I’m sitting at my desk on a rainy Thursday when my phone rings. It’s one of our sales staff, who I shall call Lady Applebee’s, since that was apparently the only place she ever ate.
“Service, this is 36055512.”
LA: “Hey, what’s the service bay look like right now?”
Me: “Packed. What’s up?”
LA: “You know that white Jetta wagon? I’ve got a buyer ready to take it away, but it’s got a warning light. I know the schedule’s full, but would you have a tech take a look at it? Pleeeeeeeease?”
Me: “Alright, since you asked so nice, I’ll have one of the techs get on it right now.”
LA: “Thankyouthankyouthankyou! This is such a huge favor! You guys are the best!”
She was right. We were the best.
My best tech rolled the wagon into his bay and plugged in his code scanner. It was a simple code for a fault in the evaporative emissions system. Somebody had filled the tank and not gotten the fuel cap back on tight enough, and the system detected it as a leak. No big deal – crank down the cap, clear the code, and you’re done. Fifteen minutes later, the car was back in the hands of Sales.
As soon as the car had left my sight, my cell phone rang. It was Rom, one of the owners, this time.
Rom: “Hey, why haven’t you guys taken care of that Jetta yet? LA’s got a customer waiting on it!”
Me: “What? We had that thing in service just a minute ago. Cleared an evap code.”
Rom: “Well, the light’s still f**king on.”
Me: “That’s weird, I’ll have the tech pull it back in.”
The tech rolled the wagon back into his bay. This time it was an EGR code, not at all uncommon on these engines. We had the part in stock, so he swapped it out and sent it back to Sales.
My cell rang. It was Rom yet again.
Rom: “What the f*** are you idiots doing over there? That Jetta still has a check engine light!”
Me: “What in the hell? Alright, we’ll get it.”
Glow plug code. Easy enough swap, and the part was in stock. Back to Sales it went.
My cell rang. It was Rom yet a third time, only now he was shouting.
“Get Colossal Redneck on the line, NOW.”
Colossal Redneck was my immediate supervisor, and technically the top authority in the service department. He was a lazy piece of trash, but he was good with cars, and you could typically count on the bed of his spray painted Chevy pickup having enough empty beer cans in it to pay for lunch. I briefly contemplated asking Rom why he called my cell when he could have called CR’s extension directly, but that kind of interrogation didn’t go over well on even the most calm of days, so I pitched my giant brick of a phone to Jabba the Hutt in the office next door.
CR relayed the news to me. Both Rom and LA’s customer were furious about what was going on, and were fairly convinced we were incompetent. We had one last try to fix it or there would be unspecified consequences. Being that this was Rom we’re talking about here, the consequences would likely just be him shouting impotently for about a quarter hour, so it’s not like it was that much of a threat, but still, nobody likes to see their technicians criticized by the boss.
We rolled it back in one more time. Yet another code, yet another part swap, and back it went. Only this time, the light came back on immediately. The tech cleared it, and it reappeared. Something serious was up with this car. I called the other customers scheduled for the tech in question and told them they wouldn’t be getting their cars that evening, in order to clear up some time for him to work on it. For a couple, I assuaged their wailing by buying them cheap rental cars for the night. After all, the sales department was by far our biggest customer, and captive audience or no, we did like to keep them happy, and I had some discretionary money to burn for the month.
LA sent her customers home for the afternoon and promised we would patch the car up overnight and deliver it in the morning, assuring them that our service technicians were fantastic and that the car would be as good as new. The looks on their faces were not pleased, but they had already signed the paperwork on the car, and they were stuck with it, as there are no lemon laws on used cars in my part of the world.
Over the next four hours, the tech had the car in and out of his bay four more times, replacing nearly every part that had a sensor in the car. After an extended shakedown overnight by CR, we decided the next morning that the car was ready for delivery. LA needed someone to drive her back from the other side of the lake, and since it was a slow day and my two office lackeys were AWOL, I volunteered. She shot off in the Volkswagen, and I searched the lot for an acceptable car to pick her up in. I snagged the keys to a diesel-swapped Volvo 240 that needed a good shake-down run.
I rolled out onto the highway that led over the lake and pressed the accelerator to move up to freeway speeds. The sad D24 engine under the hood obliged the best it was able for a brief moment, and then I felt the car began to slow. Immediately the engine began making a horrible clattering noise and a cloud of black smoke poured out of the tailpipe.
I limped the car into a parking lot on the side of the highway and called the office. No answer. I called again, and again, and again, each time ringing through to voicemail. I called CR. No answer. Both my lackeys. No answers. Rom and the main sales line. No answers. Finally, I called LA’s cell phone to let her know that I would be late in retrieving her. Yet again, no answer, so I left a voice mail explaining what was going on and shot her a text message to boot.
At this point, I had been sitting in the parking lot for nearly half an hour trying to call everyone in the office to no avail. LA was, no doubt, nearly at the customers’ house, and soon would be sitting awkwardly in the customers’ living room waiting for her ride to appear, a ride that was not going to come any time soon. I gave up and started walking to the bus stop on the other side of the highway, and caught the next bus back to the office.
Upon arrival, I greeted the shocked face of CR, and explained to him that there was a dead 240 in a parking lot off the highway, and to send one of the lackeys out with the flatbed to retrieve it.
CR: ”Why didn’t you call? We could have come got you!”
Me: ”Um, I did, dude. Like 30 times. Nobody picked up.”
CR: ”Oh. Well, it’s your job to answer the phones.”
Me: ”Yeah, I wasn’t exactly here. I was on the side of the road in a dead Volvo.”
This did not appear to compute for CR, and I had places to be, so I cut the conversation short and grabbed the keys to another car, which thankfully didn’t break down in the hour drive to the customers’ house. Upon arrival, LA marched out to my passenger window and bellowed at me.
”Where the hell were you!? I was here for two hours with these people!”
”I called and left you a voicemail and a text. I was in that s**tbox grey 240, broke down, and had to swap cars.”
Against all logic, LA immediately marched back to the door, where the customers were now standing observing the commotion on their curb. She explained that the delay was not her fault, and it was just because “Service doesn’t know how to fix a damn car to save their lives.”
She climbed in the car, refusing to make eye contact, and pointed in the forward direction like you might to a chauffeur. I sat mouth agape at what had just transpired.
”Did you seriously just tell them that Service doesn’t know what we’re doing?”
LA: ”Well, you don’t.”
Me: ”The same customers who had a delayed car delivery because of a hundred check engine lights that we dutifully fixed one after the other? And you think being unprofessional and bitching about your coworkers like this is going to boost their confidence in our shop? You think they’re going to think this issue was adequately handled, or do you think they think they just bought a lemon from you?”
I paused for a moment to let it sink in.
Me: ”And after we did you the favor of throwing a technician at that car all day long to get it ready for you. We pushed you to the top of the schedule and pushed customers overnight for you as a favor. I dipped into the Service budget to get overnight rentals for those customers rather than billing it to Sales as a favor. I had Service eat the costs of the repairs since you had already sold the car as a favor. I’ve spent my entire morning driving around to pick you up as a favor, and you repay my generosity and kindness by throwing me and my technicians under the bus the very moment something doesn’t go to plan? That is some bulls**t and you know it.”
Her eyes looked down.
The hour passed in silence. We rolled back into the shop; I went to my office, she to hers. I was furious. Rather than being nice and eating the costs as I had initially planned on, I billed Sales $1500 for our work on that car – $400 for four hours of the technician’s time, about $600 in parts, $200 to cover the rental cars for the customers we pushed back, and just for good measure, another $300 to cover the three hours I spent screwing around trying to pick her up. In the end, this meant that the sale of the white Jetta was a loss, and 20% of the loss came directly out of her monthly commission check.
We never heard another word about the white Jetta, and we never did another favor for her again.