As I was leaving work and walking to my car a week ago, I noticed that my rear tire was losing air pressure. As I knelt down to inspect the wheel a little more closely, I saw a nail sticking out of the tire.
“Damn!” I said to myself as I jumped into my car and drove slowly to the nearest service station to have the tire plugged. But once I got to there, my day started to get a little worse.
“Sir, I think you might have a bigger problem,” the mechanic said to me after he removed the wheel from my car and rolled it into the service bay.
“What is it?”
“The inner tread of your two rear tires is worn away,” he said as he showed me the wheel he had just removed from my car. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
“Neither have I,” I replied as I inspected the tire for myself. “Will it last the week or should I replace them now.”
It was 6:00 p.m. and the mechanic was in a rush to get home. He told me that he could plug the tire and it would be fine for a couple of weeks, but he strongly suggested that I replace my rear wheels as soon as possible.
Last Saturday morning, I took my car into the local tire shop and my biggest fear became a reality. I needed four new tires. “That nail might have been a blessing in disguise,” the salesman said to me as he wrote up the paperwork.
“Not for my wallet,” I quickly replied with an uneasy laugh.
He then took my car back to the service area while I sat down with my IPod and my copy of ESPN the Magazine. Thirty minutes into the magazine, my IPod stopped working. As I took off the headphones and put the IPod into my pocket, I said “that can’t be a good sign” to the guy sitting next to me.
“Sir, you’re all set,” the salesman said as he brought back my keys an hour later. “The mechanic who did your alignment needs to speak to you, though.”
As I walked out of the waiting room and over to the mechanic who was standing by my car, a chill went down my spine as a very real sense of impending doom settled into my bones. This couldn’t be good, I thought.
“You needed to see me?” I asked
“Yes. I tried to align the rear wheels on your Saturn but there was a problem.”
“A big problem?”
“Not yet but it could be in the future.”
“Oh, jeez, what’s wrong with the car now?”
“Some cars have a rear differential and some cars have a Camber Kit. Your car has a Camber Kit but it doesn’t have a camber/toe. Without it, I can’t align your rear wheels and the wear on your tires that you had when you came in here this morning will happen again if you don’t have a mechanic fix it.”
“You’re telling me that a car was made with a Camber Kit but the camber/toe was not installed prior to the sale of the car?”
“It appears so.”
“Great,” I said in a frustrated voice. And I was frustrated and yet, somehow, with my luck, I was not surprised! “Is it safe to drive?”
“For now it is, but over time the tires will get worn down on the inside again. Here, let me show you,” he said as he knelt down and started showing me the problem. My regular mechanic was out of town for the weekend, so I knew it would be another week before I would be able to get the camber/toe installed. So I was relieved to find out that it would be safe to drive the car until I got the part installed. “Once it is installed, bring the car back to us and we will align all of the tires for you.”
I thanked the mechanic for his time and showing me the problem with my car. As I drove away from the tire repair shop, I looked at the clock. Stephanie had an appointment scheduled, so I went home and picked up the kids before heading out to get a long overdue oil change and car wash. After grabbing a cup of coffee and a couple of donuts for the children, I went to get my oil changed.
When we pulled up to the shop, I was glad to see that there wasn’t a line of cars around the corner. The mechanic was able to take my car right into the service bay while the kids and I sat in the waiting room having our coffee and donuts. Twenty minutes later the cashier came in and said, “Sir, you’re all set.”
As I stepped up to the counter to pay for the oil change, the cashier said, “That will be $38.99 plus tax.”
I paused for a minute because the price I was quoted had miraculously increased in the span of twenty minutes. “Pardon me, sir,” I asked politely with a raised eyebrow. “I was told the oil change would be $36.99 plus tax.”
“Our normal service is $36.99 but since you have an all-wheel-drive vehicle, there is an additional charge of two dollars.”
I laughed at his response, “Really?!”
“Yes, sir, there is.”
As I pulled the credit card from my wallet, I asked, “Can you please tell me the difference between an all-wheel-drive vehicle and a regular vehicle that constitutes the extra two dollars for my oil change?”
The cashier paused for a moment and stared at me. “Well, sir, as part of our service, we top of all the fluids in your car…”
“Okay,” I interjected because this sounded like a rational explanation and was part of the advertisements on the wall.
“…your car is an all-wheel-drive vehicle and has a front and rear differential. We charge the extra two dollars to top off the fluid in both the front and rear differentials.”
“Really?!” I replied with a chuckle because I knew there was no way the rear differential could have been topped off since I don’t have one. “So the guy underneath my car reported that he topped off the fluids in my rear differential?”
“We top it off in every all-wheel-drive vehicle, sir. Not just yours.”
“Well, what happens if I don’t have a rear differential in my vehicle? What if I have a camber kit in my car, do I still have to pay the extra two dollars?” I asked.
“I’ll have to ask,” he replied and then the cashier disappeared into the service bay. A few moments later, the cashier returned and said, “I spoke to my manager and he said the $38.99 is the price for an all-wheel-drive vehicle because of the fluid needed for the extra differential.”
“But did you explain to your manager that there isn’t a rear differential in my car?”
“Yes and he said that your vehicle has a rear differential.”
I stared at the cashier for a moment in disbelief at the words that just left his mouth. “Your manager just told you that I have a rear differential in my car?”
“Yes, sir,” he replied. And as his words echoed in my ears, my innocent query about the extra two dollars became an issue of principle and business ethics.
I took a deep breath and calmly said to the cashier, “You see, that’s interesting because I just had all four of my tires replaced an hour ago and they couldn’t align my rear wheels because my car doesn’t have a rear differential. It has a camber kit. And the reason they couldn’t align the tires is because the camber/toe is not installed. So either the guy at the tire shop is lying because he’s lazy and didn’t want to align my rear wheels or your manager is not telling the truth about the service I just got for my car. So my question is simple; who is telling the truth?”
“The guy down below said he topped off the differential,” the cashier responded.
“Then take me down there.”
I looked the cashier in the eyes and said, “Then take me down below my car. I would like the manager to take me down into the pit so the guy who topped off my rear differential can show me what he topped off because I don’t have a rear differential in my car.”
“Sir, we don’t take people down below the cars.”
“Why not? If you topped off my rear differential, then show me. I want to see it.”
“I am sorry, sir, but you can’t go down underneath the cars.”
“Fine, pull my car out of the service bay and we can crawl underneath so someone can show me where the differential fluid went. I want to see what was topped off.”
The cashier was stunned for a minute as he processed my request. “Wait a minute, sir, I’ll be right back,” and he disappeared back into the service bay. Moments later, the cashier returned to the waiting area and said, “That’ll be $36.99 plus tax.”
I paid for the service and thanked the cashier for his professionalism. I also apologized for giving him a hard time because I realized that he was the messenger and not the message. He was quite understanding and very polite at all times. And I have to give him credit because he was extremely responsive to all of my questions and each of my requests.
As I got into the car to drive away, I said to my son, “You know, Josh, if I didn’t have bad luck with cars, I’d have no luck at all.” The situation was laughable and as I told the story at a neighborhood barbecue later in the day, we all had a good laugh at the drama that unfolded around the “rear end” of my car. It is funny a couple of hours after the fact. And even as people were comparing me to the newspaper boy in the movie Better Off Dead (“I want my two dollars!”), the argument came down to the basic principle of the situation.
The company stated that I was paying more to have my rear differential topped off. If I had a rear differential, than I would gladly pay more for the repair because I was getting more than the standard service. But I don’t have a rear differential, so my request was simple, “Please treat me with a little respect; in the end, the respect you show will go a long way towards building customer loyalty.” And considering the current economic difficulties facing our country today, I think all businesses would be well served by showing customers just a little extra respect.