By on July 18, 2010

A lot of people have little or no respect for car dealerships. In fact, on the TTAC forums, I frequently hear the word “stealership” so much, that I’m herewith petitioning the Oxford English Dictionary to officially put it in our lexicon. I recall the story of a friend on mine who had trouble with a Honda dealership in the UK. His mother bought a brand new Honda Civic and in the final month before the 3 year warranty ran out, the alternator gave up. The mother wasn’t angry that such a failing had happened, she just wanted it fixed. But the dealership had other ideas. They weren’t convinced that it was the alternator and they couldn’t look at it until next month. The mother told her son (my friend) this story and the son though it was a bit of a coincidence that the dealership couldn’t look at the car until next month, which happened to be the month that the car came out of warranty. The son bypassed the dealership and wrote a very strongly worded letter to Honda UK (It could have been “extremely worded”. In the first draft, he threatened to run over their testes with a steam roller). Strangely, a week later, the mother received a phone from the dealership saying that they could look at her car, fix whatever needed to be fixed and throw in a free service. Now that’s a story with a happy ending. Now let’s try one a bit more turbulent, and this one comes from the land of the “stealership”, the United States.

The Chicago Tribune reports that John Bergee is not exactly full of “joy”. As the Chicago Tribune puts it:

“John Bergee paid almost $45,000 last fall for his used 2008  BMW 535i sedan.
At the time, the Champaign resident thought he was buying a well-made luxury machine.
What he got, he says, is a very expensive driveway ornament.”

The story begins with Mr Bergee attempting to start his BMW 535i and the car resisting his efforts. Apparently, the battery kept draining while the 535i was sitting in the garage. As the car was still under warranty, Mr Bergee brought it back to the BMW dealership. Now you would have thought that the dealership would have said “Oh, we’re so sorry, let us fix the problem and you can be on your merry way.” But you’d think wrong. In fact, you’d be way off target. The dealership didn’t fix the problem. They blamed Mr Bergee for it. According to BMW North America, Mr Bergee doesn’t drive the car enough to keep the battery fully charged. When Mr Bergee bought the car (November), it had 8,200 miles on the odometer; since then, he’s driven it 6,000 miles. When Mr Bergee heard BMW NA’s reason, he asked them how much he’s supposed to drive the car to keep it charged. He’s still waiting for an answer. One particularly memorable moment was when one of BMW’s customer service reps suggested buying a battery tender and hook it up to his car. “If I wanted to plug a car in, I guess I should go all the way and get an electric,” Mr Bergee said. “Being able to rely on one’s new car to start is a reasonable expectation, I believe.” Maybe it was a way to sell Mr Bergee a Mini-E?

Mr Bergee then emailed The Chicago Tribune’s “What’s Your Problem?” column to ask for help. Kristin Samuelson, of the Tribune, then contacted Matt Russell, a spokesperson for BMW NA. He said, “For our customers who don’t have very long driving cycles, they’ll run into this situation where they have to find a week to keep the battery charged,” Mr Russell said. “This is standard battery technology for the industry. You could experience this in any car.” Unfortunately, this didn’t marry up with Mr Bergee. As Mr Bergee emailed the Chicago Tribune for help he also forwarded his car’s manual. And on page 15 of the manual it says that “if your car is driven only for short distances of less than 10 miles over a prolonged period of time, without an occasional drive at highway speeds, the engines (sic) charging system will not maintain the battery.” But Mr Bergee said that he DOES drive his BMW at highway speeds and distances greater than 10 miles. On one occasion, Mr Bergee drove more than 3 hours, parked his car and then couldn’t start it.

Matt Russell finished by saying that he wanted Mr Bergee to be satisfied, “We want to make sure he feels like he’s been made whole.” If I were Mr Bergee, I’d feel I’d been made to look like an “arse-whole” instead.

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