Friday, May 29, 2015

Shady as Fuck

Much like car-repair shops, there are certain car dealerships that foster the stereotype of sleaziness in the car sales and service industry. It's even worse when both the dealership and its service departments are sleazy.

DC seems to have several bad actors in this regard. It's probably because there's a few, large ownership groups that have conspired to own big, non-overlapping areas of the car-buying regions. Because of these ownership patterns, it's easy for the ownership groups to take a view that any one buyer is insignificant. And, even if not insignificant, that most people aren't going to go out of territory just to avoid dealing with certain ownership-groups.

Since moving to the DC area in the early 90s, I've learned not to do business with some ownership-groups. The first group on my "won't buy from" list was the Rosenthal group ...a group so shady that they ended up being investigated by the FBI in the late 90s.

Early in my ownership-history of BMWs, I had to add BMW of Fairfax to that group. At the time, I'd been really surprised that I'd had to do so: the dealership that I'd bought my Z3 from, in Pennsylvania, had given me the impression that BMW was a reputable marque that policed their dealerships for quality. It had been reinforced by the service department I'd gotten from another BMW dealership that was located near my place of work at the time. However, I'd eventually left that job and it no longer made sense to go there for service when BMW of Fairfax was just a couple minutes from my house. It only took two shoddy service-encounters to blacklist them.

Ultimately, when it came time to trade in my Z3 and get my first e46 convertible, it was the service-experience to drive a half hour out of my way to buy my second BMW ...and to get it serviced. I even returned there, six months later, to buy my second e46 convertible after my first was stolen. I took it there for all of my warranty maintenance work.

I've had my e46 since 2002. After the warranty expired in 2005, it was no longer economically sound to get service work done at a dealership. As a rule in this area, the labor rates at dealerships are about 30% higher than marque specialty-shops. So, I'd consulted my local "Bimmer" club to get recommendations for alternatives. The recommendation I got was excellent and I've been getting my car serviced at that same place for the past decade with no reasons for complaints.

My e46 was one of the first eleven million cars effected by the Takata airbag-recall. The only place to get the recall-service is at the dealership. So, I had to find a local dealership to get the work done. With one BMW dealership already on my black-list, and now living in Alexandria, it made sense to have the work done at the dealership six miles from my house. That dealership was BMW of Alexandria. Sadly, they are now on my blacklist, too - and, at this point, I have to question whether BMW is asleep at the wheel when it comes to ensuring a consistently-good ownership experience.

How did BMW of Alexandria end up on my blacklist? Other than the whole taking nearly six months to get the work done - after they canceled four appointments due to a supposed lack of parts - it was what they did during that warranty work. I'd taken my car in to get the airbag done. The service department opted to take it upon themselves to look for other service opportunities on my car. They found that I needed significant suspension work. Now, I already knew that I'd bunged my suspension on a horrendously bad pothole the month prior to the service. In fact, I'd been specifically not driving my car because I knew it needed work, but didn't want to get it done until the local road repair crews had started fixing the roads. But, whatever. A touch creepy but not altogether out of the ordinary for dealerships around here.

Now, what was out of the ordinary was that, during the time my car was with them for warranty work, My car's daytime running-lights and highbeams stopped functioning. Flash-to-pass still worked, but anything that required the highbeams to stay on was no longer functional.

Since the "malfunction' had coincided with my car's time at BMW of Alexandria's service department, I took it back to them to return to functionality. Naturally, they assured me that there was nothing they could or would have done that would have caused the issue. Further, if I wanted them to investigate the issue, it would cost me a minimum of one hour's worth of labor ($180). I asked how something that should be a software issue would require any "investigation" that would warrant a $180 minimum charge. The assured  me that, on my model of car, it had to be a hardware issue, not a software issue.

I took my car to the shop I've been taking my car to for the past decade. They verified that the problem was as I described and took it into the shop for a quick look. They quickly returned my vehicle with the lights fully functional. When I asked what had been wrong, they indicated that "somehow", the highbeams had gotten disabled in software. All they did was reset the switch.

So, now I need to figure out if it's worth contacting BMW of America to file a complaint against the dealership and/or whether it's worth contacting my local Better Business Bureau about it. I guess, at the very least, I'll be posting reviews on any Yelp-like sites.

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