Piston Slap: The Enthusiast-Retailer Disconnect?

Sajeev Mehta
by Sajeev Mehta
piston slap the enthusiast retailer disconnect

TTAC Commentator Halftruth writes:

Can we talk about the absolute incompetence at dealerships?

  • Mild issue: Bought new SUV for wife back in 2010. Wife complains that “something not quite right.” I drive it and notice something slightly off. Take it to dealer, no trouble found. On a whim, I check the tire pressures: 40 psi, 37 psi, 45 psi and 35 psi. I called the dealer on this as they missed it TWICE. Once during prep and once when brought in for the original complaint. I asked how could they miss this and was told “well, it is a new machine and some of the guys are having trouble with it.” To which I replied, “I don’t have a machine and I was still able to troubleshoot this and DO YOUR JOB!” Service manager was not happy with me.
  • More severe issue: I went for a late-model used sedan and picked a local dealership that I had bought cars from 3 times before. I test drive a car, like it, come back with the wife and decide this is it. I backed the car in and by mistake popped the trunk; the young salesman was all too eager to show my wife the trunk and how clean it was. I saw a pushpin sitting in the spare tire area. I asked the salesman, “you know what this is, right?” He said no. I explained this is one of the pushpins that attaches the bumper underneath. He turned white and I got right under the car and, sure enough, the bumper was not attached well and was flopping around. At that point I asked for sales manager and asked about their 172 point inspection and if there were any accidents on record. They had no answers. We ended up agreeing to them fixing the bumper and replacing the battery, as it had shown some signs of weakness after sitting a couple of days on the lot. I was trading in a truck and the trade deal was very favorable, so I went with it. I come to pick it up and bumper is not fixed, battery not replaced, and the tire pressures were all low. I left and bought elsewhere.

Kindly shine some light on this.

Sajeev answers:

I’m sorry to hear about your experiences. I’m filled with explanations, but must temper a response based on experience: my full-time gig is in auto retail.

Be it sales or service, your problems highlight this industry’s inability to recruit and retain talent. It’s a long standing problem (with new complications for digital retailing), suggesting the average Piston Slap reader knows more about cars than those in auto retail. That’s no excuse, as non-car people neither deserve your experiences.

So when finding yourself getting the short end of the stick, do the following:

  1. Use a carrot, not a stick: elucidate without losing your cool…definitely don’t be the next customer going viral.
  2. Speak to the Manager, the General Manager if needed.
  3. Go elsewhere if #2 fails.

But let’s examine Step #1 to the logical extreme; let’s embrace the enthusiast-retailer disconnect. Dealerships operating like the ubiquitous Zappos case studies from college are unlikely. Any retail job is challenging (even life changing) and experts need even more patience than your average buyer. I am sure it’s the same for tech junkies at Best Buy, doctors getting a physical, foodies at a restaurant, etc.

Rarely does a hobby and career form into a single entity, yet I’m filled with hope as I see fresh faces entering the business, creating passion where nothing existed beforehand. Take my word for it, or not because you won’t hurt my feelings

…I’m used to it because I work in retail.

[Image: Shutterstock user Yakov Oskanov]

Bonus! A Piston Slap Nugget of Wisdom:

Since this will come up in the comments: your (valid) opinions regarding the dealership franchise model won’t change the employee recruitment/retention problem. Luxury retailers like Lexus, Tesla, etc. offer golden handcuffs and great overall customer service, while other brands have similar pay, more modest job pride/prestige, and the constant challenges of the changing retail employment landscape. Retail will always be retail.

Send your queries to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

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2 of 107 comments
  • CadiDrvr CadiDrvr on Nov 10, 2018

    This will be surprising to most but my '11 Jaguar XF had its first non-maintenance issue in 7 years of ownership this summer. My car had their Platinum 5/50k warranty covering everything, including brakes, so I'd drop the car off once a year--its a garage queen--and pick up a few days later. Well, this issue shows me that dealer ratings mean absolutely nothing. My Jag dealer has been a "Pride of Jaguar" dealer for years, and last year was the top dealer in the country. Their gross incompetence was unbelievable. Thankfully I checked their work when I brought the car home, as the didn't put it back together. When I brought the car back to the dealer, THE SERVICE MANAGER ACTED LIKE HE DID ME A FAVOR PUTTING THE CAR BACK TOGETHER, AS IF I HAD ATTEMPTED TO FIX IT MYSELF AND THEN BROUGHT IT TO HIM. I remained calm even with his attitude, which persisted even though he had the original work order in front of him. I could've understood his attitude if I'd come in yelling/screaming/making demands. Lesson learned, it sucks everywhere out there.

  • Andys120 Andys120 on Nov 10, 2018

    I used to work in broadcast time sales and worked with many dealer owners and found them to be mostly okay guys. When it comes time for me to buy I always go straight to the owner. Usually there are accessible and can save you a lot of time. That said, I seldom go to a dealer service dept. They are built around the idea of making fat profits not providing good service. As someone pointed out the knowledgeable techs go out on their own and giving good service is how they stay in business. it is usually very easy to establish a relationship with the principal of an indy repair shop. I know a half dozen or so in my area.

  • EngineerfromBaja_1990 I'd love a well preserved Mark VII LSC with the HO 5.0 for a weekend cruiser. Its design aged better than both the VI and VIII. Although I'd gladly take the latter as well (quad cam V8 and wrap around interior FTW)
  • Teddyc73 The Mark VIII was the first car I lusted over as a young new auto enthusiast. Still think it's a beauty after all these years.
  • Art Vandelay wish They’d do an SS version of the Bolt. We need more electric hot hatches and this is a clean enough design that it would look good
  • ToolGuy Your Jeep is too studly.
  • ToolGuy I had a point to make, but can't remember if it related to Part XXVIIII or Part XXIX.