Last time we heard tales of some downright criminal mechanics. This week we turn the tables on the customers who range from simply incompetent to clearly deranged.
The following stories are from readers, their names have been concealed.
Nobody Puts Baby In A Loaner!
The number of bad customer stories I have is incredible. Advisors aren’t perfect people but we certainly don’t deserve the abuse we get from customers. We routinely get yelled at- not sternly talked to, I’m saying spittle flying out of the mouth screamed at- for ridiculous stuff. People call up and yell at us because we can’t find their car or tell them what’s going on with it… because they dropped it off at a place across town and called us for some unfathomable reason. We get yelled at because we can’t do the warranty repair/recall on their Ford.... at our Toyota dealership. People scream at us because they (without calling in advance) had the car their brother-in-law/neighbor/regular mechanic broke towed to us and we can’t get started on it IMMEDIATELY. People cry at us (in front of us, whatever) because they haven’t changed the oil for 20,000 miles on their 4 year old/80,000 mile vehicle and now the motor is shot… and it’s not under warranty.
In general most people seem completely unaware that other human beings with needs and wants exist and they get confused and angry when you point that out. Once I realized that and started giving explanations to customers that allowed them to pretend they’re the center of the universe my life got easier. Some of these people I have sympathy for and help out however I can, some get laughed at and hung up on, some get extremely poor service, and some just disappear into the mists. Probably back to JiffyMonkeyPlus where they had the work done in the first place.
My “favorite” customer of all time has four or five stories I could relate, all surrounding the catastrophic timing belt failure on her economy car. I’ll try to limit it to just one. She was told by us (the dealership) and her “real” mechanic to change the timing belt at 5 yrs/60,000 miles. She didn’t. At 65k it broke and damaged the interference head motor. The screaming and crying began and in the end her father (who lived overseas, which is pertinent because when the shot caller/checkbook is a late riser in a time zone 4 hours behind you there’s a “slight” lag in the decision loop) authorized the repairs and paid the bill. Of the three options available (new motor, used motor, rebuild existing) he chose to have the engine rebuilt which was the cheapest (but most time consuming) repair. When he FINALLY decided what he wanted to do and called to authorize the repairs I asked him if he wanted to replace any of the accessories. I specifically asked if he wanted to proactively, for additional parts cost only, replace the alternator and water pump. He said “No, this is already costing me a fortune and I just want it fixed as cheaply as possible. Only fix what’s actually broken.” I documented that statement in the paperwork…. ‘cause not my first rodeo. One month of pain and hate after that the car was fixed and gone and we had our loaner back… filthy, dented, and scratched, dog vomit coated in fur all over the back seat, dirty diapers stuffed in McDonalds bags alongside half eaten cheeseburgers in the trunk, cigarette burns on the passenger seat, almost 1700 miles on a car that had rolled off the lot with less than 25, and a low fuel warning light on.
Six months later she calls and before I can get my canned greeting out of my mouth starts screaming about how the car we fixed is leaking oil. We get it in and it’s actually leaking coolant from the failed water pump. I get her an estimate. She starts screaming about how that should have been replaced when we did the motor. I told her that her father had specifically declined to replace those and that said declination was noted in the paperwork I gave her 6 months ago. She screamed, and I quote, “My daddy would never do that to his baby!! F**K YOU!!!” and then hung up. 20 minutes after she hung up our dealer group general manager (not dealership GM, which is a crucial distinction to those of you in the industry) who’s number she had somehow obtained during the previous festivities called me and asked me why “that c**t” was calling him again. When I told him why and explained the repairs had been declined during the rebuild he said “Just fix it on our dime. I don’t want that b***h calling me anymore.” So we fixed it. I called her, she came in and (after only signing the paperwork when I refused to return her hot rod until she did) spent a few minutes telling me how incompetent I was and how crappy the entire dealership was, gave me the finger, and then burned rubber into the sunset.
The entire previous story is true and only encapsulates a small portion of my dealings with this delightful specimen. Welcome to my world. Although, to be fair, that was the worst customer I’ve ever had.
The Customer Is Always Pedantic, Paranoid, And Right.
The dumb bunnies I had to deal with as a tire tech were enough to give me early onset hypertension.
The worst were:
1. the guys with the 20 year old Chevy Duallys wanting us to check all 6 wheels and tires for ultra slow leaks. Meanwhile they didn’t consider they 6 tons of concrete mix in the bed were making the tires look flatter than unladen. When we saw one of them park out front, it was suddenly lunch time even at 10 am.
2. The owners of late 70’s corollas wanting to put the cheap buy 3/ get one free tires on the junkyard rims they brought with them. Rusty, bent, pitted and still the tire sales people would sell them to get their spiffs.
3. The aging college professors that would stand at the customer waiting area window and watch you the.whole.dam.time you had their ancient Volvo/VW/Saab up on the lift making sure you did not leave 1 speck of dust/dirt on their dusty and dirty cars.
4. People with shitty steelies that would insist you not put wheel weights on the outside of the rim.
Filled To The Brim
When I was in the later years of high school I worked at a 2 bay, drive through oil change place after school, during the weekends, and over the summer holidays. We had limited scope of work as we didn’t have lifts, and none of the workers there were certified mechanics. So we stuck to oil, transmission, diff, and coolant changes among the minor things you’d find during a full serve gas station stop. We weren’t flawless, but we did decent work for the majority of customers.
One weekday we pulled in a 2nd Generation (‘91-’95) Ford Taurus Wagon into Bay #1. I was doing under hood, manager was doing cashier/paper work and of course we had a guy in the pit. I guided the middle aged woman driving into the bay and the manager greeted her and a senior woman (her mother or mother in law most likely) who was shotgun. The manager goes through the normal routine; park, engine off, pop hood.I open the hood and things looked mostly normal, I do not hear a peep from the tech downstairs in the pit. I take out the dipstick, wipe it, re-insert and pull out and notice something very unusual. The level was over filled, not by a little bit like say 1/8in, more like 2-2.5in over the full mark. At this point I take a knee to consult the tech downstairs and notify him of the situation. I am greeted with extremely wide eyes and whispers to me that “There is oil everywhere down here [on the car].” So I try to get the managers attention who attempting to sell the engine flush. He gets irritated at me as I try to interrupt him, but cuts the conversation short with the women. Both of us notify him of the situation and he checks the oil and brings the dipstick to the woman “Ma’m your engine is WAY overfilled!!!”She then tells us the story; She noticed that in the parking garage/place of her apartment that “kids” were draining the oil from cars (most likely enthusiasts doing an oil change marathon for neighbours/friends).
Paranoid that they had drained the oil out of her car she had gone and bought a couple of jugs of oil. She had then proceeded to fill up the 3.8L Essex V6 until she saw the oil level at the fill neck! Confident there was now oil in the engine, she drove the car. Probably do to the huge bunch of blue smoke, she had determined that there was a problem with the oil and brought the car in for a change. She had never consulted the dipstick, probably out of ignorance.We regrettably informed her that we couldn’t take the liability of working on the car due to the fact that there might be internal damage. She requested that we drain some out but the manager stuck to his guns and said that if it had got here it could make it to the mechanic. So we rolled her (preformed no service) with the engine still overfilled and told her to go a couple blocks to a mechanic.
I still feel sad about her situation as she was clearly on a limited budget and didn’t have anyone with mechanical knowledge to consult with. If you have the mechanical gift please pursue it and help others.
Who Needs Brakes?!
I was working in an independent shop in 2010 when a customer called in saying he was getting a lot of noise from the rear brakes on his Chevy Colorado. He had done them himself about a month ago and said they had been making noise since the day he had done them but he was rolling on it anyway because it was “stopping fine”. I told him I could send a wrecker after it to be on the safe side and he said no he would drive it in.
He brings it in and we drive it into the bay and immediately hear some kind of god awful rattling coming from the rear drum, like something is rattling around in the drum. I also notice the pedal is extremely soft and I can almost push it to the floor. Pop the hood when we pull it in and there’s almost no brake fluid in the master cylinder reservoir.
Get it up in the air and pull off the wheel. The drum has something that looks like black silicone on the outside going across it in a random pattern. Brake cleaner and a chisel quickly takes this off and I realize the silicone was covering up cracks across the drum. He hit the drum so damn hard with probably a steel hammer he put cracks in a cast iron drum. I have literally never seen this happen.
I pull off the drum and all the hardware (pieces of them anyway, its all broken and torn to hell), shoes, and wheel cylinder fall to the fucking floor. Nothing is attached anymore. Other side is the same way. I tell our manager/owner and he calls the customer. I forget how much it was going to cost to fix both sides. A lot, probably in the realm of 700 or 800 bucks. Customer says no and he’s coming to pick up his car. He’s livid when he gets here. Demands we give him his keys he’s going to drive it off. Boss says no way am I giving you the keys to this vehicle, this cannot drive. My boss basically wants to wash his hands of this, and says he will waive all diagnostic fees and put this truck on a wrecker and have it dropped off at the customers house and put in his garage or driveway, at a cost of zero dollars to the customer as long as he signs a piece of paper acknowledging it is in an inoperable condition and must not be driven until repaired.
Apparently this isn’t good enough for this dildo so he calls the police to report a vehicle theft and told the police officers that he was at the shop where they had his car held hostage (his words, not mine).
Officer shows up 15 minutes later. We explain the situation and told the officer what we offered to do for the customer and showed him what the car looked like. Officer said this was not vehicular theft and that we were following state law in our actions and told the customer his car was not leaving until he signed the paper and agreed to what we offered, he was not going to put other motorists in danger for this guys bad decision. Either that or he can impound the car.
We have the car towed to the customers house after he begrudgingly signs, a $250 tow bill because the customer insisted on having the car in his garage like it was backed in, which required the tow truck driver to call 3 friends so they could push it up his sloped driveway tailgate first because the customer refused to let them start the car and back it in, using the excuse we gave that it was inoperable.
About 3 days later the car was towed in the body shop my boss also owned on another side of town. Captain douche nozzle had tried to drive it and made it down his street, ran out of brake fluid, brakes locked up and he hit a parked car.
To this day I have no idea how he drove it a month unless it was just never driven. I also don’t see how it ever stopped fine.
You’re All In On It!
Customer comes in, complains that her 2002 Mercury Mountaineer is running hot. Check it out and the radiator is cracked and pouring coolant out as fast as you could pour it in. Simple enough job, replaced the radiator along with the upper and lower radiator hoses. Pressured tested, no other leaks, test drive is fine, pull the vehicle out front for the customer. She requested the old parts, because “She’s been scammed by shops before.” Put cardboard down in the rear of the SUV, and gave her the old parts. Customer pays and leaves.
The next morning, as I pulled up to the shop, the Mountaineer was parked outside, waiting for us to open. She was fired up, accusing me of stealing parts of her interior. Her main complaint was that I stole part of the firewall, allowing cold air to blow onto her feet as she was driving. I check the car out, and find the A/C set to cold and on the floor vent position. Her other complaint was that I had obviously stolen the piece that fits in the drivers door jamb to cover the gap between the door and the dash. No such piece exists. She is not convinced, by this time screaming that we are nothing but thieves and liars. My boss explains to her that there is no cover there and even showed her a similar model Explorer. She accused us of stealing the piece from that one also and “listing all the stolen parts on eBay.” She finally leaves, peeling tires the whole way out the drive.
Was it over? No. She repeated this two more times, showing up with a deputy sheriff the third time. He looked embarrassed to be there. He even explained to her that he owned an Explorer, there was no such piece, and that we were a reputable shop. She was not dissuaded, accusing us of paying off the police. My boss went above and beyond, offering to drive with her to the local Ford dealership and let them do a complete inspection, then he would pay for any missing interior pieces. This placated her, until the dealer told her that nothing was missing. She completely lost it and said that she was getting a lawyer and was going to bring down the whole ring (our shop, the county police, and the Ford dealer) because “we were all in cahoots.”
Once again, my boss went above and beyond, filling her tank and sending her to the Ford dealer an hour away, where we could have no influence. Same result, no problem found. She was livid. She left threatening to sue us for all we were worth. Last I heard, every local attorney had laughed her out of their office. Dealing with the public can get crazy sometimes...
As always, if you’d like to share your experiences, feel free to send your mechanic’s (or customer’s) horror stories to firstname.lastname@example.org!
(Phoro credit: Reddit.com/r/JustRolledIntoTheShop)
Tavarish is the founder of APiDA Online and writes and makes videos about buying and selling cool cars on the internet. He owns the world’s cheapest Mercedes S-Class, a graffiti-bombed Lexus, and he’s the only Jalopnik author that has never driven a Miata. He also has a real name that he didn’t feel was journalist-y enough so he used a pen name and this was the best he could do.