Car Woes

Filed under: Business,Entertainment,Hidden Orlando |

Warning: LONG BLOG. If easily bored or if you have ADD…forget it!

Over the last two months the urgency to find a replacement vehicle for my 105,000 mile Acura MDX has increased. It wasn’t because the SUV was getting expensive to run or that it was falling apart or anything like that. It was simply as a result of a decision made earlier in the year when my wife and I told my eldest daughter that when her college year in Kentucky ended she could come and work in the family vacation home business over the three month Summer break.

During the last year my daughter has constantly nagged away at us about getting a vehicle so that she can get around and we had always said “no”. We aren’t parents who just give in to our kids every wish and we firmly believe that our offspring should work for the things they want in life. As a result we worked out what we thought was a fair compromise… for every dollar she earned working during the Summer, we would double it up and that would be the money she had to go car shopping.

Quickly we did some math and came to the conclusion that my MDX would be a great vehicle for her to have. I’ve never had a moment’s trouble with it and because I’ve had it from new and took it very easy in it’s first 10,000 miles, the vehicle is probably good for another 50,000 to 100,000 miles. She agreed and so the deal was struck. She would inherit a fully loaded MDX provided she worked her hours in the Summer.

So, with this at the back of my mind, I started car shopping around February this year. I studied the vehicle adverts on TV and made several journeys to car dealers to do my research. All the time I kept in my mind the state of the economy and the fact that the public is being told what dire straits the automobile industry is in. And quickly reality set in…most of the dealers who are in trouble absolutely deserve to be and the sooner they are out of business the better.

Why do I say that? Well, the answer is founded in the experience I got at many of the dealers.

Amazingly, most of them seemed completely nonchalant about helping me. Worse, most of them didn’t even try to sell a vehicle to me and when I inevitably walked away, not one of them bothered to keep in touch with me.

And then, three weeks ago the start of a very sorry chapter started that eclipsed everything that had gone previously. My wife’s vehicle developed a problem that ended up with her Jaguar XJR having to be towed in to a certain Orlando Jaguar dealer.

This turned out to be the straw that broke the camel’s back and it gave me a few good lessons about how not to handle a customer. Initially the diagnosis of the problem was that we had a fuel starvation problem as the vehicle would start but then only run for a few seconds before cutting out. The bill, I was told, would be around $700 and accordingly, I gave permission for the work to be carried out.

Four days later, I received a telephone call to say that the work had been done but unfortunately the problem was still there and that I would need to spend $2500 to get the vehicle fixed. To say I was alarmed by this would be putting it very mildly. Before all this happened, the month before I had had the vehicle valued and it had a book value of around $12,000 to $14,000 so spending $2,500 on it made absolutely no sense to me.

Of course, I complained to the dealer that if they had diagnosed the problem properly I would have been much happier. I even told them that if they had initially said, “this is what we suspect the problem is but it might turn out to be bigger” then I would have understood but they didn’t approach it anything like that. They simply said they could fix the problem for $700 and never mentioned the possibility of a larger bill. It felt like bait and switch to a large extent.

So, I told them “no thanks” to the expensive repair, please put me in touch with a salesman. So about 48 hours later said salesman finally gets in touch with me. I asked him to value my car and to let me know what he had in stock that might be of interest to me. About a day later he finally came back to me and offered me $9,500 less the price of repairs for my vehicle against a used XK8. Apparently this XK8 had been a demonstrator vehicle and had never been registered although it had 7,000 miles on the clock. I checked the value of this vehicle and nowhere could I get the value to the ridiculous $60,000 he wanted for it.

By now, nearly 10 days had passed since the vehicle originally made its way to the dealer and I was absolutely no further forward. In fact, I was becoming extremely agitated about how this dealer was treating me and it was time to dig my heels in. I decided I wasn’t going to be ripped off for $2,500 on a repair I knew full well didn’t cost that and I wasn’t going to be ripped off on trading it either. I vowed there and then to get out of this deal as cheaply as possible and to sell the car the day I got it back.

I did some more research, went online and found out more about the problem and I even paid $15 to a Jaguar technician online who told me what the issue was and what the cost should be. It turned out to be one of the best $15 I have spent as I was now armed with the ammo to lob at the service manager.

I went back to him and told him that certain replacement parts they quoted for were not necessary and that the total bill including the original incorrect diagnosis shouldn’t be more than $1600. Eventually he agreed with this and permission was reluctantly given for the vehicle to be repaired. Unbelievably the dealer still took another 7 days to make the repairs and shockingly, when we collected the vehicle we found the radio and cd player weren’t working. As we weren’t in any mood to mess around any longer with this dealer we drove away and straight away set about getting rid of the vehicle.

So where did we head first of all? Yes, you guessed it… the dealer that sold me my original MDX…the one my daughter was about to get! We drove in there and told them we were looking at our options. We told them we were looking to trade our Jaguar and we were considering purchasing an MDX because we had been very satisfied with our current one.

At some point in the conversation the sales person picked up on the fact that we actually needed two vehicles. One to replace the Jaguar and one to replace the MDX. The salesperson quickly started to turn the conversation towards “what a great deal we could do on two vehicles” and cleverly, before we knew it, she got my wife out of the showroom and test driving a used Acura TL.

My wife loved the vehicle but reality was that the deal for both vehicles wasn’t so great. The payments on both vehicles were higher than we wanted and after a time we ended up driving away to check out some other options. We drove to another dealer but the numbers he quoted on two vehicles there were nowhere close to what we had in mind and by now it became obvious that if we could get the Acura folks to sharpen their pencils, then we might be able to do a deal with them.

We drove back and after a while the deal was done. Thankfully. We got rid of the Jag and made sure that the Jaguar dealer was out of our lives forever. My daughter got her vehicle to drive back to Kentucky ready for the new college year and my wife and I got ourselves the vehicles we needed.

But in all of this there are so many business and life lessons. There are also so many unanswered questions. Questions like “why does it take so long to buy a new car at a dealer?”, “why don’t dealers treat customers properly?” and “why do they all play the same ridiculous sales game?”

We were at the Acura dealer nearly six hours doing this deal and at one point I could have quite happily walked away vowing never to buy another four wheeled monster again! It wasn’t that they were particularly difficult people to work with, it was just the fact they couldn’t alter their processes to suit me. I was left hanging around on several occasions… and I felt that the whole thing could have been done much quicker.

At the end of the day, most of my feelings of aggravation are now gone…at least until my youngest daughter decides she wants a car… but I’m still feeling a little bitter. At a time of recession when you expect people to go the extra mile to get a sale, why are so many folks utterly inept at making someone’s business feel valued?

In all I visited around a dozen dealers during this process and not one of them made me feel that my business was important to them. Most of the time I felt a nuisance and a pest. In the case of Jaguar, they have lost a customer for life…in the case of Acura, they’ve probably gained a customer for life…providing they treat me well.

But do I want to do it again? Did I actually enjoy the process of buying a vehicle… the 2nd most expensive purchase in your lifetime? Hell no.


While my wife was out on her test drive at Acura, I took a look at the problem with the radio / cd in the Jag. Turned out that the technician hadn’t connected it back up but worse still, he hadn’t connected a breather pipe on the fuel tank!

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