... why the great customer service this time? Was it because they were HOPING to find something expensive to fix with that "free" diagnostic? And why the free rental car? Was it because they knew I was unhappy with my last service experience and the current futility of making an appointment so they didn't want me talking about that with the other customers in the lounge? Or because this cold/sinus thing makes me sound like I'm carrying the plague and they felt sorry for me? Or was it because, after my last experience, they recognized a golden opportunity to go out of their way to restore my faith in their customer service? I may never know. But I will definitely be giving them high marks on their customer satisfaction survey this time around. And maybe next time I'm due for an oil change, I won't go in there with my hackles raised quite so high.

Footnote: The rental car they gave me was a candy apple red 2011 Ford Fusion. (Unusual for a Japanese auto-maker's dealership?) Not a bad ride! Handled really well and was very comfortable. If I had been feeling better, I might have driven it around town instead of just home!

No comments:

Post a Comment