Mark this one up to the old adage, No Good Deed Goes Unpunished.
For years consumers have felt that automobile dealerships were stealing from them, charging exorbitant rates for repairs, too much for their products and services. And in most cases that is just not true. An automobile dealership must make money to stay in business and keeping the doors open and the lights on.
Facilities need to be kept up-to-date, and many brands have very specific design parameters that their franchisees must maintain in storefronts and service buildings. What people do not see is the amount of technical training, equipment that is required on the service side, not to mention keeping the rest of the dealership personnel up-to-date with the products that the store offers.
All of that take investment, and thus a fee to use the services provided, and a return on investment. Though I recently had a firsthand experience that give dealerships a bad name, embodiment of the term stealership. And while the dealership did not have anything to do with it, it did facilitate the XX and gives the feeling that one is being stolen from.
Hand in the til?
I was helping a friend with a car damaged by a water infiltration issue. Turns out the drains in the sunroof had clogged and water enter the passenger compartment and affected the electronics. While the vehicle indeed started and ran, the alarm would not shut off and the locks would engage intermittently.
As this might cause an issue while driving, AAA towed it to a dealership. After a day the service advisor came back with an eight to ten-thousand-dollar repair estimate. As this this was a 12 year old 36-K mile car and worth about $5-K, that did not seem to be a wise idea,. Especially since there was no reason to believe that this issue would not raise its head in the future causing more expense and worry.
The decision was to replace it with a brand new $30-K model. Deal done at said dealership. When asked if the dealership was interested in taking the car in trade in or anything else, they declined. Making it our responsibility to dispose of the damaged vehicle.
Knowing that it still started and ran, before it was towed to the dealership and while at the dealership, as the owner engaged the ignition when cleaning out personal property within the vehicle. And knowing that the title was clean, no accidents, not listed as a flood car or even an insurance claim on the vehicle. Not even a negative CarFax entry. For someone who wanted a fun car for a track events, it would be perfect. Thus, we found a buyer for it, arranged for them to come with a trailer and pick it up and take it away.
Here is where we got punked by dealership employees
We let the dealership service advisor know that was what we would be doing. Arrive at the dealership, the car does not start. The service advisor and a few others along with the technician who worked on the car, pushed it out. The potential buyer now questioning if this is a good purchase asks the mechanic about why it is not running. The tech goes into long and involved explanation of how expensive and lengthy the parts list would be. And even then, it might not work. Asked by the potential buyer if there was any magic Mini dust to share, The tech opens his vest pocket and looks in then back at the buyer with a sad face, stating he is all out of said magic dust.
At that point, the buyer turns the car down. We talk with the tech to see if it can stay another day. He says maybe one day, but no more, and then push it into a parking space. Potential buyer, annoyed that he took the time to come in for a car that did not run, leaves.
Now we discuss options such as for a charity to pickup it up as a donation for a tax deduction, as it is un-startable. And drive back home, our hopeful sale fallen through, and the weight of now an un-running car on the shoulders.
No sooner do we get home, the phone rings, and the exact same tech who had just said an hour earlier to our buyer how expensive a proposition it would be to make the car run again, offers to buy the un-running car for a few hundred dollars. Obviously getting the contact information from the service advisor we had worked with. The owner not wanting to deal with the issue any more, agrees, and returns to the dealership with the title and second key to complete the sale to the dealership technician.
Magic Mini Dust
Upon arrival the car is in the shop bay, up on the lift in the shop being worked on. Somehow some magic Mini dust appeared and made a miracle happen. Miraculous as that may seem!
My questions are simple: Were we and the potential buyer, punked by the dealership mechanic and service advisor? Did the mechanic pull some simple part to make sure the car would not start, thus knowing that the buyer would reject the car? Did the dealership mechanic do something unethical so he could buy this low mileage clean used car cheaply? Did the Service Advisor at the dealership aid and abet in this unethical act with the mechanic?
Thus there is a basis to the term Stealership
Thus the term Stealership returns to my mind, while it may not be the dealership, the management, or the operation who is involved in the con. Employees of a automobile dealership have what appears a conflict of interest in this situation. Do they serve the customer, or themselves? Though it appears that there is a solid operation to take advantage of situations such as this.
Words and images by William West Hopper
Mr. Hopper has been interested in automobiles since a young age and has studied the business as well as the enthusiast owner side of the spectrum. He has served as a Board Member and now is the President Merits of the Washington Automotive Press Association in Washington DC.