Fun with car dealer service departments

Car dealerships do not get it.

My truck has, or had, a leak somewhere in the cab. My truck is a quarter century old, I am its only owner, and I like it. If someone gave me a free Rolls-Royce, I would sell it. No, I would never want to drive it just the once. I simply don’t get a kick out of driving new cars. Because my truck is that old, there are many potential failure points: rusted floorboard, deteriorating window seal, maybe even a drain line from the heater.

Unless I wanted my well-preserved truck to smell like mildew sooner rather than later, this needed handling. A post on an automotive forum alerted me to the possible causes, got me lots of encouragement to try fixing it myself (no, thank you), and did not get a single respondent answering the question: would I take this to a mechanic, a body shop, or an auto glass place?

So I ended up at the Toyota dealership where most of my fellow Beaverts, or Aloverts, would be likely to go. I made an appointment several days out, kept putting paper towel rolls on the truck floor, and tried not to drive when the weather went full Portland. No matter what I did:

  1. I could not see where the water was leaking in.
  2. It was definitely related to driving, as in, if left to sit in peace, it did not leak.

Clear as mud, right? Now, the Toyota dealer (a species often condemned by Martin Shkreli for low morals) had quoted me $110 to diagnose the problem. With no real idea where to begin, this seemed that rare situation where going to a Toyota dealer service department could benefit a customer, since a dealer has to be able to address (or job out) all the different issues that could arise with their brand. All right, if it costs $110 to figure out what the deal is, if I don’t like the repair quote, I can always take it elsewhere to get the work done. I pull into the service bay, where I sit in my truck reading a book for ten minutes before a service writer comes out to talk. I explain the problem and what I’ve observed so far.”

“How long are you able to leave it with us? We’d really like a few days.”

That got my attention. “I was under the impression you’d spend an hour diagnosing the problem.”

“It can take a lot longer. We have to pull up your panels, rugs, take out your seats, then basically run it under a huge shower and see where the water comes from. Sometimes takes up to eight hours.”

I did some mental math. “In other words, you’re suggesting that you might charge me up to $880 to figure out where the truck cab is leaking. This is not what I was told over the phone.”

“I’m sorry. They’re hard to find. But we–”

I rebuckled my seat belt and turned the ignition key. “You understand, of course, that this means I was deceived over the phone in just about every way. Therefore, I agree to no service today and will not be needing this appointment.”

He stepped back without a word and opened the far bay door, and that was that.

Then I went to the backup plan. When you use Toyota dealer service departments, you need a backup plan. I took it to a mechanic who had gotten a lot of good reviews as an honest guy. He suggested I take it to his favorite auto glass place, and tell them he’d sent me. I did that. They charged $68 to leak-hunt, determined that my windshield was sealed properly, and discovered that all the crud in my vents was preventing water from draining as it should, thus it was overflowing into the firewall. For $50, they would clean it all out. I said “please do so.” They did. $118, please. Here’s my Visa.

$8 more than what the dealer wanted to charge me for diagnostics, problem addressed.

I do not know why Toyota dealer service departments are so typically bad, so underskilled, so overpriced. I know I have yet to meet one I believe should remain in business. While this wasn’t quite as satisfying as when my wife told the sales manager in Hillsboro to go fuck himself (I still get a little misty with pride when I think of it), I’ll admit a thing. The reason I was okay with setting an appointment there was because I was going to benefit either way. Either I would get a solution to my problem, or I would drive off without paying anything, or I would give a Toyota dealership hell’s fire. Couldn’t lose.

In the meantime, everyone who loathes car dealerships can have a little glimmer of joy from today.

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2 thoughts on “Fun with car dealer service departments”

  1. I like the sound of that truck of yours. I never take cars to dealerships but to a garage in our village – I guess we’re lucky having one. But ever since one tried to charge me £100 to, as it turned out, change the batteries in my key I don’t trust them. Ripoff merchants!

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    1. £100 for batteries? Insanity. US$100 would be excessive, so £100 is beyond excessive. I like my old truck because it’s served me well, and because it has not involved a car payment for eighteen years. Typical payment would be US$350, so a little arithmetic tells me I could have coughed up as much as, let’s see…US$75K+ over the years. No thanks!

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