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Monday, December 20, 2010

Pitfalls to Avoid When Having Your Car Serviced

Before I get into the pitfalls, it is important for you to understand how important it is to have your car serviced according to the manufacturer’s recommendations. The pitfalls and consequences of not doing so can be equal to or greater than those you might experience at the hands of an incompetent or unethical service department.

I strongly recommend that you have your car serviced and repaired by a franchised dealer of the make of your vehicle. I know that this statement, coming from a franchised car dealer, may be met with some skepticism. Listen to my reasons before passing judgment. Modern vehicles are highly complex computerized machines requiring very sophisticated diagnostic equipment and highly trained technicians. The evolution of new, expensive diagnostic equipment requires constant updating. The evolution of car technology requires continuing education of dealers’ factory trained technicians who attend many weeks of schools every year. Forty years ago, it was possible for a really good mechanic to fix anybody’s car. Those days are gone and your car needs a highly trained specialist with the very latest diagnostic equipment. It is impossible for an independent service company to be competent in servicing and repairing all makes of automobiles.

Carefully choose the dealership that will service your car. You do not have to take your car to the dealership that sold you the car for warranty repairs, as many believe. Every dealership of your make car will welcome your warranty and non warranty work. Do your homework on which dealer has the best service department. Every dealer is graded in customer satisfaction by the manufacturer. Ask to see a copy of his CSI (customer satisfaction index) scores. Check with the BBB and the County Office of Consumer Affairs.

When you take your car in for maintenance or repairs, always ask for an estimate. State law requires that a service department not exceed a written estimate by more than 10%. When paying your bill, scrutinize the detail to be sure that you know exactly what each charge means. Most service departments add a fee on top of everything else with various labels like “miscellaneous supplies”, “sundry supplies”, “environmental handling”, etc. This fee is simply a 5% or 10% charge tacked onto the total bill. If you object to this fee, which you certainly should, dealers will often waive it.

You will find that prices for maintenance like oil changes, alignments, tire rotation and balancing, etc. are usually priced competitively. Where you have to be careful is in the pricing of major repair items like transmission, engines, and air-conditioners. When quoted a price on a big repair, don’t be afraid to negotiate. If you let it be known that you are willing to take your car elsewhere (even if you’re bluffing), you can often negotiate the price down significantly.

You should always make an appointment before bringing your car in. Appointments should be scheduled at relative slow times and days. Avoid bringing your car in early on a Monday morning and other very busy times. You want the service advisor to spend as much time with you as is necessary. This will allow you to drive the car with the service advisor if necessary to identify a specific problem like a squeak, rattle or vibration. Pick your car up at a time when the service advisor or technician has time to road test the car with you again to be sure that the problem was fixed.

Don’t be shy about asking for a loaner car when you have to take your car back a 2nd or 3rd time for a repair that was not done properly. It’s the dealership’s fault and you should not be inconvenienced. On a comeback, always talk with the service manager directly. Also ask that they assign their best technician to the job.

As I have said in earlier columns, there is nothing more important than choosing the right dealership to do business with. No service department is perfect and never makes a mistake. What you want to find is that service department that, in addition to being competent, will fess up to their occasional mistakes, sincerely apologize and make them right.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Foolish Reasons for Choosing Your Next Car

JD Power just came out with the results of their annual survey, “2010 Customer Retention Study”. This measures the likelihood that those driving a particular make car will buy another of the same make. I like this study because it sorts through all the many, many reasons people may consider and gives us the bottom line. Obviously, having a high probability of repeating with the same car manufacturer is very important to the success of that manufacturer.

The manufacturers with the highest probability of owners making their next purchase another of the same make are Ford and Honda. Sixty-two percent of Ford and Honda drivers will buy another. On the bottom of the list is SAAB with only “four percent” willing to buy another SAAB. The industry average is forty-eight percent.

Just below Ford and Honda on the top of the list are Toyota, Lexus, and Hyundai with sixty percent. And just above SAAB on the bottom of the list are Jaguar, Dodge, and Chrysler with sixteen, twenty-two, and twenty-four percent respectively. There’s only one GM make above the average and that’s Chevrolet with fifty-two percent.

There’s a second part to this survey that shocks me and those are the specific reasons most people have for choosing which make they buy and why they stay with that make or buy a different one.

There are nine reasons people buy a particular make and do or do not repeat with that make. The number one and two reasons are “seating arrangements” and “look/style”! In the lower half of reasons are “quality”, “fuel economy”, and “resale value”! It’s hard for me to understand why somebody would make the second largest investment of his life based on “looks/style” over safety, quality, fuel economy and resale value. But it’s true and the JD Power Company is a highly reliable and accurate surveyor.

Don’t be an average car buyer and make your purchase based largely on the color or the styling of the car. People who purchase cars for frivolous reasons probably haven’t done their homework and don’t know the important facts about the make they have decided upon. They also are inclined to buy a car too fast, based on only emotion. This means they usually overpay for the car. There’s no one a car dealer likes more than someone who “falls in love” with that shiny red convertible on the showroom floor and wants to drive it home ‘today’! There is no excuse for this especially in today’s “Age of Information”. With just a few clicks of your mouse you can access everything you could possibly want to know about every make of car sold in the USA.

The top reasons that you should consider when buying another car are quality, safety, reliability, resale value, and fuel economy. You can compare all makes of cars in all of these categories just by clicking on (Kelly Blue Book) or You can also find this information in Consumer Reports magazine on online at