It’s that experience all motorists dread, getting one’s car serviced. It seems like no matter where you go, unless you happen to drive a Lexus where there is compulsory ass-kissing before taking your money, you get the feeling you’re about to be the next ‘mark’ for a con-man. It’s worse than going to the dentist for someone who had to wear braces for 7 years; trust me on that one. Tooth care and car maintenance should just be put in the same damn place, because you’re going to want the nitrous-oxide for both. Although, at least at the dentist they’ll follow directions.
I recently took my car in for a routine servicing and four wheel alignment, because we can’t all live in France or Germany where they maintain the roads. I, being the slightly anal-retentive soul that I am (alright, I may have been accused of being ‘on the spectrum’ by my cousin who teaches autistic teens for a living), of course had my factory service book and the printed out TSBs to go over. I had them write down on my ticket exactly what was to be done, with the words DO NOT WASH OR COURTESY INSPECT written on there too. For good measure I taped a note to steering wheel saying ‘Please do not wash this car or perform a courtesy inspection.’ I hoped that might have gotten the message across.
Come 10:30 after having dropped the car off at 7, since I clearly have nothing better to do at that hour, I received a phone call detailing all the issues they found during their ‘courtesy inspection’. After inquiring why they had done such a thing, which to do properly would have required removing the protective shielding under the car, I then got a list of things ‘wrong’ with my perfectly maintained car. Now, I’ve replaced the crappy plastic cover under there with a factory replacement stainless steel one from their own damn catalogue. It’s a pain in the ass to remove, and it takes 30 minutes and a supporting lift to do properly. Clearly, they thought I’d just be happy to pay for extra stuff after I told them to do only what it said in the manufacturer’s own service book, right?
Apparently my sealed unit transmission could use new fluid (did they drill a hole in the magnesium case?), the battery wasn’t testing passing their test (the onboard diagnostics give me 70% battery-life on the in-dash read-out), my brake fluid was discoloured, the brakes themselves were ‘not the right ones’ (of course, I have the seemingly rare sports package, which has Brembo brakes, bigger discs, and uses a higher temperature fluid), the ‘main timing belt’ needed adjusting (it’s a titanium chain, but you might mean one of the 3 small accessory belts?), and my sunroof seal seemed to be leaking (Hence the no car wash please… The seal needs silicone paste around it to be water tight per 3 TSBs, and the high pressure wash they use strips the paste off). Lovely, at least it was ready, right. No, they still needed to so the alignment (what does fuel duty go towards, since it’s clearly not road maintenance?), so I could pick it up around lunchtime.
When I did, the silicone paste washed down from the sunroof had smeared all over the windscreen and said wipers. Fortunately, I keep extra wiper blades in the spare wheel well, and they did supply a set of mediocre OEM replacements (I happen to use better and cheaper ones from this magical place called an auto-parts store) to augment the spares they quickly put on after cleaning up their mess. Although, getting them to actually reset the service computer with their little tool took another 15 minutes, so lunch wasn’t happening. And my radio reception is still poor, because they didn’t have the replacement part for the one that repeatedly breaks and was covered by the TSB! They had it on my appointment schedule to have part #xyz for TSB #1234, but it went in some other car. I have to go back next week. At least they’re not as bad as the Ford ‘service’ people who replaced a broken in-dash MP3 enabled 6-disc changer with an ill-fitting cassette player in one of my previous cars, breaking all the surrounding trim in the process.
I’ve asked a number of manufacturers’ representatives and even one corporate c-suite resident from BMW about why they can’t sort this crap from their end. Apparently, the laws in most countries favour the dealers so much that they have very little control over things. Only if they were vertically integrated on their sales and service side like Tesla is attempting to do, could they mandate certain behaviours. The profit motive for dealers, and the commission-based payment scheme for their employees makes this farce of ‘service’ continue. Lexus gets around this somewhat by being a newer make with highly restrictive dealer standards built into their franchise contracts. Unfortunately, most of the good makes have been around since before 1989, and car dealers a big political donors, which makes regulating their dodgy business practices something that’ll happen sometime in the never to never-ever timeframe.
The only thing you can do, is empower yourself as a consumer. Only follow the service manual that came with the car; the boffins at the factory devised that checklist to cover their asses. It’s more conservative than what is really needed, but it’s what is prescribed. The service man will try to up-sell you to believe it doesn’t do enough, but that’s utter ballocks. Modern cars are incredibly reliable, and should last longer than a dozen Italian governments. Mine should be no exception, so I’m now off to buy more silicone grease to make my car watertight once again, since I clearly don’t live in a desert. Apparently, they were out of that too, and I wasn’t about to ask how that had happened.