THERE'S A LOT OF TALK IN AND AROUND THE automotive industry these days about pleasing the customer. Everybody - manufacturers, dealers and even auto insurance companies - says the customer comes first.
Actions, however, speak louder than words.
Manufacturers will argue that their buying and closing dealerships and even buying junkyards are actions designed to "get closer to customers."
Dealers will argue that their efforts to improve customer satisfaction survey results, which border on bribery, show they care about customers.
Whatever. I propose two new words (actually two old words) for the industry: "Caveat Emptor" or "Buyer Beware!"
That's a pretty strong statement, I realize, from someone who has defended the industry in general and dealers in particular on this page.
"Buyer beware" is likely no surprise to those involved in dealership service and body shop operations. Customers are generally already upset when they get to their doors and end up with another strain of sticker shock when they leave.
This industry is wide-reaching. In it I include auto insurance companies, whose slogans imply their being good neighbors, having good hands and other warm-and-fuzzy concepts.
When a high-profile athlete gets in trouble with the law, it's said that sports are a microcosm of society, meaning the problems in sports aren't confined that arena. I believe that the incident I am about to relate is a microcosm of the auto industry, meaning it's likely not an isolated situation.
A Toyota lease customer got in an accident early in a three-year deal. The insurance company directed that a non-genuine radiator be included in the repair. Two years later, the drain plug from that non-genuine radiator mysteriously disappeared. Coolant quickly exited the radiator, causing the engine to blow.
The customer found herself in a quandary. Since a non-genuine radiator caused the problem, it wasn't covered under the manufacturer's warranty. Who, then, would take responsibility for the nearly $6,000 in damages caused by this non-Toyota radiator?
How about the insurance company that decided a non-genuine radiator should be installed? Oh no! It reserves the right to specify non-genuine parts to keep costs down.
Perhaps the customer should contact her current insurance carrier? Nope! Its adjuster can't figure out why the part failed and there was no damage to the part, so there's no reason the so-called "good neighbors" should cover the repairs.
Maybe the dealership, which knowingly installed a non-genuine part, thereby taking the vehicle out of warranty, would step up to the plate? No way! The dealer says he just followed the directions of the insurance company.
On top of that, the customer unwittingly signed off on the repair order that included a disclaimer, "some aftermarket parts are being used in the repair of this vehicle."
It should be noted that no mention was made of what part or parts were non-genuine.
Perhaps the customer should contact the manufacturer of the part that failed? She'd like to but the dealership can't specify which company made the radiator and even if it could it likely only had a one-year warranty.
The customer will never know because the dealer could not identify the source of the part.
After more than a month of investigation, negotiation and subjugation, the customer ended up paying for the repairs - on the very day that the term of the lease expired.
The industry had not pleased this particular customer. She had not come first. She fell through the cracks. She got, well, (expletive deleted).
The bottom line is that no one with a hand in causing the problem wanted to take responsibility for its resolution. In so doing, a very costly repair on a three-year-old car fell to a customer, about whom the industry is supposed to care so much.
There are two main concerns that stem from this situation.
Number one is that an insurance company took it upon itself to take the vehicle out of manufacturer warranty. A savings of $200 to a billion-dollar company two years ago, cost the customer $6,000 today.
The other concern is that an authorized Toyota dealership installed a non-genuine part, knowing that it was taking the vehicle out of warranty.
In addition, the dealership didn't sufficiently warn the customer that it was doing so and what the ramifications might be.
Toyota's official statement is that it's the customer's responsibility to make sure that genuine Toyota parts are used in the repair of their vehicles.
That's something the customer deserves to be told loud and clear at delivery.
So until the cracks can be filled and until a customer's responsibility for monitoring repairs are clearly spelled out, Caveat Emptor!
Tim Keenan is senior editor of Ward's Dealer Business. He can be reached at [email protected]