Things were quiet and tense around Dishonest Used Car Dealership in the weeks following the revelation that our Incompetent Tech Guy had been stalking The Diplomat. Both of them were gone, ITG to a holding cell and The Diplomat apparently into the aether, as no one had heard a word from her. None of us had quite fully realized until then how much The Diplomat had been the glue that held the office together. I don’t just mean in just an interpersonal way, though she was a fun person to be around, but that just about every single piece of paperwork that the dealership created passed through her hands one way or another. Nobody in the office really knew much about all the loopholes and idiosyncrasies of car licensing or dealing with loans, and in her absence, things were beginning to fall apart. Absent her, cars and loans and bills were falling through the cracks left and right. One of our main suppliers ceased delivery, forcing us to come to their warehouse on the other side of town every day with cash in hand for the parts we needed. The garbage company didn’t get paid and the trucks stopped coming. Rom and The Amazon had us dump all our garbage instead in the empty lot behind the service bay.
The situation had escalated to the point where we were beginning to hemorrhage employees. The Raver was the first to go. Rom and The Amazon’s horrible treatment of The Diplomat was one factor. He had been uncomfortable with the level of dishonesty and scummy behavior they were up to under ordinary conditions, but the fallout from ITG’s stalking had finally revealed that his bosses were not just chaotic neutral, but truly, truly evil. Other factors conspired as well. With everything falling through the cracks in her absence, the level of tension in the office was at an all-time high. Nobody talked much anymore, and when we did, shouting and fighting were the normal mode of conversation. The whole thing had “harshed his buzz” enough that he simply stopped coming in. A month later, I received an e-mail from him. Some acquaintances he had made on a trip to South Africa had bought a huge chunk of land somewhere near the border with Botswana. Or maybe it was near Zimbabwe. In fact, it might have been South America. He wasn’t quite sure. He was heading to the airport that afternoon to go help them found some sort of agricultural commune. I e-mailed him back to tell him to keep in touch. It was the last I ever heard from him.
Nobody missed ITG.
”God, that’s not confusing at all, is it?”
Mr. Sarcastic, one of the technicians, and I were outside unloading a couple of Golfs off a hotshotter’s trailer. They were both 2004s, both silver with black interiors, and the VINs were very close: one ended in 4064, the other 4046. But they did have a couple of key differences: One was a very clean TDI, and the other was a rough base model with a woefully-underpowered 2.0L gas engine. On the used market, the difference was easily five or six thousand dollars, maybe more.
We checked in the cars and Mr. Sarcastic got to giving the two of them an inspection. The diesel turned out to be an absolute peach, which meant we had exactly one decent car on the lot. The gasser, on the other hand, was rough. In fact, mechanically-speaking, it was one of the rougher cars we had had in recent days, though it looked clean enough on the outside. Mr. Sarcastic came into my office a couple hours later to relay the news.
MS: “Okay, so every suspension bushing is completely shot. Looks like it sat for a while, and everything’s got signs of dry rot. It needs tires and ball joints and the brakes are metal-on-metal. And who the hell knows when the timing belt was done last. I threw a few parts at it already to get the check engine light turned off, and there’s a report in the system on what I did. Looks like a good three grand worth of work total.”
Me: “Cool, I’ll let you know.”
Mr. Sarcastic went back to his bay and I got on IM with Rom to let him know what was up with the 2.0L Golf.
Me: “Hey, can you get into the system? Check the estimate on car 4046, the gasser Golf we just got in.”
Rom: “ur estimatng 3k?”
Me: “Yep. Whatcha think?”
Rom: “go ahed withit”
This didn’t sound much like the Rom I knew. I could only assume Miami Vice or one of the technicians was over in the bosses’ office f*cking with me. I picked up the phone and dialed Rom’s extension.
Rom: “What do you want?”
Me: “You’re okaying $3k in repairs on the gasser Golf?”
Rom: “Yeah, is that a problem? Just go and do it.”
Me: “I mean, I’m not trying to argue, I just want to make sure we won’t wind up backwards in it.”
Rom: “Yeah, we’ll probably lose a few bucks on it, but the diesel we got with it turned out so good that I think we can easily make up the difference there.”
Me: “Makes sense. 2-liter VWs are pretty hard to get rid of.”
Rom: “Yep. Let’s just make it as clean as we can so it doesn’t sit on the lot forever.”
Rom had clearly taken his happy pills this morning, but I wasn’t about to squander the opportunity to actually do a good set of repairs to a car. I let Mr. Sarcastic, who was just as incredulous as I, know he had the go-ahead and he got to work.
”When can I have that silver Golf done?”
It was the next morning and Lady Applebee’s was calling me from the sales office.
Me: “Which one? We’ve got two on the lot right now.”
LA: “The gas one. I have customers real interested in it.”
You’re kidding me. First I’m allowed to repair everything wrong with this car, and now someone actually wants to buy it? Being that the only people who purchase 2.0L Volkswagens are people who don’t know any better, this was more than a little surprising.
Me: “The 2.0?”
LA: “Yeah, yeah, that’s the one! #4046! C’mon, when is it going to be done?”
Me: “Uh… I guess you can have it tomorrow morning if you want it. Out of curiosity, why the rush?”
LA: “Haven’t you been on the website? Rom priced it a good $2000 under market value. I’ve had three calls already about it.”
I punched the car up in the database, and she was right, even as rough as it was and even with a god-awful 2.0, it was a screaming deal. I flicked over to the diesel one and immediately figured out how Rom was going to make his money back: he had it priced a good couple thousand above the other diesel Golfs on the lot. It was a very clean car, though in spite of the better engine and nicer condition, I wasn’t quite sure whether it was worth a $10,000 price premium over the gasser.
We terminated the call, but five minutes later she was back on the phone with me.
LA: “Hey, I’ve got a customer on the other line that’s just dying to check that gas Golf out today before anyone else has a chance to. Is there any way we can just let them crawl around the car and take it for a quick spin?”
Me: “Uh… well… maybe. According to the tech, most of the work is done, but it hasn’t gone in for alignment or tires yet. So, it’s drivable, but it might wander a bit on the road. That’ll be fixed by the time we deliver it, of course.”
LA: “Hang on, let me put you on hold.”
I hung up on her. I hate being put on hold. I mean, it’s one thing when you’re calling the cable company and they’ve only got one almost-English-speaking person per million customers, but if you’re the one asking me a favor, you can f*ck right off with that hold business. Two seconds later, she rang back.
LA: “You’re an asshole. Can they come by at 2:00 to look at it?”
Me: “That’s fine. I’ll let the tech know.”
2:00 came and so did the customers, a friendly enough couple with a newborn daughter who were looking for their first family car. Lady Applebee’s and I explained that the car might have a little bit spooky handling but that tires and an alignment would solve it. They took the Golf on a test drive and immediately fell in love with it. We scheduled them to pick up the car the next afternoon.
“You know, the whole time I’ve worked here, I’ve been wondering, what is that on the wall?”
Miami Vice was helping me clean up a little bit in the office the next afternoon. In the absence of ITG and The Diplomat, the bill for the cleaning crew had gone unpaid, and like any wise businesspeople, they dropped us as a client. This meant office cleaning duties fell to me, since no one else would do it. Colossal Redneck was out, probably at the strip club down the street, so we were cleaning up the sty-hole of an office he inhabited. Ordinarily I’d just let him continue to wallow in his filth, but the smell from his office was beginning to permeate through the building. Next to his desk on the drywall was a yellowy brown patch that defied all efforts to clean up.
Me: “This is pretty f*cking gross, but you know how Colossal Redneck eats KFC everyday?”
Me: “When he’s done eating, he wipes his hands off on the wall.”
MV: “No way! That’s f*ckin’ grody, dude!”
Me: “I know, I’ve seen him doing that sh!t too! F*cking nasty.”
Before either of us had a chance to retch from the thought, Lady Applebee’s kicked open the back door and did a pirouette in the hall.
LA: “The gas Golf is gone gone gone!”
Me: “I still can’t believe you managed to flip a 2-liter Golf that fast!”
LA: “They were overjoyed with it! They were saying this morning that it looked even better than they remembered it from yesterday. Easiest sale of my career.”
This was shaping up to be a good week.
”Hey dude, can you come have a look at this?”
Miami Vice was poking his head in my office door that Friday.
Me: “What’s up?”
MV: “Well, you know the silver Golf? Rom wanted me to move it around to the front of the shop, and I put the key in to start it, but the glow plug light isn’t coming on on the dash.”
Me: “That’s weird. I’ll come have a look.”
One key difference between how diesel and gasoline vehicles work is in how exactly the fuel is made to explode. On a gas-powered car, it’s pretty simple: you put an igniter in the combustion chamber. We call it a spark plug. Diesels, however, don’t have spark plugs. Instead, they operate exclusively off the ideal gas law, which (among other things) states that if you compress a fluid (in this case, a mixture of fuel and air), its temperature will rise. Eventually if you smash said fluid small enough, its temperature will rise above its flashpoint, and you get an explosion. But, that’s harder to do if the fluid is very cold, so diesel engines typically include some way of heating up the incoming air before you start them so that an ice-cold engine can actually get going. These heaters most often take the form of what are called glow plugs (though there are exceptions – the Cummins grid heater system is a notable one). Without these glow plugs, starting a diesel would be very difficult in all but hot weather.
I followed Miami Vice out to the bay. He hopped in the Golf and turned the key to the second detent to wait for the glow plugs to heat up. The rest of the gauge cluster lit, but no little glow plug icon.
Me: “Huh. Well, it’s pretty warm in the bay, and sometimes when it’s warm the glow plugs don’t need to run very long at all, so maybe that’s what’s going on. Why don’t you try kicking it over?”
Miami Vice put his foot on the brake and turned the key the rest of the way. The car immediately fired up and settled to idle. I started howling laughing.
MV: “What’s so funny?”
Me: “Lady Applebee’s just f*cked up big time. That don’t sound like any TDI I’ve ever heard!”
The reason this Golf’s glow plugs didn’t fire up was simple: it didn’t have any. Lady Applebee’s had given the customers the wrong car.
We ran back inside to my office and I grabbed the mic for the PA.
skreeeeeeeeeee “LADY APPLEBEE’S TO THE SERVICE DEPARTMENT, LADY APPLEBEE’S TO THE SERVICE DEPARTMENT IMMEDIATELY. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.”
Miami Vice looked at the mic with awe in his eyes.
MV: “That thing is loud.”
MV: “Can I try?”
I tossed him the mic.
skreeeeeeeeeee “ATTENTION CITIZENS OF EARTH. Um… EARTH PEOPLE, NEW YORK AND CALIFORNIA, EARTH PEOPLE, I WAS BORN ON JUPITER…”
Lady Applebee’s burst through the door, interrupting Miami Vice’s lyrical flow. Her usual indignation was on full display.
LA: “What do you want? And what was all that weird stuff about Jupiter?”
Me: “I want you to listen very carefully. Go to your office and get every bit of paperwork on the Golf you just sold and bring it back here.”
LA: “Why? I’m not going all the way back over there. You go do it.”
Me: “I don’t want to argue with you right now. There is a situation that has developed, and I’m hoping to God it can be salvaged. Go and get the f*cking paperwork. Now.”
LA: “Well, if you messed something up, I’m not going to fix it for you.”
I reached over to the PA.
skreeeeeeeeee “THE AMAZON TO THE SERVICE DEPARTMENT, THE AMAZON TO THE SERVICE DEPARTMENT PLEASE.”
The Amazon poked her head in a second later.
TA: “I was on the phone with a customer. This better be important.”
Before I had a chance to respond, Lady Applebee’s interjected.
LA: “36055512 screwed something up, and he’s trying to get me to fix it for him.”
Me: “Actually… You know the silver gasser Golf that we just sold?”
TA: “What about it?”
Me: “Lady Applebee’s gave them the wrong car. Looks like they went home in #4064, the silver diesel, instead of #4046.”
There was a very long pause. The Amazon’s vision panned over to Lady Applebee’s.
TA: “Tell me you just handed them the wrong keys and that the paperwork is all correct.”
LA: “I… uh…”
The Amazon’s voice was slow and deliberate. This was a rare occurrence, when her voice would move down from her usual trumpet-like alto bellow and transform into a low hiss. At this point, you were no longer dealing with impotent anger, but with true fury, the kind of fury that might actually hurt someone.
TA: “Go back to your office and collect every bit of paperwork on the car and bring it back here now.”
Lady Applebee’s eyes were wide with fear and she backed out of my office and slinked back to hers to gather the paperwork the customers had signed. I sat at my desk while The Amazon paced back and forth. I tried to break the tension.
Me: “So… how’s the rest of your day going?”
TA: “Shut the f*ck up.”
A minute later, Lady Applebee’s came back in and thunked a file folder on my desk. I peeled it open and grabbed the photocopy of the sales form. At bottom were the signatures of Lady Applebee’s and the customers. I pointed to the VIN.
Me: “4064. You sold them the wrong car.”
LA: “What… what about the title?”
I pulled it out of the folder.
Me: “Matches. 4064. They own the diesel, free and clear.”
Lady Applebee’s slumped back into a chair. The Amazon snatched the forms out of my hand and read them over, then flicked them back onto my desk. She turned to Lady Applebee’s and pointed a finger toward the door.
TA: “MY OFFICE. NOW.”
The two marched back toward the sales office. I glanced back over the paperwork for a moment. Lady Applebee’s had indeed accidentally sold the customers the diesel Golf for the gas Golf’s price. Not only had she cost the company the $10,000 that she threw away on the sale, but we still had a 2.0L Golf to try and get rid of, one that we had thrown way too much money into.
On a whim, I called up the customer. There was no way this was going to work.
Me: “Hey, this is 36055512 at Dishonest Used Car Dealership. Look, uh, our salesperson made a mistake and accidentally sold you a diesel car instead of a gas one. I was wondering if you’d want to swap it out.”
Customer: “Wait, but I already went to the DMV and had the car registered. All the paperwork is correct.”
Me: “Yeah, that’s the thing. She filled out all the paperwork correctly, but it’s for the wrong car. The car you guys were trying to buy was a gas one and the one in your paperwork, the one you took home, is a diesel.”
There was a long pause.
Customer: “Yeah, but the diesel ones are better, right?”
Customer: “Look, you wouldn’t be calling me if the mistake wasn’t in my favor, right? Like, if it was the other way around, you’d tell me ‘tough sh!t.’”
He had a point.
Customer: “So, I don’t mean to be an ass, but tough sh!t.”
Me: “Well, I can’t force you to swap it out if you want to keep it. Just make sure to put diesel in at the pump and let the glow plugs run for a little while before you start it each morning.”
I hung up with the customer and snuck over to the sales office to eavesdrop. Even with Rom and The Amazon’s office door closed, I could hear the bosses’ incoherent screaming and Lady Applebee’s wailing. I heard someone walk toward their office door, and I ducked behind a pile of boxes. The door opened and The Amazon’s voice echoed through the office.
TA: “Now get out. GET OUT.”
Lady Applebee’s slunk into the hall, sobbing. The office door slammed, and Lady Applebee’s went over to her office and grabbed her things. I slipped over to the service bay and watched her load a box of possessions into her Toyota.
And so ended Lady Applebee’s’s incredible career of incompetence. During my tenure as service writer she had insulted my technicians in front of customers, filled diesel cars with gasoline numerous times, destroyed a perfectly good Cummins 6BT engine, misplaced keys to cars and to the office more times than I could count, wiped off her dogshit-covered shoes on the carpet in a customer’s BMW, backed into another customer’s Forester, broke the feed tray on my copier, knocked over a half-full 55 gallon drum full of motor oil, told a customer that Passats come with a third-row seat when they clearly do not, stolen someone’s lunch almost every single day, and lost far more sales than she ever made. And finally we had reached the last straw.
As the Toyota drove out of the parking lot, Lord Salisbury, one of my technicians came over to see what I was looking at.
LS: “What’s going on?”
Me: “Lady Applebee’s just got herself fired.”
LS: “I see.”
And then Lord Salisbury punctuated it all just perfectly.
LS: “Well, no big loss there.”
The Toyota disappeared into the grey, and we returned to work, now down four employees.
To be continued…