Monday, January 30, 2012

Of cars and subsequent repair enigmas.

I honestly do not know what it is that mechanics and dealership service department agents detect in a customer that tells them, "This person is ignorant when it comes to anything mechanical, especially their car ... so I can tell them anything or use their ignorance to make more money for my employer and make myself look better in the eyes of my boss."

It happens to women more than men but there are some men that know as little as certain women when either of them are dealing with well experienced service representatives. Now, it is not my intent to paint all dealership service people with the same wide brush, but I know for a fact, there are some who will take advantage of the unwary and unknowing, just because they can.

It's the same with anyone that sells cars. If you saw any of the episodes of "Men of a Certain Age" you probably witnessed the goings-on behind the scenery of a normal car dealership. Nothing matters much but the numbers. Salesmen will cut one another's throats to make that next sale and collect their commissions.

I've been a dedicated believer in the Toyota brand when it comes to value and dependability. I've always held the belief that I got my dollars worth with every buck I spent with them and that even extended to their service department. I only think like that because I'm a male of the species and know quite a lot about mechanical devices. My dealership's service department had one woman service representative for the last five years or so. She was a delight to do business with. She was a southern girl; I loved her accent and always believed I was getting the best treatment my dealership had to offer because she was taking care of me. I always asked for her every time I called for any kind of maintenance or repairs. Last week, I found out that she no longer works for my dealership. She's working for another dealership just down the road from there now. I hated to hear that and instantly was wondering WHY she left. Was it her decision or a mutual one or did my dealership's managing staff fire her or make it impossible for her to stay. She was good at her job; knew a lot about the products she was working with. Knowing how office politics works and how jealous some men can be when it comes to any kind of competition in the work place, especially when the competition comes from a female, I wouldn't put anything past them.

Getting to the reason I felt the need to write and post this blog entry ... My daughter's latest service department experience. Here's some facts.

She drives a 2007 Toyota Carolla because her parents believe it is the car for her and she trusts our opinions about such matters. We have been involved with several of her car purchases since she got out on her own. We raised her to be as independent as possible in life. Still, she is our baby girl. You know what I mean if you are a parent, especially of an only child that happens to be a daughter. Parents will worry or be concerned for any child that has left the nest and is out on their own, all alone and doing their best to make a life for themselves, but it is different for fathers who have daughters. Don't ask me to explain that last statement, it just is ... that's all.

She has had a few maintenance issues come up with this particular automobile. She complained about certain vibrations she felt during braking. She took it in for a look-see and they did a brake job on it. That wasn't cheap but it was within reason so no one thought much of it. That didn't take care of the vibrations altogether though. She drives pretty much like me but I didn't teach her to drive. I chalked that up to her being very observant while riding in our car all those years. Being the independent woman we raised her to be, she took professional driving lessons and took and passed the driving test for our state all on her own. I was impressed by that. Now-a-days she only consults me when certain matters gets the better of her.

This time, she went in for an oil change and asked them to check for that nagging vibration in the brakes again. They told her the problem was with an ABS sensor unit in the right, rear wheel assembly. Then they told her it would cost almost seven hundred dollars to replace it. That's when she called mom and dad. I was more than perturbed when I heard the number. Seven hundred dollars to replace a sensor unit in the ABS braking system. What was it made of ... GOLD?

Clearly, if you look at the image above it is obvious that it isn't made of GOLD.

You can also clearly see a "heat affect area" just behind and above the lug, stud, bolts at the bottom of the assembly. This dark area is the result of bearing failure and heat from the friction allowed by said bearing failure. You see ... I'm concluding that the ABS sensor DID NOT FAIL as a result of some component defect. It was forced to fail by excessive heat. How many out there knows that heat is a constant threat and fatal for electronic assemblies?

I would also have you note that the wiring plug-in receptor at the top of this image is mounted to what appears to this dumb, sidewalk mechanic, to be a compression fit cover on the mounting hub. Notice also the hammer dent where the mechanic "knocked" the assembly out of its mounting. Was that necessary? Surely a small chisel or thin pry-bar could have been driven into the crack where the hub flange set up against the rear-axle housing. My real question should be ... wasn't it possible to pry the now dented housing cover off the hub assembly, exposing the connecting nut that held the lug plate, then remove the bearing and race? That way, an all new wheel assembly would not have been required and then, replacing the sensor housing along with the wiring plug-in receptor and the internal sensor assembly would have finished the repair. I'm sure it would have taken longer to complete the repair thus increasing the labor cost but would it have been more than seven hundred dollars to do it the right way?

I suspect that we are hearing or seeing the truth of the situation here. The service rep told our daughter, hereafter referred to as "Kellie" that they did not have the parts needed for the repair and would need to order them. It would be a long wait. That information had something to do with Kellie needing to call us along with a desire for some assurance that she was doing it correctly. If there is anyone out there who has experience and knowledge about this exact component of a 2007 Toyota Carolla, right, rear, axle assembly ... Please speak up and verify one or the other's position here.

Being logical and suspicious as I am and thinking that I know a bit about how the human brain functions within a service agent's head and the rationale he might use to hasten the situation and affect a speedier repair, cost not being a factor for him ... would he, instead of making Kellie wait or leave now and return later after the parts had been acquired and the repair made the right way, find out that the part they did have which could accomplish that end, was on hand and available for use? It was a complete rear wheel hub assembly. All that would be needed was to remove one and replace it with the other and it was a fix. Never mind that it would cost three times as much to do that way. Also, getting it finished the easy way would make another mechanic available for another critical repair where a customer was waiting.

It is difficult for this long time customer of Toyota to believe that some engineer working for Toyota would design and have approval of their manager for such an expensive item with no other recourse for any and all Toyota car owners but to pay seven hundred dollars for a repair if any one component of their own rear wheel assembly should ever go bad. It just doesn't sound like the Toyota I know.

Until I am shown to be totally and completely wrong about my opinion, I will say that the responsibility for this expensive repair lays with the dealership's service agent and mechanic or even the service manager, if he was consulted and had some input into the matter at hand. For all I know, it was the service manager's decision to make after all, his desk and ear is where the buck should stop.

I'm thankful that I thought to request the defective part. If I hadn't, it would have ended in the service department's office when the bill was paid by Kellie.

Perhaps it will turn out that it would have been best if that was the end of it. Who would have known but the perpetrators involved?

I'm considering submitting this post to Toyota's District Manager or the main headquarters customer service representative. Should I? Would it do an ounce of good? I'll let you know.

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