Thursday, December 16, 2010

Car Buying isn't easy

In early November, I crashed my car and totaled it. I received a settlement from my insurance, and combined with some personal money, was able to pay cash for a new car. I knew exactly how much money I had to spend, knew exactly what car I wanted (a Nissan Versa) and knew that it had to be a certified pre-owned. After a few test drives at a few Nissan dealerships, I realized finding the right deal was going to be difficult thanks to Los Angeles County’s ridiculously high sales tax. The Certified Pre-owned Kelley Blue Book value on a 2008-2009 Nissan Versa automatic hatchback is about $11500. I had that much to spend INCLUDING taxes. So I knew I might have to sacrifice higher mileage and probably go for a 2008 instead of the 2009, but I was okay with that.

On a whim coming home from school one day, I pulled into Woodland Hills Nissan. The salesperson who greeted me was Frankie Mercado, probably the nicest, low pressure salesperson I’d met thus far. I test drove a 2007, 50k mile Nissan Versa that just wasn’t my style and wasn’t worth the money. It was boring silver and had a worn in steering wheel, which frankly weirded me out. When he reported my feelings to his boss, Ali, it was just my luck that this afternoon, a woman had traded in her 2008 Midnight Blue Nissan Versa hatchback with 41k miles. It was exactly what I wanted and they made a deal with me at $11,500. The car had not been certified, inspected or detailed yet, but they promised me it would be done.

Unknowingly, when signing all my contracts, because the car was not a certified pre-owned yet, my contract was inadvertently written up as a used car (which has a shorter warranty and a lot less benefits in the long run). This is where I screwed up. I knew I wanted a certified pre-owned but I hadn’t done my research as to what that meant. Also, I shouldn’t have signed the contract until the car was cleaned up, inspected and I saw it in daylight.

When I came to pick up my sparkly clean Mindy (that’s what I named her), I realized there was a deep crease as if a shopping cart had hit the side door. In addition, the bumper was a little loose, the hood had a golf ball size ding, and worst of all, the car had an issue turning over when we started it. It started the second time after Frankie repositioned the battery, so we thought it was a glitch.

With verbal promises to fix the cosmetic issues, I left with my new car. Eight visits later, I left with a new car that was fixed.

Over the course of trying to get the cosmetic issues fixed, there turned out to be a light bulb issue and leaking in my back blinker, and the starter issue did not go away. It just got worse. Of course, every time I brought it in, the problem would not re-create and the service manager and I began our unfortunate stand off.

The sales team was always on my side, and I will credit them for trying to make it right. They gave me free rental cars, sincere apologies and never blamed me or harassed me for this issue. In fact, when I realized the car had NOT been a certified pre-owned, they promptly re-did the warranty contracts and certified the vehicle, all of this at cost to them. Obviously, had they not been in a rush to turnover the car in the first place, some of these issues could have been avoided, but I was equally in a rush to get this new car. I would BUY a car from Frankie and Ali again, just taking careful steps to make sure I knew what I was getting. I think this can be said of anyone buying a car. Inspect and be clear every step of the way. Document the process in writing and make sure you understand what you want from it.

Regarding the service team though, I have some complaints. As a consumer, when you are in the right, keep coming back. They have to fix the problem eventually. It’s exhausting, frustrating and sometimes you think, “the car is driveable…forget it.” But don’t give up. So their first attempt to fix the starter issue, they “recharged the battery” which is frankly, a lie. One of those fake mechanic fixes meaning they tightened a few things and checked the connections. Secondly, they replaced the battery, again never having re-created the problem and making assumptions. Next, they “reprogrammed the keys” which have a chip inside, something that should be unrelated to the issue I was having. I am convinced that they never did their due diligence in trying to recreate the issue and were hoping it would stop eventually. Finally, I told them to let it sit a few hours and then try starting it. That was the only way they would recreate it. Also, I recorded the sound on my phone at home when I started the car, giving me evidence to say I’m not crazy, something is actually wrong. They finally found the problem and replaced the fuel pressure regulator. This took exactly 30 days since purchasing the car.

What I have learned from this experience is both a study of how to run a business and how NOT to run a business. Their siloed disconnection from each department, sales and service, created a customer runaround that was frustrating and led to many miscommunications. In addition, their goals were different. Sales saw this as helping a potential future customer and someone, who threw word of mouth, could improve their business. Service saw all these “free fixes” as a bleeding budget for a girl who wouldn’t go away and a problem they weren’t patient enough to fix. Their goals were not in alignment, and it affected the service I received.

In addition, as mentioned before, I was not fully armed and that affected how I acted, not protecting myself as thoroughly. Without knowing what certified pre-owned meant, I did not immediately recognize the discrepancies in what I was signing. In addition, I should never have signed a contract on a car that had not been inspected and detailed. My urgency and frustration after my car accident definitely impacted my emotional response to buying this car. I am hoping that over time, I will learn to love Mindy despite this tumultuous first month and that we are both better for the experience.

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