It’s unsettling when something you rely on becomes unreliable.
I have an intermittent fault with my car – an elderly but much loved 2003 VW Passat. There’s an odd juddering coming from the engine. It doesn’t happen all the time – just after a period of driving (usually on the motorway at speed) which is very disconcerting.
It’s making me worry about how much time the old girl has left.
Part of the problem is I’m not a bloke. At least not in the stereotypical sense.
- I have no idea about the workings of an internal combustion engine, or indeed what to do if a car goes wrong (aside from exhibiting mild panic).
- I have never called the RAC to change a tyre – but only because friends have taken pity upon seeing my helpless and sad face when I have a flat and swapped it for me.
- I own a powerful hammer action cordless drill but until now have been too scared to drill my own walls with it. When I needed to put up curtains a few years ago my friend helpfully drilled the holes for me.
- I have a rough idea how to knock nails into things but typically they end up very bent. My pictures rest on the floor instead of hanging on the walls for this and the previous reason.
- My petrol lawn mower recently would not start. I looked at the mystifying ‘user serviceable’ innards for a whole two minutes before going out and buying an electric one. I have four lawnmowers and three strimmers in my shed, all in varying states of disrepair.
I could go on.
Cars contain magical pixies and run on fairy juice for all I know or care, so when things go wrong I’m already on the back foot.
I therefore feel a bit vulnerable when I go to a mechanic – although in that respect I’m sure I’m not on my own.
Since my usual tame grease monkeys have changed ownership recently and keep forgetting to return my calls I decided that I would take this issue to a main dealership. In the past I’ve had excellent experiences with VW and despite my pending joblessness I want a good inspection and a proper fix. I need to keep my current car on the road rather than buy a new one.
My old mechanic used to investigate problems for free, is close by, and reachable on the bus.
The VW dealership wanted £60 just to have a look under the bonnet and getting there and back requires two taxis.
However my old mechanic has failed diagnose or to fix this recurring issue twice in the past, seems currently disinterested in my business, and I’m forced to conclude that sometimes in life you tend to get what you pay for.
Over the last couple of months (on the RAC’s advice rather than theirs) I have replaced at the ‘cheap’ garage all of my coil packs, spark plugs and the compressor in my aircon, which finally (at least temporarily) saw the problem disappear.
So this morning I arrived at the main dealership expecting the best service possible. It was all shiny and white and made of glass and had a new car smell when I opened the door.
The enthusiastic greeter (they have a greeter!) met me, already knew my name, shook my hand, welcomed me to their establishment and showed me to some comfy chairs.
‘Would you like a coffee?’ He said politely.
I indicated that I would. Soon enough my wish was granted and the free coffee fairy arrived.
‘Someone from servicing will be with you in a minute’ he said and went back to his desk.
Happily I set about blowing my hot free beverage and browsing the web on my phone. There was an excellent 3G signal here too. Five bars! I might consider moving in.
However, soon I began to notice that people were coming in and talking to attendants, handing over keys, leaving and being replaced by other people, also handing over more keys after chats.
Maybe their queries were different departments?
I looked at my watch… I needed to get home and log on for work. My coffee cup was now empty.
Thirty mins had now passed.
I caught the greeter’s eye as he passed to voice my discontent and ask when I would be seen.
With what appeared to be genuine horror the greeter realised I had not been processed at all and immediately set about the task of finding someone to see me. If nothing else I was impressed by his concern. Within a moment I was seated with him and a representative from servicing to discuss the issue.
‘Mr DWK’ he said ‘ I am so sorry we have kept you waiting. Your inspection will be free of charge.’
I was a bit stunned. Wow. I couldn’t argue with free! That made my hourly rate approximately £120.
‘Thanks.’ I said ‘I appreciate that!’
He introduced me to and eventually left me with left the servicing representative, a well organised lady, who continued to take some extremely detailed notes about the nature of the issue. These were on top of the details I had already given them over the phone.
As she read them back I noted that these were extremely accurate, and listed almost exactly what I had said a few days previously. I was impressed. I hate poor note taking.
Once this was done I told the nice lady that I would need her to give me a couple of hours warning about when to pick the car up as I would be relying on taxis.
‘Would you like me to get one of the team to drive you home Mr DWK?’ she said.
Blinking a little I replied ‘Yes – erm… That would be very helpful thanks!’
So approximately 10 minutes later and roughly £67 better off than I had expected to be by that time of the morning I arrived home in a pleasantly scented chauffeur driven 2016 Silver Golf Estate and logged on to start work with a cup of coffee.
Moments later my mobile rang. The number calling was the car dealership.
What could have gone wrong? Did I leave something in the car?
‘Hello Mr DWK its xxxxx from xxxxxx Volkswagen’
‘Hello’ I replied.
‘It’s just a courtesy call Mr DWK. I’m from the sales department.’
‘OK…’ I replied, my jaw tightening a little.
‘I see that today you’ve brought in your VW Beetle for servicing and I notice that it’s 13 years old. I was wondering whether I could interest you in any of the deals we have on our new range of Beetles?’
‘It’s a Passat.’ I said flatly.
‘It says on my documentation its a Beetle Mr DWK.’ He replied.
‘Well nevertheless it was a Passat when I dropped it off – so I hope you haven’t made too many other modifications…’ I said.
I waited. There was a tiny pause while he regrouped. His funny bone appeared to be firmly set in place and had not been triggered.
‘Would you like to see any of the great deals on our Passat range?’ He said with the same identical tone of voice.
‘Well I’d love to…’ I replied ‘but sadly I am facing redundancy and will be unemployed in less than a month. I don’t think its a good time to be entering into large finance agreements.’
‘No… OK…’ He said, typing in the background.
‘I’ll give you a call in 3-4 months.’ He said. ‘Have a good day Mr DWK.’
I put the phone down with a sigh.
Several hours later in the afternoon the call finally came to explain what had been done. The problem could not be found. Irritatingly the issue had refused to manifest itself on a test drive. However – they noted that there had been a factory recall on my coil packs and they had replaced them all free of charge.
When I picked the car up it was indeed running just fine.
I’m not entirely sure what to think now. I’m theoretically paying more for improved service, but have received better and worse service simultaneously (and a potential fix) – but for free.
They have shown excellent record keeping and awful information handling all in one neatly wrapped up bundle. I mentioned why I needed to keep my old car running to the servicing department in the morning, and despite their knowledge of my pending employment hurdle they still referred me to the sales department.
My coil packs had been potentially failing due to a manufacturing fault – however I had never received a recall notice, and had already replaced them out of my own pocket six months or so ago.
I’m completely bemused. It’s rare I see such excellent service rolled up in a bundle with such average (and with regard to the recall potentially unsafe) service.
Do I go there again?
Internet – I have no idea… I’m bemused.