Sunday, January 4, 2015

In Search of an Oil Change

My search for car service competency took me to Toledo, Iowa - home of Thys Chevrolet

  I haven’t written about my Chevy Spark since last May and no news is good news. After a year and a half the Spark has about 43,000 miles on it and hasn’t left me stranded so I have to say so far, so good. One thing I can say about the Spark is that I’ve received three recall notices from GM in 19 months compared to zero recall notices on my now 5 year old Kia Rio so I have to assume that either Kia makes cars better than GM or GM checks their cars better than Kia.

  When I last wrote about my Chevy Spark I told the sad tale of how I waited over two hours at Ben’s Tire in Marshalltown getting my oil changed because they couldn’t get oil filters for the Spark from their normal supplier. I also told the happy story of how I was able to get my oil changed at Bob Brown’s Quick Lube Service center in Urbandale and avail myself of the wireless internet, free coffee and soda, and a complimentary car wash that didn’t clean my car. Before my next oil change was needed I got a recall notice. The Bob Brown Quick Lube doesn’t handle recalls so I called Clemons Chevrolet in Marshalltown to schedule my recall repair and also get my oil changed. The recall notice suggested I make the recall appointment well in advance so the dealer could have the parts ready so I made the appointment for the next week so Clemons would have time to get the recall parts.

  The next week I arranged to work from home on the appointment date, dropped the car off at Clemons at 7:30 and was told my car should be ready by 10 and I would get a call when it was done. I got a ride back home from Kathy and worked and waited for my car to be done. I waited until 10 and I waited until 12 and I waited until 2 and then I called the service department and was told that they would be done by 5. I asked why it took so long and was told that they had to wait for the parts because they didn’t have the recall parts in stock and had to order them from Des Moines. It made me glad I set this all up a week in advance and I wondered why they told me the car would be ready at 10 when I brought it in. All in all I wasn’t too surprised since this particular service department is one of the laziest I’ve ever encountered which is why I rarely go there. Years ago Kathy had a problem with our Chevy Venture minivan and brought it to this same service department and the ‘service advisor’ told her the repairs weren’t covered by the warranty. I called the ‘service advisor’ and asked how the repairs couldn’t be covered since we had one of those 100,000 mile extended warranties and the ‘service advisor’ said he didn’t check to see what kind of warranty I had and thought I had the standard warranty. I did get my car by 5 and it was probably a good thing for Clemons that I didn’t get one of those customer service surveys to fill out.

  I got my next oil change at Bob Brown’s Quick Lube Service Center and it was a different experience than my May encounter. There was a long line of cars waiting for oil changes so instead of pulling in a bay and going to the waiting area, I waited for over an hour outside in my car and while I could connect to their complimentary wireless network I couldn't connect to the internet. Once I got my car pulled in I went to the waiting area and got a free coffee but the wireless network still couldn’t connect to the internet. I couldn’t check my emails or do anything with my amazing iPod that wasn’t already loaded on it. When I paid I told the ‘service advisor’ the wireless internet wasn’t working and he said that they were thinking about adding a fiber optic line but this was the first he heard of the wireless internet not working. The ‘service advisor’ also told me that the tread on my tires were down to 5/32 of an inch and I should think about getting them replaced. I asked what I thought was a reasonable question which was how much tread came on the tires in the first place and the advisor told me that I’d have to ask where I bought the tires. I told him that these were the tires that came with the car so I was in fact asking where I bought the tires. The ‘service advisor’ then told me that he didn’t know and I told him that I probably could get the answer myself if the wireless internet was working. On the bright side the car wash worked perfectly (unlike my last visit).

  My next oil change was three months later and I went to the same Quick Lube Center in Urbandale. I know I didn’t need new tires because I had already gotten some at Freedom Tires who were so great about replacing my spare tire in 2012 when I lost my tire iron. I only had to wait a half hour in my car this time and when I got to the waiting area not only was the wireless internet still not working, there was no coffee and there were cups and soda and newspapers strewn all over the waiting area. When I paid my bill, I mentioned to the very same ‘service advisor’ I had dealt with two months ago that the wireless internet wasn’t working and the very same ‘service advisor’ said that they were thinking about adding a fiber optic line but this was the first he heard of the wireless internet not working.

You want the truth???

  I didn’t stick around for the car wash and the next week I received an email from Bob Brown asking how their service was. I asked if I can’t trust Bob Brown to get their wireless internet working or even tell the truth about it not working why am I trusting my car to them? I got an email back from the Service Manager saying this was the first HE heard about it and then I got another email from the Quick Lube Manager telling me that the person I spoke to is part time and laying out all the reasons and excuses that there wasn’t any wireless internet at the Quick Lube center. I noticed that the Service Manager didn't know about the wireless internet not being available for at least two months but the Quick Lube Manger was intimately involved with every detail of the situation. I got the impression that I was being told whatever would get me to stop complaining so I sent an email asking the Quick Lube Manager to let me know when the wireless internet was back working so I could consider going back to Bob Browns for my oil changes.


  I was due for an oil change last week and also had another recall notice on my Spark. I didn’t want to go to Clemons and Bob Brown’s hadn’t written me back to let me know if their wireless internet was working. In August, the headlights on our Chevy Aveo stopped working and Ben’s Tire suggested we bring the car to a dealer since there was an electrical system recall with that may have caused the problem and allow the repairs to be made for free. We needed the car for Ben to bring back to school in Idaho the next week but when Kathy called Clemons they said she could bring the car down but couldn’t promise when they were going to look at it so Kathy took the car to Thys Chevrolet in Toledo and they looked at it and had it fixed within a day.

  That positive experience prompted me to call Thys two weeks ago to make an appointment for the recall work and oil change. I was using my last three vacation days of the year and scheduled my appointment for 8am on Tuesday (my last vacation day) the 30th for 8am. I had never been to Thys before and figured it would be like Clemons or Bob Brown with a waiting room with free coffee and soft drinks and hopefully working wireless internet. Tuesday morning I drove the 20 miles west to Toledo. I found Thys easily enough and dropped of my car at the service desk. The clerk asked me if I had someone coming to pick me up and I told him I didn’t. Then he said the parts they needed for the recall were supposed to arrive this morning.

  What went through my mind was ‘Oh no!! Here we go again. Another day wasted because somebody didn't have the oil filter or didn't bother ordering the parts’ What came out of my mouth was if the parts weren’t in by 10 to just forget it and I’d reschedule. The clerk told me that they would change my oil and the parts were ordered last week and would arrive in just a few minutes.

The service department 'waiting room' is short on amenities but there are other benefits to being a Thys customer....

  I went to the waiting area and it was very different from Bob Brown’s or Clemons. Instead of some brand new area with soft drink dispensers, flat screen TV’s, and cushy chairs, Thys had a corner of their tiny two car showroom equipped with a round table covered with newspapers and magazines with a half dozen plastic chairs surrounding it. There was a coffee pot and a soft drink machine that only charged 50 cents a can. There wasn’t wireless internet or even a place to plug in my iPod or computer.

  Luckily I had planned for the possibility of no internet or plugs and was prepared to go 'old school'. I pulled a chess book out of my computer bag, a small chess set out of my car, set up the chess board on one of the plastic chairs and went over the games from my book. Just before I got started, the clerk came out and told me the recall parts had arrived and my oil was being changed. It was nice not to have to sit and stew for a couple hours. I got myself a cup of coffee, poured some of the powdered creamer from Fareway into it and played over some games from my chess book. At 9:30, the clerk came out and said my car was all finished so I packed up my stuff, paid, left, and was home by 10 am.

  The waiting area was not the only difference between Thys and Clemons and Bob Browns. Thys didn’t have the amenities in the waiting room or a brand new showroom but they provided the ultimate amenity – they got my car in and out without making it take all day and without any phony excuses. All the new car dealer service departments have elaborate waiting areas designed for a positive user experience with wireless internet, big screen TV’s, and free beverages and snacks. These are all great features but along the way I think the dealers have forgotten the main reason a customer chooses an operation to service their car in the first place and that reason is trust. I bring my cars to Ben’s Tires because I trust them and the only reason I don’t have them change the oil in my Spark is because they don’t stock the oil filter for it. When they tell me a tire is worn down or I need a new belt I have them do it because I trust them and when I have a bigger problem I know I can bring it to them and they will fix it and not do a lot of unneeded work. I don't know anything about cars so I have to trust the repair shop but how can I trust Clemons when they don’t bother ordering parts or a Bob Browns when they dismiss problems by saying it was the first they ever heard of it or pass along my question about how much tread is on my tires to where I got the them until they realize that I got the tires from them in the first place. I don’t know when I am going to get another car but when I do Thys will get the first shot at my business.

Telling it like it is!