I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not mechanically inclined. Outside of a few basic repairs to the lawnmower such as changing a spark plug or scraping off the cocktail of grass and dog poop that gets stuck underneath the thing, I won’t touch it if something goes wrong. If something does go amiss, I’ll just take it up to the lawnmower place and let them have at it. I can usually fix whatever needs fixing around the house, and I can make nearly anything out of a piece of wood, but if it’s made out of metal and requires some kind of engine, I’m not your man to call for repairs.
This naturally applies to cars, as evidenced by the 2005 Ford F-150 that has been dead in the driveway for well over two months now. I had the transmission replaced just about two years ago, and a part that allowed the truck to go into reverse suddenly stopped working. This happened at an inconvenient time, as I was going backwards when it simply stopped moving.
“Huh,” I said to myself. “Wasn’t this just fixed not too long ago?”
So I drove the truck to the place that did the repair and when I showed them my warranty paperwork, it was pointed out to me that while the miles I had driven were well below the allotted amount, the time had elapsed by almost a year. If I wanted to ever go backwards again in a direction that wasn’t downhill, I would either have to leave the truck at the garage with the back seat filled with money or move to San Francisco.
Well, to say that I stubbornly refused to pay another dime for this rolling turd, you’d have to say that my wife refused ten times as hard, so I drove it home (forwards) and parked it in the driveway. A few days ago, I tried to start it and it appears that the alternator has now—what’s the polite phrase? Oh yeah—soiled the litter box.
My pigheadedness to get rid of Ford’s finest will last a few more days until I post it on Craigslist as-is and let somebody drag it away for pocket change. With 108,000 trouble-prone miles on the beast, it’s on a DNR order as far as I’m concerned and I’ve not only gleefully pulled the plug, but I’ve snipped off the prongs and I’m about two seconds away from lighting a match.
Which brings me to my wife’s car, a reliable Honda that has only asked for a new satellite radio antenna, some oil and a set of tires in the four years since we bought it. Her previous Honda racked up just over 120,000 miles with fewer repairs than the truck ever needed in a month; so there was never any doubt that there would be another Honda in our garage when we decided to get a new car.
When we bought our current Honda, they threw in a lifetime of free oil changes; a sweet deal if ever I heard of one, since crawling under a car with an oil pan has never been one of my favorite things to do. The downward spiral on that started years ago, when I changed the oil in one of my previous cars, forgot to put the drain plug back in, started the engine, and blew a gallon and a half of fresh oil all over the driveway. The bloom went off the oil changing rose right after that happened.
Mrs. G’s Honda makes things easy. It has a meter that counts down the percentage of oil life until a little wrench-shaped icon lights up at fifteen percent. There’s no more of this “every three-thousand miles” stuff that was the rule of thumb when I was cutting my automotive teeth. No siree Bob, this light pops on about twice each year, the car goes in to the dealer, they suck out the old synthetic oil and replace it with new oil, change the filter and lube up the stuff that needs lubing. For free.
Going to the dealer’s for an oil change has always been my wife’s task, but she had a conflicting appointment, so I took it in. Let me just tell you that she’ll have to wrestle the keys out of my hands the next time that light pops on.
Whenever my truck needed to be fixed, it went to a grimy garage with two bays, a parking lot full of similar heaps and a waiting room right next to the boxes of oil and windshield wiper blades. They did a decent enough job on things, but rather than wait around staring at a coffee pot that burned dry when Clinton was still President, my wife would pick me up. They’d generally call in a day or so, and then I’d go get it.
Well, it’s no wonder Mrs. G. never protested when it came time to take the car in for service.
There was a line of tidy people in matching polo shirts eager to assist me, so I settled on the one who was closest. Debra took the keys and within a minute, they were driving the car around to the service area. I was then escorted to a waiting room (one of two) with comfy couches, chairs, café tables and a huge flat screen. I was then shown the snack area.
They had a chest freezer with various ice cream treats, and a separate counter with granola bars, free newspapers, a fancy machine that made fresh coffee (lattes, espressos and cappuccinos too) bottles of water, soda pop, juice and fresh muffins. There was also a customer productivity center with WiFi, a printer and four comfortable and private desk areas. I set up my junk at one of the desks, and then poured myself a cup of coffee in a ceramic mug. I didn’t hear one lug wrench whirring the entire time. It honestly felt like a nice hotel.
After about forty-five minutes, I went back for a second cup of coffee just as Debra, my personal service assistant, rounded the corner with my keys. “Aw, nuts—I just made an espresso,” I said.
“You’re welcome to finish it or you can take it with you,” she said. As I began to pour it in a Styrofoam cup, she said, “Oh no—you can keep the mug.” As we walked out through the service reception area, Debra made some sincere small talk and I thanked her for taking care of everything.
Was this whole experience overkill? Probably a little. My doctor’s office isn’t a fraction as nice as the place that fixes cars, where the only courtesy missing from the waiting area was a masseuse and a place that does hair.
As I sat in the car and finished my coffee, I wondered why they went to such extremes, but then it hit me. Hard.
I didn’t just kind of like it. I liked it a lot. This was the twenty-first century equivalent of how they used to pump the gas for the customer while washing the windshield and checking the oil. This was the store clerk who knew their inventory and was always there to help, not squirreled away behind a central service counter. This was a free gift box that came with tissue paper and a free
shopping bag with handles in which to carry it. This wasn’t scanning and bagging your own groceries, this was a cashier who did that for you, and then a kid carried them out to the car. Not to sound all “this was how it used to be” but this was how it used to be. When did self-serve become a step up from you’re lucky we’re serving you at all? When did it become OK to slog through an automated two-minute explanation of which buttons to press to not speak to the person you needed—the person whom we all know won’t return the voice mail anyway?
We’ve slowly gotten used to accepting a dispirited level of service that barely qualifies as apathetic. To actually find a place that goes a step above, well, that was a blast from the past that I really appreciated and they got a customer for life out of me, not to mention the coffee mug I got out of them. They even called the next day to ask how the service was. My wife took the call, and while I hope she said phenomenal, I actually hope that she said it like this: Pheeeeeeeeeeeee-nomenal!
©2014 Rick Garvia This column is protected by intellectual property laws, including U.S. copyright laws. Electronic or print reproduction, adaptation, or distribution without permission is prohibited