Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Service with a...

  I’ve had my 2013 Chevy Spark for almost 5 months and it has performed as well as advertised. The gas mileage is acceptable at 37.5 miles per gallon (if you think that is good please keep in mind that my 1995 Geo Metro got 40 MPG!), I haven’t been stranded on the road and the car can comfortably get to 80 miles an hour when I need to pass someone or just want to get home by driving more quickly than I should.

  I needed to get new windshield wipers for my car and while the little windshield wiper guide books at the K-Mart and Wal-Mart pointed me to the correct size wiper blades the wiper assembly on my Spark is at least twice as wide as the blades for sale at the stores. This led me to head to Advance Auto Parts (a real auto parts store) in search of wiper blades. The store had the wide blades and I bought a pair but when I got outside to put them on the wiper blades did not contain the correct adapter so I had to head back in and talk to a clerk.

On the left is Mike, the advance Auto parts clerk getting authorization for the return of the Trico NeoForm wiper blades I bought five minutes before. Auto parts stores have entirely different impulse buy items than a Wal-Mart. Luckily I live in Iowa and not California or else I could have gotten cancer or suffered other reproductive harm from touching this single blade scraper! Another reason not to live in California...

  Mike the clerk tried to check out what kind of wipers I needed on his computer but could only get the passenger side part on the screen. I went back to the book and it turned out that while I bought the right brand of wipers (Trico) I got the Trico NeoForm brand instead of the Trico Onyx brand. I picked out the right wiper blades, Mike the clerk made a phone call to get authorization to make the exchange on his computer and I was driving away with new wiper blades on my Spark within five minutes. The world of auto part stores is a manly place when real men with real grease underneath their real fingers pick out brake pads, alternators, and buy motor oil by the gallon and while I felt a little less than manly not even being able to get the correct wiper blades on the first try (There we a lot of choices as you can see here) at least I was able to take the old wipers out and put the new ones in without help from Mike or the rest of the Advance Auto Parts crew.

  I have no choice but to use the power windows that came with my Chevy Spark but I haven’t had an occasion to use my free six month OnStar trial (I wrote here about how long it took to get the service activated when I got the car). I haven’t thought about the OnStar service except for a monthly piece of mail from OnStar that contains some sort of special offer of a lifetime judging from the exciting text on the outside of the envelope but I’ve just been ripping the offer if half en route to the trash can. I suppose I should shred or burn the letter but if someone tries to steal my identity from the OnStar letter all I can say is good luck getting it activated.

  Last week I got two calls from OnStar representatives. On Tuesday at 8 pm, Sandy the OnStar representative called. Sandy asked if she could speak to Henry. I always know that I’m going to get a sales pitch when they call me Henry. I identified myself and Sandy asked me how I was. She was delighted to hear that I was fine and thanked my profusely when I asked how she was. Sandy talked quickly and told me that she knew my OnStar six month trial was nearing its end and that she would be happy to set up my new plan for $19.95 a month or if I wanted to get the deluxe $29.90 a month package I would receive extra OnStar minutes to use in my car. I told Sandy that I wasn’t interested in the OnStar package and she proceeded to tell me how useful the OnStar package would be for me and started to go over all the features when I told her that I wasn’t interested and also mentioned that I had to get off the phone now, which got me a hurried thank you from Sandy and an ear free of getting a sales pitch from OnStar.

  The very next night I got another call from OnStar, this time from Marge the OnStar representative. Kathy answered the phone so I don’t know if Marge asked for Henry or Hank but I suspect she asked for Henry. Marge asked me how I was and she was delighted to find out I was fine but didn’t seem to happy when I asked how she was and got right down to business. Marge explained that my OnStar six month trial was nearing the end and started talking about the $19.95 a month plan and the deluxe $29.95 a month plan but I told her I wasn’t interested before she could offer the free OnStar minutes. Then Marge said that the OnStar package was such a wonderful help in case I got stranded on the road and as an example she said that if I ever locked my keys in my car, OnStar would be able to open my car door for me with just a touch of the OnStar button.

  That got my attention so I asked Marge if OnStar could really unlock my car remotely and she said ‘of course’. Then I told Marge I didn’t have power locks and she said ‘Oh… that could be a problem’. I didn’t want to get into whether OnStar could open the windows remotely to get me into my car (since I do have power windows) or how I would even be able to push the little OnStar button in my car since I was locked out so I thanked Marge for giving me a talking point for the OnStar calls I would surely be getting in the weeks to come and wished her a good night.

  I’m sure the OnStar is a good deal for some people but for $20 a month or $200 a year it doesn’t seem worth it. I pay less than that for my AAA membership and it does much of what OnStar does but it also covers all five of my cars. I had a big problem with AAA not changing my tire when I lost my tire iron last year but I still renewed the service the last two years and unfortunately I had occasion to try them out again last weekend.

  I had my monthly chess tournament at St. Francis on Saturday and since the Chevy Spark cannot hold my tournament supplies AND Seth and Chandler (the players I bring from Marshalltown to help set up) I take my 2009 Kia Rio to tournaments. On the 60 mile trip to St. Francis, I noticed that when I tried to go faster the engine would rev for a few seconds and then the car would speed up. I assumed there was a problem with the manual transmission and told Seth and Chandler that I’d have to bring it to the service station before the next tournament. We got to St. Francis OK and had a fun tournament, but at 5:15 the Kia wouldn’t accelerate at all when I gave it gas and we were stuck on the side of the road 20 miles from Marshalltown. I don’t have OnStar on the Kia but I did have my cell phone and called AAA to get me towed back to town. I had to punch in the 16 digit AAA membership number on the phone before I got to talk to the representative from AAA but once she found out I needed a tow, she put me on hold and called the tow truck driver. I had no problems and the lady from AAA told me that the tow truck would arrive at 6:15 and that he thought he would be able to take all three of us home along with the car.

  My cell phone costs me $2 a day to use but only on the days I use it. I considered the $2 well spent and didn’t mind when the tow truck driver called me back a few minutes later to verify the location and type of car I had and also to tell me it would be a good idea if I got someone to pick us up and left the key under the mat and the car unlocked since he wouldn’t be there at 6:15 and that he wouldn’t be able to take all three of us in the tow truck anyway. So I used my phone again to call Kathy. She came and got us right around 6:15 and we were all back home at 6:35. At 8 that night the tow truck driver called to tell me that he dropped off the Kia at Ben’s Tire as we agreed on and that I should call the dealer because Kia advertises a 10 year 100,000 mile drive train warranty and that my car had only 95,000 miles on it.

  When I called Ben’s Tire on Monday, they told me my manual transmission was shot and just like the tow truck driver told me to call the dealer because the 10 year 100,000 mile drive train warranty should cover the gear box. Since I couldn’t get the dealer (Des Moines Imports) to honor an $8 oil change coupon 3 years ago when the car was new (I wrote about it here) I figured it would take a miracle for them to honor a 3 year old warranty for a busted clutch and that’s just as well since Ben’s Tires does good work and I trust them with my cars. But since I do believe in miracles I decided to call Des Moines Imports just in case. I got a ‘service advisor’ named Scott who told me that a manual transmission was not covered under the warranty since it was a ‘wearable part’. I asked Scott if an automatic transmission was covered and he told me that is was if the driver could show that ‘all the proper maintenance and inspections were performed on the vehicle’. Luckily I had a ‘Service Advisor – English’ dictionary with me and looked up the phrase ‘Yes, if all the proper maintenance and inspections were performed on the vehicle’.’ I found two definitions:

1. It’s not covered if we can wriggle out of it
2. It may be covered if we’ve soaked you for countless thousands of dollars on multi point inspections along with your oil changes but not if we can wriggle out of it.

In this scene from the as-yet unreleased movie 'Taken 6', Liam Neeson tracks down the Des Moines Imports service advisor call center in Albania that refused to honor the warranty on his broken clutch and passes them a note in Albanian ('The clutch on my Kia Rio is busted. Is it covered under the 10 year/100,000 mile warranty?') to translate...

  I feel bad that my 2009 Kia left me stranded after 95,000 miles but it is still a great car (I may have felt differently if I had gotten stranded on the way TO the tournament instead of on the way BACK). When my Aveo’s manual transmission went out after 60,000 miles GM wouldn’t honor the extended warranty that I paid for so I can’t give Des Moines Imports too hard of a time for not honoring a ‘sales pitch’ warranty. The clutch that Ben’s Tire put in the Aveo is still going strong 5 years later and I expect to get many more years use from the Kia Rio.